During the years of the great trouble only the Russian Church resisted the universal strife. By the sacrificial blood of its finest sons shed for non-participation in the fratricide, it reinforced the unshakeable Gospel foundation of future, longed-for unity. This was the only alternative to the spirit of hatred and fratricidal enmity from which Russia has not recovered to this day. The readiness of the Russian Church to perform this great sacrificial exploit for the sake of saving its people, the depth of the sacrificial self-consciousness with which this exploit was made, the scale of the confessiondom and martyrdom which even excelled the age of the Roman persecutions - all this showed that the Church, in spite of its historical ailments, had preserved and nurtured the primordial pledges, that it remained the true people of Christ, and that hope for salvation from sin and destruction was not yet totally lost. Russia's hope lies in mastering spiritually the new martyrs exploit. In its day the blood of the early Christian confessors and witnesses of the faith had provided the basis for the triumph of Christianity for a whole historical epoch, moreover, the most radiant and fertile epoch in the life of mankind. So now has the blood of the new martyrs, which have rejected the communist ideology and Renovationist schism, by nourishing the Russian Land abundantly, prepared the soil for a new flowering of life, possibly for that very Kingdom of Christ on earth which was heralded by the prophets, the Apocalypse and the early Church Fathers and for which Holy Russia has longed and dreamed from the start. In any case, these hopes have never had such a deep spiritual-historical basis as now. Nor have there ever been such real apocalyptic warnings...
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At first glance one of the most surprising facts about the revolutionary period is the calmness and even optimism with which the Russian Church, seemingly rooted in the Monarchy, greeted the collapse of the dynasty. If one is to believe the wording of the official acts of abdication by Nicholas II and Michael, and the response of the Holy Synod to them, the war and internal disturbances were objects of far greater general concern, than the form of state power. Nicholas II himself testifies in his act:
"The internal popular disturbances which have begun threaten to have a disastrous effect on the future conduct of a gruelling war... The cruel foe is mustering his last forces, and
the hour is close at hand when our valiant army will be able to crush the foe once and for all. In these decisive days in the life of Russia we have considered it our conscientious duty to make easier for the people Our close unity of all popular forces for the quickest attainment of victory and, in accordance with the State Duma, We have recognized the desirability of abdicating the throne of the Russian State and divesting Ourself of state power..." (for all references see "Dates and documents").
V. Shulgin, who together with A.Guchkov received this document, states that the Tsar composed this text quite independently, rejecting the draft offered to him on behalf of the Senate. Believing the statements about his unpopularity in the army which proceeded from representatives of the Duma and were confirmed by practically all the military generals, Nicholas II decided to sacrifice himself for the sake of a successful conclusion of the war.
According to the unanimous opinion of objective researchers, Russia's military victory over Germany in the spring-summer campaign of 1917 was fully guaranteed. Such a victory would have greatly strengthened the authority of the existing state structure (the "Duma Monarchy") and made possible its further fruitful development. Many consider, therefore, that the Tsar's abdication was a grave political error which was responsible for many of Russia's subsequent disasters. This may be so, but it is not our task here to give political assessments. For us it is important to clarify the spiritual motives by which the Tsar was guided in his decision. In this connection there are no grounds for not believing the last words which he addressed to the people as their Orthodox Monarch.
Grand Prince Michael, in whose favor Nicholas II abdicated the throne, did not dare to assume the burden of power either. Some believers detect an apocalyptic meaning in this, namely, the symbolical transfer of power to the Archangel Michael in keeping with the ancient prophecy:
"And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation..." Dan. 12: 1.
In his act Michael asserted the fundamental principle of monarchic consciousness: although the source of the Monarch's power lies in God, this power can act only if the people expresses its free consent to this form of rule. The Monarchy was established by the Russian people at the Assembly of the Land in 1613, but now loyalty to this decision was being questioned and a new expression of the people's will on the state structure was required. Therefore, although Nicholas II and Michael were undoubtedly convinced that the monarchic structure was the most beneficial for Russia's welfare, they could not impose this structure on the people against
its will. This is what is asserted in the last monarchic act of the Russian State:
"A heavy burden has been placed upon me by the will of my brother, who transferred to me the Imperial All-Russian throne at a time of unparalleled war and popular unrest. Inspired by a single thought with the whole people, that the good of our Homeland is higher than all else, I have taken the firm decision to accept supreme power only if this be the will of our great people, who should by a vote of the whole people through their representatives at a Constituent Assembly establish the form of government and new basic laws of the Russian State..."
