Let us now examine more carefully how the relations between the Church and the state developed in the years immediately after the revolution.
In the literature on the history of this period, particularly atheist literature, one frequently finds the assertion that Patriarch Tikhon began his activity by "anathematizing Soviet power" (e.g. Ateisticheskiy slovar. Moscow. 1986, p. 17). This statement is untrue both formally and in essence. It is based, first and foremost, on an incorrect understanding of church terminology. The anathema, as the highest form of church punishment, means nothing but the removal, the separation from the Church of one of its members who has renounced it or violated its main dogmas and commandments. It is obviously impossible to separate a form of state government from the Church, just as it is impossible to separate from the Church a person who is not a member of it. By pronouncing an anathema against one of its members, the Church forbids believers to commune with him in divine service, deprives him of his prayers and rights to take part in church sacraments which, according to the doctrine of the Church, give hope for eternal salvation. Thus, only individuals belonging to the Church can be anathematized and only for concrete acts.
It was precisely this that was announced in Patriarch Tikhon's letter of 19 January/1 February, 1918, which became known as the "anathema of Soviet power":
"Persecution of Christ's truth has started by the overt and covert enemies of that truth and in place of Christian love seeds of spite, hatred and fratricidal warfare are being sown everywhere. Christ's commandments about loving thy neighbor are forgotten and trampled upon: every day news reaches us about terrible and bestial murders of the totally innocent and even of people lying on a bed of sickness and guilty only of performing with honor their duty to the Homeland, of doing their utmost to serve the people's good... Stop, madmen, put an end to your massacres... With the power given to Us by God, We forbid you to partake of Christ's sacraments, we anathematize you, if you still bear Christian names and belong to the Orthodox Church at least by birth."
So an anathema could be pronounced only on members of the Church (who belonged to it at the least by virtue of being christened at birth) for an openly proclaimed and committed violation of the second most important Christian (or, more precisely, Old Testament, and even more broadly-universal human) commandment:
"Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself"; "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God... This is the first and great commandment". Mt. 22: 37-40.
The leaders of the revolutionary movement could, of course, in their turn accuse believers of violating the commandment to love their neighbor and offer their own, revolutionary and class interpretation of this commandment, but it was
unlikely that any of them would claim to remain a member of Christ's Church then. The declaring of them to be cut off from the Church was only confirmation of something that had already taken place in accordance with their own free will.
The anathema was not a curse on Soviet power in essence either, since the Church adhered to the principle of non-intervention in the political struggle and left it to the people to elect a type of state system for itself. Of course, separation from the Church was regarded as a punishment by believers, but one must realize clearly that revolutionary brutality was arousing the moral indignation of believers even without the Patriarch's letter - the official church act rather channeled this indignation into a lawful framework, preventing acts of revenge and shifting attention from the sphere of political struggle to the religious sphere.
Dated the day before the Decree on the separation of the church from the state, the Patriarchal anathema was basically a response to the Decree which was being prepared and widely discussed in the press. By virtue of the same logic according to which atheists regarded the church anathema as a "declaration of war", believers also saw the Decree as a kind of "anathema", a separation or excommunication of them from the state, a deprivation of their civil rights ensured by the state, a declaration of "war" by Soviet power against Orthodoxy.
One of the clauses of the Decree in particular confirmed this view: according to the Decree, the Church was separated without church buildings, and all its property was declared to belong to the people, i.e. the state. Henceforth any building - church, monastery or teaching establishment - could at the discretion of the civil authority be confiscated from the Church and used for other purposes. Thus the Decree, in particular, gave great advantages to non-Orthodox communities which did not have buildings for worship; and the various Evangelical sects were not slow in making use of these advantages: a period of rapid growth began for them. The possession of splendid churches and public buildings was one of the main prerogatives of the Orthodox Church as the official and main Church.
Naturally the Church would not and could not give up its churches and go over voluntarily to a sectarian form of existence. Moreover, faith made it impossible to surrender the churches without resistance.
According to the ancient canons and firm tradition, the main religious objects used during the celebration of the sacraments, the Eucharist in particular, were sacred and inalienable - their use for other purposes was qualified as "sacrilege". In their religious consciousness believers extended this idea of the Holy Vessels, the Altar and the Communion Cloth to the whole church. The reason why for many centuries believers had not begrudged money or efforts spent on building and embellishing churches
was because they saw, them as a kind of corner of the Kingdom of God on earth, regarding them as God's property which would never be used for other purposes, either public or private, by anyone. And suddenly all this was declared the property of the state power, what is more an atheist power which could do what it liked with this property and make it the object of all sorts of blasphemy! The decree contained nothing about the confiscation of religious objects (their turn was to come four years later - in connection with the "case of church valuables"), for the time being the state took away from the Church only church buildings - but this was enough to shock believers to the core. And this shock is also expressed in the Patriarch's anathema:
"The enemies of the Church have seized power over Her and Her property with the force of lethal weapons, but you resist them with the force of your faith, your masterful nation-wide cry, which will stop the madmen and show them that they have no right to call themselves champions of the people's good or builders of the new life by the will of the people, for they are acting quite contrary to the people's conscience."
