Source: Alexander Palace Time Machine
From “The Light of Russia” by Donald A. Lowrie
(From a rare book published by the YMCA in Prague in 1923. Tikhon was murdered by the Communists soon after the book was published. – Bob Atchison)After the decision to restore the Patriarchate, the most important act of the Sobor was the election of the man to fill that office. In the midst of the three days battle which resulted in the taking of Moscow by the Bolsheviks, the Sobor in orderly sittings earried out the routine it had defined for the election of a Patriarch. This was a minutely detailed procedure based upon the method first employed in 1634 for the election of Joasaf I and followed in the choice of aII subsequent Patriarchs. A secret ballot of all members was taken and the names of those receiving votes tabulated according to the number received. The choice of the Patriarch must be made from the highest three in the list. In this case they were Tikhon, Metropolitan of Moscow, Antonius, Archbishop of Kharkov, and Arsenius, Archbishop of Novgorod. On November 5th, after a solemn service in the Church of the Savior, the three names, carefully sealed in wax rolls of equal size and weight, were placed in an urn and the eldest of the recluse-monks present drew out one name. It proved to be that of Tikhon, whose election was forthwith proclaimed. On November 21st (1917) occurred the solemn consecration in the Cathedral of the Assumption, and a new epoch in Russian church history had begun.
The man chosen to this high office was without question one of the most widely known and loved in all the Russian Church. He had been elected unanimously to the presidency of the Sobor. His appointment a few months earlier to the Metropolitanate of Moscow had simply indicated his prominence in Russian church affairs. The Patriarch is a native of Toropetz, a town near Pskov. His theological education was acquired in the Petrograd Academy, after which he served for three years as instructor in the Pskov Theological Seminary. In 1891 he took the monastic vow and after serving for six years as rector of the seminary in Kholm, he was consecrated Bishop of Lublin. One year later he was appointed Bishop of North America. In 1907 he returned to Russia as Bishop of Jaroslavl and in 1913 he became Bishop of Vilna, from which seat he was called four years later to the Metropolitanate of Moscow.
Patriarch Tikhon’s nine years in America were important ones in the affairs of the Orthodox Church there. During this period the episcopal seat was removed from San Francisco to New York. During this period Bishop Tikhon became Archbishiop Tikhon, the first American Orthodox hierarch to bear that title. These years made a deep impression upon the future Patriarch himself, and as will later be pointed out, the knowledge of the life and religious ideals of American people he acquired there have been very influential in later events in Russia. America has no better friend in Russia than Patriarch Tikhon and he seems especially pleased to maintain his connection with Americans and things American. In view of his unique position and significance for all the Orthodox Church, a brief sketch of the Patriarch as the author last saw him in November 1920, will possibly here be pertinent.
An erect, well-built man in a blaek robe: grey hair and beard which at first glance make him appear older than his fifty-six years: a firm handclasp and kindly eyes with a decided trace of humor and ever a hint of fire in the back of them: those are your first impressions. That, and his beaming smile. The next thing I thought of was how little he had changed in appearance in the two years since I last visited him. He does not look a day older, and his manner, in marked contrast to so many of my friends in Moscow, is just as calm, unhurried and fearless as though he had not passed through two years of terrible uncertainty and stress. He had put on the white silk cowl with its diamond cross and the six – winged angel embroidered above the brow which is the head-dress of the Patriarch on all official oceasions, but he had evidently just been sitting down to tea and the arrival of an old friend dispelled any formality. So in a minute the cope and gown had disappeared and we were sitting beside the samovar in his living room. First the Patriarch wanted to know all about the Church in America. The only recent news he had was a cablegram which had been over a year en route. Then I had to promise to convey his heartiest greetings and special blessing to a number of individuals and to “all American friends” in general. He was most anxious to know if the letter he addressed to President Wilson on Thanksgiving Day, 1918, had ever reached him. In it the Patriarch had expressed his Church’s participation in offering thanks for victory over the powers of evil, and congratulated President Wilson on his fine type of leadership. The letter then went on to speak of the seemingly severe terms imposed upon the enemy, and urged Christian forbearance and the alleviation of the conditions laid down, rather than the creation of a lasting hatred which could but breed more war. No reply was ever received, and the Patriarch was curious to know if it had ever reaehed the President. Later, I tried to get a copy of this letter, but found that all extant copies had been destroyed during a political raid in the home of the Patriarch’s secretary.
