Monks at a Russian monastery are appealing to Harvard University for the return of their bells, which were sold by Stalin to an American businessman, at the height of the Soviet crackdown on religion in the 1920s. Currently monks at the Danilov monastery in Moscow use a mismatched set, which were cobbled together from the few that remained intact in Russia after 70 years of state atheism. The original set has been ringing at Harvard University for generations of students. Fr Roman, a young monk at the monastery said: "The period from the late 1920s was a tragic time for the Church. All over Russia churches were closed and extremely old and valuable bells were destroyed. The church lost its voice." During the Communist regime thousands of monasteries were closed down, and the buildings were destroyed or converted for other uses. Many monks were imprisoned or shot. The Danilov monastery was finally returned to the Orthodox Church under Mikhail Gorbachev and has been painstakingly restored. Today it is the official residence of the Patriarch, but the monks say they feel it remains incomplete. "The bells are a link with our past; a past that was cut off, and is now being restored," Fr Roman said. "Getting the bells back would mark a new era. It would mark the resurrection of the monastery." The monastery's superior, Fr Aleksey said he was grateful to Harvard for preserving the bells, but he prayed they would be returned. He said: "For us, the bells are not just some antique - they have spiritual significance. They speak in God's language." Fr Aleksey said he believed the return of the bells would symbolise the return of religion to Russia. A delegation from Danilov has been in Harvard to negotiate for the return of the bells. The university has agreed to carry out a feasibility study. One proposal is that the monastery might take their bells back and give Harvard a replacement set, but a Harvard spokesperson said no decision has yet been made. Michael Burstein, a bell ringer in the early 1990s said he would be very reluctant to see the bells go. He said: "They are part of our history now. I think the bells should stay where they are and the Russians should use the money to cast themselves a new set." But a parishioner at Danilov said: "All moral and spiritual rights to the bells belong to us. I hope the Americans are ruled by their conscience, as Christians. Russia waits for her bells."
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