Historic Decisions by the Church of Russia

By Very Rev. Archpriest Vladimir Rodzianko

It takes a considerable time for church news from Russia to reach England. No radio or secular press are available for the ecclesiastical purposes in the U.S.S.R.

A few days ago the latest Journal of Moscow Patriarchate was received in London with an important speech by the Patriarch of Moscow in it. The importance of the speech lies in the fact that now one can clearly see that the Church of Russia has broken its silence. The Christian Church behind the Iron Curtain is often called 'The Church of Silence.' Not long ago the Journal of Moscow Patriarchate published an article signed by the Second Primate of the Russian Church Metropolitan Nikolay himself, where he compared the Church to Our Lady while she was still on earth, saying that she gave us an example of silence in front of 'the rude unbelieving people whom she converted by her silent prayer and love.' This policy of silence -- together with a declaration of loyalty to the State -- was introduced as long ago as 1927 by the then Head of the Church Metropolitan Sergius. It proved at times to be fruitful. But the vigorous attacks against the Church started recently in the Soviet Press again. At first the Church still maintained its silence. It did not help. On the contrary. The former Archpriest Alexandre Osipov, who was also a Professor of Old Testament Studies at the Leningrad Theological Academy and held the post of the Editor of the new Bible of Moscow Patriarchate (he was defending the strictly orthodox interpretation of the Bible from the 'Anglican liberalism' at the Anglo-Russian Theological Conference in Moscow in 1956) -- published in 'Pravda' of December 6th, 1959, a letter in which he proclaimed himself an atheist and made a bitter attack on the Church. He was later joined by others.

Then the Church of Russia broke its silence. The Patriarch and the Holy Synod made a historic decision on the 30th December, 1959, as follows:

"We hereby decree that the former Archpriest and Professor of Leningrad Theological Academy Alexandre Osipov, the former Archpriest Nikolay Spassky, the former priest Paul Darmansky and all those in Holy Orders, who have publicly blasphemed the Name of God -- be defrocked from Holy Orders and severed from all connection with the Church. 'They went out from us, but they were not of us.'

"We also hereby decree that Evgraf Duluman and other former Orthodox laymen who have publicly blasphemed the Name of God, be excommunicated from the Church."

This decision was published in the Journal of Moscow Patriarchate.

It was a courageous act, as it in fact covered all members of the ruling Communist Party, sharply separating the Church of God from all those who -- whatever their earthly power -- were godless.

Nevertheless, Patriarch Alexis of Moscow and all Russia was invited to speak at a meeting of the Soviet Society in the Kremlin Theatre devoted to the proposal on disarmament in February, 1960.

After reminding all present that he was speaking 'in the name of millions of Orthodox Christians, citizens of our State,' and of the great service of the Russian Orthodox Church to the Russian people in the past and in the present, the Patriarch went on:

"Yet, in spite of all this, Christ's Church, whose aim is the good of the people, receives from that same people all manner of attacks and reproaches. Nevertheless, it fulfills its duty, appealing for peace and love. . . . There is a great deal of comfort for its faithful members in such a position for the Church for of what avail are all the efforts of the human mind against Christianity. Twenty centuries of Christian history speak for themselves. Christ Himself foresaw the hostile forces arrayed against Him and gave a vow of unshakeability to the Church saying that the GATES OF HELL SHALL NOT PREVAIL AGAINST HER (note: underlined in the Journal of the Patriarchate). We Christians know how we must live in the service of other men and our love for men cannot be lessened in any circumstances."

After saying that it was precisely because of its love for men that the Russian Church supports disarmament, the Patriarch went on:

"On the basis of its centuries old experience, our Church can say: if all of us can contribute to the world -- sensible ideas, purity of motive, good-will and fair-dealing, we shall have done everything to preserve peace among men and all nations."

This speech turns a new page in the history of the Russian Church and, indeed, of the Soviet State. The very fact that the speech was heard by the cream of Soviet Society in the Kremlin Theatre, was reported by the secular press, yet appeared later in the Church Press -- in spite of its ideological opposition to the official doctrine of the State -- is significant in itself.

By his selfless act, Patriarch Alexis has shown the courage of a Confessor.

Syndesmos, Series 2, No. 10, July 1960.