A SHORT HISTORY OF THE RTOC
The Russian True Orthodox Church (its other name is the Catacomb Church) began its organized existence as a branch of the Local Russian Church at the end of the 1920s – beginning of the 1930s as a result of the refusal of the majority of the episcopate and clergy of the Russian Church to cooperate with the communist God-fighting regime in the USSR. The pro-renovationist group headed by Metropolitan Sergius (Stragorodsky) did cooperate with it. From that time, as a result of the schism caused by Metropolitan Sergius under the leadership of the organs of the OGPU-NKVD [KGB], there existed in parallel in the USSR an official (“Soviet” or “red”) church, which in 1943, under orders from Stalin, was registered as “the Moscow Patriarchate”, and the Russian True Orthodox Church (TOC), which was independent of the God-fighting regime. The latter, as a result of cruel repressions and persecutions, was forced to change over to an illegal form of service, hence its other name – the Catacomb Church.
The Catacomb Church, as a branch of the once united Local Russian Church is also called “Tikhonite” from the name of his Holiness Patriarch Tikhon (Bellavin, +1925).
The canonical basis of the Russian True Orthodox Church is the Decree of his Holiness Patriarch Tikhon number 362 dated November 7/20, 1920. The holy Hierarch Tikhon was the last lawful patriarch of the Russian Church, being elected by the All-Russian Local Council that expressed the whole fullness of the Russian Church.
The holy Patriarch Tikhon prophetically envisaged two forms of church administration in the Russian Church.
The first was expressed in the Patriarchal Will of December 25 / January 7, 1924 / 1925, which was published immediately after the enigmatic death of his Holiness. Understanding that the God-fighters were aiming at the complete annihilation of the True Church of Christ, and that after his death they would not allow a free Local Council to be convened for the election of a new lawful Patriarch, and in this way would deprive the Russian Church of a canonical head, the holy Patriarch Tikhon, in accordance with the decision of the Local Council of 1917-1918 appointed Locum Tenentes of the Patriarchal Throne: Metropolitans Cyril (Smirnov) of Kazan (later one of the founding fathers of the Catacomb Church), Agathangelus (Preobrazhensky) of Yaroslavl and Peter (Polyansky) of Krutitsa. In the will the special qualification was made that if Metropolitan Cyril, for reasons not dependent on himself, would not have the possibility of entering into the rights of Locum Tenens, then his place was to be taken by Metropolitan Agathangelus. But if neither Metropolitan Cyril nor Metropolitan Agathangelus would be able to do this, then Metropolitan Peter would be obliged to enter into the rights of Locum Tenens. As is well-known, Metropolitans Cyril and Agathangelus were arrested by the God-fighters, in connection with which, in accordance with the Will of the Holy Patriarch, it came to Metropolitan Peter to take up the heavy cross of the service of First Hierarch. In conditions of persecution, and sensing his imminent arrest, Metropolitan Peter appointed temporary deputies for himself, one of whom was the Holy Hieromartyr Joseph (Petrovykh, +1937) of Petrograd, one of the founding fathers of the Catacomb Church.
The main purpose of introducing a temporary form of administering the Church – the Locum Tenentes and their deputies – was to convene at the first opportunity a free Council to elect a new canonical Patriarch and re-establish lawful authority in the Russian Church. Such a secret Council was carried out de facto in 1926 through the collection of the signatures of all the Orthodox hierarchs. More than 70 bishops of the Russian Church voted for the holy Metropolitan Cyril (Smirnov, +1937) of Kazan as the new Patriarch. However, the conciliar expression of the will of the episcopate of the Russian Church was not realized in life because of the counter-actions of the God-fighting authorities. Practically all the bishops who voted for the candidature of Metropolitan Cyril were arrested and ended their lives in prisons and camps. Very soon, with the cooperation of the OGPU, Metropolitan Sergius (Stragorodsky) usurped ecclesiastical power, from which there began the sergianist schism in the Russian Church.
Having of his own will formed a so-called “temporary synod”, in 1927 Metropolitan Sergius published an apostate declaration, whereby he legitimized the God-fighting communist regime in the name of the whole Russian Church and declared its “joys and sorrows” to be “the joys and sorrows of the Church”. In the opinion of the majority of the bishops of the Russian Church, the organs of the OGPU had, by the hands of Metropolitan Sergius, created a “neo-renovationist schism”. Power in the Church, according to the plot of the OGPU, now had to pass to former renovationists like Metropolitan Sergius (Stragorodsky), Metropolitan Alexis (Simansky) and others.
Foreseeing such a tragic turn of events, the holy Patriarch Tikhon prophetically envisaged another form of ecclesiastical administration in the Russian Church – in the case of the cessation of the activity of the lawful of the Higher Church Administration. This form was envisaged by the Decree of the holy Patriarch Tikhon number 362 dated November 7/20, 1920, on the basis of which there arose the Catacomb True Orthodox Church in the Homeland and the Russian Church Abroad.
