A hundred years ago, at the beginning of 1921, a mass famine began in Russia, which killed millions of people. The outbreak of a humanitarian catastrophe forced the Soviet government to accept foreign aid, but it became a convenient pretext for it to pursue its enemies inside the country. What did the Russian Patriarch Tikhon desperately ask Pope Benedict XV for? Why did the Bolsheviks not allow the Orthodox Church to save the starving for a long time? How did foreign intervention prevent the execution of Patriarch Tikhon? Did he die a natural death in 1925, or was he poisoned by the Chekists? Candidate of Historical Sciences, Senior Researcher at the Institute of History of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told Lente.ru about the difficult and dramatic history of relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Soviet government Stanislav Petrov.

Stanislav Petrov, The local council of 1917-1918, which restored the patriarchate in Russia after a two-century hiatus, did not sit in the Kremlin. It actually opened in the Kremlin’s Assumption Cathedral, but most of the working sessions took place in the Moscow Diocesan House in Likhov Lane (now the Orthodox St. Tikhon University for the Humanities is located there). Although it was in the Kremlin at that time that many members of the Council lived, mainly bishops. Let me remind readers that, unlike today, when the Kremlin is considered the official residence of the country’s top political leadership, at that time it was the focus of active monasteries and churches it was not for nothing that it was called the sacred Kremlin” before the revolution.

Therefore, the October battles in Moscow in 1917 directly affected both the delegates of the cathedral and the monks permanently residing in the Kremlin. The fact that the Orthodox Church then tried to become a mediator between the warring parties is not surprising. 76 years later, in October 1993, the Moscow Patriarchate also sought to reconcile the main political opponents in Russia, who had brought their struggle for power to bloodshed. Unfortunately, for reasons beyond the control of the Church, it failed in both cases.

However, in the fall of 1917, the participants in the Local Council not only acted as peacekeepers but also carefully recorded the deplorable results of the Bolshevik shelling of the Kremlin: the number of junkers killed during its defense and numerous damage to the Kremlin buildings. Later, based on these data, Metropolitan Nestor (Anisimov) published a well-known brochure. The Shooting of the Moscow Kremlin.

As for your question – why the Bolsheviks were initially extremely negative about the Orthodox Church – everything is clear here too. This comes from their 1903 program, which, in turn, goes back to the anti-religious decrees of the Paris Commune of 1871. Maybe the point is also that the Bolsheviks considered the Orthodox Church one of the institutions of the previous regime? Yes of course. During the previous two centuries, since the era of Peter I, who abolished the patriarchate, the Russian Church was essentially a department of the Orthodox faith and part of the state apparatus of the Russian Empire. But even before that, Russian Orthodoxy inherited the Byzantine tradition of the symphony – the unity and harmony of church and state. Therefore, during the synodal period of its history, right up to the Local Council of 1917-1918, the Russian Orthodox Church was actually held captive by the official government, which could not but affect the attitude towards it on the part of the opponents of this very government.

Hungry Disaster

When a catastrophic famine broke out in Russia in the spring of 1921, Patriarch Tikhon (Bellovin) turned to Pope Benedict XV for help, as well as to the church hierarchs of England and the United States. Have the West heard this desperate appeal? Of course, we did. In response, the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Gasparri, assured that the Catholic Church would provide all the necessary assistance to save the starving in Soviet Russia. Soon the Pope himself made a corresponding appeal, and then similar statements were published by Protestant hierarchs in the USA and Great Britain.
It is known that the Bolsheviks had to agree to the activities of foreign charitable organizations in Russia the American Relief Administration (ARA), Quaker societies, the mission of the famous Norwegian polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen and many others. For the time being,

The Soviet government put up with the existence of the All-Russian Committee for Aid the Famine, a public liberal organization created by the former ministers of the Provisional Government Nikolai Kishkin, Sergei Prokopovich, and his wife Ekaterina Kurkova. From their names, this committee was mockingly called Prokukish in the Soviet propaganda of that time? Yes, we know a letter from Lenin, written at the end of August 1921 to Stalin and other members of the Politburo, demanding to instruct Soviet newspapers to ridicule and poison at least once a week for two months members of the All-Russian Committee for Aid the Hunger. At first, most of them were going to be shot, but after Nansen’s intercession, they were sent into exile, and then they were completely expelled from the country.