This is an expression of the natural and just conviction of believers that they too represent the people, and if churches are "the property of the people", they, believers, should also own this property. However, the Decree gave no guarantee that churches would remain at the disposal, if not of the church hierarchy, at least of "religious societies," i.e., ordinary parishioners.
The view taken by believers that the Decree on the separation of the church from the state was the beginning of the coercive "liquidation" of religion and the Church was convincingly confirmed by a number of facts which followed immediately after its publication. The staggering onslaught of atheist propaganda with the participation of state press organs, sacrilege and blasphemy, gave believers the impression that the new power was not leaving religion any chance of a peaceful, legal existence. High-up representatives of that power frequently carried on anti-religious propaganda themselves, what is more, in the most menacing tones.
Thus, at the beginning of 1918 in Petrograd a series of public addresses was given by the assistant to the People's Commissar of Education, L. Spitzberg (after the February revolution he was a member of one of the commissions of the Holy Synod at the invitation of the new Ober-Procuror V.N. Lvov, later an active figure in Renovationism). In his addresses L.Spitzberg appealed to his audience to "depose the King of Heaven"; informed them that a decree on the banning of communion as an "act of sorcery" was being prepared; talked about the forthcoming official declaration of the Church as a "counter-revolutionary organization"; and dropped threatening hints such as: "The Patriarch
is still alive…"
Rumors about such addresses quickly spread round the country. Publications in the Soviet press on church questions were like reports from a theatre of military operations: "The last stake" (about the Patriarch's anathema), "The Church Militant", "The Mobilization of the Church", "The Black Host" and so on. Mass blasphemous processions in the streets; the closure of private churches; the closure of religious educational establishments; the banning of teaching scripture in private schools; the beginning of the profaning of saints relics - this is by no means a full list of the signs of the "war" that had broke out, which were reported in the first half of 1918 in the civilian and church press. However, even more serious reports were also appearing: the murder of the priest Peter Skipetrov during an attempt by Red Guards to break into the Alexander Nevsky lavra and close it: the firing on church processions in Voronezh and Shatsk on 26 January/8 February and in Kharkov and Tula on 2/15 February; the murder in Kiev by persons unknown of Metropolitan Vladimir; the "firing on the crowd" on 9/22 February, when the property of the Belgorod monastery court in Perm province was being requisitioned; the shooting of bishops Hermogen of Tobolsk and Andronik of Perm, etc.
We have given this by no means complete list, so that the reader can appreciate what sort of mood this must have aroused in believers. The result was undoubtedly a sharp deterioration in the attitude of the mass of believers to Soviet power, which was still by no means strong enough to ignore these moods entirely. In April 1918 a special commission was set up under the People's Commissariat for Justice to put into effect the Decree on the separation of the church from the state. The aim of the commission, as officially stated, was
"to regulate the actions of local authority bodies and clarify complications with the church".
Thus believers were given to understand that many of the excesses were not sanctioned by the central authority and lay on the conscience of local bodies. However, not a year had passed before this commission was reorganized as the "5th (liquidation) department of the People's Commissariat for Justice". This was not just a question of promotion in "rank", but also of the characteristic word "liquidation", which now accompanied all instructions published by the Section. There can be no doubt that believers understood this word unambiguously, and that it was intended to be understood in this way...
The Church's persistent appeals to put an end to civil strife were not heeded. The struggle grew fiercer. In response to the attempted assassination of V.I. Lenin by the Social Revolutionaries, the government passed a resolution on the "Red terror":
are instructed to place under immediate arrest right-wing social revolutionaries, members of the big bourgeoisie and officers and hold them as hostages. Any attempt to hide or start a revolt should be followed immediately by unconditional mass shooting... We must safeguard our rear at once and for all from the White Guard scum... There should not be the slightest delay in the application of mass terror".
Could the Patriarch have approved such actions or even kept quiet about them whom lie had the chance to speak? To do either he would have had to stop being a Christian: in tins question revolutionary morality stood in sharp contradiction to Christian morality, And the Patriarch again raised his denunciatory voice.
His Letter to the Council of People's Commissars on the occasion of the anniversary of the October revolution is of such a profound and generalized nature that it could be applied to all the subsequent decades of communist power's existence
(for full text see "Dates and documents". 13/26 October, 1918).