The essence of the Decree of the holy Patriarch comes down to the following: in the case of the cessation of the activity of the lawful Higher Church Administration of the Russian Church, the ruling diocesan bishop enters into relations with the Hierarchs of neighbouring dioceses in order to organize a higher instance of ecclesiastical authority for several dioceses that are in identical circumstances (in the form either of a Temporary Higher Church Administration or a metropolitan district or something else again), and in the case of the absence of hierarchs with which to enter into communion, the diocesan bishop passes over to self-administration and takes upon himself the whole fullness of power in his Diocese until the formation of a free ecclesiastical administration. But in the case of “the extreme disorganization of ecclesiastical life, when some people and parishes cease to recognize the authority of the diocesan Hierarch,” it says in the Decree, “the latter does not remove from himself his hierarchical rights, but organizes parishes from the people who have remained faithful to him, and out of parishes – deaneries and dioceses, allowing them, where necessary, to carry out Divine services even in private houses and other establishments fitted out for this purpose, and breaking ecclesiastical communion with the disobedient.”
This form of ecclesiastical administration took place already during the life of the holy Patriarch Tikhon, while his deputy Metropolitan Agathangelus in his epistle of June 5/18, 1922 told all the hierarchs to go over to Decree number 362.
Life confirmed the prophetic wisdom of this Decree. After the arrest of the Locum Tenens of the Patriarchal Throne Metropolitan Peter, the “Higher Church Administration” of Metropolitan Sergius handed the Church of Christ into the power of the God-fighters. It was rejected by the majority of True Orthodox archpastors, clergy and believers, including the two candidates for the locum tenancy indicated by the holy Patriarch Tikhon, Metropolitans Cyril of Kazan and Agathangelus of Yaroslavl, and also the acting Locum Tenens himself, Metropolitan Peter of Krutitsa, who was then in prison, and his deputies Metropolitan Joseph of Petrograd and Archbishop Seraphim of Uglich. The majority of the bishops of the Russian Church did not enter into communion with the pro-renovationist ecclesiastical administration of Metropolitan Sergius; taking the Decree number 362 of the holy Patriarch Tikhon as their canonical foundation, they laid the beginnings of the Catacomb Russian True Orthodox Church in the Homeland. In a letter to Archbishop Demetrius (Lyubimov) of Gdov, Metropolitan Joseph (Petrovykh) of Petrograd wrote that by the beginning of 1928 26 bishops had separated from Metropolitan Sergius. By the middle of the 30s they numbered more than 50.
The Russian Orthodox hierarchs in exile acted in an analogical way. On the basis of Decree number 362 they organized a “Higher Church Administration of the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile” (later transformed into a Synod), and thereby laid the beginnings of the Church Abroad as a self-governing part of the Russian Church.
Insofar as there does not exist a Higher Church Administration for the whole fullness of the Russian Church in the Homeland to this day, Decree number 362 has correspondingly continued to preserve its canonical force. Not one of the now-existing temporary church administrations, whether in the Homeland or abroad, is entitled to rescind it. To this day this prophetic Decree of the Holy Patriarch Tikhon is the unshakeable basis and foundation on which the canonical building of our part of the once united Russian Local Church – the Russian True Orthodox Church – is built.
After the publication of Metropolitan Sergius’ Declaration in 1927 and the creation of a schism, the organs of the OGPU-NKVD began repressions against the True Orthodox hierarchy and clergy with renewed force. The main basis for the mass arrests of bishops and priests was now their relationship to the Declaration and synod of Metropolitan Sergius.
Just as, in its time, the commemoration of the name of the Holy Patriarch Tikhon during Divine services and the non-recognition of the renovationist schism served for the Bolsheviks as a reason for condemning their victims to execution or exile, so now for the non-commemoration of the Soviet Metropolitan Sergius and the non-recognition of his Declaration and the neo-renovationist schism caused by him hundreds of thousands of True Orthodox pastors and flock received crowns of martyrdom. In this period of the history of the Russian Church, the period of the great betrayal carried out in Her very depths, a whole array of new martyrs suffered for the Truth of Christ. The Declaration of Metropolitan Sergius not only did not save from torments, but served as a reason and cause of the intensification of persecutions and repressions. In 1929 alone more than 20 bishops who had separated from Metropolitan Sergius were arrested, and yet the persecutions of the True Orthodox Church had only just begun in those years.
From the beginning of the 1930s, the True Orthodox hierarchs, being in camps and prisons, began to call on the Orthodox people to depart into the catacombs after the example of the early Christians. By the end of the 1930s, which coincided with the peak of repressions against the True Orthodox Church, all the True Orthodox priests and believers who remained alive and in freedom were compelled to depart into the deep underground.
In these terrible years practically all the hierarchs and the majority of the priests who were faithful to the Truth were arrested. They all received martyrdom for Christ and True Orthodoxy.
As a result of the most cruel persecutions and repression in the USSR the True Orthodox Church, going into the catacombs and applying the Decree number 362 of the Holy Patriarch Tikhon, de facto ceased its external existence as an “administrative institution”. This gave the God-fighters a reason to affirm officially that the True Orthodox Church in the USSR no longer existed. However, the Church is where the Eucharist is celebrated, not where there are external forms of organization. And the Eucharist never ceased to be celebrated in the communities of the TOC during all the years of the God-fighting communist regime, and it is celebrated to this day. Not having any external ecclesiastical structure, the True Orthodox Church of Christ continued to carry out is confessing service in hiding in the underground, which is why another name for it emerged – the Catacomb Church. In conditions of concealment it was impossible to have a centralized structure. As in the first centuries of Christianity, the True Orthodox Church consisted of catacomb communities scattered across the whole of the USSR, united not administratively but by the confession of the faith, spiritually, in the Eucharist, which is why she acquired such a responsible name – the True Orthodox Church.
