45. Archimandrite Tavrion

Russia's Catacomb Saints


Archimandrite Tavrion

Issue no. 96 of The Orthodox Word (Jan.-Feb., 1981) contained the life of Archimandrite Tavrion the last Elder of Glinsk Hermitage before its closure in 1958, who died in 1978 as spiritual father of the nuns of the Holy Transfiguration Hermitage near Riga.  Renowned as an Elder among believers in many parts of Russia, Father Tavrarion reminds one of Fr. Dimitry Dudko (with whom he was in contact) in his Orthodox fervor and his outspokenness with regard to the Soviet authorities; his life gives us a glimpse of Holy Russia surviving even in the terrible Soviet reality of today’s Russia.

This life was sent to The Orthodox Word for publication by Metropolitan Philaret, Chief Hierarch of the Russian Church Outside of Russia, together with a letter explaining that “this wise and pious elder belonged at first to the Catacomb Church; but seeing how the believing people were scattered like sheep without a shepherd, he joined the official church, but in his activity he stood absolutely apart from it, giving all his strength to the spiritual guidance of believing souls.”

Some believers, especially among non-Russians in America, interpreted such sympathy shown for a priest of the Moscow Patriarchate as a “betrayal” of the Catacomb Church and wrote letters of protest to the Synod of Bishops in New York City. The Synod, in reply, proclaimed the following “Decision” which sets forth clearly an unchanged policy of communion only with the Catacomb Church in Russia, but sympathy and lack of condemnation for all those in the Moscow Patriarchate who are trying in the best way they know to be faithful to Orthodoxy “even in the territory of Antichrist’s kingdom.” This “Decision” shows that the attitude of the free Russian Church in the West towards religious events in Russia is not at all narrow and legalistic, but is filled with love and compassion in addition to uncompromising church principle:

On 12/25 August, 1981, the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia heard the report of the President of the Synod of Bishops on the following matter: the appearance of an article about Archimandrite Tavrion published in issue no. 96 of The Orthodox Word has caused great consternation among some readers, especially those who are not very familiar with the conditions of church life in the USSR. In my covering letter to the editor of the magazine (which was not intended to be published with the article), they saw what they believed to be a kind of approval of the dual position taken by the late archimandrite rather than the simple forwarding of some interesting, informative material. Archimandrite Tavrion, after long years of imprisonment as a member of the Catacomb Church, somehow came to join the Moscow Patriarchate while never sharing its policies. None of us has ever had any relations with him. We only know that he advised those of his spiritual children leaving the USSR and going West to join the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.  It is also known that when talking to his spiritual children, he condemned the political subservience of the Patriarchate to the atheistic authorities. His pastoral and spiritual methods were rather unusual. In the favorable description of his life written by his spiritual daughter, some readers found not only the fact that he brought people into the Church, but they also suspected us of approving his compromising attitude toward the Church. This is not true.

The condemnation by our hierarchy of the agreement with the atheists promulgated by the Moscow Patriarchate at the time of Metropolitan Sergius certainly remains in effect and cannot be changed except by the repentance of the Moscow Patriarchate. This policy, which seeks to serve both Christ and Belial, is unquestionably a betrayal of Orthodoxy. Theretore, we can have no liturgical communion with any bishop or cleric of the Moscow Patriarchate. But this does not prevent us from studying with love and sorrow the religious life in Russia. In some cases we see a complete collapse while in others we see some efforts to remain outside the apostate policies of the Patriarchate leaders in an attempt to attain salvation even in the territory of Antichrist’s kingdom (as in the case mentioned in Canon II of St. Athanasius), and bearing in mind the goals of our Saviour that by a hasty judgment one might root up the wheat along with the tares (Mat, 13:29). Under varying circumstances the venom of sinful compromise poisons the soul in varying degrees.

As the free part of the Russian Church, we can fully approve only that part of the Church in Russia which is called the Catacomb Church. and only with her can we have full communion, Yet any departure from atheism and “Sergianism" must be seen as a positive step towards pure Orthodoxy even though it not yet be the opening of the way to ecclesiastical union with us. Beyond this, our present evaluation and judgment cannot proceed, due to lack of information However, our interest in all aspects of religious life in Russia cannot ignore any positive event we see against the background of total apostasy. We should not focus our attention exclusively on those facts which merit unconditional condemnation.

In light of this, the life and activity of the late Archimandrite Tavrion was an interesting phenomenon, And for this reason, I found his biography worthy of attention and publication while certainly disapproving his membership in the Sergian church organization. This was apparently misunderstood by some readers: I was not offering his example as worthy of imitation.

RESOLVED: To take into consideration the report of the President of the Synod of Bishops and, sharing his opinion, to publish his account in the religious press. At the same time, the Synod of Bishops deems it necessary to remind its flock that first of all, we must strongly uphold our own faith and exercise our zeal in the authentic life of the Church under the Conditions in which God has placed each one of us, striving towards the Salvation of our souls. Due to insufficient information, deliberations about the significance and quality of various events in Russia do not at present provide adequate guidance for the faithful. Indeed, in the majority of cases these deliberations cannot serve as instruction but must rather be regarded as personal opinions.
The Synod of Bishops is grieved by the reaction to the article about Archimandrite Tavrion and the hasty conclusions which some zealous believers, and even some clergymen, have drawn.  Mutual love and concern for Church unity, which is especially necessary in times of heresy and schism, require from each of us great caution in what we say. If no one is supposed to condemn his neighbor in haste, even more care is demanded where our own primate is concerned. Rash implications about his allegedly unorthodox preaching as well as open criticism in sermons reveal a tendency towards condemnation and division which is unseemly in Christians. The Apostle said, “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant?” How much more appropriate might it be to say, “Who art thou that judgest thy metropolitan?” Such an attitude, which can easily develop into schism, is strongly censured by the canons of the Church, for it shows willful appropriation by clerics of the “Judgment belonging to metropolitans” (Canon XIII of the First and Second Council). Everyone must be very careful in his criticism, particularly when expressing it publicly, remembering that “Judgment and justice take hold on thee” (Job 36:17). If, contrary to the apostolic teaching about hierarchical distribution of duties and responsibilities, all the clerics and laymen were to supervise their hierarchs (I Cor. 12:28.30), then instead of being a hierarchical Body of Christ, our Church would turn into a kind of democratic anarchy where the sheep assume the function of the shepherd. A special grace is bestowed upon bishops to help them in their work. Those who seek to control their bishop should be reminded of Canon LXIV of the Sixth Ecumenical Council which quotes the words of St. Gregory the Theologian:

Learning in docility and abounding in cheerfulness, and ministering with alacrity, we shall not all be the tongue which is the more active member, not all of us apostles, not all prophets, nor shall we all interpret. Why dost thou make thyself a shepherd when thou art a sheep? Why become a head when thou art a foot? Why dost thou try to be a commander when thou art enrolled in the number of the soldiers?

The canon ends with the following words:

But if anyone be found weakening the present canon, he is to be cut off for forty days.

The situation of the Church in Russia is without precedent, and no norms can be prescribed by any one of us separately. If the position of the Catacomb Church would change relative to its position in past years, any change in our attitude would have to be reviewed not by individual clergymen or laymen but only by the Council of Bishops, to which all pertinent matters should be submitted.

The above decision must be published and a copy of it forwarded to the Secretariat of the Council while the diocesan bishops should give instructions, each in his own diocese, to the clerics who have too hastily voiced their opinion.