CM, this is certainly a deep topic covering a lot of history. The church was allowed to exist during the years of Soviet Communism, but in a way that was simply nearly non functioning and with the ultimate goal of the state in seeing the destruction of any religion altogether. The persecution instituted after the October Revolution was intense, and reached its most terrible proportions during Stalins Great Terror in the years leading up to WWII. The level of persecution after that varied at different times. It was always the policy of the Soviet state to subordinate, infiltrate and thus destory the church from within.
The scale of destruction is staggering to contemplate. There was a Washington Times article
not that long ago that states the following After the Bolsheviks overthrew the Russian czar in 1917, 300 bishops and 40,000 priests were killed for practicing their Orthodox faith, said Leonid Mickle, protodeacon at St. John the Baptist. The Soviet government persecuted Christians, destroyed thousands of churches and imposed control over the administration of the church.
Within 10 months, 20,000 members of the clergy were executed, causing many Russians to flee the country and establish the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, whose parishes now are scattered worldwide, Father Mickle said.
I've seen before, but can't recall off hand what the estimate is in terms of the total numbers and clergy and believers liquidated by the Communists, but it is in the hundreds of thousands. In addition of course thousands of churches, monasteries, seminaries and other buildings were either destroyed or appropriated by the state.
A few articles that might be worth reading.
I think gives some good general history of the efforts of the Communists to subvert the church from within. It also talks about some of the internal divisions within the church that the Bolshevik Revolution caused, those are only healing now. The author comes to some conclusions about the present state of the church which I don't necessarily agree with.
This is a news article
about an execution field where a chapel is being built.
Here are the stories of two Orthodox bishops during this time. St. Tikhon the New Confessor
(also an important figure in American Orthodoxy) and St. Tikhon of Voronezh
You also asked about the pre Revolution history of the Russian Church and Bishop Kallistos talks about it here
in an excerpt from his book "The Orthodox Church".
I would recommend if you ever want to do any reading about what life was like within the system you could look at the story of Fr. Arseny
or read Solzhenitsyn's famous book The Gulag Archipelago
. Both describe in detail the forced labor camps in which many Orthodox Christians perished.
Another book has recently come out which I have not read but sounds interesting. It is about the monastery/island of Solvoki
. It was turned in to a prison by the Communists and is only now emerging again as a place of Orthodox spirituality.