Renovationism as a church trend was based on two false spiritual principles:
1. Determining the degree of Orthodox piety by the political position of the believer.
2. Viewing the Renovationist SCA as the bureaucratic instrument of the centralized organization of church affairs.
In assessing the first of these Renovationism principles, it is essential to recognize that church doctrine does not contain any basis for the simple acceptance or rejection of this or that socio-economic conception. This means that church unity is deeper than all differences of opinion on the best structure of human society. "Let us now lay aside all earthly care..." the Holy Church urges us at the beginning of the Liturgy. Crossing the threshold of the church we should leave behind our political sympathies and antipathies, as things which are secondary and relative beside the eternal and unshakeable truth of the Gospel. At times when the forms of human existence are changing rapidly, differences in political convictions, sometimes considerable, are inevitable between members of one and the same Church. And those who are sure that they are right should tolerate the different views of others with a brotherly patience. It is precisely tins urge to separate the indisputable from the problematic, to protect the Church from being devoured by political passions and elements, that lay at the basis of the Local Council's most important resolution of 3/16 August, 1918 which declared politics to be a private matter for each member of the Church and abolished a church policy compulsory for all. Explaining the content and meaning of this resolution, the Council member Bishop Basil of Priluksk in his letter from Solovki (concerning Metropolitan Sergius' Declaration of 16/29 July, 1927) said:
"The Council resolution of 2/15 August, 1918 contains a refusal by the All-Russian Orthodox Church to pursue a church policy henceforth in our country and, by leaving politics as a private matter formembers of the Church, has given each member of our Church the freedom to refrain from political activity in whatever direction his Orthodox conscience tells him: moreover no one has the right to force another member of the Church by church measures (directly or indirectly) to support anyone's policy...
Neither the All-Russian Patriarch, nor his deputies and locum tenentes, and in general no one in the All-Russian Orthodox Church has the canonical right to declare his or anyone else's policy as the official one, i.e., the policy of the All-Russian Church as a religious institution, but they should call their policy only their own personal or group policy.
...No one in the All-Russian Orthodox Church may force (directly or indirectly) by church measures any other member of the Church to support anyone's policy, even patriarchal policy".
In accordance with this principle
the Local Council recognized, in particular, as invalid, the resolutions of ecclesiastical courts on the defrocking of Archbishop Arseny (Matseevich) and the priest Gregory (Petrov) who were charged with crimes that were essentially political ones.
Only with a formal-bureaucratic interpretation of the nature of church authority could the monstrous illusion of the "canonicity" of the Renovationist SCA have arisen. It must be acknowledged that the main creators of this illusion were Metropolitan Sergius and the two other co-authors of the "Memorandum of Three" - the Renovationists themselves were originally inclined to admit the "revolutionary" character of their seizure of power, which did away with "obsolete" canonical norms. When the SCA was authoritatively declared the canonically legitimate authority, however, many bishops obeyed it only because they saw no alternative: there was no oilier administrative center, and life without a central administration seemed unthinkable and impossible.
Meanwhile, after the arrest of Patriarch Tikhon, the decree of 7/20 November, 1920 on the independent administration of dioceses of voluntary diocesan associations came into effect. This decree was intended to provide a firm base for opposing the usurpers of church authority, who were, inter alia, the Renovationists. It was to this that the Church was summoned by such authoritative hierarchs as Metropolitan Venyainin of Petrograd (whose message on the eve of his arrest is quoted above) and then Metropolitan Agathangel of Yaroslavl.
Realizing that the civilian authorities were deliberately preventing him from going to Moscow and taking over the administration of the Church, Metropolitan Agathangel, who at this moment possessed full First-Hierarchal powers (i.e. the same as the Patriarch), addressed the following appeal on 5/18 June, 1922 to the Bishops of the Russian Church:
"Beloved in the Lord, Most Reverend Archpastors! Deprived for a while of supreme leadership, you are now administering your dioceses independently, in keeping with the Scriptures, church canons and ordinary church law, and in accordance with your conscience and episcopal oath, until the restoration of Supreme Church Authority. Complete those affairs for which you requested the permission of the Holy Synod, and in case of doubt address yourselves to our humbleness".
Thus, the way bishops were to act in the absence of central authority was clearly defined, and many Orthodox arch-hierarchs who did not recognize the Renovationist SCA and yet were still at liberty embarked upon independent administration. Wishing to stress the untraditional nature of this phenomenon and the "incredibility" of the bishops "claims", the Renovationists called them "autocephalous": the word "autocephalists" is used in Orthodoxy for a Local Church which has an independent head.
Essentially the self-governing dioceses were temporary "autocephalous", self-governing church units (Local Churches according to the definition of the Council), subject only to their governing bishop. The question of offering up of the name of the arrested Patriarch Tikhon during the Liturgy was decided differently in different dioceses. In handing over power to Metropolitan Agathangel, Patriarch Tikhon says nothing about the offering up of Ins name although, according to the Council resolutions, this offering up should have been transferred together with full powers to Locum Tenens Agathangel (as we have already indicated, a kind of "co-patriarch" by virtue of the extraordinary circumstances of his election). In calling on arch-hierarchs to be self-governing, Metropolitan Agathangel also said nothing about offering up the name of Patriarch Tikhon who had renounced his powers, evidently assuming that offering up the name of the diocesan bishop was quite sufficient. However, many continued to offer up the name of Patriarch Tikhon, keeping it as a symbol of church unity and, possibly, hoping that Patriarch Tikhon would return to govern the Church. In any case, the question of mentioning in the Liturgy the name of a First Hierarch who had been deprived of the possibility of governing the Church was completely unclear at that time. The importance and acuteness of this question became obvious several years later. For the time being let us formulate merely the essence of the question: is it correct to separate the symbolical, or spiritual-mystical aspect of church authority, expressed in the liturgical offering up of a name, from the aspect of the actual government of church affairs?