All those who know Patriarch Tikhon enjoy his well-developed sense of humor. I believe it is this whieh has helped him retain his poise and cheerfulness through the past three years. I asked him how he had been treated. He told me he had been under “home arrest” for more than a year, had been permitted to go out to conduct service in other churches about once in three months, but aside from this had suffered no personal violence; this in marked contmst to many of the Church’s dignitaries who had been sent to jail or even condemned to execution. “They think”, the Patriarch smilingly remarked, as he patted my hand confidentially, ‘0, he’s an old chap: he’ll die soon….. we won’t bother him’. “Wait and see”, he went on, shaking his finger, schoolmaster-fashion – “I’ll show them, yet”. And the roguish twinkle in his eyes, remarkably young in contrast to his grey hair, gave you confidence that when the present nightmare has cleared in Russia, her Church’s leader will be found ready to take a most active part in the affairs of the new day.
But not a political part: we spoke of several churchmen who had dabbled in politics, and the Patriarch expressed his sorrow and disapproval; ‘What is right and just one may openly approve, and what is evil and unrighteous one must as openly condemn”, he said, “that is the Church’s business. But to meddle with the affairs of secular politics is neither the course of wisdom or of duty for a priest”. “What is the most urgent need of the Orthodox Church which the Christian world outside can supply?” I asked the Patriarch.
“Send us Bibles”, he replied. “Never before in history has there been such a hunger for Scripture in the Russian people. They clamor for the whole book – not only the Gospels but the Old Testament as well – and we have no Bibles to give them. Our slender stocks were exhausted long ago, and our presses have been confiscated, so that we cannot print more”. I assured him that Christians in other lands would doubtless find a way to supply this need.
It happened to be Thanksgiving Day at home, and the Patriarch remembered, and smilingly referred to its being known as “Turkey Day” in an American family he used to visit in New York. This brought on a discussion of American and Russian holidays and this in turn led to an interesting conversation “bout the present religious situation in Russia. At every step in this recital the Patriarch’s clear insight into men and events and his statesmanlike grasp of the affairs of the whole Church were clearly evident. I left him with a renewed conviction of his fitness for the high post he occupies.
Russian Christians believe the choice of the Patriarch was direeted by Divine Providence, and surely Patriarch Tikhon’s career thus far, offers basis for the belief. It would be difficult to imagine a man better fitted, mentally and temperamentally for the peculiarly difficult task of leading the Orthodox Church through these years of disorder and suffering in Russia. His good-humored friendliness, combined with a kindly firmness have become proverbial in the Russian Church. This is even more true of what Russians call his “accessibility”. It is common belief that anyone, be he bishop or priest or the most obseure layman, who has real need of his advice or decision, may get to see the Patriarch.
I recall a small incident which gives point to this statement. One day in 1918, late in the afternoon I called at the Patriarch’s house, by appointment, for in those troubled months the Patriarch was so busy and his presence so much in demand that we used to wonder when he found time for sleep. And as I passed through the hall I noticed a woman in a peasant’s dress, sobbing in a corner. In response to my question she poured out a long story of how some canonicaI difficulty in the marriage of her daughter could only be solved by, the personal decision of the Patriarch. “I’ve been here since early morning”, she said, wiping her eyes, “without eating or drinking, and now they say the Patriarch is home from the Sobor but he is too busy to see me”. The tall servant in the hall, who by the way was also in America with Patriarch Tikhon, told me in English that he felt the Patriareh was too busy with matters of national importance to be troubled with one woman’s private request. Knowing the Patriarch as I did, I ventured to tell him of the petitioner in the hall, and as I left he asked to see her. In some Russian village today there is a peasant family who think Russia’s Patriarch is the kindest man who ever lived.