Why did the Soviet state willingly accept Western aid to the residents of the starving regions of our country, but in every possible way prevented the Russian Orthodox Church from collecting money for the victims? The admission of foreign charitable organizations to Russia was a forced measure for the Bolsheviks. By 1921, their power in the country had not yet sufficiently strengthened, they clearly could not cope with the catastrophic situation in the starving regions, so they had to agree to help from abroad. But the Soviet government did not stand on ceremony with the Orthodox Church, so the Russian clergy, despite repeated appeals from Patriarch Tikhon, for a long time could not get permission to collect donations to help the starving. Moreover, this applied not only to the Orthodox Church but also to other religious organizations in our country.

The situation changed only by December 1921. Oddly enough, this happened largely thanks to Stalin. As the people’s commissar for nationalities, he received an appeal from Muslim religious leaders of the Volga region with a request to allow assistance to people dying of hunger. Stalin sent a letter from the Muslim clergy for consideration to the Politburo of the Central Committee of the RCP (b). As a result, only at the beginning of December 1921, the All-Russian Central Executive Committee allowed the creation of a church committee to help the starving. From that moment on, the Orthodox Russian Church could legally participate in humanitarian actions to save people from starvation. Moreover, this applied not only to her but also to other religious organizations in Russia.

It should be recalled here that in the winter of 1921-1922 the situation in Soviet Russia became completely catastrophic: it was the peak of mortality from hunger and the accompanying epidemics when the number of victims was in the hundreds of thousands. However, the development of instructions that established the procedure for collecting church donations, their distribution, and reporting forms dragged on until February 1922. After that, Patriarch Tikhon, with the permission of the Politburo, officially called on believers to make donations in favor of the starving and allowed the clergy to donate precious church decorations, utensils, and property that did not have liturgical use for their needs.

Trotsky And The Pogrom

But it was in February 1922 that the notorious action to confiscate church valuables began, which actually led to the plundering of the Russian Orthodox Church. Why did the Bolsheviks do this? This action was part of a broader campaign launched at Trotsky’s initiative back in November 1921. It concerned the accounting and concentration of all values ​​of the former Russian Empire, including those from the temples and monasteries of the Russian Orthodox Church closed by that time. All confiscated valuable items were sent to Gokhran, and from there, in most cases, to be melted down.

As is usually the case in such cases, the appetite comes with eating. This was not enough for the Bolsheviks, and Trotsky got the idea to expand the scale of the campaign.
In early January 1922, he sent a letter to Lenin, where he pointed out that precious objects worth several billion rubles were concentrated in the churches and monasteries still operating at that time, which was not true. The seizure of church valuables, allegedly to help the starving people of the Volga region, announced by a resolution of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of February 23, 1922, became a kind of smokescreen to cover up a larger-scale confiscation action – the expropriation of a valuable property of the Russian Orthodox Church by the Soviet government.

If there had not been a catastrophic famine, the Bolsheviks would hardly have succeeded. That is, the Soviet government cynically used the mass famine to attack the most powerful and influential opposition force, which was then the Russian Orthodox Church? This was not hidden in the internal correspondence of the Bolshevik leaders. Of course, such measures aroused not only the indignation of believers but also natural resistance, such as, for example, the bloody events in Shuya in March 1922. Moreover, local authorities, as in this incident, often submitted false information to Moscow about the scale of discontent. Such misinformation forced the Bolsheviks, who did not yet have the proper experience in running a hug

The result was massive repressions against the clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church and the believers who support it (the first and second Moscow trials in the case of “churchmen” in 1922, the Petrograd trial in 1922, trials in other cities). In his famous March 1922 letter, Lenin, relying on Machiavelli’s Sovereign, pointed out it is necessary to commit a series of atrocities to achieve a certain political goal, then they must be carried out most actively and in the shortest possible time, for the masses of the people will not endure the prolonged use of atrocities. In other words, according to Vladimir Ilyich, any mass repression should be carried out quickly and in waves, alternating with periods of respite. Is it true that this campaign was not carried out as zealously on the national outskirts as in the central Russian provinces? I read that the Bolshevik leaders of Armenia, Dagestan, and Ukraine have achieved significant indulgences for their republics.

