Under strong pressure from the western Christian community, roused from selfish indifference or a naive, blind belief in the "liberating" slogans of the Bolshevist revolution, the Soviet state was forced, at least for a time, to postpone its program of destroying the Church. A decisive role in this arousing was played by the heads of non-Orthodox Christian Churches - the Catholic and the Anglican churches. We believe that the Russian Church will never forget this sincere demonstration of active love. When in the summer of 1923 Patriarch Tikhon, who was practically doomed to the death sentence, was suddenly released from arrest, this was rightly regarded by believers as a miracle. The only demand on the part of the authorities was that the Patriarch should publicly "repent" of his former "anti-Soviet" activity and call on believers to cooperate as loyal citizens with the Soviet state. Disputes about the rightness or wrongness of this decision of Patriarch Tikhon's continue to this day among church people.
Some see this step as an impermissible compromise of Christian conscience with the forces of Anti-Christ, a compromise winch, in their opinion, served as a moral justification for the further corruption of the church consciousness and the gradual slide to outright participation in the criminal doings of "impious authority". Others, on the contrary, see this action of the Patriarch's as a step towards freeing the Church from involvement in politics. The author of this book (L.R.)
supports the second point of view with full responsibility based on many years of studying this question and on his personal experience of participation in church life. Of course, the a-politicalness of the Church as an abstract category is not feasible: a-politicalness declared publicly is also a political position. Here, however, Patriarch Tikhon publicly recognized the legality of the new authority and called on believers to obey it and pray for success in its state service. This is more than a-politicincss. Why then do we say that it was a step towards freeing the Church from political passions? Because the believers whom Patriarch Tikhon called on to be loyal to Soviet power were precisely those who did not like this power and who did not share any revolutionary ideals! He called on them to resign themselves to the reality of the new power, which could not have been established without the consent or "compliance" of the Will of God. If such an impious power had been sent to us for our sins, we should endure it all the more meekly as God's punishment. This was a profoundly Orthodox, historically traditional attitude to the problem of power. In order to recognize Soviet power "not from fear, but from conscience", a believer had to overcome, conquer within himself his secular, political sympathies and antipathies. This is a very difficult spiritual task - to live in the
world and be a member of the Church, when the world is not following the path of Christ. The believer takes upon himself a heavy cross: he places his heart in the Church, but of necessity subjects himself to the laws and demands of the world - although only a long as the world does not demand that he renounce Christ and the Church.
Great is the temptation to avoid this painful contradiction and merge one's Christian hopes with some secular political program or teaching. This is what the Renovationists did, declaring communism to be the realization of Christian ideals and calling on believers to love the revolution and identify themselves with it, while at the same time not breaking with Christianity. The emigre monarchists behaved in exactly the same way, by deciding that Orthodoxy was inseparable from the political structure of the pre-revolutionary Russian monarchy and, which is the main tiling, from the practical struggle for the realization of this ideal. And the liberal-democratically minded Christians also acted likewise in assuming that only such a structure was compatible with true belief in Christ.
Of course, such questions are of profound concern to the mind and conscience of believers. They also greatly troubled Patriarch Tikhon - his sincere and painful searching for the truth was reflected in many of his letters and statements, by no means unambiguous and sometimes also contradictory. How could it have been otherwise for a person who did not aim to impose ready - made decisions on the whole world, but genuinely sought to understand the spiritual meaning of the complex events taking place? Such inner freedom is possible only when a man has in his soul the firm and unshakeable faith which forms the foundation of true church life. And Patriarch Tikhon's action was evidence of this Firm and unshakeable foundation: he showed that one could remain not only a member, but also the head and pastor of that very Church, having radically changed his political and social position.
Further evidence of the truth is the fact that Patriarch Tikhon did not betray anyone or violate the spirit of church love in any way, remaining true to the Council resolution and not imposing his own political position on anyone in the Church, by direct or indirect methods of coercion.
