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In May 1927, a 'memorandum' was issued, presumably smuggled out, by a group of Bishops imprisoned in what had been the Solovets Monastery near the border with Finland The Solovets monastery had been a stronghold of the Old Believers in the seventeenth century. After a siege lasting eight years from 1668 to 1676 it was sacked and its defenders, laymen and monks were massacred. (28) Solzhenitsyn gives its seizure by the Bolsheviks as the beginning of the formation of the 'Gulag' network of labour camps.

(28) Pospielovsky: Orthodox Church in the History of Russia (see note 5), p.77

Solovets monastery (as it is today in the process of restoration)

Most of the Bishops and clerics in prison, the memorandum claimed, were there because of their refusal to recognise the Renovationists. It argued that the Church could co-exist with the Soviet state on the basis of a strict separation of powers under which (quoting Pospielovsky's summary): 'the Church will not interfere in the socio-economic activities  and reform of the state and in the fulfilment by the citizens of their civic duties, while the state will cease to interfere in the spiritual activities of the Church and to hinder the spiritual life of its citizens.' Since Tikhon had declared the obligation of civic loyalty in 1923 'not a single cleric has been sentenced for anti-Soviet activities by a Soviet court. All those in prison are there by administrative action' (pp.145-6).

But the memorandum nonetheless laid out the utter incompatibility of the Church's teaching with what it calls 'communism' as expressed in the philosophy of the atheist state:

'The Church recognises the spiritual principles of existence; communism rejects them. The Church believes in the living God, the creator of the world, the leader of its life and destinies; Communism denies His existence, believes in the spontaneity of the world's existence and in the absence of rational, ultimate causes of its history. The Church assumes that the purpose of human life is the heavenly fatherland, even if she lives in conditions of the highest development of material culture and general wellbeing; communism refuses to recognise any other purpose of mankind's existence but material welfare. The ideological differences between the Church and the state descend from the apex of philosophical observations to the practical ... sphere of ethics, justice and law: communism considers them to be a conditional result of class struggle and assess the phenomena of the moral sphere exclusively in terms of utility. The Church preaches love and mercy; communism camaraderie and merciless struggle. The Church instills in believers humility, which elevates the person; communism debases man by pride. The Church preserves chastity of the body and sacredness of reproduction; communism sees nothing else in marital relations but satisfaction of the instincts. The Church sees in religion a life-bearing force which ... serves as the source for all greatness in man's creativity, as the basis for man's earthly happiness, sanity and welfare; communism sees religion as opium, drugging the people and relaxing their energies, as the source of their suffering and poverty. The Church wants to see religion flourish; communism wants its death. Such a deep contradiction in the very basis of their weltanshauungen precludes any intrinsic approximation between the Church and state, as there cannot be any between affirmation nd negation ... because the very soul of the Church, the condition of her existence and the sense of her being, is that which is categorically denied by communism.' (pp.144-145. Lacunae as in Pospielovsky).


Clergy in the Solovki camp


By 1927, it was clear that the Renovationist experiment was not succeeding. The main problem seems to have been not their legitimacy, nor even necessarily their enthusiasm for the Soviet government, but their attempts to change liturgical practice, and most especially the calendar change. Given the collapse of the old order and the fact that the Church was deprived of all means of printed communication with outlying parishes people in county areas could hardly be expected to know who was legitimate and who wasn't. The Russian peasant didn't have a reputation for undue personal respect for the priests but he - and more especially she - did know what the priest was supposed to do and when he was supposed  to do it. To quote Edward Roslof (obviously oversimplifying a little):

'Salvation in this tradition comes not from grace dispensed by the true church, as in Catholicism, or from belief evoked by preaching the Word of God, as in Protestantism. Rather, Orthodox believers are saved by the proper and corporate completion of liturgical acts in which God Himself is present. Renovationist clergy performed the salvific acts but behaved in ways that showed they did not believe in the immanence of those rites. They changed the words, the actions and even the time - the calendar - that undergird the laity's understanding of sacred immanence. By creating such cognitive dissonance during the most sacred ceremony in Russian religious culture, Renovationists drove away Orthodox believers en masse.' (29)

(29) Roslof: Heresy of Bolshevik Christianity (see note 17), pp.623-4. 

This, I think, is what Trotsky failed to understand. He thought that because popular religious practise had or appeared to have very little intellectual content it was just a habit people had got into, a superficial repetition of meaningless but aesthetically pleasing acts. But the repetition of these acts was in itself a large part of what made life worthwhile for millions of people, precisely the means by which a contact was established and maintained with a reality that transcended everyday life, a contact that was experienced in the flesh and did not have to be developed in the form of an intellectual theory. The Renovationists, in their desire to raise the intellectual standard of the church and their hostility to 'mere ritualism' made the same mistake.

