Documents Old Believers Solzhenitsyn, Alexander

Letter to the Third Council of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad

Letter to the Third Council of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad

Translator’s note: The text of Solzhenitsyn’s address to the Third All-Diaspora Council of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad has been translated at least twice before: in the magazine The Old Calendarist (Dec. 1974) and in the book Solzhenitsyn’s Religion, by Niels Nielsen Jr. (New York,1975. The former of these two translations was unavailable to the editors of this website, while the latter is the intellectual property of its translator. Therefore the editor has decided to translate the article again for the purpose of publication.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a close friend of Fr. Alexander Schmemman. It is worth noting the affinity between Solzhenitsyn’s impressions of the ecclesiastical division that then prevailed throughout the Russian Orthodox Diaspora and Fr. Schemman’s criticism of so-called “jurisdictionalism.”  Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s recently published journals contain insightful remarks about A. I. Solzhenitsyn.

Your Eminence, Your Graces, Worthy Clergy, and Kind Sirs,

His All-Holiness Metropolitan Philaret has expressed the desire that I should address you with my own impressions on how and by what means the free part of the Russian Orthodox Church might help her persecuted and imprisoned part.

Although I am aware of how unprepared I am to make a presentation concerning ecclesiastical issues before an assembly of hierarchs and clergy who have consecrated their entire lives to the service of the Church, nevertheless I fear to shirk my duty. Thus I beg your condescension towards any mistakes I might make in terminology, or even regarding the very nature of the issues at hand.

The grievous picture of the persecution and annihilation of the Church on the territory of our country has been present before me during my entire life, from the first impressions of my childhood. I remember how armed guards interrupted the Liturgy and went into the altar, how they raged demonically around the Paschal service, tearing away the candles and kulich. My own classmates tore the cross right off of my chest. I remember how the bells were cast down to the ground and the churches were reduced to bricks.

I also remember well the time before the war, when church services were already forbidden almost everywhere in our country, such that in my city of half a million people there remained not a single functioning church. This was already thirteen years after the declaration of Metropolitan Sergius. Thus it must be acknowledged that this declaration was not for the salvation of the Church. Rather it was a one-sided capitulation which made it easier for the authorities to accomplish the annihilation of the Church smoothly and silently.

The rebirth of ecclesiastical life three years later was not at all the result of any agreement from the side of the authorities, but rather it was called forth by the pitiful situation in which they found themselves: the power of the religious movement throughout the country, aided especially by the re-establishment of churches in occupied territories, made it necessasry to appease the social opinions of the West. In fact, the concessions and declarations of 1943 were deceits. Thirty more years have now passed, and with the same arrogant and atheistic cruelty the authorities persecute and bully the Church. They tolerate her only in such measure – and what a measure –  as she is necessary to them as a political decoration, and for the sake of meddling in international ecclesiastical affairs.

But many phenomena have a deep and unseen process behind them. This is all the more true in spiritual matters. While being used by Stalin as no more than a pawn in a political game, the Church  –  not as an organization, but as a spiritual body –  began to gain strength. She was not laid waste by the authorities, and was no longer completely controlled. “A city is taken by surprise,” as the proverb says.

By just such a surprise our Church had been shattered and crumpled during the twenties, by the secular powers with their extreme ferocity so unexpected by the goodhearted population of that time. True, this ferocity drew in its train a cleansing outburst of faith and martyrdom, such as the Russian Church had not known in antiquity, perhaps not even the Universal Church. But all of these confessors  were immediately annihilated.  They paid for their firm faith with their freedom and their lives.  At the height of the thirties it already seemed that not only had church services with their bells been driven from Russia once and for all, but that even the deepest, whispering prayer had suffered ultimate strangulation.

But “that which endured the first blow exploded at the second.” It turned out that the church-going masses would not permit themselves to be destroyed twice in the same way. We the current population have become tough within the Communist atmosphere and have adapted to it, as you may see from many public phenomena in our country. The governing authority, on the other hand, becomes more and more decrepit each year, having fallen ever more in love with possessions.

