39. Metropolitan Theodosius

Russia's Catacomb Saints


Metropolitan Theodosius
MANY TRUE ORTHODOX CHRISTIANS in the free world were shocked and disturbed when the world-renowned Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn now living in exile in Switzerland, wrote in his Letter to the Third All-Diaspora Council of the Russian Church Outside of Russia, meeting at Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, New York, in September of this year, that “one should not substitute in imaginary fashion a catacomb church for the real Russian Orthodox people,” denied the very existence of a “secret church organization,” and warned the hierarchs of the Church Outside of Russia that they should not “show solidarity with a mys terious, sinless, but also bodiless catacomb.” The enemies of True Orthodoxy and defenders of the Sergianist Moscow Patriarchate were quick to’ take advantage of these phrases for their own propagandistic purposes, reporting them under such headlines as No Catacomb Church. It would indeed benefit greatly the progress of renovationist “Orthodoxy” if it could be “proved” — or at least shouted loudly enough — that there is no “Catacomb Church” in Russia, that the only Orthodoxy in the USSR is the renovated, Sergianist version of it presented to the world by the Moscow Patriarchate —which indeed, Solzhenitsyn believes, is not at all “fallen” but is the real Orthodox Church of Russia. These statements of Solzhenitsyn raise important questions of two kinds: of fact, and of theology.
To be sure, at the beginning of his Letter Solzhenitsyn writes: “Realizing my unpreparedness for stepping out on an ecclesiastical question before(1) a gathering of priests and hierarchs who have devoted their whole life to the service of the Church... I only beg condescension for my possible mistakes in terminology or in the very essence of my judgments”; and at the end he again apologizes: “I do not fancy myself called to decide ecclesiastical questions.” It would therefore surely be no offence to Solzhenitsyn, who speaks so con vincingly and truthfully on other questions, to point out, for those who wish to hear the truth, his mistakes both in fact and theology regarding the True Orthodox Church of Russia.
These mistakes of Solzhenitsyn, as it turns out, have had one fortunate consequence: they have caused several persons who have more accurate infor mation than he about church life in the Soviet Union to speak out and directly refute his claim that there is no “secret church organization” there:
1. One revealing glimpse of the continuing life of Russia’s Catacomb Church is contained in the brief biography of the young Vladimir Osipov, editor for four years of the now-defunct Samizdat periodical Veche, which wus noted for its strong nationalist and Orthodox intent, expressing the “Slavophile” position in contemporary Russia. According to an article of Alexei Kiselev, based on an interview with Anatoly Levitin (Krasnov),(2) when Osipov was in a concentration camp in the 1960’s “he met a strange old man whom all the prisoners called ‘Vladika.’ This was Michael, a bishop of the True-Orthodox Church. He made a powerful impression on Osipov and this encounter, it may be, is what turned him to religion.” This very mention of a True-Orthodox (Catacomb) Bishop in the contemporary Soviet Union, and of his influence on the young generation of religious seekers, is already an important sign for those thirsting for every scrap of information on True Orthodoxy in Russia; but fortunately, from the same Krasnov and other sources, we now have a much better idea than this of the existence of Cata comb Bishops in the Soviet Union today.
2. The monthly bulletin Religion and Atheism in the USSR (in Russian), published in Munich by N. Theodorovich, has printed portions of three letters it has received from persons of German origin who recently emigrated from the Soviet Union and who, independently of each other, have reacted to Solzhenitsyn’s statements on the Catacomb Church. One of them writes:

“A. I. Solzhenitsyn has not happened to meet any mexrbers of this Church. I was with them in prison and worked together with them in a cor rective-labor colony. They are deeply believing people and very firm in faith. They are persecuted for belonging to this prohibited Church.”
The second writes: “‘Catacomb’ or ‘Secret’ Church is the n used here [ of Russia). In the USSR it is called the ‘True-Orthodox’ or ‘Tikhonite’ Church. To it belong deeply-believing Orthodox people who do not recognize the official church. For this the regime persecutes them. I know many of them who are now free, but I will not give their names or places of residence.”
The third writer gives a more complete description of the life of the True-Orthodox Church, whose services are sometimes conducted by monks, nuns, and laymen: “The True-Orthodox Church has a hierarchy, but the ma jority of it is in prison or in corrective colonies. Members of the True-Ortho dox Church conduct their services according to the rituals of the Orthodox Church. If they have no priest, the services are conducted by someone who knows most about them. I know of some who have not married and have dedicated themselves to God from childhood; they also conduct services. These are, as a rule, absolutely honest people who lead a morally pure life. In the USSR members of the True-Orthodox Church are cut off from the influences of the world on their life and are absolutely dedicated to God. The greater part of the believers of the True-Orthodox Church conduct their services un der ordained priests. Your suppositions that the members of the True-Ortho dox Church are only old people who remain from the time of the schism of 1927 brought a smile to my lips. Those whom I personally knew were born after 1927. Of course, there are also those who remember 1927. They also have non-liturgical gatherings for prayer, when they read the Holy Scripture and spiritual books. Their prayer, for the most part, amounts to petitions for the awakening of faith in the Russian people. They sometimes allow young people at their Divine services if they know that they will not betray them to the militia or the KGB. The less publicity there is about them, the better for them. But it should be known that they need books of Holy Scripture and spiritual literature.”(3)
3. The most striking information about the True-Orthodox Church of Russia to be given in recent months comes from the well-known fighter for “civil rights” in the Soviet Union, Anatoly Livitin (Krasnov), who left the USSR for exile in Switzerland in September of this year. In his youth he took art active part as a Deacon in the “Living Church” schism, and even today, long after repenting and returning to the Orthodox Church, his views can only be described as extremely “liberal” and “ecumenical.” His testimony of the True-Orthodox Church is all the more valuable in that he cannot be accused of any preconceived sympathy for it; for him it is a “sect,” and therefore it is as deserving of as much respect and freedom as any other “sect” in the contemporary Soviet Union.
The first statement of Krasnov’s that we shall quote comes from his Samizdat dedaration to the Committee on Human Rights in Moscow, made on September 5, just before his departure from the Soviet Union. Here, to gether with his protests against the persecution of Uniats, Baptists, Adventists, Pentecostalists, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, there is a section on “Persecutions Against the True-Orthodox Church (TOC) .“ Here he writes: “This Church has been subjected to persecutions for the course of 47 years.” He continues with an historical account of the Declaration of Metropolitan Sergius in 1927 and the protests of a number of bishops against it; of how all the bishops who took part in the “Schism of 1927” perished in the 1930’s in the coricen tration camps; and of how they managed to ordain a number of bishops in the camps as their successors, from whom the present secret hierarchy of the True-Orthodox Church derives its existence, He continues: “The number of members of the TOC is not subject to reckoning. However, according to in formation received from members of this Church, it has from eight to ten bishops, about 200 priests, and several thousand laymen. The activity of the TOC is strictly persecuted. The regime fears its spread.(4)
4. Yet more detailed information on the True-Orthodox Church was given by Krasnov after his arrival in the West, where he discovered that, once again, a part of the Russian “liberal” intelligentsia was rejoicing over the “non-existence of the Catacomb Church,” which this time had been “proved” by Solzhenitsyn. This is what Krasnov said in an interview with the Paris ussian weekly, La Pensee Russe (December 5, 1974, p. 5):
“As for the Catacomb Church — it exists, it is not an invention. According to my information, it has about ten bishops. These bishops have their hierarchichal succession from the Josephites, the bishops who separated from Metropolitan Sergius in 1927... At the present time there are, as far as I know, perhaps twelve, perhaps eight bishops. They were all ordained in the camps by the hierarchs who were there, and all of them are developing their own activity. There are also priests. But all the same, this is a very small layer of the population. In the first place, all of this is so profoundly secret that it is very difficult to find out anything for sure. I know one nun who came to an Orthodox archimandrite in order to persuade him to go over to the ‘True-Orthodox Church.’ When he began to ask her more details, she replied to him ‘When you come over to us, they will tell you everything.’ I know that there is an underground Metropolitan Theodosfus he is their head, and in connection with the election of Patriarch Pimen he published in Samizdat) his own proclamation, which went about Moscow, Peter,(5) and Kiev, under the signature of ‘Metropolitan Theodosius,’ where in the name of the ‘True-Orthodox Church’ a negative attitude was declared toward the Patriar. chate. In private conversations they usually say that they consider the closest current to themselves to be the Orthodox Synodal Church, the so-called ‘Karlovitz’ Church the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia They usually say: strictly speaking we are not against the regime; we are monarchists, but we are not against the regime, inasmuch as every authority is from God.(6) They only cannot accept the hierarchy, inasmuch as it is in dependence on the atheists. Well, they considcr Patriarch Tikbon their last head [ patriarch), which is why usually in the camps they are called ‘Tikhonites.’ It should be said that their adherents are usually old people, or those released from the camps. Their Divine services usually occur in private apartments,and at these secret Liturgies three or four people are present.... The True-Orthodox Church hides itself too much in the underground; it has the character of something so secret, so mysterious, that literally no one can find it; although, to be sure, one cannot refuse to respect these people who are very firm, very sincere.”

1 The Orthodox Church, official organ of the American Metropolia, November, 1974, p. 2.
2 Russian text in Novoye Russkoye Slovo, about Feb. 1, 1975, p. 3.
3 Religion and Atheism in the USSR, December, 1974, p. 9.
4 Religion and Atheism in the USSR, December, 1974, p. 2.
5 A pre-Revolutionary nickname for St. Petersburg (now “Leningrad”).
6 This is probably not an accurate statement about the position of the True. Orthodox Church in Russia on this point. See the Samizdat Catacomb document “Church aud Authority”