Articles Faithful Mabin, Nicolas Non-Orthodox

Serge N. Bolshakoff – Russian Ecumenist

Serge N. Bolshakoff
Serge N. Bolshakoff (1901-1990)

Serge Nikolaevich Bolshakoff was born in 1901 into a cultured and devout Orthodox family which proudly claimed “a Russian primate of the imperial age” amongst its noble ancestors. “I was born in a very pious family and have practised the Prayer of the Heart since my youth.”

From the Editor: I wrote about Sergei N. Bolshakoff in my M.Th. thesis, The Attitude of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad toward Non-Orthodox Christians and the Ecumenical Movement (1920-1964): A Historical Evaluation. Since defending this thesis in 2004, I have come across many archival documents on Bolshakoff’s interaction with the ROCOR. I invited Nicolas Mabin to compose a chapter for my prospective monograph on the ROCOR and non-Orthodox using these materials. Reader Nicolas kindly agreed to help me and spent an enormous amount of time and admirable efforts on this project.

I see Bolshakoff as a somewhat tragic figure, one who cannot be dismissed as a mere schemer and truckler. Regardless of how one assesses his ecumentical work, Bolshakoff’s literary output was considerable. His book Wisdom for the Journey: Conversations with Spiritual Fathers of the Christian East, which deals with Russian hesychasts, is particularly admirable.

About the Author

Nicolas Mabin is a Reader at the London Cathedral parish of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia where he is an elected member of the Church Council. He has a degree in theology (B.A. Hons.) from the University of Kent at Canterbury, UK, and the degree of Diploma in Orthodox Theological Studies, awarded by the Center for Traditionalist Studies, Etna, USA.

Serge Nikolaevich Bolshakoff was born in 1901 into a cultured and devout Orthodox family which proudly claimed “a Russian primate of the imperial age” amongst its noble ancestors. 1 “I was born in a very pious family and have practised the Prayer of the Heart since my youth.” 2 (Writing some forty years earlier, in a published essay about his student years, Bolshakoff had a different recollection. “I did not know anything about mental prayer, meditation, the prayer of Jesus…” 3 Educated in St. Petersburg, the young Bolshakoff intended to follow his father’s profession by becoming a civil engineer. However, the Revolution of 1917 forced Bolshakoff to leave Russia, initially settling in Estonia, where, in due course, he attended the University of Tartu, the most prestigious university in Estonia.

In March 1924, Bolshakoff, together with several Orthodox and Protestant university students formed the “Logos Circle” 4 whose common interest was the ascetical and mystical life, as well as the “problem” of Christian Unity. We know the names of only three of the members of the Logos Circle: Bolshakoff himself; his brother, Konstantin N. Bolshakoff, a talented painter and engraver; and a former theosophist and chemistry research student, Sergius Paul, who subsequently gave up academic study to become a novice at the Pskovo-Pechersky Monastery in southern Estonia.

Writing decades later, Nicolas and Militza Zernov commented on the phenomenon of study circles being established by Russian émigrés, fleeing from the Revolution: 5

“The Communist Revolution had driven several hundred thousand Russians from their native land. In the course of 1920-1922 colonies of these refugees appeared in many parts of Europe. Among them were a number of young people of student age who tried to resume their studies under the hard conditions of exile. The tragic experience of civil war and religious persecution had helped them to realize the significance of their Church. These young Russians formed study circles in almost all capitals of Europe debating religion, philosophy and politics.”

In 1925, the Logos Circle took on the characteristics of a lay missionary society, devoting its attention to rebuffing the propaganda of sectarians, theosophists and freemasons. However, this fight quickly abated and the group eventually became a study circle, looking in particular at the issue of Christian unity. It was at this time that Bolshakoff got in touch with the Roman Catholic monks of Amay-sur-Meuse in France, asking for assistance for the beleaguered Pskovo-Pechersky Monastery, a contact that was to have much influence on Bolshakoff in the coming years. Subsequently, the Logos Circle was reformed to become an exclusively Orthodox society, approved by Archbishop Evsevy Grozdov of Narva and Izborsk (Estonian Orthodox Church). “Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky 6 agreed to become our Honorary President or Patron, suggesting our chairman or adviser Bishop Tikhon of Berlin 7 whom we duly elected.” 8

Bolshakoff’s initial contact with Metropolitan Anthony had come about because Bolshakoff had desired to enter the Theological Faculty in Belgrade. The Metropolitan wrote to Bolshakoff that it would be impossible for him to obtain a visa with which to enter Serbia. Some years later Bolshakoff also requested, unsuccessfully, to join the Saint Serge Theological Institute in Paris and also the Saint Kirik Theological Pastoral Theology School in Bulgaria.

Then in 1926, according to Bolshakoff, 9 “the centre of the Circle was transferred to France where there were its founders, most of whom had just finished their studies in Estonia.” Presumably, this move coincided with the relocation to France of Bolshakoff himself, despite not finishing his studies at Tartu. During his brief stay in Paris, from 1926 to 1928, Bolshakoff did some casual labouring. From that time onwards he never had any paid employment for the rest of his life, and despite staying on a permanent basis in monasteries, Bolshakoff never became a monk. Bolshakoff did not marry, although he was engaged to be married for a short period in 1939 to the “very beautiful and highly cultured but rather shy” 10 Miss Nina Timeschenko. Apart from living on the munificence of friends and benefactors, Bolshakoff eventually made a small income from journalism and from writing books. It was to his poor financial position that Bolshakoff attributed his inability to marry Miss Timeschenko. 11

The Confraternity of Saint Benedict

As a result of his earlier contact, in 1927 Bolshakoff stayed briefly with the monks at Amay-sur-Meuse (subsequently at Chevtogne), Belgium, who were focused on reconciliation between Christians of the East and the Roman Catholic Church. Bolshakoff also stayed for a while at the French Cistercian monastery of La Trappe des Dombes, where he made a study of Roman Catholic religious orders and confraternities. From France Bolshakoff travelled in 1928 to England where he remained for another 23 years. Bolshakoff visited the Anglican Benedictines of Nashdom 12 which in fact became his permanent home for the next ten years or so. Thereafter he lived with the Anglican Cowley Fathers in Oxford, again for another ten-year period.

Soon after his arrival at Nashdom, Bolshakoff, observes Geoffrey Curtis, “… studied the statutes of Benedictine oblates and became convinced that the best way to preserve the Logos Circle was to reorganize it as an independent confraternity of Benedictine oblates.” 13 The new Confraternity was dedicated to St. Benedict of Nursia († 547) who is widely venerated as the ‘Father of Western Monasticism.’ According to its statutes, the Confraternity had a number of goals:

“The purpose of the Confraternity is the improvement of the inner life in the spirit of the Fathers and Orthodoxy, working with the episcopate within the Orthodox Church and outside the Orthodox Church, working for reconciliation between the Orthodox and the Christians of the West on the basis of patristic theology, and working together with Western Christians in the field of social work”. 14

In September 1928, Bolshakoff made a visit to Berlin to see the Logos Circle Chairman, Bishop Tikhon Lyaschenko. Bishop Tikhon was the Bishop of Berlin and Germany belonging to the Russian Orthodox Church Exile, now known as the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, or the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCA). On November 4 1928, a newly built “Cathedral” (in fact a house church) was consecrated by several ROCA bishops, led by Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky. According to Bolshakoff, 15 the Metropolitan stayed in Berlin with Bishop Tikhon for a month. “His long stay afforded me an opportunity to know and to love this servant of God, the greatest Russian prelate and divine since many a decade.” 16 Bolshakoff says that he had long conversations with the Metropolitan about his plans for the Confraternity of Saint Benedict. More than 10 years later, Bolshakoff reproduced an apparently verbatim account of these conversations in the Roman Catholic journal, Voice of the Church. These conversations culminated with the Metropolitan blessing Bolshakoff with two icons (provided by Bolshakoff): one of Saint Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury († 988) and one of St. Wilfrid, Archbishop of York († 709). Not surprisingly, the Metropolitan is reported to have asked, “Who are these two Latins?” Bolshakoff explained that they were English Benedictines who lived prior to 1054, the generally accepted date of the East-West schism. On the next day, after Divine Liturgy, the Metropolitan returned the icon of Saint Wilfrid to Bolshakoff. It was inscribed: “To Sergius Nicholas Bolshakoff, the blessing of Metropolitan Anthony.” Later in life, Bolshakoff claimed a special relationship with Metropolitan Anthony. 17 “The late Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky…..was in a way my spiritual director for several years.” 18 The words “in a way” lead one to ponder whether or not Metropolitan Anthony would have described his relationship with Bolshakoff in the same terms. Apparently, the Metropolitan advised Bolshakoff to settle in England and to concentrate on working for a rapprochement between Anglicans and the Orthodox. Oddly enough, the extant official church records of ROCA for 1928 make no mention of the Metropolitan’s visit to Berlin.