“You have divided the people into hostile camps and driven them to fratricide of unprecedented cruelty. The love of Christ you have publicly replaced by hatred and, instead of peace, ignited class enmity. And no end is in sight to the war started by you, for you are trying through the hands of workers and peasants to ensure the victory of the specter of world revolution...
They are also executing people who are not even guilty of anything before you and have merely been taken as "hostages". These unfortunate people are killed in revenge for crimes committed by others who are not of like mind with them and are often your supporters or share beliefs similar to yours. They are executing bishops, priests, monks and nuns who are guilty of nothing, but have simply been accused without any grounds in a vague and indefinite way of being "counter-revolutionary"...
The relations between the Church and Soviet power became most acute in late 1918 and early 1919, when a swift and energetic campaign was conducted to open up the relics of Orthodox saints. This was a bitter outrage to the religious feelings of believers and at that same time a carefully calculated blow by anti-religious propaganda. The cult of relics in Russian popular religiosity frequently exceeded the limits set by church canons (P.M.Dostoevsky wrote of the "temptations" which resulted from this, for example, in his description of the death of the elder Zosim). This cult encouraged the clergy to "exaggerate" the degree to which the relics had been preserved. It was tacitly assumed that when a shrine with relics was in the shape of a human body, the relics inside it were fully preserved. As the "openings" showed, sometimes (in fact, remarkably often) this was so. But in a number of cases, and here denunciatory anti-religious propaganda received great scope, the relics of saints
discovered in the shrine were only partially preserved. The relics which proved to be "imperishable": were treated outrageously nevertheless - there can be no other way of looking at it: the sacred remains of the great zealots of the Russian Land were exhibited in museums alongside dead rats and other animals with notices saying "mummified corpses". The organized opening of relics was carried out in accordance with a resolution of the People's Commissariat of Justice of 3/16 February, 1919. In the course of only fierce months about 40 openings were made, with extensive coverage of details in the popular press.
Patriarch Tikhon tried to take measures to remove grounds for "desecration and temptation", by sending diocesan archhierarchs a Decree dated 4/17 February, 1919, in which he requested them "at the discretion of each archhierarch and should the opportunity arise to take the necessary measures, i.e. to open shrines with relics independently and with reverence and to give the necessary explanations to believers. Evidently, most archhierarchs did not realize the gravity of the situation and not did not deem it necessary or have time to take corresponding measures. Nor was there any response to the Patriarch's appeals to the Council of People's Commissars protesting against the removal of relics "as objects of worship". This was a great blow to the feelings of believers: in some it strengthened their faith (and their "grudges" against Soviet power), others, the wavering and superstitious, it took away from the Church.
God cannot be profaned. The persecutors pursued their aims, but without wishing to accomplished something quite different: the saints of the Russian Land took part in its troubles and grief at this moment of bitter tribulation. The worship of holy relics, provided that it is not taking to extremes, is not superstition or paganism as the critics of Orthodoxy sometimes maintain. This worship is one of the manifestations of Christian ontologism; of faith in the possibility of salvation and sanctification not only of the soul but also of the flesh; of faith in the fact that the synergetic action of the human will and the Divine Energy can in principle preserve the matter of the body from decomposition and decay - in the final analysis this is a presentiment of the possibility of victory over death already on this earth. And it is not a question of the degree of overcoming death in each individual case - what is immensely important is the fact that the possibility of a victory of the spirit over natural processes exists.
The saint's spirit undoubtedly maintains a profound connection with its physical remains, and mistreatment of relics became in fact a new exploit of the saints, a kind of "posthumous martyrdom" for them. This new and unusual event in church history is yet further evidence of the exceptional significance of the age in which we live.
We are deeply convinced that outrageous mistreatment of saints' relics should serve as grounds for a new, additional glorification of these saints - and the days on which the opening took place should become additional dates on which the church remembers them; these dates can be regarded as days of the "second translation of relics".
Meanwhile in the boundless expanses of Russia the fire of civil war was blazing ever more fiercely. The people, whom the Church served spiritually, were divided into two hostile camps. Whose side should the Church take?
Each side accused the other of bringing in external forces: the ideology of the Whites rested to a large extent on the struggle against the "Masonic world conspiracy"; the ideology of the Reds on the struggle against the "intervention of the Entente". The monarchy, as a focal point of national unity, no longer existed - only the Church itself remained such a focal point. Of course, the victory of the Whites would have ensured outer welfare and state protection of the interests of the Church; the power of the Reds was abolishing the Church's leading position and threatening its very existence in the future. If the Church had been only a secular community, one of the various type of universal human associations, it would have proceeded, first and foremost, from its self-preservation, its private interests. In this case it would have used the full force of its authority and organization to support the White movement: the outcome of the battle was in the balance many times and such support could have been decisive.