That which appeared in thirties to be a spiritually doomed wasteland is now becoming green again in many places, in many trends. I can bear witness from my own recent experience that in certain small islands, as it were, far different from the daily Soviet life, from the Soviet psychology, Orthodox temples are glimmering in today’s Soviet Union. The churches are thinly scattered across the face of the country. Sometimes one must travel two-hundred kilometers in order to go to church services. You can’t get to regular services anymore. One asks others to commemorate him and light candles on his behalf. The overflowing of the restored temples on holidays is also a rebuke to the persecutors. In light of the current weakening of faith in the West, it may be that nowhere on the earth are there such overcrowded Christian temples as in there are in the U.S.S.R.  There is no room to make a prostration. One crosses oneself only tightly. The feeling of faith is not at all weakened by such a situation. Feeling our shoulders pressed against those of our neighbors, we are strengthened against persecutions. And the community of the faithful includes even more people than those who are able or who are bold enough to visit the temples. In the Ryazan region, which I have observed more than others, seventy percent of the children are baptized in spite of the restrictions and consequences, and in the cemeteries crosses are more and more crowding out the Soviet monuments with their stars and photographs.

Of course, the Church is still far from triumphant.  She is humbled by all manner of obligations to the state, limited in all kinds of civil rights. her priests are subject to the whims of atheistic overlords. There really isn’t such a thing as a parish or parish activity. The path of Christian education is cut off for the children and youth. Yet the youth nevertheless are walking into the temples en masse of their own accord.

Here I cannot refrain from making a rather informative observation: Sixty or eighty years ago, the Russian Orthodox Church enjoyed the full support of a powerful government, which was itself in all its strength and glory. At that time the Church was abandoned by and subject to the ridicule of the youth and the intelligentsia in particular. I remember a certain powerful leader of the Soviet culture, who died not long ago. In his youth he went to the mandatory divine services and put a cigarette butt instead of a coin into the collection plate, evoking the delighted laughter of the  the female high-school students. Now, on the contrary, the intelligentsia and the youth in the Soviet Union, even if they do not accept faith themselves, nevertheless regard it with appropriate reverence, while all of their mockery and derisive attitudes have been refocused on the reigning Communist ideology.

I remember well how many flaming adherents had the militant atheism of the twenties, those whose raged as if possessed, blowing out the candles and chopping up icons with axes. But now these same ones are scattered in the dust, as is their Union of Militant Atheists, the most virulent of them having met their demise on the very same Archipelago with the faithful clergy. Others changed their views, their teaching having lost all of its energy. But the Church has survived a cruelty which seemed impossible to survive. And behold, she stands, although far from her natural stature, and is strengthened, if not in her organization, then in the spirit of the faithful and of those who are newly turning to her.

That is how I see the Russian Church today in our country; and I would like to warn the leaders of the Church Abroad against an error arising from their far-removed perspective, namely that of considering this Church of ours, a Church of many millions of people, to be “fallen,” and of placing in opposition to this Church a certain “true,” “secret,” “catacomb” Church. During the first fifteen-to-twenty years of the Soviet rule, that is during the orgy of overbearing persecutions, there was indeed something like a Catacomb Church. It existed in secret and hidden prayers of the traumatized priests and the persecuted faithful. But everyday life goes on. The majority of the people are not saints, but everyday people. Faith and Divine Service must carry on their normal life as well, and these do not demand the highest feat [of martyrdom] on every occasion.  So, if there turns out to be a church nearby and the candles are lit, people are naturally drawn there.

I myself know one of those women who, during the thirties, hid priests and conducted secret divine services in private rooms. Now these women simply go to the nearest temple. It does happen that prayers are conducted in certain decrepit places (at a spring or cemetery –  I also know of such places around Ryazan), as if these were a replacement for attending divine services in a church.  But this is only because all of the surrounding churches are closed and there are no clergy at all in the area. It is a delusion to conclude from these circumstances the existence of a secret church organization as an “All-Russian phenomenon.”  If tomorrow the authorities should once again start  boarding up every church, then catacomb prayers would arise again.  But the authorities themselves no longer have the energy for this.

The supplanting of the real Russian nation with an image of a catacomb church is not what we need today. We must not  do as I have noticed in some of your publications: we must neither ignore, nor avoid through closed-mindedness the resurgent and strengthening Orthodoxy in our country. Our task today is much more complicated, more complex, but also more joyous than mere solidarity with come secret, sinless –  but also bodiless  –  catacomb church.

The Church in our country today is imprisoned, persecuted, under duress; but by no means is she fallen! She has arisen in that spiritual strength that the Lord has given to our people. As I have said previously, I cannot attribute her revival and stability to the validity of the programs of Metropolitan Sergius and his followers. It is not their obscurant calculations aimed at strengthening Christ by wearing medals minted by the antichrist, nor their betrayal of refugees to a death in the labor camps, nor any of their sly propaganda about some sort of “bacteriological warfare conducted by Americans,” nor their pusillanimous capitulation, nor their crimes that have revived Christ’s Church.  This is only part of the course taken by those historical forces which express Divine Providence.

These hierarchs are responsible in heaven and on earth for the sins of slavishness and betrayal that can be attributed to them, but these sins do not extend to the body of the Church, to the many sincere clergy, to the masses praying in the temples.  These sins can never be attributed to the people of the Church. The entire history of Christianity convinces us of this. If the sins of the hierarchs where laid upon the faithful, then there would be no unconquerable Church of Christ. Rather the Church would be completely dependent on the circumstantial nature of characters and events.

Our recent history demands of us both understanding and sympathy. I venerate the memory of Patriarch Tikhon. What novelty, what unexpectedness and what sort of difficulties awaited his every varied and untraversable step during those terrible years, than which there were no years more terrible in all of Russia’s millenium; when he lifted up his hand on the amvon and anathematized the Bolshevik commisars; when, in the clutches of Lenin and Trotsky, he was shaken with doubt  over the shameless games they played with church valuables – for kindness would lead to destruction, while firmness would have been viewed as anti-Christian; or when, in order to overcome the insolent “renovationists” he permitted himself a moderately conciliatory tone towards the atheistic powers; when he pondered the magnitude of the steps of he had decided upon.  At that time the whole weight of those unexpected and somehow not-yet-understood years was laid upon his shoulders –  yet not only this weight. At the same time the burden of the sins of all previous Russian ecclesiastical history was becoming apparent.

The sudden death of the Patriarch (he was most probably murder by Chekists) only confirms the righteousness of his approach. The rightness of thousands of priests, monks, bishops, and of the Patriarchal Locum-Tenens Peter was marked and confirmed in the same way, by a similar death in the prisons of the GPU, on the Solevetsky Islands, in other camps and in exile. No one who venerates their fortitude can keep from weeping over the false path of appeasement that was initiated by Metropolitan Sergius, as understandable as it may have been under the conditions, a path which was perpetuated and even spiralled out of control under his succesors.  It can’t be easy for theses to admit that the inevitable rebirth of the Church does not depend on their signatures, that on the contrary they would have more gloriously and succesfully raised up the Church by renouncing the Bolsheviks at every step?

We have learned only now –  and not even everyone has learned –  that it is spiritually impermissible to submit even in the smallest degree to the sort of misanthropic political authority that has only now become generally known to the world during the twentieth century, known to us in Russia first of all.  Such submission always leads to destruction.  Under this kind of authority we only gain latitude by fortitude, or when the authorities are constrained by circumstance. We have never gotten anything from them through adopting a kind disposition.

But for the past few years the balance of power in our country has been such that the Moscow Patriarchate, through her own firmness alone (although perhaps while loosing a few posts) could herself have decisively liberated our Church from many fetters and humiliations. I have yet to change my opinion on the subject I addressed in my letter to Patriarch Pimen late last year. Whom shall we call to free us from lies, if not our spiritual fathers first of all? Having crossed over the borders of that government, however, I have lost the right to compose another such letter.

Before I left Russia, I had only heard indistinct rumors regarding the discord among the emigre Russian churches. But here abroad I have been newly amazed by the depth of the crisis into which our Orthodox Church has fallen. In Russia they have their sorrows, and here we have ours.