This situation is not normal. The absence of an administrative institution was temporary, conditioned by persecutions and the catacomb situation of the Church in the USSR.
By the end of the 1950s, as a result of the systematic politics of the God-fighting regime, the canonical episcopate of the TOC was completely destroyed by the Bolsheviks. The last canonical hierarch and de facto first-hierarch of the TOC was Schema-Bishop Peter (Ladygin, +1957), after the death of whom the hierarchy in the Catacomb Church was cut off.
By that time there still remained many canonical catacomb priests who had an old Tikhonite-Josephite ordination in the USSR. As a result of the persecutions they remained without archpastoral care. These catacomb pastor-confessors maintained secret communion between themselves, as did the flock who remained faithful to them. In their persons the genuine secret True Orthodox Church of Russia was preserved.
If before the Second World War the centre of the True Orthodox Church was Petrograd, after the war it lost its significance. After very severe repressions and clean-ups in Petrograd not a single catacomb priest remained. The illegal centre of the TOC moved to Voronezh, where in the 1930s the ruling hierarch had been Bishop Alexis (Buy), who had been appointed at the Hierarchical Conference of the TOC in Petrograd in 1928 as the administrator of all the Josephite parishes in the south of Russia and as carrying out the duties of the Exarch of the Ukraine. In this region after the war the position of the TOC was strongest, in connection with which, after the destruction of the centres of the TOC in Petrograd, Moscow and other cities, the special attention of the organs of the NKVD-MGB was directed to the Central Black Earth region of Russia. But in spite of many arrests and deportations of True Orthodox Christians in the second half of the 1940s, they did not succeed in annihilating the TOC in this region.
Until 1955 the Voronezh catacombniks were led by Archimandrite Nicanor (Sturov), who had a blessing from the Holy Patriarch Tikhon to receive people into Orthodoxy from all the schisms. In 1929 Archbishop Demetrius (Lyubimov) had put him forward as a candidate for the secret episcopate of the TOC, but the ordination did not take place. After his death from the middle of the 1950s the communities in Voronezh province were led by Hieromonk Hilarion (Protopriest John Andreyevsky), who had been appointed in 1925 as the spiritual father of repentant renovationist clergy with the right to unite them to the Church. In 1928 he was one of the initiators of the union of the clergy of Voronezh diocese with Metropolitan Joseph of Petrograd.
Endowed with the Episcopal Blessing of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, Fr. Hilarion in the post-war years re-established the Voronezh Centre of Administration of the TOC. In communion with him were the catacomb confessors Protopriest Michael Rozhdestvensky from Petrograd, Archimandrite Alexander from Michurinsk, Hieromonk Timothy (Nesgovorov), Hieromonk Vissarion (Markov, in schema Seraphim) from Tambov, Hieromonk Philaret (Metan) from Sumsk province, Hieromonk Theodore (Rafanovich) from Gomel province, Fr. Vladimir Veselovsky from Kiev, Fr. Nicetas Lekhan from Kharkov and many others. Fr Hilarion had the blessing of the Tikhonite bishops to accept people from any schism, and to unite priests to the True Orthodox Church through repentance. For this reason catacomb priests turned to him for a blessing from the whole of Russia, and he united many to the TOC from the schisms, including from the MP. Others turned to him for monastic tonsure: Fr. Hilarion tonsured Fr. Onubius (Kapinus) as a schema-monk with the name Ambrose, Fr. John from Tula with the name Hilarion, Fr. John Sklyarov with the name Ignatius and many others.
One week before his righteous death Elder Hilarion called Schema-Hieromonk Ambrose (Kapinus) to himself. He had been a colonel in the White army, and had been secretly ordained in 1929 in Petrograd by one of the hierarchs of the TOC, Archbishop Demetrius (Lyubimov). He addressed him with the words: “Since the day of the schism in the Church, canonical Orthodoxy has not been broken off, this golden thread is alive. I transfer all Church affairs to you until the appearance of an Orthodox bishop. But you must look for one!” And then he put his cross on Fr. Ambrose. Under his leadership there were several secret conferences of the clergy of the TOC in Voronezh. They discussed vital questions of Church life, in particular, the establishment of communion with ROCOR.
These pastors of the genuine Tikhonite Catacomb Church who remained after the death of Schema-Bishop Peter (Ladygin, +1957) without any canonical Episcopal care constantly undertook searches for a truly Orthodox Hierarch. However, instead of such they often came up only with adventurers, self-called people or provocateurs. By that time there were no active canonical bishops of the TOC still alive.
The catacomb clergy made efforts to persuade bishops from the official church to join the TOC. However, these attempts were not crowned with success. For example, in the middle of the 1960s the monk Lazarus (Zhurbenko), on the recommendation of Archbishop Leontius (Filippovich) of Chile, was sent by the catacomb clergy to negotiate with the disgraced MP hierarch Hermogen (Golubev), who had been “retired” by order of the Moscow Patriarch to the Zhirovitsky monastery in Belorussia. However, although Archbishop Hermogen respected the Catacomb Church, he refused to join Her out of fear that because of him it would be easier for the KGB to purge and finally annihilate the TOC.
