Secret Catacomb Church

Ivan Andreev: 
About the Secret (Catacomb) Church in Soviet Russia

This is found on Internet Sobor
and translated into human English on Pra-blah

I found this report to the Council of Bishops (machine-typed, undated, original's style and orthography [spelling] retained) by prof. I.A. Andreev in the Synodal Archives in New York, and it was first published in the 'Russian Sigor' journal issues 4-6, 2009.  Of particular interest in this report are the pieces of information that Hieromartyr Metr. Kirill (Smirnov) – contrary to information disseminated that he allegedly did not commit any ordinations – did, in fact, not only ordain priests for the Catacomb Church, but bishops as well.
+ Metropolitan Agafangel

Secret Catacomb Church in Soviet Russia
by Ivan Andreev

Let us briefly recall the chain of events that preceded and led to the emergence of the Secret (Catacomb) Church in Soviet Russia.

St. Patriarch Tikhon, as is known, anathematized the Soviet government on January 19th, 1918 and did not lift the anathema until his death.  The legitimate Local Church Council of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow of January 28th, 1918, approved the anathemizing.  Ever since there has been no legal* Church Council in Soviet Russia, and so no one could have [possibly] lifted the anathema on the Soviet authorities.  Those illegal "soborischa" [Council-lerings], however, have never raised the issue.

Anathemizing of the Soviet government [authorities] by the Russian Orthodox Church has had and still has huge religious, moral and political significance.  The Russian Church – politically separated by the Soviet State – has, by the act of its anathema, religiously separated itself from the Soviet State.  After that the so-called "legalization" of the Russian Orthodox Church within the anathematized theomachist state has proved to be impossible both from a church, from a moral, or from a political point of view.

The Orthodox Russian Church became permanently persecuted.  But, as we know from history – the Church grows from persecution, and martyrdom is the seed of Christianity.  Led by the wise, humble [mild-tempered], and honest Holy Patriarch Tikhon the persecuted Russian Church was growing and strengthening spiritually.

The "Red", "living", "renovationist Church" was just a nightmare, an "insurance" for the few only cowards [fainthearted] and proven to be crafty.  Among these cowardly and crafty people one has to number Metropolitan Sergius in Russia and outside Russia – those of the Eastern Patriarchs, who recognized the "Red Church".  In the spring of 1924 the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Gregory tried to intervene in the affairs of the Russian Church with the aim of "reconciling" the "Tikhonites" old-church-believers with "zhirtzy" ['living'] Renovators.  St. Patriarch Tikhon did, of course, rebel strongly against that attempt.

On June 16th, 1922, Metropolitan Sergius (Stragorodsky) together with Archbishop Evdokim (Meshchersky) and Archbishop Seraphim (Mescheryanov) declared vis-à-vis the emergence of the arbitrary red renovationist "Church" and the renovationist V.TS.U. [H.C.D.], the following: "Having examined the V.TS.U. platform and the canonical legality of the department [H.C.D., Управления] we consider it to be the only canonical legitimate supreme ecclesiastical authority, and all orders emanating from it we consider fully legitimate and binding.  We urge all true pastors and faithful children [sons] of the Church – both those entrusted with us and of other dioceses – to follow our example"...

This despicable act of Metropolitan Sergius infuriated all true and faithful to the Church bishops, clergy and laity, who have never shown any cowardice or wile before the nightmarish "Red Church".

After the St. Patriarch Tikhon's freeing from prison on June 26th, 1923, the "Red Church" nightmare cleared as smoke.  And then Metropolitan Sergius, immediately, "with extraordinary ease of mind", changed his "canonical believes" and offered repentance before the Church and the Patriarch in his retreat into renovationism and recognition of the "Red Church".  But – although after his repented he received once again from the hands of the Patriarch of the episcopal robe and the white hood – the religious and moral reputation of Metropolitan Sergius in the eyes of true faithful had been hopelessly lost.  St. Patriarch TIKHON, who highly appreciated Metropolitan Sergius before this event – trust him no longer, and in his will of January 7th, 1925, shortly before his demise, he outlined as his deputies: the first – Metropolitan KIRILL (the most steadfast one), the second – Metropolitan AGAFANGEL, and the third – Metropolitan PETER. Metropolitan Sergius, however, is not at all mentioned therein.