The transition of dioceses to self-government was becoming increasingly widespread. It often happened that bishops who accepted Renovationism realized with whom they were dealing, refused to obey the Supreme Church Administration and went over to self-administration instead. The Renovationists, and with them their patrons from the higher echelons of the party and state, were so alarmed by the movement of Orthodox "autocephalists" that the Supreme Church Administration was forced already at the beginning of December 1922 to discuss V.Krasnitsky's special report "On autocephalia and the struggle against them" and send it as a circular instruction to all Renovationist bishops. In this circular the "autocephalist" movement was seen as the direct implementation of the "counter-revolutionary" instructions of Patriarch Tikhon and Metropolitan Agathangel, and also of the anti-Soviet emigre clergy. This was a blatant political denunciation: now the very transition to self-government in itself could serve as sufficient grounds for a charge of counter-revolution, with all the inevitable consequences. The Renovationists were true to their initial "principles"...
It goes without saying that under
the systematic persecution, the best, if not the only possible form of church organization, was a large number of autonomous church units hard to track down and capable of dividing, governed by bishops who fought against the mass arrests with mass, and also secret, ordinations. Here is one example of the practical running of such self-governing diocese, which Bishop Nicholas (lpatov) of Zlatoust describes in a pastoral letter of 10/23 November, 1922:
"I picture the life of the diocese as follows: self-governing church parishes led by church councils unite into a diocesan Union of Parishes, led by a union board (or council) under the leadership of the bishop. The bishop may have an independent church-administrative body of management. This is nothing new for Zlatoust. Church life here has been organized in precisely this way since 1917. That is the whole scheme of church life. The bishop, clergy and laity, autonomous (independent) church organization. A bishop and a diocese winch share the same views will be able to enter into contact with each other... If not all the Zlatoust parishes agree with me, however, I may remain only with those parishes which want to have me as their bishop".
"Religious church questions," - he continues in his letter of 16/29 November, are a matter for each person's conscience. I have expressed my attitude to the SCA as my conscience dictated... If anyone in Zlatoust agrees with me, let him tell me so directly. Then we, of like mind, shall discuss all further questions concerning our church life. This is the simplest and most natural way without unnecessary fuss and superfluous conversations... Yet it is also the truest and surest way, for it is indeed a matter for the conscience of each individual Christian, Ins own free and personal expression of will".
If all the bishops of the Russian Church had been spiritually prepared for such a degree of responsibility and independence, the success of Renovationism would have been minimal, for the attitude of the ordinary clergy and the laity, in particular, was one of mistrust and hostility. Given such a united ecclesiological position of the bishops, the state program of corrupting the Church with the help of selected "leaders" would have been a complete failure. The only reason for the success of Renovationism in the first few months after the Patriarch's arrest was the large-scale recognition of it by the bishops. The inability of most Russian bishops to understand and carry out the intentions of the Council and the Patriarch, their helplessness before a handful of church bureaucrats supported by state power, were rooted in the system of training bishops, which reflected many shortcomings of the Synodal age. Resolve to change this system had developed within the Church, but for this more time and the right conditions were necessary. Let us quote some critical remarks on this subject by Father Georgy Shavelsky, the
former head arch-presbyter of the army and navy and a member of the Local Council:
"The rank of bishop was attained not by priests and believers who had shown themselves to be particularly talented and capable of church government and creativity, but by one category of Church ministers only - the "learned" monks... A student of a Theological Academy or a candidate of theology had to take monastic vows, become a "learned" monk, and this act ensured him of arch-hierarchship. Only exceptionally unlucky or totally incompetent candidates - and even then not always! - were thwarted in their ambition... This trend owes its sad flowering to Anthony (Khrapoitsky) well-known in many respects, both positive and negative...
Intoxicated with the importance of his person so easily achieved, cut off from life and looking down both of his comrades and on other ordinary folk, the "learned" monk progressed up the hierarchical ladder with a speed that did not give him a chance to collect himself and learn anything...
The orders and distinctions which were showered upon the bishop, and also the system of constantly moving bishops from poor dioceses to richer ones as a reward and vice-versa as a punishment, which is practiced only in the Russian Church and is strictly condemned by church canons, encouraged careerism and toadyism among prelates unknown in oilier Orthodox churches...
Contemporaries will be amazed that the Church has lasted so long with such chaos in its government and that our Russia has stayed both great and holy... Surely it must be possible from the talented Russian nation of 150 million believers to select a hundred who would occupy the episcopal sees and shine forth with the brightest rays of both their Christian life and their archpastoral wisdom?.,. The very first church reform must concern our episcopate". Father Georgy Shavelsky. Vospominaniya. Pp. 260-275.
The feat of confessorship suffered in the final analysis by the majority of Russian bishops showed that under all these layers there was still a healthy spiritual core. But at that time spiritual stamina was not enough for a bishop: wisdom, energy, initiative and independence were also demanded of him. The Russian Church paid dearly for the fact that all these qualities had not been cultivated in bishops in good time. And indeed why should Pobedonostev and his top officials want bishops with initiative? They needed dependent, obedient ones, and that was what they produced.
If all or even most Russian bishops instead of academic learning (which is not superfluous, of course) and instead of meek subservience to any administration had shown a clear and profound ecclesiological consciousness, the false bureaucratic center, the Renovationist SCA, would not have been able in the course of a single year to attract more than 60 Orthodox bishops to recognize its authority. Against this background of
mass defection the spiritual feat of those bishops who withstood the first onslaught of Renovationism is particularly significant...
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