Tuchkov seems to have recognised this at quite an early stage. He secured the resignation of the most enthusiastic liturgical reformer, the 'Metropolitan of Moscow and of all-Russia', Antonin Granovsky, replacing him with the much more liturgically conservative Metropolitan Evdokim (Meschersky), and persuading Vvedenskii to temper his reforming zeal. He also approached the Archbishop of Ekaterinburg (Sverdlovsk), Grigory (Yakovetsky) to form a new schism, wholly Orthodox in its practise but also wholly under the control of the GPU.

The very reforms imposed by the Bolsheviks at the beginning of their reign - imprisonment and execution of large numbers of priests, recognition of local religious associations (parishes) as the only legal entity, the right given to women to participate as full voting members in the affairs of the religious associations, deprivation of a printing press - strengthened the conservative laity against the priesthood who might have been more inclined to reform. Above all, the priests were totally dependent on the financial support of the laity. If the laity didn't like the priests trying to educate them by delivering the service in Russian instead of Slavonic they simply refused to pay, and they were not going to be punished for that by the anticlerical Bolsheviks. According to Edward Roslof:

'Lay willingness to boycott renovationist churches, even in places where there was no Tikhonite alternative, led to many synodal clergy becoming impoverished or unemployed or both. At the close of of the 1925 renovationist national church council, Metropolitan A.I.Vvedensky expressed sympathy for bishops who had a real meal only one day in three and for priests living on a mere ten rubles a month. On another occasion he praised Deacon Ivanov who had been driven out of his parish by the Tikhonites and been left with only a shirt and one potato. A woman took pity on the deacon and gave him a second shirt but he still had to walk around in the dead of winter in his sandals. Despite his poverty, the metropolitan continued, Ivanov refused the Tikhonite offer of "a shirt, boots and a hunk of bread" if he joined them, for he was "armed with the truth of our renovationism." Vvedensii's comments, even with their melodrama, are substantiated by petitions for financial assistance submitted to the Moscow diocesan administration ...' (30)

(30) Roslof: Heresy, p.631.

We might note that Bolshevik policy in this respect (radical decentralisation of the Church) was the opposite of the policy adopted by the Muslim conquerors of Constantinople who believed that it was by centralising power in the hands of the Patriarch that they could most easily keep the church under control. 


Tikhon died in 1925. He had made an arrangement by which, if he was incapacitated, by death or for any other reason, and it proved impossible to hold the council necessary to electing a new patriarch, his authority would pass, in a given order of preference, to one of three named individuals. In the event the 'locum tenens' was Peter (Polyansky), Metropolitan of Krutitsky. Peter, however, was very soon imprisoned (on charges brought against him by Nikolai Solovei claiming that in his American anti-Soviet adventure he had been acting under Peter's instructions). He would continue in prison and unable to fulfil his assigned responsibilities until 1937, when he was shot. He had, however, made his own arrangements and his candidates included the Metropolitan of Nizhni Novgorod, Sergei (Stragorodsky). Sergei was imprisoned in 1926 but released in July 1927, when he issued  a 'declaration' which finally acknowledged the legitimacy of the Soviet government:

'We must show, not by words but rather by deeds, that not only those who are indifferent to Orthodoxy, not only those who have betrayed it, but even its most zealous adherents can be faithful citizens of the Soviet Union and loyal to Soviet authority ... We want to be Orthodox and at the same time recognise the Soviet Union as our civil mother land, whose joys and successes are our joys and successes and whose failures are our failures.' (31)

(31) Mikhail Shkarovskii: 'The Russian Orthodox Church versus the State: the Josephite Movement, 1827-1940', Slavic Review, Vol 54, No.2 (Summer 1995), p.370.


Metropolitan Sergei

In October 1927 he provoked widespread disagreement among his own Bishops by mandating prayer for the civilian authorities during divine service and prohibiting prayer for bishops in exile (I assume that 'bishops in exile' means bishops exiled within the Soviet Union by the government rather than the Bishops who considered themselves to be in exile outside Russia in the Karlovci Synod, who had already been repudiated by Tikhon). And in 1930 he created further outrage by denying that the Church was suffering persecution at a moment when, in the early stages of the forced industrialisation of the 1930s, the Church was moving into a period of persecution at a level that had previously been unthinkable. 

The opposition to Sergei was divided between the 'non-commemorators', who simply refused to mention his name in the liturgy as one of the valid rulers of the church, and the emergence, under the leadership of the very popular Joseph (Petrovykh) - briefly, before one of his various arrests, appointed by Sergei Metropolitan of Leningrad - of a group who, while still proclaiming themselves loyal to the patriarchal church (represented by the imprisoned Metropolitan Peter) refused communion with Sergei and his supporters. Both the non-commemorators and the Josephites complied with Soviet law, registering with regional inspectors for cult affairs and electing local councils to negotiate the use of churches etc. Since 1925, however, and Tikhon's declaration of loyalty to the state, there had also been a 'catacomb church', refusing all compromise with the Soviet authorities and operating clandestinely.

Metropolitan Joseph

Joseph was sent into exile in Kazakhstan in 1929 and shot in 1937.