Since they did not succeed in finding canonical bishops of Tikhonite-Josephite succession, by the beginning of the 1960s the number of old clergy in the Catacomb Church began to decline noticeably (the old batyushkas were dying, while there was nobody to ordain new ones), and secret communities of the TOC in many regions of the country found themselves completely without pastoral care, in a position of so-called “acephaly”. The True Orthodox Christians in many places were dying without confession and communion, burials were carried out without priestly funerals, babies remained without chrismation. This situation threatened to condemn the TOC to degeneration into sectarianism, priestlessness, and even extinction.
Trying to find a way out of the crisis, the remaining Catacomb clergy of the TOC began to form links with ROCOR. At the beginning of the 1960s the catacomb confessor and monk Theodosius Zhurbenko (the future Archbishop Lazarus, President of the Synod of the RTOC), who spent five years in Stalin’s camps “for belonging to the TOC”, established a link with ROCOR and maintained it for a long time. Now, with the blessing of the catacomb elders, and risking his own life, he carried out the very dangerous for those times obedience of messenger. Contact was established through the Athonite Archimandrite Eugene (Zhukov). By means of coded correspondence many widowed True Orthodox pastors and believers had communion through Monk Theodosius with ROCOR Archbishop Leontius (Filippovich) of Chile, through whom spiritual direction and communion of the TOC was realized with the Russian Church Abroad.
After establishing the correspondence, Archbishop Leontius took an active part in the life of the clergy and flock of the Catacomb Church. He secretly received under his omophorion many catacomb priests. In the widowed Catacomb Church in the Homeland the True Orthodox clergy and believers began to consider Archbishop Leontius to be their kir-hierarch. Thus in the 1960s, thanks to the efforts of the future catacomb Archbishop Lazarus, secret spiritual communion was established between the widowed Catacomb TOC in the Homeland and ROCOR, and in the TOC – the commemoration of the first-hierarchs of ROCOR.
It is noteworthy that it was precisely through Archbishop Leontius that invisible spiritual unity was established between the Russian True Orthodox Church and the Old Calendarist True Orthodox Church of Greece. In May, 1962 he carried out secret ordinations of bishops in Greece at the request of the Council of clergy, monastics and laity. Just as in the TOC in Russia as a result of persecutions there did not remain a single canonical bishop, so in the Old Calendarist Church in Greece hierarchical succession was lost, being restored through the services of Archbishop Leontius.
Vladyka Leontius had the intention of secretly visiting the USSR to carry out ordinations also in the Catacomb Church. But these plans were not destined to be realized. Not having the opportunity to go to the USSR, he gave his written blessing to resort to such enforced practices as the reception of priesthood from hierarchs of the MP who had not soiled themselves by cooperation with the communist authorities and ecumenism. Thus Archbishop Leontius sent Monk Theodosius (Zhurbenko) under obedience to be ordained by his former cell-attendant, who had been imprisoned for twelve years in Stalin’s camps in Kolyma, the disgraced Bishop Benjamin (Novitsky) of Irkutsk. During the years of the German occupation Vladyka Leontius was in obedience to Bishop Benjamin, who had been the deputy of the Pochayev Lavra, and in 1941 he received ordination to the episcopate from his hands. Vladyka Benjamin was completely against the MP’s apostasy from the faith and so remained in disgrace.
In 1971 the former Monk Theodosius was secretly ordained as Priest Lazarus (Zhurbenko) for the Catacomb Church.
Hieromonk Lazarus worked tirelessly at gathering into one the catacomb communities scattered and dispersed throughout the USSR. By the middle of the 1970s he had founded a series of secret catacomb monasteries in the Kuban. He tonsured into the schema with the name of Seraphim the well-known catacomb elder-confessor Fr. Vissarion (Markov) from Tambov, who in his will entrusted the care of his catacomb flock to Fr. Lazarus. Before his death Fr. Timothy (Nesgovorov), who had been ordained by Schema-Bishop Peter (Ladygin), and others entrusted their flocks to the care of Fr. Lazarus. By the end of the 1970s many widowed catacomb communities from Kazakhstan and Siberia to the Ukraine and Belorussia had come under the care of Fr. Lazarus. They all did not recognize the newly appeared false catacomb self-appointed groups of the “Pozdeyevites”, the “Sekachites” and others, and oriented themselves on spiritual union with ROCOR, the canonicity of whose episcopate was irreproachable.
At the beginning of the 1980s, after the death of Archbishop Leontius, a group of catacomb priests addressed Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky) of ROCOR with a request to receive them into his jurisdiction. Metropolitan Philaret always related to the Catacomb Church as to an independent part of the Russian Local Church. In his Epistle of November 1/14, 1965 the Holy Hierarch Philaret directly calls the Catacomb True Orthodox Church in the Homeland a “Sister-Church”. After the appeal of the catacomb priests, the question of the reestablishment of the episcopate of the Catacomb Church was raised at the Hierarchical Synod of ROCOR. It was decided secretly to tonsure and ordain to the episcopate a clergyman of the West European diocese whose sister lived in the USSR [Barnabas], thanks to which he could more easily obtain a visa. The Council entrusted this secretly ordained bishop to secretly ordain Fr. Lazarus to the episcopate in order that he should lead the catacomb clergy and their communities (Bishop Gregory (Grabbe), The Testament of the Holy Patriarch, September, 1994).
