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Archimandrite Nicholas Gibbes: From the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile to the Moscow Patriarchate

Archimandrite Nicholas Gibbes

An archive-based study of a figure well-known as a tutor to Tsesarevich Aleksei Nikolaevich, but quite obscure in his capacity of a ROCOR clergyman.


Charles Sydney Gibbes (1876 – 1963) went to Russia in 1901 and from 1908 onwards he joined the Russian Imperial Household as an English language tutor. After the Russian Revolution Gibbes, together with other members of the Imperial Household, traveled to Ekaterinburg and was close by when the Russian Royal Family was martyred there in 1918. Gibbes remained initially in Siberia and then with the British High Commission retreated to Peking. Gibbes found work in Manchuria and stayed there for some 15 years. In Harbin in 1934, at the age of 58, he was received into the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile [1]In the 1930’s, what we now call ‘The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia’ was known in the UK variously as the ‘Russian Orthodox Church in Exile’ or the ‘Karlovci Synod’. The … Continue reading by Archbishop Nestor of Kamchatka (d. 1962). Within a year of becoming Orthodox Gibbes had been tonsured a monk, ordained as a priest, and elevated to the rank of Hegumen, becoming Father Nicholas. In March 1936, Fr Nicholas left the Far East for the last time and returned to England. After his arrival in England in October 1936, Archimandrite Nicholas Gibbes became the doyen of the London Russian exile community.

From the Daily Herald, 27th September, 1937. The caption reads “A picturesque figure with flowing beard and staff. He is an English member of the Russian Orthodox Church”

Fr Nicholas, elevated to the rank of archimandrite in 1938, was revered by the Russian community in London. Most of the exile community were monarchists and thus naturally held a deep respect for this Englishman who for nearly ten years had served the Imperial Family. Unfortunately, as time passed by, Fr Nicholas had a deep falling out with the London community and, in particular, with the Rector of the parish, Archpriest Michael Polsky. Polsky was born in 1891 in a Cossack village, Novotroitsk, Kuban, south Russia. He became a priest in 1920. From 1921 he studied at the Moscow Theological Academy but could not graduate when the Soviets closed the Academy. Fr Michael was arrested in July 1923 and sent to the Solovki concentration camp for three years, followed by exile to Siberia. He went underground, eventually crossing the border into Persia in 1930. He became a priest of the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile in Teheran, Jerusalem and then in Beirut. In 1938 he moved to London to become the rector of the London parish. In 1948 Fr Michael moved to the USA, becoming a priest at the cathedral named after the icon of the Mother of God Joy of All Who Sorrow in San Francisco, where Fr Michael remained until his death in 1960. Fr Michael published the first collection of biographies of persecuted Orthodox clergymen in the USSR, wrote about the conditions of the Church in an atheist state, and became a prominent defender of the canonical status of the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile.

It is in this context that we can begin to understand the momentous decision on the part of Fr Nicholas in 1943 to leave the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile and transfer his allegiance to the Moscow Patriarchate. As Christine Benagh, a biographer of Fr Nicholas, observed, Fr Nicholas’s decision (to transfer to the Moscow Patriarchate) caused shock and dismay among his friends in the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile and resulted in painful isolation. He could no longer concelebrate or take communion in the [London] parish where he had been so deeply involved and was sincerely loved.” [2] Christine Benagh, An Englishman in the Court of the Tsar (Chesterton, IN.: Ancient Faith Publishing, 2000), p. 273.

In this paper, I aim to examine how Fr Nicholas arrived at his controversial decision to change jurisdiction and how clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile, in particular Archpriest Michael Polsky, perceived his decision.

1937 – 1942 Dissension

The seeds of dissension between Fr Nicholas and the London Russian community can be traced back to 1937. In September of that year, Fr Nicholas had written a detailed account of how he felt that the then rector, Archpriest Boris Moltchanoff (d. 1963), was deliberately obstructing his plans to commence serving Divine Liturgy in English. [3]Archimandrite Nicholas Gibbes archive held by the parish of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker, Oxford. All cited documents were written in English unless otherwise noted. St Nicholas Parish Archive … Continue reading Then, in the same month, an article in the Russian-language Harbin newspaper Dawn (Zarya [Заря]) reported that “Vladyka Serafim [Lukyanov] has appointed Fr Nikolai [Gibbes] Senior Priest of the London parish.” [4] Zarya (Заря. Dawn). Harbin. 10.09.1937. Translated from Russian. This turned out to be erroneous but Archpriest Boris Moltchanoff understandably was incensed and this added weight to his resolve to request a transfer to the Russian parish in Beirut, where the Mediterranean climate would be more conducive to improving the poor health of his wife. In 1938 he did move to Beirut, and the priest of Beirut, Archpriest Michael Polsky, transferred to London. In November 1937, Fr Nicholas wrote to a friend in Harbin:

Since the Zarya article, the present incumbent has decided to leave and is now in Paris trying to give effect to his desire and who we shall have in his place I do not know. I have confined myself to a suggestion that it should be a monk and not a married man at present. This was largely done in order to give myself a pied-a-terre in London, for there is a clergy house now occupied by “batushka” and family, and if we have a monk with no family I could easily obtain lodging there. [5] SNPA: 10.11.1937.

Father Michael Polsky became rector of the London parish in January 1938 and by 1939 Fr Nicholas had been given his “pied-a-terre” at the clergy house in St Dunstan’s Road, London W6, since Fr Michael was a widower and needed less space than Fr Boris. As we shall see, this arrangement was to become a source of much controversy in later years.

A few months after Fr Michael Polsky had arrived in London, [6]In his book, Embassy, Emigrants, and Englishmen: The Three Hundred Year History of a Russian Orthodox Church in London (Holy Trinity Publications, Jordanville, New York, 2014. P. 305.) Fr Protodeacon … Continue reading a dispute arose between him and Fr Nicholas. A senior member of the Church Council, Wsevolod P. Ampenov (d. 1940), [7] Russian Vice-Consul in Calcutta, India, 1912; father of Abbess Elizabeth (d. 1999). felt obliged to write to Archbishop Seraphim Lukyanov [8]Archbishop Seraphim Lukyanov: In 1917, Father Seraphim Lukyanov became Bishop of Finland; in 1921, Archbishop. When in 1923 the Orthodox Church in Finland joined the Patriarchate of Constantinople, … Continue reading in Paris to resolve the matter:

“In the near future our Rector, elected to represent the London Parish, will depart together with Archbishop Nestor and Churchwarden Prince Galitzine for Serbia to attend the Council of Bishops. We understand that Fr Nikolai also has a personal wish and intends to travel to attend the Council. If this happens our Parish can be left without a Priest for a relatively prolonged period, which naturally worries both the Parish Council and Parish members a great deal.

On the instruction and with the permission of the Rector as well as Parish Council members, I respectfully request you, Your Grace, to ask and appoint Fr Nikolai Gibbs [sic] to deputize for Fr Mikhail during his absence. I am having to trouble you because Churchwarden Prince Galitzine’s request to Fr Nikolai regarding this matter was unsuccessful. Fr Gibbs’s intention puts Fr Mikhail in a difficult position, because, as he said in a private conversation with me if Fr Gibbs insists on realizing his intention, Fr Mikhail would be forced to forgo the trip to attend the Council as he does not wish to leave the Parish without a Priest. The difficulty which is arising can be solved only with your kind help, which we are all really hoping for. [9]Metropolitan Seraphim (Lukyanov) archive held by the Church of the Three Hierarchs, Paris: box ‘London’ (unsorted); Metr. Seraphim (Lukyanov) papers in folders ‘London … Continue reading

The Archbishop responded quickly and decisively. His directive addressed to Fr Michael, ordered:

While you are away from London attending the Council the performance of duties of Rector of the London Parish will be assigned to Archimandrite Nikolai, of which you are to inform him and the Parish Council. [10] Lukyanov Archive: 23.07.1938. Translated from Russian.

