Document of Late 1927
IT WOULD SEEM that up until this time we have not been able to come to terms with the government, and we do not enjoy the rights which are supposedly provided by the laws of the Soviet Republic to every religion; and this is not at all because our Church is counter-revolutionary. Our archpastors and church laymen, who are languishing in the bonds of banishment and bitter labors, have not at all occupied themselves with any kind of anti-government activity. This is now evident to everyone. The true reason for the grievous manifestations is to be found in the fundamental divergence of our basic religious views on God’s world and human life, on the aims and purposes of our earthly existence, with the Communist views which are placed by the Soviet government as the foundation of the life of its citizens: that which for us is holy and an indisputable truth, for the atheists is opium, superstition, deception, charlatanry, and perhaps even counter-revolution — for example, the idea of the Patriarchate, holy icons, holy relics, our holy Mysteries, and our Divine services, and the very faith in Christ crucified. Thus, there is again confirmed for the whole world the eternal truth of the words of the great Apostle Paul, The word of the Cross is to them that perish foolishness; but for us who are being Saved it is the power of God. We preach Christ crucified: unto the Jews a stumbling-block, unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (I Cor. 1:18, 23-24). We preach wisdom among them that are perfect: yet a wisdom not of this world, nor of the rulers of this world, who are coming to nought. But we Speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, hidden, which none of the rulers of this world have understood (I Cor. 2:6-8). Their minds have been blinded by the god of this world (II Cor. 4:4); the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him, and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually judged (1 Cor. 2:14).
Thus, there can be no union between Church and State, when it has to do with our Orthodox Church and the Soviet Union, by reason of the fundamental difference in the basic views of one and the other side. There is possible only a conditional agreement as to practical mutual relationships, solely on the foundation of the principle of the separation of Church and State.
In actual fact, can one even conceive the Soviet State in union with the Church? A State religion in an anti-religious State! A government Church in an atheist government! This is an absurdity; it contradicts the nature of the Church and the Soviet State; this is inacceptable both for a sincerely religious person and for an honest atheist.
However, they are trying to bring this absurdity into realization before our eyes. Our present leaders of church life, having a limited horizon, have begun to conduct a “new course of church policy.” But this new path wanders off into the old paths and comes down to the attempt to organize a State Church as it was in the Russian Empire.
Already in the Declaration of Metropolitan Sergius and his Synod, which was published with a mocking and blasphemous preface in Izvestia on August 19, 1927, among other unfortunate assertions and expressions there was allowed something that testifies to the erasing by the authors of this most grievous document of the boundary between Church and State. How is it possible for a sincere person to declare without qualification that the joys and sorrows of the Soviet Union, as our native land, are the same for the Orthodox Church? The Soviet Union is a State, and such an identity of joys and sorrows the Holy Church cannot have with any government, and all the more with one that does not even conceal the fact that it would desire to liquidate every religion in general. Being drawn into church politics, our leaders have forgotten the exhortation of the holy Apostle, Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness and iniquity? Or what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what portion hath a believer with an unbeliever? (II Cor. 6:14-15.)
If the majority of archpastors, pastors, and laymen, reading these and similar expressions in the Declaration of Metropolitan Sergius, have not hastened to protest, it is out of fear lest a premature announcement call forth a division in the Church, and as a result of a hope that, in their activity, Metropolitan Sergius and his Synod will correct the mistakes which they have allowed on paper. But, alas, reality has not justified our hopes. One must keep in mind that in general, when there is a union of the Church with a State having at its disposal outward power and all means of purely physical activity, then at the slightest violation of the ideally just mutual relations, the suffering side will always be the Church; even the freedom of its inward life is easily violated in view of the usual striving of the State to turn the Church administrative institutions into the organs of its own government. All the more, an anti-religious State which is unfriendly toward the Church, for which State certain of the unquestioned foundations of the inward life of the Church and its moral authority are superstitions, undeserving of any attention — such a State, of course, will not stand on ceremony. It will use the church apparatus (a servile Synod, accommodating leaders) for its political aims (which are not at all for the benefit of holy faith), and it will place the Church in a degrading position. The principle of the spiritual freedom of the Church and the non-interference of the Church in politics will immediately be violated by such a State — something we have already seen in actuality.
