Patriarch Tikhon and Metropolitan Veniamin of Petrograd
George Nathaniel Curzon
Patriarch Tikhon
Chapter I - 4
Contrary to Lenin's instructions, the terror did not pass by Patriarch Tikhon himself. On 22 April/5 May, 1922 he appeared as a witness at a public trial in the Politechnical Museum, and on 6/19 May was put under house arrest at the Donskoy monastery, under the strictest guard, in complete isolation from the outside world. Once a day, at 12 o'clock, the imprisoned Patriarch was allowed to go out onto the balcony, from where he blessed the crowd of believers that had assembled at a distance.

The following were arrested at the same time as Patriarch Tikhon: the head of the Catholic Church in Russia Archbishop Jan Tseplyak and 13 Catholic priests with him; the Georgian Catholicos and the Bishop of Kutaisi with him; Rabbi Baryshansky of Gomel and 13 "Jewish clericals" with him. In accordance with the tribunals' sentences Metropolitan Veniaimin of Petrograd was shot, as well as the Catholic prelate Butkevich and a large number of Orthodox clergy. Again, as at the beginning of 1919, but now far more organized and purposeful, a broad anti-religious campaign was launched:

blasphemous processions, violations of church services, staging of blasphemous trials and dissemination of mass brochures will) crude caricatures. Thus, on 17/30 January 1923, at the club of the Moscow garrison in the 'presence of Trotsky and Lunacharsky a "political tribunal for a trial of God" was enacted in front of an audience of Red Army men; on 14/27 February a meeting was held in Baku winch adopted a resolution demanding a "trial of Mohammed", and at Komsomol "Red Easters" they staged trials of the Pope at which the death sentence was passed on him...

The harm which this anti-religious campaign and terror did to the new Soviet state was tremendous. Confidence in law and order was undermined for many decades and the people who had witnessed this violation sanctioned by the state of truth, law and human dignity were profoundly demoralized. The immense losses in the sphere of international prestige, the loss of millions of active or potential friends and allies of the Russian revolution and the Soviet state abroad were also some of the main results of this senseless attempt to "take the heavens by storm".

The staging of trials of the clergy and the methods of publicizing these trials in the press became a prototype for the "Stalinist" trials of the thirties, the victims of which included organizers of the anti-religious campaign of 1922-23. As for the real political opponents of the Soviet state, they obtained many advantages from all this, primarily moral ones - and  indeed  no  “counter-revolutionaries”  could have  given  them  a better "present". The affair of the church valuables was a strategic mistake by V.I.Lenin - here he betrayed his usual political pragmatism.

The character of subsequent events enables us to conclude that among the Soviet leaders there was also a different tendency, one which was more responsible, more far-seeing and more state-like: by the middle of 1923 this tendency began to prevail. The key question of state church policy was the fate of Patriarch Tikhon, which was now in the balance. In the weeks just before Easter 1923 a series of publications appeared in the press with such characteristic titles as "The Tikhon dictatorship must be neutralized" and "Tikhon the Bloodthirsty". In lzvestia for 6 April it was officially announced that the trial of the Patriarch would begin on 11 April (the Wednesday of Radiant Week). However the date of the trial was later postponed to 24 April, but did not take place then either.

Unexpectedly for everyone, Patriarch Tikhon wrote to the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR on 3/16 June repenting of his former "anti-Soviet activity" and asking to be released from custody. On 20 June a judicial collegium of the Supreme Soviet under the chairmanship of Judge Karklin passed a decision "on changing the preventive measures with respect to citizen Belavin and releasing him from custody". Why did the organizers of the "anti-religious storm" have to retreat?

The explanation for this can be found in, for example, the following statement by N.I. Bukharin ("Pravda". 27 June, 1923):

" 'Save Tikhon' has become the rallying cry of international counterrevolution, that which was supposed to stir up the ignorant peasant masses and give the appearance of a crusade against Soviet Russia. We have a resume of tins campaign in the famous note from  Curzon, who has protested with the full might of the British Empire 'For the holy cause, for the martyr patriarch'..."

The main demand in this memorandum from the British government dated 8 May, 1923 was to put an end to communist propaganda in Asia (primarily in China), but it also contained a point on repressions against religious leaders in the USSR. Curzon's ultimatum confronted the USSR with the real threat of an armed conflict with Great Britain. Although mass processions began in the streets of Moscow and Petrograd with slogans such as "Sock the lords in the bonce", Chicherin, Krasin and Trotsky unanimously and categorically demanded immediate concessions to Curzon. One of these concessions was the release of Patriarch Tikhon. But the matter did not stop at this release.