Thus, he condemned the Karlovtzy Church Council "for attempting to restore the monarchy of the house of Romanov in Russia". However, Soviet power could not make him ban the Karlovtzy bishops from performing their duties, because such a ban would have violated the Council resolution which abolished church instructions on political matters. The internal episcopal opposition "from the right", the so-called "Danilov opposition" (named after the Danilov monastery) did not manage to produce any bans from the Patriarch either. The head of this opposition, Archbishop Theodore (Pozdeevsky), an authoritative hierarch and the
former Rector of the Moscow Theological Academy, not only openly did not approve of what he regarded as the Patriarch's excessively compromising attitude, but actually refused to obey him and refused his appointment to the Petrograd diocese. Moreover, Archbishop Theodore united around him a group of hierarchs who exerted an appreciable influence on the Church in the direction of great irreconcilability to Soviet ideology and to attempts by the Renovationists to infect the whole Russian Church which their spirit under the guise of "unification".
Far more important than the question of whose position was right, to our mind, in the remarkable fact that for all these grave divergences of opinion, mutual church love was not violated. In spite of their disagreement and refusal to obey, the bishops united round the Danilov monastery did not break off prayerful-canonical communion with the Patriarch and he, in his turn, recognized their right to be guided by their conscience in questions of their attitude to the powers-that-be...
The fact that church love does not always coincide with like-mindedness can be seen from the following characteristic episode. The Patriarch's closest advisers during this period were Archbishop Hilarion (Troitsky) and Archbishop Seraphim (Alexandrov). Hilarion conducted the direct negotiations with Tuchkov, dealt with the restoration of church organization, spoke at many church meetings and composed a number of Patriarchal messages. Nevertheless Archbishop Hilarion and Archbishop Seraphim, in their desire to restore the outer unity of the Russian Church, did not stop at accepting the condition for unity advanced by the Renovationists, namely, that His Holiness Tikhon should voluntarily relinquish the patriarchate. At the same time Archbishop Theodore, who was so critical of the Patriarch's position, directed all his authority towards persuading the Russian episcopate to keep Patriarch Tikhon and not enter into unprincipled agreements with the schismatics.
Another outstanding hierarch, Metropolitan Cyril (Smirnov) who had returned from exile for a short while, persuaded the Patriarch himself to stop striving for reconciliation with the Living Church. Metropolitan Cyril showed the Patriarch that he was exceeding the powers granted to him by the Local Council by suggesting that Krasnitsky, a person not elected directly by the Council, should be put on the Supreme Church Council. Patriarch Tikhon admitted his mistake in attempts at a rapprochement with Krasnitsky and rectified this mistake immediately.
When a believer is defining his attitude to this or that church figure, he cannot advance in the first place only the greater or lesser degree of error in that person's actions in a complex and unclear situation. The boundless love of laity and clergy for Patriarch Tikhon, who had become the living embodiment of the Russian Church, was by no means lessened by the thought that His Holiness could
make mistakes. What is more, the very nature of these mistakes, and also the fact that His Holiness was able to rectify them, made it possible to see more clearly the image of true sobornost of which the Patriarch was the exponent. Each member of the Church, from the layman to the hierarch, felt with all his heart the profound and selfless church love proceeding from all the Patriarch's actions, from his whole essence.
The spirit of meekness and fatherly all-forgivingness which His Holiness Tikhon showed, in accepting repentant Renovationists into communion made an unforgettable impression on his contemporaries. The ritual of repentance of Metropolitan Sergius (Stagorodsky) was performed with a special solemnity. This is how Metropolitan Manuel (Lemeshesky) describes the event:
"At first glance for experts on the history of the Renovationist schism it would not have been clear why Patriarch Tikhon, the embodiment of boundless love and boundless grace, applied such strictness to this elder, while he received other bishops who had defected to Renovationism in his cell and forgave them there and then for the sin they had committed. Of course, he acted rightly. For, as the saying goes, 'a big ship has a big voyage'. And he (Metropolitan Sergius - L.R.) was the helmsman of a big ship, he was 'the brains of the house', an outstanding hierarch, and not a mediocre one...