But these glimpses of fatherly kindness in the leader of the Russian Church must not be allowed to give a one-sided impression. On account of his good nature a Russian writer has compared him to the first Patriarch of Russia, Job. In view of his proven statesmanship and his fearless insistence upon justice as well as the remarkable skill with which he has held the Church together when everything else in Russia was falling into ruin, it seems to me he more nearly resembles Hermogen, whose influence moved so powerfully in unifying and inspiring Russian spirit to throw off the Polish yoke. From the closing of the Sobor in September, 1918, the Patriarch continued its policy of protest against increasing encroachments of civil powers upon church property and church direction. With constantly increasing severity the government punished anyone who questioned or opposed its decrees, so that to make a public protest was something which might bring the gravest personal consequences. The policy of Red Terror had gone into effect. In the face of this, the Patriarch issued his classic Epistle to the “Soviet of People’s Commissars”: – “Whoso taketh a sword shall perish by the sword”, it begins. “The blood of our brothers shed in rivers at your order, cries to Heaven and compels us to speak the bitter words of truth. You have given the people a stone instead of bread, a serpent instead of a fish. You have exchanged Christian love for hatred: in the place of peace you have kindled the flames of class enmity”. A few lines later we read “Is this freedom, when no one may openly speak his mind without danger of being accused as a counterrevolutionary? Where is the freedom of word and press? Where is freedom of church preaching?” The epistle concludes with the formal excommunication of all those connected with the terroristic movements in the government. He is a stern man and a bold one, who can publish such sentences in the face of powerful enemies against whom he has not the slightest physical defence. The Head of the Russian Church has been absolutely fearless in condemning wrong and insisting upon justiee and right.
This boldness, tempered with a well-seasoned moderation, has enabled the Patriarch to maintain his position as leader and center of the whole church organization. With clear consistence he has refrained from interferenee with purely political affairs, save in so far as they touched upon matters of public morals or eommon justice. He is probably the only man of similar importance who was able to speak his mind so freely without punishment by imprisonment or worse, during four years of the Soviet government in Russia. His life during this time has been of the greatest importance to the Russian Church. In his person all Orthodox thinking has centered. His personality has kept alive the spirit of a Church unified in a time when every other institution had gone to pieces. His example has inspired new ideals of religion I and life in the hearts of millions of his people.
Chaotic as these years have been, they have witnessed at the same time a momentous deepening of religious feeling and spirit in Russia. Religion has become in the lives of most people something far more than ever before. What once was more or less formal theory has now been transmuted by the fires of the past four years into vivid reality, into lifeblood to strengthen men and women through boundless hardship. In the old days, one was often charmed by the peculiarly intimate and conscious sense of God shown by a peasant or a workman, something one finds much more rarely in western lands. Now, it is an experience to make one stop and think, to diseover in the lives of the “intelligentsia”, as well, exactly the same vivid certainty of God’s presenee and of the actuality of communion with Him. Is it something they have just learned, in these years of trial, or have they simply rediscovered the sense of God which has been latent all their lives? I think most Russians feel the latter is true, although most of the people I know frankly confess that never before has religion meant so much to them.
The Countess L. is an example of what I mean. As one knew her in the old days she was typical of her elass of the “intelligentsia” in her attitude toward the church and toward religion in general: a mild respect for the feeling of other people in matters religious but a very frank scepticism, at least on the surface, so far as her own interest in religion was concerned. That was three years ago. The reign of terror and the general suffering of these years have not passed her by, and she has undergone such experiences as at once horrify you and inspire you by the heroism exhibited. Today she is a striking personality, who impresses you primarily in a religious way. It is difficult to say what it is about Countess L. which so inspires you, whether it is her serene faith in the goodness of God and the power of prayer, her sincere charity toward those who have caused her so much ill, or the transparently beautiful character which has grown in the midst of so much sorrow. I only know that a talk with her makes one’s own faith seem so small and one’s own religion so puny, that you are driven to a resolve to deepen your own spiritual life, and make it count more than ever before for the service of others.
And although the common folk of Russia have learned much in the past four years, and although many attempts to teach them have had a decidedly anti-religious color, the total new culture has not altered that depth of religious feeling which has already been mentioned. I remember riding with a woman conductor on a freight-train, in 1920, who illustrated this point. She had been telling me of the different train-loads of troops, war prisoners and the like, it had been her fortune to help transfer. Then later we spoke of schools under the Soviet government and she expressed her chief criticism against the fact that no religious instruction was offered. “It’s a bad thing for folks who lose God,” she told me. “So many other people seem to have lost Him of late years. Thank Heaven we in Russia haven’t. Why just last week I had a trainload of Austrian communists and some of them tried to prove to me that there is not any God at all. ‘I don’t want to listen to your talk’, I told them, ‘you don’t act as though you had anything better than the old religion, and you need not talk to me against a God I know”’.