Meanwhile Bishop Tikhon Lyaschenko of Berlin and Germany had agreed to become the Confraternity’s ‘Visitor’ or ‘President.’ Bolshakoff stayed in Berlin for three months before heeding the Metropolitan’s advice and returning to England, to Nashdom Abbey. Geoffrey Curtis writes that on the December 27, 1928. 19

“[T]here arrived at the Abbey doors, not without due notice, a noteworthy and impressive visitor in cappa magna. He was solemnly received by Father Abbot and his monks, and conducted to the chapel where all sang the Te Deum. The visitor was Bishop Tikhon, the bishop of Berlin of the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile. His Lordship in the chapel proceeded to address the community on the need for unity among Christians. After Vespers, with permission of the Russian Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky as well as of Father Abbot, Bishop Tikhon clothed his Russian attendant with the habit of a Benedictine oblate. Next morning the bishop attended at the throne the Latin Mass of the Holy Innocents and took his leave in the afternoon, leaving behind him a very pleasant memory of courtesy and goodwill. The Russian oblate stayed on for two months to learn more of the life and discipline of the Rule.” 20

The Russian oblate was, of course, Bolshakoff, and in fact he remained living at Nashdom for the next ten years . In the Roman Catholic Church and Anglican Churches, oblates offer themselves to God in much the same way that monastics do, except that they do not take monastic vows. Rather, they make a commitment to God, in the presence of the monastic community, to live according to the Rule which is adapted to suit their own life situations. They are not tonsured as monastics, and the vows may be revoked at any time. In his own account of this event, Bolshakoff points out that Bishop Tikhon merely used the Anglican chapel for the ceremony; he did not enter into sacramental communion with the Anglicans. Apparently, the rite which Bishop Tikhon used was the “Orthodox rite of tonsure with slight modifications.” 21 On joining the Confraternity, a brother vows to maintain simplicity, chastity, obedience to the Superior of the Confraternity, Father Wilfrid 22 ( and to “the bishops” 23, and to work for reunion. Bolshakoff writes that the Confraternity professes the Orthodox faith, “unequivocally, completely.” 24 However, he then continues, “The Confraternity does not condemn individual conversions [from Roman Catholic to Orthodox or from Orthodox to Roman Catholic]. If an Orthodox has lost his faith and finds the Roman Church is the true church, he is free and even obliged to join.” 25 The Confraternity condemns “proselytizing” and will not work with any Orthodox who proselytize because it is “clearly harmful.” 26 At a later point Bolshakoff explained: “The Church of Christ is one single Organism, His own Mystical body, harmoniously built and inspired by the Holy Spirit. And one must say that all truly baptized persons are incorporated into this Church, even though they may visibly belong to different Christian denominations, opposing one another.” 27 Bolshakoff stresses that the Confraternity is focused on Anglican-Orthodox rapprochement. “The relationship[s] of the brothers with the Roman Catholics have always been rather distant.” 28

In contrast to the 1935 article in, quite a different emphasis is adopted in another article in Eastern Churches Quarterly, published in 1938. 29 Here Bolshakoff writes of the aims of the Confraternity as “[F]irst the promotion of the devotion among the laity, particularly the restoration of the domestic church of the Apostles, and the Christian family; and secondly, to aid the episcopacy in the home and foreign missions.” Membership has become very exclusive: “[O]nly well known churchworkers, graduates or members of learned societies, who speak several languages, may be admitted to the Confraternity. They may take their vows only after a long associateship and if they pass a special novitiate successfully.” 30

Acknowledging the role of President as being more or less honorary, he states that “the real head of the Confraternity is its prior [i.e. Bolshakoff] to whom members are bound in obedience according to the Ascetica Rule.” Writing elsewhere, Bolshakoff calls himself the “Vicar” of the Confraternity. 31 Of the Confraternity Ascetica, Bolshakoff summarises its theological basis:

“The Ascetica [is] the blending of the Orthodox scholasticism of [Metropolitan Peter] Mogila, with the patristic theology of Theophanos the Recluse, with all their practical implications. Needless to say, the Rule of St. Benedict is used fully in both parts of the Ascetica, the second part of which is devoted to the description of the statutes and rites of the Confraternity, its missionary methods and its doctrine of family life. In the statutes and rites the Benedictine spirit of the Confraternity is expressed by its insistence on the importance of Opus Dei, family spirit, devotion, etc. The missionary activity is devoted chiefly to efforts to counteract anti-God propaganda, and to indicate the Christian solution of social and economic problems. The chapter on the domestic church is original and is based almost entirely on biblical sources.”

Sadly, it would appear the remained unpublished, and, indeed, the ambitious plans for the Confraternity were never realised. These included the publication of a Confraternity magazine; the formation of autonomous Confraternities in different countries; establishing a federation of national Confraternities; forming women’s branches of the Confraternity; and arranging a congress in a country near Russia, “to discuss the problems of the Christian front against the godless and anti-Christian propaganda, and to work out the Christian solution of contemporary social and economic problems…..Catholic and Anglican friends will be invited.” 32 Perhaps the advent of the Second World War put paid to all this worthy activity.

In his voluminous correspondence and publications, Bolshakoff consistently refers to ‘my’ Confraternity and, although an inveterate “name-dropper,” Bolshakoff is coy when it comes to identifying who exactly belonged to the Confraternity. There is no record of anybody else being professed as an oblate of the Confraternity. Indeed, in his article in , Bolshakoff makes the surprising claim that “the Confraternity does not seek any publicity, and feels no concern to increase the number of its members.” 33 His account of the exact number of members seems often to be imprecise. In a letter to Canon J. A. Douglas 34 in 1937, Bolshakoff claimed that Archbishop Serafim Loukianov of Western Europe (ROCA) had “allowed his Lyons priest, Fr. Al. Popoff to join it.” 35 In Paraguay the Confraternity member is General N. Ern “where he occupies an important post in the War Office.” 36 A certain Dr. Dmitri Solomentzev who resided in the Belgian Congo, and who was Chief Medical Officer of the Vici-Congo Railways, is also mentioned in 1937 as being a member of the Confraternity. Another member was his brother, Dr. I. P. Solomentzev, who Bolshakoff, writing in 1939, describes as the Confraternity’s “Founder” and as having been buried in the Church of the Forty Martyrs at the Pskovo- Monastery. 37

In 1938 Bolshakoff confirms that the Confraternity has 16 members of whom 6 are in holy orders, 4 are full members and 12 are associates. However, later he recalled, 38 “In 1938 the Confraternity numbered about twenty five members…” They live in the Belgian Congo, Australia, the Far East and Paraguay. Writing in January 1939, Bolshakoff said that, following the resignation of Archbishop Tikhon from the presidency of the Confraternity, the organisation was ‘ruled’ by its Vice-president, Archpriest Jeremia Ciocan, the Confraternity’s Delegate from Romania 39. He goes on to say that the number of the Confraternity’s members at this time is about twenty. “Moreover, there is a small women’s section.” Then, in the March 1946 edition of his Bolshakoff writes that on New Year’s Day, 1939, the Confraternity had comprised 10 full members and 11 associates:

“They were scattered the world over with majority (sic) residing in the Balkan and Baltic countries. The last war inflicted heavy losses on the Confraternity. Out of 10 members only two survived, although there is hope that two more may be found. 5 associates remain and 2-3 more may yet return. The rest either died or disappeared without leaving any trace. In spite of this depletion of ranks, the work which confronts the Confraternity has vastly increased. NO (sic) lowering of qualifications for membership, is, however expected. According to the present arrangements none but University graduates 40, who promise to observe the Rule and are canonically qualified for immediate ordination, if necessary, are accepted for membership after a long probation.”