In another letter to Archbishop Seraphim, Ampenov made clear his relief at having the matter resolved:

I passed the news to Fr. Mikhail of you appointing Fr. Nikolai as Acting Rector of our Parish, and he was very pleased that you solved our difficulty so quickly, and he will now have peace of mind going to the Council, for which he prepared so intensively all this time with Archbishop Nestor and Archimandrite Nathaniel, working late at night. We heard the result of the main part of their labors in the excellent lectures read by Fr Mikhail and Archbishop Nestor: may God grant them success in achieving their idea at the Council. Archbishop Nestor will leave tomorrow morning with Fr Nathaniel, and Fr Michael – next week”. [11] Lukyanov Archive: 29.07.1938. Translated from Russian.

Archbishop Nestor of Kamchatka and Archimandrite Nathaniel Lvov (later Bishop Nathaniel. d. 1986) had been visiting England from April to July 1938 while on their way to the Second All-Emigration Council which was held in Sremski Karlovci, Serbia. The report on which Archbishop Nestor and Father Michael were working so diligently was delivered by Father Michael to the Council, entitled “The Spiritual State of the Russian People Under Bolshevik Rule.”

Fr Nicholas would have been deeply disappointed at not being allowed to go to the All-Emigration Council in Serbia. This setback led to a worsening in his already frosty relationship with Fr Michael. Writing in 1945 to Fr Nathaniel L’vov, Fr Nicholas felt it appropriate to remind Fr Nathaniel (with whom he had had no contact in the intervening years) of his negative relations with Fr Michael: “My personal relations with Fr Michael have never changed very much since his first attitude towards me when you were here.” [12] SNPA: 27.08.1945.

During the course of 1939, Fr Nicholas distanced himself from the Russian community, based at St. Philip’s Russian Orthodox Church in Victoria, London SW1. With the storm clouds of war gathering over Europe, Fr Nicholas took on a project to bring twelve Russian women from Yugoslavia to London for the purpose of forming an English-language choir; the choir would chant at the Divine Liturgy to be served in English by Fr Nicholas at the Anglican Chapel of the Ascension in Bayswater Road, London W2. The whole enterprise was funded by the Anglican & Eastern Churches Association. The “Belgrade Nightingales” arrived in London in April 1939, and services happened sporadically between May and August but the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, brought a swift end to the project. [13] The present writer is preparing a paper that explores the intriguing story of the “Belgrade Nightingales”.

During 1940 Fr Nicholas occasionally served at St. Phillip’s. However, three of his former choir members had relocated to Oxford, as had a number of Russian émigrés who formerly were in London. Father Nicholas wrote to Metropolitan Seraphim in Paris:

As you have already heard, owing to the War we had not the possibility to continue the English Orthodox Services at the Chapel of the Ascension, Bayswater Road, London. This was a very great disappointment and grief to all who had taken part in this holy work, but, the Prime Minister’s repeated warning to evacuate from London all persons who were not obliged to remain there, left me no alternative but to send the Choirgirls into the provinces, where they were assured of a greater measure of safety.

After this misfortune, it seemed better to pause and wait in the hope that we might thus be more truly guided. Months have slipped by but, until just recently, it has not been possible to restart the work with any hope of permanence. However little by little part of the choir has gravitated to Oxford. First two, then a third and now I am hoping that a fourth will also shortly come. This has made it seem possible for the small group of Russians living in Oxford to ask me to begin regular Orthodox Services in that city.

The principal difficulty has been to obtain a suitable place of worship, but even that has been, by the Grace of God, now overcome. A small and very ancient Chapel, dedicated in honor of St. Bartholomew, has been placed at our disposal… I have therefore the honor to report the above facts and humbly to beg Your Lordship’s episcopal blessing on all that has been done and further to request Your official sanction to hold really Russian and/or English Orthodox services in the Bartlemas Chapel in the City of Oxford. [14] SNPA: 9.03.1940.

By November 1940, Fr Nicholas had taken up lodgings in Oxford although he also retained his “pied-a-terre” at the Podvorie in London, as well as his own residence in Stourmouth, Kent. The Oxford community comprised primarily Russian intellectuals attached in some way to the University of Oxford, almost all of them affiliated to the jurisdiction of Metropolitan Evlogy Georgievsky (d. 1946) because of their close connections with St Serge Theological Institute in Paris. Nevertheless, during Divine Liturgy in Oxford Father Nicholas Gibbes quite correctly commemorated not Metropolitan Evlogy but Metropolitan Anastassy, President of the Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile and Metropolitan Seraphim of Paris and Western Europe.

As a result of the German occupation of France in June 1940, the parish of the London Russian Orthodox Church in Exile was cut off from its bishop, Metropolitan Seraphim in Paris. There was no more contact between the parish and the Metropolitan until after the liberation of France in August 1944. Additionally, because of the occupation of Yugoslavia by the Axis Powers in 1941, it was impossible for the London parish to communicate with the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile. This situation led to more dissension between Fr Nicholas and Fr Michael. Led by Fr Michael Polsky, the parish decided to place itself temporarily under the care of Archbishop Vitaly Maximenko (d. 1960), a bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile who had been based in the USA since 1934; from June 1940, until September 1945, it was to Archbishop Vitaly that Fr Michael and the parish looked for guidance and decisions about the running of the parish in London. [15] As did the parishes in Switzerland and also some in France. Fr Nicholas declined to follow this course of action and refused to submit himself to the jurisdiction of Archbishop Vitaly. Looking back, in 1945 he wrote, “During the war, Father Michael put himself under the protection of Archbishop Vitalii of New York. For a number of reasons, it was impossible for me to do the same thing, which in fact was little more than a theoretical subterfuge.” [16] SNPA: 27.08.1945.

In January 1942 there occurred a further deterioration in the relationship between Fr Michael and Fr Nicholas. Fr Michael wrote:

Dear and deeply respected Father Nicolas [sic], I congratulate you on the coming feast of the Nativity of Christ and the New Year, and wish you health and all prosperity from God.
At the present time, I have a need to write to you on the instructions of the Parish Council.
There was reported on the last sitting of the Parish Council, that a very valuable library (up to 5 thousand volumes), that was costing of some hundred pounds, was offered to our parish as a gift; that we could exploit it and receive income from readers for benefit of our church. The Parish Council estimated the significance of this offer at the present time when we are in very need of means, and I myself expressed a wish to go towards a new beginning and to restrict myself in the living conditions and to work in the library.

Next there a question of a room has appeared. Naturally, the Church Council set its attention on the room you are occupying. On the one hand, it set its attention on that fact that you do not live constantly at this room, but more by flying visits; and on the other hand, it is sure that all pertaining to the well-being of the Orthodox parish in London shall meet only sympathy and support from your side, and you shall go towards the parish in its needs, and therefore, agreeing to receive the library, it counts completely on the room you occupy. If you had a parish in London and lived here constantly, maybe that the Church Council found this question more complicated for itself as well as for you; but now it has hope it shall not be difficult for you to give your room for a parish library. [17] SNPA: 2.01.1942. Translated from Russian.

However, Fr Nicholas was not to be persuaded. His initial response was:

In reply to your letter of 2nd January, I wish to say that I am indeed glad to hear the good fortune you have had to receive such a handsome gift.