Shortly before his statement Patriarch Tikhon was taken to the State Political Directorate (GPU) where regular talks were held with him throughout 38 days on questions of the position of the church in the Soviet state. These talks were conducted mainly by E.A. Tuchkov, the GPU representative on religious matters. In response to his demands the  Patriarch received an assurance that the attitude to the church would improve and it would be guaranteed the possibility to satisfy the religious needs of believing citizens without hindrance. These assurances were reinforced by corresponding state acts. On 19 June the "Instruction of the Peoples Commissariat of Justice and the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs" on questions concerning the separation of the church from the state was published, which for the first time regulated conditions for the use of religious buildings and objects. In connection with the Renovationist schism which arose in the church during the period of Patriarch Tikhon's arrest, the point in the instruction forbidding administrative support of any religious group to the detriment of any other was of special importance for the Church. Evidently Patriarch Tikhon was also given assurances about a general democratization in connection with NEP and, most important, that the state was striving to concentrate on the solution primarily of economic and social tasks and that its enslavement of ideology would be reduced.

We have grounds for claiming that the Patriarch's repentance was a weighed, responsible and wise step.

To this day voices can still be heard criticizing this step as inconsistent and mistaken - but they are the voices of those who have not been able in their soul to draw a dividing line between God and the world, between the church and politics...

Immediately after his release Patriarch Tikhon addressed series of letters to believers which were published in the Soviet press. Thus in his letter of 15/28 June he stated:

"I did not, of course, pose as such a great admirer of Soviet power as the church renovationists declare themselves to be, but on the other hand I am by no means such an enemy of it as I am made out to be... I firmly condemn all encroachments on Soviet power no matter where they emanate from. Let all monarchists at home and abroad know that I am not an enemy of Soviet power".

In a letter of 18 June/1 July  the Patriarch stated that he was conscious "of my guilt towards Soviet power" which had been expressed in a number "of active and passive anti-Soviet actions".

"We, -  the Patriarch continues,  - in our duty as a Christian and archpastor repent of the same and grieve at the victims which have arisen as a result of this anti-Soviet policy... We now condemn such actions and declare that the Russian Orthodox Church is a-political and henceforth does not wish to be either a "White" or "Red" Church. It should and will be a United, Soborny, Apostolic Church, and all attempts, from whatever side they emanate, to involve the Church in political struggle should be rejected and condemned".

     It is possible that from the political point of view Patriarch Tikhon is being inconsistent in condemning previous actions which, at their time and  in  different  situation,  were  totally  right  and  yielded  valuable  spiritual  fruit.  But  in  this  “inconsistency”  there  is  more  humility,  more love  and  devotion  to  Christ,  the  Church  and  his people,  than  in  inflexible  and  stubborn  political  rigourism.  His  church position was irreproachable  both  then  and  now.  The  vast  majority  of believers  understood this  in their  hearts and  accepted  the  Patriarch`s  decision  with  approval  and  joy.

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For  the  Christian consciousness the main question connected with the revolution is that of  the permissibility of violence,  the  question  “In  what circumstances and for what ends can human blood be shed”. Having assumed already in the reign of Emperor  Constantine full spiritual responsibility for a world  that “lies in wickedness” (1 Jn. 5:19), the Church could not shift  and never has shifted to the aloof position on “non-resistance to evil by force”.  But in  precisely  what circumstances should one “turn the other cheek” (Mt. 5:39)  and  when  must one raise the sword against “him that doeth evil” (Rom. 13:4)?  The Russian Church,  from  the  very beginning of  its historical life has frequently been confronted with  this grave and often painful question.
In  the days of its Christian youth Russia already experienced the terrible consequences of Cain`s sin of fratricide. And in response to this sin the Russian Church canonized princes Boris and Gleb as martyrs, seeing in their feat a special type of saintliness: an  imitation  of  Jesus Christ as the sacrificial Victim for the sins of His brothers. Expressing the church`s and people`s idea of  the spiritual  meaning of  their feat, the chronicle puts into the mouth of  Boris, who has let his retinue go is  now humbly awaiting the men sent to murder him, the following prayer:

     “Lord Jesus Christ!
As Thou in this image did appear on earth for our salvation, by Thine own will letting  them nail Thy hands to the cross  and  accepted suffering for our sins, so make  me fit also to accept suffering.  For I do not accept suffering from my foes, but from my own brother, so do not hold this against him, Lord, as a sin”.

Boris prayer is taken up by Gleb, who decides to follow the same path after his beloved  brother:

  “Woe  to  me, Lord!  It  would  have  been  better  for  me to die  with  my  brother  than to  live  in this world.  If  I  had  seen  thy  angelic  face,  my  brother, I  would  have  died with  thee:  why  am  I  left  alone now?… If  thy  prayers  reach  God,  then  pray  for  me,  that  I  might take the  same  martyr`s  end.”

  “Then  Gleb`s cook by name of  Torchin -  the chronicler tells  us,  -  did  kill Gleb like an innocent  lamb. Thus he brought as a sacrifice to God, a prescient sacrifice instead of a fragrant incense”.

And many centuries later, at a new fatal turning-point in Russian history, the Patriarch of the Russian Church was to repeat the chronicler, speaking of the new victims of fratricidal enmity:

"... A fragrant victim to atone for the sins of Mother Russia".

"They are the glory of our princes and the intercessors for the Russian land, for they did trample upon the glory of this world, and did love Christ and dare to follow in His footsteps. Christ's sheep are good, they did not resist when they were taken to the slaughter, did not evade a violent death! And this is why they arc now enthroned with Christ in eternal joy..."

