The Church understood its historic mission at this critical moment in the life of Russia as lying not in the struggle for this or that state system, but first and foremost in the struggle to put an end to popular strife and enmity, party and social discord and to establish a truly Christian, truly Orthodox spirit of peace and brotherly love. The position of the Church on this question remained quite firm: not siding with any of the conflicting forces, it appealed urgently for reconciliation and an end to internecine strife irrespective of the aims for which the latter had broken out. From March 1917 onwards there are hardly any letters or appeals from the supreme church authority which do not touch upon this crucial subject; bishops and priests preached the same sermon from church pulpits to their flocks.
On 22 July, 1917, shortly after the famous July events - the first attempt at an armed revolt against legitimate state power - the Holy Synod addressed a letter to the children of the Church and citizens of Russia "On the extraordinary circumstances of the present time". This letter stated sadly that the social freedom which had opened up radiant prospects for the country's inner development was being used to stir up hatred and strife:
"Theft, robbery, brigandage, violence and acute party political struggle have become part and parcel of our new life and implanted in the people hatred and strife which have led to fratricidal civil war and constant bloodshed... Instead of freedom there is new joint oppression, instead of brotherhood - a cooling of love and the collapse of good, peaceful, brotherly social relations. The country has embarked on the road to destruction..."
On 24 August 1917 the All-Russian Church Council appealed to the Orthodox Russian people, and separately to the army and navy, calling on them to put an end to the strife. The texts of these appeals are full of pain and anxiety for the future of Russia:
"Dearly beloved brethren, need the voice of the Church. The Homeland is perishing. And the reason for this is not some misfortunes which do not depend on us, but the abyss of our spiritual decline... Wake up, come to your senses, put an end to your mutual hatred and internal strife and make a stand for Russia... Do not allow the Homeland to be defiled and disgraced."
"In the Russian heart the radiant image of Christ is becoming clouded and the fire of Orthodox faith extinguished, the urge to perform exploits in Christ's name is weakening... All this has begun to fade in Russian hearts - an impenetrable darkness has enveloped the Russian land, and great powerful Holy Russia is perishing..."
On 1 September, in connected with General Kornilov's unsuccessful attempt to set up a military dictatorship, the Council passed a resolution "with regard to the fratricidal war which threatened Russia":
the face of the external foe the Russian army is ready to divide into two hostile camps... True to its sacred behests, the Orthodox Church is taking no part in the struggle of the political parties. Today, however, as in the days of the holy martyr Patriarch Hermogen, it cannot remain an indifferent spectator of the decline and fall of the Homeland."
Over the whole revolutionary age this short but at the same time denunciatory appeal of the Holy Church resounds as a powerful refrain:
"Internecine strife must be averted, an end must be put to fratricide, and there must be a full and lasting reconciliation of both hostile camps. There must be no place for unworthy acts of bloody revenge.”
The more time passes, the more clearly the spiritual meaning of the age is revealed to us and the deeper and more significant these simple, honest and truly evangelical words sound. That they were not just words, but a profound religious conviction, the Church's finest sons - and their name is legion - proved later not only by their life, but also by their death accepted for the sake of brotherly love, for non-participation in the fratricidal war and for demanding an end to strife and bloodshed.
This demand was born in the very heart of the church, because at the Church Council itself the spirit of peace, patience and love was triumphing increasingly over the suspicion, hatred, anger and spite of political passions - over all the predecessors of the spirit of fratricidal enmity which was dominating Russia more and more at that time. This is how one of the active participants in the Council, Metropolitan Eulogy describes it:
"Russian life in those days was a sea troubled by the storm of revolution. Church life was disorganized. In the motliness of its composition and the irreconcilability and hostility of the trends and moods, the Council at first seemed worrying, saddening and even terrifying... The wave of revolution had already seized some of the Council members. The intelligentsia, peasants, workers and professors were all being drawn irresistibly to the left. There were also different elements among the clergy. Some of them were "left" participants of the revolutionary Moscow Diocesan Assembly, who supported the comprehensive 'modernization' of church life. Disunity, strife, discontent, even mutual distrust... - this was the mood of the Council at the beginning. But - O, Divine miracle! - everything gradually began to change... The crowd, moved by the revolution, which had touched its dark element, began to be regenerated as a kind of harmonic whole, outwardly regulated, yet inwardly united. The people were becoming peaceful, serious workers and beginning to feel differently and look at things differently. This process of prayerful rebirth was obvious to any attentive eye, perceptible to any Council worker. The spirit of peace, renewal and unanimity was elevating all of us..."