But you are quite mistaken, I have no intention of giving up my work among the English Orthodox in London, quite the contrary. The more particularly that the Oxford parish may collapse. I have no very great hope for it. I am here quite on a temporary footing. Therefore, I am sorry to say that I cannot hold out to you any prospect of my vacating the room I occupy at the Podvoria. [18] SNPA: 6.01.1942.

There follows a bad-tempered correspondence over several months between Father Nicholas and the St Philip’s Parish Council, which eventually demanded that Fr Nicholas should pay rent for his room at the Podvorie. Unwelcome as he was, Fr Nicholas continued to use his room (rent-free) on an occasional basis until 1945! However, he did not continue his “work among the English Orthodox in London” and his stay in Oxford was anything but on a temporary footing; some years later he purchased not one but four properties in Oxford.

1943 Captive Synods

Fr Nicholas’s decision to transfer to the Moscow Patriarchate was driven by events in Moscow in September, 1943. Late in the evening of 4th September, an extraordinary meeting took place in the Moscow Kremlin. Hosted by the Premier of the Soviet Union, Joseph V. Stalin (d. 1953) and First Deputy Premier Vyacheslav M. Molotov (d. 1986), the meeting was attended by the locum tenens of the Patriarchal Throne, Metropolitan Sergei Stragorodsky (d. 1944), accompanied by Metropolitan Alexei Simanskiy (d. 1970) and Metropolitan Nikolai Yarusevich (d. 1981). The meeting lasted for two hours.

Stalin had come to realize that the Church could be instrumental in promoting Soviet patriotism and, in particular, help in resisting the German occupation of Soviet lands. Historian Wassilij Alexeev records: “The Church’s potential usefulness during World War II must have been appreciated by Stalin before the German attack on Russia on 21 June, 1941. As a matter of fact, the Church’s activities during the two years of the Soviet Pact (August 1939 – June 1941) convinced Stalin of the explosiveness of the religious question. Still, it was Hitler’s attack that forced both Church and State into a situation of collaborative coexistence from which they would emerge with a sense of “interdependence” and thus form a “Strange Alliance.” It is an almost unbelievable story”. [19] Wassilij Alexeev and Theophanis G Stavrou, The Great Revival: the Russian Church Under German Occupation (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Burgess Publishing Company, 1976), p. 43.

Stalin was aware that if he made some limited concessions to the Church, the Church would continue to be compliant and supportive of Soviet aspirations to overcome the Nazi threat. Indeed, the historian and expert on the Russian Orthodox Church, Dr. Daniela Kalkandjieva, states that the groundwork for the rapprochement between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Soviet Government had been laid by the Church, and by Metropolitan Sergei in particular, through the publishing of patriotic speeches and sermons. “[The Moscow Church] issued and pronounced thirty-three proclamations and sermons from the time of Hitler’s invasion [June 1941] to the election of Metropolitan Sergii as Patriarch of Moscow. This activity reached its peak in the first year of the Great Patriotic War when seventeen proclamations and four speeches were registered…” [20] Daniela Kalkandjieva, The Russian Orthodox Church, 1917-1948 (London and New York: Routledge, 2015), p. 95.

Additionally, Stalin needed to defuse criticism coming from the West of Soviet anti-religious policy. For the last twenty years, the Soviet Union had waged a war of terror, torture, and imprisonment on the Church. Between 1918 and 1939 at least 300 bishops and more than 55,000 priests, deacons, monks and nuns had perished at the hands of the state. [21] Daniel H. Shubin, The Orthodox Church During the Twentieth Century ( 2016), p. 189. In 1913 in Russia there were more than 70,000 parish churches and chapels. [22]Gernot Seide, History of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia from Its Beginning to the Present (Geshichte der Russischen Orthodoxen Kirche im Ausland von der Grundung bis in die Gegenwart, … Continue reading By 1939, across the whole of the Soviet Union, there remained less than 300 functioning churches. [23] Dimitry Pospielovsky, The Orthodox Church in the History of Russia (Crestwood, NY.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1998), p. 264. Now Stalin needed the remnants of the persecuted Church to support the Soviet state as it repelled the Nazis in their attack on the Soviet Union.

In return for offering the loyalty of the Church to the Soviet State, at the meeting with Stalin Metropolitan Sergei skilfully asked for a number of concessions which Stalin granted. The Metropolitan and Stalin agreed to the following developments:

• To convene a Bishops’ Conference, the first since 1935. This happened four days later, attended by 19 bishops, mostly from the territories which had been lost to the Germans but which had been newly regained under Soviet control.
• For the Bishops’ Conference to elect a new Patriarch, the first since the death of Patriarch Tikhon in 1925. This happened on 8th September 1943. The only candidate was Metropolitan Sergei who was installed as Patriarch on 12th September.
• For the Episcopal Conference to create a new Synod of Bishops, comprising three permanent members and three additional bishops called by the Synod in rotation.
• The opening of religious schools and seminaries. This happened on an extremely limited basis.
• The recommencement of the publishing of the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate. 15,000 copies were printed and distributed on 12th September, Patriarch Sergei being the editor.
• Regarding the opening of parish churches, Stalin deviously said that local priests should make such arrangements with local soviets (i.e. through the local committees of the Communist Party). [24]“…at the start of the war, between 150 and 400 parishes were active in the Soviet Union. But after a few years, this number increased to 22,000.” This number includes all the parishes regained … Continue reading

Other matters discussed, inconclusively, included freeing the bishops who were in internal exile, prison, or in concentration camps; freedom of travel for clergy; a new residence for Metropolitan Sergei; and the financial situation of the Russian Orthodox Church. Daniel Shubin, the Church historian, writes: “As they were leaving, Stalin walked them to the door of his cabinet and said, “Prelate, I will do all that I can for you at the present.” The most historic meeting between prelate and dictator of 20th century ROC History ended on a positive note”. [25] Shubin. 2016. P. 199.

After his consecration, Patriarch Sergei notified the Eastern Patriarchs of his new status. All wrote to congratulate him and thereby recognized Sergei as the new Patriarch. Only six months later, on 15 May, 1944, Patriarch Sergei died at the age of 77. He was succeeded as Patriarch of Moscow by Metropolitan Alexei Simanskiy (d. 1970) who was elected at the local Council of the Moscow Patriarchate in February, 1945.

Meanwhile, across enemy lines in Nazi Germany, just as the Moscow Patriarchate was finding a way to survive, the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile was also learning how to survive within a hostile regime.


German and Italian forces invaded Yugoslavia in 1941 and the exiled Synod of Bishops in Sremski Karlovci, near Belgrade, found itself under the rule of the Nazi German Military Administration.
The Nazis despised Christianity in general and Russian Orthodoxy in particular. “…Hitler recognized that Christianity ‘can’t be broken so simply. It must rot and die off like a gangrened limb.’ As far as Russians and the Russian Orthodox Church were concerned, Hitler was not interested in saving the Slavic untermenschen from the “gangrene of Christianity.” [26] Alexeev. 1976. P. 59.

However, as part of its response to the Soviet backing for the restoration of the Moscow Patriarchate, in October, 1943, the Nazi administration sent the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile from Belgrade to convene in Vienna. Just as the Soviets had facilitated the Moscow Bishops’ Council of 8 September, 1943, the Nazis facilitated the Vienna Bishops Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, held at St. Nicholas Cathedral, on 21-26 October, 1943, [27]Alexeev (1976) says 8-13 October; Kalkandjieva (2017), follows this. However, other sources (e.g., … Continue reading under the presidency of Metropolitan Anastassy Gribanovsky. Among the participants were Metropolitan Seraphim of Paris, and Bishop Benedict of Grodno. As Professor Dimitry Pospielovsky, in his lifetime one of the foremost authorities on Russian Church history, commented: “The Vienna Conference was in virtually the same position as the bishops in the Soviet Union: both had to wend their way between their duty to the Church and subordination to their terrestrial and totalitarian masters”. [28] Pospielovsky. 1998. P. 277.