Another member was a certain N. Kazansky, whom Bolshakoff describes as a “leading layman in the Finnish Orthodox Church,” 41 and who died in 1946. We also learn the names of three Associates: Archpriest John Chernavin of New York, Father Innocent Serisev of Sydney, and Archimandrite Eugene, Superior of the Cell of St. Michael on Mount Athos. 42 The latter, says Bolshakoff, “spent several years in Soviet concentration camps, was tortured, and left the Soviet Union less than two years ago.” 43 However, Bishop Gregory Grabbe of ROCA held a more pessimistic view: “I was under the impression that Serge Bolshakoff was the only member of the Orthodox Benedictine Confraternity.” 44

The Octave for Christian Unity

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity had begun in 1908 as the ‘Octave of Christian Unity.’ (in the Roman Catholic Church an Octave is a period of eight days during which a major feast is celebrated, beginning with the day of a festival. In the Orthodox Church, the comparable term is afterfeast ). An afterfeast follows 11 of the 12 Great Feasts. The last day of the afterfeast, the day on which the festival closes, is called the apodosis (otdanie). The dates of the Week of Prayer were proposed by Father Paul James Wattson, a priest of the Episcopal Church in the United States who later joined the Roman Catholic Church. Beginning on the Roman Catholic Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, January 18, and concluding with the Roman Catholic Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul on January 25, the purpose of the Octave “was, primarily, eight days of prayer for the reunion of Christendom on a papal basis.” 45 In 1909 Pope Pius X blessed the concept, and subsequently Pope Benedict XV encouraged its observance throughout the Roman Catholic Church. The French Abbé Paul Couturier, who famously promoted observance of the Octave, had a different approach to that of Father Wattson. He advocated prayer “for the unity of the Church as Christ wills it, and in accordance with the means He wills,” 46 thereby enabling other Christians with differing views of the Papacy to join in the prayer.

In 1928 Bolshakoff had made the acquaintance of the Roman Catholic Abbé Paul Couturier while he was staying at La Trappe des Dombes monastery in France. From the early 1930s Couturier led a world-wide campaign, promoting the observation of the Octave, and Bolshakoff took up the cause with great enthusiasm. In the Irenikon article Bolshakoff says that the governing principle of the Octave is the objective of praying for reconciliation between Christians of the East and Christians of the West, hoping that such a restoration of unity would help Christianity to defend itself against the Godless, the atheists. The observation of the Octave does not presuppose the manner of achieving reconciliation and unity: that depends on God “Who infinitely better than man knows the best way to this restoration.” 47

Presumably with the encouragement of Bolshakoff, Bishop Tikhon sent a letter in December 1934 to Couturier in which he expressed his approval of the Universal Prayer. Also in 1934, Bolshakoff and the Anglican Abbot of Nashdom, sent an invitation to two Orthodox bishops to join in the observance of the Octave. Archbishop Nikolai Leisman, Abbot of Pskovo-Pechersky Monastery in Estonia, and Archbishop Damian Govorov (ROCA) of Tsaritsyn 48 accepted the invitation, and, in January 1935, served molebens and gave sermons in support of this cause. 49 In Paris Archbishop Serafim Loukianov of ROCA blessed his parish priest in Lyons, Father A. Popoff, to observe the Octave at the same time as the Abbé.

In 1934 Bolshakoff provided Couturier with a list of names and addresses of bishops of the Russian diaspora and introduced Couturier to Metropolitan Evlogy Georgievsky, Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Western Europe, the first Orthodox leader to bless his clergy to observe the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Indeed, Metropolitan Evlogy had already been actively encouraging friendly engagement with the Anglican Church. (For example, he supported the Fellowship of Saint Alban & Sergius, attending one of its conferences in England in 1930.) However, he may have had some reservation about the Octave, at least privately. Professor Nicolas Zernov wrote to Canon Douglas: “I had a letter from Metropolitan Evology, who says that he replied to the invitation to join the octave of prayer by saying that he prays for the unity of the Church but cannot take part in prayers which imply submission to the Roman see [by] other churches.” 50

Archimandrite Kirik from Holy Mount Athos wrote to Couturier at this time, praising his work of promoting the Octave. Fr. Kirik was well known in the Russian diaspora, especially to the Russians in Serbia. Probably at the suggestion of Bolshakoff, Fr. Kirik wrote to Bishop Tikhon in Berlin, asking him to seek the approbation of the Synod of Bishops for the observation of the Octave. In October 1935, the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCA) expressed guarded approval for observing a Week of Prayer for Church Unity. The minutes read:

“Some heterodox clergymen have proposed that the Russian Church Abroad should begin using so-called “octaves” i.e. eight-day periods of prayer for the union of the Churches. Resolved: The question of permitting special eight-day periods of prayer for the union of all in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church will be left to the discretion of individual Diocesan Bishops.” 51

In November, 1935 Bolshakoff wrote to Canon Douglas about the publication of his article in Irenikon:

“From there you may learn about my Confraternity of Saint Benedict, my relations with Nashdom, my work for Anglican-Orthodox rapprochement, my friendships with Roman Catholics and my part in the propagation of the Church Unity Octave. You will see from this article that I collaborate with the Abbot of Nashdom and with my Lyons’ friend and great friend of the Russians in France, Abbé Paul Couturier at Lyons, first to introduce the Octave in the Orthodox Church, not in the sense as of the Octave as observed by Rev. H J Fynes-Clinton 52 my London friend, for instance – that is submission to [the] Roman See purely and simply, but in the sense of the mutual rapprochement and understanding between all Christians in the face of the growing indifference, socialism, atheism, and so on.” 53

Archbishop Serafim of Finland (ROCA) agreed to participate in the observation of the Octave, due to take place in London in January 1936. An newspaper announcement of Church Unity Octave services to be held at St. Magnus the Martyr church reads:

“Thursday 23. – 12.15. CENTRAL OBSERVATION OF THE CHURCH UNITY COUNCIL. 12 Litany of Saints 12.15 High Mass ‘for Ending of Schism,’ in presence of Most. Rev. ARCHBISHOP SERAPHIM with Russian choir. Sermon Rev GREGORY DIX, OSB, Nashdom Abbey. ‘MOLEBEN,’ or Service of Intercession for Unity, sung by ARCHBISHOP SERAPHIM and the RUSSIAN CHOIR before the Venerated Image of Our Lady of Kursk.” 54

Perhaps a little presumptuously, Bolshakoff had written a draft sermon for the Archbishop to deliver at the service and sent the handwritten draft to Canon Douglas, telling him, “This address can be published in the in the description of the service or as a letter to the Editor in a modified form. I do not know if the Archbishop will accept this text.” 55

However, the sermon remained unpreached and the Church Unity service was cancelled, due to the death of King George V on January 20, 1936. With a detectable note of irritation, Bolshakoff writes again to Canon Douglas on January 30:

“Concerning the Octave I can say little. The Archbishop Seraphim left London for Belgium on Friday, January 24 and therefore he could not be present on the postponed service at St. Magnus by London Bridge nor deliver his address. Therefore this arrangement is finished. Today at London [Bridge] Fr. Nikolai Behr and Fr. Theokritov 56 will celebrate a moleben at St. Magnus but I have no relation to this arrangement. For the next year I will take the observance of the Octave entirely in my own hands through the Confraternity of Saint Benedict of which the Bishop Tychon of Berlin is a President and I am a Chairman or Prior. For the next Octave the appeal will be made to the Orthodox by our Confraternity and on strictly Orthodox lines without any connection with any other organisation. Then any possibility of misunderstanding will be annihilated. I hope to gain for my Confraternity several great orthodox scholars and make it a really scholarly Confraternity on strictly orthodox basis although not unfriendly to the Anglicans or Roman Catholics or any Christians.” 57

In September 1936, Bishop Tikhon travelled from Berlin to the Council of Bishops of ROCA, which had convened at Sremski Karlovci in Serbia. The Minutes of the 10th Session held on 15/28 September 1936 of the General Council of ROCA note:

“Bishop Tikhon presented a request from the Brotherhood of St. Benedict for permission to conduct the Octave, after first informing the Council about the organization of this Brotherhood. Archbishop Vitaly [Maximenko] expressed the view that there is no need for the Council to bless this initiative, since last year’s resolution is sufficient in this regard. After further discussion, Resolved: To permit the Brotherhood to send out its appeal to other Orthodox Churches requesting them to conduct the so-called Octave, and to approve the proposed draft of this appeal.”