Each of these regions had its own characteristics. Due to its religious traditions, the Armenian Apostolic Church rarely used precious objects of worship in divine services. The same can be said about Muslim Dagestan. And Ukraine in the first years of Soviet power in almost all situations always strived to demonstrate independence and a special position. This was reflected in such a delicate issue, especially since in Ukraine in 1921-1922 the famine was no less catastrophic than in the Volga region and the Urals.

Back in the late 1990s, two volumes of a collection of documents were published on this topic, in the preparation of which I participated together with my teacher, Academician Nikolai Nikolayevich Pokrovsky. Among the materials published then, in particular, there was a letter from the Central Executive Committee of the Ukrainian SSR to Moscow, dated as early as 1925. It contained a request that the discovered church values, including those from the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, not be sent to the disposal of the Union People’s Commissariat of Finance to replenish the USSR monetary fund, as previously prescribed and demanded by this department, but to leave in Ukraine. The Politburo of the RCP (b) agreed and decided to allocate funds from the sale of this property to help to starve Ukrainian children.

Bolshevik Accounting

What did the Bolsheviks spend the money received from the confiscation of church property? There is a good popular science book by Olga Vasilyeva (the previous Minister of Education of the Russian Federation) and Pavel Knyshevsky’s “The Red Conquistadors”, where all this is described in detail. The confiscated church valuables in most cases were sent for melting or sold abroad. It is known that the Bolsheviks even attracted one of the sons of the famous jeweler Carl Faberge to assess their value.

It is difficult to say what exactly the money received as a result of this campaign was spent on. All of them went into a common cauldron, to replenish the meager monetary fund of the Soviet state, which was in international isolation. After all, our country did not sell oil and gas abroad at that time. Also, it quickly became clear that the information about the allegedly incalculable riches of the Church, which Trotsky operated in the preparation of this campaign, had been greatly exaggerated. The Bolsheviks spent part of the money they received on stabilizing the economy, and the other part on current expenses.

Several years ago, historian Yulia Khmelevskaya in an interview with Lente.ru said that this money was also used to help the international labor movement and that she personally saw a document from which it follows that part of the proceeds from the sale of seized church gold and silver went to purchase in Finland of leather uniforms for the command staff of the Red Army and the GPU. It’s not a secret, that’s how it was. After all, what was the Comintern like? They were agents of Bolshevik influence abroad, used as a tool to influence Western public opinion. Therefore, money received from the implementation of the values ​​of the Russian Orthodox Church was also spent on the maintenance of the Comintern. As for the army, according to the resolution of the Council of People’s Commissars, five percent of the assessed value of all seized church property was to go to the needs of the People’s Commissariat for Military Affairs of the RSFSR, headed by Trotsky.

Do I understand correctly that it was Trotsky who was the main initiator and beneficiary of this whole anti-church confiscation campaign? As I said, he was a special representative of the Council of People’s Commissars for the registration and concentration of values. When protests against this campaign began throughout the country, Trotsky set himself the task of breaking the backbone of the Russian Orthodox Church to forever discourage her from any desire to resist Soviet power. As Lev Davidovich emphasized t

Before him, all attempts by the Chekists (and the corresponding special unit at Lubyanka appeared back in 1919) to infiltrate church structures and take them under their wing invariably failed. But 1922 became a borderline for the future fate of the Russian Church. The idea to split it to break the resistance and put it under the control of the Soviet regime was proposed to Trotsky by the former Petrograd priest Mikhail Galkin, who after 1917 became a militant atheist.