At the start of the Conference, the hierarchs were joined by two Nazi officials. However, the bishops said that they wanted to discuss Church matters; that would not be possible if the Nazis remained. The Nazi officials left the meeting and the bishops were free to proceed with their work. The assembled bishops went on to condemn Patriarch Sergei for his collaboration with the godless Soviets. “1943: October 3/16. The Council of ROCA Bishops in Vienna (Austria) expressed their view of this “election” in the following statement: “It is an uncanonical and political act, which was made to serve the interests of the Soviet communist government and its dictator Joseph Stalin, which was in the crisis of war, seeking the help of the hated and persecuted Orthodox Church… and when that need will be diminished they will renew the persecution…,” which did happen a decade later”. [29]Monk Benjamin (Gomartely), Timeline of the Orthodox Church 1917-1998, (ROCOR Studies, 2019.) Accessed November, 2019. … Continue reading [with the renewed persecution of the Church by Soviet leader Khrushchev between 1958 and 1964. – N.M.]

The bishops concluded that the Moscow Assembly which elected the Patriarch was canonically invalid because it failed to follow the benchmark of the All-Russian Council of 1917-1918 by not including any lay representatives, nor any lower clergy, and it did not include all Russian Orthodox bishops. The election was categorized as a political act of puppets of the godless power. By contrast, the Vienna bishops described their own status as a representative of the free part of the Russian Church. Of course, just as the Russian bishops in Russia had to compromise, so also did the Russian bishops outside Russia have to compromise. [30] A detailed account of the conference proceedings can be found at Alexeev. 1976. P. 90-92. In a list not dissimilar from that of the Moscow bishops, to the surprise and shock of the Nazi regime, the bishops meeting in Vienna made demands that included:

• There should be free development of Orthodoxy in all occupied territories and that they be unified under the leadership of the Karlovci Synod;
• The clergy should activate its struggle against [atheistic] Communism;
• Russian workers deported to Germany should have free access “to the fulfillment of their spiritual needs”;
• Russian military units attached to the German Army should be supported with chaplains under the jurisdiction of the Karlovci Synod;
• Religious literature should be published in mass editions for people who “had been subjected to the demoralizing influence of Bolshevism”;
• There should be [Russian] broadcasts of religious apologetics;
• The Church should be allowed to establish theological schools, seminaries, and pastoral courses. [31] Pospielovsky. 1998. P. 277.

1943 Oxford

Doubtless, Fr Nicholas received a copy of “The Truth About Religion in Russia” which had been published in Moscow 1942, and 100 copies sent to the Archbishop of Canterbury. This manifest piece of Soviet propaganda was received in the west generally with suspicion. As monk Benjamin Gomartely notes: “They could not have chosen a more pathetic title. Some of that “truth” sounds like this: “Since the October revolution there were many trials of clergy and they all happened only because those clerics behind their ryassa and Church flag were hiding anti-Soviet activities… all of it was only political trials and has nothing to do with their religious activities… Our constitution gave us a full guarantee of freedom of religion…” (Правда о религии в России. 1942, стр. 26). [32] Правда о религии в России. 1942, стр. 26. Cited from Gomartely. 2019.

And Wassilij Alexeev comments: “[Patriarch] Sergii, who set the tone of the volume in his prefatory remarks did not outrightly deny the persecutions but he refined them, calling them “simply a return to the days of the apostles.” Thus improving the image of the government on the subject… but the bulk of the volume was aimed at Fascist Germany and its atrocities, especially its own version of Christian persecution.” [33] Alexeev. 1976. P. 56.

However, for Fr Nicholas the publication of this volume would have been one more piece of evidence that the circumstances of religious life in the Soviet Union were improving. The main source of information about developments in the Soviet Union for Fr Nicholas came from English newspapers. For example, The Daily Telegraph of 6th September, 1943 reported that: “… Marshall Stalin’s… agreement to the measures proposed for the election of an All-Russian Patriarch mark a new and notable step in the gradual improvement of relations between the Soviet Government and the Christian community within its sphere of authority.” [34] The Daily Telegraph. London, England. 6.9.1943. P. 3.

Just over a week later, The Times (17th September, 1943) observed: “The visit of the ARCHBISHOP of YORK to Moscow follows hard on the announcement of the installation of the METROPOLITAN SERGIUS as Patriarch of the Orthodox Church and of the revival of the Holy Synod and adds fresh significance to these events. It will not be unfair to assume that one of the motives inspiring the decision of the Soviet Government to accord official recognition and status to the Russian Church was a desire to remove a glaring discrepancy between the attitude of the Russian Government and that of its principal allies towards religion… It is recalled that the Russian Patriarch is the head of a Church whose members are spread over many countries of eastern and south-eastern Europe and that the Russian national church served in the past as a bond of association between Slav peoples and a repository of Pan-Slav aspirations. It may help to allay some anxieties that Russian interest in countries with which her future relations must necessarily be close and intimate should be expressing itself through other than Communist channels”. [35] The Times. London, England. 17.09.1943. P. 5.

A month later The Times reported that Archbishop Garbett of York, who could not speak Russian, having visited the Soviet Union for nine days at the end of September, told his diocese “of his clear impressions that the Church of Russia was free from the State in the election of its Patriarch… There was complete freedom in the worship within the Church.” [36] The Times. London, England. 15.10.1943. P. 2. In a letter dated 18th November 1943, Fr Nicholas Gibbes writes to an unnamed correspondent who apparently has emigrated recently from England:

People here are all very thrilled by the great changes that are taking place in Russia, particularly the English. The Russian die-hards, of course, view everything with deep suspicion, not to say dislike. They have adopted the formula that nothing good ever came out of the Soviet! and leave it at that. However that is not shared by all and my own congregation has welcomed the new attitude, in particular the election of the new Patriarch. It is my own conviction too and since that event took place I have started to commemorate the Patriarch of Moscow in our church. This has very much upset Father Michael and he hasn’t spoken or even noticed me since!!! So I leave it at that! [37] SNPA: 18.11.1943.

The date on which Fr Nicholas started to commemorate the Patriarch was Sunday, 19th September 1943. As can be seen from the above quotation, it was an arbitrary act which he implemented of his own volition and without reference to any bishop. He might have sought the counsel of his own bishop, Metropolitan Seraphim but at this time he was in Nazi-controlled France. Fr Nicholas might have sought advice from Metropolitan Anastassy but he also was behind enemy lines in Nazi-controlled Yugoslavia. However, Fr Nicholas could have communicated with relative ease with Archbishop Vitalii of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia in the USA but he chose not to. Fr Nicholas could even have asked a blessing of the Exarch of the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Veniamin (Fedchenkov, d. 1961), who was also in North America but he did not. According to an eye-witness, Fr Nicholas arrived at Bartlemas Chapel in Oxford on Sunday, 19th September, 1943, and announced his decision to the congregation. The suggestion that his congregation welcomed this change is probably misleading; most of the congregation held their first loyalty to Metropolitan Evlogy in Paris who at this time was still the Exarch for the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

As was frequently the case with Fr Nicholas, the letter to “My dear Doctor” did not get sent in November; on 17th December 1943, Fr Nicholas continued:

Since then I’ve been to London to be present at a presentation to Archbishop Germanos [of the Patriarchate of Constantinople – N.M.] of an Address and large oil portrait of himself. Father Michael wasn’t there. I don’t know whether he was invited or not for I saw him in the street near the Greek House! He sailed past me with his head in the air looking over my head! And I have had a letter from him dated that very day – what do you think of that? It is all about my commemorating the New Patriarch. I’ve had it 10 days and haven’t answered it yet, though the draft is now ready. He just hates me like poison. [38] SNPA: 17.12.1943.