In a Gramota of the ROCOR Synod dated May 3/16, 1990 the following was said about this: “Archimandrite Lazarus (Zhurbenko) is elected by the Russian Orthodox Church that is in the Catacombs and is confirmed and established as bishop of the God-saved city of Tambov by the Sacred Hierarchical Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad in accordance with the rite of the Holy Apostolic Eastern Church, with the aid of the all-accomplishing and all-holy Spirit, in the year of the incarnation of God the Word 1982, on the 27th day of April, in the city of Moscow, being ordained by hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad by order of the Hierarchical Council of 1981. The ordination of his Grace Lazarus took place in the special circumstances elicited by the difficulties of the present time, which is why the ordination was carried out in secret.”
In another Synodal document, no. II/35/R, it was confirmed: “Bishop Lazarus (Zhurbenko) has been ordained by order of the Hierarchical Council of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad as BISHOP for the regeneration and leadership of the Church in Russia.”
Also, in the witness dated September 22 / October 5, 1989 signed by the First Deputy of the First-Hierarch of ROCOR it says: “His Grace Bishop Lazarus has been canonically ordained by the episcopate of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad and is appointed to serve the Orthodox Christians of the Russian Church Catacombs.”
After Vladyka Lazarus’ secret ordination many catacomb communities of the TOC in the Kuban, Ukraine, in the Central Black Earth region of Russia, the Northern Caucasus, Belorussia, Siberia, Kazakhstan, Bashkiria and other regions, united around him.
From the moment of the reestablishment of a canonical hierarchy in the Catacomb Church in the Homeland there began its gradual regeneration and building up. The secret Bishop Lazarus in a self-sacrificing way, in spite of the great risk for his own life, tirelessly went round the catacomb communities of the TOC scattered throughout the whole boundless expanse of Holy Russia, which had been turned by the God-fighters into the atheist USSR, serving secretly at night, preaching, confessing, communing and ordaining new catacomb priests. In the period from 1982 to 1990 alone Bishop Lazarus ordained about 20 new catacomb clergy for the TOC. Many catacomb priests who accepted ordination from the uncanonical catacomb hierarchies of the “Sekachites” and the “Alfeyevites” were united to him through correction of their ordinations.
With the fall of the God-fighting USSR a new mission fell to the lot of Vladyka Lazarus by the Providence of God – to be the spiritual leader not only of the Catacomb Church, but also of legal communities of Orthodox believers who had understood the trap of sergianism and had left the “Soviet church” (the Moscow Patriarchate), and also the newly-formed communities consisting of people who had only just turned to the faith.
By the end of 1990 the number of petitions by clergy and parishes of the MP to be received had risen so much that the Hierarchical Synod of ROCOR blessed Bishop Lazarus to leave the underground and set about forming legal diocesan structures.
Another not unimportant historical event was when in 1990, for the first time in all the years of the existence of the Catacomb Church, her secret hierarch Vladyka Lazarus of Tambov and Morshansk, was able legally to come to the Hierarchical Council of ROCOR in New York, where in front of the bishops of the Church Abroad he gave a report on the True Orthodox Church in the Homeland and concelebrated with them. Insofar as the secret ordination of Bishop Lazarus in 1982 had been carried out perforce by one hierarch, the Council of ROCOR carried out an addition cheirothesia on him in order to complete the kheirotonia that had been carried out by one bishop.
Being placed before the alternative: to remain a secret catacomb hierarch or come out of hiding and lead Church construction in Russia, he chose the latter, although he did not agree to it immediately. Before taking this decision, Vladyka Lazarus in the same year of 1990 conducted a Conference of the catacomb clergy at which he took counsel with them on this question. And since almost everyone expressed their desire that he remain in a catacomb position, he agreed with their demand that he ordain a catacomb bishop for them. The candidate put forward in a conciliar manner was Hieromonk Benjamin (Rusalenko), who came from a family of born catacombniks and had been the spiritual son of the catacomb elder well-known in Belorussia, Hieromonk Theodore (Rafanovich, +1975). The catacombniks invited an official representative of ROCOR to the meeting and through him petitioned the Synod to ordain one more catacomb bishop for the TOC. The request was granted, and on November 28, 1990 Bishop Benjamin (Rusalenko) was ordained to look after the catacombniks by the ROCOR Synod. He was appointed Bishop of Gomel, a vicar of Archbishop Lazarus.
And so by the end of 1990 two canonical hierarchs of the TOC were already operating in Russia.
It seemed that all the conditions for the reestablishment in the Homeland of the TOC’s Church administration with the help of ROCOR had been fulfilled. However, at this point certain members of the ROCOR Synod began to act in a completely opposite direction, which led in the end to contradictions within the Russian dioceses and the disorganization of Church life. One of the serious mistakes of the ROCOR Synod was the decision to open on the territory of Russia, in parallel with the TOC, parishes of ROCOR consisting of clergy and laity who had come over from the Moscow Patriarchate.
