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Orthodox Christianity was brought to Kyivan Rus by Grand Prince Vladimir and for over nine centuries the Kyivan Church was an integral part of the Russian state. Coming from this perspective, it is understandable that Patriarch Tikhon could not tolerate the disbandment of the Russian empire (see above an excerpt from his Epistle against the Brest-Litovsk Treaty) or that Metropolitan Antonii at the Pan-Diaspora Council of 1921 supported the restoration of the Romanov monarchy. The conviction that monarchist views are an exclusive, intrinsic component of the Orthodox practitioner’s world view can be traced back to the famous definition of interaction between the Church and the empire in Novel Six of Emperor Justinian (d.565),[i]subsequently developed in an epistle from the Byzantine Patriarch Antony to the Muscovite Great Prince Basil (d.1462), that for“Christians it is impossible to have a Church and not have an emperor, for the empire and the church have a great unity and commonality, and it is impossible to separate them.”[ii]
The core Christian kerygma is contained in the Beatitudes found in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-10). The Beatitudes are based on self-renunciation and can be implemented by individual persons or by Christian communities, but neither a state nor any political organization could afford adherence to the Beatitudes as its political philosophy. Therefore, a state can only adopt Christianity to use as an ideology in the service of the state. The Russian case was not different. In practice, the symphony between the Church and the empire in Russia turned the Church in an extension of the state for at least two hundred years.[iii]As a result, many issues pertaining to various aspects of Church administration, discipline, liturgical and personal practices were left without attention. The legacy of ideological Christianity discussed in this chapter is another legacy of imperial Orthodoxy. That Byzantine political Orthodoxy had aligned itself with the figurehead of an imperial leader was important for Metropolitan Antonii. This is seen from his piety toward Emperor Nicholas II, Hetman Pavlo Skorobatskii, General Deniken and General Wrangel; the two generals expressed the desire to have a supreme ecclesiastical administration. Thus, through the person of this prominent Russian bishop, Metropolitan Antonii’s political Orthodoxy occupied an important place in the identity of the Russian Church Abroad for years to come. If at the Kyivan Council of 1918 the members of the socialist Rada were expelled, at the Pan-Diaspora Council of 1921 in Sremski Karlovci the vocal and influential professional monarchists of the Supreme Monarchist Council did not lose their pre-eminence. The only one who was expelled was the “liberal” Michael Rodzianko. Thus, the first council in diaspora demonstrated how difficult It would be for the Church of the Russian political émigrés to become a sacrosanct space, free from political preferences.
The sentiments in the epistle to the International Conference in Genoa about “noble-hearted Russian people, who have fallen into the hands of world villains” signaled an attitude of denial that has been shared by many in the Russian ecclesiastical community abroad. A combination of theology, conspiracy theories, and an idealization of the Russian empire was offered as an explanation of the Russian catastrophe instead of an analysis of profound social, political and economic reasons that catalyzed a volcanic eruption which ended the life of the Russian monarchy.
.A demand to hear voices that previously had been silenced is seen in all the four councils that took place between 1918 and 1921. (After all, the professional monarchists had also been restrained by the Russian imperial government.) The multitude of inner Church problems, which were insufficiently addressed in imperial Russia, backfired after the collapse of imperial Russia and resulted in the factions of the Renovationists and the Autocephalists on the left and Restorationists on the right. The striving of the post-revolutionary Russian Church to remain apolitical brought the Church closer than at any other time in her 1,000-year history to the pre-Constantinian experience of Christianity.
Charismatic Renovationists and Autocephalists can be compared with the low church faction in Anglicanism, while the mainstream canonical Church equates to the high church faction. Also, the role of the Bolsheviks in the first case and the Ukrainian nationalists in the second cannot be dismissed. The issue of Ukrainization was seen at the All-Ukrainian council of 1918 as not too important. However, this was not simply the reaction of Russian chauvinism against Ukrainian nationalism, but also a product of the same conservative, protective attitude that was at the 1917-1918 All-Russian Council. The issues of the Ukrainian autocephalists and the Moldovan supporters of Church autonomy emphasized the necessity of respecting cultural and linguistic differences. The tendency, that remains quite alive today, of state interference in promoting an autocephaly that would suit the state’s interests in seen in the cases of both Ukraine and Moldova. State meddling in Church affairs with the intention to cause havoc for the Church is seen in the Bolsheviks’ support of the Renovationists. The examples of the Renovationists and of the Ukrainian Autocephalists demonstrate that, when proactive measures have not been applied by the hierarchs, their reactive measures will not prevent concerned Church members from causing a schism.
