The condition of political life in the country at that time showed that the Church faced the threat of most bitter persecution and that the possibility of the Patriarch's removal by force could not be excluded. Subsequent events proved these fears to be justified: before his sudden death (which is still thought not to have been due to natural causes) there were two attempts on the Patriarch's life (in 1919 and 1924) and after that he only just escaped being shot in accordance with a court sentence.
The Council was faced with a question of exceptional importance: how to ensure that the first-hierarch leadership of the Russian Church was preserved in the event of Patriarch Tikhon's death. It was clear that under the persecutions it would not be possible to convene a Council to elect a new Patriarch. At the same time the office of First Hierarch could not be received by anyone without the direct sanction of the Council. It was impossible to introducer either the practice of bequeathing, which was condemned by the Constantinopolitan Ecumenical Church or the assumption of the First Hierarch's powers by a traditional locum tenens, whose role was limited to convening a new Council as soon as possible. Moreover it was perfectly clear that if the persecutors decided to behead the Russian Church, they would remove together with the Patriarch all the hierarchs who could replace him if their names were already known.
In these unprecedented circumstances the Council adopted the equally unprecedented, and in the light of the subsequent events we would dare to say Divinely inspired decision on the secret election by the Council of several locums tenentes for the Patriarchal Throne possessing full patriarchal authority; i.e., in fact several "co-patriarchs", as it were, invested with the right, in case of necessity, to reveal their power of First Hierarch in order of seniority.
The unprecedented nature of this decision also lay in the fact that in order to keep the names of the locum tenentes secret the election of concrete persons was entrusted by the Council to Patriarch Tikhon. A resolution passed on 25 January/ 7 February, 1918 on the day of the murder of Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev read:
"In case of illness, death and other grievous possibilities for the Patriarch to suggest to him that he elect several locum tenentes of the patriarchal throne, who in order of seniority will guard the Patriarch's authority and succeed him".
The word "succeed" contained an indication of the fullness of First-Hierarchal authority of the locum tenentes appointed in this way.
During a discussion on 3/16 February of the normal procedure for the locum tenens office it was reported (in Prince Trubetskoy's address) that a "closed meeting of the Council" had been held at which in case of emergency "it was resolved that the full authority of the Patriarch be transferred to the
locum tenens" meaning not the locum tenens in the ordinary sense, but the "extraordinary" locum tenentes the election of whom had been entrusted by the Council to the Patriarch.
The existence of this extraordinary Council decision is confirmed by Metropolitan Sergius (Stragorodsky) in his letter to Metropolitan Agathangel of 17/30 April, 1926:
"The Council of 1917-1918 entrusted His Holiness the Patriarch, as an exception to the rules, with the task of appointing personally three successors or deputies for himself in case of emergency. The Patriarch was not to announce the names of these deputies, except to them, and he was only to inform the Council in general that this task had been carried out. I knew that the Council had entrusted the Patriarch will) this task, hut was not at the meeting. His Eminence Vasily Priluksky (Zelentsov) confirms that he was both at the first (closed) meeting, when the Patriarch was entrusted with it, and at the second, when the Patriarch informed the Council that the task had been completed".
Subsequent events showed how unnecessary all these precautions were. By the time of Patriarch Tikhon's death all the high-ranking dignitaries, about whom one might have assumed that they had been elected by Patriarch Tikhon in 1918 in accordance with the Council's decision, had been removed in one way or another: Metropolitan Anthony of Kharkov was in emigration; Metropolitan Veniamin of Petrograd had been shot; and metropolitans Arseny of Novgorod, Cyril of Kazan and Agathangel of Yaroslavl were in exile.
After Patriarch Tikhon's death it was possible to preserve First-Hierarchal authority in the Russian Church only because one of the locum tenentes with full authority chosen by Patriarch Tikhon in 1918 was the future metropolitan Peter, who at the moment of his election was only a Synodal official! Many dignitaries were surprised and disturbed by his subsequent rapid "career" which in the space of six years funded him into the Metropolitan of Krutitsky and Kolomensky and a vicar of the Moscow Patriarch... But it was precisely because of his unusual position that he was the only elect of the Patriarch (in fact of the Council through the Patriarch) who was still at liberty at the moment when Patriarch Tikhon died, It is hard to imagine what would have happened to the Russian Church, the fate of which was tragic enough even without this, if the wise plan of the Council and the Patriarch had not been put into practice.