Even where common folk have been led to attempt casting off their faith together with everything else connected with the old life, the success of the assault upon religion has been only superficial. People could be harangued into a superficial acceptance of infidel doctrine, but when the matter actually came to the test, they discovered that the old faith still remained. I know no better illustration of this than an incident in Jaroslavl in Easter week, 1919. The radicals in charge of the town, apparently moved by the notable religious feeling among the populace, called a meeting to discuss religion. Among others, representatives of the clergy were invited. Some of the best communist orators of the district were brought in to present the case against rcligion. First a skillful speaker discussed the “Christ myth”. He explained that simple people had once been easily misled by priests into belief that Jesus was something more than a man, that He had worked miracles, had even risen from the dead. Now while Jesus deserved honor as the first Communist, He was simply a man, and an enlightened and revolutionary people should put “way all their old superstitions about Him. “Long live the Communist Internationale” – and he was fairly well applauded by the people. The second speaker was a Jewess who attacked the ancient stories about the birth of Jesus. When she closed with a statement that Mary was simply a woman of the streets, and nothing more, the applause was somehow less vigorous.
Now it came the turn of the senior priest of the town to present his case. He rose, made the sign of the cross, stood a moment silently facing the erowd and then pronounced the age-old Easter greeting: “Christ is risen.” Without a moment’s hesitation the crowd swayed toward him in reply: “He is risen indeed”. “Christ is risen”! the priest repeated, and the answer came almost before he had pronounced the words. A third time he said it, with” thunderous response from the people, then, waiting a moment, he asked simply, “What more is there to say? Let us go to our homes”, and the anti-religious meeting adjourned. It is this deep-seated sense of religion in the hearts of Russian folk of all classes which has come so mightily to the front in the past four years.
Concomitant with this rise in spiritual values, there has come notably broadened popular interest in any sort of religious instruction. Moscow, in the autumn of 1920, was placarded with posters, practically the only ones visible which were not put up by the government, announcing a series of meetings organized by the Russian Student Christian Movement, with Professor Martsenkoffsky as the chief speaker, all on purely religious themes. “The Way to New Life” and “The Coming Christ” were among other lecture topics. These meetings were held in one of the largest auditoriums in Moscow, and roused such popular interest that eventually the leaders were arrested, lest the movement turn against the government. To one returning to Russia after an absence of two years, it was astonishing to see many churehes open for service every day, with a sermon at each service. In former times, a sermon was a rarity. Most congregations did not care for them, and even those priests who would have been glad to preach were under such restraint from the government that they found it very difficult. A popular lecturer on religious subjects in Petrograd some years ago once remarked that frequently priests who came to his lectures told him how they envied the freedom with which he was allowed to speak of religion. Now the whole picture is changed, people demand sermons, and sermons of the most practical character. The few specimens which have gotten into Russia of such books as Fosdick’s with their very modern application of Christian teaching to everyday Jife, have been fairly worn out, passed from hand to hand by people eagerly seeking guidance in this new comprehension of religion. And priests have risen to meet this need, speaking truth in vigorous style, often at the risk of the gravest personal consequences. Sermons are no longer the pious, half-sentimental homilies such as one used to hear, and as are sometimes encountered today in old-fashioned churches in Europe or America, but open, direct instruction in the duty of Christian living. One of the most striking changes in the Russian Church in the past four years is that of clergy who practicalIy never prepared a sermon, now metamorphosed into a body of fearless preachers of the Gospel.
This same interest in religion is again exhibited in the universal demand for Scripture. I have mentioned the Patriarch’s opinion on the matter. The same situation persists everywhere. Two different women, one a lady formerly of high estate and the other a working girl, told me in Russia how they had been unable to buy a Bible. Red Army troops returning after eight months internment in Germany, begged relief agencies at the border for some bit of Scripture to take back into Russia with them. A talk with Father Hotovitsky brought out the same hunger for the Book, of which the Patriarch spoke. Three months later a British commercial agent, with no special interest in religious teaching, brought out another formal request from representatives of both the Orthodox Church and the Tolstoyan movement for assistance in procuring copies of the Bible for distribution. The fever of interest in Scripture which swept through peasant Germany at the dawn of the Reformation seems to have found a modern-day counterpart in Russia. Here however the Church, instead of attempting to suppress the spread of the Book, is the chief agency urging its use, and asking aid of foreign Bible Societies in producing the Scriptures which it eannot itself print since the confiscation of all its publishing plants. This hunger for Scripture is another indication of the new interest and meaning which religion has for all sorts of people in Russia since the Revolution.