This position was fully confirmed by the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Russian Church (entirely "monarchic" in its composition) in its appeal to believers of 9 March, 1917:
"The will of God has come to pass. Russia has embarked on the path of a new state life. May God bless our great Homeland with happiness and glory on its new path… The enemy still stands on our soil, and our splendid army must make great endeavors in the near future... For the sake of the happiness of the Homeland abandon all strife and discord at this great historic hour and unite in brotherly love for the good of the Homeland."
The signatories of the appeal included Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev, Archbishop Arsenius of Novgorod and the two future patriarchs - Tikhon and Sergius. In the last few days before the Tsar's abdication, when everything was in the balance, the church authorities with their great authority could have tried to influence the course of events decisively. However, the Synod firmly rejected a proposal by the Ober-Procuror Raev to issue a monarchistic appeal to Orthodox believers. Nor was any summons or appeal sent to Nicholas II and Michael with a request or demand that they observe their obligations of the Anointed as these had always been understood by the Church. All this shows that the church leadership also shared the idea of the for a new popular vote on the form of state structure.
The Orthodox Church could not, of course, expect anything good for itself from the Provisional Government. Bitter conflicts between representatives of the clergy and the political parties developed in the period of the Third and Fourth State Duma, and after the Provisional Government's resolution on the transfer of church parish schools to the Ministry of Education the conflict developed into an open confrontation. Nevertheless, there was no show of civic disloyalty in relation to the Provisional Government on the part of the Synod or the All-Russian Church Council which opened on 15 August, 1917.
After proclaiming the non-interference of the Church in the political struggle, the Council remained faithful to this principle, not giving any support to General Kornilov who blatantly distorted this support in his attempt, by agreement with Kerensky and Savinkov, to set up a
military dictatorship with them. The Council did not make any protest against the coup d'etat carried out by Kerensky, who accused Kornilov of conspiracy and proclaimed a "Russian Republic" with the transfer of full power to a "Council of Five", thereby usurping the exclusive right of the Constituent Assembly to chose the form of government. Nor did the Church Council react to the statement about the seizure of power by the Military Revolutionary Committee on 25 October, 1917 which proclaimed that its aim was to put an end to the usurpation of power by Kerensky and ensure free elections and the convening of a Constituent Assembly. Tins is how the event appeared to most of the population, particularly as the new government immediately began preparations for the elections as it had promised.
The Church could not pursue any "vested" interest in the convocation of the Constituent Assembly, since it was clear from the start that this would consist entirely of representatives of parties with a negative attitude towards the Church. There was no political party which defended the interests of the Church in Russia, and the Church had never tried to create such a party.
The political clericalism so typical of Europe had always been profoundly alien to the Russian Church. Although there were many members of the clergy in the Fourth Duma, they did not represent any particular party. While not pursuing its own special interests or intervening in the struggle of parties and claimants power, the Church nevertheless called on believers to play an active part in the forthcoming elections to the Constituent Assembly. A parallel was drawn with the Time of Troubles at the beginning of the 17th century, when the Assembly of the Land laid the foundation for the Russian state.
"Orthodox people are called upon to perform a great task,"
read the Message of the Church Council of 4 October, 1917.
"Not for the first time in our history the temple of its state life is collapsing, and our Homeland is rent with mortal strife. And again, as three centuries ago, Russia is summoned through the good sense of the people to strengthen the pillars of the law, to revive the shaken power, to protect freedom and order in our land with firm laws... Irreconcilable parties and class strife do not create a powerful state nor heal the wounds of the bitter war and all-destructive strife... May our people conquer the spirit of dishonor and hatred by which it is assailed, and then through a concerted effort it will complete its labor of state... But without love, humility and meekness, we embark on this great task in vain."
The Church Council also greeted the next coup d'etat without a murmur. The dissolution of the Constituent Assembly on the night of 5-6 January, 1918. In the mind of the Church this evidently meant the period of anarchy and the Time of Troubles was continuing. Could one
have expected the Church to believe in the strength and finality of the revolutionary seizure of power by a coalition of Bolsheviks and left-wing Socialist Revolutionaries?
How could the church leaders believe in this, if the leaders of these parties themselves did not? The newspaper lzvestia of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee during that period contained exultant leaders with such statements as:
"We have already lasted longer than the Paris Commune. History will not forget us!"
The question remains as to how the church mind could combine relative indifference to the form of government with profound concern about the fate of Russia. Here, evidently, the traditional idea in Orthodox political thought that the spiritual-moral "quality" of state power is determined primarily by the personalities of its concrete bearers, whereas the formal structure of power is secondary, made itself felt. This would explain the apparent disparity between statements about the Church's non-participation in politics and such resolutions of the Church Council as the following one of 2 December, 1917:
"The Head of the Russian State, the Minister of Confessions and the Minister of Public Education and their Comrades should be Orthodox."