The authority and influence of the Church in this period were still very high. All the energy of monarchic feeling was concentrated at this time in the Patriarch. Had he declared the struggle against the Bolsheviks to be the religious duty of all believers, the outcome of the revolutionary process might have been quite different. Judging from the statements of revolutionary leaders and their "preventive measures" in relation to the Church they realized clearly what a great danger such a turn of events would mean for them.
Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky), one of the three candidates for Patriarch who received the largest number of votes at the Council, said later that he would have issued an interdict, i.e., a ban on divine service in all the churches of the Russian Church, until the people had overthrown the Bolsheviks. There is no doubt that had this strong-willed and resolute man become Patriarch, he would have done this, and probably not only this. His political position was firm and unambivalent.
But the Divine choice did not fall upon him - it was the meek Tikhon who became Patriarch.
The fate of Russia, as many times before in her history, was now concentrated in the hands of one man, depended on the decisions of his conscience and was determined by his personal relationship with God. In the ocean
of hatred and strife which had flooded this great country the Church, led by Patriarch Tikhon, truly became an anchor of salvation: Russia was divided, but the Church remained the Church of the whole people, of all Russia.
While mercilessly denouncing the government of the Bolsheviks for its sins against moral law, Patriarch Tikhon also denounced such violations on the part of the White movement. The ideologists of the White movement, having failed to produce a united constructive program which would have attracted the majority of the people to their side, were inclining increasingly towards a negative program: not to a struggle for something, but to a struggle against something. And this "something", which gave meaning to their cause and explained the unexpected, remarkable successes of the Bolsheviks in the fight for the people's soul, was for many acquiring the features of a mythical "Jewish plot", with the help of which all the historical troubles of Christianity, if not of mankind as a whole, were explained. As an example, we quote some statements made by the above-mentioned Prince N.D.Zhevakhov:
"From the moment when the Divine Truth descended upon earth, the whole history of mankind was reduced essentially to the history of the struggle of two world processes - the process of the Christianization of the world and the process of its Satanization, or jewification."
“It was necessary to denounce ideologically the grandiose forgery committed by Jewish scribes 2,500 years ago" (a reference to the "revelation of Jehovah through the semi-legendary Moses").
“It was essential to cleanse Christianity from Jewish layers."
"Jesus is the supreme good spirit, the Savior of the world from Jewish lies."
"He boldly denounced the Jewish god, saying 'Your father is the devil.' “
“The revolution was "he mass ritual murders of Christian peoples."
"The main vital creative force of mankind is national individuality."
“It was essential to distinguish the Jewish international from the Christian International."
And so on in the same spirit. N.D. Zhevakhov. Vospominaniya. Vol. 1. Munich. 1923; Vol. 2. Noviy Sad. 1928.
This "image of the enemy", full of borrowings from ancient Gnosticism and Manichaeism, began to develop in Russia in the period when Alexander III was implementing his policy of "Russifying the borderlands." This group of ideas was to enjoy great popularity in the 20th century. Convincing emotional and logical confirmation of the "image of the enemy" was found in the fact that there was a remarkable large number of people of Jewish origin in the leading bodies of the Russian revolutionary parties. This genuinely serious fact is undoubtedly not accidental. The elucidation
of its causes requires deep, comprehensive and impartial study. Irrespective of the results which such a study may yield, however, one thing is indisputable: the way of thinking illustrated by the above quotations leads the Christian soul into a hopeless moral impasse. Having taken the first few steps towards God, this soul will not dare to follow Him to the end. Fearing all' that is new and avoiding all truly creative endeavor, it willfully "deprives" God of the right to cultivate and renew His own creation, first and foremost, man himself, lu support of this we would quote another extract from the same author, which in our opinion provides a key for understanding both the causes of the downfall of the Orthodox Monarchy and also the failures of the White Movement:
"From the moment when the idea of the Universal God was announced to mankind, i.e., the moment of the appearance of Christ the Savior on earth, the Truth had told people its last word. The mouthpiece of this Truth was the Church, whose ideals are eternal, immutable and independent both of the spirit of the age and of its demands, so the history of mankind should not be seen as a replacement of the 'old' by something 'new', for there can be nothing 'new' in the sphere of ideals announced by God and ways of achieving them, and it should be seen merely as a change of historical processes, which sometimes brought man nearer to the Truth already proclaimed and sometimes took him further away from it, sometimes reducing the distance between people and God and sometimes increasing it."