It is also interesting to see how inevitably people connect their new-found religion with the old Church. To me this has been a new proof of the inherent vitality of Russian Orthodoxy, in this as in other times of crisis. The churches are crowded, and the worship in them is if anything more devout than before, but one senses a new spirit of comprehension, of the practicability of faith, if the term may be applied, which was not generally present four years ago. To be sure, there may be emotional or sentimental elements in this. One woman told me: “The church is the only place where one can get away from the terrible existence we must endure”. Another person, thinking along the same line, said: “O, Russia isn’t Russia any more; the only place you can feel at home is in church”. Be that as it may, the Church itself has made great advances in adapting itself to the newly apparent needs of its people, and religion as preached daily in its sanctuary has a new meaning for Russia. Take the purely external alterations, for example.
One of the differences from old times which immediately strikes a visitor in present-day Russia are the posters at the church door. Here is one announcing congregational singing-practice; another lists the services for the week, and you are surprised to note that there is a service with a sermon every day. Another gives notice of a special collection for a choir-director and a fourth, perhaps, appeals to all members to remain after this morning’s service and help put in place the mats which are used in winter to cover the cold pavement. In the congregation the men are surprisingly predominant, many of them wearing Red Army insignia. You notice that while people are constantly entering the chureh, as in the old days, there are practically none leaving it, a phase of church service which was always very disconcerting to a western visitor in a Russian church before the Revolution. Now people come and stay for the entire service, especially the sermon, an institution which in the last few months (autumn 1921) has become, except for government deliverance, the most liberal and fearless public utteranee to be heard. In general, the preachers confine themselves and their remarks pretty well within the limits set by the Patriarch in his quoted statement regarding the political activity of priests, but within these limits there has been the most vigorous, speaking of the “bitter truth”. The preaching priesthood has attained a new respect in the eyes of Orthodox people, through the power of the spoken word.
The anecdote I heard in Moscow about Father Hotovitsky, of the Church of the Savior is indicative of the sort of priests here mentioned. There is probably no more remarkable preacher in Russia than Father Hotovitsky. His sermons are very modern both in their theology and in their practical application. He was drawn into a discussion with Lunacharsky, Commissar of Education, on the omnipresence of God. “You say that God is everywhere”, Lunacharsky told him. “Now you will surely admit that one could imagine a small box somewhere without God’s being in the box”. “But why suppose an imaginary box”, Hotovitsky retorted, when we have you, Mr. Commissar?”
Easter, 1921, in Moscow was another indication of the present position of the Church. The Patriarch was released from his “home arrest” to officiate at the midnight service in the Church of the Savior. But even that great temple, accomodating ten thousand people, was utterly inadequate to serve the crowd which came. The whole of the grand square about the church was flooded with worshippers and several extra services were conducted simultaneously, in the open air, to meet the exigencies of the occasion. One very significant item about this service was the insistence of the people that it should occur at midnight by sun time, instead of by the daylight-saving chronometry of the Soviet government. So while the street clocks of Communist regime marked three-thirty a. m., the Orthodox people of Moscow celebrated” midnight service at midnight as the sun indicates time.
There is much more to be said of religious life in Russia today. These paragraphs have merely hinted at what will some day require volumes properly to outline and portray, but they will perhaps have indieated the remarkably deepened spirituality of these present times in Russia, with religion a more vital reality in the lives of all classes than ever before, with this new spiritual life manifesting itself in a keen interest in religious discussion and literature, with the old Church rising to meet the newly awakened needs of its people.
These needs present far more searching problems than merely those of organization or of church discipline. The new day in Russia demands new modes of thought, even new phases of religion. By its preaching the Church must endeavor to guide the thinking of its people as they grope their way in the dazzling light of a freedom they were as unprepared for as owls for sunshine. The Byzantine elements in religion, emphasizing the mystic in the teaching about Christ, and the less positive than negative attitude toward joyous activity, must gradually give part of their place to more modern ideas of the Christian conquest, the blessedness of Christian service, the reality of Jesus’ comradeship. This is not to say that the past as a whole is to be sloughed off like an outgrown shell. Such elements as the beautiful humility which has characterized Russian Christianity for so many centuries, or the mysticism in devotion which is one of its greatest charms, must not be permitted to fade from the picture. Rather, the idea of activity, of service for Christ who is living and loving men must be engrafted into the old stock, re. taining all the beauty and usefulness of the old, but providing a combination of religious thought better fitted to meet present-day needs. These ideas must be embodied in the homiletics of the new Russia.
