Patriarch Tikhon was chosen by God to restore strong leadership to the Russian Church at what was, without doubt, the most difficult moment in its entire history up to that point. The Church faced the phenomenon of revolution as an attempt to rebuild human society without God. The gates of Hades did not prevail. A century later, not just Russia, the whole world is facing the challenge of revolution reinvented as moral revolution. I feel that the Church of Russia, to which we belong, has a unique opportunity to bring to the table its historical experience of dealing with the challenges of revolution, should it accept this mission.
Vasily Bellavin, the future Patriarch Tikhon was born on 31 January 1865 in a large family of a provincial priest. In the years 1878-84, he studied at the Pskov seminary, closest to his home. He went on to study at the St Petersburg Theological Academy, graduating in 1888. During his studies, his friends, whom Vasily often helped with homework, called him prophetically “Patriarch”.
For several years, he taught Moral and Dogmatic Theology at his former Seminary, taking monastic vows in 1891. By 1897, at the age of thirty-two, he was ordained Bishop of Lublin (Poland) and in September of the following year appointed to the American Diocese.
Bishop, and from 1905 Archbishop Tikhon spent less than ten years in America, but left a legacy as an exemplary Archpastor, missionary, church builder and founder of the first Orthodox Seminary in North America. In his contacts with Orthodox of all backgrounds in America, as well as with the Western denominations, especially Episcopalians, he made Orthodoxy a noticeable presence in American religious life.
The next ten years he was active in Yaroslavl (1907), Vilno (1913) and in June of 1917, the summer between the two revolutions of 1917 he was appointed to the important see of Moscow as its Metropolitan. In this capacity, he attended the opening of the All-Russian Church Council on the feast of Dormition (15 August 1917).
The proceedings of the Council, especially the process of restoration of the Patriarchate were full of controversy. Russia had not seen a Patriarch since 1700 when Patriarch Adrian died and Tsar Peter established the Synodal administration of the Church (1721). None of the Tsars thought seriously about allowing the Church to elect a Patriarch, except the last Emperor. The Synodal System had more than 200 years of momentum. In addition, many of the 586 official delegates were intoxicated with the spirit of revolutionary liberty after the forced abdication of the Tsar. Liberalism in the Church had roots going back to the 19th century. The discussion of the question concerning restoration of the Patriarchate at the Council began on 11 October 1917. While the majority of the delegates supported the restoration, a vocal minority kept fighting against it. Archbishop Nikon (Rklitsky, “Biography of The Most Blessed Anthony, Metropolitan of Kiev and Galicia”, N.Y., 1956-63) points out that it was the intense street battles in Petrograd and Moscow between the Bolsheviks and the defenders of the Provisional Government later in the month that brought about the end of the debates. Bishop Mitrophan, responsible for questions of Church governance made a summary of the various views expressed earlier and concluded: “The matter of the restoration of the Patriarchate cannot be postponed: Russia is burning, everything is perishing” (op.cit. Vol IV p.200, in Russian).
The newly chosen Patriarch saw perfectly well that his service would be filled with “lamentation and mourning and woe” (Ezek. 2:10), words of the prophet he quoted in his acceptance speech. In his first epistle as Patriarch (18/12/1917), St Tikhon lists the various woes – the exhausting Great War, invasion of enemies and internecine bloodshed. However, it is the spiritual confusion, loss of faith and militant atheism that brought the greatest pain to his heart. Yet he points out that not all the Orthodox people had bent their knees before Baal. He expressed the hope that through their prayers and the prayers of the Mother of God, the Holy Hierarchs of Moscow and all Saints of Russia, God would bring calm to the raging sea of national life (“The Acts of the Most Holy Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow and of all Russia; and later documents and correspondence regarding the succession of the Supreme Church Authority 1917-43”, Moscow, 1994, p.70). In his sermon on New Year’s Day (1918), said at the Church of Christ the Redeemer, St Tikhon compares the efforts of nation building of the past year with the building of the Tower of Babel, a Godless endeavour that had brought poverty, hunger and countless sufferings to the people (Ibid., p.76). Less than three weeks later he published his epistle with anathema (excommunication) of the lawless and persecutors of the Orthodox faith and the Church. In the letter that was circulated in the Churches, he lists the bloody crimes of the Bolsheviks and cries out:
“Come to your senses, madmen, stop your bloody massacres. What you are doing is not just cruel, it is truly satanic…” (Ibid., p.76). The epistle, written with power and conviction, was never forgotten by the new rulers – and never forgiven. The bloodshed that was then just beginning took the lives of around 90,000 clergy and monastics in the years of the Russian Civil War. We have no reliable numbers for the losses among lay believers.