Eulogy. "Put' moey zhizni. Paris. 1947.
At the very time when the Church Council was experiencing beneficial moments of the unity of human hearts, internecine popular strife was flaring up elsewhere.
On 2 November, 1917 during the siege of the Kremlin and street fighting, the outcome of which was still far from clear, the Council appealed to the hostile parties: the Military Revolutionary Committee, on the one hand, and the Moscow Committee of Public Safety, on the other.
"In God's name the All-Russian Holy Council calls on our beloved brothers and children fighting among themselves today to refrain from further terrible bloodshed. On behalf of our beloved Orthodox Russia, the Holy Council entreats the victors not to allow any acts of vengeance or cruel punishment and to spare the lives of the conquered in all cases. On behalf of the salvation of the Kremlin and the salvation of our sacred objects within it dear to all Russia, the destruction and violation of which the Russian people will never forgive anyone, theHoly Council entreats you not to subject the Kremlin to artillery bombardment."
We do not know whether the cadets would have needed the Council's entreaties if they had won, but it was the Bolsheviks who won and they did not heed the Council's entreaties. The Kremlin was bombarded and punishment was meted out to captives. On 11 November the Council appealed to the victors:
"The Holy Council publicly declares: put an end to this fratricide, hatred and vengeance.
There should never be any vengeance anywhere (italics in the original - L.R.); and it is particularly impermissible against those who, while not being on any of the hostile sides, merely carried out the will of those who sent them. Victors, no matter who you are and what you were fighting for, do not defile yourselves by shedding your brothers' blood, by killing the defenseless and tormenting the suffering! Do not inflict new woe and shame upon your lacerated Homeland, too stained with the blood of its sons already!
Remember the grieving mothers and families and do not add new tears and sobbing over shed blood. Even those who have rejected God and the Church and who are not moved by the voice of conscience, stop, in the name of brotherly love at least.
The Council appeals to you too, leaders of the movement. Use all your influence to restrain the bloodthirsty striving of those who are too intoxicated by their fratricidal victory."
Here the Church is witnessing to values which are far more significant and profound than any party program or project for social reorganization: to the values of brotherly love, to the fact that there are no goals winch justify fratricide.
"No matter what you are fighting for, do not defile yourself by shedding your brothers' blood, by killing the defenseless and tormenting the suffering..."
Ever since ancient times in Russia the spirit of mercy
had been rooted in a profound heartfelt faith in God, and loss of faith went hand in hand with cruelty against one's brothers. The Council's appeals for brotherly love were not just fine-sounding phrases, not a manifestation of tolerance of evil and not the result of fear and helplessness. In the letters of the Council, and later the Patriarch, one is impressed by the great spiritual strength, strength which was still retained even when all hopes of a peaceful establishment of legitimate state power according to the will of the people were completely exhausted, when the prospect of Orthodox people a hundred million strong turned out to be illusory, when no human strength stood behind witnesses to the truth of the Gospel.
And we can say without a doubt that by appealing for brotherly love and denouncing those who violated it, and by doing this "as one having authority, and not as the scribes" (Mt.7:29), the Council at the same time as witnessing to the Gospel love was also witnessing to the boundless power of Almighty God. And if this power has not manifested itself outwardly so far, it is only because the Lord is patient for a long time, waiting for heartfelt repentance and free inner surmounting of the greatest national sin against the most sacred national feeling - brotherly love. And the Russian people will not get a worthy power, until it drives out of its heart the spirit of fratricidal hatred and enmity.