In his qualities, achievements and contributions he clearly excelled his fellow archpactors. Even the modest Patriarch Tikhon admitted that Bishop Sergius overwhelmed those around him by his intellect, his profound knowledge in all spheres and the diverse disciplines of theology and linguistics.
Tins was why Patriarch Tikhon conducted the ceremony of Metropolitan Sergius's repentance and reception in a correspondingly solemn way, which overwhelmed the latter's genuine humility and heartfelt distress.
And so tins father of all the hopes of Russian contemporary theological though, this tireless researcher in all the spheres of theological science (we leave these assessments to Metropolitan Manuel's conscience - L.R.) stands on the amvon, deprived by the moment of repentance of his episcopal mantle, and Klobuk, and panagia, and cross... He bows low to His Holiness Tikhon, seated on the throne, in the consciousness of his total humiliation and his admitted guilt, lie presents his repentance in a voice trembling with emotion and on this occasion quiet. He prostrates himself and accompanied by the Patriarch's sub-deacons and archdeacons quietly leaves the soleum and goes up to the decider of his fate, to His meek and all-forgiving Holiness Tikhon. Another bow to the ground. Gradually he receives from the hands of His Holiness the panagia and cross, the white klobuk, the mantle and the crosier. In a few words Patriarch Tikhon welcomes his brother in Christ warmly and with tears, kisses him, and the reading of the hours, interrupted by the rite
of repentance, is resumed.
All the painful emotions of the shame and torment of repentance are now over. Metropolitan Sergius takes part with Patriarch Tikhon in conducting the Divine all-reconciling liturgy..."
Patriarch Tikhon's return to church administration was a severe blow for Renovationism, from which it never recovered. Russian believers deserted en masse these false pastors, who had besmirched themselves with the sin of Judas, and united round the true preacher of Christ's truth, His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon.
Renovationism, however, was a powerful organization arid continued to enjoy the support of the authorities. This support was expressed, first and foremost, in the so-called "legalization" which the Renovationists received at the very beginning of their existence. The meaning which was attached to the term "legalization" is highly specific and hard to understand, by virtue of the exceptional "distinctiveness" of the Soviet system of legislation. The use of this term has misled not only Western researchers with their developed legal sense, but also many churchmen in Russia, engendering false hopes in them and distracting them from the true struggle to preserve the Church.
The policy of destroying the Church, as well as all other religions, was pursued unswervingly from November 1917 right up to the Great Patriotic War, with the exception of a short "breathing-space" in 1924-27. Moreover, the authorities did their utmost to ensure that the Church in the process of being destroyed not only did not appeal to the mass of believers to resist, but actually helped to re-educate this mass in a spirit of devotion to communist ideals or at least loyalty to Soviet power. Another, no less important task, which is underestimated by many students of this question, was the struggle by Soviet power for international prestige, which was essential for its survival and the expansion of its ideology. In this respect the harsh lesson received in connection with the shameful "case of the church valuables" made them act more cautiously and gradually. The Soviet legislation on the Church framed during the twenties served these ends.
The principle of "registration" introduced by the All-Russian Central Executive Committee's decree of 12 June, 1922 declared illegal all religious organizations which had not received permission to exist from local or central authorities. The decree stated that registration should be refused,
"if the aims or methods of activity of the Society or Union in question are contrary to the Constitution of the RSFSR and its laws."
This enabled authorities to be totally arbitrary with respect to registration, because, as the practice of those years showed, any religious organization could automatically be accused of having aims and methods of an anti-Soviet nature. Thus, the very fact of belonging to the
Church, to one of its communities, became a crime, and "registration", which cancelled this accusation a priori, was given when a community carried out the authority's arbitrary and sometimes impracticable demands.
The Church, as a single whole, had the right to exist only as an association of registered societies which elected the central executive bodies at their provincial or All-Russian assemblies. Permission for an assembly, according to the Decree, was given only by the NKVD. In individual cases, when the convocation of an assembly was considered to be undesirable, the organ of church administration which had earned the "confidence" of the NKVD (there was no mention here of any legal norms) was simply given a note on "the non-finding of obstacles to the activity". Such a note on "the non-finding of obstacles to the activity" was given to the Synod of Metropolitan Sergius in 1927, for example. This is what was meant by the high-sounding name of "legalization".