From the first day Vladyka Lazarus spoke against the creation in Russia of parallel parishes and dioceses of ROCOR, considering that in Russia there should be the TOC, and abroad – ROCOR. These two branches were united between themselves, but under different administrative centres. He was profoundly convinced that “the Church Abroad” within the bounds of the Fatherland was canonical nonsense. Vladyka Lazarus’ report to the ROCOR Synod in 1993 was devoted to this theme. In July, 1993 there was an expanded Conference of RTOC clergy under the presidency of Archbishop Lazarus in Odessa, which supported Archbishop Lazarus and addressed the ROCOR Synod explaining the necessity of re-establishing Church administration in the Homeland and the administrative self-administration of RTOC in accordance with the Holy Patriarch Tikhon’s decree no. 362, without breaking ecclesiastico-canonical unity with ROCOR.
In the same year of 1993 the Odessa Diocesan Administration of the Russian True Orthodox Church was officially registered by Archbishop Lazarus. Later this was confirmed by the Hierarchical Council of ROCOR. In the Charter of the Odessa Diocese of RTOC it says: “The Russian True Orthodox Church is an independent part of the once united (before 1927) Local Russian Orthodox Church. The administrative-canonical separation of RTOC from other parts of the Russian Church is envisaged by decree no. 362 of the Holy Patriarch Tikhon dated November 7/20, 1920 and by the Epistle of the Locum Tenens of the Patriarchal Throne Metropolitan Agathangelus dated June 5/18, 1922 on the self-government of dioceses. If several dioceses of the RTOC jurisdiction are formed, then a Holy Synod will be formed consisting of Ruling Hierarchs, and a First Hierarch will be elected who will be the constant President of the Holy Synod.”
Archbishop Lazarus consistently and in a principled manner defended the idea of the restoration of ecclesiastical administration in the Homeland and the preservation of the TOC from being engulfed by ROCOR. This elicited the displeasure of certain representatives of ROCOR such as Archbishop Mark and Bishop Barnabas, and there arose a conflict between a part of the bishops of ROCOR and the bishops inside Russia. The result of the conflict was that Archbishop Lazarus was for a certain time retired and banned from serving. Although the wrongness and uncanonicity of the ROCOR Synod’s act was evident, nevertheless, fearing a deepening of disagreements and not wishing to deepen the conflict, the bishops and clergy inside Russia humbly accepted this Synodal decision and submitted to it.
In 1994 at the ROCOR Council an Act of reconciliation was signed which Archbishop Lazarus followed unfailingly right until his righteous death. At this Council it was decided to create a Hierarchical Conference of Russian Bishops “to bring Church matters into order on the territory of Russia”. In spite of many unjust accusations, insults and bans, Archbishop Lazarus humbly bore everything, preserving until the end both faithfulness to the signed “Act of reconciliation” and unity with ROCOR, thanks to which there was also preserved a canonical organ of administration of the dioceses and parishes in the Homeland – the Hierarchical Conference of the Russian Bishops.
Later, Archbishop Lazarus defended the name “Russian True Orthodox Church” instead of ROCOR, which had been officially asserted by the Hierarchical Council of ROCOR in relation to all the dioceses in the Homeland. As is recorded in the Protocols of the session of the ROCOR Council for April 25 / May 8, 1998: “Decreed: To bless the Russian dioceses of ROCOR to be registered under the name: the Russian True Orthodox Church (RTOC) – and to issue a decree concerning this”. On the basis of this decree of the Hierarchical Council of ROCOR, on June 5/18, 1998 Metropolitan Vitaly issued decree no. 13/51-11/35-6/90-082, by which he officially blessed the Russian dioceses to bear the name, not of ROCOR, but of “the Russian True Orthodox Church – as is used in the Ukraine”.
At the same Hierarchical Council of 1998 Metropolitan Vitaly expressed the opinion that in Russia, for the sake of the full-blooded restoration of Church life, an autonomous Church administration was necessary. At that time a separate catacomb deanery was formed in submission to the Hierarchical Conference of RTOC that united the catacomb parishes and clergy of RTOC (in communion with ROCOR thanks to the gathering activity of Archbishop Lazarus) who did not want to pass over to a legal form of service. The desirability and necessity of the ordination of a catacomb bishop for these RTOC parishes was expressed, but by that time the influence in the ROCOR Synod of the pro-sergianist group of Mark, Laurus and Hilarion was so great that the question of new ordinations for RTOC and an autonomous administration was just not decided on. However, at the Council of 2000 Metropolitan Vitaly again confirmed his position, turning to Archbishop Lazarus with the words: “You need to have autonomy and decide your own questions yourselves.”
In October 2000 a Hierarchical Council of ROCOR took place in New York which changed the historical confessing course of the Russian Church Abroad. The Council accepted an Appeal to the ecumenist Serbian Patriarch Paul with a humiliating request not to break Eucharistic communion with ROCOR, and de facto become a mediator in the preparation of a unia with the MP. By a decision of the same Council a ROCOR Synodal Commission for dialogue with the MP was established. In the summer of 2001, at a Conference of the ROCOR Synod, Metropolitan Vitaly, who had expressed his disagreement with the decisions of the Council of 2000 and the necessity of their review, was forcibly retired.
Archbishop Lazarus and Bishop Benjamin, having discussed with these decrees with the clergy and flock, declared their non-recognition of the decisions of the Council of 2000, and called for the convening of an extraordinary Council at which these decisions could be rescinded.
