It was a typical cold January day when the wife of Ioann gave birth to her youngest son, Vasily. Her husband, Father Ioann served as a parish priest in the Toropetz district of the Pskov diocese, north west of Moscow and south east of St. Petersberg – about equally distant from each city.
Young Vasily was a meek and humble boy, unusually so, and he loved the Church and all things connected with it. He showed an aptitude for the clerical life, and his father agreed he should be sent to theological school, so at 13, in 1878, he travled to Pskov to study in the seminary there, then transferred to the St. Petersburg seminary when he finished his studies (ahead of his class). Tall for his age, and fair haired, he was popular among the students for his readiness to help with their schoolwork. His grasp of theology was good, and they relied on him to explain the lessons, and correct their compositions. He was popular also with the teachers for his piety, intelligence and dedication to study. He was teased, gently, with the nicknames “bishop” and “patriarch”.
He graduated in 1888, at the age of 23, from the St. Petersburg Seminiary. Unusually, he was still a layman, and he returned to his roots at Pskov as an instructor in Moral and Dogmatic Theology. But such a light couldn’t be kept under a bushel, nor could his love for God be contained in a secular life, however pious and faithful. In 1891, he took his monastic vows, with the entire town turning out for the ceremony, where he took the name Tikhon, after St. Tikhon of Zadonsk. The following year, he was transferred to the Kholm Seminary in Poland, it was here God smoothed his path, where he truly began to shine. He was elevated to archimandrite and shortly afterward, in 1897, consecrated Bishop of Lublin. The following year he was appointed bishop of the Aleutians and Alaska, and arrived in North America that December.
He stayed in North America for only ten short years, but accomplished an incredible amount in that time, enough that the continent became an archdiocese and he its first Archbishop. Building on the cornerstones laid by his predecessor, Bishop Tikhon renamed the diocese “Diocese of Aleutians and North America”, established a seminary that in a short period of time was graduating enough young men to supply all of the parishes who needed priests from Orthodox living in North America and worked tirelessly to establish and promote a pan-Orthodox, truly North American Orthodox Church. He moved the diocesan see from San Francisco to New York, established the monastery and orphanage of St. Tikhon (of Zadonsk) in Pennsylvania, and consecrated two supporting bishops: St. Raphael (Hawaweeny) of the Antiochian church, and Bishop Innocent (Pustynsky) in Alaska. Additionally, he traveled and worked constantly to affirm and strengthen his personal ties with the laity, clergy and hierarchs of all the Orthodox in North America.
Wherever he ruled, in Lublin, North America or Yarolsav, Archbishop Tikhon was beloved as a friendly, communicative and wise archpastor. He reprimanded gently, using jokes and humour to get his point across, and listened to his people with humility and love, so much so that in both North America and in Yaroslav, he was made honorary citizen.
At the outbreak of WWI in 1914, when he was 48, he was in Vilna in Lithuania, where his work included ministering to the poor and destitute of the region, as well as balancing the tensions between the Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Uniate populations. He kept the strong anti-Polish sentiment under tight control. When the front lines of the war approached his area, he resisted at first, the order to evacuate, but eventually obeyed and moved, with his people to Moscow. He didn’t stay there long. After setting up what services for them that he could, he moved back to Disna, where he worked with displaced persons and in the hospitals closest to the front lines. It wasn’t unusual for him to be found in the trenches, ministering to the soldiers.
However, things, while appearing to be even brighter for him, began to turn dark in 1917, when, under the new, revolutionary Russian government, he was appointed to Holy Synod and promptly elected Metropolitan of Moscow. The Bolsheviks and the Communists were less than supportive of religion and Archbishop Tikhon suffered along with his brother clergy. One bright note was that because of his distance from the royal court, he wasn’t purged with the other hierarchs who were accused of being pawns of the mysterious, controversial Rasputin. In August of 1917, he was elected to the newly restored Patriarchate, and knew that what was coming would be “lamentations, mourning and woe” as he quoted the prophet Ezekiel in his acceptance speech.
He wasn’t wrong. From almost the moment he became Patriarch, he was at odds with the secular Russian government. He urged his clergy to avoid making political statements, and had to balance not only atheistic, antagonistic secular government actions against the church and its people, but disunity, disharmony and upheavals within the church as well.
In 1921, a severe famine struck the Volga region, and the Patriarch authorized the sale of non-liturgical church belongings in order to aid the famine victims. That, however, was not sufficient for the government, and they began demanding the valuables used in liturgical services. This was blasphemy, as outlined by Canon law, and the Patriarch stood firm against i. He ordered his clergy to resist the authorities and for it was imprisoned for over a year, and was subjected to constant harassment, oversight and what amounted to house arrest once he was released. Additionally, the schisms and controversies within the church had intensified, and required all his skill, diplomacy and mercy to weather. The constant strain took its toll, and in 1924 he fell ill and was hospitalized, leaving his bed only to conduct services on Sundays and Feast Days.
On Sunday, April 5, 1925, he served his last liturgy. On April 7, his doctors were summoned late at night, where they found him in excruciating pain, and administered morphine, as was usual in those times. At 11:45 pm, he asked the time, crossed himself three times and breathed his last. There was an attempt to revive him, but it was unsuccessful.
He was buried with great mourning on Palm Sunday, April 12, 1925, although only a few handpicked heirarchs were actually allowed at the interment in the catacombs of the Donskoi monastery. He was glorified in 1989 and his relics were finally discovered in February of 1992.
For more information on St. Tikhon, please see these websites: