THE RUSSIAN CHURCH IN 1917-18

Written by Vladimir Moss

THE CHURCH AND THE REVOLUTION

Why did the Church not intervene in this great crisis, as she had intervened on similar occasions in Russian history? After all, on the eve of the revolution, she had canonized St. Hermogen, Patriarch of Moscow in the Time of Troubles, as if to emphasize that, just as St. Hermogen had refused to recognize the false Demetrius, so the time was coming when it would again be necessary to distinguish between true and false political authorities. So surely the Church would stand up against Bolshevism and in defence of the monarchy as St. Hermogen did then?

However, at this critical moment the Synod was at a loss. On February 26, it refused the request of the assistant over-procurator, Prince N.D. Zhevakhov, to threaten the creators of disturbances with ecclesiastical punishments.[1] Then, on February 27, it refused the request of the over-procurator himself, N.P. Rayev, that it publicly support the monarchy. Ironically, therefore, that much-criticised creation of Peter the Great, the office of Over-Procurator of the Holy Synod, proved more faithful to the Anointed of God at this critical moment than the Holy Synod itself…

“On March 2,” writes Babkin, “the Synodal hierarchs gathered in the residence of the Metropolitan of Moscow. They listened to a report given by Metropolitan Pitirim of St. Petersburg asking that he be retired (this request was agreed to on March 6 – M.B.). The administration of the capital’s diocese was temporarily laid upon Bishop Benjamin of Gdov. But then the members of the Synod recognized that it was necessary immediately to enter into relations with the Executive committee of the State Duma. On the basis of which we can assert that the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church recognized the Provisional Government even before the abdication of Nicholas II from the throne. (The next meeting of the members of the Synod took place on March 3 in the residence of the Metropolitan of Kiev. On that same day the new government was told of the resolutions of the Synod.)

“The first triumphantly official session of the Holy Synod after the coup d’état took place on March 4. Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev presided and the new Synodal over-procurator, V.N. Lvov, who had been appointed by the Provisional government the previous day, was present. Metropolitan Vladimir and the members of the Synod (with the exception of Metropolitan Pitirim, who was absent – M.B.) expressed their sincere joy at the coming of a new era in the life of the Orthodox Church. And then at the initiative of the over-procurator the royal chair… was removed into the archives… One of the Church hierarchs helped him. It was decided to put the chair into a museum.

“The next day, March 5, the Synod ordered that in all the churches of the Petrograd diocese the Many Years to the Royal House ‘should no longer be proclaimed’. In our opinion, these actions of the Synod had a symbolical character and witnessed to the desire of its members ‘to put into a museum’ not only the chair of the Tsar, but also ‘to despatch to the archives’ of history royal power itself.

“The Synod reacted neutrally to the ‘Act on the abdication of Nicholas II from the Throne of the State of Russia for himself and his son in favour of Great Prince Michael Alexandrovich’ of March 2, 1917 and to the ‘Act on the refusal of Great Prince Michael Alexandrovich to accept supreme power’ of March 3. On March 6 it decreed that the words ‘by order of His Imperial Majesty’ should be removed from all synodal documents, and that in all the churches of the empire molebens should be served with a Many Years ‘to the God-preserved Russian Realm and the Right-believing Provisional Government’.”[2]

But was the new government, whose leading members were Masons[3], really “right-believing”? Even leaving aside the fact of their membership of Masonic lodges, which is strictly forbidden by the Church, the answer to this question has to be: no. When the Tsar opened the First State Duma in 1906 with a moleben, the Masonic deputies sniggered and turned away, openly showing their disrespect both for him and for the Church. And now the new government, while still pretending to be Christian, openly declared that it derived its legitimacy, not from God, but from the revolution. But the revolution cannot be lawful, being the incarnation of lawlessness.

On March 7, with the support of Archbishop Sergius (Stragorodsky) of Finland, the newly appointed Over-Procurator, Prince V.E. Lvov[4], transferred the Synod’s official organ, Tserkovno-Obschestvennij Vestnik (Church and Society Messenger), into the hands of the “All-Russian Union of Democratic Orthodox Clergy and Laity”, a left-wing grouping founded in Petrograd on the same day and led by Titlinov, a professor at the Petrograd Academy of which Sergius was the rector.[5] Archbishop (later Patriarch) Tikhon protested against this transfer, and the small number of signatures for the transfer made it illegal. However, in his zeal to hand this important Church organ into the hands of the liberals, Lvov completely ignored the illegality of the act and handed the press over to Titlinov, who promptly began to use it to preach his Gospel of “Socialist Christianity”, declaring that “Christianity is on the side of labour, not on the side of violence and exploitation”.[6]

Also on March 7, the Synod passed a resolution “On the Correction of Service Ranks in view of the Change in State Administration”. In accordance with this, a commission headed by Archbishop Sergius (Stragorodsky) was formed that removed all references to the Tsar in the Divine services. This involved changes to, for example, the troparion for the Church New Year, where the word “Emperor” was replaced by “people”, and a similar change to the troparion for the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. Again, on March 7-8 the Synod passed a resolution, “On Changes in Divine Services in Connection with the Cessation of the Commemoration of the Former Ruling House”. The phrase “formerly ruling” (tsarstvovavshego) implied that there was no hope of a restoration of any Romanov to the throne.

Then, on March 9, the Synod addressed all the children of the Church: “The will of God has been accomplished. Russia has entered on the path of a new State life. May God bless our great Homeland with happiness and glory on its new path… For the sake of the many sacrifices offered to win civil freedom, for the sake of the salvation of your own families, for the sake of the happiness of the Homeland, abandon at this great historical moment all quarrels and disagreements. Unite in brotherly love for the good of Russia. Trust the Provisional Government. All together and everyone individually, apply all your efforts to this end that by your labours, exploits, prayer and obedience you may help it in its great work of introducing new principles of State life…”

But was it true that “the will of God has been accomplished”? Was it not rather that God had allowed the will of Satan to be accomplished, as a punishment for the sins of the Russian people? And if so, how could the path be called a “great work”? As for the “new principles of State life”, everyone knew that these were revolutionary in essence…

