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37. A Catacomb Epistle of 1962
Russia's Catacomb Saints
A Catacomb Epistle of 1962
BY A MEMBER OF THE MUCH-SUFFERING
CATACOMB CHURCH OF RUSSIA
Until the 1970’s, virtually all of our first-hand information on the Catacomb Church in Russia came from the documents of its founding bishops (see Part II above) and the testimonies of Catacomb believers who came out of Russia chiefly during World War II (Part HI). Thus, this information is restricted to the period from 1927 to the early 1940’s, and about the Catacomb Church from 1940 to 1970 almost nothing was known.
In the 1970’s, with a new wave of emigration and increased communication between Russia and the outside world, the veil to some extent has been removed. The following texts, all from witnesses in Russia itself, give most of what is publicly known about the Catacomb Church in the years since the Second World War.
The first text, although dated 1962, was printed only in 1977 in Lev Regelson’s Tragedy of the Russian Church and before then was known only to a few persons within the Soviet Union. Its anonymous author is a conscious (but moderate) apologist for the Catacomb Church, which maintains its existence separate from the Moscow Patriarchate up to the present day.
You ask for a clarification of one and the same subject. It would be best of all to speak of this at a personal meeting, but unfortunately, I will have to write with the risk of not answering some of your perplexities.
THE SOVIET WAR AGAINST THE CHURCH
When they came to power, the Bolsheviks immediately declared war against the Church. This was, if you please, the only honest act in all their political activity, for any agreement between these two camps was unthinkable as a consequence of the contradictions which divide them (what communion is there of Christ with Belial?); and there can be no talk at all of toleration on the part of the Bolsheviks. But with the very declaration of war their honesty came to an end, for they set forth false motives. They immediately began to accuse the Church of counter revolution. This was clearly an injustice, because from the time when the Bolsheviks became entrenched on the whole territory of former Rus and the civil war came to an end that is from the time when it be came clear to everyone to whom the governmental authority belonged, the Bolsheviks could not indicate a single fact which would come under this concept — the concept of political warfare, conspiracy, with the aim of annihilating the adversary. But they began to persecute Christians precisely under this false pretext. And when my turn came, at one of my interrogations, I declared to my interrogator: “Yes, I am a counter-revolutionary; I do not deny it. Whenever you say ‘yes’, I say ‘no’; whenever you say ‘white’, I say ‘black’; whenever you praise, I sharply condemn. But you have no right to persecute me for this, since you have proclaimed freedom of religion. Consequently, my religious convictions, according to your own laws, are not a crime. And you cannot in the least accuse me of political warfare with you, of acts which have as their aim to call forth your annihilation.” And despite the fact that he really could not bring forth an accusation of a single counter-revolutionary act against me, I was still “condemned” without any trial to ten years.
In the beginning the Bolsheviks were quite naive. It seemed to them that the chief power of the Church was to be found in its material might. Under the pretext of helping the hungry, they promoted the so- called ‘confiscation of Church valuables,” from which not a single kopeck went to the hungry, and all the metal was used not for the buying of goods, but for the making of coins to support the fantastically devaluated Soviet ruble. But against all their expectations, the Church continued to stand, and her light even became a little pure! and clearer. Being liberated from an obligation foreign to her — to defend and support the far from ideal (from her point of view) and therefore transitory governmental and social order, the Russian Church went over finally to the realization of her eternal aim: the grace—giving renewal and rebirth of human souls.
Then came a few years which everyone who experienced them in the enclosure of the Church can remember only with a f of great spiritual joy and fervent thanksgiving to God Who vouchsafed them to experience what they did. There were confessors, there were martyrs. there were persecutions, annihilations. and mockeries. But this did not decrease the joy, for all this was endured not in the name of attaining any kind of earthly aims, but only in the name of Christ, only in His name. The Church. absolutely defenseless. felt itself to be both correct and unvanquishable. Clearly, life itself proved the rightness of the idea of St. John Chrysostom that, just as the enemies could do nothing with the Lord Jesus Christ and His Disciples as long as there was not found a traitor among them, so also 110 persecutions from outside are frightful to the Church, so long as there are no traitors among the shepherds. And, alas, such traitors were found.
The Soviet authorities managed to find certain hierarchs who did not consider it an abomination to step forth, one after the other in the role of Judas Iscariot. At first it was the “Living Church.’’ the ‘Reno— vationists,” then the “Gregorians,” the “Lyuhentsi,” and many others. Their attempts to give over the rudder of the canonical administration of the Church into the hands of her sworn enemies, and thereby to distort or even completely paralyze her influence upon the spiritual life of the country, were fruitless until Metropolitan Sergius became the substitute of the Patriarchal Locum Tenens, after the arrest of a whole series of bishops who had occupied this position...
THE DECLARATION OF METROPOLITAN SERGIUS
And then, it seems it was in May, 1927, his Declaration was published. You have probably read it, therefore I don’t need to set it forth in detail. One can only say that in it Metropolitan Sergius fulfilled not those promises which he had given to his brothers in faith, but those which had been demanded of him at the NKVD. A great disturbance arose. On the one hand, everyone felt that a believing Orthodox Christian could not agree with a single word of this Declaration, that it, if not formally, then in essence, was apostate in nature, declaring principles which are incompatible with the Christian consciousness and conscience. But on the other hand, it was precisely this open trampling upon Church justice that tore souls with a burning doubt. The thought arose, “It cannot be that Metropolitan Sergius decided on something which seems to us so unworthy, not only of a hierarch, but even of a simple Christian. Probably it is our excessive rigorism, our pride, that paints in such dark colors a sober and wise action of Metropolitan Sergius, who is respected by everyone and is a highly valued archpastor.
It was tormenting and difficult to decide. In the end, one part of the hierarchs and the ordinary clergy, with great pain of soul, decided that ... the Declaration of Metropolitan Sergius was absolutely unacceptable for them, that it would bring frightful misfortunes to the Orthodox Church, that those joyful perspectives which Metropolitan Sergius promised in case his Declaration should be accepted all the way to the opening of theological schools and permission for the Church to print its own publications would never be realized. And since Metropolitan Sergius at the end of the Declaration offered to all those who were not in agreement to “depart” until they became convinced of the rightness and the successfulness of his course, they therefore “departed,” cutting off communion with him and with everyone who submitted to him.
At the same time, there was no question among those who departed concerning whether those who followed Metropolitan Sergius had grace or not; this question they did not ask and did not decide. But the sharpness of the church battle led many among the simple church people to declarations that grace had been taken away from the followers of Metropolitan Sergius, that their sacraments were not sacraments, and that attending their churches defiled a Christian and made him an apostate. These views became especially widespread when, soon after the publication of the Declaration, the flock began quickly to be deprived of its shepherds and archpastors, who went into exile, prisons, and concentration camps. But the hierarchs who led the departure from Metropolitan Sergius, as well as the clergy close to them, taught only that in this year of great disturbance and division, it was fitting to attend only those churches where the Declaration of Metropolitan Sergius was not read, and where he was not commemorated, as a sign of the fact that they rejected the impious deeds of Metropolitan Sergius and his partisans. These partisans of his turned out to be much more numerous than those who de parted. Here, the reasons were both the great authority of Metropolitan Sergius and faint-heartedness - the fear of repressions, and the hope that one could escape them by going on the path to which Metropolitan Sergius called.
Soon the ruinous consequences of this “direction” were not slow in making themselves known. Into the concentration camps, after those who had “departed,” there soon followed also all those who had hoped to be saved under Metropolitan Sergius’ omophorion. Churches and monasteries were quickly closed, one after the other, and, ten years after the Declaration which had promised the Church “a quiet and undisturbed life,” over the whole limitless expanse of the USSR there remained only a few churches in the large cities, and these were called “show churches.” There remained still Metropolitan Sergius and the Synod unlawfully organized by him — about fifteen bishops ready to do anything, among whom was also the future Patriarch of All-Russia, Alexis Simansky.(1)
THE OPENING OF THE CHURCHES
And so would everything have continued if the war had not occurred. In the areas occupied by the Germans there immediately began an elemental building of churches. The defiled but still whole churches were opened, cleaned, and consecrated, and wherever they had been destroyed there were organized houses of prayer. To these the believers brought the holy antimensia, icons, vessels, and all kinds of church furnishings which they had preserved in a holy way. Crowds of thousands again came to the churches, again they heard the word of God, again they received communion of the Bloodless Sacrifice. All this could not but be reflected in the areas which still remained under the power of Stalin. He understood that a continuation of the previous church policy could turn out to be extremely dangerous for him, and, determined not to be behind Hitler in piety, he commanded Metropolitan Sergius, who was obedient to him in everything, again to open those churches the closing of which he (Metropolitan Sergius) had justified not long before this, many times declaring to the whole world that there were no persecutions whatever in the USSR, and that churches were closed because the parishioners were petitioning for this, having decided that they did not need any church.
And so, the “new era” began, Churches were opened, fifteen bishops, with the permission of Stalin, made Metropolitan Sergius Patriarch, or Corn-patriarch, as the Germans justly called him in their news papers. The newly-baked Patriarch began feverishly to increase the number of his bishops, bringing them up in the short period of his Patriarchate to fifty and more souls, of course all thinking exactly like him. Even the boldest dreams were realized: several seminaries and two Academies were opened, and permission was given for the publication of the Journal of the Patriarchate. However, the reason for all this “blossom ing” was, clearly, not the Declaration of Metropolitan Sergius, but some thing which for its existence owed nothing whatever to Metropolitan Sergius: the invasion of Hitler, which was so successful in the beginning.
That this change of church policy was not sincere, but was made only under compulsion, is shown by the later practice of the Party which has as its aim to liquidate the Orthodox Church before the end of the present seven-year plan.(2) The reaction of Patriarch Alexis to this practice is not different in a single iota from the reaction of Metropolitan Sergius to the destruction of Church organizations in the 1930's It is just as shameless and criminal, and it has no justification whatever.
OUR POSITION TODAY
Are we correct affirming this, and on this basis continuing to remain outside of communion with the hierarchy which is headed by Patriarch Alexis?
Absolutely we are correct. Is not the Orthodox Church given over to the torrent and pillaging of her sworn enemies? Who, in actual fact, is directing the Church with autocratic authority? Is it not the local and district officials, headed by their chief, Kuroyedov? Do they not interfere in all the petty details of church life, striving, of course, not to put the Church in order, but to do as much harm as possible to it? Has not the whole episcopate been turned into an empty decorative screen which covers with its splendid appearance the dark work of mocking the holy things of the faith? Have not certain bishops gone so far that they them selves come to close monasteries instead of defending them? (This I saw with my own eyes.) Do not the officials dare to demand of priests not to allow children into church, not to confess them or give them communion? Do not the delegations, which are sent by Patriarch Alexis to all possible church conferences, condemn anti-communism as a teaching incompatible with Christianity, at the same time that Communism itself without any embarrassment at all, declares itself anti-Christian? Thus, every lack of approval, every condemnation and ideological battle against anti- Christianity, according to the new Sergian-Alexian doctrine, is declared to be a work unworthy of a Christian; and on the contrary, union with the enemies of Christ, participation and cooperation with them, and not only a silent but often a very loud approval of their destructive and perse cuting activity (for example, “Stalin is the first guardian of Orthodoxy”)— this is the direct duty of every Christian.
And Patriarch Alexis acts in complete agreement with this unbelievable doctrine of his. For example, he hastens to reproach Kennedy for the renewal of nuclear tests, but he stubbornly remains silent not only when Khrushchev does the same, but even when this “peacemaker,” nakedly trampling not only on the rights of men, but even on his own Soviet laws, destroys the Church. Even Metropolitan Nicholas of Krutitsa, a spirited and bold apologist for the Church’s “new economic plan,” was unable to contain himself, and he preferred disgrace; but our Holiness, just as before, as if nothing had happened, participates in the receptions and congresses, applauds, and so forth.
“This is the way everything is,” people will tell me. “But have you not violated the church canons which forbid clergy to cease communion with their Metropolitans and Bishops before a conciliar judgment?” This is an argument that seems very weighty. But let us examine it. And first of all let us ask: Do we have periodic (once every year and once every three years) councils where we might appeal? After all, according to the canons, these councils are an obligatory church institution. It turns out that our accusers are .the first violaters of the canons, and they compel us also not to observe them. After all, one cannot accuse us of “separating before a council,” if these councils in general are not even called! They will say, “For the past twenty years there were councils and conferences.” But what kind? These were conferences of ‘yes-men’ who obediently stamped the orders, first of Karpov and then of Kuroyedov. And after all, the canons forbid any kind of pressure of the civil authority on the members of a council, and all the decrees of bishops which have been compelled by such pressure are declared to be invalid.
Again our accusers, passing themselves off as defenders of canons, turn out to be their violators. The constant picture is this: if one judges by the reality of things, they are lawless ones and criminals; if one judges formally, they are the keepers of canonical order in the Church. But even this pitiful consolation exists only for a very superficial investigation. But if one looks more carefully, it is discovered that they have no right whatever to insist upon their canonicity; for there exists a canon according to which every clergyman, whether priest or bishop, who has attained his rank by the influence, insistence, or in general by any kind of pressure or help of the civil authority, must be cast out of his rank. According to this canon, not to speak of the present bishops who cannot even put on an omophorion until Kuroyedov allows it, the Patriarch himself should be cast out of his rank — he who was “elected” by a council at the direct order of the government. Behold how “canonical” the whole hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church is!...
I will be told: “It is in Metropolitan Sergius’s favor that a series of bishops returned to him who had previously departed from him.” No, my dear children, this fact does not at all incline the scales to his side.
have already said what a great disturbance Metropolitan Sergius called forth in our minds and hearts, how difficult it was to discern and to decide. You cannot imagine how difficult this was, how we suffered and were tormented. It is not astonishing that there have been waverings and changes of decision. Their motives we do not know, but they could be quite various: not only the conclusions of logic, but simply great weariness, or something else like this. One bishop told me directly: “I will tell you frankly, everything that Metropolitan Sergius does is a vile disgrace. But I wish finally to return home!” (But he did not remain very long at home.)
Everything that has been said above, I hope, will convince you that it is not out of lightmindedness or prejudice that we have made our choice, and it is not out of lightness of mind and stubbornness that we do not change it. We have made it to the best of our judgment, and we are ready to stand with it at God’s judgment. There are very few of us, but we do have an Orthodox episcopate — and not only the one abroad — and our conscience is at peace.
We believe that if human life is to continue on earth, then some time there will gather a council which will justify our boldness and will justly evaluate the “wise policy” of Metropolitan Sergius and his follow ers who wished to “save the Church” at the price of her immaculateness and truth.
WHAT TO DO?
Now, your basic question: What are you to do? If the present days were like the days of the Sergianist disturbance, I would tell you what I said then: Go to churches which do not have communion with Metropolitan Sergius, but do not go to him and his partisans. But the times have changed. We have no churches in the USSR now, and can we, who have gone into our solitary cells and find there everything which the churches gave us, forbid the thousands of believers who do not have such an opportunity from seeking consolation and spiritual food in the churches that do exist, and can we condemn them because they go there? We can not imitate those ignorant ones who stupidly affirm: “Those are not churches, they are demons’ temples, those who attend them defile themselves and are deprived of saving grace,” and other such foolish sayings.
And so I say to you: If you do not have any other way of taking part in Divine services and receiving the Mysteries, if you are languishing with thirst for church unity and prayer, and if attending the churches gives this to you — -then go there without disturbance, and do not fear that this will be a sin. The Spirit breathes where It will; and in His unutterable mercy the Lord, even through His most unworthy ministers, even through unbelievers, does not deprive Christians of His heavenly gifts. If you wish a more intimate personal communion, then I advise you, as I also told you before, to choose for this sincere and unhypocritical priests — and such do exist in the churches. Of course, it is difficult for them, but they somehow try to squeeze through the eye of the needle. To seek such people among the bishops is almost a hopeless cause: the over whelming majority of them “know what they are doing,” and now are es pecially justified the words of St. John Chiysostom, “I fear no one in the world. I fear only bishops.”
And so, here, it seems, is everything that I needed to say to you, children. Yes, one thing more: Do not think that if you begin to attend the churches and even confess and receive communion in them, that I will consider you strangers. My soul is always open for you while you have the desire to be in communion with it.
With love in Christ...
1 Actually, at its lowest state in 1940, the Moscow Patriarchate had only four bishops at freedom. The fifteen bishops who elected Sergius “Patriarch” in 1943 were quickly gathered from prisons and concentration camps at that time.
2 The persecution of Khrushchev, 1959-1964.