KESTON NEWS SERVICE, 11.00, 6 November 2000

RUSSIA: OPPONENTS OF CHURCH SERVILITY TO SOVIET REGIME
RECOGNISED AS SAINTS (6 Nov). At its Hierarchical Synod in August the
Russian Orthodox Church included among its canonisations an influential group of
hierarchs who, it now appears, were diametrically opposed to the 1927 declaration of
loyalty towards the Soviet state. According to a Russian church historian, this was a
`colossal step', marking a clear change in the position of the Russian Orthodox
Church: `It shows that the understanding of the Church has changed, it has rid itself of
the position impressed upon it by the Soviet regime.'


Monday 6 November 2000
RUSSIA: OPPONENTS OF CHURCH SERVILITY TO SOVIET REGIME
RECOGNISED AS SAINTS

by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service

At its Hierarchical Synod in August the Russian Orthodox Church included among its
canonisations an influential group of hierarchs who, it now appears, were
diametrically opposed to the declaration of loyalty towards the Soviet state set forth
by patriarchal locum tenens Metropolitan Sergi (Stragorodsky) in July 1927. `We
must show, not by words but rather by deeds,' proclaimed the Declaration, `that not
only those who are indifferent to Orthodoxy, not only those who have betrayed it, but
even its most zealous adherents can be faithful citizens of the Soviet Union and loyal
to Soviet authority.' It defined church-state relations for the remainder of the Soviet
period.

In 1926 a group of hierarchs incarcerated in the gulag on the Solovetsky Islands in the
White Sea wrote to the Soviet government setting out at length various aspects of the
`deep contradiction at the very basis' of the Church and communism, a contradiction
which `precludes any intrinsic approximation or reconciliation between the Church
and state, as there cannot be any between affirmation and negation: because the very
soul of the Church, the condition of her existence and the sense of her being, is that
which is categorically denied by communism.' If the Soviet state refused to refrain
from interference in church affairs, the letter, published abroad the following May,
concluded, the Church's response would not be one of compromise: `She is ready to
go on suffering: remembering that her power is not in the wholeness of her external
administration.'

On 14 September 1927 hierarchs on Solovki wrote a further letter in reply to Sergi's
July Declaration. This included criticism of its form of expression of subordination to
civic institutions, `which could easily be interpreted as full integration of Church and
state'. It pointed out that since one of the policies of the current regime was the
eradication of religion, the Church could not consider the joys and successes of the
state its successes, and all failures its failures, as Metropolitan Sergi proclaimed.

To Keston's knowledge, the two Solovki letters have never been published with a list
of signatories, and their authorship is still disputed. On 13 October, however,
Aleksandr Gurevich of the Centre for Religious Literature at Moscow's Foreign
Literature Library told Keston News Service that church historian Mikhail Polsky
gives a list of 23 hierarchs imprisoned on Solovki during 1926-27, and maintains that
an unidentified 17 signed the September 1927 letter. Of the 23, notes Gurevich, six
were canonised by the August Synod - Metropolitan Yevgeni Zernov, Archbishop
Hilarion Troitsky, Archbishop Prokopi Titov, Archbishop Yuvenali Maslovsky,
Bishop Amvrosi Polyansky and Archbishop Zakhari Lobov.

Writing to Keston on 24 October, Fr Michael Prokurat of the Orthodox Church of
America concludes that, since six was the number of nonsignatories, those canonised
must not have signed the letter, and if the identities of the signatories are not known,
`then the number six was chosen to create the impression that the signatories were
known and not canonised'. By not including the other 17 hierarchs, he suggests, `the
2000 Synod was making a statement against them: no anti-Sergians were admitted.'

Of particular authority among those canonised is Archbishop Hilarion Troitsky,
whose relics are venerated at Moscow's Sretensky Monastery, where he was
archimandrite before his arrest in 1922. An anonymous tribute to Troitsky on the
monastery's website on 10 October describes his actions against the Renovationists -
`he banished them from churches, reconsecrated altars' - but a long passage about his
incarceration on Solovki makes no mention of the 1926 and 1927 letters. On 17
October Novice Vladislav of Sretensky Monastery told Keston that Troitsky `was in
agreement with Sergi's position since he considered it to be a continuation of the
policy of loyalty to the Soviet state declared by Patriarch Tikhon'. On 2 November the
monastery's current archimandrite, Tikhon (Shevkunov), told Keston that Troitsky had
not signed the 1927 letter which criticised the July Declaration: `He never stood
against Sergi's declaration. He understood that it was a painfully necessary measure.'

After piecing together separate references in works by church historians Lev Regelson
and Mikhail Polsky and a 1987 issue of Orthodox newspaper Pravoslavnaya Rus,
however, Moscow journalist Aleksandr Soldatov told Keston on 27 October that
Troitsky, Titov, Polyansky and Lobov definitely signed the 1927 reply to Sergi's
Declaration. According to both Polsky and Regelson, he added, Troitsky was actually
the initiator of the 1926 letter, `but at Sretensky Monastery they would prefer to draw
a veil over "difficult" parts of his life like that'.

At the Recent History Department of the Orthodox St Tikhon Theological Institute,
which is producing a two-volume encyclopaedia of martyrs of the early Soviet period,
a database records the details of 195 hierarchs ever imprisoned on Solovki. According
to these, all six hierarchs canonised in August signed the 1926 letter. Two - Troitsky
and Zernov - are described as `active' participants in its composition together with a
Professor Popov (Troitsky and Popov are also cited by church historian Nikita Struve
as the initiators).

The records do not give details for signatories of the September 1927 letter. On 1
November Aleksandr Mazyrin of the Recent History Department told Keston that no
research had yet been conducted into who had signed the second letter since the
Institute did not have access to the full text, and did not know where a copy examined
by the late Metropolitan Ioann (Snychev) of St Petersburg was currently located. The
originals of both letters, he said, were probably in the archives of the former KGB
since they were anti-Soviet documents. These archives were completely closed and it
was very difficult to get anything out of them, Mazyrin told Keston: `After long
discussions and a letter from the patriarch they have shown us a few things, but far
from everything.'

According to Mazyrin, Metropolitan Sergi maintained that only one hierarch, Bishop
Vasili Zelentsov, had signed the second letter, `but this is doubtful since so many
signed the first'. Although Troitsky had censured those hierarchs who abandoned
Sergi, he said, `it was not clear how far he supported him - he could still have signed
the second letter. He viewed the 1927 Declaration as a provocation to split the church.
He did not approve of Sergi's position but did not want to go into schism from him.'

This view would appear to be borne out by a 4 November 1927 letter written by
Troitsky to a friend, in which he writes: `Attracting varied and utterly deserved
negative criticism, has the letter from Metropolitan Sergi and his Synod [the July
Declaration] not thrown the Church organisation they lead into the loathsome,
adulterous embraces of the atheist, blasphemous authorities fighting against Christ
(anti-Christ)?' In the light of Biblical prophecies that there will be few faithful on
Earth at the Second Coming, he refers to how one pro-Sergian bishop recently tried to
scare an anti-Sergian by saying that there will be so few not in agreement with Sergi
that they will form a tiny sect: `Poor bishop, resorting to such a weak argument in
defence of the new "Soviet Orthodox Church"! If only he had remembered the words
of our Saviour about whether the Son of Man will find faith on Earth when he
returns!' He nevertheless makes the point that the Declaration comes from the `legal,
canonical, seemingly Orthodox hierarchy'.

Even if doubt remains whether the six hierarchs held on Solovki between 1926-27 and
canonised at the August synod signed the second letter, Mazyrin pointed out to Keston
that `the spiritual head of the anti-Sergi faction' Metropolitan Kirill Smirnov,
Metropolitan Agafangel Preobrazhensky and Archbishop Serafim Samoilovich `who
wrote appeals against Sergi', and Bishop Viktor Ostrovidov `who told him straight he
was a heretic' were all canonised by the August Synod. In Mazyrin's view this was a
`colossal step', marking a clear change in the position of the Russian Orthodox
Church: `It shows that the understanding of the Church has changed, it has rid itself of
the position impressed upon it by the Soviet regime.'

On 24 October Fr Viktor Potapov of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia
said he was encouraged by the decision to canonise those opposed to the 1927
Declaration and felt that it `removed one of the impediments to eventual
rapprochement between our churches'.

On the other hand, a well-placed source in the Moscow Patriarchate has told Keston
that the Solovki canonisations may pave the way for another canonisation which
would be much more controversial - that of Metropolitan Sergi himself. (END)


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