In spite of the extraordinary steps taken to preserve First-Hierarchal authority in the Russian Church, the development of events in the Civil War of 1918-20 showed that it was essential to adopt decisions on the form of government of the Russian Church if for some reason or other the First Hierarch authority were to cease to function. After two creative acts by the Local Council, namely, a rejection of the Synodal form of government and acceptance
of the unprecedented form of electing the
locum tenents', it was necessary to take yet another decision, the most difficult one, of sanctioning the organization of church life in the absence of First-Hierarchal leadership. The difficulty of this decision and its implementation lay in the fact that throughout its whole history the Russian Church had never been without a centralized government. The deep-rooted habit of centralization created a great danger should the real bearers of First-Hierarchal authority be removed, the danger of the artificial creation of a false center of church government, which by virtue of its lack of grace could easily become an instrument of the Church's destruction.
Having restored and confirmed the Patriarchate, the Russian Church now had to restore and strengthen in practice an even deeper and older foundation of church life - the distinctive and independent dignity of each individual Bishop in indissoluble connection with the element of church sobornost.
The basis for such a restoration of the dignity of the Bishop was laid by decisions of the Local Council which stated:
"A bishop, by the succession of authority from the holy Apostles, is the head of the local Church who governs the diocese with the soborny assistance of the clergy and laity...
A bishop remains in a diocese for life and leaves it only in accordance with ecclesiastical court or on a resolution of the supreme church authority... in exceptional and extraordinary cases, for the good of the church".
Deyan. Sob. Resolution on episcopal government. Clauses 15, 16 and 18. February, 1918.
Implementation of these Council resolutions would have changed the nature of episcopal service radically, binding the Bishop firmly with his church community. Real practice was such, however, that Bishops were moved from diocese to diocese like state officials. Since the dioceses varied greatly according to "rank" in material well-being and prestige, these changes served as a means of promotion or punishment of Bishops by the central authority, Thus a local Church did not have a permanent Head, and a Bishop was deprived of support from a permanent community. As a result everyone depended on the center and there could be no question of any independence for a Bishop or local community. The decisions of the Local Council, which were intended to change this practice radically, did not have time to enter church consciousness and become firmly established in church life. Real circumstances, however, made it necessary to put the unfamiliar practice of diocesan independence into effect.
On 7/20 November, 1920 His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon together with the Holy Synod and Supreme Church Council (the authority of these bodies was conditioned by their election at the Local Council!) again took an unprecedented decision of exceptional importance and consequences on the self-government of dioceses in the absence of
a canonical Supreme Church Administration or the impossibility of contact with it. One of the clauses of this resolution read:
"2. Should a diocese, as a result of the shifting of a military front, the changing of a state border, etc., find itself outside all contact with the Supreme Church Administration or should the Supreme Church Administration itself cease its activity (our italics - L.R.), a bishop shall immediately make contact with the bishops of neighbouring dioceses with the purpose of organizing a supreme body of church authority for several dioceses winch are in similar conditions (in the form either of a Provisional Supreme Church Government or a Metropolitan district, or some other form)".
Clearly the fact of the matter lies not in the concrete circumstances indicated ("the shifting of a military front, the changing of state borders, etc"), which deprive a Diocese of contact with the Supreme Church Administration, but in the actual fact of "absence of contact" with or "cessation of activity" by the Supreme Church Administration. It is also clear that this "cessation of activity" is inevitable in the event of the First Hierarch's serious illness, death or arrest if none of the locum tenentes granted extraordinary powers is able to disclose and exercise his authority. In all such case groups of dioceses should be governed independently - until contact with the Supreme Church Administration or the Administration itself are restored.
The "Church Governments" for groups of dioceses evidently do not mean the setting up of new Local Churches with their First-Hierarchal authority, but only provisional bodies of administrative government elected with general consent and useful for coordinating the actions of several dioceses in complex and rapidly changing conditions.
The most important point in the resolution from the ecclesiological point of view is the following:
"4. Should it be impossible to set up relations with the bishops of neighboring dioceses up to the organization of the Supreme Church Administration, a diocesan church-hierarch shall take upon himself the full powers granted to him by church canons" (our italics - L.R.).