Here is a translation of the text of the letter (in Russian) from Fr Michael to Fr Nicholas:

Most Esteemed Fr. Nicholas,

I feel at all times a duty to speak with you on the subject which so silently and sadly divides us at present. I have postponed this conversation above all because I became completely ill physically, having learned of your action, about the schism you have caused among the Russians in England, which is now the third. [39]A reference to the division in the London church and other western European parishes between Metropolitan Anastassy (Russian Orthodox Church in Exile) and Metropolitan Evlogy (Exarchate of the … Continue reading As if we did not have enough to deal with already. As a man who no longer has any other interests left apart from those of the Church my heart became very sick and I could not get my heart right again for a long time. Finally, a time has come when I can speak calmly on this subject. However, the fact that you committed your action before speaking with me, your closest fellow priest in England, already has stopped me from wanting to speak. You have disregarded me too much for me [40] A translation improvement suggested by John Walker now to be able to enter into negotiations with you on this subject in the expectation of good results for myself. But I repeat that I have a duty as Rector of the parish of which you are a part-time, non-stipendiary priest — and one who is insufficiently experienced in Church affairs due to your brief service — to say to you what I must say; otherwise I will rightly be reproached for my silence by the Supreme Church Authority.

Soon after your announcement in Oxford about your transfer to the jurisdiction of Moscow, I had conversations with leading experts who said to me that because Fr Gibbes recognizes no authorities nor has a bishop, he can do as he wishes, while I, Fr Polsky, should follow the instructions of my bishops, to whom I am subordinated, that is, of course, at present, Metropolitan Theophilus and Archbishop Vitaly in America. The latter, as you know, are in the jurisdiction of our Supreme Church Authority in Yugoslavia, and as we are in fact cut off from the latter, it is quite natural, consistent and lawful for us to be in the diocese of those of our bishops with whom we can actually liaise regarding our church affairs.

Thus, external but well-informed people have noted what is completely obvious to them: the fact that you are not under any authorities nor a bishop. Previously, I had pointed out to you the necessity of subordination to the bishops in America, but you did not listen to me, you did not write to them, and I do not believe that you have rectified your situation at present, due to the fact that you commemorate the Patriarch of Moscow at the divine services. Have you been received into communion by the Patriarch of Moscow himself? It seems that at this point you received him to communion with yourself and not the other way around. But I hope that you will be careful not to having any dealings with Patriarch Sergius, and that you will not decide to accept all the impositions of the militant atheist Bolshevik powers that the poor and suffering Russian Church has accepted painfully against its will. Judging by the fact that suddenly you have now started to commemorate our diocesan bishop, Metropolitan Seraphim of Paris, as was reported to me, you seem to be very far from actual communion with Patriarch Sergius; otherwise Patriarch Sergius would have forbidden you to pray for Metropolitan Seraphim, whom he suspended from the priesthood long ago, and he would have assigned you to another of his bishops. Neither has Metropolitan Seraphim allowed you to commemorate both in this way; he was at the Council in Vienna on 1 November of this year and did not recognize the new Patriarch, as we know from the Council memorandum. If you pray for Patriarch Sergius and for the Supreme Church Authority [under him – N.M.] in general, then according to canon law you must then pray for the diocesan bishop subordinate to it. For you now this can be only Metropolitan Veniamin [41] Metropolitan Veniamin Fedchenkov (d. 1961), Exarch of the Moscow Patriarchate in North America, 1933 –1947. in America, who is Patriarch Sergius’s representative abroad. You could enter into actual communion with him and actually be received by him. But what you are doing by praying for completely different jurisdictions that do not recognize one another, is wholly inappropriate; it is against Church traditions and canon law, and demonstrates only the extent to which you are unfamiliar with these traditions. By being independent of any bishops and acting on your own accord, without the consent or knowledge of either of them, but simply as you yourself choose, you have founded an independent, protestant-type sect. This is what the situation is formally, and here your errors are completely obvious.

Morally, in relations with the Moscow Patriarchate, you have not improved anything with your action[42] A translation improvement suggested by John Walker . Our Supreme Church Authority ordered us to pray for “the orthodox episcopate of the Russian Church.” By this we mean both our moral connection and our future legal connection with the Russian Church, but you and I do not have the right to add anything more to this expression. We express our love in prayer towards the suffering Church, and we have the power of the Church. In order to live and suffer with the Russian Church, one must go there, to Russia, and there take the course of compromise and reconciliation with the militant atheists and villains in power, with the murderers of your Sovereign and his family.

There, in Russia, is the deepest and most horrible suffering, of which it is impossible for us to partake voluntarily from here: the suffering of an involuntary liar, traitor, and deceiver. This path of suffering is known to many Russian bishops and priests who chose to compromise with their conscience for the sake of saving their lives. Reconciliation with the Soviet regime has had too great a price for them. And you must understand that recognition of the Moscow Church jurisdiction, in essence, means reconciliation with a regime of internationalist militant atheists and murderers, which no one should choose to do voluntarily and no national government in the world is choosing nor has chosen to essentially be reconciled with them.

This is why you must not become actually subordinate to Metropolitan Veniamin in America, lest you embark on his path of political cooperation with Soviet and communist figures, become a traitor to your motherland and, merely by communicating with the Soviet clergy, a pawn in the political game of the Soviet regime, as has happened with Veniamin and the Russian episcopate headed by Patriarch Sergius. All this is not needful, and sinful for you and for me.

I still have many more grounds for explaining the needlessness and uselessness of your action, but I know that, without saying too much, time itself will prove this to you, if you do not voluntarily and right now, having realized your error, return to the former order, which you had followed, albeit nominally, but which you now ought to follow in practice. That is, I would like to ask you wholeheartedly to stop your disorder, to write a letter about it to Archbishop Vitaly and ask for his blessing to serve in Oxford. Only then will all become lawful. You will have the same bishop as I, and we shall be united as before, as indeed it ought to be according with the aims of those who ordained us and allowed us to remain in England.

I look forward to your reply with the hope that it will bring peace and joy of unity to our small Orthodox family here in England. What you have done has not brought about and will not bring about any good, whereas there is already — and will continue to be — the evil of a new schism, which is unneeded and pointless for everyone. I am now seeking only to fully and completely rectify what has occurred as if it were a case of a simple misunderstanding, and, in this sense, I am making concessions, trying to meet you halfway, out of goodwill, and stretching out to you my hand as a gesture of communion and former friendship. I beg you to return to unity and peace with our Church. Do not sacrifice these things for imagined unity with a Church authority which has almost no influence, even at home in Russia.

Your humble servant,

Archpriest M. Polsky

The Day of the Entry of the Most Holy Virgin into the Temple” [1943] [43] SNPA: 4.12.1943. Translated from Russian.

A full two weeks later, Fr Nicholas replied to Fr Michael:

“I beg to acknowledge with thanks your letter of 21st Nov./4th Dec., 1943, received with some delay, and note, with deep appreciation, your tender solicitude on my behalf.

Allow me to say, however, that on six separate occasions since 19th September, I have spent the inside of a week at the Podvoria when it would have been possible, had you been so disposed, to discuss any differences which divide us in a direct, personal and fraternal manner.

Unfortunately, you did not only do so, but repelled all my friendly overtures.
From the contents of your long letter, under reply, I gather that you are either labouring under a great misapprehension or are in possession of information which I have not received.