The council's denunciatory letter of 11 November, 1917, bears witness to this with its grief, anger, spiritual strength and apocalyptic note:
"...The cup of Divine wrath is still pouring out onto as, and by new sins we arc augmenting this righteous anger. To all the misfortunes is added the great civil strife which has enveloped the Russian land. One section of the army and the people, seduced by promises of all manner of earthly blessings and a quick peace, has risen up against the other section, and our land is stained with the blood of brothers. Russian guns and cannons have now been aimed not at the foe, but at our native towns, not sparing the defenseless population, women and children...
But there is Divine judgement and Divine truth! God cannot be defiled.
Instead of the new social order promised by the pseudo-teachers there is the bloody fending of the builders, instead of the peace and brotherhood of peoples - a confusion of tongues and bitter hatred of brothers. People who have forgotten God throw themselves at one another like hungry wolves. A universal eclipse of conscience and reason is taking place... The sowings of Antichrist have long been falling into the Russian soul, and the popular heart has been poisoned by doctrines which reject belief in God and implant hatred, greed and rapaciousness. On this soil they promise to create universal happiness on earth.
For those who see the only basis of their power in the coercion of the whole people by one
class, the Homeland and its sacred treasures do not exist. They become traitors to the Homeland, who are guilty of unheard-of treachery against Russia and our loyal allies. But, to our great misfortune, no truly popular power worthy of receiving the Orthodox Church's blessing has yet been born. Nor will it appear in the Russian land until we turn with grieving prayer and tearful repentance to Him, without Whom the founders of cities labor in vain.
...Repent and yield worthy fruits of repentance! Renounce the mad and profane dream of the false teachers who call on you to establish universal brotherhood by universal strife! Return to the path of Christ!
May God arise and His enemies be scattered and may all those who hate Him flee from His face". Deyan. Sob. 38, pp. 185-187.
This is clearly a denunciation of communist ideology. Was it not a violation of the Church's principle of non-intervention in the political struggle? Here it is a matter not of the economic program of a political party, but of the spiritual, i.e., essentially religious or pseudoreligious content of communism. Those who point to the Christian roots of communism are quite right, but in this sense one can speak of communism as one of the Christian heresies - which explains the aggressive character of the Church's polemic against this doctrine.
The religious theme of communist as a Christian heresy is the Kingdom of God on earth. By borrowing in a changed form many of the features with which Christians invest this Kingdom, the communists distort this radiant hope in a radical and decisive way - they want to build this Kingdom without God. In this connection communism offers mankind a different path of salvation and opens up different prospects for it from Christianity.
Whereas before the revolution the supporters of communism denounced Christians for the far from ideal historical practice in which Christian doctrine is embodied, after the revolution began the role changed: now communism began to be realized in practice - and could be criticized or denounced for this practice.
Was where an inner connection between the obviously negative aspects of this practice and the content of communist teaching?
Supporters of communism deny such a connection, explaining the negative aspects as the result of unfavorable historical circumstances, "revolutionary excesses" and "subjective factors". In this controversial and not yet fully clarified question we take the view that such an inner - connection between the teaching and practice of communism does exist. We follow the spirit of the Church's denunciations of revolutionary practice similar to the one quoted above (the main composer of this letter was Farther Sergius Bulgakov, but the Council took upon itself the responsibility for these ideas).
Where do we detect this connection?
The fact is that the communists
not only denied the existence of God: seen from a Christian point of view, they also heaped abuse on man, by trying to prove theoretically that man is a blind or conscious instrument of selfish ("material") class interests, that until now the world had always been based on falsehood and the coercion of one estate by another. From this it followed naturally that the new, more "perfect" or "progressive" social order was being established by coercion, which if necessary could be very extensive and on a mass scale. This was also used to justify the fact that in order to set up the new system it was necessary to pay also with the blood of totally innocent people who were not taking part directly in the struggle, but were "objectively" capable of preserving the old order.