This characteristic argument does not stand up to theological criticism. It. contradicts the dogma on the two natures of Jesus Christ. In His Divine nature, as the "perfect God". He is indeed eternal and unchanging; but on the other hand, as a "perfect man", He is constantly growing and therefore changing and being renewed - and together with Him His Church is constantly growing, changing and being renewed as well. Without going into a theological examination of this point, we would merely remark that conservative mental aberration leads to grave psychological consequences. When everything new and creative is attributed to the forces of evil, the "image of the enemy" really does grow into something insuperable and overwhelming. The soul first despairs, then hardens - and is filled with infernal energy. Such is the price for rejecting creative synergism with God. Imagining wrongly that it is embarking on the path of irreconcilable struggle against evil, the Christian soul which has fallen into temptation becomes an instrument of the self-same evil, but in a much worse form.
Many of the participants in the White Movement in Russia were faced with the real threat of such a moral catastrophe. It was not subservience to Bolshevist ("Jewish" from the
position of the Whites) power, but great responsibility to God which led Patriarch Tikhon to do his utmost to reduce the scale of this catastrophe. His appeals to Russian people in the grip of tins new temptation, worse than all former ones, came from the very bottom of his grieving pastoral heart. In his letter of 8/12 July, 1919, in the days when the defeat of the Reds seemed inevitable, the Patriarch urged:
"My children! Let this Holy forgivingness of the Church and these appeals of ours to endure patiently the anti-Christian strife and hatred seem like weakness to some... - but We beg you, beg all Our Orthodox children, not to depart from this the only saving mood of the Christian...
Passions are raging. Revolts flaring up. More and more new camps are being created. The fire of settling old scores is spreading... Ahead lies more terror. There is news of Jewish pogroms, murdering of the tribe, irrespective of age, guilt, sex or convictions... May this shame pass you by, Orthodox Russia. May this curse not fall upon you. May your hand not be stained with blood that cries out to Heaven. Do not let Christ's enemy, the devil, ensnare you with the passion of vengeance and disgrace the exploit of your confessorship... Our pain is pain for the light and happiness of Our Holy Church, Our children. Our fears are that some of them may be seduced by this new beast, already showing its open jaws and proceeding from the abyss of the human heart seething will) passions. One outburst of vengeance and you will besmirch yourself forever, Christian, and all the bright joy of your present exploit - your sufferings for Christ - will fade, for where will you give Christ a place then..." (Full text in "Dates and documents").
In his letter to the archpastors of the Russian Church of 25 September/8 October, 1919 Patriarch Tikhon recalled firmly the Council resolutions on the Church's non-intervention in the political struggle:
"The establishment of this or that form of government is a matter not for the Church, but for the people itself. The Church does not link Itself with any definite form of government, for this is only of relative significance... We are convinced that no foreign intervention, and in general nobody and nothing, "will save Russia from discord and destruction until the Righteous Lord changes His anger for mercy and until the nation purifies itself in the font of repentance from its many sores" (full text in "Dates and documents").
Noting that priests sometimes greeted a change of power locally (i.e. the coming of the Whites) with church bells and a special service, the Patriarch reminded them of the Church rules forbidding the clergy to intervene in political life, to become
members of any party of to "make liturgical and religious rites the instrument of political demonstrations". Prince G.I.Trubetskoy, who took part in the Church Council, later described the "painful impression" which this letter made on members of the White Movement:
"In his pastoral letter dated 25 September (St. Sergius's day), the Patriarch made it the duty of pastors of the church to stand aside from the Civil War. I remember how this communication of the Patriarch's upset those of us who were then close to the Voluntary Army in the south of Russia..."
Subsequently also the Patriarch remained unshakably true to this position proclaimed by
the Council. Thus, when at the end of 1921 a council of monarchistically inclined emigre clergy was held abroad, he replied to it with a Degree of 18 March/I April, 1922 which read:
" I. I recognize the Karlovtsy Council of clergy abroad as not having canonical significance and its communication on the restoration of the Romanov dynasty and appeal to the Genoa Conference as not expressing the official voice of the Russian Church,
2. In view of the fact that the Russian church administration abroad is being diverted into the sphere of political action, the Supreme Church Board abroad is to be abolished".
Of course, by no means all bishops and priests, and particularly not all ordinary believers, reached the heights of the spiritual position adopted by the Church Council and the Patriarch. The Church is made up of people, and people are subject to passions, and many members of the Church in this unprecedentedly stressful period were drawn into political and class strife. A section of the Church, and quite a large one, sided with the "Whites"; another section, no smaller, split off under the name of "Renovationism " and became "Red". But the spiritual heart of the Church, led by Patriarch Tikhon, withstood both of these temptations and remained true to its historical calling: to witness to Christ and appeal to the Russian people to unite in brotherly love, no matter what the cost of this witness...