The same resolution states that the Orthodox Russian Church
"holds pride of place among the other confessions in the Russian State, which befits it as the great historical force which created the Russian State."
The church leaders at that time could not imagine that a nation of believers "to a man" could permit a state power over it which was not morally based on Orthodoxy and the Church. Thus, in Patriarch Tikhon's letter to the Council of People's Commissars of 13/26 October, 1918, he said:
"It is not for us to judge earthly power, all power allowed by God would attract Our blessing on it, if it were truly "the handservant of the Lord" for the good of those under it and were "not a terror to good works, but to the evil" (Rom. 13:3). Today, however, We extend our word of admonition to you who are using power to persecute your neighbors and destroy the innocent..."
The use of the conditional "if" suggests that the power in question is not recognized religiously by the Patriarch as such. By calling the Bolslieviks not the bearers of State power, but only "the users of power," the Patriarch makes it clear that he is referring to random people, rebels, "internal interventionists".
It took years before the new power managed to win a conclusive victory and the support of the majority of the people. Whatever just moral indignation the methods by which they won this may arouse, the reality of the people's expression of will must be recognized. In the course of the Civil War which affected most of the population the people,
in the final analysis, "voted" for the Bolsheviks.
After this it was impossible to say that the power of the Bolsheviks was only an "internal occupation" of Russia by a group of conspirators based on non-Russian and non-Orthodox elements. It had to be admitted that a profound schism had taken place in the Russian people itself, in the course of which one section of the people had conquered the other. From the church point of view it was not the best section that won, but to ignore this fact was no longer possible.
The Bolsheviks managed to respond to some profound (even if partially sinful) aspirations of the popular majority and therefore received recognition from that majority and support from their blood. From a position of faith, it was essential to acknowledge that Almighty God, who organizes the fates of peoples in accordance with their free will (without such freedom there would be no mankind and no history), made it possible for victory to be won by a power which was able to detect and realize these profound aspirations in an overwhelming section of the people - overwhelming not even in numbers, but in the energy and strength of their endeavors.
A change, on an historical scale, in the character of power could happen only to the extent that these profound popular aspirations changed too. But this was no longer a matter of political or military struggle, but of long, peaceful, patient church service, a matter of accumulating new spiritual and moral experience by the free human beings which constitute the people.
When this bitter historical truth became obvious, the Church found the strength and humility to recognize the new power and pray to God for help in its service of the state. And this could no longer be prevented by the fact that, in spite of the Church's wishes, the leaders of this state were atheists and bearers of a pseudo-religious communist ideology which competed with Christianity. It was a manifestation not of faintheartedness and servitude, but of faithfulness to God and willingness to continue to serve one's people spiritually even in the most difficult conditions. This recognition was expressed quite clearly in Patriarch Tikhon "Will" of 25 March/ 7 April 1925:
"In the years of great civil collapse, by the will of God, without which nothing takes place in the world, at the head of the Russian state came Soviet power, which has taken upon itself the hard obligation of obliterating the disastrous consequences of the war and the terrible famine... We call on all beloved children of the God-protected Russian Church at this responsible time of organizing the general welfare of the people (note that this was written at the height of NEP - L.R.) to join with Us in ardent prayer to the Most Heigh to send down help to Worker-Peasant power in its labors for the general good... We call on them
not to nourish hopes for a return of the monarchic system and to rest assured that Soviet power is a truly Popular Worker-Peasant power, and therefore strong and unshakeable..."
This text was signed by Patriarch Tikhon on the day of his death (in which connection doubts were even expressed as to whether his signature was authentic); the author of the text was Metropolitan Peter, Patriarch Tikhon's faithful helper and his worthy successor to the post of Head of the Church administration. In spite of the extremely benevolent expressions concerning state power, in spite of the unconditional recognition of the legitimacy of this power and the promise of complete loyalty to it, there is one thing absent in this "Will": heartfelt solidarity, a compromise with communist ideology, a mixture of Christian spirit with the spirit of revolution. This we do not find in any statement by Patriarch Tikhon and his faithful supporters; synergism with God leaves no place for "synergism" with the sinful world. It was spiritual basis of martirs deeds. The contrast was particularly striking compared with the numerous statements by leaders of the Renovationist schism (see next chapter), which were full of precisely this "synergism" with communist ideology and the spirit of revolution. In the religious tribulations of that period the watershed lay not along the line of "recognition or non-recognition" of Soviet power, "loyalty of disloyalty" to it, but along a completely different line, that of "recognition or solidarity," "loyalty or synergism". Without realizing this it is quite impossible to understand anything in the chaos of events, the multitude of different positions and opinions characteristic of this time.
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