This resolution it shows that the original principle of "where the Bishop is, there is the Church" still lies at the basis of the church structure. For all its age and traditionality, this principle had been so incompletely realized in the church life of the preceding centuries, that it was and still is no easy matter to instil it in the mind of the episcopate and church people. Only the extraordinary position of the Russian Church, the awareness of the magnitude of the spiritual upheavals taking place, and the prophetic boldness of Patriarch Tikhon together with representatives of the
soborny mind of the Church - only all this taken together could have impelled the
Supreme Church Administration to make such a decisive break with a superficial, but strong tradition and restore a more profound, but also more forgotten one. Subsequent events showed how hard it was for the Russian episcopate to understand and carry out this resolution for all its manifest simplicity and practical common sense.
Proceeding from the assumption that the illegal or semi-legal position of the Church could last for years, even decades, the authors of the Resolution decided to bring the form of church organization closer to the early Christian one, when the large number and small size of independent communities made it harder for persecutors to track them down. With this aim the Resolution invests each individual Bishop with exceptional rights unprecedented in the church history of the Constantinian age:
"5. Should the state of affairs indicated in clauses 2 and 4 assume a prolonged and even permanent nature, in particular should be impossible for a bishop to enjoy the assistance of bodies of diocesan government, the most effective measure (for the purpose of maintaining church order) is to divide the diocese into several local dioceses, for which the bishop:
a) grants his right revered vicars, who now enjoy, in accordance with the Order, the rights of semi-independent ones, all the rights of bishops, with the organization under them of administrations in keeping with local conditions and possibilities;
b) sets up, after soborny discussion with the other arch-hierarchs of the diocese, where possible in all the sizeable towns of his diocese new arch-hierarchical cathedra's with the rights of semi-independent or independent ones;
c) a diocese divided up in the way indicated in clause 5 shall form headed by the arch-hierarch of the main diocesian town, a church district which shall proceed to govern local church affairs in accordance with the canons".
Thus there were interacting in church life elements which appeared at first glance to be incompatible:
sobornost in the Russian Church led to the restoration of the Patriarchate; the Patriarchate confirmed the personal church merit of the individual Bishop; and, finally, the personal authority of the Bishop restores the sobornost which had been destroyed by external forces! In all tins the enforced division of the Local Church is by no means taken as the norm, for the Patriarchal structure is to be restored at the first opportunity, as the last clause in the Resolution states:
"10. All the measures taken local in accordance with the present instructions shall later, in the event of the restoration of the central church authority, be presented for confirmation by the latter".
With these three basic organizational institutions, the Patriarchate, the extraordinary regulation about the locum tenentes and the Decree
on the self-government of dioceses, the Russian Church entered a period of confusion and schism, in an atmosphere of constant and increasingly refined persecution from the state. The spiritual basis of the church's position, however, as we have shown above, was the principle of non-participation in the political struggle and readiness for sacrificial exploits to atone for the nation's sin of envy, greed and fratricide. The bitter tribulations ahead were to show how deeply and strongly these bold and wise soborny decisions were absorbed by church consciousness. Only when correctly implemented could these decisions lead the Russian Orthodox Church through all persecution and temptation without spiritual losses.
The first such tribulation was the Renovationist schism.
After Patriarch Tikhon's address on 22 April/ 5 May, 1922 in the Polytechnical Museum as a witness in the "case of the church valuables" it became clear that he would soon be the accused himself. A charge was indeed brought against him, and his freedom of contact and movement was immediately restricted, although for a while he remained in his former residence in the Trinity court.
Exactly a week later Patriarch Tikhon was visited by some unexpected "guests": an "initiative group" consisting of the Petrograd archpriest A. Vvedensky, the priests A.I.Boyarsky and E.Belov and the psalm-reader S. Stadnyuk accompanied by two officials from the State Political Directorate (GPU). The "initiative group" suggested that Patriarch Tikhon should play a modest mediatory role in carrying out its tasks concerning the transfer of the Supreme Church Administration to one of the most senior and worthy hierarchs. "By a fortunate coincidence" it turned out that precisely at that time Metropolitan Agathangel of Yaroslavl, one of the locum tenentes chosen by Patriarch Tikhon in February 1918 in accordance with the Council resolution, was returning from exile. So on the same day, 29 April/ 12 May Patriarch Tikhon wrote three short letters at once, probably after agreeing their text with the "initiative group": to Metropolitan Agathangel, to the Chairman of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee M.I.Kalinin and to Father Nikolai Lyubimov informing them about the transfer of church government to Metropolitan Agathangel. Patriarch Tikhon did not suspect that his name was destined to become the instrument of a cunning plot to seize church power...
