A Hidden Faith?

She was the First Lady of the Soviet Union for 18 years, married to Leonid Brezhnev. They had two children and she kept their private life as private as she was able. Victoria Brezhnev was described as old-fashioned, gentle, and retiring. She rarely traveled with her husband and she hated speaking in public. By all accounts, Mrs. Brezhnev’s life centered on her husband their children and later, grandchildren. Her favorite hobby was watching ice dancing on television. While she stayed home, her husband led the Soviet Union through much of the Cold War. Under him, their military power grew dramatically while domestic life there became more difficult, more impoverished, and more hopeless. The Soviet economy was on the verge of collapse. A loyal and lifelong community, he used the KGB to quell any opposition to his repressive regime. The government-controlled agricultural efforts became less and less able to feed the country. In many ways, Brezhnev was like Stalin, but without his level of government-sanctioned civilian murder.

For Brezhnev and his wife in this environment, the Church did not exist. They never spoke of religion and certainly never practiced it. Faith was seen as a weakness in Soviet culture, to be controlled and limited by the government. No one with any government aspirations could be known as a person of faith. Brezhnev imprisoned priests and believers, closing seminaries and churches whenever they got in his way. Both in his public life and at home, Leonid Brezhnev and his unassuming wife were examples of communist atheists. Faith was nowhere to be found.  

Which makes this incident at Brezhnev’s funeral all the more interesting. When he died in 1982, the US representative at his state funeral was Vice President George H.W. Bush. He remembers being moved by Victoria’s actions that day, which was to be her last public appearance. She stood without moving by her husband’s coffin until seconds before it was closed. Then, just as the soldiers touched the lid, Victoria leaned over her husband’s body—and made The Sign of The Cross. There at the center of an atheist empire, she traced the image of our hope and salvation on the body of the man she had loved for 54 years. Did she have faith in God’s love for us? Hope that there was more in our destiny than the black end of atheism? She must have done. For to so publicly express hope in Christ in an atheist nation was an act of great courage. This is what Mr. Bush recollected.  

Courage, Hope. Faith. The grace and the love of God never stops reaching out to us. Even when we run from Him, He still pursues us. So long as we have life, He loves us and wants us to be with Him. He reaches out to us with a relentless love. Through decades of life in a godless regime, He reached out to Victoria through her love for her husband. In her heart, He kindled the light of hope—that maybe there really is more to life than this hurting world and its politics and bread lines. Maybe there is a Truth that made us in His image and loves us, even when we have rejected Him. That Hope gave Victoria the courage to trace the Cross on her husband’s body. To say, in her own way, that we are more than what the world has told us that we are. We are the children of the King of Kings.  

I hope that she embraced God’s love for her. The rest of her earthly life was lonely and painful, at least as far as we know. But, like she showed at her husband’s funeral, we can never know the workings of God in someone else’s heart. So let’s pray for one another and be kind to one another, always. We’re all on this wondrous journey together and life is too short to spend our time making the trip any harder. Let’s practice the love of God.  

“Rest in God alone, my soul, for my hope comes from Him.”

            —–Psalm 62:5

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