Soon after the Council, Bolshakoff reported to Canon Douglas, “The Council of Russian Bishops Abroad held in Sremski Karlovci authorised our Confraternity to make an appeal to all orthodox Churches to observe the Octave of Christian Unity and approved the texts of this appeal written by me.” 58

By November 1935, Bolshakoff is busily arranging the 1936 observation of the Octave, inviting the newly elevated Archbishop Tikhon to come from Berlin to participate. Writing again to Canon Douglas, Bolshakoff proposes, “I think this programme should comprise a service in a great London Church (St Paul’s?) where the Anglican prelates would be present and a suitable sermon preached.” 59 Another correspondent of Canon Douglas, Mr. M. Child of The Church Union, somewhat waspishly writes to him, “Do you think there is any point in +Tykon being transported to London to pray? Couldn’t he join in in (sic) Berlin?” 60 Presumably the Church of England had been expected to foot the bill for the bishop’s travel expenses.

Bolshakoff caused to be printed in Paris his leaflet about the Octave, explaining to Orthodox ‘prelates’ and others what the Octave was all about and why they should participate. Bolshakoff planned that the pamphlets should be accompanied by a letter from Archbishop Anastassy Gribanovsky of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, which was to be drafted for him initially by the Chairman of the Anglican Church Octave Council. However, this plan was abandoned, especially when it was realised that, for example, the clergy belonging to Metropolitan Evlogy may not welcome such an approach from an Archbishop of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. Funded by the Anglican Church Unity Octave Council, Bolshakoff had 1,500 leaflets printed in Russian, 1,000 leaflets in French and 500 in Serbian. He asked Canon Douglas for postal addresses of the Patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, as well as those of the Archbishops of Cyprus, Albania, adding as an afterthought, the Patriarch of Constantinople. “I do not know the addresses of the Patriarch of Rumania or the Primate of Greece but the letters addressed to them simply in Bucharest or Athens will reach them certainly. I am already too late with my leaflets.” 61

The leaflet begins with the claim that the Confraternity of Saint Benedict was founded more than 10 years ago “to spread the ascetic life among the laity.” 62 In the pamphlet, Bolshakoff gives a history of the Octave movement. He mentions that in 1934 the promoter of the Roman Catholic observance of the Octave, Abbé Paul Couturier, had asked the Confraternity to work for the introduction of the Octave into the Orthodox Church. Bolshakoff mentions that Archbishop Nikolai Leisman of the Pskovo-Perchersky Monastery in Estonia and Archbishop Damian Govorov of the Bulgarian Monastery of Sts. Kirik and Julitta had supported observance of the Octave. Bolshakoff notes the subsequent endorsement of the Octave by Metropolitan Evlogy Georgievsky, Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Western Europe, and, in September 1936, by the Synod of ROCA. The pamphlet goes on to highlight a “complex and extensive programme” being planned for the January, 1937 observance. “The Confraternity has now taken over the promotion of the Octave in the entire Orthodox Church…The Confraternity asks everyone to serve with an appropriate prayer a sermon after Sunday Liturgy on the 24th of January, and, on request, to read suitable daily prayers [during the Octave].” The concluding statement of the pamphlet confirms that the Synod of Bishops (ROCA) had approved the contents of the leaflet.

The grand 1937 observation in London with Archbishop Tikhon did not happen. Archbishop Tikhon could not come to the Octave “being very heavily engaged in Berlin.” 63 For different reasons, it was a disappointing repetition of the previous year. When Bolshakoff proposed to the (Anglican) Church Unity Octave Council that Archbishop Serafim should be a substitute for Archbishop Tikhon, the Council did not seem to be too enthused and quietly let the matter drop.

In December 1937, Archbishop Tikhon, Bolshakoff’s supporter and patron, resigned from the presidency of the Confraternity on the pretext that it was not located within his diocese 64 (it never had been!) , and, in February 1938, he went into retirement. Archbishop Serafim, who at that time had episcopal responsibility for England, declined to be involved with the Confraternity. A few months earlier, Archbishop Serafim had been in England and had met Bolshakoff. Bolshakoff tells the story of how he accompanied Archbishop Seraphim to Walsingham, 65 a Roman Catholic and Anglican pilgrimage centre located in a remote part of east England. He writes enthusiastically about a new Orthodox chapel to be built at Walsingham which would be in the jurisdiction of Archbishop Serafim, and that Bolshakoff was tasked with the responsibility (presumably given by Archbishop Serafim) for securing “sacred vessels, the vestments, etc.” 66

In the absence of a bishop volunteering to oversee the Confraternity, the ROCA Council of Bishops decided that the rector of the London parish, Archpriest Boris Molchanoff should monitor the activities of the Confraternity. 67 (By curious coincidence Bolshakoff had found himself on the same ship as “Mr Boris Molchanov” in 1926, when they had both sailed from Estonia to Belgium.) 68 However, in his writings Bolshakoff gives no hint of this transfer of responsibility, and, indeed, Father Boris left England in 1938 to continue his ministry in Beirut. Rather oddly, some years later Bolshakoff claimed that at this time the ROCA Synod had “declared it [the Confraternity] dissolved as far as its own jurisdiction was concerned.” 69

Within the Russian diaspora there was (and continues to be) a strong body of opinion opposed to rapprochement with Western Christians, especially the Roman Church: “It was said repeatedly that the Octave, as promoted by the Confraternity, could be only be a fraudulent device to implant the original papalist Octave, concealing for a time its purport.” 70 Dom Thadée Barnas claims, “Archbishop [Tikhon] was forced to withdraw from the presidency of the confraternity and to give up episcopal office, because of rampant criticism within his own Church.” 71

Following a ban on the observance of the Octave by the Serbian Patriarchate, the ROCA Council of Bishops which convened in December 1937 decided that, in future, all Bishops of ROCA would abstain from participation in the Octave. They based this decision on a careful examination of the literature which had emanated from the Anglican Church Unity Octave Council with its explicitly stated desire to “reunite with the Holy See.” The Russian bishops affirmed again that their understanding of the prayer for unity was focused on uniting all in the Orthodox Church but, given the “Roman Catholic Papal tendency” of the Octave, ROCA should “continue to abstain from the approval of the so-called ‘octave’ ”. 72

In later years Bolshakoff gave his own account of this change in policy:

“[T]he Synod found the Octave Movement undesirable in the Orthodox Church and revoked its former approbation. Archbishop Tikhon, President of the Confraternity, valiantly defended the Octave before the Synod, giving the fullest explanation of its meaning. When the Synod, nevertheless, forbade the observance of the Octave, the Archbishop resigned the presidency of the Confraternity which he guided so successfully for ten years. He felt he could not be useful to the Confraternity any longer.” 73

Writing a few months after this decision, Bolshakoff points out that since 1935 three different synods of Orthodox bishops 74 had approved observance of the Octave. 75 He says that a “misunderstanding” had prevented the “observance of the last octave [1938] by the Russian Church in exile.” 76 He explains:

“The misunderstanding arose from confusion between two distinct Octave ideologies; that of the Abbé Couturier, sponsored by the Confraternity, and that of the Anglican Church Unity Octave Council. It was wrongly understood by several Orthodox prelates that the observance of the Octave meant the acceptance of the dogmatic teaching of the Council. As this could not be admitted, the observance of the Octave was abandoned, not only by the Russian exiled Church, but in other places as well.” 77

Writing some 18 months later, in December 1939, about his success in promoting the observance of the Octave among the Orthodox, Bolshakoff, unshakably positive and enthusiastic, claimed: “My Confraternity is organizing its solemn observance by the Orthodox prelates, parishes and monasteries in several countries. I am astonished myself how I could achieve so much, almost penniless and amidst the war.” 78 Geoffrey Curtis attributes the moderate success of promoting observance of the Octave among the Orthodox to Abbé Paul Couturier, rather than to Bolshakoff. 79 However, he does credit Bolshakoff’s involvement in introducing the Abbé to Metropolitan Evlogy who encouraged his clergy to support the Octave. Perhaps Bolshakoff’s leaflet did finally reach the Patriarch of Constantinople: Patriarch Benjamin I wrote to the Abbé in December 1939, giving his approval. Additionally, Curtis notes that the “leading prelates of the Estonian and Rumanian Churches” commended the observance. 80 Bolshakoff attributed to himself the Estonian success. He wrote to Canon Douglas:

“As you know the Metropolitan Alexander [Paulus] of Estonia celebrated the moleben and preached for the rapprochement (between Orthodox Eastern Church and the Anglican one) on January 24 on my request. My Octave leaflet was published in Estonian monastery and approved by the Synod. I took your advice concerning the Octave propaganda on the strictest Orthodox lines.” 81

Bolshakoff – the Pilgrim

After spending 23 years in England, in 1951 Bolshakoff embarked upon a long period of travel in various countries. Eventually, in 1974, Bolshakoff took up permanent residence at the Cistercian Abbey of Hautreive at Posieux, Switzerland. He enjoyed portraying himself as being in the Russian tradition of the – a “wanderer” or “pilgrim.”

