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9. Bishop Victor of Glazov
Russia's Catacomb Saints
Bishop Victor of Glazov
AND HIS TEACHING ON THE FREEDOM OF THE CHURCH
Commemorated July 19 (†1934)
Know ye not that the friendship
of the world is enmity with God
St. James 4:4
Bishop Victor (Ostrovidov) was the son of a church chanter. He entered a monastery early in life and spent many years there. Nonetheless, he acquired also a good theological education and in 1912 published a detailed study on "The New Theologians," criticizing a new theological trend that had found expression particularly in the book of Metropolitan (later "Patriarch") Sergius, The Doctrine of Salvation (Kazan, 1898).
After the Revolution of 1917 he was a vicar bishop of the Vyatka diocese, with the title of Glazov and Votkinsk, with his headquarters in Vyatka. In 1922 he was arrested and was in prison until 1925. When the "Declaration" of 1927 come out his was the first voice of protest, and his flock joined him in separating from Metr. Sergius, which led to his arrest and incarceration in the concentration camp of Solovki, where he was from 1928 to 1930, working as a bookkeeper at the rope factory a mile from the main kremlin of the former monastery of Solovki. The little house where he lived and worked was located in a clearing of the forest; deep within this forest he celebrated secret church services with other members of the Catacomb Church.
In Solovki, despite the tragic state of Soviet Russia, Bishop Victor preserved an optimistic view of the future and even tried to infect with this the more realistic Bishop Maxim of Serpukhov. But within a few years this optimism apparently vanished, for a witness who saw him in the spring of 1931 at the concentration camp of Mai Guba in the Far North heard him say: "Ahead there is nothing but suffering." In the summer of the same year he was released from this camp and exiled for three years to the bank of the Onega River in the Archangelsk region, where, according to some reports, he was in contact with the catacomb hierarchs, Metropolitan Joseph and Bishop Damaskin. Late in 1933 he was sent to an even more remote exile in Siberia, and after this nothing more was ever heard of him.
But if little is known of the life and sufferings of this new confessor, his courageous and uncompromising spirit is set forth in the documents which he has left behind, which accuse Sergianism as a profound error that denies the very nature of the Church of Christ.
THE EPISTLES OF BISHOP VICTOR
LETTER TO METROPOLITAN SERGIUS
Document of December 16, 1927
Your Eminence, Merciful Archpastor, Most Revered and Dear Vladika.
In October, with the love of a son, I had the boldness to express to Your Eminence my sorrow over the ruinous destruction of the Orthodox Church which had been begun "as a principle of administration."
Such a destruction of the Church of God is the entirely natural and inevitable consequence of the path on which your "Declaration of July 16" has placed you, a "Declaration" which for us humble and God fearing and for all Christ-loving people is completely unacceptable.
From beginning to end it is filled with painful untruth, and it is a mockery, deeply disturbing the soul of the faithful, against the Holy Orthodox Church and against our standing in confession for God's truth. And through a betrayal of the Church of Christ to the derision of the "profane," it is a most painful renunciation of one's own salvation, a renunciation of our Lord and Saviour Himself.
This sin, as the Word of God testifies, is not less than any heresy or schism, but is rather incomparably greater, for it plunges a man immediately into the abyss of destruction, according to the Unlying Word: Whosoever shall deny Me before men… (St. Matthew 10:33).
In so far as it has been in our power, we have guarded ourselves and our flock, that we may not be participants in this sin, and for this reason we sent back the "Declaration" itself. Acceptance of the Declaration would have been testimony before God of our disinterest and indifference with regard to the Most Holy Church of God, the Bride of Christ.
Out of fear of God I now find unacceptable also your decree concerning my transference: "I fear"—as one hierarch writes me—"lest an expression of obedience on our part be considered by 'them' (the Synod) as an approval of what 'they' have done." And therefore, if I were presented complete freedom of movement — which I do not have, being administratively banished — I would then ask myself: will I not have to answer before God for this obedience, for in essence it joins me to people who have separated themselves from God. And that the "Declaration" in fact is worthy of many tears, and that it separates man from God — concerning this I have set forth my thoughts separately in the form of a letter to friends, which is here enclosed.
