Assessing the position of Metropolitan Sergius, in their letter of 14/27 September, 1927 the Solovetsky bishops, while agreeing with the statements on loyalty contained in the Declaration, did not approve the document as a whole, since it gave grounds for thinking of the "full merging of Church and state"; it contained a "dishonest" expression of gratitude to the government, not in keeping with the dignity of the Church, expressing gratitude for the government's attention to Her spiritual needs; and it placed on the Church "all the guilt for the lamentable clashes between Church and state." Most important was the objection to the bans which Metropolitan Sergius had placed upon his brethren:
"The message threatens to expel from the clergy of the Moscow Patriarchate priests who have emigrated for their political activity, i.e., it imposes a punishment for political actions, which is contrary to the resolution of the All-Russian Council of 1917-18 of 3/16 August, 1918, which explained the canonical impermissibility of such punishments and rehabilitated all persons deprived of office for political activities in the past (Arseny Matseyevich, priest Gregory Petrov)."
There will be no peace in the Russian Church, until this Council principle of the a-political nature of the Church and the personal freedom of Her members in relation to non-church affairs is applied in all sincerity to all aspects of human life. What is the use of churchly love, if it cannot rise above secular and political disagreements!
One could have recognized that the political position adopted by Metropolitan Sergius and his supporters also had a right to exist - for at a time of harsh persecution both faint-heartedness and lack of faith inevitably appear. While the firm zealots of church truth could only have been urged to brotherly indulgence, patience and toleration of their brethren's frailty. Even in these conditions it would have been possible to retain mutual brotherly love, the real basis of church unity, if Metropolitan Sergius had acted in the spirit of the Council resolutions, in the spirit of canonical truth and church freedom. Without claims to Patriarchal authority, without coercion of the Episcopate and the conscience of believers, if he had relied only on his personal authority and appealed for voluntary union around himself of those who shared with him the views outlined in his Declaration!
The main tragedy of the Russian Church lay not so much in the spiritual impotence, lack of principle and faint-heartedness of part of Her hierarchy, as in the fact that these weaknesses and defects were forcibly imposed on the whole Church at the price of brotherly love and church truth. The same sin of brotherly strife which had destroyed Russia was now threatening to destroy the Russian Church spiritually. This coercion could not be justified even if Metropolitan Sergius had adopted
a canonically, morally and civically irreproachable position, but what can one call the behaviour of a hierarch who reinforced the exile of his brother arch-hierarchs by dismissing them from their dioceses and prefaced arrests with "canonical" bans of those who did not recognize his authority and the program of the Bishops?
One of Metropolitan Sergius's spiritual heirs, Archimandrite (later Archbishop) Ioann (Snychev), wrote in 1965 concerning the events in question:
"Christ's Church on earth cannot exist other than in a union with the state. Its lack of rights cannot last for long... The ancient Church during the days of the martyrs was burdened by its saintly lack of rights and strove constantly to emerge from its illegal position... Metropolitan Sergius is right in concluding that it is unwise to cast a great multitude of "small forces" into the furnace of temptation and that the development of normal church life can take place only in a lawful union of Church and State."
We shall now quote as an objection to this the idea of a prelate, undoubtedly of great authority for Archbishop Ioanhn (Snychev) as well, the great Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, who wrote this a century earlier:
"Yes, there is profit when the altar and the throne are allied, yet it is not mutual profit that forms the first basis of their union, but independent truth, which supports the one and the other. Good and blessing to the tsar-protector of the altar; but the altar does not fear to fall even without this protection. Right is the priest who preaches respect for the tsar, yet not from reciprocal right, but from sheer duty, if it is done without hope of reciprocity... Constantine the Great came to the altar of Christ, when it already stood in the expanses of Asia, Europe and Africa: he came not to support it with his might, but to prostrate himself in all his majesty before its Sanctity. He Who dwells in the heavens laughed early at those who thought late to abase His divine religion to independence on human assistance. To make their sophistry risible, He waited three centuries before calling the wise Emperor to the altar of Christ, and in the meantime day after day men rose up to destroy this altar: the emperor, nations, wise men, force, art, gain, cunning and fury. And what came of it? That all disappeared, and Christ's Church is standing not because it is supported by human strength…". V.M. Skvortsov. Tserkovny Sovet i gosudarstvenny razum. St. Petersburg. 1912, p. 26
One could quote oilier arguments, but we know too well that it is pointless to combat an "argument" like fear with the help of historical and canonical reasoning.