* * *
After the "winter storm" of 1919 the intensity of the anti-religious struggle diminished somewhat, remaining at a certain "stable" level. Evidently during this period of "incredible difficulties" for Soviet power, among some of its leaders the tendency to a more moderate, more statesmanly approach to the problem of religion and the church got the upper hand. A significant role in stabilizing the situation at this time was played by the 5th (Liquidation) Section of the People's Commissariat of Justice, led by P.A.Krasikov. This body at least restrained the local authorities from excessive "self-initiative" in the anti-religious struggle.
Surrounded on all sides, the Soviet Republic was forced to set up by compulsory conscription an army of many millions, a considerable section of which must inevitably have consisted of ordinary believers, the children of peasants. To exacerbate relations with them meant running the risk of military
catastrophe. Believers were given to understand that the separation of the Church from the state did not mean the former's immediate destruction; most importantly, they saw that a large number of churches were still at their disposal and that the Church leadership under Patriarch Tikhon was continuing its, service. To some extent believers were becoming "immune" to the propaganda onslaught of "militant godlessness". This onslaught was not stopping, of course. Thus, in 1920 the relics of the two greatest Russian saints were opened: Sergius of Radonezh and Seraphim of Sarov. The remains of the Venerable Seraphim were stolen by believers while in transit and are still kept in a secret place.
Patriarch Tikhon tried to prevent the removal of St. Sergius's relics and the closure of the Trinity-Sergius Lavra by sending a protest to the Council of People's Commissars and requesting a personal meeting with Lenin, which was refused. In a letter of 28 August/10 September, 1920 the Patriarch recalled sorrowfully:
"Our famous historian Klyuchevsky, speaking of the significance of the Venerable Sergius and the lavra which he founded, foretold: 'the gates of the Venerable's lavra will be closed, and the icon lamps will be extinguished over his shrine only when we lose entirely the whole spiritual moral treasury bequeathed to us by our great builders of the Russian Land, such as the Venerable Sergius.' Today the lavra gates are being closed and the icon lamps inside it are going out. Well, then? Have we not already lost our external property and been left cold and hungry? We are alive in name only, in fact we are already dead..."
A great difficulty for the Church in determining its relationship to the new state power was the non-independence of this power: it was the offspring and instrument of the Bolshevik party, an ideological organization of a pseudo-religious, not a state, nature. The role and influence of the party in the Soviet state was incomparably greater than the role of the Church in the Russian Empire. The only comparison that can be made, and a fairly relative one at that, is with the role of Christianity in the age of Prince Vladimir.
But, of course, with a different world outlook, aims, methods and consequences. On the one hand, the energy for constructing a new state was drawn from communist enthusiasm, on the other, ideology was a constant and severe obstacle on the way to this construction. There can be no doubt that the new power would have won the Civil War more quickly and with less loss of life, if right from the beginning it had restrained the excessive "zeal" of anti-religious fanaticism. From this point of view it can be said that revolutionary extremism in relation to the Church was a gross political error. The revolutionaries of yesterday, used to working underground and now carried by the wave of history to the heights of state service,
for a long time could not get rid of the habit of using assault methods where what was actually needed was patient, daily work which was also responsive and directed towards the future.
Misled by the first, comparatively easy and impressive successes of atheist propaganda, the Soviet leaders decided that the final liquidation of the influence of religion in the "masses" was a matter for the immediate future. Hence, in particular, originated the notorious "godless five-year plans" of the thirties, which ended in complete failure when during an all-union census the majority of the population, in spite of everything, declared themselves to be believers. Stubbornly under-estimating the depth of religious strivings and traditions, Soviet party leaders at that time greatly over-estimated the political significance of the Church.
Theoretical "dogmatism" may have played a part in this too: the unjustified transfer to Russian history of the experience of the struggle against political clericalism in European revolutions. Hence the ideological error of the imaginary "counter-revolutionary nature" of the clergy (European scholars have far more grounds for accusing the Russian clergy of excessive political indifference).
This error gave rise to unnecessary and unfounded repressions which, for many decades, reinforced in the souls of believers a profound mistrust, fear and alienation in relation to "Soviet power" (one has difficulty with terminology in describing this period - for example, power never did belong to the Soviets). Examining the difficulties in the way of constructing the Soviet state, we are by no means proceeding from a feeling of sympathy for this or that element of communist ideology - we regard it as profoundly false and extremely dangerous for mankind. But the Church prays for the "well-being" of the lawful state power, and we, following its example, are reflecting on the causes which prevented this "well-being".