And what of the future? For the future I would pray the Lord — and not only I, but the whole Orthodox Church as well — that He may not harden your heart, as once He did the heart of Pharaoh, but may give you the grace to acknowledge the sin you have committed and to repent for life. Then all the faithful with joy and tears of thanksgiving to God would again come to you as to a father, pastors as to a chief pastor, and the entire Russian Church as to her sacred head. The enemy lured and seduced you a second time* with the idea of an organization of the Church. But if this organization is bought for such a price that the Church of Christ herself no longer remains as the house of grace-giving salvation for men, and he who received the organization ceases to be what he was — for it is written, Let his habitation be made desolate, and his bishopric let another take (Acts 1:20) — then it were better for us never to have any kind of organization.
What is the benefit if we, having become by God's grace temples of the Holy Spirit, become ourselves suddenly worthless, while at the same time receiving an organization for ourselves? No. Let the whole visible material world perish; let there be more important in our eyes the certain perdition of the soul to which he will be subjected who presents such outward pretexts for sin.
But if the hardness of your heart has gone far, and there remains no hope for repentance, even for this outcome we have a text to enlighten us: Wherefore come out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not their uncleanness; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you and ye shall be My sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty (II Corinthians 6:17-18).
The Brother in Christ of Your Eminence, Most
Revered Archpastor, the sincerely devoted
A LETTER TO FRIENDS
Document of December, 1927
Take heed, that ye be not deceived.
St. Luke 21:8
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all!
My Beloved Friends! With great sorrow of heart I tell you of a new deceit, through which our enemy the devil wishes to entice away the souls of Christians on to the path of perdition, depriving them of the grace of eternal salvation. And this deceit — woe to us sinners — is much more bitter than the first three: those of the Living Church, the Renovationists, and the Gregorians, whose madness was apparent to all without difficulty, whereas not everyone can see through the ruinousness of the latest deceit, and this is especially difficult for those whose mind and heart are turned toward earthly things, for the sake of which people become accustomed to renouncing the Lord. But let everyone know that the latest Declaration of July 16|29 of this year of Metropolitan Sergius — is a clear betrayal of the Truth (St. John 14:6).
Whom have the signers of the "Declaration" betrayed, and whom have they renounced? They have renounced the Most Holy Orthodox Church, which is always and in everything pure and holy, having herself not spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing (Ephesians 5:27). They have brought forth against her an open judgement before the entire world; they have bound her and given her over to the derision of the "profane," like an evil-doer, like a criminal, like a betrayer of her Most Holy Bridegroom, Christ — Eternal Truth, Eternal Justice. What a horrible thing…
The Holy Church, which the Lord hath purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:28) from out of this world, and which is His Body (Colossians 1:24), and for all of us is the house of eternal grace-given salvation from this life of perdition — now this Divine Holy Church of Christ is adapted to the service of interests not only foreign to her, but even completely incompatible with her Divinity and spiritual freedom. Many Christians step forth as enemies of the cross of Christ, says the Apostle; they mind earthly things (politics), forgetting that our dwelling is in heaven (Philippians 3:18-20)—for here have we not continuing city, but we seek one to come (Hebrews 13:14). And what kind of unification can there be of the Church of God with the civil authority, whatever kind it may be, when the aims of the latter's activity are exclusively in a material-economic direction, and while externally these aims might be moral but are foreign to faith in God or even hostile to God. At the same time, the aims of the Church's activity are exclusively spiritual and moral, and through faith in God they bring a man beyond the bounds of earthly life for the acquiring of God's grace of eternal heavenly goods. Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God (St. James 4:4).