"Legalization" was thus of a negative nature. The fact of belonging to the Church and to a church organization ceased to be considered a crime and accusations were now directed at concrete members of a church organization. The practice of applying this legislation was approved and demonstrated on the example of Renovationism. Repressions were stopped temporarily against that section of the clergy and laity which recognized the Renovationist SCA and its political program. At that time a refusal to acknowledge the SCA was regarded as solidarity will) Patriarch Tikhon, who had been charged in a court of law with counter-revolutionary activity, i.e. the non-recognition of Renovationism provided a basis for refusing to register church communities, confiscating their churches and instituting legal proceedings against their clergy.
An effective means of destroying church organizations was provided by the All-Russian Central Executive Committee decree of 10 July, 1922 (two months after the arrest of Patriarch Tikhon and the legalization of the Renovationism Supreme Church Administration!) on administrative exile. This decree was undoubtedly part of a whole plan and made it possible, in accordance with the NKVD Instructions appended to it, to exile administratively without a court decision for a period of up to three years persons
"whose residence in a given place... represents a danger from the point of view of safeguarding the revolutionary order, due to their activity, past and connection with the criminal environment."
Thus, the strategy consisted of dismembering the Church and "liquidating" it part by part (let us remember the Fifth Department of the People's Commissariat for Justice which was actually called a "Liquidation Department"). The "legalized" part of the Church, in the hope of continuing its existence,
occupied itself with re-educating the mass of believers in the requisite spirit, and the actual differentiation of the Church into persecuted and "patronizing" sections created the illusion of "freedom of conscience" and "non-interference" of the state in "purely religious matters". Thus the moral foundation of all struggle and protest was undermined, both at home and abroad. The existence of a "privileged" section of the church organization also created a temptation for the persecuted section, engendering a tendency to make deals, compromises and ideological concessions, which was essential for the "liquidators". In the final analysis, they remembered that a "modernized" and "re-painted" Church was even more dangerous than the former one, and subjected it to the same fate.
Such, at any rate, was the program as it emerges from he sum total of the facts. In reality this program came up against both internal contradictions in the party-state leadership and serious obstacles, external and internal. The most unexpected and powerful blow to the whole strategy of "liquidation" was the movement of the "autocephalists" against Renovationism. Then the strength of universal Christian solidarity and the outraged moral feeling of mankind showed itself, forcing the authorities, contrary to all their plans, to free Patriarch Tikhon and thereby undermine the influence of Renovationism.
The attempt to use Patriarch Tikhon himself for the ideological re-education of believers also failed; no one believed that the Patriarch was urging them to anything more than loyalty, i.e., patient execution of the demands and endurance of the abuses of Soviet power, and a-politicalness, i.e. indifference to political aims and ideals, communist ones included. As for the system of "registration", it too was unsuccessful at this time, for the people simply ignored it, continuing to visit "unregistered" churches and to offer up the names of their lawful, but also "unregistered" bishops during their worship: the people did not allow Renovationist priests into the churches. Equally ineffective were the threatening decrees issued shortly after the release of Patriarch Tikhon and slating that the charge against him had not been dropped, that only the "measure of preventing" his criminal activity had changed, that he had been released by a "private amnesty" - so that the mention of his name during a religious service would be considered as a counterrevolutionary demonstration and could serve as a basis for cancelling an agreement with the community on the leasing of the church (i.e. for closing the church or handing it over to the Renovationists). The mass arrests of bishops did not lead to the destruction of the Church either, since the Church responded to the arrests with a multitude of ordinations, many
of which were totally secret. The unreliable section of the episcopate, which had lapsed into Renovationism, was replaced by those who had shown themselves to be confessors and guardians of the church during the most difficult period of 1922-23.
