It was while visiting Mount Athos, more than a quarter of a century ago, that I first heard the Soviet Union would collapse—and would do so in my lifetime. There, in northeastern Greece one early-spring afternoon, two young Russian-American seminary students spoke to me of the greatness of the czars and the Russian Orthodox Church, and of how both the Romanov dynasty and the Orthodox Church were more legitimate than Leonid Brezhnev's Communist regime of the day. A time would come, they insisted, when the czar would again be revered in "Russia," as they called it. I was both fascinated and mystified. Throughout my life I had been taught that the Soviet system, for all its cruelties, was nevertheless an improvement over the reactionary rule of the czars. Moreover, because the Cold War had been in progress since before I was born, I unconsciously assumed its permanence. But these seminary students spoke matter-of-factly about the fall of the Soviet Union, as if it would occur the following week. They provided no analysis, and little explanation. According to them, the matter was simple: because the Communist system was godless, it had no moral legitimacy, and therefore Russia would necessarily be restored to its true self before long.
I attempted to argue, but they brushed me off good-naturedly with a few references to Russia's pre-Communist, Orthodox past. I liked them, but I did not believe them. Yet I believed my surroundings, where little seemed to have changed since the time of the Byzantine Empire—an era defined by the Eastern Orthodox Church, with all its passions and intrigues. My mind might disagree, but in this setting it was difficult for my heart to follow.