Soviet government gave permission only to the Sergian Church to appoint a number of bishops in annexed Eastern Poland. It is interesting that in 1942, Nicholas Timasheff pointed to this fact as an indication of the changed attitude of the Kremlin, 6 whereas the next generations of researchers often omit it. As a result, the role of the Sergian Church in the western borderlands during their “fi rst Soviet occupation” (September 1939-June 1941) remains one of the least known pages of Russian church history. 7 To a great degree, the overall neglect of this issue has been due to the limited access to archival sources. A no less important factor was the Cold War discourse that directed the efforts of researchers to post-1945 developments. These things changed after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the establishment of the new independent states, when interest in the wartime developments in the western borderlands 8 gained momentum. Although the study of the activities of the Moscow Patriarchate on their territories from September 1939 to June 1941 is still uneven, some historical facts have entered into the scope of researchers. Its activities outside the old Soviet borders from 1September 17, 1939, to June 22, 1941, have begun to attract the attention of scholars only recently. 9

The annexation of the western territories hid serious threats to the Soviet regime. It had to secure the political neutralization and integration of millions of new citizens. 10 During the Cold War these processes were analyzed mostly from a secular perspective, while the role of the Moscow Patriarchate was reduced to that of a passive executor of the Kremlin’s orders. The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union provoked a new reading of these pages of the Russian Church’s past. This was also stimulated by the declassifi cation to archival documents that shed new light on the role of the Sergian Church in the “reunion” 11 of the western borderlands during their fi rst Soviet annexation (1939-1941). At the same time, one cannot omit the contrast between the scarce knowledge about the religious developments before and after the Nazi invasion in 1941. There are a series of detailed analyses of the Nazi religious policy in the occupied Soviet territories, 12 but no similar study for the Stalinist policies in the period from September 1939 to June 1941. A good example of this state of affairs is Harvey Fireside’s analysis of the fate of the Orthodox communities in the western borderlands. It begins with the religious policy within the Soviet Union in the late 1930s, continues with the life of the Orthodox Church in the Nazi-controlled areas (1941-1943), and ends with the restoration of the Soviet regime (1943-1944), but the period from September 1939 to June 1941 is left aside. The cause for such blank spots is rooted not only in the limited access to the archives of the former Soviet state but also in the lack of a framework that allows scholars to deal with this issue. Therefore, it is not surprising that debate on the issue started after 1991, when Ukraine and Estonia raised the question about their forceful incorporation by the Soviet Union during World War II.