This is why Metropolitan Sergius, acting against the Soviet law concerning the “Separation of Church and State,” has entered upon a very dangerous path.
And what is the result? Now it has already become clear that Metropolitan Sergius and his Synod have fallen under the frightful pressure of the agents of the government, even in their own ecclesiastical activity. Thus, the assignment and transfer of bishops is performed with the extremely close participation of the Soviet government; locally, the administrative and security organs watch to see whether the inhabitants accept the bishops who have been sent by the Synod of Metropolitan Sergius (the Orthodox bishops appear to their flocks under police protection), whether the name of Metropolitan Sergius is commemorated at the Divine services, and whether there is a prayer for the government (a government that considers prayer as charlatanry and ridicules it). Active church people who do not recognize Metropolitan Sergius are already being sent in banishment to Solovki, where the number of bishops grows every year; and even the question of the distribution and transfer of clergy is decided more by the Soviet government than by the church authority. The archpastoral sees, despite the decrees of the Sobor of 1917-18, are closed down in great numbers, which weakens the Church: and the bishops who are assigned, when they come to their posts, are obliged first of all to report to the well-known government establishments regarding their intentions and plans for church work, and to receive from them guiding instructions, The civil authority now has no need to use its own means to remove disagreeable church people; it simply gives a (secret) order for this to the Synod or to the local bishop.
Metropolitan Sergius is a total slave, an obedient instrument in the hands of persons well-known to us, the representatives of separate Soviet instttutions, and he has totally lost his moral-church authority, despite the word of the Apostle (II Tim. 2:15); because, behind every one even of his ecclesiastical orders, for us who are frightened and suspicious, there is to be seen an instigation from “those who are without.” Besides this, our church administrative apparatus is placed in an impermissible nearness to the police organs in the Soviet government, something there has never been in the history of the Church and which cannot be tolerated. In a word, such a degradation and spitting upon, the holy Church has never yet endured.
But the holy Apostle Paul has handed down to us: Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for it, that He might sanctify it, having cleansed it by the washing of water with the word, that he might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish (Eph. 5:25-27), as the Bride of Christ. Do not, therefore, degrade the holy Church, do not dirty its immaculate garments.
The Church can be subjected to outward misfortunes, to persecutions and to difficult situations; but it cannot renounce its spiritual freedom and dignity. On the contrary, in misfortunes it shines yet more within, and is constantly renewed (II Cor. 4:16-17). Such is the law of spiritual life, both of the individual Christian and of the whole Church of Christ; and for this reason we understand bonds and sorrows as the mercy of God, for the Lord crowns His faithful slaves for them (II Cor. 4:17). But the Church will never agree to the degradation of the Holy Church, to the trampling upon its inward freedom. One cannot give over the freedom of the Church and its dignity to be trampled upon, only that they may not be persecuted for the Cross of Christ (Gal. 6:12), in the words of the Apostle.
The legalization which Metropolitan Sergius and his Synod are striving to conduct is totally unacceptable and impossible, because it contradicts the Soviet laws (is unlawful, illegal), is contrary to the nature of things, to the nature of the Church and the Soviet State, and is contrary to reason, for it strives to join what cannot be joined. Such a reform cannot be put into life practically, and quite evidently it is collapsing. In regard to the Church, it is a criminal act, for it sells the freedom of the Church’s inward life and blasphemously degrades her sanctity and dignity.
As a plan of the opponents of the Church of God and the Christian religion, the reform of Metropolitan Sergius is a logical measure, well thought-through (but not by him, of course), with the aims of bringing disorder into the Holy Church and destroying the religious life of the country. But an Orthodox Metropolitan and a Patriarchal Synod cannot support such ends.