Arguing strictly canonically (as this was rightly pointed out by proto-presbyter Fr. M. Polsky), after such a terrible and shameful fall of Metropolitan Sergius it was impossible to conclude the decision about him only by the will of the Patriarch, and it was necessary, though, to even allow him to priesthood, but leave him under the jurisdiction [verdict] of the Council; and all the more so it was impossible to put him in the near future at the helm of Church.  It was Metropolitan PETER who made that huge mistake after his arrest.  He outlined as his first deputy Metropolitan Sergius, the second – Metropolitan Michael (the Exarch of Ukraine) and the third – the Archbishop of Rostov (later Metropolitan of Petrograd) Joseph.

When Metropolitan became the head of the Russian Orthodox Church – Metropolitan Agafangel was freed from prison, [the one] who had been scheduled by Patriarch Tikhon himself as his second deputy after Metropolitan Kirill, as locum tenens-to-be (third was Metropolitan Peter). Metropolitan Agafangel perfectly legitimately laid his claims, but then he gave up those rights himself and subjected to Metropolitan Sergius.  That was just as big a mistake of Metropolitan Agafangel.

In June 1927, shortly before the Judah-style betrayal by Metropolitan Sergius, the Optina elder Fr. Nectarios – according to the witness by the professors Komarovich and Anichkova who visited him in person, said: "Metropolitan Sergius is a renovationist [obnovlenets]."  To the objection that Metropolitan Sergius was a renovationists, but then he had repented Fr. Nectarios replied: "Yes, he has repented, but the poison in him stays."  The words of the visionary elder were soon to come true: on July 16/29, 1927, Metropolitan Sergius issued his notorious "Declaration", through which the Russian Orthodox Church was turned over to the hands of the enemies of Christ.  A terrible "legalization" of Christ's Church happened – anathematized by the antichrist Soviet state, in result to which the anathema proclaimed by St. Patriarch Tikhon and confirmed by the Moscow Church Council – fell also onto the "legalized" Church.  Ever since that church has been called the "Soviet Church."  The legalized Soviet church began to serve the antichrist's power [government], helping the latter in the persecution of those who have not recognized the "Declaration" by Metropolitan Sergius.

After this declaration, there came a new neo-renovationist schism, more terrible than the previous renovationist schism of 1922-1923.  Metropolitan Sergius secondarily and already to the point of no-return stood up in canonical protection of the red Soviet church.  Persecution of the true Orthodox Christians, who had not recognized the declaration of Metropolitan Sergius – whom friends had started calling "true Tikhonites" and "old-church-believers", while enemies referred to them as "Josephites" (named after Metropolitan Joseph of Petrograd) – are beyond any [possible] description.  All the churches where they commemorated only Metropolitan Peter and did not commemorate Metropolitan Sergius – started being closed down by the Soviet authorities withe the help of Metropolitan Sergius.  Metropolitan Sergius brutally imposed his "rebukes" and thus turned the "rebuked" into the hands of GPU.

The True Russian Orthodox Church had to go into the catacombs [underground].

The idea of a catacomb church – according to the first catacomb Bishop Maxim (Zhizhilenko), was given by Patriarch Tikhon himself.  At first the Catacomb (or as it was also called – the secret or the desert) Church united only under the name of Metropolitan Peter, and then it was headed by Metropolitan Kirill.  After the death of Metropolitan Peter and of Metropolitan Kirill (in 1936) the spiritual and administrative head of the Catacomb Church became the Petrograd Metropolitan Joseph, shot dead just because of this in 1938.  After the death of Metropolitan Joseph the Catacomb Church faithfully keeps secret the names and the whereabouts of their spiritual leaders.  The scarce pieces of information that reach us in countries abroad always come with the epigraph "for I will not speak of the Mystery to Thine enemes." [prayer before Holy Communion]

The Catacomb, secret, desert Church had all too many enemies, not only in Soviet Russia but also abroad.  In view of this, the Catacomb Church – [while] deeply cherishing Metropolitan Anastassy personally and making to him "bows to the ground" – was afraid to open up in full their secrets and name the names and the whereabouts of their secret bishops.

Currently in Soviet Russia there are several dozens of secret bishops (after reports from Catholic sources, secret bishops in Soviet Russia are: according to some – 30, and according to another – about 100).  Each and every secret bishop has been provided all the fullness of ecclesiastical authority.  In their turn, the secret bishops have granted extended rights to the secret priests in the field.

According Catacomb Bishop Maxim, who was shot in 1930, the Catacomb Church anathematized the Soviet church in 1928.

Some catacomb bishops and priests from Soviet Russia are now in the Diaspora [abroad], continuing to be "secret " here, as well.  If the Orthodox Catholic Church Outside of Russia will need to go into the catacombs – then these latter have already been prepared for her.

In August 1952 the Catacomb Russian Orthodox Church lost one of its finest hierarchs.  Because of his death it is permissible to give his name and say a few words about the nature of its activities.  This Arch-Pastor – Metropolitan John (of Altai), was secretly ordained by Metropolitan Kirill of Kazan.  The late Metropolitan was – after WW2 in the Diaspora and in the period 1946 to 1951 made several trips to the Soviet Russia and had returned.  His occasional reports and messages, reported by some [certain?] catacombnics of Soviet Russia to the Diaspora – were until August the main source of information in the Diaspora about life in Soviet Russia (about church life).

Incidentally, the late Archbishop John blessed – in case of need – the unification of all former catacombnics under-the-soviets [from within Soviet Russia] in the Diaspora [abroad] in a single organization, "bringing it to adoption" (in the words of the Vladyka himself) to the First-hierarch [Primate] of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia – Metropolitan Anastassy.

The late Metropolitan John blessed to give – in due time – [to] all former catacombists certain extremely significant instructions. Currently, after the death of the Vladyka, these instructions can be transmitted confidentially to the hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia.  These instructions [guidelines] are as follows:
1.   Of all the Russian foreign churches worldwide only the Catholic [Russian Orthodox] Church Abroad, headed by Metropolitan Anastassy it is allowed to be visited, and to pray in it, and to eat [feed with] its sacraments.
2.   All other Russian [Orthodox] Churches Abroad (jurisdictions) are uncanonical.
3.   The greatest lie, deception [delusion] and temptation is the sermon of "peace", that originates from [within] the Soviet church, under the directive [i.e. 'guiding instruction'] by the Soviet power [government].
4.   The greatest lie and temptation for the Zarubezhye [Diaspora] is the sermon of "unification of jurisdictions."
5.   Unification of jurisdictions may be possible exclusively in the form only of the schismatics' returning, following repentance, into the bosom of the Catholic [Russian Orthodox] Church Abroad.
6.   Should at Liturgy, the immaculate until now name of the First-Hierarch of the Russian Catholic [Orthodox] Church Abroad, Metropolitan Anastassy be exalted side-by-side with the name of a bishop of "another" Russian jurisdiction (that does not belong to the Catholic [Russian Orthodox] Church Abroad) – and it turns out that this has happened with the permission by Metropolitan Anastassy – then the Catacomb Church offers its faithful children to immediately depart from Metropolitan Anastassy even, and to seek the Catacomb Church Abroad.
7.   Metropolitan Anastassy, like Patriarch Tikhon, heading an open, not a secret Church – cannot but resort to many compromises with the world (communication with the Eastern Patriarchs and bishops, clergy and laity of other jurisdictions), but that should not pass [beyond] a certain limit (always bearing in mind the example of St. Patriarch Tikhon and Metropolitan Sergius).
8.   But if in the stead of Metropolitan Anastassy there would stand a Catacomb bishop, then he – not fearing to lose 85% of his flock (i.e. the flock of the Catholic [Russian Orthodox] Church Abroad) – would have anathematized first and above all the American archdiocese [Metropolia], now headed by Metropolitan Leonty. Part of the lost flock would be recovered by the tide of a new flock from D.P., who currently do not find it possible for themselves to be part of the Cathedral [Russian Orthodox] Church Abroad because of its compromises as indicated above.