“Red Church”

Are you talking about the Renovations schism that arose within the church in May 1922? Yes, but the idea of ​​the Renovations split did not arise within the church, but within the Soviet state apparatus, and precisely with the suggestion of Galkin’s rasp. This was a way of artificially dividing the Orthodox Russian Church into two parts the reactionary Black Hundred, headed by Patriarch Tikhon in Soviet propaganda, his supporters were contemptuously called Tikhonovites and the progressive Soviet, headed by specially selected in the 6th branch of the Secret Department GPU by priests loyal to the Bolsheviks renovations. The first was to be defeated and destroyed immediately the second later. As Trotsky wrote when the time comes, the red church should also be turned into a miscarriage. This was a typical application of the classic divide and conquer formula.

The communist authorities skillfully played the Tikhonists and Renovationists against each other. The patriarch Tikhon, who was under investigation, who was kept under house arrest in the Donskoy Monastery (for some time he also stayed in the internal prison of the GPU on the Lubyanka), was flooded with accusations and direct insults in the Soviet press, his supporters were arrested and shot. Renovations, with the active assistance of the authorities, seized churches; in the spring of 1923, in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior they occupied, they held their own Local Council, at which they announced unconditional support for the Soviet regime and the overthrow of Patriarch Tikhon. But by that time, the renovations themselves had split into several warring groups, which in their squabbles often appealed to the head of the 6th branch of the GPU’s Secret Department, Yevgeny Tuchkov, the chief church curator at Lubyanka.

How can you explain the fact that many prominent leaders of Renovations, like the notorious Vladimir Krasnitsky, were considered convinced monarchists under the previous regime? Some were members of the Union of the Russian People others were even deputies of the State Duma from right-wing and nationalist parties. What kind of metamorphosis happened to them after the revolution, why did they gladly go into the service of the new government?

The same as with Trotsky’s chief expert on church affairs, Mikhail Galkin, who at one time had close ties with Rasputin. Each person responds differently to the challenges of the time. People who know how to change their shoes in a jump and willingly adapt to any power have always existed. And in the church environment, there were also such characters with increased social adaptability and reduced moral responsibility. Now some consider such qualities to be positive, but then it was called a renegade. This is human nature, there is nothing new here. The same Galkin before the revolution was a priest and spiritual writer, the author of countless moralistic Christian books and a member of the All-Russian Alexander Nevsky Brotherhood of Temperance, but died in 1948 as a militant atheist, head of the department of foundations of Marxism-Leninism.

Our Greetings To Curzon

Are the Bolsheviks really going to shoot Patriarch Tikhon? The decision on this, made at the highest level, is documented. But the Bolsheviks dragged out the preparations for the Patriarch’s trail too long. If this had not happened, Tikhon had every chance to share the fate of the Catholic prelate Konstantin Budkevich, who was shot on the night of April 1, 1923. Together with him, the bishop of the Roman Catholic Church in Russia, Jan Tseplyak, was to be executed. But due to violent protests from the international community, his death sentence was commuted first to imprisonment and then to deportation to Poland. Taught by this bitter experience, fearing a negative international reaction, the People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs Chicherin wrote to Stalin in those days:

The People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs proposes that the Politburo decides in advance not to sentence Tikhon to death. The facts have shown what tremendous harm we have caused ourselves by the execution of Budkevich, Anyone who knows in any way what is happening behind the border posts will confirm that in all respects our situation has deteriorated extremely as a result of this case. Meanwhile, in the Budkevich case, there is an opportunity to refer to Polish espionage and links with aggressive Polish chauvinism. This is not the first, however, Chicherin’s arguments did not make an impression on the Bolshevik leaders. On April 12, 1923, the Politburo decided, To issue a directive to the Supreme Tribunal to conduct Tikhon’s case with all severity, corresponding to the amount of colossal guilt committed by TikhonYou yourself can decide what in those conditions it could mean. What saved the life of the Russian patriarch?