Such preaching you may hear in Russian churches today sermons by Russian priests. A Westerner would never be able to produce the desired result: he would be too brusque, too positive, too little able actually to get within the Russian religious thought of the past generations. Among American Protestants there have been numerous volunteers to go and “Christianize” Russia – they may better remain at home and preach to folk whose temperament and background they ean comprehend. In Russia they would shout to unresponsive listeners. The Orthodox Church wishes every aid other Christian bodies can give it, but its preaching must be done by Russians if it is to appeal to the Russian mind.
With a rising culture in Russia, another age-old custom of Orthodoxy may come up for consideration. What will be the future of the holy pictures (ikons) of Russia? There are those who think ikons will gradually disappear from the service. If they do, it will be in the distant future. But even in these post-revolutionary years, events have often shaped themselves in a way to bring forcibly to mind the actual inconsequentiality of “holy” things and “holy” pictures. Popular feeling has revolted at cinematograph photos of the desceration of a shrine like that of Saint Sergius, but at the same time the half-unconscious impression has been made that the place or the relics are in themselves of small real worth to a Christian. The priceless treasures adorning some specially-revered ikon have been stolen and the century-old sanctity of the holy picture violated. And folk, half unknowingly, begin to take less interest in the ancient painting. It is somehow discovered to be not so efficacious as an aid to Christian living. Are these indications of the future? Perhaps, but with a custom as ancient as the usage of ikons in the Orthodox Church, alterations will be made but slowly. If the question may be called a problem at all, it is surely a secondary one. It is so unimportant in comparison with the new developments in religious thinking and comprehension that while the topic will interest future students of Russian life, it need not further occupy us here.
There are educational problems for the Church to face, as well as theological. How shall it provide a body of clergy with a training adequate to meet the demands of its membership, especially in times like the present when church schools of all sorts are quite eliminated from the government’s list of possibilities? This is one of the most immediate problems the Church has to solve. Up to now a general solution has not been discovered, the chief reliance at present being a return to the ancient custom of training young men in each church, a sort of apprentice-system for the priesthood. The ranks of the clergy have also been augmented by the ordination of many religiously minded laymen with suitable education. Although perhaps nothing better. is possible just now, both of these schemes have their serious deficiences, of course, and the Church’s leaders are keenly alive to the situation. The future will doubtless discover effective means to provide an adequately trained clergy. But the Churech’s efforts along educational lines are not to be limited to the training of priests. The Church has gone vigorously about the task of providing a substitute for its parish schools, and organizations of various sorts among the congregations have opened religious instruction for all the church membership. Bible-study groups and something like our American mid-week prayer meetings have appeared. Preaching missions to the villages have been encouraged. The Church has given its support to other than strictly ecclesiastical movements for the spread of religious instruction.
And not purely religious education alone, has received the support of’ the Church. As in former times, so now it is anxious to cooperate with every worthy ageney working for the general cultural uplift of Russia. The Patriarch’s open letter, prepared to accompany a rural-education expedition, is an example of the attitude of the Orthodox Church toward all sincere efforts for the well-being of Russia:
“The Young Men’s Christian Association is undertaking the support of a series of movements having for their object the improvement of the moral atmosphere of Russian life, the preaching of God’s Word and, abstaining from politics, cooperation with Russian educational and economic improvement societies.
“With this object in view, an expedition is proposed with a special steamer on the Volga, stopping at different villages and landings. On this boat there are to be lectures on agriculture and other topics valuable for popular education, also short religious services with appropriate moral instruction by Orthodox priests.
“Sympathizing with everything whieh may be helpful, materially or morally, to our Russian people, we hereby confer our blessing upon the organizers of this good work, praying God’s aid for its successful accomplishment.
(Signed) Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia.”
The content of such an epistle evidences the remarkably modern position which this ancient Church has assumed in the face of the modern educational requirements of its people.
The widespread demand, already noted, for the Bible, indicates another line of development where the Orthodox Church has to blaze away. Although the Church has used and taught the Gospels and the New Testament generally, until Leroy-Beaulieu could write that “the Gospels are undoubtedly the book dearest to the Russian”, the Old Testament has been very little known, hence the Church faces just now an interest in Scripture study quite unprecedented in its history. And again the need evidenees itself for a transition from the old. mystic usage of Scripture to a vitalizing praetical study, relating with ever-growing distinctness the life-giving Book to life itself.
