The Theological and Spiritual Foundations of the Return to the Icon.

The split with Metropolitan Eulogius

       Towards the end of the twenties, the Russian Church was in a particularly delicate and difficult situation.

       « When Patriarch Tikhon died in April 1925, the Church was only beginning to recover from several years of terror, during which thousands of clergymen and lay people were killed. Yet physical persecutions could not slow down the spiritual recovery of the Church, who for the first time in four hundred years, was freed from all secular or governmental obligations. (…). Despite the continual support the regime was giving to Renovators and sects, (…), the sufferings endured by the Church enabled her win national support at an unprecedented level. »(28)

       However, "the Church was virtually outlawed". Nearly half of its bishops were arrested or deported; those who were not could not run their dioceses, where schisms were raging: the "Living Church", the "Renovation Church", the Josephians, Gregorians, "Genuine Orthodox Christians" and the "Real Orthodox Church", and so on… the most dangerous one, the Synod of the "Renovation Church" was legalised and backed by the government, to which it strived to adapt. Legalising the Church was the first task that the Patriarch absolutely had to fulfil ".(29)

       This legalisation demanded that "relations between the Church and the State under the new conditions be clarified". This was not possible as long as the secular authorities had every reason to see the Church as an enemy: did she not rise up against the State whenever she could, that is to say, from outside the country? When the blockade and the famine were raging, did she not attempt to prevent the Soviet government from being recognised by Western States? In this way, the clergy and the bishops outside the country, bearing no personal responsibility for their political activity, made the Russian Church pay a high price for her "freedom. » (30)

       « Metropolitan Piotr of Kroutitsy, the guardian of the patriarchal throne after Patriarch Tikhon's death, having been deported, the administration was taken on by his substitute, Mgr. Sergius, Metropolitan of Nizhni Novgorod, who was also arrested for several months (…). In order to defend the Church and define clear limits for the domain of the church by separating it from the political one, Metropolitan Sergius and the Patriarchal Synod (following Patriarch Tikhon's example), directed to Metropolitan Eulogius a decree, dated 14th July 1927, the first paragraph of which asked the bishops and the clergy to give him a personal written commitment not to allow anything "in public activity and especially in church activity that could be taken for an expression of disloyalty towards the Soviet government. »(31)

Metroplitan EulogiusMetropolitan Eulogius made public this decree in the « Tserkowny Vestnik (32)» as well as in a sermon pronounced on the subject, in which he « asked (them) to remain firmly united with Metropolitan Sergius and refrain from judging him: "You can remember how, a short time ago, one judged the late Patriarch Tikhon (…); be careful not to judge Metropolitan Sergius too soon (…). It is very important - I would say more than that - it is indispensable for us to preserve our unity with our Mother, the Russian Church. (…) Only whithin her saving role can our church life develop normally, only in this unity can we find irreplaceable moral backing in all our trials (...). If our hierarchical leader tells us that political demonstrations of the clergy outside the country are doing incalculable harm to the Mother Church, that she is paying for them and is suffering, (…), then we certainly must renounce these demonstrations because of our love for her so that we are not an impediment to her, especially in this difficult, decisive moment, when she is beginning to organise herself. (…) If Metropolitan Sergius's cause comes from men, it will be destroyed; but if it comes from God, (…), do not run the risk of having struggled against God (Acts, 5, 38-39). The Lord will show it to us soon ».(33)

       The future Archimandrite Sergius, who was then Kyrill Schevich, wrote in October 1929: " The main weapon in the struggle against the Church is to accuse her of being disloyal and of participating in the political struggle against the present authorities. This accusation could be really harmful to the Church if she insisted on her political rejection of this governement, publicly declared that she still would not recognise it and encouraged the faithful to political opposition. Then the Bolsheviks could more easily destroy religious life and deprive people of all pastoral protection, hence reinforcing the process of estrangement from their Fathers' faith, pushing them towards atheism or sects, which, from the beginning of the revolution, were better able to adapt to the new conditions of life. (…) The wise leaders [of the Church], who were capable of sacrificing themselves, with Patriarch Tikhon in the lead, found enough spiritual force to renounce what was dear and usual to them. They had the courage to refuse to take a political stance and to pull the Church out of the troubled waters of ideological passions.

       « Patriarch Tikhon and his successors who, in spite of temptations, managed to save the Orthodox Church from political life and define a new, purely religious position, have by doing so deprived the enemies of the Church of their most powerful weapon - the possibility of fighting the Church as a political organisation. ».(34)

       « Yet Metropolitan Evlogius asked for some precisions: what should be understood by "loyalty"? He was not himself a Soviet citizen, and his clergy and his flock were not either; how could anyone demand from them compliance with the laws of a government that was not theirs? He wrote: "I pledge to stay firm in the already established stance, in accordance with the precepts of his holiness Patriarch Tikhon - that of the non-intervention of the Church in political life, and not to allow the ambo in the churches of my obedience to be transformed into a political platform." Metropolitan Sergius replied by mail saying that the "term of loyalty certainly could not mean complying with Soviet laws", and that besides, he did not insist on any particular formulation of the solicited commitment. Later on, when members of the clergy with two or three exceptions gave this commitment, Metropolitan Sergius consented, at Mgr Evlogius's request, to these documents not being sent to him but kept in his offices. (…) As we can see, at that time, Mgr. Evlogius's attitude [in accordance with the recently adopted position with respect to the Russian Church Abroad Synod (35)], was canonically clear-cut (36)» and seemed to show a constant faithfulness to the Moscow Patriarchate.

       Such were the circumstances under which in January 1930, « without consulting the main interested parties - the Orthodox Church in the USSR and the Russian Churches of the diaspora (37)», - the Christians of the West took an initiative that was particularly ill-fated, however undoubtedly full of good intentions. Pope Pie XI announced a "prayer crusade" being launched by the Vatican for the victims of the persecutions. The whole Christian world was to join it, "including that part which was not subject to its authority", meaning by this Protestants, Anglicans and the Orthodox themselves.

       Kyril Shevich wrote, commenting on these events: « We must give particular attention to the question of help to the suffering Russian Church ». It necessary to act with great caution in this field to avoid a situation in which our actions would provide additional weapons to the persecutors who are trying to prove by any means that the Church serves political, not religious goals, that she has established indestructible bonds with the old regime. »(38)

       In February, when he had « to give an answer on the matter to an equally strait-forward and awkward question put by foreign journalists, Metropolitan Sergius declared, among other things, that the Church was not persecuted in the USSR (Metropolitan Eulogius later described this act as "heroic self-denial"), that it needed neither the intervention of the Pope of Rome nor that of the Archbishop of Canterbury. (…) However, four days after the interview, Metropolitan Sergius submitted to the head of the religious commission a long memorandum containing a list of the grievances of the Church against the State and asking it to stop certain hostile or unfair practices. »(39) This meant that at the very moment the journalist was asking the question Metropolitan Sergius's protest had already been sent to the soviet administration and thus rendered any public declaration impossible with the risk of seeing the step taken doomed to fail.When the interview was published, Metropolitan Eulogius still expressed violent indignation.

       European opinion, which was perfectly unaware of the complexity and horror of the situation, thought it could help the Russian Church with its public protests. Therefore, various demonstrations were organised to this end, first by Protestants in Paris, then in London. As he was conscious of the plainly political ambitions pursued by these demonstrations (40), Metropolitan Eulogius initially refused to participate in them. However, yielding to Anglican pressure, he eventually went to London, and not only participated in the meetings but also made a speech, which was widely publicised by the press. So Metropolitan Sergius learned about this by the newspapers. Therefore, in April 1930, he sent him a letter, asking him if all this was true and if it was the case, how it could be reconciled with the commitment made earlier.

       When he received Metropolitan Evlogius's reply, "Metropolitan Sergius considered his justifications with regard to the London demonstrations, "for anyone who is in the least informed about the real attitude of English social circles towards the Soviet Union as rather naïve and too unlikely to be taken seriously (41)». By the decree dated July 11th 1930, Metropolitan Sergius, jointly with his Patriarchal Synod, dismissed Metropolitan Evlogius from his duties and entrusted Archbishop Vladimir Tikhonitsky with the provisional administration of the Russian Churches in Western Europe.

       Archbishop Vladimir refused and declared that neither he nor his clergy would comply with the decision. Then a meeting of the Diocesan Council and later, a Diocesan assembly (42). were held. Yet it was claimed that the "canonical spiritual bond with the All-Russian Orthodox Church, our Mother" was not being broken. Like Karlovtsy people, and in contradiction with the earlier attitude of Metropolitan Eulogius, it was considered that there was compatibility between membership in a local Church, recognition of and disobedience to this same hierarchy. "In these circumstances, explained Metropolitan Eulogius, the publishing of this decree means a de facto break-up of the normal relations of our diocese with the highest church authority of Moscow and the impossibility of receiving from the latter the free expression of its will (43)». « The abstention from politics demanded by Metropolitan Surges was explained as a political act that was not necessary to the Church, but useful to the State (44)». Of the six people who refused to leave the Patriarchal Church five were members of the Brotherhood, including Vladimir Lossky, Eugraph and Maxim Kovalevsky and a women, Mrs. Maria A. Kallache, joined them.. Their motives could be formulated as follows: how could anyone leave the Church when she was on the Cross (45)?