We know that, unfortunately, many in the Russian Church thought as Archbishop John, but while regretting this, we by no means believe that it put them outside the Church. Yet we also know for sure that not everyone in the Russian Church thought
like that, and in 1927 there were also many Bishops who did not think as Metropolitan Sergius. And it was precisely this canonical right of theirs to hold a different view, this position of theirs as independent church hierarchs, which Metropolitan Sergius sought to destroy in violating all canons and moral norms.
The main justification in the eyes of Sergius himself was the "bureaucratic" argument expounded by him in his message of 18/31 December, 1927:
"The Lord placed upon us the great and extremely responsible duty of steering the ship of our Church at a time when the disorder of church affairs seemed to have reached the final extreme and the church ship had hardly any government. The center was ill-informed about the life of the dioceses, and the dioceses often knew about the center only from rumors. There were dioceses and even parishes, which, groping their way amid this lack of information, lived a life apart and often did not know whom to follow in order to preserve Orthodoxy. Such rich soil for the spreading of all manner of fables, deliberate deceit and pernicious delusions. Such a vast field for all manner of arbitrariness..."
It is a painful situation indeed when the Church's pastors - bishops and priests, do not know how to "preserve Orthodoxy" without instructions from the "center" and, finding themselves without superiors, so easily become victims of "fables", "deceit" and "delusions". However much Metropolitan Sergius exaggerated this "helplessness of the pastors", there was a grain of truth in his words, undoubtedly. It was this helplessness to a large extent that undermined the great Patriarchal idea expressed in the Decree of 7/20 November, 1920. This helplessness is the root of many troubles in the Russian Church.
While in no way denying the need at this time for various types of church associations around authoritative hierarchs, we cannot agree that Metropolitan Sergius was the only arch-hierarch in the Russian Church capable of becoming the center of such an association. Subsequent experience showed that there was a considerable number of hierarchs in the Church who, without the guidance of Metropolitan Sergius and without the notorious "legalization" obtained at the cost of violating moral and canonical truth, were able to preserve Orthodoxy in their Diocese just as well as Metropolitan Sergius did! And the most outstanding of these hierarchs not only carried out the Patriarch's plan, but also demonstrated the illegality, ecclesiological worthlessness and fictitious nature of all Metropolitan Sergius's claims to decide the fate of the Russian Church, and the lawlessness and invalidity of all his "bans", "prohibitions" and "dismissals". And the more Metropolitan Sergius tried to legalize and intensify the age-old ailments of the Russian Church, the more significant and fruitful
became the prophetic daring with which its best pastors sought to heal these ailments.
In a letter from his place of confinement dated 10/23 December, 1927 Archbishop Hilarion (Troitsky) suggested setting up a Provisional Church Body the main task of which would be to negotiate with the authorities and unite the clergy with the aim of preparing a new Local Council:
"The provisional church body should see its task as the modest and practical one of convening a Council... The loathsome specter of the Supreme Church Administration (SCA) of 1922 is hovering over the hierarchy and church people. Church people have become suspicious. The provisional church body should avoid like the plague the slightest resemblance of their activity with the criminal activity of the SCA. Otherwise only new confusion will arise. The SCA began with lies and deception. We must build everything on truth... The SCA proceeded to persecute everyone who would not submit to it, that is, all decent people from the hierarchy and from other churchmen... This loathsome aspect of the criminal activity of the SCA and its successor, the so-called Synod, with its Councils of 1923-25 earned it well-deserved contempt... The actions of the provisional church body should contain nothing of the sort, not the slightest hint.
I stress this consideration in particular, because I see the greatest danger precisely in this...
The provisional church body should convene, and not select the Council as the notorious SCA did in 1923. A selected Council will have no authority and bring no peace in the Church, only fresh trouble. There can hardly be any need to increase the number of perfidious councils in history; three is enough: Ephesus in 449 and the two Moscow councils of 1923-25". (elsewhere our italics - L.R.).
The danger which Archbishop Hilarion indicated manifested itself to the full in Metropolitan Sergius's activity. Having won the "right" to transfer and dismiss Bishops, he now created a vicious circle. By changing the composition of the hierarchy in the direction which he desired, lie was then able to create the impression of "soborny" approval of his actions. Obviously in such a situation this "sobornost" was a total fiction.