It is not surprising that the authorities tried so hard to obtain from Patriarch Tikhon, and later from his successors, the right to control the composition of the episcopate; as long as this demand, which was the most important, although tacit, condition of "legalizing" the church administration, was not complied with, the Church, led by pastor-confessors and relying on the support of the mass of believers, was unshakeable. The liquidation of the Church proceeded unhampered only after the Church administration began to complement judical-administrative repressions against hierarchs with church-canonical repressions, dismissing exiled confessors from office and replacing them by persons who complied with the authorities demands. As long as the Church retained her inner purity and remained true to her canonical foundations, she resisted the onslaught of all foes successfully.
Meanwhile tins onslaught was becoming increasingly refined. To reinforce their "canonical" foundation, based on nothing but Patriarch Tikhon's note concerning the transfer of the chancellery and on the decisions of the illegal "Local Council" of 1923 (held a month before the Patriarch's release!) winch "removed" Patriarch Tikhon, the Renovationists turned to the Eastern Patriarchs for help.
The perilous position of the Ecumenical See of Constantinople, which had been cruelly repressed by Kemal Ataturk's government, prompted the Constantinople Patriarchs and the heads of the other Eastern Churches, who were closely connected with them, to the historically well-trod path of seeking political support from the Russian government. The Renovationists promised to "extract" this support and did their utmost to raise the authority of the Eastern Patriarchs. In return for this the latter were to recognize the Renovationist Synod as the only lawful head of the Russian Church, Patriarch Tikhon as responsible for the collapse of the church, and the very institution of the Patriarchate, as something born in the abnormal conditions of a revolutionary age and both irrelevant and harmful for the Russian Church.
Some of the Eastern Patriarchs, not sufficiently aware of the situation, agreed to this, although not without some hesitation. For them the decisive "argument" was the fact of the "legalization" of the Renovationist SCA by the Soviet government. Only after Metropolitan Sergius succeeded in obtaining the same legalization at the Renovationists, did the Eastern Patriarchs recognize his Synod as well and began to urge the "two sections" of the Russian Church, the Renovationist and the Sergian, to unite.
From 1924 the Orthodox
Church faced the real danger of a "Robber" Ecumenical Council, at which the Soviet Renovationists would dominate. Only thanks to a terrible Divine sign the Church was saved from tins great temptation. In 1927, when all the obstacles to the convening of the twice arranged and postponed "Ecumenical Council" seemed to have been removed, there was a strong earthquake (on 11 July) in Jerusalem and the vicinity, compelling the Jerusalem Patriarch to withdraw from participation in preparations for the Council, which was then postponed indefinitely...
Nevertheless the support of the Renovationists by the Eastern Patriarchs was one of the great spiritual disasters which befell the Russian Church. All disasters were victoriously resisted by the greatness of the Patriarchal office, its blessed strength, in which the power of the Supreme Pastor of the Church, Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, was manifested.
"Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it,"
said the Saviour about the Apostle Peter, and His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon carried out his Petrine duty worthily.
The last hope of the Renovationists and their protectors was for the death of Patriarch Tikhon, the hope that, having lost their patriarchal church head, the Russian bishops for the most part would not be able to administer the Church independently and would again turn to thew Renovationist Synod, drawn by force of habit, so hard to eradicate, of having some kind of "superior" over them.
These "hopes" for Patriarch Tikhon's death were realized remarkably soon.
Oil 26 November/ 9 December, 1924 some unknown persons attempted to assassinate His Holiness the Patriarch, killing his servant by mistake.
Shortly afterwards, on Annunciation day, 25 March/ 7 April, 1925, Patriarch Tikhon died suddenly in somewhat unclear circumstances (for details sec "Dates and documents"). The following is a description of his last moments by the Leningrad archpriest N.:
"About 10 o'clock in the evening His Holiness asked to wash and, with a severity unusual for him, 'in a grave voice, to which I was not accustomed,' to quote his new servant (Konstantin Pashkevich), said:
'Now I shall go to sleep... soundly and for a long time. The night will be long and very dark...'