These words of the old chronicle might have been written today.

    And the holy chronicler's sermon seems to be addressed to us, who have reaped for many decades the bitter fruit of a new yoke, the product of new Russian civil strife:

"Let no one dare say that we are hated by God! Let this not be! For whom doth the Lord so love, as He hath loved us? Whom hath He so honored, as He hath glorified and exalted us? No one! And that is why He hath raised His wrath against us, who were honored most of all, for we have committed the worst sins of all. For we were the most enlightened of all, knowing our Master's will and having scorned its beauty, we arc punished more bitterly than others".

We believe that the Russian Church, and with it Russia, and with Russia, perhaps, the world, were saved by the feat of Boris and Gleb, which has been repeated a thousand-fold (if not a million-fold) by the new martyrs of the Russian land. In them is the testimony that the world is worth love and not violence; truth and not falsehood; that as before the Cross is the protector of Universe; that Christ's cause has not died oil earth. And the words of the ancient confessor ring out with new strength for us:

"Martyrs are the seed of the Church".

We, the present children of the Russian Church are the ground in which this seed must grow. But let us not be dry ground! Living church legend has brought to us the tidings that they, by carrying out their spiritual feat, also prayed for us, their spiritual heirs; they who, in the words of the Apostle:

"Had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment; they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword; they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (of whom the world was not worth:) they wandered in deserts and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise; God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect".    Heb. 11: 36-49.

For all the differences in their individual fates, all the new martyrs of the Russian Church are united by the fact that they were witnesses and confessors of the Kingdom of God.

The Tsar with His family and true servants shed sacrificial blood precisely because He was the conductor of the will of God in earthly state affairs.

Bishops, priests, monks and laymen who suffered for their non-participation in fratricide, repeated the feat of Boris and Gleb performed to establish the Gospel ideal in popular social and political life.

Believers who perished for the defense of sacred religious objects from profanation saw these objects as Divine possessions, material islands of the Kingdom of God on earth.

The saints whose relics were desecrated suffered posthumously for the people's faith in the transforming power of God, in the future resurrection of the body.

The clergy and church people who refused to express moral solidarity with the builders of a new world not led by Christ, thereby bore witness to their profound hope in Christ's true Kingdom.

The bitter trials of this period fell not only to the lot of Christians - they shared these trials with the whole people. The blood that was shed, no matter whose it was, provokes a natural feeling of guilt and compassion in all men who have not lost their conscience completely.

The Christian saints differ only in that they were driven by profound faith to perform their feat. In the extent to which they relied on God and trusted themselves to Him, their thoughts and feelings ceased to be only their thoughts and feelings and become consonant with, synergetic to the thoughts and feelings of God.

This is why it is so immensely important for us to understand for whose sake and in what spiritual mood they performed their sacrificial service. The church canonization of the new martyrs and the glorification of their feat by the whole people is already taking place in this or that form and no one will be able to stop this process.

But in precisely which spirit will they be glorified and precisely which meaning will be found in their feat?

A great deal, if not all, depends on this. Here there will inevitably arise a profound difference of opinion and possibly a long spiritual search before the Divine Truth reveals itself and triumphs. But when this takes place, it will be the beginning of a new epoch: to understand and recognize the feat of sanctity is to commune with it and its fruits.

A start to the great cause of canonizing the new martyrs was made by the Russian Church in Exile at its Council in 1981. This canonization was given a purely political, "anti-Bolshevik" and anti-communist character, however. The Council texts and accompanying icons of the new martyrs evoke not so much reverence for their faith and sacrifice as hatred of those at whose hands they suffered. It is hard to imagine a worse mistake. Canonization can never be aimed against someone, it should not involve and political evaluation or condemnation of the revolution and the events connected with it. This does not mean that a  Christian can he indifferent to arguments about revolution, but that the act of canonization should not depend on Ins position in this argument. The feat of the new martyrs may be revered by both those who completely reject the ideals and goals of the revolution and those who share them in part. It is not of crucial importance at whose hands the martyrs suffered or by what intentions and motives their murderers were governed; these questions are important for an understanding of the revolution, but not for understanding the meaning and content of Christian confessorship. The only thing that matters here is the sincerity and depth of sacrificial consciousness of those who accepted this death and suffering.

   Canonization cannot be an act that intensifies old hatred nursed in the depths of people's souls? On the contrary, it can and should become an act of Russian national reconciliation, the restoration of true unfeigned spiritual unity. This would also be a step towards reconciliation with all the oilier peoples who in some way or other have been caught up in the storm of revolution and taken part in it-on this or that side. The spirit of the new martyrs themselves was conciliatory -they made their sacrifice for the sake of national peace. To betray this is to go against their will and aspirations, to use their moral authority and the glory of their name for one's own personal aims.

It is with comfort and hope that we reflect on the words of revelation which Jesus Christ gave His favorite disciple:
"After tins I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, winch no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands... And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes". Rev. 7: 9-17.

And may the names and faces of those who "came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" appear to us today also.