St. Tikhon Resists
St. Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow and Enlightener of North America, was a pious, kind and wise archpastor, not only here in North America, but also once he’d returned to Russia and took his place on the Holy Synod, during the worst time in Russia’s long and tumultuous history.
He was elected to the newly restored Patriarchate in 1917, just months before the revolutions that ushered in the Communist and Soviet eras. From the beginning, he was at odds with the secular and atheistic government, condemning them soundly. “Come to your sense, madmen,” he proclaimed. “Cease your bloody violence, for what you are doing is not only cruel, it is indeed satanic, and for it you will be subject to the fires of hell in the life to come beyond the grave and to a terrible curse from posterity in this earthly life.” He urged his bishops, priests and the faithful to resist the pressure the atheistic government brought to bear on the Church, telling them “It is better to spill one’s blood and be made worthy of a martyr’s crown than to allow the Orthodox faith to be profaned.”
Despite being put under house arrest, despite being hounded and questioned and harassed, he continued to resist, offering prayers for the martyred Imperial family, publishing letters that detailed the failings and injustices of the government, until the government falsely promised to reduce the killings of the faithful if he were to cease his condemnation of them. He wasn’t naïve, but he was also unfamiliar with the depths of duplicity to which some men will descend, and he was concerned for the faithful, the clergy and the danger in which his outspokenness placed them, so in 1919, he advised his clergy to refrain from political statements in the vain hope this would ease the persecution. Needless to say, his capitulation on the matter of politics and government policy did nothing to stem the violence and harassment of the faithful, nor did it bring any respite to him, either.
During the 1920s, the Soviets implemented an anti-religious policy, designed to wipe out any kind of religious belief in the people. In the first year alone, over 6,000 priests were murdered, bishops found themselves under arrest or martyred, and the Metropolitan of Kiev was assassinated.
In the summer of 1921, the Volga region experienced a horrendous famine, and St. Tikhon sent out an appeal for assistance to all Orthodox everywhere – inside Russia and throughout the world. He sent messages to the Pope and to the Archbishop of Canterbury, requesting the aid of those churches. Émigré bishops counselled that the funds raised be used for arming anti-Soviet forces rather than famine assistance, and within Russia, St. Tikhon was held responsible for these counter appeals.
Calls came for the confiscation of church property to help feed the people, and the Patriarch gave a blessing for non-liturgical objects to be given up “with love in view of the extraordinarily disastrous circumstances.” But in 1922, when the famine showed no signs of letting up, the government seized the opportunity to intensify their persecution of the Church by demanding, and attempting to take by force, all the church’s treasures, including those used in liturgy. This, according to canon law, was blasphemy, and the Patriarch counselled and encouraged resistance, advising the faithful to raise an equivalent amount of money in place of handing over the liturgical vessels.
All over Russia, priests, deacons and faithful were arrested for resisting and for hiding the treasures. The Patriarch was hounded, questioned, threatened with imprisonment and isolated when the government either arrested or summarily dismissed his bishops from Moscow to their sees. Salt was poured on his wounds when one of his bishops (advised and encouraged by the government) initiated a revolt against him by testifying as an expert on the legality of the confiscation laws. More people were arrested. St. Tikhon testified on behalf of some of the priests who’d resisted the confiscation, and told the court, “These people did their duty; they acted on my orders, so they are not guilty of anything. I accept their guilt myself. Try me.” Rather than trying him, the court imprisoned him and arrested or shot anyone who expressed their support for him.
He was released in 1923, but was so closely watched, he may as well have been under house arrest. Visitors were questioned, harassed and searched before they could see him, and his name headed the list of “enemies of the people.” Despite this, St. Tikhon continued to encourage and support his Church until his death three years later, in 1925.
For more information on St. Tikhon, Partriarch of Moscow and Enlightener of North America, visit the Reference page for a full biography and more sources.
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