Minutes passed, as His Holiness lay with closed eyes. After a short drowse, His Holiness opened his eyes and asked: 'What time is it?' 'A quarter to twelve.'
'Thank God,' said His Holiness, as if he had only been waiting for this hour, and began crossing himself..."
All the existing and former trends and groupings in the Russian Church (except Renovationism) unanimously agree that His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon was an upholder of the spiritual tradition of the Local Council and a guardian of the fullness and unity of the Russian Church throughout the whole of his
service. By his blessed wisdom and profound Orthodox spirit of churchly brotherly love he managed to unite around him different human elements of the Church, which inclined towards separatism and were in the grip of worldly passions and strife. At the same time he was and remains a symbol of the spiritual unity of Russia, a Pastor and Interceder for the whole Russian people.
At that time, however, the Russian nation was profoundly and tragically divided. Two names symbolize this division: Lenin and Patriarch Tikhon. The moral confrontation of these two individuals forms the epicenter of the revolutionary age, It was not a question of which of these names enjoyed the most authority among the people. The fact was that as long as a Church existed which revered Patriarch Tikhon, Russia had a choice, and there could be no talk of the final victory of the spirit of revolution. For state power, as such, the Church was in no way an obstacle, but rather a pillar and support. For a revolutionary party which was from the spiritual point of view a kind of pseudoreligious sect, however, reconciliation with the Church was impossible, at least with the Church of Patriarch Tikhon; and the people did not go over to the Renovationist church.
The "Tikhonite" Church was not an active political force, but its very existence, its very spirit, was a constant exposure and condemnation of the spirit of the revolution. The revolutionary party could only tolerate such a position temporarily and of necessity, but its prime task was still to break the moral basis of the Church, to corrupt her from within, to drive out of her the spirit of confessorship, the spirit of allegiance to Christ and His Kingdom. And there could only be one ultimate aim - to erase the very memory of this Church from the soul of the people. To what extent this plan was realized, how the Church was to resist it and whether she could withstand it spiritually, future years and decades were to show.
The Local Council and Patriarch Tikhon remained reliable points of reference in the spiritual battle that ensued.
"The cause and sufferings of Patriarch Tikhon are so vast, so unique in their kind, that they evade the cold and indifferent eye, - Archpriest Sergius Bulgakov, who was living in Prague at the time, said in his memorial speech. - Take the shoes off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground. Words fail and refuse to serve in the presence of this Gethsemanean struggle and at the sight of this road to Golgotha, and only love and gratitude seek to pour themselves out in words.
Only a few figures in the Church are so tragic in their earthly fate and at the same time so clearly marked b a special anointing of Divine election. The age, weak in faith, looks for signs, but signs are not given to those who refuse to see or hear. But for those who have eyes and ears, our time is full of great miracles, and of these signs and miracles
one of the most amazing, as the great grace of God to the Russian Church in the days of persecution and grief, was Patriarch Tikhon.
...What happened to him, death before death, a passing through the fire of sacrificial purification, left indelible features on his spirit: he was tempered and grew spiritually, as no one else. It was a special royal freedom with the total absence of fear for his fate. Everyone had a sense of joy in the Patriarch's presence, for he knew no fear, although he was surrounded by the constant menace of danger. Even brave hearts sometimes felt a secret fear, but he remained clear and radiant, even within a hair's breadth of death... I would even say more: it was clear that the Patriarch was even striving to be a sacrifice for his people; he seemed to be guided by the secret though that his death could redeem the freedom of he people...
Today he prays for the people, suffering and blinded, that they may become true, that they may keep in purity the holy treasure of Orthodoxy, that they may love God more than their own lives. The Patriarch in Fetters at the head of Russia became the light of the world in fetters, Never before in her history has the Russian Church been so exalted in her Head, as She was in these sad days of tribulation. And in the whole Christian world no name has been repeated with such respect as that of the Head of the Russian Church... And the sacred name which crowns Her in the days of tribulation is the name of a martyr in the Church which is enduring torment, the father of his unworthy children, His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon."