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43. EPISTLE OF METROPOLITAN PHILARET
Russia's Catacomb Saints
The Catacomb Church
EPISTLE OF METROPOLITAN PHILARET
TO ORTHODOX BISHOPS AND ALL WHO HOLD DEAR
THE FATE OF THE RUSSIAN CHURCH!
In recent days the Soviet Government in Moscow and various parts of the world celebrated a new anniversary of the October Revolution of 1917 which brought it to power.
We, on the other hand, call to mind in these days the beginning of the way of the cross for the Russian Orthodox Church, upon which from that time, as it were, all the powers of hell have fallen.
Meeting resistance on the part of Archpastors, pastors, and laymen strong in spirit, the Communist power, in its fight with religion, began from the very first days the attempt to weaken the Church not only by killing those of her leaders who were strongest in spirit, but also by means of the artificial creation of schisms.
Thus arose the so-called ''Living Church" and the renovation movement, which had the character of a Church tied to a Protestant-Communist reformation. Notwithstanding the support of the Government, this schism was crushed by the inner power of the Church. It was too clear to believers that the "Renovated Church" was uncanonical and altered Orthodoxy. For this reason people did not follow it.
The second attempt, after the death of Patriarch Tikhon and the rest of the locum tenens of the patriarchal throne, Metropolitan Peter, had greater success. The Soviet power succeeded in 1927 in sundering in part the inner unity of the Church. By confinement in prison, torture, and special methods it broke the will of the vicar of the patriarchal locum tenens, Metropolitan Sergy, and secured from him the proclamation of a declaration of the complete loyalty of the Church to the Soviet power, even to the point where the joys and successes of the Soviet Union were declared by the Metropolitan to the joys and successes of the Church, and its failures to be her failures. What can be more blasphemous than such an idea, which was justly appraised by many at that time as an attempt to unite light with darkness, and Christ with Belial. Both Patriarch Tikhon and Metropolitan Peter, as well as others who served as locum tenens of the Patriarchal throne, had earlier refused to sign a similar declaration, for which they were subjected to arrest, imprisonment, and banishment.
Protesting against this declaration — which was proclaimed by Metr. Sergy by himself alone, without the agreement of the suppressed majority of the episcopate of the Russian Church, violating thus the 34th Apostolic Rule  — many bishops who were then in the death camp at Solovki  wrote to the Metropolitan: "Any government can sometimes make decisions that are foolish, unjust, cruel, to which the Church is forced to submit, but which she cannot rejoice over or approve. One of the aims of the Soviet Government is the extirpation of religion, but the Church cannot acknowledge its successes in this direction as her own successes" (Open Letter from Solovki, Sept. 27, 1927).
The courageous majority of the sons of the Russian Church did not accept the declaration of Metr. Sergy, considering that a union of the Church with the godless Soviet State, which had set itself the goal of annihilating Christianity in general, could not exist on principle.
But a schism nonetheless occurred. The minority, accepting the declaration, formed a central administration, the so-called "Moscow Patriarchate," which, while being supposedly officially recognized by the authorities, in actual fact received no legal rights whatever from them; for they continued, now without hindrance, a most cruel persecution of the Church. In the words of Joseph, Metropolitan of Petrograd, Metr. Sergy, having proclaimed the declaration, entered upon the path of "monstrous arbitrariness, flattery, and betrayal of the Church to the interests of atheism and the destruction of the Church."
The majority, renouncing the declaration, began an illegal ecclesiastical existence. Almost all the bishops were tortured and killed in death camps, among them the locum tenens Metr. Peter, Metr. Cyril of Kazan, who was respected by all, and Metr. Joseph of Petrograd, who was shot to death at the end of 1938, as well as many other bishops and thousands of priests, monks, nuns, and courageous laymen. Those bishops and clergy who miraculously remained alive began to live illegally and to serve Divine services secretly, hiding themselves from the authorities and originating in this fashion the Catacomb Church in the Soviet Union.
Little news of this Church has come to the free world. The Soviet press long kept silent about her, wishing to give the impression that all believers in the USSR stood behind the Moscow Patriarchate. They even attempted to deny entirely the existence of the Catacomb Church.
But then, after the death of Stalin and the exposure of his activity, and especially after the fall of Khrushchev, the Soviet press has begun to write more and more often on the secret Church in the USSR, calling it the "sect" of True-Orthodox Christians. It was apparently impossible to keep silence about it any longer; its numbers are too great and it causes the authorities too much alarm.
Unexpectedly in the Atheist Dictionary (State Political Literature Publishers, Moscow, 1964), on pp 123 and 124 the Catacomb Church is openly discussed. ''True-Orthodox Christians," we read in the "Dictionary," "an Orthodox sect, originating in the years 1922-24. It was organized in 1927, when Metr. Sergy proclaimed the principle of loyalty to the Soviet power." "Monarchist" (we would say ecclesiastical) "elements, having united around Metr. Joseph (Petrovykh) of Leningrad'' (Petrograd) —Josephites,'' or, as the same Dictionary says, "Tikhonites, formed in 1928 a guiding center, the True-Orthodox Church, and united all groups and elements which came out against the Soviet order" (we may add from ourselves, "atheist" order). "The True-Orthodox Church directed unto the villages a multitude of monks and nuns," for the most part of course priests, we add again from ourselves, who celebrated Divine services and rites secretly and "conducted propaganda against the leadership of the Orthodox Church," i.e, against the Moscow Patriarchate which had given in to the Soviet power, "appealing to people not to submit to Soviet laws," which are directed, quite apparently, against the Church of Christ and faith.
By the testimony of the Atheist Dictionary, "the True-Orthodox Christians organized and continue to organize house," i.e., secret, catacomb churches and monasteries... "preserving in full the doctrine and rites of Orthodoxy." They "do not acknowledge the authority of the Orthodox Patriarch," i.e., the successor of Metr. Sergy, Patriarch Alexy.
"Striving to fence off" the True-Orthodox Christians "from the influence of Soviet reality," chiefly of course from atheist propaganda, "their leaders... make use of the myth of Antichrist, who has supposedly been ruling in the world since 1917." The anti-Christian nature of the Soviet power is undoubted for any sound-thinking person, and all the more for a Christian.
True Orthodox Christians "usually refuse to participate in elections," which in the Soviet Union, a country deprived of freedom, are simply a comedy, "and other public functions; they do not accept pensions, do not allow their children to go to school beyond the fourth class..." Here is an unexpected Soviet testimony of the truth, to which nothing need be added.
Honor and praise to the True-Orthodox Christians, heroes of the spirit and confessors, who have not bowed before the terrible power, which can stand only by terror and force and has become accustomed to the abject flattery of its subjects. The Soviet rulers fall into a rage over the fact that there exist people who fear God more than men. They are powerless before the millions of True-Orthodox Christians.
However, besides the True Orthodox Church in the Soviet Union and the Moscow Patriarchate, which have communion neither of prayer nor of any other kind with each other, there exists yet a third part of the Russian Church—free from oppression and persecution by the atheists the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. She has never broken the spiritual and prayerful bonds with the Catacomb Church in the home land. After the last war many members of this Church appeared abroad and entered into the Russian Church Outside Russia, and thus the bond between these two Churches was strengthened yet more—a bond which has been sustained illegally up to the present time. As time goes on, it becomes all the stronger and better established.
The part of the Russian Church that is abroad and free is called upon to speak in the free world in the name of the persecuted Catacomb Church in the Soviet Union; she reveals to all the truly tragic condition of believers in the USSR, which the atheist power so carefully hushes up, with the aid of the Moscow Patriarchate, she calls on those who have not lost shame and conscience to help the persecuted.
This is why it is our sacred duty to watch over the existence of the Russian Church Outside of Russia. The Lord, the searcher of hearts, having permitted His Church to be subjected to oppression, persecution, and deprivation of all rights in the godless Soviet State, has given us, Russian exiles, in the free world the talent of freedom, and He expects from us the increase of this talent and a skillful use of it. And we have not the right to hide it in the earth. Let no one dare to say to us that we should do this, let no one push us to a mortal sin.
For the fate of our Russian Church we, Russian bishops, are responsible before God, and no one in the world can free us from this sacred obligation. No one can understand better than we what is happening in our homeland, of which no one can have any doubt. Many times foreigners, even Orthodox people and those vested with high ecclesiastical rank, have made gross errors in connection with the Russian Church and false conclusions concerning her present condition. May God forgive them this, since they do not know what they are doing.
This is why, whether it pleases anyone or not, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia will continue to exist and will raise her voice in the defense of the faith.