Indeed, it could be argued that, instead of blessing the Masonic Provisional Government in its epistle of March 9, the Synod should have applied to it the curse pronounced in 1613 against those who would not obey the Romanov dynasty: “It is hereby decreed and commanded that God’s Chosen One, Tsar Michael Feodorovich Romanov, be the progenitor of the Rulers of Rus’ from generation to generation, being answerable in his actions before the Tsar of Heaven alone; and should any dare to go against this decree of the Sobor – whether it be Tsar, or Patriarch, or any other man, – may he be damned in this age and in the age to come, having been sundered from the Holy Trinity…”

Babkin writes that the epistle of March 9 “was characterised by B.V. Titlinov, professor of the Petrograd Theological Academy, as ‘an epistle blessing a new and free Russia’, and by General A.I. Denikin as ‘sanctioning the coup d’état that has taken place’. To the epistle were affixed the signatures of the bishops of the ‘tsarist’ composition of the Synod, even those who had the reputation of being monarchists and ‘black hundredists’, for example, Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev and Metropolitan Macarius of Moscow. This witnessed to the ‘loyal’ feelings of the Synodal hierarchs…”[7]

Why did the hierarchs sanction the coup so quickly? Probably in the hope of receiving internal freedom for the Church. This is hinted at in a declaration of six archbishops to the Holy Synod and Lvov on March 8: “The Provisional Government in the person of its over-procurator V.N. Lvov, on March 4 in the triumphant opening session of the Holy Synod, told us that it was offering to the Holy Orthodox Russian Church full freedom in Her administration, while preserving for itself only the right to halt any decisions of the Holy Synod that did not agree with the law and were undesirable from a political point of view. The Holy Synod did everything to meet these promises, issued a pacific epistle to the Orthodox people and carried out other acts that were necessary, in the opinion of the Government, to calm people’s minds…”[8]

Lvov broke his promises and proceeded to act like a tyrant, which included expelling Metropolitan Macarius from his see. It was then that Metropolitan repented of having signed the March 9 epistle. And later, after the fall of the Provisional Government, he said: “They [the Provisional Government] corrupted the army with their speeches. They opened the prisons. They released onto the peaceful population convicts, thieves and robbers. They abolished the police and administration, placing the life and property of citizens at the disposal of every armed rogue… They destroyed trade and industry, imposing taxes that swallowed up the profits of enterprises… They squandered the resources of the exchequer in a crazy manner. They radically undermined all the sources of life in the country. They established elections to the Constituent Assembly on bases that were incomprehensible to Russia. They defiled the Russian language, distorting it for the amusement of half-illiterates and sluggards. They did not even guard their own honour, violating the promise they had given to the abdicated Tsar to allow him and his family free departure, by which they prepared for him inevitable death…

“Who started the persecution on the Orthodox Church and handed her head over to crucifixion? Who demanded the execution of the Patriarch? Was it those whom the Duma decried as ‘servants of the dark forces’, labelled as enemies of the freedom of the Church?… No, it was not those, but he whom the Duma opposed to them as a true defender of the Church, whom it intended for, and promoted to the rank of, over-procurator of the Most Holy Synod – the member of the Provisional Government, now servant of the Sovnarkom – Vladimir Lvov.”[9]

Lvov was indeed thoroughly unsuited for the post of over-procurator – he ended up as a renovationist and enemy of Orthodoxy. In appointing him the Provisional Government showed its true, hostile attitude towards the Church. It also showed its inconsistency: having overthrown the Autocracy and proclaimed freedom for all people and all religions, it should have abolished the office of over-procurator as being an outdated relic of the State’s dominion over the Church. But it wanted to make the Church tow the new State’s line, and Lvov was to be its instrument in doing this. Hence his removal of all the older, more traditional hierarchs, his introduction of three protopriests of a Lutheran orientation into the Synod and his proclamation of the convening of an All-Russian Church Council – a measure which he hoped would seal the Church’s descent into Protestant-style renovationism, but which in fact, through God’s Providence, turned out to be the beginning of the Church’s true regeneration and fight back against the revolution…

Meanwhile, the Council of the Petrograd Religio-Philosophical Society went still further, denying the very concept of Sacred Monarchy. Thus on March 11 and 12, it resolved that the Synod’s acceptance of the Tsar’s abdication “does not correspond to the enormous religious importance of the act, by which the Church recognized the Tsar in the rite of the coronation of the anointed of God. It is necessary, for the liberation of the people’s conscience and to avoid the possibility of a restoration, that a corresponding act be issued in the name of the Church hierarchy abolishing the power of the Sacrament of Royal Anointing, by analogy with the church acts abolishing the power of the Sacraments of Marriage and the Priesthood.”[10]

     Fortunately, the Church hierarchy rejected this demand. For not only can the Sacrament of Anointing not be abolished, since it is of God: even the last Tsar still remained the anointed Tsar after his abdication. As Shakespeare put it in Richard II, whose plot is closely reminiscent of the tragedy of the Tsar’s abdication:

Not all the water in the rough rude sea

Can wash the balm off from an anointed king;

The breath of worldly men cannot depose

The deputy elected by the Lord.

For since the power of the anointed autocrat comes from God, not the people, it cannot be removed by the people. The converse of this is that if the people attempt to remove the autocrat for any other reason than his renunciation of Orthodoxy, then they themselves sin against God and deprive themselves of His Grace. That is why St. John of Kronstadt had said that if Russia were to be deprived of her tsar, she would become a “stinking corpse”. And so it turned out: as a strictly logical and moral consequence, “from the day of his abdication,” as St. John Maximovich wrote, “everything began to collapse. It could not have been otherwise. The one who united everything, who stood guard for the truth, was overthrown…”[11]

For, as St. John said in another place: “The Tsar was the embodiment of the Russian people’s… readiness to submit the life of the state to the righteousness of God: therefore do the people submit themselves to the Tsar, because he submits to God. Vladyka Anthony [Khrapovitsky] loved to recall the Tsar’s prostration before God and the Church which he makes during the coronation, while the entire Church, all its members, stand. And then, in response to his submission to Christ, all in the Church make a full prostration to him.”[12

In agreement with this, the philosopher Ivan Alexandrovich Ilyin wrote: “Faithfulness to the monarchy is a condition of soul and form of action in which a man unites his will with the will of his Sovereign, his dignity with his dignity, his destiny with his destiny… The fall of the monarchy was the fall of Russia herself. A thousand-year state form fell, but no ‘Russian republic’ was put in its place, as the revolutionary semi-intelligentsia of the leftist parties dreamed, but the pan-Russian disgrace foretold by Dostoyevsky was unfurled, and a failure of spirit. And on this failure of spirit, on this dishonour and disintegration there grew the state Anchar of Bolshevism, prophetically foreseen by Pushkin – a sick and unnatural tree of evil that spread its poison on the wind to the destruction of the whole world. In 1917 the Russian people fell into the condition of the mob, while the history of mankind shows that the mob is always muzzled by despots and tyrants…

“The Russian people unwound, dissolved and ceased to serve the great national work – and woke up under the dominion of internationalists. History has as it were proclaimed a certain law: Either one-man rule or chaos is possible in Russia; Russia is not capable of a republican order. Or more exactly: the existence of Russia demands one-man rule – either a religiously and nationally strengthened one-man rule of honour, fidelity and service, that is, a monarchy, or one-man rule that is atheist, conscienceless and dishonourable, and moreover anti-national and international, that is, a tyranny.[13]

However, the democratic wave continued, and the Church was carried along by it. The hierarchy made some protests, but these did not amount to a real “counter-revolution”. Thus on April 14, a stormy meeting took place between Lvov and the Synod during which Lvov’s actions were recognised to be “uncanonical and illegal”. At this session Archbishop Sergius apparently changed course and agreed with the other bishops in condemning the unlawful transfer of Tserkovno-Obshchestvennij Vestnik. However, Lvov understood that this was only a tactical protest. So he did not include Sergius among the bishops whom he planned to purge from the Synod; he thought – rightly – that Sergius would continue to be his tool in the revolution that he was introducing in the Church. The next day Lvov marched into the Synod at the head of a detachment of soldiers and read an order for the cessation of the winter session of the Synod and the retirement of all its members with the single exception of Archbishop Sergius (Stragorodsky) of Finland.[14]

Thus in little more than a month since the coup, the Church had been effectively placed in the hands of a lay dictator, who had single-handedly dismissed her most senior bishops in the name of the “freedom of the Church”… Here we see a striking difference in the way in which the Provisional Government treated secular or political society, on the one hand, and the Church, on the other. While Prince G.E. Lvov, the head of the government, refused to impose his authority on anyone, whether rioting peasants or rampaging soldiers, granting “freedom” – that is, more or less complete licence – to any self-called political or social “authority”, Prince V.E. Lvov, the over-procurator, granted quite another kind of “freedom” to the Church – complete subjection to lay control…

Meanwhile, the turmoil in Russia gave the opportunity to the Georgian Church to reassert its autocephalous status, voluntarily given up over a century before. On March 12, without the agreement of the Holy Synod of the Russian Church, and in spite of the protests of the exarch of Georgia, Archbishop Platon, a group of Georgian bishops proclaimed the autocephaly of their Church and appointed Bishop Leonid (Okropiridze) of Mingrelia as locum tenens of the Catholicos with a Temporary Administration composed of clergy and laity.[15] The Russian Synod sent Bishop Theophylact to look after the non-Georgian parishes in Georgia. But he was removed from Georgia, and the new exarch, Metropolitan Cyril (Smirnov), was not allowed into the capital. The result was a break in communion between the two Churches.[16]

In the same month of March the Russian government ceased subsidising the American diocese. The ruling Archbishop Eudocimus (Mescheriakov) went to the All-Russian Council in August, leaving his vicar, Bishop Alexander (Nemolovsky) of Canada, as his deputy. But then Protopriest John Kedrovsky with a group of renovationist priests tried to remove Bishop Alexander and take power into their own hands “without submitting to imperial power or hierarchical decrees”.[17]

On April 29, the new Synod headed by Archbishop Sergius proclaimed the principle of the election of the episcopate, the preparation for a Council and the establishment of a Preconciliar Council. This Address triggered a revolution in the Church. The revolution consisted in the fact that all over the country the elective principle with the participation of laymen replaced the system of “episcopal autocracy” which had prevailed thereto. In almost all dioceses Diocesan Congresses elected special “diocesan councils” or committees composed of clergy and laity that restricted the power of the bishops. The application of the elective principle to almost all ecclesiastical posts, from parish offices to episcopal sees, resulted in the removal of several bishops from their sees and the election of new ones in their stead. Thus Archbishops Basil (Bogoyavlensky) of Chernigov, Tikhon (Nikanorov) of Kaluga and Anthony (Khrapovitsky) of Kharkov were removed. Archbishop Joachim (Levitsky) of Nizhni-Novgorod was even arrested and imprisoned for a time before being shot. The retirement of Archbishop Alexis (Dorodnitsyn) of Vladimir was justified by his earlier closeness to Rasputin. The others were accused of being devoted to the Autocracy.[18

Although the spirit behind this revolutionary wave was undoubtedly anti-ecclesiastical in essence, by the Providence of God it resulted in some changes that were beneficial for the Church. Thus the staunchly monarchist Archbishop Anthony, after being forced to retire, was later reinstated at the demand of the people. Again, Archbishop Tikhon (Bellavin) of Lithuania was elected metropolitan of Moscow (the lawful occupant of that see, Metropolitan Macarius, was later reconciled with him), and Archbishop Benjamin (Kazansky) was made metropolitan of Petrograd. However, there were also harmful changes, such as the election of Sergius Stragorodsky as Archbishop of Vladimir.

In the countryside, meanwhile, “there was a strong anti-clerical movement: village communities took away the church lands, removed priests from the parishes and refused to pay for religious services. Many of the local priests managed to escape this fate by throwing in their lot with the revolution.”[19] However, several priests were savagely killed – the martyrdom of the Church began, not with the Bolshevik coup, but with the liberal democratic revolution.