Metropolitan Sergius carried out the same procedure with the Synod: out of seven dozen Russian arch-hierarchs he chose six bishops with doubtful reputations, but totally obedient to him; and after this he began to speak of a "co-managing" body of authority, using the signatures of Synod members to reinforce decisions which still remained his own in spite of this. Recognition of the principle of bureaucratic despotism led to a situation in which a single Bishop who had taken control of the church chancellery, was able to change the hierarchal composition and spiritual face of a whole Local Church. Such a position would have been totally impermissible
even if there had been a real Patriarch in place of Metropolitan Sergius...
The first attempt to break the vicious circle was made by Metropolitan Joseph of Leningrad, whom Metropolitan Sergius in his Synodal decree of 31 August/I 3 September, 1927 transferred to the Odessa cathedra - on the grounds that the civil authorities had banned Metropolitan Joseph from entering Leningrad. Metropolitan Joseph replied by refusing point-blank to obey the order concerning Ins transfer because it was illegal and unacceptable. His action created a precedent which threatened to upset Metropolitan Sergius's whole plan for refashioning the Church. It was necessary to take special measures.
From the report of Bishop Nicholas (Yarushevich) of Peterhof on unrest in the Leningrad diocese in connection with the case of Metropolitan Joseph, Metropolitan Sergius and the Synod, which was now called the Provisional Patriarchal (!?) Holy Synod, passed a resolution in which they made use of all devices calculated to make an impression on a superfluous and immature ecclesiological consciousness: references to canons which essentially had nothing to do with the case; mention of "the good of the church" and appeals for "church obedience and discipline"; insistence on the "artificial nature" of Metropolitan Joseph's connection with the Leningrad diocese; advice to Metropolitan Joseph "not to be tempted by the easy possibility of living in Rostov"; and a demand that he should not create "confusion" among believers...
The believers of the Leningrad diocese were instructed to stop offering up the name of Metropolitan Joseph during Divine worship and to obey the temporary administrator of the diocese, Bishop Nicholas (Yarushevich). Metropolitan Joseph again refused to obey, however, and in his (third) letter to Metropolitan Sergius of 17/30 October consistently denied Metropolitan Sergius's accusation, saying that the unrest in the diocese had been caused not by him, Metropolitan Joseph, but by Metropolitan Sergius's order concerning his transfer, which had secretly been made public in the diocese; that his connection with the diocese was not artificial, but based on ardent love of him by his flock; that a tedious life in Rostov held no "temptation" for him - whatsoever; and, finally, that he did not wish to "obey" the church authority, because this very "church authority" was in a "servile condition".
In reply to an enquiry concerning his arrival in Odessa, Metropolitan Joseph sent the following telegram to Metropolitan Michael of Kiev:
"Have refused the anti-canonical, unscrupulous transfer which threatens wicked intrigue."
Metropolitan Joseph could not yet formulate precisely where the illegality of Metropolitan Sergius's actions lay, but, while formally recognizing him as the hearer of church authority, he Holy Canons are what preserves
the Church and not what destroys it knew by virtue of his profound church instinct that the; and that in the situation in question it was he, and not Metropolitan Sergius, who was really acting in accordance with the truth of the Church.
And this was unquestioned by the true sons of the Church, in spite of the fact that Metropolitan Sergius, like the Renovationists before him, began to receive one by one the greetings of the Eastern Patriarchs, who had learnt "with joy" of his reconciliation with the civil authorities and recognized him as the lawful leader of one of the "halves" of the Russian Church, together with the Renovationists...
In October 1927 Bishop Victor (Ostrovidov) of Izhevsk sent an angry letter to Metropolitan Sergius, expressing his views on Metropolitan Sergius's "appeal" (Declaration):
"From beginning to end it is full of serious untruth and is a mockery of the Holy Orthodox Church and of our confessorship for the Divine truth, which angers the soul of believers. And through its handing over of Christ's Church for profanation to "those outside", it is a grievous renunciation of salvation, or renunciation of Our Savior Himself. This sin, as the Divine Word testifies, is no less than any heresy or schism, but incomparably more, for it casts man straight into the abyss of perdition...
To the best of our ability, "we have protected both ourselves and our flock, so as not to become involved in this sin, and for this reason have sent the "appeal" back. Acceptance of the "appeal" would have testified before God to our indifference and lack of concern for God's Holy Church - the Bride of Christ..."