Of course it is difficult for me to understand the path taken by the leaders of the Western eparchies who are under the jurisdiction of Moscow. How can they do this? How can it be that out of sympathy for prisoners they put chains upon themselves rather than removing the chains of the prisoners? Out of sympathy for those languishing in prisons, do they perpetuate the same lie while in freedom? If all of this is a sacrifice for the sake of unity with a treacherous mother church, then here we have a deceptive understanding of unity, a perverse illusion. It cannot inspire gratitude in me as member of the imprisoned church.  For if the Western hierarchs are so sympathetic and have such unity with us, would they not move to defend us against persecution? Why do they not speak openly about the abject humiliation, the deceptive guile of all the government’s ecclesiastical politics, all the “committees on Church matters”?

But how shall we justify the disagreement of the free emigre Russia Orthodox Churches among themselves? I humbly repeat that which I stated at the beginning of this address: I am by no means a specialist in eccelsiastical questions. I have never studied canon law. I cannot now enter with precision into the fifty year history of the Russian churches outside of the borders of the fatherland.  But I do know the main facts of the situation, and it seems to me that each of the warring churches has some considerable canonical foundation, while at the same time one can find fault which each church, just as we can find fault in the varied tradition of the Moscow Patriarchate herself.

No one has absolute, unquestionable canonical rights. Were this not the case, the Russian Church could never have survived an era of such unforeseen upheavals.  The considerations of any builder take into account the normal behavior of mundane causes. But if the earth itself should split, we can’t at all reproach the builder for this, nor can we complain about the formulae he used. I believe that during such a period, canonical considerations should be relegated to secondary importance in comparison with the spirit of each church and the faithfulness of her confession.

I don’t think that anyone here is accusing the Churches of Metropolitan Evlogii or the American Metropolia of submission to or collusion with the godless authorities. Both of them offer for the suffering Russian Church and for our persecuted nation. Nor can one attribute divine infallibility in all activities to any one of the three warring churches. Indeed, who from among our compatriots during the last sixty years, whether at home or abroad, has not nurtured an illusion at some time? Who has not made a mistake? Who has not stumbled?  Therefore no one has such purity as to be able excommunicate any other church from the universal Church.

Let not your high council be angry with me if I say that it is clear even to a newcomer, an uneducated person, a blind man or a youth that this discord has proceeded so far as to prevent the cooperation of priests not only in liturgical matters but even in practical ones! It has led to the rejection of parishioners simply because they pray to God in a different church! It has led to the denial of Holy Communion to dying Christians, should they not be precisely “ours”! Not only is the unity of our Orthodoxy, the common inheritance of Patriarch Tikhon being shaken, but our very Christianity. Are we the only ones who pray to Christ? Is then everyone who prays today in Russia all the more excluded and even accursed?  But if, on the other hand, they have not perished, why should we say that parishioners of the Parisian and American churches have?

What is there to rejoice about in the free church, spared the poverty and sacrifice of the imprisoned church? Which is more dangerous for Russian Orthodoxy, the external persecution of captivity, or the internal decadence of discord? I can say for myself that under persecution I never lost my vigor, while here abroad division has led me to despondency.  Perhaps the only comforting thing that I have noticed is that here, as there, the flock knows so little of the divergance among the hierarchs, and is not responsible for it.

As easy as it is to understand the firm stand of the emigre church against the tormentors of our nation (for which cause they have striven so much to suppress you), by the same degree it is impossible  to understand or to accept the opposition of the Orthodox to one another. Is the future of Russian Orthodoxy really this hopeless? If we cannot be united within a small range, where we have a similar experience of life, how will be united on a universal scale, where we are divided by divergent experiences?

A precise study could probably reveal many private, special, even personal psychological and circumstanstial causes that have deepened the schism in the diaspora and have made it more severe. But when we shut off every other path towards the truth, a heavy question stands before us like an erected cross, a question which we have no spiritual right to shirk, minimize, or avoid answering. Has this schism appeared only as the result of the abnormal conditions of the diaspora? Or is it rather the result of the internally fragmented condition of the Russian Orthodox Church, which has been weakened for a long time. And, if the Church has been weakened internally, then for how long has this been going on?