       « Metropolitan Elevtherius of Vilno would later describe the years leading up to 1930 as a gradual politicisation of Metropolitan Eulogius's diocese. According to him, the latter was unable to disengage himself from the worldly, non-church current that gradually took him on the non-canonical course; the metropolitan personally "suffered a lot, fighting in his soul against the strength of this current; yet, spiritually weakened, finding no inner strength to resist this pressure, he took the course of separation from the Mother Church."(…) Consequently, the Assembly of June 1930 was marked by a visible politicisation. (…) In the minds of the majority of participants, one had not to be afraid of politics: any public demonstration was political, they said, praying is not enough ... "All considerations of an ecclesial and canonical nature in this particular matter, are nothing but a form or wrapping. (…)Life today is political and it is not possible to pretend otherwise (46)».

       A short time later, Kyrill Shevich wrote about this problem : « the fight for the future of Russia is on two parallel tracks: religious and political. Although they are closely related, they are totally different in many respects. What is in one case a demonstration of power and of the maximum intensity of the struggle can, in the other amount to weakness, capitulation and dishonest compromise. The laws of spiritual combat, which are clearly indicated in the Holy Scriptures (for instance, in Saint Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians) as well as in works by the Holy Fathers and confirmed by centuries of experience of the Church, are often totally inapplicable in political struggle [and vice versa]. Many times in history, confusion between these different aspects provoked conflicts and cases of tragic incomprehension ; the latter also exist nowadays. (47)».

       Yet, Metropolitan Eulogius wrote to the Patriarchate, repeating the same arguments. Metropolitan Sergius replied by the decree of December 26th 1930, which confirmed the decree of June 10th and declared the Diocesan Administration dissolved. The six people who despite everything had followed the canons were entrusted to Metropolitan Elevtherius of Vilno.

       This is what Mgr. Anthony Bloom has to say on these events: "the Church had to hedge to survive but never betrayed her vocation. Mgr. Eulogius did yield to the pressure of people round him. However, he asked for the canonical protection of Constantinople only with the aim of restoring normal relations with the Patriarchal Church as soon as he could. Besides, that is what he did in 1945, and he died as he wished, in the bosom of his Mother Church. Moreover, in a private conversation, he said : « Their way is straight; ours is a curve. But our goal is the same. (48)»

28) Dimitry Pospielovsky, The Russian Church under the Soviet Regime, 1917-1982, Saint Vladimir Seminary Press, 1984, volume I, p.99-112.

29) Notes et matériaux sur l'histoire de l'Eglise russe en Europe Occidentale, Paris, 1972, p.4.

30) Notes et matériaux, p.4.

31) Notes et matériaux, annexe n°7, p. 44.

32) N°3, 1927, p. 6-8.

33) On the subject of Mgr Sergius's pastoral success and the results obtained for the faithful people, see in particular Kyril Schevich, " Russie, être ou ne pas être ", in Opovestchenie, n° 7-8, October 1929, as well as "L'échec des offensives contre la religion ", in Mladoros 1930, n°4, which provide a large quantity of documents of hostile origin - the only that were available abroad - and testimonies (translated by Tatiana Krijivoblotzky). See " Russie, être ou ne pas être ", p.2 of the translation.

34) See " Russie, être ou ne pas être ", p.2 of the translation.

35) Notes et matériaux, p.1 to 8.

36) Ibid., p.9-10.

37) E. Behr-Sigel, op.cit, p. 206-207.

38) Mladoros, 1930, n°3 (translated by T.Krijivoblotzky).

39) Tserkovny Vestnik n°10, 1930, p.8.

40) On the subject of these challenges in British domestic policy, see Notes et matériaux, p.11.

41) Tserkovny Vestnik, n°3, 1931, p.10.

42) On the subject of documents produced by these meetings - held in June 1930 and not in June 1931, as E.Behr-Sigel says - p. 209 of her already quoted publication, - see Notes et matériaux, p.13 and attached annexes.

43) Tserkovny Vestnik, n°10, 1930, p. 13, cité d'après Notes et matériaux, p.13.

44) Notes et matériaux, p. 6.

45) We get this affirmation from the very mouth of the protagonists.

46) Statements published in the " Lettre ouverte ", Tserkovny Vestnik, n°11, 1930, p.9 and 11.

47) Mladoros, n°7, Avril 1931, (translated by T.Krjivoblotzky).

48) Unpublished interview, May 2000

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