It is with great spiritual pain that we approach the account of the most bitter episode in the history of the relations between the Church and The Soviet state: the so-called "matter of church valuables". It was in the course of this episode that a tragic knot of insoluble contradictions and enmity was tied for many decades to come. What is more, in this affair the state itself embarked on a criminal path - and all subsequent attempts to abandon this path proved unsuccessful.
The summer of 1921 was the beginning of the great famine. Periodic drought in the southern regions of Russia were nothing new - to combat their consequences a special store of grain was set up in pre-revolutionary Russia. In any case in the reign of Nicholas II such a phenomenon as mass famine had receded into the realm of legend. However, the devastation of the Civil War and, most importantly, the per capita requisitioning of grain by
Soviet food squads prepared a catastrophe of unprecedented proportions. According to official statistics there were 26-27 million people living in the areas afflicted by famine. Patriarch Tikhon describes the picture of horror and death in his letter "To the people's of the world and to the Orthodox" (summer 1921):
"A great disaster has beset Russia, The pastures and cornfields of whole regions, wind) were formerly the granary of the country and sent their surpluses to oilier peoples, arc burnt by the sun. Homes are empty and villages have turned into cemeteries of unburied corpses. Those who still have the strength are fleeing this realm of horror and death, abandoning their native hearths and land everywhere... It is already impossible to keep count of the victims of the disaster. But in the next few years it will become even worse for the whole country: left without help the land, until recently still flourishing and fertile, will turn into an infertile and deserted wilderness, for unsown land does not bring forth, and man cannot live without bread. My first word is to you, Orthodox Russia: In the name and for the sake of Christ the Holy Church summons you through My lips to a feat of brotherly self-sacrificial love. Hasten to the aid of those in distress with hands full of charitable gifts and hearts full of love and the desire to save your brother who is perishing...
To you, man, to you, peoples of the universe, I extend my voice. Help! Help the country that has always helped others! Help the country that has fed many and is today dying of hunger... Help without delay! Give broad, generous and unconditional help!…"
In August 1921 Patriarch Tikhon sent this letter to the heads of the Christian churches: the Orthodox Patriarchs, the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of York urging them in the name of Christian love to organize collections of money and food to help the starving population on the Volga. Then too, on the Patriarch's initiative, the All-Russian Church Committee for Aid to the Starving was founded and collections of money and good began in all the churches. There was a steady stream of donations.
However, as Patriarch Tikhon announced in his letter of 15/28 February, 1922, the Soviet Government banned this organization and alt the money collected by the Church was handed over to the Governmental Committee for Aid to the Starving ("Pomgol"). This demand threatened to reduce drastically the activity of believers in raising funds - there was little trust in the governmental committee. According to the evidence of contemporaries there was a widespread conviction among believers that most of the funds were misused by Pomgol: there were reports in the press at that time about preparations for a conference on trade and economy in Genoa and about the transition to a new economic policy, for which the Soviet state needed to strengthen its financial position quickly.
Before this policy could yield noticeable economic fruits, the hungry might simply die. Concerned only about saving the starving people, the Patriarch again appealed to the Church to continuing raising funds for Pomgol and, what is more, to extend this aid by including donations of precious church ornaments and objects, with the exception of those intended for direct liturgical use. The government allowed tins appeal to be published and distributed widely among the population. Nor did the Patriarch's appeal to Western Christians go unanswered: a number of international organizations were set up (the largest being the American ARA) to supply food to the starving on tlie Volga. The representatives of these organizations were allowed to take part directly in the distribution of food.
This was the situation when the decree of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of 10/23 February, 1922 on the confiscation of church valuables for the needs of the starving was published in the press. According to this decree all church objects of precious metals without exception were liable to confiscation. Practically speaking this meant primarily liturgical vessels and chalices which were often made of silver, the silver ornament on altars and icon-cases. This decree placed believers in a hopeless position: they could not interpret it other than a "declaration of war" and this, in fact, is what it was.
In his letter of 15/28 February, 1922, written in response to the decree, Patriarch Tikhon appealed to believers:
"We allowed, in view of the extremely difficult circumstances, the possibility of donating church objects which were not consecrated and not intended for liturgical use. We appeal to the believing children of the Church today also to make such donations, desiring only that these donations should be the response of a loving heart to the needs of our neighbors, and that they should provide real help to our suffering brothers. But We cannot approve of the confiscation from churches, even if this by voluntary donation, of sacred objects, the use of which for other than liturgical purposes is forbidden by the canons of the Ecumenical Church and is punishable by Her as sacrilege - for laymen by ex-communication and for clergy by defrocking.”