In his address of May 22 / June 4, 2001, the President of the Hierarchical Conference of Russian Bishop of RTOC, Archbishop Lazarus of Odessa and Tambov wrote: “I APPEAL FOR THE CONVENING OF AN EXTRAORDINARY COUNCIL OF ROCOR to review certain points in these documents. At the same time in no way have I ever thought of separating from ROCOR and causing a schism, but, on the contrary, by his step I guard myself and the flock entrusted to me by the Holy Church from deviating from that one faithful path of confession along which ROCOR and RTOC (as two parts of one Russian Church) have unwaveringly walked from the very moment of their origin.”
On September 4-5, 2001, with the blessing of the Hierarchical Conference of the Russian Bishops of the Russian True Orthodox Church that took place in Odessa on August 12, there was summoned at short notice in Voronezh an extraordinary First All-Russian Conference of the hierarchs, clergy and laity of RTOC headed by the President of the Hierarchical Conference Archbishop Lazarus of Odessa and Tambov, Bishop Benjamin of the Black Sea and Kuban and Bishop Agathangelus of Simferopol and Crimea. De facto this was the first council of hierarchs, clergy and laity in Russia since the time of the open serving of the Catacomb Church and the opening of parishes of ROCOR in the Homeland, which laid a beginning to the organized, hierarchical union of the opponents of the unia with the MP.
The Conference accepted an “Appeal of the meeting of Russian parishes to the forthcoming Hierarchical Council”. In it was expressed support for Metropolitan Vitaly, and a request to review and rescind the decisions of the last Council. It declared that the Russian hierarchs and clergy considered, as before, that the only lawful First-Hierarch of ROCOR was Metropolitan Vitaly. In the Appeal to the forthcoming Hierarchical Council of ROCOR it was also said: “We earnestly beseech you, first of all, having been reconciled with Vladyka Metropolitan, to begin the work of the Council by discussing the Epistle to Patriarch Paul and the Resolutions and questions concerning the forming of a commission for the establishment of relations with the Moscow Patriarchate, which were accepted at the past Council and became the reason for those woes and upheavals which have sown trouble and schism in our Church.” In an Appeal personally to Metropolitan Vitaly, the Russian Bishops, clergy and laity of RTOC besought Vladyka Vitaly not to leave his post of First Hierarch “in this troubled time”, “despite all trials and pressures”.
In its spiritual significance the Conference in Voronezh was equivalent to a local Church Council. It turned out to be historical and decisive for future events. After the schism of 1927 it was the first All-Russian conciliar undertaking of its kind in the Homeland. It was directed to the reestablishment of the canonical ordering of the life of the dioceses and parishes of the Russian Church in Russia on the principles of conciliarity.
The October Council of ROCOR of 2001 paid no attention to the appeal of the Hierarchical Conference of RTOC. Having “retired” the lawful First-Hierarch Metropolitan Vitaly, and chosen in his place a proponent of union with the MP, Archbishop Laurus (Shkurlo), the Council adopted a new ROCOR course of union with the sergianist-ecumenist Moscow patriarchate and “world Orthodoxy”. As Patriarch Alexis Ridiger admitted later in the media, the removal of Metropolitan Vitaly was necessary for the beginning of the rapprochement between ROCOR and the MP.
The anti-canonical and schismatic decisions of the ROCOR Council of 2001 were not recognized by the lawful First-Hierarch of ROCOR Metropolitan Vitaly, the President of the Hierarchical Conference of RTOC Archbishop Lazarus of Odessa and Tambov, the member of the RTOC Conference Bishop Benjamin of the Black Sea and Kuban, and also by the vicar Bishop Barnabas of Cannes (who later, unfortunately, changed his decision and was united with Metropolitan Laurus). In their actions they were governed by the 15th canon of the First-and-Second Council of Constantinople.
The Hierarchical Conference of Russian Bishops of RTOC composed of Archbishop Lazarus and Bishop Benjamin, as well as the clergy subject to them in Russia, the Ukraine and Belorussia, called on Metropolitan Vitaly to convene a lawful Council that would be composed of Metropolitan Vitaly, Archbishop Lazarus and Bishop Benjamin, at which they would have to resolve the problems of the restoration of ecclesiastical administration in the True Russian Church.
Metropolitan Vitaly agreed to such a suggestion. However, in view of the opposition on the part of those around him, he as the lawful First Hierarch of ROCOR issued an Directive on his own on February 26 / March 11, 2002 on the carrying out of hierarchical ordinations by Archbishop Lazarus and Bishop Benjamin and the creation of a Hierarchical Synod in Russia. This Directive of Metropolitan Vitaly was read out for conciliar review at the Second All-Russian Conference of hierarchs, clergy and laity of RTOC, which took place in Voronezh on April 4-5/17-18, 2002 under the presidency of the head of the Hierarchical Conference Archbishop Lazarus and his deputy Bishop Benjamin. At the Conference, on the basis of the Holy Canons, the Decree of the Holy Patriarch Tikhon no. 362 and the Directive-Testament of Metropolitan Vitaly of February 26 / March 11, 2002, the decision was taken to carry out hierarchical ordinations for RTOC and to transform the Hierarchical Conference of Russian Bishops of RTOC that had been created with the blessing of the Hierarchical Council of ROCOR in 1994 into the Hierarchical Synod of RTOC.
The Directive of Metropolitan Vitaly on the creation of a Synod in Russia constituted the agreement of the last three remaining lawfully ruling hierarchs in the True Russian Church (Metropolitan Vitaly, Archbishop Lazarus and Bishop Benjamin). This decision bore the character of a conciliar expression of will, which was sealed by the conciliar act of the Second all-Russian Conference, which had, in essence, the significance of a local Church council and laid the beginnings of the regeneration of the True Church in the Homeland on the principles of conciliarity and the restoration of her canonical ecclesiastical administration – the Hierarchical Synod of RTOC.
In August, 2002, in accordance with the Decree of Patriarch Tikhon no. 362 and the Directive of Metropolitan Vitaly of February 26 / March 11, 2002, and also the decision of the Conference of Russian Bishops, Archbishop Lazarus and Bishop Benjamin ordained Bishop Tikhon, the future Archbishop of Omsk and Siberia, the President of the Synod of RTOC, Bishop Hermogen of Chernigov and Gomel, Bishop Irenaeus of Verney and Semirechiye and Bishop Dionysius of Novgorod and Tver. On June 22 / July 5, 2003, in fulfilment both of the resolutions of the Second All-Russian Conference of hierarchs, clergy and laity, and of the Decree of the Holy Patriarch Tikhon no. 362 and the Directive of Metropolitan Vitaly, the canonical organ of administration of the parishes of RTOC – the Hierarchical Conference of Russian Bishops – was transformed into the Hierarchical Synod of the Russian True Orthodox Church as “a small constantly acting council of bishops” (literally the word “synod” in Greek means gathering, council). The oldest Russian hierarch, Archbishop Lazarus of Odessa and Tambov, was elected as President of the Hierarchical Synod of RTOC.
Treading a thorny path in the 20th century, the succession of ecclesiastical power from the pre-revolutionary Russian Church through ROCOR has again returned to Russia. For the first time after the apostate Declaration of Metropolitan Sergius (Stragorodsky) in 1927 and the paralysis of Church life as a result of the very cruel God-fighting persecutions, a canonical Church administration was restored in the Homeland.
On June 16/29, the day of the commemoration of Elder Schema-Archimandrite Moses of Optina (in whose glorification in 1990 at the Hierarchical Council of ROCOR Archbishop Lazarus took part), Archbishop Benjamin of the Black Sea and Kuban tonsured Archbishop Lazarus into the great schema preserving his former name. On June 17/30, 2005, during the conciliar serving of the Rite of the departure of the soul from the body, Schema-Archbishop Lazarus passed away to the Lord in peace.
By a conciliar decision on June 24 / July 7, 2005 Archbishop Tikhon (Pasechnik) of Omsk and Siberia was elected President of the Hierarchical Synod of RTOC.
Today in the Russian True Orthodox Church in the Homeland six dioceses are operating: Omsk-Siberia, Odessa-Kharkov, Black Sea-Kuban, Chernigov-Gomel, Novgorod-Tver and Verney-Semirechiye (Kazakhstan). Also under the omophorion of the RTOC Synod three ROCOR Dioceses are active: the North American, the West European and the Australian.
The ruling organ of the RTOC is the Hierarchical Synod, which is composed of four bishops: Archbishop Tikhon (President of the Synod), Archbishop Benjamin (Deputy President), Bishop Hermogen, Bishop Savvatiy, and Bishop Philaretos
In the Homeland there are parishes of RTOC in Siberia, in the Kubna, in the Kiev, Chernigov, Kharkov, Odessa, Khmelnitsy, Vinnitsz and other provinces of the Ukraine, in Belorussia,, in the Moscow, Novgorod, Tver, Voronezh, Tambov, Kursk, Bryansk, Vyatka and other provinces of Russia, in Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Bashkiria, Kirgizia and others). There are also communities in Osetia, Armenia, etc. In all about 200 communities and groups of believing True Orthodox Christians under the omophorion of RTOC. There are churches of RTOC in Omsk, Odessa, Yekaterinburg, Voronezh, Vladikavkaz and other cities. There are also small communities which gather for prayer, as a rule, in house churches or in houses of believers.
In RTOC both open parishes and catacomb communities are active. After the weakening of persecutions at the beginning of the 1990s many catacomb communities (for example, in Omsk, Voronezh, in the Kuban, etc.) came out of the underground and restored legal serving. However, the majority of catacomb communities remain as before in an underground situation, not trusting the authorities.
Gradually monasticism is reviving. Men’s monastic sketes are active in the Kuban, the Ukraine, in Siberia and in Kursk and other regions. Women’s monastic communities are active in the Voronezh, Odessa, Rostov, Gomel, Kharkov, Omsk and other provinces. The stavropegial women’s monastery of the All-Holy Mother of God of Lesna in France is under the omophorion of the RTOC Synod.
And so, relying on the prophetic Decree no. 362 of the Holy Patriarch Tikhon, the Tikhonite Russian True Orthodox Church has continued to exist to our days, bearing the spirit of the true faith, piety, and martyrdom, the spirit of inner ecclesiastical freedom, through the Bolshevik repressions and persecutions, prisons, and shootings and hiding in the underground.