From June 1 to 10 the All-Russian Congress of clergy and laity took place in Moscow with 800 delegates from all the dioceses. As Shkarovskii writes, it “welcomed the revolution, but expressed the wish that the Church continue to receive the legal and material support of the state, that divinity continue to be an obligatory subject in school, and that the Orthodox Church retain its schools. Consequently, a conflict soon broke out with the government. The Synod protested against the law of 20 June which transferred the [37,000] parish church schools to the Ministry of Education. A similar clash occurred over the intention to exclude divinity from the list of compulsory subjects.”[20]

The transfer of the church schools to the state system was disastrous for the Church because the state’s schools were infected with atheism. It would be one of the first decrees that the coming Council of the Russian Orthodox Church would seek (unsuccessfully) to have repealed…

In general, the June Congress carried forward the renovationist wave; and although the June 14 decree “On Freedom of Conscience” was welcome, the government still retained de jure control over the Church. Even when the government allowed the Church to convene her own All-Russian Local Council of in August, it retained the right of veto over any new form of self-administration that Council might come up with. Moreover, the Preconciliar Council convened to prepare for the forthcoming Council was to be chaired by the Church’s leading liberal, Archbishop Sergius…

With the Tsar gone, and the Church led by liberals and treated with contempt by the State, it is not surprising that the conservative peasant masses were confused. Thus a telegram sent to the Holy Synod on July 24, 1917 concerned the oath of loyalty that the Provisional Government was trying to impose on them: “We Orthodox Christians ardently beseech you to explain to us in the newspaper Russkoye Slovo what constitutes before the Lord God the oath given by us to be faithful to the Tsar, Nicholas Alexandrovich. People are saying amongst us that if this oath is worth nothing, then the new oath to the new Tsar is also worth nothing.

“Is that so, and how are we to understand all this? Following the advice of someone we know, we want this question decided, not by ourselves, but by the Governing Synod, so that everyone should understand this in the necessary way, without differences of opinion. The zhids [Jews] say that the oath is nonsense and a deception, and that one can do without an oath. The popes [priests] are silent. Each layman expresses his own opinion. But this is no good. Again they have begun to say that God does not exist at all, and that the churches will soon be closed because they are not necessary. But we on our part think: why close them? – it’s better to live by the church. Now that the Tsar has been overthrown things have got bad, and if they close the churches it’ll get worse, but we need things to get better. You, our most holy Fathers, must try to explain to all of us simultaneously: what should we do about the old oath, and with the one they are trying to force us to take now? Which oath must be dearer to God. The first or the second? Because the Tsar is not dead, but is alive in prison. And is it right that all the churches should be closed? Where then can we pray to the Lord God? Surely we should not go in one band to the zhids and pray with them? Because now all power is with them, and they’re bragging about it…”[21]

The hierarchy had no answers to these questions…

What could it have done? It could and should have rallied round the sacred principle of the Orthodox Autocracy and used its still considerable influence among the people to restore monarchical rule. As Bishop Diomedes writes: “It was necessary in the name of the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church to persuade the Ruling House not to leave the Russian State to be destroyed by rebels, and to call all the rebels to repentance by anathematizing them with the 11th anathema of the Sunday of Orthodoxy.”[22]

A clear precedent existed: in the recently canonized Patriarch Hermogen’s call to liberate Russia from foreign Catholic rule and restore a lawful monarchy in 1612. Like Hermogen, the Holy Synod in 1917 could have called the Russian people to arms against those who had in effect forced the abdication of both the Tsar and Great Prince Michael, and who were therefore, in effect, rebels against lawful authority and subject to anathema. It could have approached any member of the Romanov dynasty – with the exception of Grand Duke Cyril Vladimirovich, who had already declared his allegiance to the revolution – with an invitation that he ascend the throne.

But the opportunity was lost. The years of anti-monarchist propaganda had done their work: some hierarchs supported the revolution, others rejected it, but the Synod as a whole sided with its supporters. It was simply not prepared to lead the people in such a way as to oppose the rebels and protect the monarchical principle. Of course, following the example of St. Hermogen in this way would have been very difficult, requiring great courage; and blessing a civil war in the midst of a world war would of course have been extremely bold… But it was not impossible…

There was another alternative, less radical than the one just mentioned, but honourable and more in accordance with the manifestos of the two last Tsars. As Babkin writes, this alternative “was laid out in the actions and sermons of Bishop Andronicus (Nikolsky) of Perm and Kungur. On March 4 he addressed an archpastoral epistle ‘to all Russian Orthodox Christians’ in which, having expounded the essence of the ‘Acts’ of March 2 and 3, he characterized the situation in Russia as an ‘interregnum’. Calling on everyone to obey the Provisional Government in every way, he said: “We shall beseech the all-Merciful One [God – M.B.] to establish authority and peace on the earth, that He not leave us long without a Tsar, like children without a mother… May He help us, as three hundred years ago He helped our forefathers, to receive a native Tsar from Him, the All-Good Provider, in a unanimous and inspired manner. Analogous theses were contained in the sermon that the Perm archpastor gave in his cathedral church on March 5.

“On March 19 Bishop Andronicus and the Perm clergy in his cathedral church and in all the city churches swore an oath of allegiance and service to the Russian state themselves and brought the people to swear it in accordance with the order established by the Provisional Government. But while swearing allegiance to the Provisional Government as a law-abiding citizen, Vladyka Andronicus actively conducted monarchical agitation, pinning his hopes of a ‘regeneration’ of the only temporarily ‘removed’ from power tsarist administration on the Constituent Assembly.

“The ‘dangerous activity’ of the Perm archpastor (this is precisely how it was evaluated by the local secular authorities and in the office of the Synod) drew the attention of the Committee of social security and the Soviet of workers’ and soldiers’ deputies of the city of Perm, from whom on March 21 a telegram was sent to the over-procurator of the Holy Synod complaining that ‘Bishop Andronicus in a sermon compared Nicholas II to Christ in His Passion, and called on the flock to have pity on him.’ In reply, on March 23, the over-procurator demanded of the rebellious bishop that he give an explanation and account of his activity, which was directed to the defence of the old order and ‘to re-establishing the clergy against the new order’

“The correspondence elicited between the Bishop of Perm and the over-procurator by his ‘counter-revolutionary’ activity was completed on April 16 when Bishop Androniucs said in a detailed letter of explanation: ‘Michael Alexandrovich’s act of abdication that legalized the Provisional Government declared that after the Constituent Assembly we can have a tsarist administration, like any other, depending on what the Constituent Assembly says about it… I have submitted to the Constituent Assembly, and I will submit to a republic, if that is what the Constituent Assembly declares. But until then not one citizen is deprived of the freedom to express himself on any form of government for Russia; otherwise even the Constituent Assembly would be superfluous if someone has already irreversibly decided the question on Russia’s form of government. As I have already said many times, I have submitted to the Provisional Government, I submit now and and I call on everyone to submit… I am perplexed on what basis you find it necessary… to accuse me ‘of stirring up the people not only against the Provisional Government, but also against the spiritual authorities in general’.”

Babkin cites many examples of priests and parishes praying simultaneously for the Tsar and the Provisional Government until the end of April. All these instances were based on the theoretical possibility, pointed out by Bishop Andronicus, that the Constituent Assembly could vote for a restoration of the monarchy. And so, he concludes, since, in March, 1917 “the monarchy in Russia, in accordance with the act of Great Prince Michael Alexandrovich, continued to exist as an institution”, the Synod should have acted as if there was an “interregnum” in the country.[23]

The weakness of the Church at this critical moment was the result of a long historical process. Having been deprived of its administrative independence by Peter the Great, the Church hierarchy was not ready to stand alone against the new regime and in defence of the monarchical principle in March, 1917. Instead, in the early days of March, it hoped that, in exchange for recognizing it and calling on the people to recognize it, it would receive full administrative freedom… But it was deceived: when Lvov came to power, he began to act like a tyrant worse than the old tsarist over-procurators. And then a wave of democratization began at the diocesan and parish levels… Thus was the prophecy of St. Ignaty (Brianchaninov) fulfilled: “Judging from the spirit of the times and the intellectual ferment, we must suppose that the building of the Church, which has already been wavering for a long time, will collapse quickly and terribly. There will be nobody to stop this and withstand it. The measures undertaken to support [the Church] are borrowed from the elements of the world hostile to the Church, and will rather hasten her fall than stop it…”[24

If the Church hierarchy, traditionally the main support of the Autocracy, faltered, it is not surprising that the people as a whole faltered, too

I.L. Solonevich writes: “I remember the February days of our great and bloodless [revolution] – how great a mindlessness descended on our country! A 100,000-strong flock of completely free citizens knocked about the prospects of Peter’s capital. They were in complete ecstasy, this flock: the accursed bloody autocracy had come to an end! Over the world there was rising a dawn deprived of ‘annexations and contributions’, capitalism, imperialism, autocracy and even Orthodoxy: now we can begin to live! According to my professional duty as a journalist, overcoming every kind of disgust, I also knocked about among these flocks that sometimes circulated along the Nevsky Prospect, sometimes sat in the Tauris palace, and sometimes went to watering holes in the broken-into wine cellars. They were happy, this flock. If someone had then begun to tell them that in the coming third of a century after the drunken days of 1917 they would pay for this in tens of millions of lives, decades of famine and terror, new wars both civil and world, and the complete devastation of half of Russia, – the drunken people would have taken the voice of the sober man for regular madness. But they themselves considered themselves to be completely rational beings…”[25]

And so we must conclude that in March, 1917 the Church – de facto, if not de jure – renounced Tsarism, one of the pillars of Russian identity for nearly 1000 years. With the exception of a very few bishops, such as Metropolitan Macarius of Moscow and Archbishop Andronicus of Perm, the hierarchy hastened to support the new democratic order. As Bishop Gregory (Grabbe) writes: “There were few who understood at that moment that, in accepting this coup, the Russian people had committed the sin of oath-breaking, had rejected the Tsar, the Anointed of God, and had gone along the path of the prodigal son of the Gospel parable, subjecting themselves to the same destructive consequences as he experienced on abandoning his father.”[26] However, the fact that Tsarism was renounced only de facto and not de jure means that Bishop Diomedes’ thesis that the whole Church lost grace in 1917 is false. The pusillanimity of individual hierarchs, however senior or numerous, does not amount to heresy. Nevertheless, that a very serious sin – the sin of treason, of oath-breaking – had been committed in the name of the Church cannot be denied…

The only question remaining was: could the Church cleanse herself of this sin, so that, strengthened by the Grace of God, she might lead the people out of the abyss of the revolution

The process appeared to begin with the convening of the Local Council of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow on August 15, 1917. Thus when, on the day after the Bolshevik coup, October 26 (old style), Lenin nationalized all land, making the Church’s and parish priests’ property illegal, the Local Council reacted strongly. In a letter to the faithful on November 11, the Council called the revolution “descended from the Antichrist and possessed by atheism”: “Open combat is fought against the Christian Faith, in opposition to all that is sacred, arrogantly abasing all that bears the name of God (II Thessalonians 2.4)… But no earthly kingdom founded on ungodliness can ever survive: it will perish from internal strife and party dissension. Thus, because of its frenzy of atheism, the State of Russia will fall… For those who use the sole foundation of their power in the coercion of the whole people by one class, no motherland or holy place exists. They have become traitors to the motherland and instigated an appalling betrayal of Russia and her true allies. But, to our grief, as yet no government has arisen which is sufficiently one with the people to deserve the blessing of the Orthodox Church. And such will not appear on Russian soil until we turn with agonizing prayer and tears of repentance to Him, without Whom we labour in vain to lay foundations…”[27

This recognition of the real nature of the revolution came none too early. On November 15, a Tver peasant, Michael Yefimovich Nikonov, wrote to the Council: “We think that the Most Holy Synod made an irreparable mistake when the bishops greeted the revolution. We do not know the reasons for this. Was it for fear of the Jews? In accordance with the prompting of their heart, or for some laudable reasons? Whatever the reason, their act produced a great temptation in the believers, and not only in the Orthodox, but even among the Old Ritualists. Forgive me for touching on this question – it is not our business to judge that: this is a matter for the Council, I am only placing on view the judgement of the people. People are saying that by this act of the Synod many right-thinking people were led into error, and also many among the clergy. We could hardly believe our ears at what we heard at parish and deanery meetings. Spiritual fathers, tempted by the deception of freedom and equality, demanded that hierarchs they dislike be removed together with their sees, and that they should elect those whom they wanted. Readers demanded the same equality, so as not to be subject to their superiors. That is the absurdity we arrived at when we emphasized the satanic idea of the revolution. The Orthodox Russian people is convinced that the Most Holy Council in the interests of our holy mother, the Church, the Fatherland and Batyushka Tsar, should give over to anathema and curse all self-called persons and all traitors who trampled on their oath together with the satanic idea of the revolution. And the Most Holy Council will show to its flock who will take over the helm of administration in the great State. We suppose it must be he who is in prison [the Tsar], but if he does not want to rule over us traitors,… then let it indicate who is to accept the government of the State; that is only common sense. The act of Sacred Coronation and Anointing with holy oil of our tsars in the Dormition Cathedral [of the Moscow Kremlin] was no simple comedy. It was they who received from God the authority to rule the people, giving account to Him alone, and by no means a constitution or some kind of parliament of not quite decent people capable only of revolutionary arts and possessed by the love of power… Everything that I have written here is not my personal composition alone, but the voice of the Russian Orthodox people, the 100-million-strong village Russia in which I live.”[28]

Many people were indeed disturbed by such questions as: had the Church betrayed the Tsar in March 1917? Were Christians guilty of breaking their oath to the Tsar by accepting the Provisional Government? Should the Church formally absolve the people of their oath to the Tsar? The leadership of the Council passed consideration of these questions, together with Nikonov’s letter, to a subsection entitled “On Church Discipline”. This subsection had several meetings in the course of the next nine months, but came to no definite decisions…[29]

On January 19, 1918 (old style) Patriarch Tikhon anathematized the Bolsheviks: “By the power given to Us by God, we forbid you to approach the Mysteries of Christ, we anathematize you, if only you bear Christian names and although by birth you belong to the Orthodox Church. We also adjure all of you, faithful children of the Orthodox Church of Christ, not to enter into any communion with such outcasts of the human race: ‘Remove the evil one from among you’ (I Corinthians 5.13).” The decree ended with an appeal to defend the Church, if necessary, to the death. For “the gates of hell shall not prevail against Her” (Matthew 16.18).[30]

The significance of this anathema lies in the fact that the Bolsheviks were to be regarded, not only as apostates from Christ (that was obvious), but also as having no moral authority, no claim to obedience whatsoever – an attitude taken by the Church to no other government in the whole of Her history. Coming so soon after the Bolsheviks’ dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, it indicated that now that constitutionalism had proved its uselessness in the face of demonic barbarism, it was time for the Church to enter the struggle in earnest…[31]

It was important that the true significance of the anathema for the Church’s relationship with the State be pointed out. This was done immediately after its proclamation, when Count D.A. Olsufyev pointed out that at the moleben they had just sung ‘many years’ to the powers that be – that is, to the Bolsheviks whom they had just anathematized! “I understand that the Apostle called for obedience to all authorities – but hardly that ‘many years’ should be sung to them. I know that his ‘most pious and most autocratic’ [majesty] was replaced by ‘the right-believing Provisional Government’ of Kerensky and company… And I think that the time for unworthy compromises has passed.”[32]

On January 22 the Patriarch’s anathema was discussed in a session of the Council presided over by Metropolitan Arsenius of Novgorod, and the following resolution was accepted: “The Sacred Council of the Orthodox Russian Church welcomes with love the epistle of his Holiness Patriarch Tikhon, which punishes the evil-doers and rebukes the enemies of the Church of Christ. From the height of the patriarchal throne there has thundered the word of excommunication [preshchenia] and a spiritual sword has been raised against those who continually mock the faith and conscience of the people. The Sacred Council witnesses that it remains in the fullest union with the father and intercessor of the Russian Church, pays heed to his appeal and is ready in a sacrificial spirit to confess the Faith of Christ against her blasphemers. The Sacred Council calls on the whole of the Russian Church headed by her archpastors and pastors to unite now around the Patriarch, so as not to allow the mocking of our holy faith.” (Act 67.35-37).[33]

In April the feast of the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors was instituted. In July the Tsar and his family were killed. But just as the Council had paid no attention to him during his life, not calling for his release from prison, so now they did not glorify him after his death – although the Patriarch did condemn his murder.

On April 15 the Council decreed: “Clergymen serving in anti-ecclesiastical institutions… are subject to being banned from serving and, in the case of impenitence, are deprived of their rank”. On the assumption that “anti-ecclesiastical institutions” included all Soviet institutions, this would seem to have been a clearly anti-Soviet measure.

Unfortunately, however, on August 15, 1918, the Council took a step backwards, declaring invalid all defrockings based on political considerations. They applied this measure particularly to the eighteenth-century Metropolitan Arsenius (Matsevich) of Rostov, and Priest Gregory Petrov. Metropolitan Arsenius had indeed been unjustly defrocked for his righteous opposition to Catherine II’s anti-Church measures. However, Fr. Gregory Petrov had been one of the leaders of the Cadet party in the Duma in 1905 and was an enemy of the monarchical order. How could his defrocking be said to have been unjust in view of the fact that the Church had officially prayed for the Orthodox Autocracy, and Petrov had worked directly against the fulfilment of the Church’s prayers? The problem was: too many people, including several hierarchs, had welcomed the fall of the Tsarist regime. If the Church was not to divide along political lines, a general amnesty was considered necessary. But if true recovery can only begin with repentance, and repentance must begin with the leaders of the Church, this decree amounted to covering the wound without allowing it to heal.

As Bishop Dionysius (Alferov) of Novgorod writes, the Council could be criticized for its “its legitimization of complete freedom of political orientation and activity, and, besides, its rehabilitation of the Church revolutionaries like Gregory Petrov. By all this it doomed the Russian Church to collapse, presenting to her enemies the best conditions for her cutting up and annihilation piece by piece

“That this Council… did not express the voice of the complete fullness of the Russian Church is proved by the decisions of two other Councils of the time: that of Karlovtsy in 1921, and that of Vladivostok in 1922.

“At the Karlovtsy Council remembrance was finally made of St. Sergius’ blessing of the Christian Sovereign Demetrius Donskoj for his battle with the enemies of the Church and the fatherland, and of the struggle for the Orthodox Kingdom of the holy Hierarch Hermogenes of Moscow. The question was raised of the ‘sin of February’, but because some of the prominent activists of the Council had participated in this, the question was left without detailed review. The decisions of this Council did not receive further official development in Church life because of the schisms that began both in the Church Abroad and in the monarchist movement. But the question of the re-establishment of the Orthodox Kingdom in Russia had been raised, and thinkers abroad worked out this thought in detail…”

On August 16, it was announced at the Council that a department for the reunification of the Christian Churches was being opened: “The Sacred Council of the Orthodox Russian Church, which has been gathered and is working in conditions that are so exceptionally difficult for the whole Christian Church, when the waves of unbelief and atheism threaten the very existence of the Christian Church, would take upon itself a great responsibility before history if it did not raise the question of the unification of the Christian Churches and did not give this question a fitting direction at the moment when not only one Christian confession, but the whole of Christianity is threatened by huge dangers on the part of unbelief and atheism.