Therefore the Church of Christ by her very nature can never be any kind of political organization, or else it ceases to be the Church of Christ, the Church of God, the Church of eternal salvation. And if now through the "Declaration" the Church is united to the civil regime, this is no simple external maneuver, but, together with a terrible outrage, a destruction of the Orthodox Church, there is also committed here the monstrous sin of renouncing the Truth of the Church, a sin which no attainments of earthly goods for the Church can justify. Do not tell me that in this way a Central Administration has been formed and local administrations are being formed, and the appearance of external calm for the Church is obtained, or, as the Declaration says, "a legal existence of the Church" — all those who earlier were caught by our enemy the devil and fell away from the Orthodox Church also love to say these and similar things. But what is the benefit if we ourselves, having been made and being called temples of God (II Corinthians 4:16), have become worthless and abominable in the eyes of God, while receiving an external administration for ourselves? Rather, may we never have any kind of administration, may we wander, even having nowhere to lay our head, after the fashion of those of whom it was once said: They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented; of whom the world was not worthy; they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth (Hebrews 11:37, 38). But by means of such suffering may Orthodox souls be preserved in the grace of salvation, of which all they are deprived who are caught by the devil with such external pretexts. Woe unto the world because of offences, for it must needs be that offences come; every soul is to be tried and every place sifted, so that the grain may be separated from the straw, even if in small quantity, since there are few chosen, said the Lord; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh! (St. Matthew 18:7). But let us, my friends, give no offence to the Church of God, that we may not be condemned at the Lord's Judgment.
Take heed that ye be not deceived; for many shall come in My name… and shall deceive many, warns the Lord (St. Luke 21:8). And the holy Apostle, showing care for us, says: See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:15, 16).
May the Lord not harden the hearts of those who signed the Declaration, but may the repent and turn and may their sins be washed away. But if it be not so, then let us guard ourselves from communion with them, knowing that communion with those who have fallen away is our own renunciation of Christ the Lord.
My friends, if we truly believe that outside the Orthodox Church a man has no salvation, then when her truth is perverted we cannot remain her indifferent worshippers in the dark, but we must confess before everyone the truth of the Church. And if others, even in an innumerable multitude, even chief hierarchs, remain indifferent and can even use their interdictions against us, there is nothing surprising in this. After all, this has happened not infrequently in the past, and thus it was four years ago that those who had fallen away from the truth composed councils and called themselves the Church of God and, pretending to be concerned over canons, made interdictions against those who did not submit to their senselessness; but they did all this to their shame and to their eternal perdition.
But the Lord is faithful, Who shall stablish you, and keep you from the evil one… And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ (II Thessalonians 3:3, 5).
THE REPLIES OF BISHOP VICTOR TO 15 QUESTIONS OF
THE GPU ON THE "DECLARATION" OF METR. SERGIUS
Document of January 18, 1928
The questions themselves have survived only in the form of brief
indications, if at all. Some of the replies, containing duplications
or relating to the political aspect, have been omitted or shortened.
1. "How would you interpret, from the civil and ecclesiastical points of view, the appearance of the new church tendency — the platform of the Declaration of July 29, 1927?"
From the ecclesiastical point of view: as an incorrect teaching on the Church and on the matter of salvation in Jesus Christ—an error of principle by Metropolitan Sergius…
2. "How do you look at the 'Declaration' etc.?"
The "Declaration" is a separation from the truth of salvation. It looks on salvation as on a natural moral perfection of man; it is a pagan philosophical doctrine of salvation, and for its realization an external organization is absolutely essential. In my opinion, this is the same error of which, as early as 1912, I accused Metropolitan Sergius…
I myself grew up among simple people, the son of a church reader, and I have spent my whole life among simple people, in monasteries. As the people believes, so believe I, namely: We believe that we are saved in Christ Jesus by the Grace of God; this Grace of God is present only in the Orthodox Church and is given to us through the Holy Sacraments, and that the Church herself is the house of grace-given salvation from this life of perdition, not some kind of political organization. As a grace-giving union of believers, the Church can be without, and it should not have, any political organization among its members; the Roman Catholic Church teaches otherwise. The Church's members, as citizens, have a political civil organization common for everyone, where they are in dependence on the civil authority.