Two days after the visit from the "initiative group" the newspaper lzvestia published a Declaration by "progressive clergy", which, apart from the members of the "group", was also signed by Bishop Anthony, the priests S.Kalinovsky and V.Krasnitsky and a few more lesser known priests. The content of the Declaration was most noteworthy. It stated, for example:
"...The Church has in fact stood aside
from this struggle for the truth and well-being of mankind. The church leaders have sided with the enemies of the people. This is seen in the fact that at every suitable opportunity counter-revolutionary demonstrations have flared up in the church... Blood has been shed in order not to help Christ - the hungry. By their refusal to help the hungry church people are trying to create a state coup. Patriarch Tikhon's appeal has become a banner around which counter-revolutionaries dressed in church robes and moods cluster. But the broad mass of the people and most of the ordinary clergy have not answered their call. The popular conscience had condemned those guilty of bloodshed (our italics - L.R
.) and the death of the starving is a bitter reproach to those who have tried to make use of the national calamity for their own political ends... The civil was of the church against the state, led by the supreme hierarchs, must be stopped..."
As it emerged from documents from secret party archives published in the Proceedings of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1990. No. 4), the direct initiator of the Renovationist schism was Leo Trotsky who attached great ideological significance to it (see "Dates and documents").
On 2/15 May the group of "progressive clergy" had a talk with M.I.Kalinin, and the following day sent him a letter announcing the setting up of the Supreme Church Administration "in view of Patriarch Tikhon's removal of himself from power". Patriarch Tikhon knew nothing of the events taking place... On 5/18 May he was again visited by Vvedensky, Belkov and Krasnitsky who handed him a document which read as follows:
"In view of the removal of Your Holiness from the government of the Church right up to the convocation of the Council with the transfer of power to one of the senior hierarchs, the church is now in fact without any government. Tins is having an extremely harmful effect on the course of church life, giving rise to excessive confusion. We, the undersigned, have requested permission from the state power for the opening and functioning of Your Holiness's Chancellery. We hereby filially ask for the blessing of Your Holiness on this, so that the harmful state of affairs concerning the administration of the Church may not continue. On the arrival of Your deputy he will immediately proceed to carry out his duties. Until the final formation of the Administration under the leadership of Your deputy, we shall invite prelates at liberty in Moscow to work in the chancellery temporarily".
As Metropolitan Agathangel's arrival in Moscow was "delayed", the initiative group suggested to Patriarch Tikhon that Bishop Leonid (Skobeyev) who was in Moscow be put in charge temporarily of Synodal affairs. According to the commentary of Levitin and Shavrov in the "History of Renovationism", "the name of the completely
unremarkable Bishop Leonid made the whole Living Church enterprise look relatively innocent to the Patriarch. Bishop Leonid was the only person who gave the coup that had taken place an appearance of legality". Not suspecting anything, Patriarch Tikhon added the following resolution to the initiative group's appeal:
"The persons named below are entrusted with receiving and handing over to His Eminence Metropolitan Agathangel, on his arrival in Moscow, the Synodal affairs with the participation of the secretary Numerov, and in the Moscow diocese to the Right Reverend Innokenty, Bishop of Klin, and pending his arrival to the Right Reverend Leonid, Bishop of Verpensk, with the participation of departmental head Nevsky".
This was enough for the usurpation of church authority. Patriarch Tikhon was no longer necessary, and the following day he was moved from the Trinity court to the Donskoy monastery to be kept "under the strictest guard, in total isolation from the outside world" (Levitin and Shavrov). On the same day, immediately after the premises had been "vacated" the "Supreme Church Administration" (SCA) moved into the Trinity court. In keeping with the general "scenario" Metropolitan Agathangel was detained by the authorities in Yaroslavl and could not come to Moscow... However, whereas the "Renovationists", as church people began to call them, had succeeded in deceiving Patriarch Tikhon, who was deprived of all connection with the outside world, they found it much harder to convince the episcopate and clergy who were at liberty of their legality.