Realizing the need for expert direction in the religious life of his Church, one of Patriareh Tikhon’s first official acts was to call from New York Father Hotovitsky who for some years in America had been specializing on church organization, young people’s work and the like. As early as the autumn of 1918 parish organizations similar to the “Brotherhoods” in many American churches, had begun to make their appearance. They were followed by women’s organizations with the object of Bible study as well as assistance in church maintenance. Children’s, particularly boys’ groups. have been formed, until today in Russia thousands of congregations have one or more organized clubs of women, men or young people, existing for self-help in religious and moral edueation, and for helping others along the same lines. The preaching missions already mentioned, whieh from time to time have gone from city centers out into the villages, have been another evidence of the Church’s capacity to cope with this need for a more general edueation in practical religion.
Surely the history of the Church since the revolution offers a guarantee for its future place in the life of the Russian people. During times when all other phases of national life and organization were dissolved in a national disorder sueh as no other country of modern times has experienced, merely to have held itself together in unbroken unity would have been a performance worthy of the world’s notice. This the Church has done, but beyond that it has sueeeeded, in the faee of all the forces striving for its dissolution, in building for itself a new form of organization and government, with principles of democratic control such as it had never known before. In the Patriarchate. which as has been seen is not a restoration of the old autocracy or a centralization of authority in one person, the Church has found for itself a new center around which it has crystallized a firm unity.
In establishing the principle of coneiliar management, with democratic legislative bodies representing all classes of the people, men and women, clergy and lay, it has provided a form of government which harmonizes with the best progressive spirit of the Russian world. The Church has remodelled its administration to meet the new situation.
It has revised its services as well, so that now as never before the services in its sanctuaries are not merely for the people, but of the people. The new economic conditions have helped to bring each communicant into a position of participation in the affairs of his parish. The management of parish business by a committee chosen by the people has given them a new sense of responsibility for their Church. The introduction of congregational singing and the entirely new emphasis upon preaehing brings worship into a new phase of actual commonality. All the people are participants in the services, and these services are so ordered as to meet the marvellously new interest in practical religion whieh exists throughout Russia today.
These, changes the Church has made in itself in, order to minister to the new needs of the Russian people are simply what might have been expected in the light of its historic past. When Christianity first dawned in Russia, it was the Church which spread the light of learning and the acceptance of Christian morality throughout the land. When much of the old order was dissolved in the two hundred years Russia bowed beneath the Tatar yoke it was the Church again which offered a rallying point and actually inspired the effort which threw off the Asiatic tyranny. It was the Church under Hermogen, in the “Troublous Times”, which kept alive the spark of patriotism, for Russians always linked in an indissoluble way with the idea of Orthodoxy, and the glorious defence of the Sergievskaya Lavra marked a new turning point in Russian national affairs, with the Church in the leader’s role. In the light of the Chureh’s glorious past, when in every time of national crisis it has somehow maintained not only its own unity, but has been the center around which the spirit of the nation could rally, is it unduly optimistic to suggest that in our day we are witnessing another repetition of history! Surely the events of the past five years, with the Church as the only organization whieh still exists, standing like a temple miraculously preserved amid a city devastated by fire, offer ground for the belief that the Church in Russia will not belie its past performances. It is not only preserved amidst general ruin, but it has purged itself of the evils which a time of servitude had fastened upon it, remodelled its forms of government and worship, and ministers today to the needs of Russian people with a eompleteness it has never before known.
And if the history of the past offers bright hope for the future of the Orthodox Church, just as truly does the personality of the men who are guiding its affairs in the present. What has been said of the liberality and breadth of mind of the Patriarch, of his keen appreciation of the needs of Russian Christianity today and the measures the Church must take to meet them, is typical of the church leaders who form his immediate circle of advisers. It is no exaggeration to say that the most able and the most liberal men in the Orthodox Church are guiding its present efforts. Perhaps the fact is significant that many of them, like Patriarch Tikhon himself, have spent some years in America, where acquaintance has been gained with western religious ideals and practice. Father Hotovitsky using his knowledge of young people’s organizations in America to build up throughout the Russian Church similar groups, or Bishop Anatolii of Tomsk who even before the assembly of the Sobor began parochial organizations modelled after those he had known in America, are outstanding examples of the progressive leadership in the Orthodox Church today. Besides forming one of the strongest possible ties of friendship with America, these will by the very fact of their acquaintance with life in our country are bound to be of most valuable service in bringing the Russian Church up to the new and lofty standards she has set for herself. Their background of acquaintance with Western ideals of religion is likely to be of large influenee in the progress of the Church of Russia.
