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Lev Regelson

                     Afterword  to the first edition  (1977)  by Archpriest John Meyendorf     
                                          Society of Christian Culture Moscow
                                                                 - 1991 -

Translated   by  K.  Cook

WORLD copyright  by Lev  Regelson  1991

To Natalia Mikhailovna Asafova, never forgotten, whose motherly affection warmed those taking part in this work for many years and who preserved for them the living memory of His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon and the martyrs of the Russian Church.

Author's preface to the first edition (1977)

The idea of writing a book on the history of the Russian Orthodox Church after 1917 grew up in direct and organic connection with the spiritual searchings and events which mark the history of that church over the last ten years.

The open letter to the Patriarch of 1965 from the priests N.Eshliman and G.Yakunin marked the beginning of a gradual clearing of the mists of pious myths which concealed the truth about the Russian Church from the church Herself and from Her true friends. The importance and novelty of this spiritual act lay not only in denouncing state coercion of the Church, although this was done with more energy and conviction than ever before.

The main tiling was to overcome that sterile insistence on the outer side of life which in present-day Russia forces us all to look for the roots of our illness everywhere but in ourselves. The usual helpless railing against the falsity and cruelty of state policy began to give way to a desire to "put our own house in order" without waiting for "favorable conditions" to arise, because for the spiritual acts of the church all times are favorable, and a time of grief and persecution is, perhaps, most favorable of all.

The sobering impression made by the "Open Letter" was thus connected not so much with a denunciation of the latest attempt to destroy the Church by force, as with a denunciation of the Church's faintheartedness and involvement in the secular life, the widespread fear and falsehood which were found to be in the Russian Church and Her supreme hierarchy in particular.

However, when the question arose of how to get out of this painful and intolerable state, it soon became clear that the path of denunciations and appeals aimed at arch-hierarchs was also invalid. Although, of course, the overcoming of any crisis in the church always begins with a personal spiritual victory, and the nature of the present crisis demands this victory from the bishops, first and foremost, it is precisely here that we find the most profound sickness of the present-day Russian church, which precludes any possibility of such a rescue attempt.
The tragedy of the present position lies not in the fact that the Patriarch and most of the bishops chose the path of faint-hearted servility, which in the new conditions has compounded the worst traditions of the age of church-state symphony, but in the fact that the efforts of individual zealots to save the Church from decay and destruction have been thwarted not only by state coercion, but first and foremost by coercion from the church administration itself.

A clear precedent, dashing all the hopes of individual bishops for the possibility of an independent church initiative, was the fate of Archbishop Ermogen (Golubev) who in the period of the "Khrushchev persecution" managed, with the support of clergy and believers, to resist state pressure successfully without going beyond the bounds of civil law. In two dioceses he saved churches from being closed at the time when half the parishes of the Russian Church were abolished. However, Archbishop Ermogen, who demonstrated the reality of his archiepiscopal authority in the face of civilian officials, was spiritually defenseless before the coercion of the self-same officials when it was applied not directly, but through the intermediacy of Patriarch Alexis, who dismissed Archbishop Ermogen, on the pretext of "retirement for rest" from archiepiscopal service and exiled him to a distant monastery. A similar fate awaited those bishops who tried to object to the resolution of the Church Administration which took control of church property from hierarchs and transferred it to church wardens, and through them to the local civilian authorities.

In the minds and hearts of bishops there was bound to arise a tragic conflict between the demands of church conscience and archiepiscopal duty, on the one hand, and the requirement of administrative obedience to the Patriarch, on the other. This conflict invariably ended in favor of obedience, engendering feelings of depression, hopelessness and the futility of any attempt to show church initiative which was in the slightest way contrary to the state policy course of that particular moment. Any other path, however, seemed to threaten the most sacred thing of all - church unity.

This fundamental discord deep down in the church conscience, this irreconcilable conflict between the demands of church truth and church unity demonstrated, of course, not that the Church could not preserve its purity in the face of an ill-disposed civilian authority, but that there was a profound defect in the church consciousness itself, in the very understanding of the nature and structure of the Church. As a result of this defect the Russian Church was faced with the threat, on the one hand, of disintegration into warring sections with different political orientation and, on the other, of "canonical captivity" which allowed one person who had become Patriarch without the help of "secular powers-that-be" to lead the Church into an abyss of spiritual degradation, without actually violating the letter of Orthodox dogma in so doing.