Communist ideology was unequivocal about the Church – or any religion. It had no future in the new order, and the Bolsheviks went about not only killing clergy and monastics, but also closing down churches, church schools, monasteries, benevolent and theological institutions. In the separation of Church and State, the Church had lost its former position and influence in society through education local administration and various organisations. ”War Communism” ended with staggering losses of life and property, ruin of agriculture and industry. Following the Civil War a wave of anti government peasant riots began with the mutiny of sailors in Kronstadt early in 1921. Lenin was forced to take a step back: to announce the New Economic Policy in order to encourage agricultural production and some light industry. Nevertheless, the Church was prevented from playing any positive role in the rebuilding of life in war-torn Russia. When famine broke out in the Volga agricultural region, Lenin and his government sought to capitalise on this to undermine the Church. The State propaganda published lies that it was unwilling to help the starving peasants.
In February 1922, Patriarch Tikhon published a letter in which he appealed to clergy and laity to take part in a fundraising drive to help the famine-stricken people of the Volga region by allowing voluntary donations of non-liturgical items from Churches. In the Ukase issued at the same time, he stressed that liturgical vessels and vestments were not be given, even voluntarily. He urged Rectors of parishes to explain to the people that forcible appropriation of these items should be resisted. There were numerous cases of repression following attempts of the laity to protect these sacred objects. In a secret memorandum, Lenin explained to local party apparatchiks that in fact provocation of Church people was desirable in order to gain propaganda mileage against the Church. Lenin wrote that the more priests and active Church people were arrested and shot – the better. Patriarch Tikhon appeared as a witness in the case of “Moscow Church workers” in the matter of forcible acquisition of Church valuables (Ibid., p.195). He pointed out in court that the authorities agreed with the Church offer to donate valuables. Subsequently a decree of the Central Committee was published which called for confiscation of Church valuables. The court transcript shows that the judge and the prosecutor constantly attempted to provoke the Patriarch to say that he had called this confiscation “sacrilege”, thus calling the Soviet government “thieves”. They blamed the Patriarch for bloodshed caused in confrontations of the faithful with the militias.
The Bolshevik leaders saw that in the aftermath of the Civil War, with the disappearance of whole classes of enemies, the Church remained its enemy number one. Party ideologue Bukharin (later shot on Stalin’s orders) said in 1922: “The Church front is most dangerous for Soviet power… Churches must be erased from the face of the earth as the breeding ground of counter-revolution… Citizen Bellavin (Patriarch Tikhon) has to be executed” (Archb.Nikon, op.cit. Vol VI, p.61). The fight against the Church involved a whole range of measures. One of the primary methods was the creation of Church groups that would play the part of Trojan horse. These would take over the administration and bring it under the control of the government. Then, gradual eradication of all religion was to occur. This plan began to take shape gradually. As early as 2 December 1919 an article appeared in one of the two main newspapers of the Soviet state, “Izvestia”, titled “Church and State”:
“The Church has always been an instrument in the hands of the government for the enslavement of the working masses. The Patriarch, faithful to the monarchic order anathematised the new power …the Church not only blessed the counter-revolution, but has been actively supporting it.