But even if in the new church policy of Metropolitan Sergius there were not anything criminal or reprehensible with regard to the Church, still it would be necessary to reject it for this reason alone, that without having bettered the outward condition of the Church, to which it pretended, it has evoked great disturbance and scandal in the church people and, in general, in the majority of believers, from hierarchs to laymen.
The heart of a good shepherd naturally is pained from unbearable grief at seeing this shocking picture of great church desolation, which has already been half-accomplished by the hand of a leader of the Church. We do not need such church reforms. Let us rather again and again go into bonds and banishment, but only preserve the souls of the people of God which has been entrusted to us; for we shall all give a great answer for the perdition of our children. Woe unto the world because of occasions for stumbling; for it must needs be that the occasions come; but woe to that man through whom the occasion cometh (Matt. 18:6-7, 10). The holy Apostle Paul teaches: If you personally have an actual spiritual freedom and a higher understanding, so that what is outward does not disturb you, and even if you are correct in your acts which are unusual for the majority, still, if these acts disturb the infirm conscience of a brother, beware lest your freedom serve as an occasion of stumbling for the infirm, and lest from your knowledge, your infirm brother should perish, for whom Christ died, and thus sinning against your brethren and wounding their infirm conscience, you sin against Christ (I Cor. 8:9-13).
So then let us follow after things which make for peace, and things whereby we may edify one another (Rom. 14:15-20). This the Apostle said with regard to food, but among us the question of general church life is considerably more important than the question of food and of our personal acts, and the occasion for stumbling in this area is much deeper. Give no occasion of stumbling, either to Jews or to Greeks, or to the Church of God; even as I please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of the many, that they may be saved (I Cor. 10:24, 32-33). This is the obligatory rule for all pastors of the Church — not to seek their own profit, but the profit of the many so that they might be saved.
The chief canonical foundation of the lawfulness of authority in the Russian Church, both of Metropolitan Peter and of Metropolitan Sergius (the latter while Metropolitan Peter is absent), is to be found in the fact that both the one and the other were called and supported in their temporary situation by the episcopate of the Russian Orthodox Church as a whole. Apart from this, in our question it is important to remember certain personal qualities of Metropolitan Sergius.
He is an irreproachable monk, a modest, reverent archpastor, a profound church thinker, author of a theological book of exalted patristic spirit, The Orthodox Teaching on Salvation, a good upbringer of future clergy in the theological academies, and a good and active churchman whom we all so revered and loved. True, in his practical activity Metropolitan Sergius, having a weak will, always had need to depend on the stronger wills of his friends. And when this support was taken away from him for any reason, he began often to waver and make mistakes from weakness of will. (Alas, in 1922 Metropolitan Sergius went even so far as to recognize the Higher Church Authority of the “Living Church.” At the present time, Metropolitan Sergius not only has been deliberately deprived of his friends, but he has been surrounded by a pre-determined assortment of people, who have entered into his Synod not at his own choice. Under the influence of this new environment and of pressure from “those without,” after several confinements in the Moscow “inner prison,”” Metropolitan Sergius accepted his new “course” of church policy, which after a prolonged resistance he finally recognized as “correct” and obligatory for the Christian, and as answering to the needs of the Church.
It is not to be doubted, moreover, that in this undertaking of his, Metropolitan Sergius did not have any evil aims himself with regard to the Holy Church. Of course, he hoped to achieve peace in church life and the release of prisoners. In a word, a trusting man hoped to arrange the outward prosperity of the Church (after he had fulfilled the demands made of him and after the promises given to him would be fulfilled), and he expected from this also the inward good order of religious life.
The very principle of Metropolitan Sergius’ aim — the bringing of the outward forms of church life into agreement with contemporary socio-political conditions, as a true legalization — is in essence correct, and, we repeat, it is according to the Apostolic teaching in spirit. But our weak-willed, though not badly-intentioned, leader, being subjected to insistent outward influence, did not hold firm within the ecclesiastical boundaries of this principle, having over-evaluated the significance of outward conditions for religious life, and chose as means for his correct aim not the confession of church truth, but rather personal cunning, lack of sincerity, and politics. Having raised such a weapon, unsuitable for use in church activity, Metropolitan Sergius has himself suffered from it, for the sons of this age are always more skilled than the sons of light in the use of this weapon.
But Metropolitan Sergius trusted in his own wisdom, in worldly means, instead of entirely hoping in the mercy and help of God, in the power of the Truth of Christ, having armed himself with the struggles of purity and confession and constant preparedness to endure sorrows and persecutions, by which struggles of the faithful the Church of God is adorned and eternally renewed, and not by the joys of life, as the Renovationists preach. But worldly means of battle, being unsuitable for an active religious Christian, the Apostle Paul totally renounces and condemns. He chastises even the shadow of hypocrisy (Gal. 2:1114) and commands all Christians to renounce lying and to speak the truth each one with his neighbor (Eph. 4:25; Col. 3-9).
Metropolitan Sergius, establishing a mutual relationship between the Church and the Soviet State, has deviated in practice from the fundamental and correct idea which determines these relations; and having chosen worldly methods of activity, he has violated the tradition of the Orthodox Church regarding church politics; at the same time, he does not stand firm even on the basis of Soviet law. And on such a false foundation, what good thing can be built? But Metropolitan Sergius did not allow a stepping away in principle from the Truth, the Faith, and church teaching, and he has not violated the canonical order of the Church. In any case his sin is not of a dogmatic or a canonical character, but one of weakness in practice and of practical mistakes, of an incorrect direction of church policy and administrative activities. But since his policy has turned out in its result to be harmful and degrading for the Church of God, it must be changed, corrected, or else the unsuccessful administrator must be removed, perhaps a penance must be placed upon him, but he should not be excommunicated from the Church as an apostate, and there should not be a break of canonical communion with him as with a heretic or schismatic before the judgment of a Council.
Although at the present time there is no possibility of assembling a full Council of bishops for the consideration of general questions (including the question of public policy and the relation of the Church to the State), still considering the mistakes and the unacceptable activities of the leader, the bishops can raise their voice, for these mistakes have already been sufficiently made clear. The bishops are even obliged to step forth, and can even demand from the leader that he correct his mistakes and abandon the false path of worldly cunning in church matters.
To declare a premature break with the leader, or to refuse to participate in church government, to go into retirement — this would mean to leave one’s flock during the misfortunes of the Holy Church, to go off to the side, giving place for the enemy, just so that one’s own clean garments might not be soiled in the midst of the general confusion, and so that one might console oneself with the thought that we are not participating in the sin of the leader. But by this we commit the sin of insensitivity in the sorrows and sufferings of the Holy Church, while the responsibility for church life is not taken away from us. In the church misfortunes of antiquity, a hermit of many years would leave the desert so as to serve for the pacification of the suffering Church. The holy Apostle Paul shows in himself a flaming desire to be united through death with Christ in the heavenly mansions, so as to live in the sorrowful flesh for the benefit of his flock (Phil. 1:21-26).
We have occasion to meet — whether before their bonds or after, and many times in bonds — with very many archpastors who have endured the contemporary trials or have sat out their terms, and we have conversed with them personally or are in correspondence with them, and with full assurance we can declare that they will never give their approval to the work of Metropolitan Sergius as it is now proceeding. On the contrary, all with one accord say, with almost identical words, that they grieve and are greatly disturbed, even though they do not find it possible to break communion with Metropolitan Sergius.
But why do they not give their voices? Why do they not manifest their protest? Because they are isolated, and, as a result of this they are insufficiently informed, and they are not able to decide to express themselves in a final way without sufficient facts, all the more in that they know what significance will be given to their response. The Declaration of Metropolitan Sergius is known to prisoners only from the press, and it causes disturbance, grief, fear for the life of the Holy Church. But how its reform is being carried out in fact — how can the prisoners and exiles in the Siberian tundra or the Ziryani swamps know about this?
