Author's preface to edition "Tragedy of Russian Church" of 1991

In the mid -1970s when this book was written it was intended primarily for the Russian Orthodox emigration and also for the relatively small number of church people in Russia who had access to illegal literature. The actual circle of readers turned out to be considerably wider, extending far beyond the bounds of the Church as such. Moreover it was not only the relations of the Russian Orthodox Church and the state or the moral assessment of the revolution which attracted attention, but also purely internal church problems, which the book discusses in detail. This fact may be seen as evidence of the strong public interest in the Orthodox Church itself, its structure, self-consciousness and ways of dealing with internal conflicts. It has been demonstrated yet again that the illusion of an ideological and disciplinary monolith does not arouse sympathy, but rather repulsion in the man of today who is accustomed to see coercion and insincerity behind any monolith. On the contrary, the coexistence of different and sometimes sharply conflicting positions and views within the confines of one Church is taken as a sign of that church's inner freedom and spiritual strength.

The profound changes in our Homeland in recent years have also affected the position of the Russian Orthodox Church in society and in the state. Monasteries are being opened, services resumed in formerly derelict churches, believers are gradually ceasing to feel that they are "second-class citizens", priests are being elected people's deputies and the writings of Russian religious thinkers are being published in massive editions. As if trying to atone for the sins of the fathers, society is showing a heightened piety for the Church; disillusion with Marxist ideals and, at the same time, with the prospects of an irreligious civilization in general, is causing many in their search for truth and spiritual support to turn to the religious tradition.

From the former mistrust and contempt for the Church and religion the pendulum of the public mood has again swung towards deep interest and respect. Again, because there was a similar swing during the Second World war and the early post-war years. Then, too, churches were opened, generals attended services, Stalin received church dignitaries and Orthodoxy was proclaimed a great national tradition. Later, however, under Khrushchev, the pendulum swung in the opposite direction. Might this not happen again?

     The danger does exist, but its source is not the same as before. What caused the "Khrushchev persecution" of religion and why did it receive  such  widespread  support?  The  vast  store  of  hatred  engendered  by  the  Civil  War  was  “cultivated”  by  Stalin  as  the  psychological  foundation  for the  social  and  state  structure of  the  country.  The  reforms  during  the    “Thaw”  slightly  weakened,  but  could  not  neutralize  this  hatred;  what  actually  took place  was  largely  a  change  in  the objects  towards  which  this  hared  was  directed.  Instead  of  the  former  “cosmopolitans”,  believers     were   now  proclaimed       the  new  “enemies  of  the  people”:  it was  amazing  to  see  how  easily  this  “change  of object”  was  accepted.
If we   understand  the  essence  of  the   processes  now  taking  place  correctly,  the  people  behind  today's perestroika  want  to  base  themselves  on  a  new  psychological  foundation,  namely,  the  positive  forces  of  the  human  soul,  which  may not  be  as  primitive  and  powerful  as  socially  organized malice,   but  are  more creative  and  constructive.  Man's  striving  towards  spiritual  and  material  creativity;  the  need  for  individual  self-assertion  and  protection  by  the  law;  the  healthy  elements  of  the family  and  national  tradition;  love  of  the  land;  the  instinct  for self-preservation - these   are  the  main  motive  forces  of  the  new  social structure  which  is  being  set  up.  Hatred  as  a  unifying  force,  as  a  source  of  individual  and  social  energy, is  being  set  up  pushed  from  the  center of  public  life  to  the periphery - to extremist  political  organizations  and  mafia  associations.

To  avoid  any  new  “excesses”  in  the  vitally  important  question  of  the  relations  between  society  and  the  Church  it  is  essential  to  have  firstly,  a  clear  idea  of  its  self-consciousness  and, secondly, of  its  actual  state  and  real  possibilities.  Neither  of  these  tasks  are  particularly  easy.  The  Church's  self-consciousness  is  expressed  in  an  ambivalent  and  sometimes  contradictory  way: and  in  order  to  assess  its  actual state  one  must  not  only  take  part  in  its  life  but  also  interpret  a  whole  mass  of  facts  which first have to be established and verified. Hard work and benevolent patience are essential for anyone who seriously wants to determine his attitude to the Church and to find his place
within it.

One of the definitions of the Church which can also be understood by those who are viewing it from the outside is that of a "society of believers". It is this question more than any other that worries a person approaching the walls of the Church, Is this a true faith? Does it not perhaps conceal a masked hypocrisy or the usual self-deception? Faith shows itself in the way a person behaves during critical situations. The non-believer may not understand the religious motives of the believing heart, but he wilt recognize with merciless clarity the irreligious, prosaic feelings and motifs which are familiar to him.  The man  of  today, of necessity well-versed in the varied and harshly sobering experience of our age, if he has really accepted this experience in himself, sees clearly the ordinary egotistical pride that sometimes shows through cunning casuistry and pompous phraseology, through hypocritical humility and apparent asceticism, through fanatical auto-suggestion and mystical exaltation. The urge to find genuine believers among one's ancestors and contemporaries is essentially the search for the true God, Who Alone can arouse true faith in a man and give him real hope of salvation.

The author would like to hope that in becoming accessible to a wide range of readers this book will at least to some small extent illustrate the way in which the Russian Church bore witness to the faith during the tragic post-revolutionary period, and the radiant sincerity of this faith is becoming particularly bright and convincing against the background of the decisions and actions of members of this Church, in which this faith did not manifest itself at all.

It is not for us who live on earth, even deep down in our hearts, to pass sentence on our fellow men. Yet it is our duty to scrutinize and weigh up the words, actions and decisions of our fathers. Otherwise we shall learn nothing, and their sufferings and sacrifices, their errors and their gains, their degradations and their victories will have been in vain. And that must not be so!
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The second edition of the book contains considerable addenda which have increased its length by almost a third. New chapters have been added, one and five, and the other three rewritten. The chronological selection of documents has been continued up to 1953, more precisely, up to Stalin's death, and the selection of documents up to 1945 somewhat expanded.

Chapter five deals with one of the most somber pages in our country's history, the Church's participation in the cult of Stalin. This period is surrounded by a kind of supernatural horror, as if it did not happen to us or on our planet. What exactly was it? How did such a thing become possible? By delving into the painful experience of the past we are actually solving problems of the present. What is man's true nature? Who are we and what can we do to prevent another moral catastrophe of such dimensions from arising in the future?

The conduct of church hierarchs during that period is most dispiriting, of course. But the last thing the author would wish to do is arouse anger against the church leaders of that day or try to shift the guilt onto those of the present day.

Such anger usually conceals the belief that:

"I could never have done that!"

Although it is sometimes very hard to admit, there is a kind of "vicious circle" of sin: every motion of the heart aimed at belittling the human personality, whether it is sinful or righteous, pushes a person to take part, if only partially or emotionally, in the crime against humanity that was Stalinism. The desire to coerce another person, whether it is social, emotional or even logical coercion, is in keeping with Stalinism to some extent or other, to say nothing of the theoretical justification of coercion against the individual. Consequently to understand the tragedy of the past is a matter of general moral importance - it is essential, first and foremost, for the struggle against one's own sinful propensities. Instead of judging the Church's hierarchs we should ask ourselves: .

"Is there not a voice deep down in each of us which in certain conditions urges us to ally ourselves with the inferno? And are we always ready to reject this summons?"
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In connection with this new edition we should like to say a few words about the church problems of the 1920s to which the book devotes considerable space and attention.

The author's negative assessment of Metropolitan Sergius standpoint is connected precisely with the latter's fundamental conviction that it was right to use administrative coercion as a basis for church unity. This was expressed, first and foremost, in merciless prohibitions and excommunications of people only because they rejected his political  platform or did not agree with his questionable rights to the role of First Hierarch. Church-administrative coercion increased tenfold with all its destructive consequences when it was linked with state coercion, which in those days usually smelt of blood. In this main aspect of his position within the church, Metropolitan Sergius did not differ in any significant way from the Renovationists.

By banning the Renovationists, Patriarch Tikhon was exercising his authority for the purpose for which he had been invested with it, namely, to defend the Church against violence from a section of the clergy which was trying illegally and by force to subject the whole Church to itself by disciplinary measures. With regard to the foreign branches of the Russian Church, the "Karlovtzy Synod" and its successors have also been prone to use administrative coercion. But the great difference with Renovationism and Sergianism is that the Karlovtsians, being in emigration, did not have any state coercive power behind them, The church tradition of Patriarch Tikhon was continued to the greatest extent by such churchmen as metropolitans Agathangel and Cyril in Russia and Eulogy and Platon abroad.

The discussion of this book over many years has shown that, much to his regret, the author did not succeed in conveying to the reader the main idea, namely, the priority of the church element over the political one. The discussion is persistently reduced to the question of whether Metropolitan Sergius was right in his Declaration of 1927 and whether a different political standpoint was possible for the Church authorities at that time. Whereas in fact for the future destiny of the Church another question is far more crucial and fundamental: did Metropolitan Sergius have the right to force his Declaration on the whole Church as universally binding? Did he have the right to ban those churchmen who did not agree with his point of view? One's reply to the first question reveals one's interpretation of the political situation of that day, one's reply to the second - one's interpretation of the nature of the Church itself.

For a believer it is sometimes hard to accept the spirit of freedom within the Church. He feels that it conceals some elements of civic, extra-church democratism and liberalism injected from without. Such a view is, unfortunately, not entirely groundless. For the last few centuries, after the fall of Byzantium and the defeat of the "Non-Possessors" in Russia, the development of the personality, the creation of a culture of personalism, has proceeded at the price of the partial "emancipation" of man from God, and also at the price of the destruction of man's organic elements of being, first and foremost, religious and national traditions. As a result this development has been, on the one hand, internally damaging and, on the other, in part hostile to the Church.

The historical tragedy of Orthodoxy is that five hundred years ago the normal development of the Christian individual, based on the powerful spiritual foundation laid by the Church's labors over fifteen centuries, was violently severed. Since then all personalism and preaching of spiritual freedom have been taken as a challenge to Orthodoxy itself. If tins really was the case and Orthodoxy did not contain within it any real potential for the development of the individual, Christianity would not have any hope of historical future.

Thanks be to God that this is not the case. The painful restoration of the Church's deep memory, which began in the last century, but was particularly intense in the twentieth, makes us realize that the free individual in Christ takes precedence over Orthodox sobornost as an essential condition. Hence the Church's main task in our age is to give not only firm support, but also a powerful impetus to the development and formation of this individual.

Even in its incomplete and declining form Western personalism has not broken away entirely from its religious roots and has showed sufficient creative and moral strength to defend the future of mankind against the destructive onslaughts of the forces of darkness embodied in the totalitarian regimes of Hitler and Stalin. In the brief but highly eventful period from 1945 to 1953 two poisonous plants took root and grew up in church life, thriving luxuriantly in the following decades: one of them is a confessional intolerance and aggressiveness linked with the memory of a great past and the contrast with the present '"persecution" and creative sterility. The other is an omnivorous modernism, irresponsible reformism and syncretic merging of stylized elements of Orthodoxy with non-church dogma and mysticism. God willing, we hope to continue the discussion of these subjects in the future.
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One of the difficulties which the author encountered all the time was the need to limit the documentary material to a reasonable amount. The documentary "collage" was composed in such a way that the reader could trace independently the main ideas and subject lines in the apparent chaos of opinions and events. In fact, this is a special, highly complex literary form, which could easily be damaged by excessive extension of the amount and variety of the information. The book does not claim to meet the high demands that are made of scholarly historical studies. There will, no doubt, appear in the near future and are already beginning to appear, a large number of articles, academic monographs and documentary publications throwing light on various aspects of this eventful period in the life of the Church and the nation.   (Among  the  most  important  we  would  mention the  publication  in  May 1990: Izvestia  TsK KPSS. No.4  of an  original  letter  by V.I.Lenin  dated  19  March 1922  on he case  of  church property).

The author would like to take advantage of this opportunity to disclaim the undeserved praise of Archpriest John Meyendorff in his afterword to the first edition for the "heroic" work of collecting unique church documents. As explained in the author's preface to the first edition, this truly heroic work was carried out by others. The author's task was simply to interpret, select and put over this material in a form suitable for the reader.

For the Orthodox reader it will be of no means importance that the first edition of this book was approved in manuscript by several authoritative figures in the Russian Orthodox Church, including such spiritual zealots as the monk - priest Tavrion (Batozsky) and Archbishop Ermogen (Golubev). The second edition was prepared at a time of great joy. Together with a number of other Russian saints, Patriarch Tikhon was canonized for universal church veneration. On the threshold of the difficult age winch is opening up we have acquired a great new helper and intercessor. O newly celebrated Saint of the Russian Land, pray to God  for  us!
Moscow  1990