The reality of the first threat can be seen from the experience of the church schisms in the twenties, and also the fact that today as well the Russian Church is divided into at least five parts: two on the territory of the USSR - the Moscow Patriarchate and the "Catacomb Church", which is numerically small but preserves a rich spiritual heritage, and three "jurisdictions" abroad: the Synodal ("Karlovtzy"), the West European and the American, each of which evidently belongs in the profound ecclesiological sense to the Russian Church, in spite of all the various attempts to solve the problem of administrative-canonical rule.

The reality of the second threat, "canonical captivity", can be seen from the gradual erosion of Orthodox church consciousness caused by prolonged and persistent pressure on it from the official state ideology through the intermediacy of the Supreme Church Administration. This gradual erosion almost turned into a spiritual catastrophe when, after the death of Patriarch Alexis, there was a real possibility that Metropolitan Nikodim (Rotov) would become the Patriarch of the Russian Church.

In the "Appeal to the Local Council of 1971" of Father N.Gainov and the laymen F.Karelin, L.Regelson and V.Kapitanchuk it was shown on the basis of careful research that Metropolitan Nikodim and a group of theologians had for many years been developing and planting in the Russian Church a new doctrine, which had not been discussed collectively, in the spirit of apocalyptic religious communism, in which a new dogmatic formulation was given to those tenets of the Christian faith which were not formulated in the Dogmata of the Ecumenical Councils.

While in no way denying the freedom of theological creativity in the Orthodox Church, the authors of the "Appeal", as well as analyzing the dubious aspects of the new doctrine, pointed to the profoundly disturbing fact that the introduction of this new doctrine and with it a new spirituality had been effected by means of a deliberate change in the composition of the episcopate, so that several dozens of new bishops had been appointed under the influence and according to the choice of Metropolitan Nikodim, who was trying in this way to strengthen his position in the Russian hierarchy, Given the existing practice of hierarchical relations between the Patriarch and the bishops there was nothing to prevent Metropolitan Nikodim, had he become Patriarch, from changing the whole composition of the Russian episcopate.

A change in state policy, which we believe took place not without Divine Providence, prevented Metropolitan Nikodim from coming to power in the Church and brought to this power a hierarch who was more conservative in respect of theological innovations. This real danger, however, revealed with a terrible clarity the fact that in the consciousness and practice of the Russian Church, at least that part of it which is administratively subject to the Moscow Patriarchate, there are no elements, no principles, which could prevent such spiritual coercion of the whole Church by a single hierarch who became head of the Church Administration and enjoyed the support of state authority.

To the Orthodox mind it seemed unquestionable that the office of Patriarch, restored by the Local Council of 1917-1918, was a great spiritual achievement of the Russian Church, so that a fundamental ecclesiological rupture with the Patriarch, no matter what the latter's personal shortcomings, might easily have led caused great damage to church life. This damage really was felt in the experience of groups of the Russian Church which broke away from the Patriarch, in spite of the fact that they preserved purity of faith, blessedness of sacraments and freedom from the introduction into the Church of alien state elements.

There seemed to be no way out of the situation: for the sake of preserving one aspect of church life it was necessary to sacrifice others, something the Orthodox consciousness could not accept, because such a solution would have meant the partial destruction of faith in the Church.

The impossibility of finding a positive solution to the question, while remaining within the framework of familiar concepts and historical precedents, showed that the Russian Church was facing a profound ecclesiological crisis, which could be solved only by deepening and clarifying the Orthodox understanding of the nature of the Church - with respect to church organization.

Such a deepening of ecclesiological consciousness could not, however, be achieved without turning to the actual experience of the historical formation of the Church in which the latter's nature is also revealed.

Meanwhile in the minds of most members of the Russian Church today there is an enormous gap in their memory of church history, a gap which relates to the most significant and spiritually tense period of this history, namely, the period in which the present crisis in the church arose and, at the same time, possibilities of solving it were nurtured.
Hence it becomes clear that the first step towards solving the crisis must be to fill in this gap, and only knowledge of this unprecedented experience can provide a firm basis for all further spiritual endeavors.

The work of interpreting the material dealing with the history of the Russian Orthodox Church after the Local Council of 1917-1918 began immediately after the publication of the "Open Letter" from the two priests and has continued with breaks ever since.