I have already dedicated many years of my life to a precise study of recent Russian history. More specifically, I have tried to discover the causes of the destructive revolution. How did it come about, and does there remain to Russia a path to salvation from this gangrene? In the course of this investigation I have discoverd that all sides have produced misleading and twisted legends, legends which portray their own side in a favorable light. I would be intellectually dishonest and without the hope of finding the truth if I should spare any of these distorted stories from being brought succesively to light.  It is bitter to say so, but one of these historical distortions consists in presenting the pre-revolutionary Russian Church as having persisted in a state of blessed perfection, and that all we need is to ascened to this state again.

No. The truth demand that I say that the condition of the Russian Church at the beginning of the twentieth century was one of the primary causes of the ineluctability of the events of the revolution. The clergy had been in a humiliated state for a century. The Church was both persecuted by the government and in collusion with the government. The Church had lost its spiritual independence and therefore also lest its authority among the educated class, among the masses of urban workers, and –  most terribly of all –  her authority was shaken even among the peasantry. How many proverbs there are that mock the clergy, and how few that honor them! If the Russian Orthodox Church had retained its spiritual integrity, health and strength, then it would have had the authority and strength to prevent the civil war. It would have powerfully risen above the warring factions, and would not have allowed it itself to be numbered as a partisan of any. This is not a fantasy. In a true Orthodox kingdom, no such internecine war could have occured.

Alas, the condition of the Russian Orthodox Church at the moment of revolution was completely unmatched to the depth of the spiritual dangers that grimaced over our entire century, and upon our nation first of all. The living ecclesiastical powers, having initiated salutary reforms and called a council, were hindered by an arbitrary governing apparatus and mired in the sleepy indifference of their own concelebrants. They failed. They failed so obviously that the canons of the red guard assaulted the roof and the cupola of the same cathedral in which the council had been held.

It won’t be possible in this short address to speak in detail of all the specifics of our Church’s insufficiency in the terrible face of the year 1917 (although we might be able to clarify somewhat by making a comparison with today’s Moscow Patriarchate) but those assembled here know more about this than I do, some of them from personal experience. But I will make bold to call the attention of those assembled here to something else, to another sin of long ago, to the three-hundred-year-old sin of our Russian Church. I shall boldly repeat this word in full voice: It is a sin. I call it this in order to avoid using a harsher word. This is a sin of which our Church and the whole Orthodox people never repented! This sin weighed upon us in 1917, it weighs upon us now and, according to the understanding of our faith, it may be the cause for God’s punishment upon us, for the misfortune that has overtaken us.

I have in mind, of course, the Russian Inquisition: the oppression and subjugation of an ancient and established form of piety, the persecution and disenfranchisement of twelve million of our brothers, co-religionists and countrymen, their cruel torture, the tearing out of their tongues, the pincers, the rack, fire and death, the confiscation of their churches, their being driven thousands of miles and further into strange lands. This was done to people who had never staged a rebellion, and who never took up arms in reply.  It was done to solid and true old-Orthodox Christians, whom I not only refrain from calling schismatics, but I am even careful not to call them “Old-Ritualists” –  for then the rest of us would be merely “New-Ritualists.”

For the mere fact that they did not possess the spiritual agility to accept the hasty recommendations of the dubious and globetrotting Greek Patriarchs, and that they retained the two-fingered sign of the Cross, wherewith our entire Church of the seven capitols had crossed herself –  for this alone we condemned them to persecutions that were just as bad as those dealt to us by the atheists in the Leninist-Stalinist times. And yet our hearts have never trembled with repentance! Even now in Sergiev Posad there proceeds a never-silent service of prayer amid a stream of believers at the relics of St.  Sergius of Radonezh –  while we have thrown the liturgical books that the saint prayed with into bonfires as if they were devilish things. And this unrighteous persecution, so utterly destructive to the Russian root, the Russian soul, to Russian health, has continued for two-hundred and fifty years (not sixty, like the present one). Could not the present persecution have been given to Russia and to all of us as a return blow? During the past few centuries, various emperors have been inclined to bring the persecution of their faithful subjects to an end. But the high bishops of the Orthodox Church have whispered among themselves, and have insisted: Let the persecutions continue!

We have been allowed two-hundred and fifty years to come to repentance. But we have only found it in our hearts to forgive the persecuted –  to forgive them, since we have destroyed them! And even this was only in 1905. The numbers of that year burn clearly in the wall like the written warning to Balthasar.