As I understand your letter you are referring to Sunday, 19th Sept., (N.S.) 1943, being the first occasion on which Divine Service was held in my Church at Oxford after the election of the new Patriarch of Moscow, when prayers were offered for His Holiness, Sergei. This was done on the grounds that the new Patriarch of Moscow has been acknowledged by His Beatitude, Benjamin, the Oecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, the Most Blessed Christophoros, the Patriarch of Alexandria; the Most Blessed, Alexander III, the Patriarch of Antioch; the Most Blessed, Timotheus, the Patriarch of Jerusalem; and other Orthodox Churches. As I have always been instructed to pray for the Russian Episcopacy, I felt entitled, I may even say bound, to pray also for the Patriarch Sergei, in humble and thankful acknowledgment to Almighty God for His great mercy in the restoration of this great and historic office.

As to your contention that my Metropolitan Seraphim of Paris would not allow me to do this on the authority of the Synod, which (you say) was held at Vienna on 1st November of this year, I can only reply that this is a subject which is still open to discussion. As related in your letter I find this event is not altogether free from certain doubts and suspicions. Personally, I am not in receipt of any communication on the subject whatsoever, and I know nothing of a Vienna Synod mentioned by you. I am therefore unable to say whether you are correct or not, and I am not proposing to take any action such as your letter may suggest, but I shall be glad to know whether you have received any instructions, while I have not?

Awaiting your reply, I profit by this occasion to wish you a Happy and Prosperous New Year, hoping that by the Grace of God it may end in glorious Victory for us and our faithful American and Soviet allies.

Yours very truly in Christ, Our Lord, Archimandrite Nicholas”. [44] SNPA: 18.12.1943.

It would not be unreasonable to comment that the suggestion by Fr Nicholas that, by nearly the end of December, he had not heard anything about the Vienna Conference seems to be somewhat disingenuous. News of the Vienna Conference would have been the talk of the Russian community in London; the Nazi regime would have done its utmost to spread the news of the gathering of the exiled bishops. Indeed, in the papers of Fr Nicholas there is an extensive briefing note [45] SNPA: 1.11.1943. from Chatham House on the Vienna Conference, dated 1st November, 1943. [46]The Royal Institute of International Affairs, commonly known as Chatham House after the building at which it is based, is a non-governmental organization based in London whose mission is to analyze … Continue reading However, it is true that the British press was silent on the matter of the Vienna Conference; presumably British censorship prevented such reports.
In less than a week, Fr Nicholas received a reply in English (probably translated from Russian and typed in English by the Parish Secretary, F. Volkovsky, d.1951) from Fr Michael:

“I was glad to receive your kind letter and to note your impartial wish to disentangle our differences.

Regarding your mention of the fact that I have not taken any opportunity of speaking with you about this subject, I must say that I also can not remember any occasion when you tried to speak with me. I also thought it better to write on this matter, as it could then be more carefully considered.

From your letter, I see that you are strongly impressed by the fact that the Eastern Patriarchs have recognised the Metropolitan Sergei as Patriarch. As you know, the Eastern Patriarchs recognized Sergei as Metropolitan and were in brotherly relations with him, while we, the emigres, had no connections with him and you, in particular, were with us in this attitude and not with the Metropolitan Sergei. Why did you not recognise him before and pray for him, when all the Patriarchs recognised him as Russian Metropolitan? You seem to assume that the new title of Patriarch has altered his position, when in reality nothing has changed either in the power or the position of the Metropolitan Sergei. The re-naming of the Metropolitan Sergei as Patriarch has been noted by the Eastern Patriarchs. Always a newly elected Patriarch informs the others and receives from them charters and greetings. And I now inform you of a terrible fact: in 1925 and 1926 all the Patriarchs except the Patriarch of Antioch, recognised the New or Living church (obnovlentsy), which had illegally deposed the Patriarch Tikhon and had introduced the married episcopate. They have not yet cancelled their recognition of the Living Church, have not condemned it and now they simply recognise the Patriarch Sergei, while forgetting the Living Church. To this, I must add that when the free word of the Russian Church will be said both about the Living Church and about Metropolitan Sergei and the legality of his election, then the Eastern Patriarchs will be forced to agree with this word. This is why the point of view of the Russian bishops who are free abroad is of great and know little about them [sic]. Importance for us Russians and this point of view may succeed in triumphing and we must follow the competence of our obvious authorities. Let us note that the Eastern Patriarchs do not interfere in our internal affairs and know little about them. They will just as soon condemn the patriarch Sergei as they have recognized him when a more authoritative voice of the Russian Church will have spoken.

Nevertheless, the recognition of the Living Church is their mistake, which has delivered a cruel blow to the Russian Church. Altogether we do not consider the Patriarchs infallible but submit only to an Oecumenical Council.

The news about the decisions of the Vienna Synod has reached us by radio in various languages and also we Russians abroad have got them [the decisions – N.M.], and it is clear that we all needed them, as can be seen from the inquiry which I have received from Jerusalem. If you do not know that the Vienna Synod had recognized the Patriarch Sergei, then you also can not know whether he had not recognized him and therefore you can not change the established order of prayers on your own initiative. [sic] In the absence of other ways of getting news and the decisions of our Church authorities, we must make use of even this only means. The Church authorities will condemn us if we will justify ourselves by pleading a lack of knowledge owing to the absence of formal correspondence.

Quite apart from the Vienna Synod you well know that the Metropolitan Sergei had forbidden [suspended – N.M.] our Synod and that this has not been canceled and we can be sure that this attitude has been deepened by his various new forbidding [prohibitions – N.M.] which are well known to all. I do not know on the basis of which assumption you have united in your prayers with Metropolitan Sergei and the Metropolitan Seraphim. Whence did you get information about their reconciliation which enabled you to act thus. I do not ask you to answer this question since I know that this is your mistake, which I have pointed out before and which I ask you to correct.

I think that I have explained sufficiently clearly the impossibility of introducing changes on one’s own initiative in the most important part of the Service in which we declare our unity with the higher hierarchy, from which we derive the Grace of Priesthood and all the Sacraments and with whom we live in peace and in one mind.

I will await your reply in the hope that you will do all that which I requested in my first letter”. [47] SNPA: 23.12.1943.

While Fr Michael was writing to Fr Nicholas, Fr Nicholas writing to Dmitri Obolensky [48]Sir Dimitri Obolensky FBA FSA (1918 – 2001) was a Russian-British historian who later was Professor of Russian and Balkan History at the University of Oxford and the author of various historical … Continue reading in Cambridge with whom he had formed a close friendship. Fr Nicholas wrote, “I’m now in the middle of something that I h a t e – a polemical correspondence with (of course) Father Michael. Under guise of fair words he is (I feel sure) hoping to catch me in some indiscretion of thought or expression.” [49] SNPA: 27.12.1943.

Three days later, again he writes to Obolensky:

“My Rev. colleague has changed his tactics, completely ‘volte face.’ After passing me by with his head in the air and a haughty and insolent stare during three months, he has suddenly changed his behaviour and now wreathes his face in smiles and friendly greeting. You can’t imagine the horror of it. I feel coils of serpents running up and down my spine!”

He adds:

“This spring is going to be momentous, for we are ‘expecting’ the Moscow Deputation at that time. [50]The Moscow delegation arrived in June, 1945: it did not visit Oxford. In fact, the three visiting Russian clergy only made one visit to an Orthodox Church in the UK during their ten-day visit – … Continue reading [some deleted words]. I do not see how this can avoid the creation of an extremely critical situation for everybody connected with the Orthodox Church. Already I cannot help thinking of it morning, noon and night. Let us only hope that it will clear the atmosphere like a great [unclear – N.M.]. Let us pray that we shall find ourselves in a fresh, pure, limpid and calming atmosphere of peace, when it is over”. [51] SNPA: 30.12.1943.