Bolshakoff had not completed his university education in Estonia and the lack of degree (and title) clearly irked him. In a 1936 letter to Canon Douglas, he writes, “My book, The Religious Communities of the Anglican Church, (about 500 pp.) will appear this year in Warsaw 82 and there is some talks to confer upon me a degree in Divinity for that book and my other works.” 83 A few weeks later he writes again to the Canon in a similar vein, “… the Council of Karlow (sic) of 1936 is expected to confer upon me a degree in Divinity for my scholar (sic) works.” 84 At the age of 42, Bolshakoff eventually did receive a Doctorate in philosophy (D. Phil) in 1943 from Christ Church, Oxford. Speaking on the occasion of his 80th birthday, Bolshakoff remembers Christ Church: “the most aristocratic college at Oxford has given Great Britain 14 Prime Ministers, 10 Viceroys of India and many other celebrities.” 85 In the introduction to his book (which was based on his Doctoral dissertation), Doctrine of the Unity of the Church, Bolshakoff refers to his strivings to achieve intellectual recognition:

“I am not a professional theologian, having started in my life with the intention of becoming a civil engineer, and receiving the appropriate education. The circumstances of my life, however, led me to undertake in 1923 a serious study of the problem of Christian Unity, which has lasted ever since. 86 I studied Christian theology and religious philosophy in many countries under the direction of eminent divines and philosophers.” 87

Bolshakoff eventually made a small income from journalism and from writing books, including The Christian Church and the Soviet Union (1942), The Foreign Missions of the Russian Orthodox Church (1943), The Doctrine of Unity of the Church in the Works of Khomyakov and Moehler (1946), Russian Nonconformity (1950), and Russian Mystics (1976). The Bibliography of Dr. Serge Nikolaevitch Bolshakoff 88 lists 15 books (published in 12 languages), 29 manuscripts, and 53 articles. In 1939 Bolshakoff started to send out mimeographed bulletins marked “For Private Circulation Only,” giving information about the Orthodox Church and inter-denominational relations, news about Christian work in the field of social reconstruction, and information about different people and events “likely to interest readers.” 89 At first, 100 copies were despatched six times a year. By 1989 that had dwindled to 60 copies, twice a year. In 1965 Bolshakoff wrote, “Still my was of interest enough to be read by Patriarchs, Cardinals, prelates of all degrees, prime Ministers, Statesmen, distinguished men of letters, as well as monks and clergy and laity of various inclinations and sympathies.” 90

This characteristic statement affords an insight into the personality of Bolshakoff. He ‘collected’ contacts with the great and the good. Bolshakoff was what we now would call an assiduous, professional networker, thriving on knowing important people and introducing them to each other. His voluminous correspondence is littered with multiple references to thisBishop, thatPrime Minster, and the otherPrince or Ambassador, all of whom he refers to as “my friend.” With the active support of the Anglican monks of Nashdom Abbey in 1933 Bolshakoff also established The International Academy of Christian Sociologists through which Bolshakoff arranged for eminent people to give learned lectures to small groups of attendees. The proposal to found the Academy was supported by a number of notable people, including T. S. Eliot, who became an Associate member. “The aim of the Academy is to counteract the energetic and well-defined type of sociological propaganda which derives inspiration from Karl Marx.” 91 Invitations to the meetings of the Academy always stressed the select and élite nature of the gathering: “Our meetings are held in a private house and very exclusive only…will include the Marquess of Tavistock, the Dean of Canterbury and a variety of titled people.” 92 Writing to Archbishop William Temple, Bolshakoff observed that the International Academy of Sociologists “flourished before the War” but by 1944 was “in abeyance.” 93

In 1941 Bolshakoff founded yet another exclusive society, The Society of Saint John Damascene. Membership, through election, was strictly limited to 20 persons, two thirds of whom must be Oxford residents. Its purpose was “to study Eastern Christianity.” By 1944 the Damascene Society comprised of 11 members “with 9 vacancies to fill.” 94

Writing in 1964 about Bolshakoff, Geoffrey Curtis describes the value of Bolshakoff’s contact list: “He has been a source of countless life-giving contacts, and he has been, in the ecumenical field, a source of much invaluable information….[he has an] amazing range of acquaintances, amongst churchmen of almost every communion, in the ecumenical, scholastic and literary field.” 95

From the mid-1940s onwards Bolshakoff’s interest in promoting both the Octave and his Confraternity appears to have waned. This can be attributed, I suggest, to his success in being awarded a Doctorate at Oxford and in having books published. Becoming a Doctor of Philosophy as well as being a published author, gave Bolshakoff the status and recognition which he so keenly desired. He no longer needed to found societies 96 in order to acquire status; being a published academic was sufficient.

As we have noted above, when the Synod of ROCA in 1935 allowed participation in the Church Unity Octave, it was on the basis that the prayer was for the union of all within the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church – that is to say, the Orthodox Church. The strictness of this position was tempered in the period between the two world wars by the fact that the exiled Russians did from time to time join in prayer with non-Orthodox, and with Anglicans in particular. It is possible to identify three main factors which encouraged this activity.

Firstly, parts of the Anglican Church, especially the “catholic” wing of the Church of England held the Orthodox Church in genuine and heartfelt high regard and showed true respect, even veneration for the Orthodox, particularly for the Russians in emigration. So moved were the Anglicans by the plight of the Russian clergy, both in the Soviet Union and in emigration, that they established the powerful and influential Appeal for the Russian Clergy and Church Aid Fund. With the Archbishop of Canterbury as its patron, and with a dozen or so bishops and other notable people as vice-presidents, throughout the 1920s and 1930s the Fund provided material assistance to the suffering clergy in the Soviet Union and to émigré Russians, especially those based in Paris. It was with the active financial support of this Anglican charity that the Saint Serge Orthodox Theological Institute was founded in Paris in 1925. Additionally, the Appeal Fund regularly published reports which highlighted the plight of the suffering Russian Orthodox Church and exposed the atheistic, anti-religious nature of the Soviet regime. No doubt the Russian Orthodox in diaspora felt that they owed a debt of gratitude to the Anglicans, and, at the same time, recognised that, as an established Church, the Anglicans had influence in the British government’s relationships with the Soviet government.

Secondly, the Russians in diaspora were grateful for support in their fight against the atheistic communism of Russia, wherever they found it. It will be recalled that, from the time of the martyred Patriarch Tikhon, the persecuted church leaders appealed for support from Western Christians. Spencer Jones, President of the (Anglican) Church Unity Octave Council, quoted from a letter he had received in 1935 from an unnamed Russian bishop: “This prayer and this idea is especially near to us Russians, the Golgotha of our own country and Church having shown us how necessary for a counteraction against international godlessness and atheism this uniting is.” 97 In other words, in the face of the atheistic enemy, all those who are against these evil forces should show their solidarity. Bolshakoff appealed for the unity of anti-atheistic forces in his 1936 pamphlet about the Octave: “[These divisions] inhibit the fight against atheism and neo-paganism; they use these divisions for the destruction of Christianity.” 98 Writing to Canon Douglas, he notes that the observance of the Octave is about the “mutual rapprochement and understanding between all Christians in the face of the growing indifference, socialism, atheism and so on.” 99

The third factor which might have encouraged the émigré Russians to join in public prayer with the Anglicans was that they saw it as a missionary witness. Although a minority, some Russian Orthodox believed that they should “let no occasion pass of confessing the truth of Orthodoxy before the whole world.” 100 Count (later Bishop) Grabbe, speaking of involvement in ecumenical activities said, “The real Orthodox should take part so that the voice of the Church, of true Orthodoxy, should be heard to counter-balance those who, under cover of Orthodoxy, expounded doctrines foreign to her.” 101 Of course, Bolshakoff, as we have noted, would have distanced himself from understanding participation in prayer with the Anglicans as a missionary endeavour. Despite the missionary credentials of the Confraternity, Bolshakoff absolutely rejected proselytizing i.e., encouraging the conversion of Western Christians to Orthodoxy.

As we have seen, Bolshakoff held paradoxical views. Keen to affirm his Orthodoxy, yet utterly sympathetic to Anglicans 102 and, with a little more reserve, towards Roman Catholics, he claimed to hold firmly the Orthodox faith. Yet, at the same time, he sought a rapprochement between Western Christians and the Orthodox on terms which implied that neither party would give up any part of their beliefs: hence, the Confraternity ban on proselytizing. He gives the clearest of exposition of this in Doctrine of the Unity of the Church. 103 Most of the book is a detailed discussion of the life and work of A. S. Khomiakov, with one chapter comparing and contrasting the writings of J. H. Möehler with those of Khomiakov. Without agreeing or disagreeing with Khomiakov, Bolshakoff writes, “According to Khomyakov, there is only one Christian Church – namely, the Orthodox. All other Christian communities are outside the Church and only parodies on it. Grace dwells only in the Orthodox Church, and not outside it, so far as the sacraments are concerned.” 104

Bolshakoff also quotes at length the statements of the Orthodox Delegation at the Lausanne Conference of the Faith and Order Movement in 1927 and at the Edinburgh Conference in 1937 which, he says, “stated plainly that the Orthodox Church cannot visualize any reunion except on the basis of full doctrinal agreement or acceptation by all concerned of the Orthodox Faith.” 105 So, having made plain the Orthodox position on the heterodox, and showing that this is the united faith of all Orthodox, including Khomiakov, Bolshakoff then proposes that, somehow, Khomiakov was wrong, or, at least, that his theology was incomplete:

“The Lausanne and Edinburgh Declarations can be safely taken as the official expressions of the Orthodox idea on Church Unity. Khomyakov, on the other hand, was a private religious thinker. His views cannot affect the Orthodox formularies. Besides, his somewhat contradictory ecclesiology is not so much wrong as incomplete, and needs to be clarified and harmonized.” 106

This paradox within Bolshakoff’s thinking was evidenced in his promotion of the observance of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. As noted previously, its origins lie within pro-Roman Catholic desires for the union of all Christians under the Pope of Rome. Bolshakoff’s mission was to encourage Orthodox participation, yet he would not make it explicit that the Russian Orthodox in diaspora could only pray for unity in the terms set down by the ROCA Synod of Bishops in 1935, i.e., only unity in the Orthodox Church. His Confraternity was supposed to be a society of lay missionaries, yet he eschewed conversions from Western Christianity to Orthodoxy. Finally, it may be noted that during the 1930s, in England at least, among the Russian Orthodox Bolshakoff appeared to be a lone voice in promoting the Octave. At the same time that Bolshakoff was developing his ideas about the Confraternity and the Octave, Russians under the jurisdiction of Metropolitan Evlogy joined with Anglicans in promoting the ecumenical Fellowship of Saint Alban & Sergius. Distinguished members included Professor Nicolas M. Zernov, Professor Nikolai A. Berdyaev Fr. Sergei N. Bulgakov, Professor Georgy P. Fedotov, Protopresbyter Georges V. Florovsky, and Professor Anton V. Kartashov. Bolshakoff did not join the Fellowship, perhaps because in the 1930s the Fellowship did not show too much enthusiasm for the Octave. Additionally, the outstanding academic prowess of the Fellowship leaders may have been daunting for Bolshakoff, prior to his achievement of a Doctoral degree in 1943.

However, things changed. In January 1942, at the height of the Second World War, in connection with the Octave, the Fellowship held eight meetings at the Roman Catholic Friary of Blackfriars in Oxford. Canon Oliver Quick, Regius Professor of Divinity, who was Bolshakoff’s academic supervisor, presided over the event. At the January 19 meeting, the Reverend Professor Francis Dvornik (a noted Roman Catholic Byzantologist) read a paper on the Photian Schism. The Chairman for the day’s meeting was none other than “M. Serge Bolshakoff, Secretary of the Damascene Society and of the Orthodox Confraternity of Saint Benedict.” 107

Published Sources:

  • Anonymous [Serge Bolshakoff]. “La Confraternité Orthodox de S. Benoit et Son Travail Pour Rapprochement Entre les Chrétiens d’Orient et d’Occident.” Irenikon 12.5: September-October, 1935: 512-523.
  • Anonymous. Report of the Proceedings of the Church Unity Octave held at Blackfriars, Oxford, January 18th – 25th, 1942. Oxford: Blackwell, 1942.
  • Anonymous. “The Council of the Church of Russia-Abroad Held at Karlovtzy, 10th-23rd August, 1938.” Eastern Churches Quarterly 8 (1939):493-503.
  • Barnas, Dom Thaddée. “Paul Couturier and the Monastery of Amay –Chevtogne.” The Messenger (October 2003) essay number 12. accessed December 2012.
  • Bolshakoff, Serge. Numerous articles appearing from 1939 to 1944 in The Voice of the Church, official organ of the Slavonic Apostolate in the United States, Illinois, USA.
  • Bolshakoff, Sergei. Doctrine of the Unity of the Church. London: SPCK, 1946.
  • Bolshakoff, Sergei. “The Orthodox Confraternity of St. Benedict.” Eastern Churches Quarterly 2 (1938):85-88.
  • Bolshakoff, Sergei. Russian Nonconformity. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1950.
  • Bolshakoff, Sergei. Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, undated pamphlet, probably November, 1936.
  • Church Times. London. 18.1.1935:60; 11.1.1936:81.
  • Curtis, Geoffrey. Paul Couturier and Unity in Christ. London: SCM, 1964.
  • Notes From The Abbey. Nashdom. December 1934.
  • Rouse, Ruth and Stephen Charles Neill. A History of the Ecumenical Movement 1517-1948. London: SPCK, 1967.
  • Smith, Hans and Anthony Spalding. Bibliography of Dr. Serge Nikolaevitch Bolshakoff. Holland: privately published. 1994, 1996.
  • Smith, Hans, V. Gareau, Anthony Spalding, Mr. Ryzk. Serge Bolshakoff Recollections, volume 2: Upon the Heights of the Spirit. Holland: privately published. 1994.
  • Zernov, Nicolas, and Militza Zernov. “The History of the Fellowship.” (1979) accessed December 2012.

Unpublished sources

  • Bolshakoff, Serge, Bulletin, privately printed and circulated sporadically from 1939 to 1989, UK, France, and Switzerland.
  • Lambeth Palace Library, London, UK: Douglas Papers; Fisher Papers; Temple Papers.
  • Minutes of the Synod of ROCA, Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, New York, USA.
  • Psarev, Andrei. Doctoral Thesis: The Attitude of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad toward Non-Orthodox Christians and the Ecumenical Movement (1920-1964): an Historical Evaluation. St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, NY, USA, 2004.
  • Stanford University, California: Special Collections Library, Manuscript Collection, Bishop Grigoriĭ papers, circa 1930-1995, M0694. box 2: folder 10.


The writer wishes to thank the following people who assisted him in writing this chapter: The Most Reverend Mark, Archbishop of Berlin, Germany and Great Britain (ROCA); the Reverend Protodeacon Christopher Birchall; the Reverend Deacon Andrei Psarev; Clare Brown (Assistant Archivist, Lambeth Palace Library); Brandon Gallaher (University of Oxford); the Reverend Simon Jarratt, OSB, (Prior of Elmore Abbey); the Reverend Mark Woodruff (Society of Saint John Chrysostom); Dr. Tony Spalding; and special thanks to the Reverend James Flint, OSB, (Archivist of St. Procopius Abbey).

  • One Church, 1 (1994)


  1. Sergei Bolshakov, Russian Nonconformity, (Phil.: Westminster Press, 1950), 173.
  2. Sergei Bolshakoff, Speech on my Eightieth Birthday, in H. Smith, et. al., Serge Bolshakoff Recollections, vol. 2, The Hague, Holland, 1994, 8.
  3. “Pskovo-Pechersky Monastery,” in The Voice of the Church, Illinois, USA, vol. no. 8, January, 1944, 14.
  4. Anonymous [Serge Bolshakoff], “La Confraternité Orthodox de S. Benoit et Son Travail Pour Rapprochement Entre les Chrétiens d’Orient et d’Occident,” Irenikon 12.5 (September-October, 1935), 512-523.
  5. Nicolas and Militza Zernov, “The History of the Fellowship of St. Alban & St. Sergius,” 1979, on the website
  6. First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCA), 1922-1936; the Synod of Bishops which he led was located at this time in Serbia at Sremski Karlovci.
  7. Bishop Tikhon Lyaschenko of Berlin and Germany (ROCA).
  8. Serge Bolshakoff, “The First Efforts,” in The Voice of the Church, Illinois, vol.VIII, no. 7, December, 1944, 12.
  9. Anonymous [Serge Bolshakoff], “La Confraternité Orthodox de S. Benoit et Son Travail Pour Rapprochement Entre les Chrétiens d’Orient et d’Occident,” Irenikon 12.5 (September-October, 1935), 514.
  10. Lambeth Palace Library, Temple papers, vol. 36, folio 291
  11. ibid.
  12. The Anglican Benedictine community took over Nashdom in 1926; it was built (1905-1909) by Sir Edwin Lutyens in the Russian ‘Imperial’ style for Prince Alexis Dolgoruky, Russian diplomat, and his wealthy English wife, Miss Fanny Wilson. ‘Nashdom’ derives from the Russian for ‘our house.’
  13. Geoffrey Curtis, Paul Couturier and Unity in Christ, (London: SCM, 1964), 135.
  14. Anonymous [Serge Bolshakoff], “La Confraternité Orthodox de S. Benoit et Son Travail” Irenikon 12.5 (September-October, 1935), 515.
  15. Serge Bolshakoff, “Orthodox Confraternity of St. Benedict,” in The Voice of the Church, Illinois, USA, vol. III, no. 4, October, 1941,11.
  16. ibid.
  17. Serge Bolshakoff, “Orthodox Confraternity of St. Benedict,” in The Voice of the Church, Illinois, USA, October, 1941, vol. 6, no. 4, 4-15; November, 1941, vol. 6, no. 6, 4-12.
  18. Sergei Bolshakov, Russian Nonconformity, (Phil.: Westminster Press, 1950), 173: (emphasis mine –NM).
  19. Clearly, an inaccurate description of the Bishop’s attire on arrival at the door of the monastery.
  20. Geoffrey Curtis, Paul Couturier and Unity in Christ, (London: SCM, 1964), 132.
  21. Anonymous [Serge Bolshakoff], “La Confraternité Orthodox de S. Benoit et Son Travail Pour Rapprochement Entre les Chrétiens d’Orient et d’Occident,” Irenikon, Sept.-Oct. 1935, 517.
  22. In becoming an oblate, Bolshakoff took the name Wilfrid, although he rarely used this name subsequently.
  23. ibid. Anonymous [Serge Bolshakoff], “La Confraternité Orthodox de S. Benoit et Son Travail Pour Rapprochement Entre les Chrétiens d’Orient et d’Occident,” Irenikon, Sept.-Oct. 1935, 517.
  24. ibid.
  25. ibid.
  26. idem. 518
  27. Serge Bolshakoff, “The Christian Unity,” in The Voice of the Church, Illinois, USA, vol. 6, no. 1-2, June-July, 1941, 7.
  28. Anonymous [Serge Bolshakoff], “La Confraternité Orthodox de S. Benoit et Son Travail Pour Rapprochement Entre les Chrétiens d’Orient et d’Occident,” Irenikon, Sept.-Oct. 1935, 519.
  29. Serge Bolshakoff, “The Orthodox Confraternity of St. Benedict,” Eastern Churches Quarterly 2 (1938), 85-88.
  30. ibid.
  31. Serge Bolshakoff, “The Orthodox Confraternity of St. Benedict,” in The Voice of the Church, Illinois, USA, vol. III, no. 8, January, 1939,13.
  32. Serge Bolshakoff, “The Orthodox Confraternity of St. Benedict,” Eastern Churches Quarterly 2 (1938), 88.
  33. Anonymous [Serge Bolshakoff], “La Confraternité Orthodox de S. Benoit et Son Travail Pour Rapprochement Entre les Chrétiens d’Orient et d’Occident,” Irenikon, Sept.-Oct. 1935, 522.
  34. Canon J. A. Douglas was Secretary to the Church of England Council for Foreign Relations.
  35. Lambeth Palace Library, Douglas Papers, vol. 47, letter 22.11.1935.
  36. Serge Bolshakoff, “The Orthodox Confraternity of St. Benedict,” Eastern Churches Quarterly 2 (1938), 88.
  37. Serge Bolshakoff, “The Orthodox Confraternity of Saint Benedict,” in The Voice of the Church, Illinois, USA, vol. III, no. 8, January, 1939,13
  38. Serge Bolshakoff, “Church Unity Octave,” in The Voice of the Church, Illinois, vol. 6, no. 6, March, 1942,10.
  39. Serge Bolshakoff, “The Orthodox Confraternity of St. Benedict,” in The Voice of the Church, Illinois, USA, vol. III, no. 8, January, 1939, 13. Father Jeremiah was Estonian.
  40. Presumably, the requirement of being a university graduate was imposed after Bolshakoff acquired a degree in 1943.
  41. Serge Bolshakoff, Bulletin, 44, November 1946.
  42. Serge Bolshakoff, Bulletin, 45, January 1947.
  43. Serge Bolshakoff, “The Orthodox Confraternity of St. Benedict,” Eastern Churches Quarterly 2 (1938), 88.
  44. Stanford University, California: Special Collections Library, Manuscript Collection, Bishop Grigoriĭ papers, circa 1930-1995, M0694. box 2: folder 10.
  45. R. Rouse & S.C. Neill, A History of the Ecumenical Movement 1517-1948, (London: SPCK, 1967), 348.
  46. Dom Thaddée Barnas OSB, “Paul Couturier and the Monastery of Amay (Chevtogne)”, The Messenger (October 2003) essay number 12.
  47. Anonymous [Serge Bolshakoff], “La Confraternité Orthodox de S. Benoit et Son Travail Pour Rapprochement Entre les Chrétiens d’Orient et d’Occident,” Irenikon, Sept.-Oct. 1935, 521, 522.
  48. Superior of the Monastery of Saints Kirik and Julitta and its Pastoral Theology School in the mountains of Rhodope, near the city of Asenovgrad (Stanimaka).
  49. Serge Bolshakoff, “Church Unity Octave,” in The Voice of the Church, Illinois, USA, vol. 6, no. 8, February, 1942, 9.
  50. Lambeth Palace Library, Douglas Papers, vol. 9, letter 12.2.1935.
  51. Minutes of the Synod of Bishops (ROCA) 13/26 October 1935.
  52. Fr. Henry Joy Fynes-Clinton, (1875 – 1959) leading Anglo-Catholic, aristocrat, and well known to the Russian aristocracy living in exile in London; vicar of St. Magnus the Martyr Church, London Bridge; Chairman of the Church Unity Octave Council.
  53. Lambeth Palace Library, Douglas papers, vol. 47, letter 22.11.1935.
  54. Church Times, 11.1.1936, 81.
  55. Lambeth Palace Library, Douglas papers, vol. 47, letter 19.1.1936.
  56. London clergy under the omophor of Metropolitan Evlogy.
  57. Lambeth Palace Library, Douglas papers, vol. 47, letter 19.1.1936.
  58. Lambeth Palace Library, Douglas papers, vol. 47, letter 19.10.1936.
  59. idem. letter 1.11.1936.
  60. idem. letter 1.12.1936.
  61. Lambeth Palace Library, Douglas Papers, vol. 47, letter 29.11.1936.
  62. Serge Bolshakoff, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, undated pamphlet, probably November, 1936.
  63. Lambeth Palace Library, Douglas Papers, vol. 47, letter 8.1.1937.
  64. Minutes of the Synod of Bishops (ROCA), 18/31 December 1937.
  65. Lambeth Palace Library, Douglas Papers, vol. 47, letter 26.11.1937.
  66. ibid.
  67. Minutes of the Synod of Bishops (ROCA), 18/31 December 1937
  68. Serge Bolshakoff, “The Benedictine Monastery of Amay,” The Voice of the Church, Illinois, vol. 7, no. 12, May, 1943, 11.
  69. Serge Bolshakoff, “Christian Unity Octave,” The Voice of the Church, Illinois, vol.6, no. 6, March, 1942,10.
  70. Geoffrey Curtis, Paul Couturier and Unity in Christ, (London: SCM, 1964): 137.
  71. Dom Thaddée Barnas OSB, “Paul Couturier and the Monastery of Amay (Chevtogne)”, The Messenger (October 2003) essay number 12. In fact, Archbishop Tikhon resigned from active episcopal ministry for other reasons.
  72. Minutes of the Synod of Bishops (ROCA) 18/31 December 1937
  73. Serge Bolshakoff, “Christian Unity Octave,” The Voice of the Church, Illinois, vol.6., no. 6, March, 1942, 10.
  74. Serge Bolshakoff, “The Orthodox Confraternity of St. Benedict,” Eastern Churches Quarterly 2 (1938), 87.
  75. In addition to the Synod of ROCA, presumably he is referring to the Synod of the Estonian Orthodox Church and the Synod of Metropolitan Evlogy in Paris.
  76. Serge Bolshakoff, “The Orthodox Confraternity of St. Benedict,” Eastern Churches Quarterly 2 (1938), 87.
  77. ibid.
  78. Lambeth Palace Library, MU/CO/PRES/1/1 letter 30.12.1939.
  79. Geoffrey Curtis, Paul Couturier and Unity in Christ, (London: SCM, 1964), 138.
  80. ibid.
  81. Lambeth Palace Library, Douglas Papers, vol. 47, letter 19.3.1937.
  82. This writer is unable to find evidence of this book being published.
  83. Lambeth Palace Library, Douglas papers, vol. 47, letter 6.1.1936.
  84. Lambeth Palace Library, Douglas papers, vol. 47, letter 30.1.1936.
  85. Serge Bolshakoff, Speech on my Eightieth Birthday, in H. Smith, et. al., Serge Bolshakoff Recollections, vol. 2, The Hague, Holland, 1994, 7
  86. i.e. his study has been life-long.
  87. Sergei Bolshakov, Doctrine of the Unity of the Church, (London: SPCK, 1946) xiii.
  88. Hans Smith and Anthony Spalding, Bibliography, 1994, 1996 privately published in Holland.
  89. ibid.
  90. ibid.
  91. Notes From The Abbey, Nashdom, December, 1934.
  92. Lambeth Palace Library, Douglas Papers, vol. 47, letter dated 22.11.1935.
  93. Lambeth Palace Library, Temple Papers, vol. 36, folio 289.
  94. ibid., folio 285.
  95. Geoffrey Curtis, Paul Couturier and Unity in Christ, (London: SCM, 1964), 137.
  96. In response to an enquiry from Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher about Bolshakoff, the Revd. J. B. Dakin mused, “It is a mystery where he gets his money from. Does he live by founding societies?” Lambeth Palace Library, Fisher Papers, folio 373, 4.12.1944.
  97. Church Times, 18.1.1935, 60.
  98. Serge Bolshakoff, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, undated pamphlet, probably November, 1936.
  99. Lambeth Palace Library, Douglas Papers, vol. 47, letter 22.11.1935.
  100. “The Council of the Church of Russia-Abroad Held at Karlovtzy, 10th-23rd August, 1938,” Eastern Churches Quarterly 8 (1939), 495.
  101. idem. 496
  102. By 1947, he had come to the conclusion that the Orthodox should recognise Anglican orders as valid: see Lambeth Palace Library, Douglas Papers, vol. 47, letter dated 14.8.1947.
  103. Serge Bolshakoff, The Doctrine of the Unity of the Church (London: SPCK, 1943).
  104. ibid. 263.
  105. ibid. 269.
  106. ibid. 272: (my emphasis – NM). Presumably, Bolshakoff could not see the irony of criticising Khomiakov on the grounds of Khomiakov’s status as a mere layman.
  107. Report of the Proceedings of the Church Unity Octave held at Blackfriars, Oxford January 18th – 25th, 1942 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1942).


  • Nicolas,

    Thank you for such an interesting article. I had never run across any mention of Bolshakoff before. He seems like an interesting character of the Emigration. Do you know what if any views were held on him by ROCOR and how those views shifted as he became more theologically divergent from Orthodoxy?


    • My name is Darrin Nicholas Bolshakoff cousin to Greg Bolshakoff and would like to give credit to any Bolshakoff through out history who has made a name like Bolshakoff which is also my last name i proudly share. Im great full to share any part of history or a mark in time that i hope will never get lost in the passed thank you for carrying on his name, legend and his impact on so many people’s lives…

  • Greg, as far as I can tell, local ROCOR clergy and people maintained a discrete silence with regard to Bolshakoff’s activities. Nicolas.

  • je m’intéresse à la prière du coeur, et à tous les travaux concernant la philocalie, c’est comme cela que les livres de serge bolshakoff ont croisé mon chemin et notamment celui traduit en français sur la rencontres avec la prière du coeur…Connaissez vous en france des lieux retirés et silencieux ou nous pouvons expérimenté cette prière…..Je suis tenté de dire…Oui! il y a dans notre royaume intérieur là ou dieu demeure….des personnes seraient-elles prêtes à échanger avec moi par mail sur ce sujet…Bien cordialement

    • Chère Madame Nathalie Colfort, votre message m’a touché profondément, car j’ai rencontre l’oeuvre de cher M. Serge Bolshakoff dans ma recherche, sur la voie de la prière de cœur. J’habite près de l’abbaye de Hauterive – depuis plus de 30 ans j’y vais touché par ce silence qui embrace tout qui sont à Hauterive, malheureusement j’ai rencontré les écrits si silencieux et profonds de Serge Bolshakoff trop tard pour une rencontre … mon adresse email est Je serais très heureux pour un signe dans cette recherche et de l’approfondissement de la pratique de la prière de coeur. Avec mes cordiaux messages. En Christ, Daniel

  • Thank you so much for this wonderful article and all your work, I am very happy and most grateful. Serge Bolshakoff with his so heart-to-heart speaking book “Wisdom for the Journey” brings the very light on the way, silence and simplicity drenched in a most wonderful humanity. Thank you so much! With much gratitude and love, Daniel

  • New material:

    This is from a longer letter written in English from Serge Bolshakoff to Igoumen Nicholas Gibbes, October, 1937:

    “We have a church in the great monastery at Petseri in Estonia. This church was built by our Sub-Prior in the confraternity, Dr Dimitri Solomentzev, over the grave of his brother and our co-founder, Dr Ivan Solomentzev who had died at 1934 in Nice, France and was translated into that monastery. The church is dedicated to 40 martyrs of Sebaste, one of whom was the patron of the late Dr I. Solomentzev. This church was built according to the design of our delegate in Estonia and consecrated by the Archbishop Nicolas of Petseri in 1935.… By the decision of our Chapter this chapel built by Dr Dmitri Solomentzev over the grave of his brother and our co-founder is recognized as our sanctuary. For our 10th anniversary we will put into our chapel the large ikonostasis and the walls will be covered by Finnish granite. It will be one of the most expensive small churches of the great monastery. We hope to build our Orthodox Chapel in Walsingham for our 10th anniversary too. Shortly we will publish our Rule or “Ascetica” in deluxe edition. We have now 12 members in the Confraternity, besides our members in our Women’s branch. Some of our numbers are in Holy orders and well known people. I mention particularly our delegate in the USA, The Rev John Chernavin of New York and [Archpriest] Jeremia Ciocan, my Delegate in Rumania. … We have between our members, priests and laymen, belonging to 5 different Orthodox Churches….”

    • I haven’t been to Petseri for over thirty years, but I do remember this white church. It was known as a church where services were conducted in the language of the small Setos ethnic minority. Of course, it goes without saying that since 1944 Petseri county is a district of the Pskov region of the USSR and now Russian Federation. Thank you for this addition.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.