The Soviet power’s two year fight for survival has demonstrably shown that it cannot be indifferent to what the Church thinks and does … we are learning to be prudent and to support within the clergy the movements that follow the spirit of the times and support the Soviet power” (quoted in Archb.Nikon, op.cit. Vol. VI, p.87).
The Soviets put Patriarch Tikhon under house arrest in early May 1922 where he remained in preparation for his trial and until his release in June of the following year. During that time, Cheka official, Tuchkov worked with his collaborators,
Bishops Antonin (Granovsky) and Leonid (Okropiridze) and Archpriests Vvedensky and Krasnitsky of “the Living Church” to take over the control of the Patriarch’s Office. They tricked the Patriarch into believing that Metropolitan Agathangel of Yaroslavl would take the responsibility for Church administration during his arrest. In fact, the Metropolitan was prevented from coming to Moscow and the group of plotters took control. Understandably, the Moscow clergy, terrorised by the Soviets at first believed Bishop Antonin, until the Patriarch was able to publish a letter exposing the plotters. On 6/19 December 1922 the patriarch issued his anathema of the “Living Church” and anyone having dealings with it. He used strong expressions, calling them “Judases” in service of Satan and the Antichrist (Ibid., p.13). This anathema gave spiritual and moral direction to the clergy and the faithful of the Church and enabled them to defeat the temptation of the “Living Church”.
In the meantime, ROCOR, established in 1920 according to the Patriarch’s Ukase, undertook a whole range of measures to help with the release of the Patriarch. Molebens were served in parishes all over the world, submissions were made to heads of Western denominations (except the Pope) and to heads of European governments.
The Soviets used the “Living Church” in early 1923 to prepare for the trial and execution of Patriarch Tikhon. He was to be condemned by a “Church Council,” defrocked and demoted to the level of layman “Vasily Bellavin” which would make his execution more acceptable to the population. This false Council, headed by Bishop Antonin (calling himself the Metropolitan of Moscow) assembled 46 “Bishops” who obediently did what was expected of them by the Soviet authorities. Vvedensky advanced his thesis that the pre-revolutionary Church served not Christ, but the Romanov dynasty and that when the Tsar was removed, they replaced him with Patriarch Tikhon.
The Soviet authorities underestimated the great respect that Patriarch Tikhon had both in Russia and in Europe. Stories of atrocities brought to Europe and the New World by refugees from Russia during the Civil War prepared public opinion for firm action. The Soviets could not ignore Western public opinion at that time because they needed diplomatic recognition and establishment of trade links. Western Churches and governments offered strong protests to Moscow against the treatment of believers and especially of Patriarch Tikhon, with the media propaganda campaign against him, show trials by Church traitors and government and the looming threat of his execution.
Patriarch Tikhon was released, having issued under pressure and without knowledge of the international situation a statement that he was “not an enemy of the Soviet government”, yet he did not say that he was a “friend”. In the next two years until his death on the feast of Annunciation in 1925, he was subjected to constant, almost daily torment by Tuchkov to made endless small concessions to the party line. The “suggestions” were frequently seasoned with threats of repressions against clergy. Nevertheless, the Confessor Patriarch did not concede on any matters of principle, such as calling on the people of Russia to accept the new authorities as God-given; nor did he excommunicate the leaders of the Church Abroad who blessed the anti-Communist White Movement.
To the hundreds of thousands of the faithful who flocked to say goodbye to their Archpastor, a true father of the Church, it was obvious that St Tikhon died as a martyr, worn out by the unbearable torments he endured. The official medical cause of his death seemed also suspicious, because he had no history of angina.
On the day of the Patriarch’s funeral in Moscow, a future martyr, Archbishop John (Pommer) gave a eulogy at his cathedral in Riga. He listed in detail the methods of warfare that the Soviets had used against Patriarch Tikhon, all of which he had survived with honour. These were:
- Enticement; offering all kinds of “rewards” in return for recognition, to which he responded with the anathema;
- Threats of every possible variety; which did not change his views, but drew the people closer to him as a confessor;
- Offers of emigration, to which he replied that he would suffer with his people;
- Attempts to unsettle the Patriarch with their support of schismatic Renovationist groups, no less than five of which banded together in the “Robber Council” of 1923;
- Soviet propaganda encouraged anti-Orthodox Protestant groups and the Vatican to fight against the “Tikhonite” Church;
- Personal attacks and slander in newspapers, which the people did not believe, but called the Patriarch a confessor and martyr;
- Lies about his “repentance” published after his release were also understood by those who knew him to be slander;
- Rumours of the Patriarch’s ill- health, published regularly in the papers as if to prepare public opinion for his imminent death.
Archbishop John concluded his eulogy by saying that St Tikhon had become a popular hero, loved by the people. He said that the Church would look up to him in the future as a true “Rule of faith and an image of meekness” like St Nicholas of Myra.
Ivan Ilyin, one of a whole group of Russian religious philosophers, expelled by the Soviets from Russia in 1922, often said: “We have won!” He explained to the former officers and intellectuals that while physically they were defeated by the Bolsheviks, communist ideas had no long term future in Russia. Its future belonged to its traditional values, the Orthodox Christian faith and love of the Motherland – not to atheistic internationalism.
The same can be said of the heroic efforts of the Church led by Patriarch Tikhon in the years 1917 – 1925. It had defeated Satan and Antichrist in those years. The Satanic spiritual and moral revolution of Lenin and Trotsky was defeated. There would still be terrible repression and painful controversy over the Declaration extracted under duress from the terrorised Metropolitan Sergius, keeper of the Patriarchal throne. By the end of the 1930s, only a handful of churches remained open out of the pre-revolutionary fifty-thousand Churches and monasteries. However, the proof of the spiritual victory of the Church came with the German invasion in June 1941. Everywhere in occupied territories parishes sprung up. That was a clear signal to the former Georgian seminarian, Joseph Djugashvili (Stalin) that atheism had lost the war. Instead of trying to destroy the Church physically, he now began to think about its usefulness to the Soviet State.
What lessons for the Church today can we gain from the experiences of the Russian Church in 1917 – 1925? Firstly, we must not be deluded by long periods of relative peace for the Church. The Church in the Russian Empire – and that of course included Ukraine and Belarus as well as other independent countries of today – enjoyed peace for about 250 years before the Revolution. Ancient Romans used to say: “If you want peace – be ready for war.” Indeed, a similar message comes from the Lord Himself: The Church will always be under some attack. Be vigilant, do not slacken off. Satan’s technique number one is desensitisation. Desensitisation (if you like) is the method of cooking a live crayfish by gradually heating him in cold water, slowly brought to boil. If we look at the cultural and intellectual history of Russia, especially in the 18th and 19th centuries, but as early as 16th century, we will see that it was gradually affected by humanistic ideas coming in from Europe. Christian faith was eroded. Christian life, with some notable exceptions of a number of individuals and monasteries, became encased in superficial ritual, brought down often to superstition and semi magical perception. This caused the intelligentsia to seek answers to life’s problems in the writings of the European humanists. It was not until the 19th century that the great writers like Gogol, Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, as well as the group of Slavophile writers, began to visit the elders of Optina. This cultural process had similarities with the so-called Paleologue Renaissance in Byzantium: a fireworks display before the cataclysm.