As is often characteristic of zealots, Bishop Victor did not show the necessary patience and indulgence to those vacillating and faint-hearted members of the Church, whose moods were to some extent expressed by Metropolitan Sergius. However, in defending the spiritual purity of the Church, Bishop Victor also expressed the feelings of many believers, and this was yet another indication of the falsehood and deception of Metropolitan Sergius's claims to impose his private political position on the whole Russian Church. Not everyone wrote such letters as Bishop Victor, but, as Archimandrite John (Snychev) states (who studied this question from the material of Metropolitan Manuel (Lemeshevsky), in many dioceses the parishes which sent the Declaration back to its author were in the majority!
In connection with his point-blank refusal to accept the course of church policy imposed by Metropolitan Sergius, Votkinskaya and a section of the Vyatsk diocese led by Bishop Victor went over to self-administration, repeating the experience of the struggle against Renovationism.
Then the Petrograd diocese raised its voice.
In December 1927 Professor Archpriest V.Veryuzhsky set out in a letter to Metropolitan Sergius the demands which
Metropolitan Sergius should, in the opinion of the Leningrad clergy, carry out in order to put an end to the unrest in the Church caused by his activity.
“1. To renounce his planned course of the Church's enslavement to the state.
2. To renounce the transfers and appointments of bishops without the agreement of their flock and the bishops in question.
3. To put the Provisional Patriarchal Synod in the place which was determined for it on its founding as an advisory body, and to ensure that instructions are issued only in the name of the Deputy.
4. To remove from the membership of the Synod the disputed persons (i.e. Archbishop Seraphim Alexandrov, Bishop Alexis Simansky and Bishop Philip Gumilevsky - L.R.)
5. To ensure in the organization of Diocesan Administrations that the foundations of the Orthodox Church, the canons, the resolutions of the Local Council of 1917-18 and the authority of the episcopate are preserved in all possible ways.
6. To return Metropolitan Joseph (Petrovykh) to the Leningrad cathedra.
7. To abolish the offering up of the Deputy's name (Metropolitan Sergius had ordered the offering up of his name during the Liturgy after the name of Metropolitan Peter: allegedly in distinction to the Gregorians, who remembered only Metropolitan Peter - L.R.)
8. To abolish the resolution on the elimination from divine worship of prayers for exiled bishops and on the offering up of prayers for civil power."
We shall now quote Metropolitan Sergius's replies to the first three demands:
"1. To renounce the course of church policy which I consider right and compulsory for Christians and in keeping with the needs of the Church would be not only foolhardy on my part, but also criminal.
2. The transferring of bishops is a temporary phenomenon, which owes its origin largely to the fact that the attitude of our church organization to civic power is still unclear. I agree that transfer is often a blow, not to the Church, however, but to the personal feelings of the bishop himself and his flock. But, bearing in mind the extraordinary nature of the situation and the efforts of many to rend the body of the church in this or that way, both the bishop and his flock should sacrifice their personal feelings for the good of the church as a whole.
3. The Synod is standing in its place, as an administrative body. This is what it was under the Patriarch also, although it was also composed of invited persons."
Analyzing those replies, we can formulate the basic features of Metropolitan Sergius's position as follows:
1. Complete renunciation of the Local Council resolution which abolished an overall compulsory church policy: what "I think is right" it would be "criminal" not to impose on the whole Church as universally binding ("compulsory for Christians").
2. Proclaiming of the primacy of civic power in the matter of transfers
and dismissals of bishops: the Bishop, who is chosen and appointed to the cathedra "for life", is dismissed from it in the event of civil exile, winch separates the bishop from his diocese for only a few years.
Thus the very foundation of the Church - the indissoluble link of the Bishop with his flock laid down by the Local Council - was arbitrarily undermined. This did indeed "rend the body of the Church," destroying church unity in faith and love, which is expressed not least in the "personal feelings of the bishop," about which Metropolitan Sergius speaks so disparagingly. A blow to these feelings, disparagement of them, is one of the severest blows to the unity of the Church.
Moreover, Metropolitan Sergius ignores the fact that the transfers of bishops carried out in accordance with his personal arbitrariness or under pressure from civil authority resulted in artificial selection of the composition of the episcopate on the principle of political orientation, i.e., a principle which is totally anti-canonical.