During all of these centuries we have squandered with heedless liberality our Orthodox people, losing them to to many sects.  During the Soviet decades we have done the same with purest, most zealous and most sober of our youth. I think that the blame for this has not always been with their own free-thinking, but often with the inveteracy, languor, and indifference of the Church.

What a deep, long, and bitter root is that of our ecclesiastical disorder, our dissipation, our personal culpability for that which has befallen Russia. How many unifying steps are laid out before us, which we must traverse in order to be truly gathered into the one Russian Orthodox Church, upon which God shall have mercy at last.

Less than a year ago, I observed the divine services of our oldest branch [the Old Ritualists] and conversed with them in the temples of Moscow. I can bear witness of their impressive fortitude in the faith. (They have been far firmer than we against persecution by the state!) Their preservation of the Russian character, speech and spirit is such as one cannot find anywhere else on the territory of the Soviet Union.  That which my eyes saw and my ears heard in that place will never permit me to acknowledge as complete that prayed-for unification of the Russian Church, until we have been united in mutual forgiveness with our oldest branch.

So many steps await us on the path to the heights of brotherhood and love, but we remain are stuck on the lowest one, in incomprehensible fragmentation – and this not over the faith, nor over nuances of faith, nor even over rituals, but over some sort of “jurisdiction” – a wretched word, which not only has never been heard from the mouth of Christ, but is found nowhere at all in the holy books.

Now that the shiny enticement of completely unrestrained material progress has led all of mankind into an oppressive spiritual impasse (which is only slightly differently expressed in the West than in the East) I cannot see any other healthy path for all men living, for all nations, all societies, all unions of people – and of course even more so for the Church, according to her very nature – than the genuine acknowledgement of our own sins and mistakes – our own, and not those of others.  We must repent of them. We must move forward and develop in such a way that we restrain ourselves first of all.

This path of exit is universal, and there is no foundation from which to suggest something different for the Russian Orthodox Church, be it in freedom or captivity, abroad or in the homeland. The sins of centuries and decades are upon all of us, and there is no branch of the Church, no ecclesiastical organization that is free from them. All of us are Russia, and all of us have made her what she is today.

My convictions are well known to you, so of course you will not doubt that I relate with complete sympathy to the unyielding stance against the atheistic tyrants which you have adopted in the past and which you expressed today.  But every stance must be developed over time in order to preserve its positions undistorted. This happens in an inscrutable sort of way. And the precise development of the views, values, and practical decisions of your councils, both local and hierarchical, could probably make your activity much more effective, and could provide essential help to the common rebirth of the Russian Church.

It appears that I have avoided the question which you first put to me: How and by what means can the free part of the Russian Orthodox Church help her persecuted part? In fact, I am answering as best I can.

I can’t remember any exceptions to the rule that the fundamental movements that determine the future of the country and the people always originate in big cities, and not in diasporas. All who escape persecution pay in the same coin: their influence over the fate of their country is diminished. Thus it is also to be expected, of course, that the future liberation of our Church and our people shall come about in the same way – in the cities, by internal processes, divinely incomprehensible, which are too difficult for even the most far-sighted minds to predict. But the forms as well that shall obtain and appear immediately after the liberation are even less accessible to our prognostication. I would greatly caution certain arrogant dreamers against expecting the liberated Orthodox world to fall on the ground and ask the hierarchs of the Church Abroad to come and lead them. It is not for earthly scales to judge who shall be found worthy of whom at that time, according to the strength of his suffering, his repentance, and his faith.

But how can we help them there from over here? By showing an example of uncompromising fortitude? Such an example from abroad will be unconvincing in the homeland. The only correct path is the one that leads to the merging of all branches of the Russian Church. The teaching that destroyed our country was entirely animated by ideas of persistent disunity. Therefore only the reunification of Russia’s physical and spiritual powers can raise her up again.  And for our compatriots who are abroad, who do not cease to feel Russia to be their own homeland (not a fond memory of the past, but the real homeland of the future, for their descendants) there is no better way to serve Russia than by preserving the treasure of unity in Orthodoxy, in order to bring together all of emigre Russian Orthodoxy into a single, strong, harmonious, and verdant church.