3. The Synod appeared without the blessing of Metr. Peter who is the temporary head of the Russian Orthodox Church. Metr. Sergius, in convening it, exceeded his authority; he was entrusted only with a temporary guardiancy of the Church, a satisfaction of the pressing spiritual needs of the faithful; but he began a complete overhaul of the Church. He is not the master of the House of God, but only a guardian of the House; therefore my relationship to the Synod and to its whole platform is negative.
4. The question of the Synod's membership does not have a great significance as far as its unacceptability is concerned. Its very platform is unacceptable, for it sees the Church as an external political organization, which it unites with the civil organization of the regime of the USSR, and conformably with this it sees a political activity for the Orthodox Church, and in this way it pushes the Church on the path toward more shocks and unexpected happenings, and together with this it perverts the very nature of the Church. By her inner nature the Church should be not of this world, and precisely by virtue of those spiritual interests which she satisfies for her faithful members. She is a grace giving union for the grace-given salvation of believing citizens.
5. I propose to keep myself separate from the Synod until a part shall be taken in Church life by Metropolitan Peter or Metropolitan Cyril, in whose Orthodoxy I have no grounds to doubt.
6. "On further development of the battle against the new tendency."
I personally, both up to this time and in the future, have no intention of waging any kind of battle, and I only defend myself and my flock so that we will not be partakers of the sins of others, of the "Synod." To those near to me who appeal to me concerning the new tendency of Church life, I explain it as I myself understand it. Father than this the matter has not gone and, I think, will not go, in view of the fact that I am too insignificant a person in comparison with Metropolitan Sergius and the Synod. And besides, I do not consider myself capable of any kind of administrative, organizational activity, since I have never had any experience of it.
7. "On the aims…"
Solely the salvation of one's soul, since I believe that they, the "Synodalists," are destroying Orthodoxy, making it worldly, making it earthly and completely perverting the nature of the Orthodox Church.
8. "On the methods and manners of battle, etc."
I have not had any definite method and manner of battle at all. I, together with several, not all, priests and laymen, have declared to Metropolitan Sergius that we reject his spiritual guidance, unless he acknowledges his mistake of dragging the Church into worldly tasks not proper to her, and thus renounces his "Declaration" of July 29.
9. "How has the battle been waged?…"
Up to the present time there has been no battle in the precise meaning of this word. We have only separated ourselves from those who declare to us: "We are your superiors, and therefore we put you under interdict for disobedience," and the like. However, as concerns the pastors and laymen subject to me, and all the more anyone else, I have not undertaken any kind of interdictions, threats, curses, deprivations, or the manifestation of any kind of malice, and I will never do so, because the matter of faith, of salvation, is a matter of freedom, of conscience, of choice, and not coercion.
12. I am a servant of salvation, and those who seek their eternal spiritual salvation can always find in me help in clarifying the truth. But as it seems to me, the simple people who fear to fall away from Orthodoxy are more interested in this, while the pastors, unfortunately, remain more indifferent and disinterested, even though they are theologically educated.
13. "On watchwords, etc."
The Orthodox Church is the sole grace-giving Church, in which by God's grace our salvation from this life of perdition is accomplished. The falling away from Orthodoxy of the "Renovationists," as well as the perversion of the nature of the Church by the "Synodalists," deprive a man of the grace of salvation.
14. "On the unity of the Church and its relation to the Government."
The unity of the Church can be only one of grace, and not of the civil sphere; for us, according to the word of God, place, nationality, etc., make no difference. An Orthodox Japanese is just as dear to me as an Orthodox Russian.
A purely political civil organization of the faithful is possible only as an auxiliary tool of the civil authority, as was the case before the Revolution. The government alone knows the whole external life of a man, while the Church knows only the exclusively spiritual needs of the faithful as well as everything pertaining to prayer. We do not protest against the decree on the separation of Church and State, but unfortunately the Government does not believe the sincerity of our declarations of this.
A LETTER TO PASTORS (EXCERPTS)
Document of February 28, 1928
Whosoever of you are justified by the law, are
left without Christ; ye are fallen from grace.
