Orthodox Christianity At The Crossroad: A Great Council Of The Church ? When And Why

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Again, in , in a protocol of the secret section of the Cheka, Trotsky had discussed recruiting clergy with money to report on themselves and others in the Church and to prevent anti-Bolshevik agitation concerning, for example, the closing of monasteries. But it was the Volga famine of , in which about 25 millions were starving, that provided the Bolsheviks with their first opportunity to inflict large-scale damage on the Church. Yes, and someday someone will also count up those many carloads of food supplies rolling on and on for many, many months to Imperial Germany, under the terms of the peace treaty of Brest-Litovsk — from a Russia which had been deprived of a protesting voice, from the very provinces where famine would strike — so that Germany could fight to the end in the West.

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The Volga peasants had to eat their children because we were so impatient about putting up with the Constituent Assembly. A brilliant idea was born: after all, three billiard balls can be pocketed with one shot. So now let the priests feed the Volga region! They are Christians. They are generous! If they refuse, we will blame the whole famine on them and destroy the Church. As Patriarch Tikhon himself had testified, back in August, , at the beginning of the famine, the Church had created diocesan and all-Russian committees for aid to the starving and had begun to collect funds.

But to have permitted any direct help to go straight from the Church into the mouths of those who were starving would have undermined the dictatorship of the proletariat.

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The committees were banned, and the funds they had collected were confiscated and turned over to the state and to the treasury. The Patriarch had also appealed to the Pope in Rome and the Archbishop of Canterbury for assistance — but he was rebuked for this, too, on the grounds that only the Soviet authorities had the right to enter into discussions with foreigners. Yes, indeed. And what was there to be alarmed about? The newspapers wrote that the government itself had all the necessary means to cope with the famine.

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And, finally, in December [27], , Pomgol — the State Commission for Famine Relief — proposed that the churches help the starving by donating church valuables — not all, but those not required for liturgical rites. The Patriarch agreed. Pomgol issued a directive: all gifts must be strictly voluntary! On February 19, , the Patriarch issued a pastoral letter permitting the parish councils to make gifts of objects that did not have liturgical and ritual significance. The thought came — and a decree followed! A decree of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee on February all valuables were to be requisitioned from the churches — for the starving!

This decree annihilated the voluntary character of the offerings, and put the clergy in the position of accessories to sacrilege. Now again we call on the faithful children of the Church to make such offerings, desiring only that these offerings should be the response of a loving heart to the needs of his neighbour, if only they can provide some real help to our suffering brothers.

But we cannot approve of the requisitioning from the churches, even as a voluntary offering, of consecrated objects, whose use for purposes other than Divine services is forbidden by the canons of the Ecumenical Church and is punished by Her as sacrilege — laymen by excommunication from Her, and clergy by defrocking Apostolic Canon 73; Canon 10 of the First-Second Council. Under the leadership of Trotsky, but with the approval of the whole Politburo Lenin, Molotov, Kamenev and Stalin , the Bolsheviks now set to work.

The actual removal of the valuables must begin already in March and then be completed in the shortest possible time… I repeat: this commission is a complete secret. Formally, the requisitioning in Moscow will take place under the direct orders of the Central Committee of Pomgol… Our whole strategy at this time must be aimed at a schism in the clergy over the concrete question of the requisitioning of valuables from the churches. Therefore I suggest that a block consisting of this section of the priesthood should be temporarily admitted into Pomgol , especially since it is necessary to avert any suspicion and doubts with regard to whether the requisitioning of valuables from the churches will be spent on the needs of the starving.

It literally rushed like a hurricane through Russia, sweeping away.. Soon clashes with believers who resisted the confiscation of church valuables took place. The first clash took place in the town of Shuye on March Five Christians were killed and fifteen wounded, as a result of which a trial was held in which two priests and a layman were condemned and executed. In , 2, married priests, 1, monks, 3, nuns and an unknown number of laymen were killed on the pretext of resistance to the seizure of church valuables in the country as a whole.

We must confiscate in the shortest possible time as much as possible to create for ourselves a fund of several hundred million roubles… Without this fund, government work.. In addition to being the head of the secret commission for the requisitioning of the valuables, Trotsky also headed the commission for their monetary realization. In any case, the Bolsheviks already had in their possession Russian crown jewels worth one billion gold rubles and jewels from the Kremlin museum worth million gold rubles — far more than the market price of the church valuables.

But if their primary motive was in fact to destroy the Church, then they also failed — the Church emerged even stronger spiritually from her fiery ordeal. The blood of the martyrs was already starting to bring forth fruit as thousands of previously lukewarm Christians began to return to the Church. However, the crisis gave a golden opportunity to the internal enemies of the Church — the renovationist heretics.

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The idea of splitting the Church hierarchy appears to have originated in with Lunacharsky, who since the early s had been instrumental in developing a more subtle, less physically confrontational approach to the problem of eradicating religion. It was taken up again by Trotsky early in That the Bolsheviks planned on using the internal enemies of the Church at the same time that they exerted external pressure through the confiscation of her valuables is clear from a project outlined by Trotsky to a session of the Politburo attended by Kamenev, Stalin and Molotov on April 2.

Already in the revolutionary years of and , the renovationists-to-be had reared their heads with a long list of demands for modernist reform of the Church. But the plotters had to wait until the spring of , when both Patriarch Tikhon and Metropolitan Benjamin of Petrograd were in prison in connection with the confiscation of church valuables, before they could seize power in the Church.


In the revolution he had been such a thorn in the side of the Church that the Holy Synod retired him. In he was again retired by Patriarch Tikhon for introducing innovations on his own authority into the Divine services. In he accepted a Soviet invitation to be a member of Pomgol , and in the same year he appeared as a witness for the government in the trial of 54 Shuye Christians who had resisted the confiscation of church valuables.

And indeed, this anti-monasticism was, with their socialism, one of the main characteristics of the renovationists — Fr. Thus Soviet power may have been justified — in this respect, if in no other — in counting, in E. The first shots in the battle were fired in Petrograd, which was a stronghold of renovationism as it had been of the Bolshevik revolution. According to Levitin and Shavrov, the initiative here came from the Petrograd party chief, Zinoviev, who suggested to Archpriest Alexander Vvedensky that his group would be the appropriate one for an eventual concordat between the State and the Church.

The leader of the Patriarchal Church in Petrograd was Metropolitan Benjamin, who had actually come to an agreement with the local authorities concerning the voluntary handing over of church valuables. These authorities evidently did not yet understand that the real purpose of the Soviet decree was not to help the starving but to destroy the Church.

Having conferred with the central authorities in Moscow, however, the Petrograd authorities reneged on their agreement with the metropolitan. Then, on March 24, a letter signed by twelve people, including the future renovationist leaders Krasnitsky, Vvedensky, Belkov, Boyarsky and others, appeared in Petrogradskaya Pravda.

It defended the measures undertaken by the Soviet government and distanced the authors from the rest of the clergy. The latter reacted strongly against this letter at a clergy meeting, during which Vvedensky gave a brazen and threatening speech. However, the metropolitan succeeded in calming passions sufficiently so that it was decided to enter into fresh negotiations with the authorities, the conduct of these negotiations being entrusted to Vvedensky and Boyarsky.

They proceeded to win an agreement according to which other articles or money were allowed to be substituted for the church valuables.

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Having acquired some credit through this success, and having cemented relations with the Soviet authorities, the group of renovationists set about seizing power in the whole Church, taking advantage of the severe difficulties the Patriarch was in in Moscow. For as well as having been under house arrest since March 19, the Patriarch had been called as a witness for the defence in the trial of 54 Moscow Christians.

In an effort to save the accused, he took the whole responsibility upon himself. And in one of the exchanges the essence of the relationship between the Church and the State was expressed. Our whole history would have been different. The first instinct of the Russian Church in the face of Soviet power, as manifested in the Council, has never been extinguished among Russian Christians.

It continued to manifest itself both at home and abroad for example, in the First All-Emigration Council of the Russian Church Abroad in , both in the early and the later decades of Soviet power for example, among the "passportless" Christians of the Catacomb Church. However, it was very soon tempered by the realisation that such outright rejection of Soviet power on a large scale could be sustained only by war - and after the defeat of the White Armies in the Civil War there were no armies left to carry on the fight against the Bolsheviks.

Therefore from the early s a new attitude towards Soviet power began to evolve among the Tikhonite Christians: loyalty towards it as a political institution "for all power is from God" , and acceptance of such of its laws as could be interpreted in favour of the Church for example, the law on the separation of Church and State , combined with rejection of its atheistic world-view large parts of which the renovationists, by contrast, accepted.


In essence, this new attitude involved accepting that the Soviet State was not Antichrist, as the Local Council of and the Russian Church Abroad had in effect declared, but Caesar, no worse in principle than the Caesars of Ancient Rome, to whom the things belonging to Caesar were due. This attitude involved the assertion that it was possible, in the Soviet Union as in Ancient Rome, to draw a clear line between politics and religion. But in practice, even more than in theory, this line proved very hard to draw.

For for the early Bolsheviks, at any rate, there was no such dividing line; for them, everything was ideological, everything had to be in accordance with their ideology, there could be no room for disagreement, no private spheres into which the state and its ideology did not pry. Unlike most of the Roman emperors, who allowed the Christians to order their own lives in their own way so long as they showed loyalty to the state which the Christians were very eager to do , the Bolsheviks insisted in imposing their own ways upon the Christians in every sphere: in family life civil marriage only, divorce on demand, children spying on parents , in education compulsory Marxism , in economics dekulakization, collectivization , in military service the oath of allegiance to Lenin , in science Lysenkoism , in art socialist realism , and in religion the requisitioning of valuables, registration, commemoration of the authorities at the Liturgy, reporting of confessions by the priests.

Resistance to any one of these demands was counted as "anti-Soviet behaviour", i. Therefore it was no use protesting one's political loyalty to the regime if one refused to accept just one of these demands. According to the Soviet interpretation of the word: "Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one has become guilty of all of it" James 2.

In view of this, it is not surprising that many Christians came to the conclusion that there was no gain, and from a moral point of view much to be lost, in accepting a regime that made such impossible demands, since the penalty would be the same whether one asserted one's loyalty to it or not.

And if this meant living as an outlaw, so be it…. Nevertheless, the path of total rejection of the Soviet state required enormous courage, strength and self-sacrifice, not only for oneself but also which was more difficult for one's family or flock. It is therefore not surprising that, already during the Civil War, the Church began to soften her anti-Soviet rhetoric and try once more to draw the line between politics and religion.

This is what Patriarch Tikhon tried to do in the later years of his patriarchate - with, it must be said, only mixed results. Thus his decision to allow some, but not all of the Church's valuables to be requisitioned by the Bolsheviks in not only did not bring help to the starving of the Volga, as was the intention, but led to many clashes between believers and the authorities and many deaths of believers.

The decision to negotiate and compromise with the Bolsheviks only brought confusion and division to the Church. Thus on the right wing of the Church there were those, like Archbishop Theodore of Volokolamsk, who thought that the patriarch had already gone too far; while on the left wing there were those, like Archbishop Hilarion of Verey, who wanted to go further.

The basic problem was that the compromises were always one-sided; the Bolsheviks always took and never gave; their aim was not peaceful co-existence, but the complete conquest of the Church. And so, as a "Letter from Russia" put it many years later: "It's no use our manoeuvring: there's nothing for us to preserve except the things that are God's.

For the things that are Caesar's if one should really consider it to be Caesar and not Pharaoh are always associated with the quenching of the Spirit However, the Patriarchal Church remained Orthodox under Patriarch Tikhon and his successor, Metropolitan Peter, for two major reasons: first, because the leaders of the Church did not sacrifice the lives of their fellow Christians for the sake of their own security or the security of the Church organisation; and secondly, because, while the Soviet regime was recognised to be, in effect, Caesar rather than Pharoah, no further concessions were made with regard to the communist ideology.

In order to understand the further development of the coup against the Patriarch, we must turn to the history of that part of the Church which found itself in diaspora. In Western Europe Russian Orthodox churches had been built beginning from the eighteenth century at Russian embassies and holy places which were often visited by Russians on trips abroad. In the East, thanks to the missionary activities of the Russian Orthodox Church missions were founded in China and Japan which later became dioceses, as well as a mission in Jerusalem.

The spread of Orthodoxy in Alaska and North America also led to the creation of a diocese.