The believing Christian cannot see such views as anything but a grave and sinful error, as a fundamental denial of the Divine image and likeness in man. But what could the Church do when this delusion became widespread?
Many honest people in the world profess different faiths not only Christian ones, and many of Russia's loyal sons, learning of the cruel and lawless coercion taking place at that time of unarmed and defenseless victims, could not (and sometimes even today cannot) help reproaching the Council and the Patriarch for not becoming a bulwark of the heroic struggle against rampant bigotry and profanity, as the Trinity - St. Sergius Lavra and Patriarch Hermogen had done during the Time of Troubles.
Why did they not place a ban of all divine service until the Orthodox people had cast off by force all the human norms of the "perverters of Russia"?
Why did not the Council and Patriarch bless the White movement, for all its shortcomings undoubtedly a heroic and noble one?
The Russian Church, one might have thought, would have earned nothing but the gratitude of posterity, if at the critical moment it had shown the full power, which by no means collapsed immediately, of its spiritual and moral authority, by rousing the still healthy section of the Russian people to a holy war. To understand the spiritual meaning of what took place, one must realize clearly that the Church had a real opportunity to do this, that the Church was aware of this opportunity - and did not choose to take advantage of it.
In the spiritual war which the Russian Church had to wage the religious-moral victory could be won only by those who had had no truck with the anti-Christian and anti-humane element in the revolution and at the same time rejected the path of a purely external struggle against evil. The builders of the new world rated their pseudo-religious values so highly and considered the attainment of them to be such a great and necessary task for mankind, that they used this to justify the bloodshed, and not only the blood of their brother-enemies, but also the blood of brother-lambs who had not taken
part in the civil strife. It was precisely these meek victims who did not raise the sword against communist values, but ignored them as being of little importance, as secondary and conventional, because for these people there was one supreme value - Jesus Christ and eternal life with Him - and everything else would come by itself. For such people the "Kingdom of God without God" was quite unnecessary, even if it were attainable. It is better to die with Christ, than to live with all the promised blessings, but without Christ and with the sin of fratricide in your heart. They died, so that Cain's idea should never be resurrected again, the idea of building the happiness of one's children on the blood of one's brothers...
Rejecting the path of heroism, an undoubtedly noble one in its way, the Church itself embarked on and took its faithful sons along the path of sanctity. The Church continued to regard the insanely fanatical aggressors as its unfortunate children and brothers. The sons of the Church wanted not to destroy and punish the sinners, but to atone for their quilt by sacrificing themselves. Because the struggle was not against the Bolsheviks, but against sin, "not against flesh and blood, but against... spiritual wickedness in high places" (Eph. 6: 12).
Let us now hear what the obsessed said when they looked at heaven and earth through the prism of hatred:
"In the matter of enslaving and subjecting the broad toiling masses to their will the exploiters of all lands have always seen religion as a bronze ring in a bull's nostril. The idea of the sufferings on the Cross of Christ, the Savior of all who labor and are heavy laden, flogs the mind of the fighter harder than a lash on the bare shoulders of the tortured man... This is why the exploiters of all lands, all extortionists and bloodsuckers who feed on the sweat of the oppressed laboring classes, have always been convinced Christians and spent masses of money on spreading among the workers the religion of the crucified Christ which breaks their will...
'He was risen indeed', they wail, trying to drown the wails of hundreds of suffering proletarians.
'No,' we say to them firmly in reply. 'No,' your right to dispose of the life of the workers will never rise again where the power of moneybags has been cast down by proletarian bayonets. Down with the bourgeoisie.
In the pit with all the hangmen of the people's freedom.
In the pit with all the instruments of our slavery, the instruments of proletarian torture in the hands of our foes.
Down with the opium of religion.
The priests' lies and the foul idea of Christian meekness in the face of capital shall truly never rise up again". "Bezbozhnik". 1923. No. 4.
How could people with such a twisted consciousness restore even the fairest retribution to reason? What could a new Crusade arouse in them apart from even more cruelty! God conquers with Truth and Sacrifice, and only then - but inevitably - shows Force.