1944 The decision of Archbishop Vitaly

Then Fr Michael wrote another letter to Fr Nicholas, on Orthodox Christmas eve, 6th January 1944, the contents of which were guaranteed to enrage Fr Nicholas:

“While awaiting a reply from you to my last letter, I have just received a letter from the Archbishop Vitalii from America in which he mentions you since I had written that you are moving away from our jurisdiction.
The letter of the Archbishop contains the following paragraph (translated from the Russian):

“As regards the Archimandrite Nicholas, tell him to observe the Church laws and follow the bishop who has ordained him. It is a pity that he is so undisciplined in Church matters. I condemn him for his insubordinate behaviour.”

In this letter, the Metropolitan Theophilus and the Archbishop Vitalii have approved my attitude to the Patriarchate of Moscow.

I am not giving up the hope, dear father Nicholas, that you will restore order in our Church and by this also our friendly personal relations”. [52] SNPA: 6.1.1944.

On the 10th January 1944 Fr Nicholas responded:

“I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 10th/23rd December, 1943.

I have to thank you for your acknowledgment of my impartiality, I wish very much that I could say the same of yourself.

Certainly, I am strongly impressed by the action of the Eastern Patriarchs. But your contention that they acknowledged the New or Living church (obnovlentsy) is surely beside the point. Not knowing the reasons for their action, we have not the means upon which to form an opinion on their conduct. Moreover, you yourself say in your letter under reply that “the Eastern Patriarchs do not interfere in our internal affairs and know little about them”, which may have been the reason for their recognition of which you complain. The election of a Patriarch is on the other hand, not an internal affair but one of worldwide importance, as we can see from the great worldwide interest it has created, hence the importance of the Eastern Patriarchs recognition. Furthermore, we may rejoice in the fact that the newly elected patriarch Sergei has, as I hear, been the means through God’s grace of healing this grievous wound by the submission of the Living Church to the Patriarch. Let us, therefore, give glory to God for His mercies, and thanks for His servant, the Patriarch Sergei who has been the means of its expression. Excuse me for saying that your statement that “nothing has changed either in his power or the position “of the Metropolitan (sic) Sergei” is quite absurd. Now he is the equal of the Patriarchs, before he was not.

I welcome your clear statement that “we must follow the competence of our obvious authorities”. Most excellently said! Now in the first paragraph of your letter to His Grace, the Archbishop of Canterbury, under date of 27th September, 1943, you wrote: “Since the time of the fall of France and then also Yugoslavia, from the 16th July, 1941, the London parish was included in the diocese of the Right Reverend Vitalii, the Archbishop of Eastern America, and in his central Church administration in America.”

For yourself and your London parish, therefore, the Archbishop Vitalii and the Synod of Bishops of the North American Metropolitan Province are in Canon Law your one and only “obvious authorities”. May I enquire, therefore, on what grounds you are disobeying the injunction contained in “The Russian American Orthodox Messenger”, No. 11, of November, 1943, which is the official organ of your competent authorities?

The enormity of your position is now made quite clear since I received a copy of “The Russian American Orthodox Messenger”. I am horrified to learn that you are not only not obeying the instructions issued by your new Canonical Authority but are acting upon instructions issued over enemy-controlled Radio. We cannot know under what duress the instructions of enemy-controlled Radio are issued, but we may be sure that they are to the advantage of our enemies. I completely disassociate myself from your actions which, if persisted in, are bound sooner or later to lead you into trouble. Unless I am fully assured of your loyalty to this country I can have no further correspondence with you.

You will find the “assumption” under which I “have united in my prayers the Metropolitan (sic) Sergei and the Metropolitan Seraphim” in the above mentioned No. of “The Russian American Orthodox Messenger”. You should at least practice the obedience you are so anxious to impress upon me. An example is better than precept, indeed it is the only effective argument either in religion or in morals”. [53] SNPA: 10.01.1944.

Father Nicholas is referring to the fact that on October 26-27, 1943, the Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile in North America (Archbishop Vitaly, and Bishops Ieronim and Ioasaph) had taken part in a North American Synod of Bishops, at which the election of Metropolitan Sergius to the Russian Patriarchal Throne was discussed. A resolution was adopted recognizing the election and ordering that Patriarch Sergius of Moscow be commemorated at the divine services, without, however, abolishing the commemoration of Metropolitan Anastasii and Metropolitan Theophilus of North America. Metropolitan Theophilus, following this resolution of the Synod, issued a decree on November 11, 1943, stating that all three hierarchs were to be commemorated in all North American parishes. This order was also signed by bishops Vitaly (Maximenko), Tikhon (Troitsky), and Ioasaph (Skorodumov) and Ieronim (Chernov) of the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile. [54] accessed November, 2019. As we can see from the letters of Fr Michael Polsky (e.g. letter of 6th January, 1944 and subsequent letters), the bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile in North America did not implement this decision, which, according to the agreed protocol of 1936, had to be ratified by the Karlovci Synod, still cut off from communication by the war. No doubt the bishops in North America relied on the fact that, in their view, the Synod in Belgrade would emphatically veto the decision.

This latest letter was calculated to be offensive, especially in the parting shot which questioned the morals of Fr Michael. It also contained a veiled threat that Fr Michael might be treated as a Nazi sympathiser and thereby liable to be interned. A week later, in a letter dated 18th January, 1944, Fr Michael responded to the insulting letter from Fr Nicholas:

“I thank you for your letter of the 10th January.

In the letter which I had received from the Archbishop Vitalii and which, in the part which refers to you, I had quoted to you, there was also written the following:
“Your letter concerning the affairs of your parish I received on the 26th November. I acquainted the Metropolitan with its contents. We thank you for your full report, with documentary references. The position which you have taken up in relation to the Moscow Patriarchate is quite correct. [emphasis added – N.M.] It is good to know that the Archbishop of Canterbury has approved your line. This is also important to use. I am glad to know of the peaceful development of life in your parish…, etc.”

Thus I have approval of my position in relation to the Moscow Patriarchate from the Metropolitan Theophilus and the Archbishop Vitalii in a special letter i.e. I have the approval of the highest Orthodox Church authority in America.

Now you will understand that your reference to the November issue of The Russian American Orthodox Messenger (it was at the end of December that the Archbishop Vitalii wrote to me) does not make that impression on me at all which you wanted to create, while introducing many phrases into your communication which were most unpleasant and offensive in relation to me.

I will request America for explanations in connection with your letter, but I am sure in advance that instructions to pray for the Patriarch Sergii together with the Metropolitan Anastasii and his hierarchy, as you do, are not given. I still think that neither the Patriarch Sergii nor the Metropolitan Anastasii would allow this, since the instructions forbidding services [suspensions – N.M.] are still in force and have not been removed. It is impossible to belong simultaneously to two opposed jurisdictions, as you think, while acting entirely on your own.

At first, it would seem, you did not pray for anyone except the Patriarch Sergii and then, as the result of some considerations, you began to pray for the whole of your old hierarchy. I tried to prove to you the falsity of your notion and to elucidate exactly to which jurisdiction you belong while living “without authority and a bishop”.

But now, having sought the protection of the American journal No. 11 you have apparently become a truer and more obedient member of the American Orthodox Russian Church than I, and it may be that you will get into touch with the Archbishop Vitalii and enter his jurisdiction, which I asked you to do at the proper time. It would seem that you are faced with no more obstacles on this path, if you are acting quite ‘legally’ in all respects from the point of view of the journal which you have read.