But if the temporary substitute of the Patriarchal Locum Tenens will stubbornly continue in his scheme, and will not free his post, we will depart from him as a whole Church, for the episcopate has the right and the foundation to deprive him of the authority in which it clothed him for building up and not destroying (II Cor. 10:8) the life of the Church. A man without will and not firm cannot guide church life in our times. Metropolitan Sergius has not been able to fulfill the command of the Apostle, Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time (Col. 4:5). With those that are without he has been “unequally yoked” (II Cor. 6:14), and he must correct his mistake. But if he is not strong enough to do this himself, let him leave it to others, freeing his place as leader of the Russian Orthodox Church. But if Metropolitan Sergius disobeys the voice of the Church and will stubbornly continue in his policy and pretend to the authority of the chief hierarch, then he of course will turn out to be a church rebel and schismatic.
Faithful laymen, like small children, with their own breasts are striving to protect from mockery and crude offenses their Mother, the Holy Church, which to all of us is dearer than life and freedom. But children are powerless. The fathers must step forth. You, archpastors and masters: upon you the Lord has placed the great responsibility for the fate of the Holy Church; to you has been entrusted its defense; you will give an answer to the Lord God for the souls of your spiritual children, for whom Christ died. To you is addressed the word of Christ, I say unto you, My friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom ye Should fear: Fear him, who after he hath killed, hath power to cast your soul into hell; yea, I say unto you, fear him (Luke 12:4-5).
The bonds of the servants of Christ serve to the greater success of the preaching of the Gospel, as it was also among the Apostles. Most of the brethren in the Lord, being confident through my bonds, are more abundantly bold to speak the word of God without fear. I rejoice, yea, and will rejoice. For I know that this shall turn out to my salvation, through your supplication and the cooperation of the Spirit of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:14, 18-19). May there be glory to Him in the Church unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Note (by the authors): In 1905, on February 17, at a moleben in the St. Petersburg Theological Academy, Metropolitan Sergius gave a talk about the time when the civil law would cease to be a defense and a firm wall for the Russian Church. “Then,” prophesied our present leader, “they will demand of us not beautiful phrases, not memorized syllogisms, but spirit and life; they will demand faith, and flaming faithfulness, the penetration of the Spirit of Christ. They will demand that we should write not with ink (and ink, it may be, borrowed from foreign inkwells at that), but with the blood of our own breasts. Will we answer to these demands, will we hold up under this fiery trial, will we endure at this truly frightful judgment? After all, it is not our well-wishing leadership that will judge us, and not we ourselves, but the Church of God itself will judge us, the Orthodox people itself which has entrusted to us the Church’s work, and which without any pity will turn away from us, will cast us out, if it finds in us only a ‘whited sepulchre’ and a ‘salt which has lost its savor’ ”.
Now there has begun upon us the judgment of the Holy Church. Will the well-founded prophetic words of Metropolitan Sergius be fulfilled? And first of all, will they be fulfilled in him?
Editor’s Afterword (E. N. Lopeshanskaya)
No, his own prophetic words were not fulfilled in Metropolitan Sergius. He remained unharmed in the midst of the storm which surrounded him. He looked unfeelingly, indifferently on what was being done around him. Under the blows of hammers, there fell the age-old, irreplaceable holy. things of Orthodoxy in the Russian land. Beyond the polar circle and in the sands of Turkestan vanished those whom he knew, with whom he studied, with whom he stood before the Altar, who, going to Golgotha, cast at him the reproach of betraying the Church. He outlived everything, even his own Declaration, which remained a piece of paper.
In the same way, the brother bishops, Bishops Pachomius of Chernigov and Abercius of Zhitomir, disappeared in the Soviet vastnesses. Of them there remains only this Epistle. He who will read it heedfully, entering deeply into every word, will clearly place before himself both their sufferings, and their flaming faith, and their unwavering firmness. Their struggle is all the higher in that they saw ahead the ever more thickly gathering clouds, and the approaching great storm which was gathering against the whole Christian world.
Source: Orthodox Word, Vol 72, 1977, St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, Platina, California