3. By calling the Synod "Patriarchal" and basing its existence on a precedent which took place under Patriarch Tikhon, Sergius is emphasizing the false idea that his power is identical to that of the Patriarch. Moreover, the creation of the Synod and the Supreme Church Administration from person not elected by the Council was an uncanonical, mistaken act for the Patriarch himself, which he rectified under the influence of his brother arch-hierarchs, about which Metropolitan Sergius says nothing here.
In the same month (December, 1927) the seventy-year-old elder, Bishop Dimitri (Lyubirnov) of Gdov, wrote a letter to the clergy explaining the causes of severance of canonical communication with Metropolitan Sergius. Although the letter testified to the rebirth of the Council principles of the dignity of the Bishop and the separation of the Church from politics, Bishop Dimitri in his argument repeats Metropolitan Joseph's mistake: the substitution of the idea of personal rule for the idea of Divine rule (through the First Hierarch). His criticism was based largely on Metropolitan Sergius's deviations from the principle of personal rule - neither this principle itself nor Metropolitan Sergius's right to the power of the First Hierarch are called in question! Metropolitan Sergius is even reproached for the unlawful "self-restriction" of Ins own rights. In this argument people sensed clearly the contradiction between church reality and Bishop Dimitri's canonical position - everyone saw that by creating the Synod Metropolitan Sergius had not placed any real restrictions on his power (if one discounts "self-restriction" in favor of the NKVD!).
By concentrating attention only on the outward distortion of the Patriarchal system, the church critics of Metropolitan Sergius were at first unable to understand and express the essence of this distortion, for
they themselves had a mistaken or insufficiently clear understanding of the essence of the office of First Hierarch.
Metropolitan Sergius made brilliant use of this weakness in the position of his early critics and suppressed the spiritual opposition of vacillating hierarchs, by clamping their minds in a vice of pseudocanonical arguments. Superior by far to most Russian bishops in his formal precision of thought and speed of orientation in complicated situations, lie did not so much try to heed the voice of his brethren, albeit not always clear, but deeply honest, or to perceive the riches of
soborny testimony and give it clear canonical form, making use of his knowledge and abilities, as to search for weak points in the arguments of his critics and silence them by his intellectual superiority. And this was also one of the profound manifestations of the replacement of the spirit of church sobornost by the spirit of coercion, which is so characteristic of Metropolitan Sergius. What a striking contrast with the ability and readiness of His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon to listen to all the voices, even the weakest, coming from the midst of church life!
Several years had yet to pass before Metropolitan Sergius himself was to experience the bitterness of total canonical defeat from such a spiritually strong hierarch as Metropolitan Cyril, who completely demolished Ins sophisticated logical constructions.
But for the time being Metropolitan Sergius "got the better" of all the objections concerning the extent of his powers without any great difficulty. Everything seemed extremely simple: Metropolitan Peter had received the full powers of First Hierarch from the Patriarch and handed them over in full to his Deputy - Metropolitan Sergius.
Insofar as, on the one hand, Metropolitan Peter in the office of Locum Tenens was essential to Metropolitan Sergius as a strong shield against the claims of other candidates for the office, namely Metropolitan Cyril and Agathangel, yet on the other hand, the intervention of Metropolitan Peter himself was not always to the advantage of Metropolitan Sergius (let us recall that Metropolitan Peter twice removed Metropolitan Sergius from the office of deputy), Metropolitan Sergius formulated Ins own conception of the office of locum tenens, on the principle "the king reigns, but does not rule".
Metropolitan Peter remained, according to this conception of Metropolitan Sergius's, the sole mystical head of the Church, which was expressed in the offering up of his name during the Liturgy and the refusal to admit other Locum Tenentes to power; the "real" head, however, was the Deputy, Metropolitan Sergius, which was also expressed in the offering up of his name and in the complete church-administrative subjection to him of the whole Russian episcopate. To protect himself from a possible repetition of the situation in which information on the position of church
affairs managed to reach Metropolitan Peter and he made another attempt to deprive Metropolitan Sergius of his powers as deputy, the latter "deprived" Metropolitan Peter of all real power. He had already refused to carry out a resolution from the "mystical" Head of the Church on the grounds that Metropolitan Peter was "far from church affairs" and was bound to make mistakes due to his lack of information (which had actually happened in the episode with the Gregorians). The only condition on which Metropolitan Sergius admitted the possibility of resigning his powers as "First Hierarch" was if Metropolitan Peter should return to the actual administration of the Church - however, for reasons which had nothing to do with church canons, there was no fear of this...