As these men go forward in the work of leading Russian Christianity out along lines of freer activity and more vital religion, they are looking to the Christians of other lands for support and assistance. It would be difficult to imagine an organization more truly desirous of learning from the best in others, of profiting by experience along the same paths it has laid out for itself, than is the Russian Church. It confidently expects that Christians of other nations will gladly offer whatever assistance is within their power. What contributions can members of other Christian confessions make toward the progress of Christianity in Russia?
To be of service to the Church of Russia, Christians of the West must first cultivate aequaintance with it. A study of its ideals and its history, a genuine effort to appreciate all that is valuable in its past and present – these must first lead us to a sincere recognition of the breadth and depth of Russian Christianity. Study its literature; if possible become familiar with its service. There are many Russian churches in America where one may begin this helpful acquaintance and any sincerely friendly approach will be met with equal friendliness.
Practical aid may be extended in the provision of books. The whole realm of our modern religious literature may be opened to Russia: educational courses for use in church schools and organized Bible-study groups will be eagerly utilized. Such books as homiletical aids, guild and society handbooks, would be most useful if translated and adapted to modern Russian conditions. The best religious thought of the modern West should be put at Russia’s disposal by translation and publication in Russian. In the interval until the Church is again in a position to publish the Bible and portions of it for itself, the other Christian communions will find it difficult to turn a deaf ear to the appeals of both the Church and the Russian people for copies of the Word of God. Cooperation should be encouraged along all lines of religious endeavor and all our own experience in religious organization and method should be open for the use of the Russian Church. They seek our aid, and we must not withhold it.
Any such assistance offered to Russia by Western Christianity will be welcomed with open arms, and if the suggestions here contained are borne in mind there will be no possibility for misunderstanding. Once a thorough appreeiation of the essential “Russianity” of the Orthodox Church is established, there will be no misguided efforts to help Russian Christianity through the propagation of other forms of church organization or sectarian propaganda. What Western Christianity gives to Russia must be given through the Orthodox Church and not in any sort of opposition to or competition with it. A church which regardless of the barriers of distance and language, has prayed daily for a thousand years for “the welfare of God’s ehurches and the union of them all” will welcome every sincerely friendly approach from other Christian bodies.
In all this talk of efforts toward the rapprochement of other Christian bodies to the Russian Church, and methods of extending aid in these trying years, one possibility overtops all the rest. We must cultivate acquaintance with the Orthodox Church and personal contact with its leaders. We must learn to appreciate the beauty and value in its worship and its teaching. We must realize that the Russian Church is essentially indigenous and adapt to that cardinal fact our efforts at effective assistance. We should put at its disposal the best of our modern religious thought in the form of books and periodicals. These are particularly vital for those Americans who go to Russia or who are directing the home churches. To all Christians at home, however, there remains the privilege of all Christians everywhere, that of intercession. It is doubtful if anywhere in the Christian world today there is a more vital belief in the value of prayer, than in Russia. When the Russian Church asks for our prayers, the request is more than an empty formality. Russia believes, she knows from experience, how the power of God may be invoked, and her people confidently expect the prayer support of Christians of other lands. In the midst of the terrible uncertainty of the summer of 1918, when no one dared plan anything more than a few days in advance, and even the Sobor carried on its orderly deliberations only in the face of unbelievable hindrances, the proclamation of President Wilson appointing “a day of humiliation, prayer and fasting” made a deep impression upon the leaders of the Russian Church. The feeling of the Patriarch is evident in his letter, written at that time, to his friend Dr. Mott, as one of the leaders among the Christian forces of America:
“It was with especial sympathy that we together with all believing Russians heard that the members of the churches of God in America. had been assembled by your President and ehurch leaders in the houses of God Memorial Day to fast and pray for peace among the nations at war. We also recall with deep gratitude the friendly feelings repeatedly expressed by your President toward Russia.
“It would comfort us to know that the Christians of America will continue to remember our Russian Church and people in their prayers. We would feel deeply grateful if you could express to the Christian people in America our profound desire for their intercession, especially at this crisis in Russia. We are conscious in this dark hour that the moral support and prayers of all Christendom are vital for the rebuilding of Russia through Christ to her former strength”.
The head of Russia’s Church is here expressing the feeling of most of its leaders and millions of its people. Such a letter brings an almost irresistible appeal. As the old Church of Russia moves out into new fields of service for a people rising to the ideals of a modern world, may Christians of the West be not unmindful of this desire for their prayer-support. Joining in its age-old prayer for the welfare of all God’s churches, may we open our thought to every means of eooperation and assistance for the Church of Russia.