Apostolic Rule 73. Reiterated Ecumenical Council, Rule 10.
What the Patriarch was appealing for could not have been dictated by a "proprietorial attitude", of which he was accused, since liturgical objects could not in any case have been used for other purposes. Not was the Patriarch's position an expression of "canonical formalism" stronger than compassion for the suffering, of which he was also accused. His position was an expression of popular religious conviction; the inviolability of sacred religious objects was an integral part of faith. Both atheists and also some "modernist" Christians may have been angered by this, but it was impossible
to deny the indisputable fact that Russian Orthodox Christians had believed this for centuries without the slightest hesitation. There was not even an attempt on the part of state bodies to enter into discussions with the Church leadership in order to convince it of the need to carry out a corresponding reform: to adopt some authoritative resolutions and prepare believers for the replacement of liturgical objects. Such a replacement would theoretically have been possible. It would have spared the feelings of believers and could have been earned out with reverence using the Church's hands, even if it were under the supervision of state bodies. Subsequently this type of practice was carried out by certain archhierarchs: for example, Metropolitan Veniainin of Petrograd, although he was one of the first to be sentenced and shot.
The suddenness with which the decree appeared, its categorical tone and, most importantly, the deliberate violence and crudeness with which it was implemented - all this left no ways open for a peaceful solution. It was impossible to avoid the conclusion that the government had no desire for a peaceful conclusion. On the contrary, the aim was to exacerbate the situation as much as possible, to provoke clashes and create excuses for demonstrative and cruel repressions. What was the reason for this? Possibly in connection with the transition to the New Economic Policy (NEP) it was decided to terrorize and frighten the clergy and believers, so that in conditions of great civic freedom the Church would not be able to strengthen its position in society. In any case, here it was not a question of uncontrolled atheistic fanaticism, or abuses by local authorities or the excesses of the revolution and civil war. It was thought-out and conscious party and government policy - and this was the worst thing. Nor is there any doubt about who initiated this policy.
On 6/19 March, 1922, V.I.Lenin, then undergoing medical treatment, "in a letter to the members of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party (b)", as his "complete" works say
(Moscow. 1964. Vol. 45, pp. 666-667):
"writes about the need to crush once and for all the resistance of the clergy to the implementation of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee's decree of 23 February, 1922 on the confiscation of church valuables for the purpose of obtaining funds for the struggle against famine".
The actual text of the letter was not quoted in this collected works. Why? This becomes clear from the content of the letter which was published in 1970 abroad, and only in spring 1990 in the USSR ("Proceedings of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. No. 4; full text reproduced in "Dates and documents"). The cruelty and cynicism of this document, unusual even for Lenin, meant that it had to be kept in secret for almost 70 years. The program adopted at the reefing
of the Politburo was carried out rigorously and only in a few respects "with over-fulfilment of the plan" (first and foremost, the arrest of Patriarch Tikhon).
On 15/28 March, 1922 the newspaper lzvestia published a "List of enemies of the people" which was headed by Patriarch Tikhon "with all his church council", then came the names of dozens of bishops and priests, In the following weeks and month in hundreds and thousands of churches events took place according to one and the same "scenario": a group of armed people, usually Red Army men, marched into the sanctuary, while the congregation and clergy tried to stop them and clashes ensued which often ended in bloodshed. According to Soviet press reports already in the first half of 1922 55 tribunals tried 531 cases involving 732 accused.
But this was only the beginning. Many thousands of priests and monks were sentenced to be shot, others to exile and prison camps. The press gave a great deal of publicity to the trials which were held simultaneously in various cities and provinces, accompanying them with corresponding commentaries. In the minds of ordinary Soviet people the figure of the priest became firmly associated with the concepts "Black Hundred member" and "counter-revolutionary" - this was very "useful" during Stalin's "collectivization".
An atmosphere of mortal terror now hung over the Church: this terror was unleashed during peace-time, without any rational reason - and henceforth trust in Soviet power as a bearer of law and order was undermined for ever. Confusion and disarray broke out in the Church: some believers prepared to face long years of suffering and confessordom; others in their fear began to renounce their faith; yet others, while not breaking with their faith, began to seek desperately for the "favor of the authorities" at any price. Who can believe that this terror was launched for the sake of helping the starving?
As the Soviet papers reported:
"according to statistics from the Central Committee of Pomgol more than 23,997 poods of silver has been collected from church valuables".
A commentary in lzvestia for 19 December, 1922 said tins was "a ridiculously small amount". The total value of the confiscated valuables, according to foreign estimates, was about 30 million gold roubles. It is obvious that by means of voluntary donations with church control over the use of the money 100 million believers and 50,000 churches could have collected many times this sum...