And this their fall is not a small one, nor hidden, but very great, and evident to all who have the mind (of Christ) (I Corinthians 2:16); and it was revealed in the well-known "Declaration" of July 16|29 and in the brazen destruction of the Orthodox Church which has followed upon it.
The "Declaration" of those who have fallen into deception is an abominable barter of the priceless and unbarterable, that is, our spiritual freedom in Christ (St. John 8:36); it is their attempt, in contradiction to the Word of God, to unite what cannot be united: the lot of the sinner with the work of Christ, God and Mammon (St. Matthew 6:24) and light with darkness (II Corinthians 6:14-18). The apostates have converted the Church of God from a union of grace-given salvation for man from sin and eternal perdition, into a political organization, which they have joined to the organization of the civil authority in the service of this world which lies in evil (I John 5:19). Quite another thing is the loyalty of individual believers with relation to the civil authority. In the latter condition the Church preserves her spiritual freedom in Christ, and believers become confessors when the faith is persecuted; but in the former condition the Church is only an obedient tool for the realization of political ideas by the civil authority, and confessors for the faith are thus manifested as state criminals.
All this we see in the activity of Metropolitan Sergius, who, by virtue of his new relationship to the civil authority, is compelled to forget the canon of the Orthodox Church; and in defiance of them he has removed all bishop-confessors from their sees, considering them state criminals, and in their places he has arbitrarily assigned other bishops who are not acknowledged and cannot be acknowledged by the believing people. For Metropolitan Sergius there now can no longer be the very phenomenon of confessing for the Church, and therefore he declares in his interview in connection with the Declaration, that any member of the clergy who shall dare to say anything at all in defense of the Truth of God against the civil authority is an enemy of the Orthodox Church. What is this but the madness that has seized one who has fallen into deception? For, if we reason thus, we shall have to consider as an enemy of God, for example, St. Philip, who once accused Ivan the Terrible and for this was strangled; and even more than this, we must number among the enemies of God the great Forerunner, who accused Herod and for this was beheaded.
… This is why St. Maximus the Confessor, when the attempt was made to persuade him and to force him by terrible tortures to enter into communion in prayer with the false opinioned patriarch, exclaimed: "Even if the whole universe shall enter into communion with the Patriarch, I alone will not." Why was this? Because he feared to lose his soul through communion with a patriarch who had been drawn into impiety, even though at that time he had not been condemned by a council, but on the contrary was defended by a majority of the bishops. For the administrative authority of the Church, even when assembled in council in earlier times also, has not always defended the Truth, of which there is clear testimony in the cases of St. Athanasius the Great, St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil the Great, St. Theodore the Studite, and others. How then can I remain in future senselessly indifferent? This cannot be. And this is why we have set ourselves upon the only possible way out of our present situation — the path of confessing the Truth of salvation. This path is difficult, it is a path of struggle; but we do not hope in our own powers, but rather look to Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our Faith (Hebrews 12:2), and our work is not a separation from the Church, but a defense of the Truth and a justification of the Divine commandments, or what is even better, the guarding of the whole economy of our salvation. This is why a whole array of archpastors has stepped forth accusing Metropolitan Sergius: Metropolitans (Joseph, Agathangel, Arsenius), Archbishops, Bishops, and a multitude of individual pastors, who declare to Metr. Sergius that they can no longer acknowledge him as the guide of the Orthodox Church, but that for the time being they will govern themselves independently.
See to it, then, my friends and fellow pastors, that you be not drawn away by the spiritual beasts. The previous fall, not long ago, is sufficient; now we shall walks circumspectly. May the peace of God, which passeth all understanding (Philippians 4:7) fill your hearts and minds and may it direct your path in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
Bishop Victor (seal with initials)
(Source: Polsky, Russia's New Martyrs, Vol. II; the "15 Questions" are from a manuscript copy.)
* Metr. Sergius had joined the 'Living Church,' and then 'repented' (tr. n.).