She will not be silent:
1. As long as the Soviet power shall conduct a merciless battle against the Church and believers, about which the whole Soviet press also testifies, except for the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate.
2. As long as, by the testimony of the same press, there exists in the USSR a secret, Catacomb True-Orthodox Church, by its very existence testifying to persecutions against the faith and to complete absence of freedom of religion.
3. As long as the Soviet power shall force the hierarchs of the Moscow Patriarchate manifestly to lie and affirm that there are no persecutions against the Church in the USSR and that the Church there supposedly enjoys complete freedom in accordance with the Soviet constitution (Metropolitans Pimen, Nikodim, John of New York, Archbp. Alexy, and others).
4. As long as the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate, at the demand of the authorities, does not mention even a single church that has been closed and destroyed, while at the same time Soviet newspapers speak of hundreds and thousands.
5. As long as churches in the USSR shall be defiled by atheists, being converted into movie-houses, storehouses, museums, clubs, apartments, etc., of which fact there are living witnesses in the persons of tourists who have been to Soviet Union.
6. Until the thousands of destroyed and defiled churches shall be restored as churches of God.
7. Until the representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate in clerical robes shall cease agitating in the free world in the interest of the godless Soviet power, in this way dressing the wolf in sheep's clothing.
8. Until the hierarchs of the Moscow Patriarchate end their evil denial of the terrible and dreadful devastation of the Pochaev Lavra and other monasteries, and stop the almost complete liquidation of monks there and the terrible persecutions of her pilgrims, even to killing and murder (letters from the USSR).
9. Until priests accused by Soviet courts shall receive the right to defend themselves freely though the Soviet press.
10. Until there shall cease calumny and ridicule of faith, the Church, priests, monks, and believing Christians in the Soviet press.
11. Until freedom shall be given to every believer in the USSR openly to confess his faith and defend it.
12. Until it shall be officially permitted children and young people to know the foundations of their faith, to visit the churches of God, to participate in Divine services and receive communion of the Holy Mysteries.
13. Until it shall be permitted parents who are believers to baptize their children without hindrance and without sad consequences for their official careers and personal happiness.
14. Until parents who raise their children religiously shall cease from being accused of crippling them, parents and children both being deprived of freedom for this and shut up in mental institutions or prison.
15. Until freedom of thought, speech, action, and voting shall be given not only to every believer, but also to every citizen of the Soviet Union, first of all to writers and creative thinkers, against whom the godless power is now waging an especially bitter battle using intolerable means.
16. Until the Church and religious societies in general in the USSR shall receive the most elementary rights, if only the right to be a legal person before Soviet laws, the right to own property, to direct one's own affairs in actual fact, to designate and transfer rectors of parishes and priests, to open and dedicate new churches, to preach Christianity openly not only in churches, but outside them also, especially among young people, etc. In other words, until the condition of all religious societies shall cease from being, one and the same, without rights.
Until all this shall come about, we shall not cease to accuse the godless persecutors of faith and those who evilly cooperate with them under the exterior of supposed representatives of the Church. In this the Russian Church Outside of Russia has always seen one of her important tasks. Knowing this, the Soviet power through its agents wages with her a stubborn battle, not hesitating to use any means: lies, bribes, gifts, and intimidation. We, however, shall not suspend our accusation.
Declaring this before the face of the whole world, I appeal to all our brothers in Christ—Orthodox bishops—and to all people who hold dear the fate of the persecuted Russian Church as a part of the Universal Church of Christ, for understanding, support, and their holy prayers. As for our spiritual children, we call on them to hold firmly to the truth of Orthodoxy, witnessing of her both by one's word and especially by a prayerful, devout Christian life.
1. Which reads: "The bishops of every nation must acknowledge him who is first among them and count him as their head, and do nothing of consequence without his consent... But neither let him who is the first do anything without the consent of all. . ."
2. Solovki: the Solovetski Islands in the White Sea, where one of Russia's coenobitic monasteries was situated. Founded by Sts. Zossima and Savvati in the 15th century, the Transfiguration Monastery was the heart of the "Northern Thebaid" and a source of Christian enlightenment and culture for the whole of the northern regions. After the Revolution of 1917 the Soviet Government turned the monastery into a forced-labor concentration camp, where thousands of innocent clergymen and laymen died, enriching with their martyrs' blood the already rich hagiography of the holy islands.