It was surprising that the ecclesiastical assembly of the Russian anti-Bolsheviks in Stavropol in 1919 did not result in stalemate between its members. And in 1921 at the Council in Sremski Karlovci, when the monarchist agenda was promoted on behalf of the Church, not one of the delegates publicly opposed it. This Council demonstrated two main dangers of freedom: how to maintain unity abroad and how to find the right vocabulary when speaking about Bolshevik Russia. Following this Council, we already detect voices in the Russian diaspora, like that of Makharoblidze, revealing a patronizing attitude toward the Russian Church in the homeland. Both Churches, in the homeland and in diaspora, started to accumulate different experience and mythologies - their own version of historical events.
Having found himself at the center of the new reality, Patriarch Tikhon could not agree that the Church could not exist without monarchy. The Church was seen by the new Russian authority as a pillar of the empire: “the governors disappeared, but diocesan bishops remained.”[iv] There is no reason to believe that Patriarch Tikhon, Synod and Supreme Church Council were not sincere in Decree 348 (349), writing that the restorationist mood of the First All-Diaspora Council, 1921 did not “reflect the official voice of the Russian Orthodox Church and, which, in light of their political character, do not have ecclesiastical or canonical significance.”[v]An apolitical stance in the spirit of early church apologists[vi]is seen as a natural point of reference for this approach of Patriarch Tikhon: “The Church is not tied to any specific mode of government, but rather up to the people themselves.” The permission given to Churches in similar circumstances to unite in autonomous districts (Decree 362) can also be seen as a return to a pre-Constantinian Church structure.
At the same time, Patriarch Tikhon demonstrated a keen intuition about the limits of church oikonomia: on the one hand he had condescended to the demands of his captors and on the other he served as a figurehead of the Russian Church, granting temporary ecclesiastical autonomies to its units existing in different circumstances such as Kolchak’s Siberia, Petliura’s Ukraine or Romanian controlled Moldova. This was keenly noted by Alexander I. Solzhenitsyn: “At that time the whole weight of those unexpected and somehow not-yet-understood years was laid upon his shoulders – yet not only this weight. At the same time the burden of the sins of all previous Russian ecclesiastical history was becoming apparent.”[vii]
This first five years since the February Revolution of 1917 showed the important reception of the work of All-Russian Council of 1917-1918. All the Councils mentioned above modelled themselves after the All-Russian Council. As it is observed by a modern Russian historian: “At the All-Russian Local Council of 1917-1918 there was an increase in the status of the parish to the basic unit of the municipal government, which acquired a large public potential. Whites saw in the parish an alternative to socialist ideas popular in peasant masses. (…)[viii]” The Parish By-Laws were promoted further in Kyiv and in Sremski Karlovci.
[i]In this definition of symphonia the empire was put on the same level with the Church: “The greatest gifts among men, made by supernal kindness, are the priesthood and sovereignty, of which the former is devoted to things divine, and of which the latter governs human things and has the care thereof. Both proceed from the same beginning and are ornaments of human life.” Annotated Justinian Code. Second Edition. http://www.uwyo.edu/lawlib/blume-justinian/ajc-edition-2/novels/1-40/novel%206_replacement.pdf)
[ii] Acta Patriarchatus Constantinopolitani, M. Mikloshich, I. Muller, eds. 2 (Vienna, 1975), 188-192. Cited from John Meyendorff, Byzantium and the Rise of Russia (Crestwood, NY: 1989), 255.
[iii] In 1721 Emperor Peter the Great replaced the Patriarchate with the Most Holy Governing Synod.
[iv] Theodosius Protsiuk, Obosoblencheskie dvizheniia, 19.
[v] Akty, 193.
[vi] e.g., Athenagoras, who lived in the second century Athens and wrote A Plea for the Christian, where he argued against applying double standards for Christians in civic matters.
[vii]“Letter to the Third Council of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad,” Historical Studies of the Russian Church Abroad, https://www.rocorstudies.org/2012/12/12/letter-to-the-third-council-of-the-russian-orthodox-church-abroad/(Accessed April 3, 2021)
[viii] Iulia A. Biriukova, “Sviashchennik Vladimir Vostokov – uchastnik belogo dvizheniia i osnovatel’ bratstva Zhivotvoriashchego kresta,” Vestnik SFI 34 (2020): 196.