This is the key to the discord (but not a complete disagreement ) of the Catacomb Church with the ways of the Cathedral [Russian Orthodox] Church Abroad.  In the opinion of the Catacomb Church, sooner or later, the Cathedral [Russian Orthodox] Church Abroad will have to either "trespass the limit" (i.e., to unite with the schismatics, to enter under "the omophorion [jurisdiction] of the Ecumenical Patriarch," and so forth), or be persecuted throughout the world and physically destroyed or [else] go into the catacombs that are being prepared for her.


With regard to the information obtained from Soviet Russia on the situation of the Church, the following explanation should be given on this occasion.

Between 1950 and 1953 many tens of thousands people have defected from behind the "Iron Curtain."  But among these masses of newest refugees, only tens do understand [have an idea of] more or less accurately in church affairs, and can report certain pieces of information on the Life of the Secret Catacomb Church.

Defecting from behind the "Iron Curtain" often – oddly enough – are not the best but the worst [people].  The system of hostages, the official law on punishing the relatives of defecting [people] ("traitors of the Motherland") and the actual incredible tortures of the latter – do stop the morally sensitive [defectors] and do not stop the heartless – defectors despite the fact they are well aware of the impending tortures of their relatives remaining [in the Motherland].

Over the last three years, only some 20 people have given certain precise and accurate pieces of information on the Life of the Secret Church in Soviet Russia (most of them did not have any relatives in Soviet Russia).  The last in time case of defecting a witness – a pre-lieutenant, escaped from a Soviet prison in May 1953.

It was reported that after the war (since 1946) it was allowed to open up in some cities one church per town.  Since bells were not available, they adapted for the ringing a "beaters", rails, steel cylinders, etc.

In 1946, the churches opened were also visited by Komsomol [youth-communist] and [communist] party members, but by 1951 those had already died.  According to the report by the last refugee (May 1953), an old church was opened in Gorlovka in 1947 that was initially frequently visited – but then it turned out that the priest was an open communist, a former pupil of the Soviet Theological Seminary.  He led lists of parishioners and used confessions for denunciations [report to the authorities]. Some parents took the precaution to ask the "priest's" prayers for their sons to have gone during the last war abroad.   These parents were soon summoned to the GPU.  Such revelations by priest-communists, graduates from the Leningrad Theological Seminary and from the Moscow Theological Academy were seen also in other places, too.  There is evidence (by a priest and by a monk who fled from the Soviet Russia in 1945), that there happened appointments, "in line with party discipline", of specialists in anti-religious propaganda at the Theological Seminary for the purpose of "improvement."

By unanimous testimony by over ten witnesses, quite well-versed in ecclesiastical affairs, apart from liturgies in open churches, there are – and these get ever more – a lot of the secret liturgies, especially in the villages.  About these secret liturgies there are indications also in the Soviet magazines and newspapers, denouncing "sectarians" and "schismatics" who commit sacraments and do not recognize the Patriarch Alexis.  Clearly, these are not sectarians and not schismatics, but old-church-believers – catacombnics.  Incidentally, the Baptists in Soviet Russia are officially allowed to hold chapels [prayer rooms] and such are especially numerous in Southern Russia.

From unverified sources there has been evidence that some catacomb priests "on a special assignment" formally join the clergy of the Moscow Soviet Patriarchia, which makes it very difficult to identify and persecute them.  These pieces of evidence should be categorically rejected since the Catacomb Church cannot [possibly] give such "tasks" fit for Jesuits.


According to pieces of information from Catacomb sources abroad it is known that between "the Ecumenical" (Constantinople) and the Soviet Moscow Patriarchs there has been an understanding and an agreement has been signed "on the spheres of influence".  Under this agreement, Europe – up to France, should be within the sphere of the Patriarch of Moscow, as well as England [Britain] and its dominions (Canada, Australia, etc.), while the U.S., France, Italy, the Middle East and the Mediterranean coast are in the sphere of "Ecumenical" Patriarch.  All Soviet churches – according to that piece of information – within the sphere of the "Ecumenical" Patriarch – should be vacated and turned to the Exarchate of Constantinople.  In the sphere of the Moscow Patriarchia – on the contrary – all should be under the strong hand of Moscow.

Prof. I. M. Andreev.