Soon the Soviet leaders had to be convinced of Chicherin’s correctness. The criminal prosecution of Patriarch Tikhon caused a colossal wave of indignation in the West, which could not be ignored. The reprisals against Tikhon were opposed not only by the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church but even by Fridtjof Nansen, a key figure in the sale of Russian church values ​​to the West. And Chicherin was unexpectedly supported by Dzerzhinsky. But the famous note by Curzon of May 8, 1923, had a particularly sobering effect on the Kremlin leadership. The British Foreign Minister actually put forward an ultimatum to the Soviet government, paragraphs 21 and 22 of which directly demanded an end to religious persecution in the USSR.

Did it really work? But what about our answer to Curzon? As of now, then the authorities clearly separated the propaganda hype for domestic consumption and real international politics. In the spring of 1923, Moscow hoped for an early establishment of diplomatic relations between Great Britain and the Soviet Union, so the Kremlin did not want to quarrel with London. Of course, publicly the Bolsheviks could not admit that they had actually fulfilled many points of this note. Despite loud propaganda and numerous rallies with the burning of an effigy of Lord Curzon, the Soviet authorities in June 1923 were forced to release Patriarch Tikhon. At the same time, they put forward several conditions to which he reluctantly agreed.

The Price Of Compromise

Why did the renovation movement quickly fizzle out after the release from custody of Patriarch Tikhon? The Soviet government no longer needed the services of the adherents of the Red Reformation so they quickly wrote them off for scrap? Renovations schism was a very complex phenomenon in the history of the Russian Church. In many ways, it was created to destroy the Orthodox Russian Church – united and then still independent about the existing government. But what you are talking about undoubtedly became one of the reasons for its collapse.

By the terrible irony of history, in the Stalinist era, the Renovations Church was subjected to an even more cruel pogrom than the canonical patriarchal Church. After the first godless five-year plans at the end of the 1930s, almost all of the renovation leadership was shot. The history of the Renovations movement finally ended in 1946, after the death of one of its main founders and ideologists, Alexander Vvedensky.

Let’s not forget that from June 1923 until February 1924, Patriarch Tikhon, although he was at large, remained under investigation. Yes the influence that the leaders of the Anti-Religious Commission under the Central Committee of the RCP (b) and the Chekists had on him made the primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, according to their confessions, more compliant. Practically none of his appeals, since the summer of 1923, were published without the consent of the Soviet authorities most often this function was performed by the head of the 6th department of the OGPU Secret Department, Tuchkov. But Patriarch Tikhon saw his main task as preserving the canonical Russian Church and overcoming the Renovations schism. Despite the arrests of his closest and loyal comrades-in-arms – for example, Archbishop Hilarion (Troitsky) for this lofty goal, he was ready to agree to reconciliation with the Soviet regime and its recognition.

However, in some cases, making concessions to the Chekists, who literally twisted his arms, later Patriarch Tikhon often disavowed his previous statements. This happened, for example, in the history of the new style (Gregorian chronology) actively imposed on him from the Lubyanka, previously recognized by the Renovations. Despite all the actions of the Renovationists and the Chekists behind them, Patriarch Tikhon remained until his death a symbol of the unity of the Russian Orthodox Church, protecting it from new schisms.

The Last Spring Of The Patriarch

How do you feel about the version that in April 1925 Patriarch Tikhon died not by his own death, but was poisoned by the Chekists? This is a very popular question. I have been researching the history of the Russian Church for about thirty years, and they still ask me in different audiences Wasn’t Patriarch Tikhon poisoned when he became completely displeasing to the Soviet regime? and I invariably answer that there are no documents in this regard.

This is understandable – no one ever gives such orders in writing. However, shortly before his death, Tikhon underwent a dental operation at the Bakunin’s clinic after which he suddenly developed gum swelling. Nevertheless, I believe that Patriarch Tikhon died himself, and not as a result of poisoning by the Chekists. Conspiracy theories often appear around the deaths of prominent people. Many were embarrassed by a very strange incident in December 1924, unknown persons, who were never found later, burst into the chambers of the patriarch in the Donskoy monastery and shot his cell attendant Yakov Polozov.