“The task of the department is to prepare material for a decision of the present Council on this question and on the further development of the matter in the inter-Council period…

On September 20, the last, 170th session of the Council, the project for a commission on the reunification of the Churches was reviewed and confirmed by the Council. The president of the department on the unification of the Churches, Archbishop Eudocimus (Meshchersky) of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands, said: “I am very sad that the report has come at such a difficult time, when the hours of our sacred union in this chamber are coming to an end, and when at the end of work my thoughts are becoming confused and I cannot report to you everything that I could tell you. From our point of view, the Council should have directed its attention at this question long ago. If the Church is alive, then we cannot remain in the narrow limits she has existed in up to now. If we have no courage to preach beyond the bounds of our fatherland, then we must hear the voice coming from there to us. I have in mind the voice of the Anglo-American Episcopalian Churches, who sincerely and insistently seek union or rapprochement, and do not find any insurmountable obstacles on the path to the indicated end. Considering the union of the Christian Churches to be especially desirable in the period of intense struggle with unbelief, crude materialism and moral barbarism that we are experiencing now, the department suggests to the Sacred Council that it adopt the following resolution:

“‘1. The Sacred Council of the Orthodox Russian Church, joyfully beholding the sincere strivings of the Old Catholics and Anglicans for union with the Orthodox Church on the basis of the teaching and traditions of the Ancient-Catholic Church, blesses the labours and endeavours of the people who work to find paths towards union with the named friendly Churches.

“‘2. The Council directs the Holy Synod to organize a permanent Commission attached to the Holy Synod with branches in Russia and abroad for the further study of the Old Catholic and Anglican questions, to explicate by means of relations with the Old Catholics and Anglicans the difficulties that lie on the path to union, and possible aids to the speedy attainment of the final end.’”

The decisions of the Council of a theological or dogmatic significance were subject to confirmation by a special assembly of bishops. At the last such assembly, on September 22, 1918, this decision was not reviewed. It is possible that for that reason the “Resolution regarding the unification of the Churches” did not enter the official “Collection of the Decrees and Resolutions of the Sacred Council of the Orthodox Russian Church of 1917-1918”.[34]

In September, 1918 the Bolsheviks shut down the Local Council and initiate the “Red Terror”, probably the most intense and large-scale persecution of the Orthodox Church since the time of Diocletian. This was probably the reason why the Resolution was not reviewed and not put into practice. There may also have been a deeper, providential reason: that this Resolution was not pleasing to God, in that it threatened to open the doors of the Russian Church to the heresy of ecumenism, of which the Anglicans were the leaders, at precisely the moment of her greatest weakness…

This conclusion is supported by the fact that in the inter-war years, and right up to General Assembly of the World Council of Churches in 1961, the Russian Church – with the exception of the Paris Russian Exarchate of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the American Metropolia – took no direct part in the ecumenical movement. The other Churches, on the other hand, and especially the Greek Churches, were deeply involved from the early 1920s, and recognized Anglican Orders at an early stage.[35]

Paradoxically, therefore, the Red Terror saved Russia from ecumenism until the 1960s, when the communists decided to order the official Russian Church into the ecumenical movement for entirely political reasons.

September 28 / October 11, 2018.

St. Chariton the Confessor.

[1] A.D. Stepanov, “Mezhdu mirom i monastyrem” (“Between the World and the Monastery”), in Tajna Bezzakonia (The Mystery of Iniquity), St. Petersburg, 2002, p. 491.

[2] Babkin, “Sviatejshij Sinod Pravoslavnoj Rossijskoj Tserkvi i Revoliutsionnie Sobytia Fevralia-Marta 1917 g.” (“The Most Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Revolutionary Events of February-March, 1917”), http://www.monarhist-spb.narod.ru/D-ST/Babkin-1, pp. 2, 3. Archbishop Nathanael of Vienna (+1985), the son of over-procurator Vladimir Lvov, said that his family used to laugh at the incongruity of wishing “Many Years” to a merely “Provisional” Government (“Neobychnij Ierarkh” (An Unusual Hierarch), Nasha Strana, N 2909, February 5, 2011, p. 3).

[3] This is also now generally accepted even by western historians. Thus Tsuyoshi Hasegawa writes: “Five members, Kerensky, N.V. Nekrasov, A.I. Konovalov, M.I. Tereshchenko and I.N. Efremov are known to have belonged to the secret political Masonic organization” (“The February Revolution”, in Edward Acton, Vladimir Cherniaev, William Rosenberg (eds.), Critical Companion to the Russian Revolution 1914-1921, Bloomington and Indianopolis: Indiana University Press, 1997, p. 59).

[4] Lvov was, in the words of Bishop Gregory (Grabbe), “a not completely normal fantasist” (Russkaia Tserkov’ pered litsom gospodstvuiushchego zla (The Russian Church in the Face of Dominant Evil), Jordanville, 1991, p. 4). Grabbe’s estimate of Lvov is supported by Oliver Figes, who writes: “a nobleman of no particular talent or profession, he was convinced of his calling to greatness, yet ended up in the 1920s as a pauper and a madman living on the streets of Paris” (A People’s Tragedy, London: Pimlico, 1997, p. 449).

[5] As Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) testified, “already in 1917 he [Sergius] was dreaming of combining Orthodox Church life with the subjection of the Russian land to Soviet power…” (“Preemstvennost’ Grekha” (The Heritage of Sin), Tsaritsyn, p. 7).

[6] See Mikhail V. Shkarovskii, “The Russian Orthodox Church”, in Acton, Cherniaev and Rosenberg, op. cit., p. 417; “K 80-letiu Izbrania Sv. Patriarkha Tikhona na Sviashchennom Sobore Rossijskoj Tserkvi 1917-18gg.” (Towards the Election of his Holiness Patriarch Tikhon at the Sacred Council of the Russian Church, 1917-18), Suzdal’skie Eparkhial’nie Vedomosti (Suzdal Diocesan News), N 2, November, 1997, p. 19.

[7] Babkin, op. cit., pp. 3-4.

[8] Babkin, Dukhovenstvo, pp. 195-198.

[9] Metropolitan Macarius, in Groyan, op. cit., pp. 183-184.

[10] Groyan, op. cit., p. 142. Italics mine (V.M.).

[11] St. John Maximovich, “Homily before a Memorial Service for the Tsar-Martyr”, in Man of God, p. 133. Cf. Archbishop Seraphim (Sobolev): «There is no need to say how terrible a ‘touching’ of the Anointed of God is the overthrow of the tsar by his subjects. Here the transgression of the given command of God reaches the highest degree of criminality, which is why it drags after it the destruction of the state itself» (Russkaia Ideologia (The Russian Ideology), St. Petersburg, 1992, pp. 50-51). And so, insofar as it was the disobedience of the people that compelled the Tsar to abdicate, leading inexorably to his death, «we all,» in the words of Archbishop Averky, «Orthodox Russian people, in one way or another, to a greater or lesser degree, are guilty of allowing this terrible evil to be committed on our Russian land» (Istinnoe Pravoslavie i Sovremennij Mir (True Orthodoxy and the Contemporary World), Jordanville, N.Y.: Holy Trinity Monastery, 1971, p. 166).

[12] St. John Maximovich, “The Nineteenth Anniversary of the Repose of His Beatitude Metropolitan Anthony”, Pravoslavnaia Rus’, N 19, 1955, pp. 3-4.

[13] Ilyin, Sobranie Sochinenij (Collected Works), Moscow, 1994, volume 4, p. 7; in Valentina D. Sologub, Kto Gospoden’ – Ko Mne!(He who is the Lord’s – to me!), Moscow, 2007, p. 53.

[14] According to I.M. Andreyev, “the whole of the Synod had decided to go into retirement. Archbishop Sergius had taken part in this resolution. But when all the members of the Synod, together with Archbishop Sergius, actually came to give in their retirement, the Over-Procurator, who had set about organizing a new Synod, drew Archbishop Sergius to this. And he took an active part in the new Synod” (Kratkij Obzor Istorii Russkoj Tserkvi ot revoliutsii do nashikh dnej(A Short Review of the History of the Russian Church from the Revolution to our Days), Jordanville, 1952, p. 74. Bishop Gregory (Grabbe) wrote: “I can remember the opinions of those who knew him and who considered him to be a careerist and the complaints of hierarchs that he promised to retire with other members of the Synod in protest against Lvov, then he changed his mind and became head of the Synod” (Letter of April 23 / May 6, 1992 to Nicholas Churilov, Church News, April, 2003, p. 9).

[15] V. Egorov, K istorii provozglashenia gruzinami avtokefalii svoej Tserkvi v 1917 godu(Towards a History of the Proclamation by the Georgians of the Autocephaly of their Church in 1917), Moscow, 1917, p. 9; in Monk Benjamin (Gomareteli), Letopis’ tserkovnykh sobytij Pravoslavnoj Tserkvi nachinaia s 1917 goda (Chronicle of Church Events, beginning from 1917), www.zlatoust.ws/letopis.htm, p. 6.

[16] Monk Benjamin, op cit., pp. 8-9.

[17] Monk Benjamin, op. cit., p. 7.

[18] Monk Benjamin, op. cit., p. 8.

[19] Figes, op. cit., p. 350.

[20] Shkarovskii, op. cit., p. 418.

[21] Groyan, op. cit., pp. CXXII-CXXIII.

[22] Bishop Diomedes, Address of November 21 / December 4, 2008, http://www.russia-talk.com/otkliki/ot-601.htm.

[23] Babkin, Dukhoventstvo, p. 210.

[24] Sokolov, L.A. Episkop Ignatij Brianchaninov (Bishop Ignaty Brianchaninov), Kiev, 1915, vol. 2, p. 250.

[25] Solonevich, in “Ot Ipatyevskogo Monastyria do Doma Ipatyevskogo” (From the Ipatiev Monastery to the Ipatiev House), Pravoslavnie Monastyri (Orthodox Monasteries), 29, 2009, p. 10.

[26] Grabbe, op. cit., p. 4.

[27] On the same day, however, the Council decreed that those killed on both sides in the conflict should be given Christian burials.

[28] http://www.ispovednik.org/fullst.php?nid=31&binn_rubrik_pl_news=136.

[29] M. Babkin, “Pomestnij Sobor 1917-1918 gg.: O Prisyage pravitel’stvu voobsche i byvshemu imperatoru Nikolaius II v chastnosti” (The Local Council of 1917-1918: On the Oath to the Government in general and to the former Emperor Nicholas II in particular), http://www.portal-credo.ru/site/print.php?act=lib&id=2704.

[30] Russian text in M.E. Gubonin, Akty Sviateishego Patriarkha Tikhona (The Acts of His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon), Moscow: St. Tikhon’s Theological Institute, 1994, pp. 82-85; Deiania Sviaschennogo Sobora Pravoslavnoj Rossijskoj Tserkvi(The Acts of the Sacred Council of the Russian Orthodox Church), 1917-1918, Moscow, 1918, 1996, vol. 6, pp. 4-5 (Act 66.6).

[31] On January 1, 1970 the Russian Church Abroad under Metropolitan Philaret of New York confirmed this anathema and added one of its own against “Vladimir Lenin and the other persecutors of the Church of Christ, dishonourable apostates who have raised their hands against the Anointed of God, killing clergymen, trampling on holy things, destroying the churches of God, tormenting our brothers and defiling our Fatherland” (http://catacomb.org.ua/modules.php?name=Pages&go=print_page&pid=1775)

[32] Deiania, op. cit., vol. 6, p. 7; quoted in A.G. Yakovitsky, “Sergianstvo: mif ili real’nost? (Sergianism: myth or reality?), Vernost’, N 100, January, 2008.

[33] Deiania, op. cit., vol. 6, p. 36.

[34]Sviataia Rus’ (Holy Rus’), 2003.

[35]See Archimandrite Kallistos Ware and Rev. Colin Davey (eds.), Anglican-Orthodox Dialogue: The Moscow Agreed Statement, 1977, chapter 2.

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