Although the present study was actually written by one person, the author considers it his right and duty to mention those who took part in this interpretation: father Nikolai Eshliman and Gleb Yakunin, Feliks Karelin, Viktor Kapitanchuk and Eugeni Barabanov. Each of them made a decisive spiritual contribution to the understanding of this or that aspect of the spiritual problems which arose in connection with this work, so that the absence of any one of these people would probably have meant that the work would not have appeared. The collective process of interpretation does not, of course, relieve the author of full responsibility for the interpretation and exposition of both individual questions and general conclusions.

The author express his gratitude to Father Nikolai Pedashenko, Father Sergius  Zheludkov, and also to Anatoly Levitin and a number of other people for their personal contribution to the discussion of individual aspects of Russian church history; to fathers G.Yakunin and N.Pedashenko and also to E.Barabanov and M.Agursky for help in collecting the necessary document and books.

Special mention must be made of the role of those zealous workers who devoted their whole life to collecting and preserving unique or difficult to find material on the history of the Russian Church.

A most valuable archive of such material was confiscated by investigation bodies during a pilgrimage by some of the participants in this work to Novy Afon in 1968 and has still not been returned. This loss, which seemed irreparable and caused the work to be postponed for some time, was by the grace of God later mad good with interest.

We should like to mention the work on which the author relied most of all in the collection and analysis of historical material. For the period 1922-1924 one of the main sources was the fundamental work by A.Levitin and V.Shavrov: Essays on the history of the Russian church troubles of the 1920s and 1930s. Volumes 1-3. Moscow. Samizdat. 1960, which deals with the Renovationist schism. Rich, but by no means full, material on the history of the persecution of the Church in 1918-1925 is to be found in A.A.Valentinov's work, now a bibliographical rarity but still very relevant: The Black Book. Storming the heavens. Paris, 1925 (with an introductory article by Pyotr Struve). An essential reference book was the only publication of its kind by Archpriest M. Polsky: The new martyrs of Russia. Jordanville. Vol. 1. 1949 and Vol. 2. 1957. Although some of M. Polsky's spiritual premises are questionable, the importance of this book for the Orthodox reader in the USSR, if only it were to some extent accessible to him, is hard to overestimate.

A major contribution to the study of church opposition to Metropolitan (Stragorodsky) in the late twenties was the dissertation of Archimandrite (now Archbishop) loann Snychev: Church schisms in the Russian Church in the 1920s and 1930s. 1965,   written under the guidance of and from material supplied by Metropolitan Manuil (Lemeshevsky) who preserved much important information about that period for history. Archimandrite Snychev's work is also valuable in that it is the most elaborate attempt to present a serious and completely sincere apology for Metropolitan Sergius's position. The six-volume dictionary of Russian bishops compiled by Metropolitan Manuil (Samizdat) was a unique source for studying the changes in the composition of the Russian hierarchy and for obtaining biographical data about bishops.
We would also mention the small but valuable article by the Catholic priest A. Deibner: Russian hierarchs under the yoke of the godless. Blagovest. No.4. 1931, Paris.
The civil law aspect of the position of the Church in the USSR in the 1920s is examined in detail in a series of articles in the journal "Put'" (in particular, by I.Stratonov).

      Other sources are listed in the bibliography at the end of the book. The present study consists of two parts: part I examines from the author's standpoint the key events in Russian church history from 1917 to 1945. Part II consists of appended documents including: 1) a history of the Russian church of this period in dates and documents; 2) changes in the composition of the Russian episcopate year by year, and 3) biographical information about bishops who were in church opposition to Metropolitan Sergius.

The author's standpoint is, of course, reflected in the selection of documents, although he sought to ensure that this selection was representative of the different points of view and that the main themes could be traced in their development. He hopes that the one-sidedness inevitable in the present study will be eliminated in a later edition of a collection of documents as full, objective and impartial, as possible, which will consist of several large volumes.
The present study is bound to contain errors and slips. Whereas mistakes in the author's position can be corrected only by collective church discussion, historical and literary defects could possibly be reduced given the time and energy. Bearing in mind the real danger, that the possibility of further work may cease at any moment, the author has decided to publish the book in. a somewhat incomplete form. Our duty to the martyrs of the Russian Church is too great to postpone any longer tins attempt to bear witness to their great sacrifices and spiritual quests.

The author's aim is not to make himself heard, but to help people to hear them. The larger part of this study is made up of extracts from genuine church documents which in their totality are hardly known to anyone in the Russian Church.

The author's text has been reduced to a minimum and serves to pinpoint - from the whole treasury of church witness - some of the main ideas and tendencies which are most important for solving the church problems of the present day.

Moscow 1976