After the death of Polozov, who had been with the patriarch for many years, Tikhon surrendered strongly. His old illnesses worsened, and he went to the Bakunin clinic for treatment, where he died on April 7, 1925. Half a month before the death of the patriarch, another prosecution began: in the 6th department of the Secret Department of the OGPU, a new criminal case was opened against him and a decree was issued to change his measure of restraint – all that was left was to write the required data into the document.

Therefore, in 1925, the Chekists had completely different plans concerning Patriarch Tikhon, they were hardly interested in eliminating him by some sophisticated means.
At that time, the OGPU did not yet have a corresponding unit that would be engaged in such special operations. As far as I know, it appeared in the Lubyanka only after the Great Patriotic War to eliminate Stalin’s political opponents. Even Trotsky, his worst enemy, was killed in Mexico in 1940 with an ice pick. Also, the death of Patriarch Tikhon created a new situation, much less favorable for the Soviet regime. Which one? Tikhon’s successor, the patriarchal locum tenens, Metropolitan Peter (Polyansky), was less inclined to make concessions to the Chekists. His priestly ministry was even more tragic: in December 1925 he was arrested, and in 1937, after many years of ordeals in exile and prisons, he was shot in a detention center in the Urals.

Stalin’s Wrath And Mercy

How did the Russian Church manage to survive in such an unfavorable socio-political situation after the death of Patriarch Tikhon? Has Sergianism become an acceptable alternative to Renovations? This is a very difficult question. Metropolitan Sergius (Stragorodsky), who became the deputy patriarchal locum tenens after the arrest of Metropolitan Peter, was a complex and controversial figure in the history of the Russian Church. In the early 1920s, he himself went into the Renovations schism, for which he later publicly repented.

His famous declaration of 1927, in fact, became a continuation of the policy of Patriarch Tikhon after his release from arrest in 1923. Believers were confused not so much by the document itself as by some of the wording contained in it. Most likely, they were also imposed on him by the Soviet regime. But Metropolitan Sergius agreed to this forced compromise for the sake of preserving the Patriarchal Church. There was another variant of behavior in this situation. Metropolitan Kirill (Smirnov) in 1927 refused to cooperate with Tuchkov, who proposed making him patriarch. And then he also died in Stalin’s dungeons, like Metropolitan Peter. This is the difference between them. Due to the peculiarities of his personality, Metropolitan Sergius turned out to be more compliant and loyal to the Soviet regime than Patriarch Tikhon.

But in the history of the Russian Church, Tikhon remained a unifying figure, and Sergius – a separating figure. Patriarch Tikhon, Metropolitans Peter, and Cyril are now numbered among the holy new martyrs and confessors. But Metropolitan Sergius, who became patriarch in 1943, I think, is unlikely to be canonized. Now you can often hear that the modern Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate has nothing to do with the pre-revolutionary Russian Orthodox Church because it was established by Stalin in 1943. Are these reproaches fair? Such statements cannot be taken seriously. The Moscow Patriarchate, restored in 1943, is one of the full-fledged parts of the former Russian Orthodox Church.

Of course, Stalin decided to revive the Russian Church largely for opportunistic reasons.
First, he went to meet the wishes of the allies in the anti-Hitler coalition, especially on the eve of the Tehran conference. Secondly, this step was dictated by the situation in the occupied territories of the USSR, where the Germans were actively opening churches. But to deny the Moscow Patriarchate in succession about the pre-revolutionary Church, in my opinion, is completely unacceptable. For over a thousand years, the history of the Russian Orthodox Church has been continuous and inseparable from the history of Russia. During all this time, the Church, the most important spiritual and social institution of our country, has seen a lot and survived despite everything. Despite all the repressions and persecutions, she even survived the atheist Soviet power.