"He has risen indeed!"
Christians continued to testify, drowning the wails no longer of the suffering, but of the victorious and exulting God-haters (it was not "proletarians" but Orthodox workers who stood up most staunchly to the persecutors of the Church).
"Listen, you, inhabitants of the Smolny, - Protopriest Vladimir Vorobiev would say, resurrecting the memory of the early Christian martyrs, - we shall not obey you, we shall not submit to you ever in anything... We shall perform all the sacraments of our Church and all the public divine services. If you take away our churches by force, we shall conduct our service to the Lord God in homes and even dungeons. If you confiscate our communion cloths by force, we shall perform the liturgy with the blessing of our bishops. If you seize our holy vessels by force, we shall perform the terrible sacrifice of the Body and Blood ofChrist in ordinary vessels. We cannot live without this, it is our life, being without it is death for us. The Holy Eucharist gives us joy, unearthly rapture and the strength to live and struggle, the strength to endure suffering bravely, dauntlessly. We do not fear persecution and torment from you. We want them. We thirst for their bloody beauty. We do not tremble at your revolutionary tribunals (there are no courts). Our bodies mutilated by your mob law will pierce your conscience like needles and will pave the way for the victory of light over darkness, of Christianity over the new paganism, and victory will surely be ours...
"Rejoice, exult and triumph, people: Christ, the Savior of the world, our Lord and our God, is risen indeed !!!".
From a speech before a prayer service on the Decree of the separation of the Church from the state. "Tserk. Ved." 1918. No. 11-12).
There was only one way for the Church to overcome popular sin spiritually, namely, to witness to man's likeness to God and moral freedom, to his personal responsibility, to the truth and reality of brotherly love as a basis for relations between people. And for the most part this witness meant the sacrifice of one's own life, a sacrifice made with profound faith, without any attempt at resistance, with only moral denunciation of sin. From the height of the Patriarchal throne the summons to such sacrifice was addressed, first and foremost, to the pastors of the Russian Church:
"In our troubled times the Lord has given us a number of new martyrs, archpastors and pastors, like the Kiev prelate, Metropolitan Vladimir (Bogoyavlensky), Father John Kochurov, Father Peter Skipetrov, murdered and tortured by the crazed and wretched sons
of our Homeland, And may this cup pass from us. But if the Lord sends us the tribulations of persecution, fetters, torture and even death, we shall endure all patiently, in the belief that it is not without the will of God that this is happening to us and that our sacrifice will not remain fruitless, just as the sufferings of the Christian martyrs won the world with the teaching of Christ".
Open letter to the priest Nikolai Troitsky of 30 January/12 February, 1918.
Again and again the Patriarch appealed to the Russian people to put an end to the fratricidal strife which had only flared up all the more fiercely after the conclusion of the shameful peace treaty with the external foe. In connection with the Civil War which had broken out he testified:
"For instruments of death are thundering in mutual fratricidal warfare; in bitter bloody battles, only not against foes of the fatherland, but against your brothers in blood and faith, you are showing the strength of your muscles and the ardent zeal of your heart... Yet confronted with the foreign enemy you flee from the battlefield with guns in hand, only to shoot one another with the same weapons in civil strife" Letter of 2/15 March, 1918.
In his Letter concerning the conclusion of the Brest treaty of 5/18 March, 1918 the Patriarch gives the following assessment:
"Blessed is peace among peoples... The Holy Church sends up prayers constantly for peace throughout the world... But is this the peace for which the Church prays, for which the people thirsts?...
This peace, signed in the name of the Russian people, will not lead to the brotherly living together of peoples. It contains no pledge of calm and reconciliation, but is implanted with the seeds of malice and misanthropy. It bears the shoots of new wars and evils for the whole of mankind".
Knowing today what were the destinies of the states who signed this treaty, Russia and Germany, one cannot help being amazed at haw true these prophetic warnings by the Church proved to be!
"Brethren!" the Patriarch appealed, "Cleanse yourselves of your sins, come to your senses, stop seeing one another as enemies and dividing your native land into hostile camps. We are all brothers and all share the same mother, our native Russian land, and we are all children of our heavenly Father to Whom we pray: Our Father, forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us...” (ibid.).
The supreme spiritual height attained by the Council was the meeting on 15/28 February, 1918 dedicated to the memory of Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev who had just been murdered. The Soviet press announced the "tragic death" of the metropolitan killed in Kiev by "persons unknown" who had managed to escape. It was suggested that this was the work of Ukrainian nationalists trying to free the Ukrainian Church from subjection to Moscow. The Council did not
raise the question of precisely who was guilty of the metropolitan's death. It remained unknown to which of the many hostile parties or trends the murderers belonged. But essentially this was not of any great significance. It was clear only that. Metropolitan Vladimir was a victim of the general civil strife that had flared up, and the Council felt that its task was to define the spiritual meaning of his tragic end.
Setting the tone for the whole meeting, His Holiness the Patriarch was the first to give his religiously responsible and authoritative witness:
"We deeply believe... that this martyr's death of Metropolitan Vladimir was not only a redemption of his conscious and unconscious sins, which are inevitable for all who bear the flesh, but also a fragrant sacrifice for the cleansing of the sins of Great Mother Russia" (here and later these are our italics - L.R.).
According to the traditional interpretation established in the Russian Church ever since the glorification of the martyrs Boris and Gleb, this exploit, becoming a sacrifice of cleansing is the greatest one possible for a Christian. Including in itself the exploit of confessorship and witnessing for the faith, it contains something more - direct participation in the redeeming sacrifice of Jesus Christ. For it is Jesus Christ who is understood by all Christians as the "fragrant sacrifice for the cleansing of sins" of his brothers in the flesh who are all the sons of Adam.
The interpretation offered by the Patriarch was unanimously shared by all the members of the Council.
"Our people have committed a sin, - said Protopriest John Vostorgov, taking up the Patriarch's idea. - And sin demands redemption and repentance. And in order to redeem the people's sins and induce them to repent a sacrifice is always needed. And it is always the best, not the worst, that is chosen for sacrifice. Herein lies the mystery of the elder-metropolitan's martyrdom.
...This death is truly a sacrifice for sin. God is doing His will. He is not punishing, but saving, calling to repentance. If he only punished, it would have been the murderers who died, and not the murdered metropolitan.
And the martyr's death of the elder-metropolitan, a pure and strong man, - we believe, in some mysterious way known to God alone, - will contribute a great deal to the nascent movement of repentance and sobering which we all anticipate in our hearts, which we urge and which alone will bring salvation to our people perishing in bloody and faithless strife".
Being, like Christ, the redeeming sacrifice for the gins of their brothers, the new Russian martyrs were undoubtedly, like the early Christian martyrs, also witnesses for the faith. This aspect of their exploit was stressed by Metropolitan Arseny of Novgorod in his speech:
"The present period of persecution of the Church has
already been heralded by the martyr's death of priests, and now by the same death of an archpastor. But history shows that the force of persecution is always weaker than the spirit of confessorship and martyrdom. A host of martyrs light our path and show strength which no persecution can withstand. History testifies that nothing - neither fire, nor sword, nor present, nor future, nor depth, nor height (here and below the asterisks are Metropolitan Arseny's - L.R.), can tear believers, and particularly pastors, away from Christ's love. And such sacrifices, whatever the present, will not frighten anyone. On the contrary, they will encourage believers to traverse the path of service to duty to the very end, even into death.
The murdered prelate now stands before the throne of God, wearing the crown of martyrdom. With his blood he has watered the service of the Russian Church and has not yielded anything from his duty. And on him the Words of the Secret Eyewitness come to pass: "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life."
Inspired by the Council's appeal, all the members of the Russian Church, who had refused to take part in the political struggle and become victims of this struggle, gave their lives with precisely this heartfelt urge: to become a "sacrifice for the cleansing" of their people, for the redemption of the mortal sin of fratricide. Here are a few such witnesses.
"This bloody fate, this destiny to be a sacrifice, this need to take the martyr's crown fell to the lot of our dear Bishop Hermogen, - said Archpriest Vladimir Khlynov at the memorial service for the murdered Bishop Hermogen of Tobolsk on 15/28 July, 1918. - The following words of the prophet can be said of him in truth: 'He gave his soul for the deliverance of many...' He gave himself as a chaste, pure sacrifice..."
Addressing his flock, Bishop Anatoly of Tomsk explained in July 1918:
"In the Old Testament the Lord established sacrifices. Chaste animals were sacrificed to propitiate for human sins. The blood of these animals, together with human blood, was a cleansing offering. Our Lord Jesus Christ gave His blood for the sins of the world and, by accepting the suffering on the Cross and death, became a redeeming sacrifice for the sins of the world.
...Never before have the evil and sin, which are lawlessness, raised their heads as high as in our day. Is it surprising that there has been a demand for lambs of redemption and blood sacrifices from our midst as well? These sacrifices are redemptive for all of us and a victory over the evil and sin which reigns in our midst... We are all indebted to them."
The murder on 3/16 July, 1918 of the former Russian tsar Nicholas II with members of his family and loyal servants was profoundly symbolical. The hearts of many people, even those far removed from love for the monarchy and the last tsar, were deeply shocked
by the news of these royal victims of fratricidal enmity.
Patriarch Tikhon, scorning the mortal danger to which he was exposing himself and putting aside all excessively "earthly" considerations about benefit to the Church, performed his moral duty and openly condemned this senseless and cruel evil-doing.
"Our Christian conscience, guided by the word of God, cannot agree to this, - he said during a sermon in a Moscow church, - obedient to the teaching of the Word of God, we must condemn this act, or the blood of the murdered man will fall on us as well, and not only on those who committed it. Here is not the place to assess and judge the former sovereign's affairs: history will pronounce its impartial judgement on him, and now he stands before the impartial Divine judgement, but we know that in abdicating the throne he had in mind the good of Russia and did so out of love for her. After the abdication he could have found safety and a comparatively peaceful life abroad, but he did not do this, wishing to suffer together with Russia. He took no steps to improve his position and submitted quietly to his fate..."
The "judgement of history" about which Patriarch Tikhon spoke is taking place before our eyes. For all the conflicting nature of the assessments, the personality of Nicholas II is growing increasingly in historical importance. Nor can we, in seeking to analyze the tragedy of the Russian Church, fail to express our opinion of him.
The biography of the last Russian sovereign contains many acts which seem "strange" at first glance: the attempt to renounce the throne just before his father's death; the unusual zeal for canonizing saints; the proposal to all states to limit arms; the idea of becoming a monk and putting forward his candidature for the office of Patriarch; the transfer to the peasants of appanage crown lands; the introduction of prohibition during the war; the sending of wonder-working icons to areas of military operations; even the unsuccessful attempt to acquire the guidance of an elder - all these sometimes apparently "irrational" actions reveal a certain spiritual tendency in his life, at the end of which the crown of a martyr, the sacrifice for Russia, awaited him.
The life and personality of Nicholas II bear the stamp of high tragedy. His main sincere endeavor was to be united with the Russian people, to bridge the gulf which Peter I had dug between the Tsar and Russia. For the sake of this Nicholas II was not afraid of risking a break with the "Tsar's bodyguard", the nobility, and turned to the Church in the hope that it would help him become a people's Tsar. 'This was the repentance of Autocracy to the people - for the sins of Peter and his heirs. In fact, it was an attempt to create a state system of a new type, rooted in deep tradition and at. the same time in keeping with the demands of the historical
age of the Russian people. Nicholas II did not manage to create a new, popular Monarchy, but he did manage to achieve his main aim, that of uniting with Russia, if not in his lifetime, then in his death: he shed his blood for it and together with it.
The revolution, winch "ploughed up" all the layers of popular being to the very foundation, willy-nilly bared the deepest roots of the spirituality winch the Orthodox Church had planted and cultivated in the Russian people over the centuries. And first and foremost it emerged that the Church itself was truly, in its nucleus, a "Holy Church", a "new people", Christ's mankind, sharing a sacrificial fate with its Founder and Head. But the Church does not exist in itself, it exists in the nation, or in the "nations" (Rev. 21: 24).
If a people exists as a single whole, then it can be said that this people also has a single soul, in whatever sense this is understood - real or metaphorical. The people's soul is not holy. It is sinful, like the soul of an individual person, it can only strive to become holy. It is in need of enlightenment, repentance and salvation. In the years of bitter temptations the best that was in the Russian people manifested itself together with the worst: but the spiritual heart of the people, Holy Russia itself, imbued with the Tabor light of God's Temple, did not abdicate or fall away from Christ and His Church.
The main pivotal symbol of the popular consciousness was the Orthodox Tsar. He was regarded as the head and focal point of the people itself, one of the families of mankind who was saved in Christ and had taken on itself spiritual leadership of the Church. The last Russian Tsar, having perhaps proved - although this is debatable - incompetent as a statesman and practical organizer of popular life, renounced power and the responsibility connected with it. Some saw the Tsar's guilt in this, others their own guilt, and yet others saw nothing in it but "historical logic".
But one thing is indisputable: the Tsar did not renounce his role as the focal point of the popular conscience and the popular soul. Together with the whole of Holy Russia, remaining at its spiritual head, he made a voluntary and conscious sacrifice of himself. And in reflecting on his moral qualities, let us remember the words of the apostle: "whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation" (Heb. 13: 7).
The theme of Revolution is the Kingdom of God on earth. The revolution of the spirit meant that God, or the "idea of God", was recognized as the product or symbol of the popular consciousness, once useful, but now obsolete and a hindrance to adult mankind. The revolution of the spirit meant that "God is dead". The declared aim of the Revolution, namely, universal brotherhood - communism, can only relatively be called the "Kingdom of God", but the energy
of mankind's centuries of hopes, concentrated on this Kingdom, was used for an attempt to build a happy future independently, without God. In these conditions it was a matter of salvation for the individual Christian and the Christian nation to preserve their faith in and loyalty to the former One God, Who alone can be the Creator of His Kingdom. And the Russian Tsar, the head and focal point of the people, became the confessor and witness of this loyalty.
As they used to say in the old days in Russia:
"If the people sin, the Tsar will intercede for them, but if the Tsar sins, the people will not."
This Tsar will intercede.
"For if the firstfruit be holy, the lamp is also holy" (Rom. 11: 16) - if the Tsar is holy, the whole people will also be holy in its heart.
What then was the cause of the disasters which beset the Russian land? Was it an external hostile force or the inexorable power of historical logic? "No, - replies Patriarch Tikhon. - It was the people's own sin”. And in this acknowledgement of the people's sin lies not abuse, but elevation of the people, a witness to its freedom and responsibility, an appeal to repentance and purification:
"This terrible and agonizing night is still continuing in Russia, and there is no sign of a joyous dawn in it. Our Homeland is faint from bitter torment and there is no physician healing it.
Where is the cause of this prolonged illness which plunges some into depression and others into despair?
...The sin hanging over us... - that is the hidden root of our illness, the source of all our troubles and mishaps.
...From the same poisonous source of sin came the great temptation of sensual blessings, by which your people was seduced and forgot about the one thing needful. We have not overcome this temptation, as Christ the Savior overcame it in the wilderness. We wanted to create paradise on earth, only without God and His holy behests. Yet God will not be profaned. And so we hunger and thirst and go naked on an earth blessed with the bounteous gifts of nature, and the stamp of damnation lies on the people's very labor and all the enterprises of our hands..."
Letter of 26 July/8 August, 1918. In connection with the beginning of the Assumption fast.
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