On 12/25 May Archpriest Alexander Vvedensky visited his bishop, Metropolitan Veniamin of Petrograd, and handed him a letter from the SCA signed by Bishop Leonid and the secretary Nevsky to the effect that he "was travelling on church business to Petrograd and other parts of the Russian Republic", "in accordance with a resolution by Patriarch Tikhon". "But where is Patriarch Tikhon's signature?" the metropolitan asked and refused to recognize the letter as valid. After spending a few days clarifying the situation and working out with whom he was dealing, Metropolitan Veniamin took the most decisive measures. In his letter to his Petrograd flock of 15/28 May he informed them of the emergence of the self-appointed and unlawful “Supreme Church Administration”. He also excommunicated the Petrograd priests Vvedensky and Belkov who had gone to Moscow without the permission of their metropolitan and taken upon themselves the supreme management of the Church:
"By so doing according to church rules (Re-iterated Council, rules of Basil the Great), they have put themselves in the position of having fallen out of communion with the Holy Church, unless they bring their repentance to their bishop. And all those associated with them are subject to the same ex-communication".
As for the "lack of authority" which had arisen in the Church in connection with Patriarch Tikhon's arrest, Metropolitan Veniamin urged his flock to be guided by the principle of the self-management of dioceses:
"According to the teaching of the Church, a diocese that has for any reason been deprived of the possibility to receive instructions from its Patriarch, is governed by its bishop who is in spiritual union with the Patriarch. The diocesan bishop is the head of the diocese. The diocese must obey its diocesan bishop and be in union with him. 'He who is not with the bishop is not in the Church,' says the Apostolic Father Ignatius the God-bearer. The Metropolitan of Petrograd is the Bishop of Petrograd. Obey him, in union with him, and you will be in the Church".
Metropolitan Veniamin was arrested the next day... Vvedensky was present as a representative of the Supreme Church Board during the search. The bishop of Yamburg Alexis (Simansky), the future Patriarch, took over the duties of managing the Petrograd diocese. He did not spent long in this post, but still found time to contribute his own, not insignificant mite: he removed the ban placed on the Renovationists by Metropolitan Veniamin which greatly hampered their activity. And he did this, in his own words, "in the name of church peace" (a "peace" that caused the Church a great deal of distress!). In his letter of 23 May/ 5 June, 1922 Bishop Alexis informed the Petrograd flock:
"Not wishing to subject the church world to any wavering in future and calling on the Lord and His heavenly aid... taking into account all the circumstances, I recognize as having lost its force Metropolitan Veniamin's resolution on the unlawful actions of Archpriest A.Vvedensky and the other persons mentioned in His Grace the Metropolitan's letter and their communion with the church restored..."
Shortly afterwards Bishop Alexis refused to carry out certain demands by Krasnitsky and was removed from the management of the Petrograd diocese and exiled in August 1922. But his letter had done its job, clearing the way for the Renovationists...
Metropolitan Sergius (Stragorodsky), also a future Patriarch, played an even more important part in strengthening the Renovationists' position. On 3/16 June, 1922 an appeal appeared from three hierarchs, which became known as the "Declaration" or "Memorandum of Three" and which read as follows:
"We, Sergius (Stragorodsky), Metropolitan of Vladimir and Shui, Evdokim (Meshchersky), Archbishop of Nizhny Novgorod and Arzamas, and Seraphim (Meshchcryakov), Archbishop of Kostroma and Galich, leaving examined the platform of the Provisional Church Administration, hereby declare that we fully share the measure of Church Administration, that we consider it to be the only canonically lawful Supreme church authority, and all instructions proceeding from
it we consider to be completely lawful and blinding. We call upon all true pastors and believing sons of the Church, both those entrusted to us and those of oilier dioceses also, to follow our example".
The destructive effect of tins letter is hard to over-estimate. In the absence of many eminent hierarchs, Metropolitan Sergius, the former rector of the Petersburg Academy and a "member of all the Synods”, an eminent churchman who had the reputation of a distinguished theologian and canonist, was a model of behaviour for many, in particular young, bishops and priests. A supporter and admirer of Metropolitan Sergius, Metropolitan Manuil (Lemeshevsky), however, who did not consider it possible to ignore certain well-known facts, later wrote in his "Dictionary of Bishops":
"We do not have the right to conceal from history the sad and shattering defections from the unity of the Russian Church which took place on a mass scale after the publication in the journal "The Living Church" of the letter of appeal by three well-known bishops. Many bishops and priests reasoned naively and rightly thus: 'If the wise Sergius found it possible to obey the Supreme Church Administration, it is clear that we should follow his example' ”.
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