Historians have said that people who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them. I think that Russia and the world, including us Orthodox Christians everywhere, have not yet understood the lessons of 1917 – 1925. We should learn from the Jews not to forget painful experiences. What happened in the former Russian Empire was a veritable Holocaust. While the Church is not of this world, and must not get enmeshed in the mundane secular political process, nevertheless, the Church must (and it has not yet, not in Russia) – condemn Communism as an ideology that is not only atheistic and God-hating, but also anti-human. Germans have realised the dangers of Nazism and have condemned it. The numerous statues of the Communist demigod in Russian cities should not be destroyed, but moved to museums of the Communist Holocaust. The Communist revolution of last century was not only anti-God, it sought to abolish humanity (see C.S Lewis: “the Abolition of Man”) to rebuild it as a machine: a clockwork society of individual mechanisms. Modern Western world continues the relay begun by the Communists. How else can we understand the moral revolution in the West, from 1960s spurred on by ideologues from rock culture: “join the holy orgy Kama Sutra everyone!” (“Sodomy”, song from the rock musical “Hair”, Oct. 1967). The same musical proclaimed that the Age of Aquarius was dawning. According to occult astrologers, the preceding Age of Pisces was the age dominated by Christianity and now the New Age was beginning. John Lennon invited everyone to “Imagine” this age of “ the brotherhood of man” with “no religion”. (Oct.1971). When we look at the countless manifestations of the moral revolution since the 1960s, it is not surprising where the world is now in terms of morality. What is surprising, considering the power of modern media, is that it took a whole two generations to reach it! About the same time was required to prepare the Revolution of 1917.
God, Who has sent His Only-begotten Son to be crucified for us – loves the world. As St Isaac the Syrian says, God will save human beings even if it takes Hell to do it, but stresses: brothers, I do not recommend that path…
The history of humanity can be viewed as a picture of greater and smaller cataclysms with periods of relative peace between them. This is well illustrated in the Bible with the stories of the Flood, the Tower of Babel and the history of Israel. (The word “cataclysm”, by the way, literally means “ablution”, a through wash). Cataclysms come when the life of the people of God becomes affected by the world and the preservative action of the “salt of the Earth” is weakened. It is our great responsibility to live up to the name of Christians, to separate ourselves from the moral decay of the world, in order to enable God to help the world. The image of the Holy Archpastor, St Tikhon, the Patriarch is “a rule of faith and an image of meekness” for our direction.
Archpriest Nicholas Karipoff
Paper presented at Symposium, Sydney, 14-17 July 2017
- After votes were cast to select three candidates from the Bishops of the Russian Church, lots were drawn.
- The Moscow faithful soon began to call him “Tikh-on”, “He is quiet” in the sense of meek and humble.
- Archbishop Nikon (Rklitsky), “Biography of Most Blessed Anthony, Metropolitan of Kiev and Galicia”, N.Y., 1956-63, 10 Vols.
- Op.cit. Vol IV p.200
- “The Acts of the Most Holy Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow and of all Russia; and later documents and correspondence regarding the succession of the Supreme Church Authority 1917-43”, compiled by M.E.Gubonin (1064 pages), Moscow, 1994, p.70
- Ibid., p.76
- Text of Lenin’s letter is quoted in Lev Regelson, “The Tragedy of the Russian Church, 1917-1945”, YMCA-PRESS 1977, p.280. In one of the earlier works on this subject by Protopresbyter Mikhail Polsky, “The New Russian Martyrs”, Jordanville, N.Y. 1949, the following figures are given for victims executed following the campaign of confiscation of Church property: 2,691 – white clergy; 1,962 – male monastics; 3,447 – nuns and novices – a total of 8,100 clergy and monastics (Vol I, p.214).
- “Acts”, op.cit., p.195
- Archb.Nikon, op.cit. Vol VI, p.61
- Quoted in Archb.Nikon, op.cit. Vol. VI, p.87
- Ibid., p.93
- Wikipedia gives the following figures for 1914: 55,173 parishes, 29,593 chapels, 112,629 priests and deacons; 550 monasteries, 475 convents with 95,259 monks and nuns
- “Sodomy”, song from the rock musical “Hair”, Oct. 1967
- “Imagine”, song by John Lennon, October 1971
All books quoted are in Russian