This is why I have made bold to use my opportunity to address the council as the occasion for an appeal: Whoever is a man of action rather than an antiquarian, whoever wants to heal and to help, must firmly turn toward the future, and not toward the past. Then shall those causes fall and whither which have led to the unjustifiable schisms in Russian Orthodoxy abroad, and no longer shall men seek after whom to blame for the divisions of the past. These disagreements shall fall away as senseless, superficial, jurisdictional, and as having nothing to do with the confession of our faith.

And if it be impossible, as I understand it to be, for structural unity to come about at once, nevertheless it is possible for your council, by a single declaration, a single manifesto, to reject, and to call all to reject the mutual enmity of the churches, as long as those churches do not willingly serve godlessness. I call upon you to think of that sorrowful picture that arises before the ordinary Russian Orthodox person in the homeland when he is informed that –  in complete freedom and by no external causes – Orthodoxy abroad has become unforgivably divided.

Unfortunately, the decisions of your council cannot determine the path to the development and freedom of the Russian Church in the metropolis, but they can inform the greatness and usefulness of your contribution, as well as the form of your future influence upon and in that Church when it becomes free.

Is then the dreamt-of freedom of the Church from the dictates of Godlessness even our foremost and highest task after all?  The current crisis of the Church, a crisis which has already been going on for centuries, is significantly more grave, and the weight of its challenges is heavier. It takes only cautious wisdom and spiritual courage to seek out sins in order to correct them, to seek out injustices and mistakes of the distant past, which have become unclear today. But each of these sins and all of them together have lain as disfiguring scars across the face of Russian Orthodoxy.

How can we raise up a church that does not persecute any of her own children?  How can we raise up a church that is in no way a branch of the state government, and that is not at all spiritually subordinate to the governing power (even to the best governing power), that is not bound to any political party? How shall we raise up the church that shall blossom from the best notions of our never-implemented reforms [of 1917], which were oriented exclusively toward the rebirth of the purity and freshness of original Christianity? A church that stands on her own feet not only for herself, but also helps all of Russia to find its own natural path, its own proper path of escape from the suffocation and darkness of the contemporary world?

The forms that we must obtain to will not be a restoration, not a repetition of the pre-revolutionary forms. But these new forms must be so manifestly exalted, so permeated with the treasure of indefatigable searching, so as perhaps to influence and attract even the Western world, which is currently trapped in an unqenchable spiritual thirst. The incomparable bitterness of the Russian experience grants us even such a hope.

In conclusion I repeat: I do not consider myself to be called to resolve ecclesiastical issues. But even every layman has the ability and right to speak the truth as it is revealed to him, in the hope that the conciliar mind and the conciliar consciousness will be augmented by that which was not accesible to them before.

I ask your archpastoral and pastoral blessings, and all of your prayers.

Translated by Jeremy Boor from no. 18, Pravoslavnaia Rus’, 1974


  • I was interested to re-read Solzhenitsyn’s letter and the reply. His letter was translated at the time in at least one national newspaper here, I think The Times. The reply I also read at the time. Re-reading it, what strikes me is two things.

    Firstly, these words:

    ‘If the liberation of Russia were to take place and unity with a restored Orthodoxy and canonical hierarchy were to take place, then we would consider ourselves part of the Russian hierarchy’.

    These words oppose the sectarian actions of those who have left ROCOR, who claim that Metr Philaret is one of their own!.

    The second thing is how poisoned and misinformed Solzhenitsyn was against ROCOR. Sadly, we well recognise here the anti-ROCOR prejudices of Fr Alexander Schmemann and Nikita Struve. This was corrected by Metr Philaret in his letter.

    In Christ,

    Fr Andrew Phillips

  • […] By the 1950s very few bishops in Russia had failed to join the Moscow Patriarchate. 20 Since those bishops had not ordained any other bishops the Catacomb Church evolved into a system of communities isolated from each other, often without priests. In his letter to the Third Pan-Diaspora Council (1974), Alexander Solzhenitsyn warned the ROCOR against the delusion that the Catacomb Church was a network …. 21 […]

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