You think quite wrongly, owing to your lack of knowledge of Church rules, that the recognition of the Patriarch, as head of a local Church, is of greater importance than the recognition of a metropolitan as head of a Church. I can assure you that the Metropolitan of Athens and all Greece is just as much a person “of worldwide importance” (as you say) as the Russian Patriarch, or the former Synod of Russia or any country. And this is just the trouble – the Eastern Patriarchs had recognized the Living Church Synod as being the Synod of Russia and they prayed for it at their services along with the heads of other Churches, of which they informed the Living Church people in their messages. For this reason, your sharp expression concerning the “absurdity” of my remarks about the Patriarch Sergii are very wide of the mark and are based on your own lack of knowledge.

For more than twenty years the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile has not recognized the jurisdiction of Moscow, as being under the influence of the policy of an international and godless power. So it was also before the occupation by the Germans of those regions where our Church administration happened to be. The attitude of the émigré Church remains the same also now, since there have been no serious changes in the life of the Church in Russia. And the Patriarchate is simply another trick of the Bolsheviks for the deception of émigrés of the rank and file. And in this case they have succeeded. Unfortunately the average inhabitant of England seems to believe Bolshevik propaganda, but the men at the top well know the real position of the Church in Russia and also the meaning of all the tricks. And I am very sorry to see that you have succumbed to Bolshevik propaganda, of which you will be sorry in times to come. All is possible – it is also possible that the plaything in Soviet hands, the present Patriarch Sergii, will speak against England just as he now speaks against Germany, and you have been too hasty with regard to your enthusiasm about the Patriarchate in Russia, while not judging this matter in accordance with the true position.

My reference to the fact that the wireless had confirmed the former twenty-year-old position of the Russian Bishops in relation to the Moscow Patriarchate has been interpreted by you as being an instruction which I received from a country which is the enemy of England. I ask you to estimate your step impartially and according to its merits. As an argument against my deductions and statements concerning your lack of knowledge of Church rules and your sectarian self-willed steps, you have aimed at me a police threat, imagining that I would believe that the English administration interprets its laws and their application to you. You have miscalculated completely. I have experienced too much in the sphere of really terrible realities for you to frighten me even for a moment. I am sincerely sorry for you since, in your state of irritation, and while clearly shewing your dislike of me, you have descended to such means. These methods will convict you sooner or later in your own conscience.
At the end of your letter you have suddenly and without relation to the contents of the letter unexpectedly pointed out that one requires an interrelation between religion and morals, and you have underlined this with some kind of hint with regard to my morals. God is the judge of my morals and yours, as well as our consciences. The state of your morals and mine both here and in the countries where we had formerly been may be known to some people, and occasionally they may be mentioned, justly or unjustly. Let God judge them for you and for me. But it is not good that we should speak against each other.

At the height of Easter [1943 – N.M.], during the heaviest raids on London, you told non-Orthodox strangers bad things about my morals. It was a sad Easter for me. I suffered much from your injury, but I bore it and I tore up the letter I had written to you while listening to the song “let us embrace each other and let us forgive everything by the Resurrection”. But your hints even to people near to me were repeated.

Stop, Father Archimandrite, and remember your morals!

I find it easy to write to you, because I do not seek a quarrel, a slick attack or a deadly, biting or cruel step against you. I wanted to elucidate the truth for your benefit concerning the position, as I understand it on the foundation of my Church activity during very many years.

As can be seen from the tone in which your letter is written, you do not find it easy to write and you seek an excuse for not writing to me anymore while looking for the most offensive and obviously untrue reasons. That is your affair. To me your Church position remains, as before, self-willed and your reference to the journal will probably not help you. It is necessary to have more in order to legalize your actions. You remain without authority or a bishop.

Yours faithfully…” [55] SNPA: 18.01.1944.

Two further letters were sent by Fr Michael to Fr Nicholas in Oxford. The first, dated 21st January 1944 reads:

“I am sorry to write to you after you have told me in writing and also told Count Kleinmichel in conversation that you do not want to talk with me. I can assure you that I must write to you again only because you have interfered in the affairs of my parish and, therefore I write as a result of your action.

Count Kleinmichel, the Chairman of the Parish Council and I, having studied the letter of Archbishop Vitalii in which he confirms the position which I have taken up in relation to the Moscow Patriarchate and having noted the date of the meeting of bishops in America at which they really do authorize and prescribe prayers for the Patriarch Sergii and the Metropolitan Anastasii, have found that the letter to me was written exactly one month after this meeting. Thus Archbishop Vitalii and the Metropolitan Theophilus have quite consciously not applied to me the decision arrived at in America, where it had been taken in view of considerations of the good of the Church, in view of the existing majority of Bolsheviks and Bolshevik sympathizers. If I should receive a new written confirmation from America of this our conclusion, then no agitation of any sort by you or anyone else would force me and my parish to pray for the Patriarch Sergii, and of this I warn you, and at the same time I protest against your interference into the life of the Orthodox Parish in London, with which you have no connection, as being a priest without a bishop, and as a result of the complete self-willedness [sic] of your actions.

I terminate every Church connection and relations with you and at the same time, in particular, I am astonished at the fact that you, not being in our jurisdiction and being in schism with the parish and also after the way in which you have seriously offended me both politically and personally, should think it possible to meet me at the Church house, residence at which had long ago been refused to you by the Parish Council”. [56] SNPA: 21.1.1944.

And then, on the 4th February, Fr Michael was again obliged to write to Fr Nicholas, having received another letter from Archbishop Vitaly in America. In this private letter, Archbishop Vitalii is exhorting Fr Michael and Fr Nicholas not to follow what he had prescribed officially for the North American parishes.

“Dear Father Nicholas

I consider it my duty, as a continuation of my last letter, to inform you that I have to-day [sic] received a letter from the Archbishop Vitalii, which states the following:

“Your Church position is quite correct. I approve it. Our Church interrelations are more complex. I share your views and do not mention the Patriarch Sergii during services.”

The Archbishop also added that I should not believe all newspaper rumours. Thus, with the blessing of the ruling bishop and in full agreement with him our parish stands on firm foundations in its attitude to the Patriarch of Moscow.

As the result of mentioning the Patriarch Sergii at your services, you do not belong to the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Anastasii, who has not recognized the Patriarch, and you do not belong to the temporary jurisdiction to which I belong and to which you are obliged to belong, since you were an additional priest of our parish and received the right to serve at a separate Church [57] i.e. first Bayswater, and then Oxford. only with my consent as you know. This you should always remember and maintain unity. The whole responsibility for this Church difference in England rests with you.

In addition I consider it my duty, especially in view of the situation, to insist that you should leave the Church House at the above address” [14 Saint Dunstan’s Road – N.M.]. [58] SNPA: 4.2.1944.

And so the relationship between Fr Nicholas and the London parish remained permanently fractured. Fr Michael wrote once more in May, 1944 to Fr Nicholas and confirmed the point:

“After your insults and threats, it is only the Church matters that have forced me to write to you with only one wish that you ceased ‘your self-willed actions’ and brought yourself, along with me, into factual unity with our episcopate. Now absolutely nothing connects us and your attempt to speak to me at an incidental opportunity in the brotherly tone does not compensate for the evil that you have inflicted on me”. [59] SNPA: 28.5.1944.

The fissures of division between Fr Nicholas and Fr Michael first appeared in 1938. By 1944 the separation was complete.

1945 Paris

Meanwhile, events in Paris were again to have major significance for the London parish, for Fr Michael and for Fr Nicholas. Following extensive discussions with Alexander E. Bogomolov (d. 1969), the Soviet Ambassador to France, Metropolitan Evlogy requested the locum tenens of the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Alexei, to be received back into the Moscow Patriarchate. It was agreed that Metropolitan Nikolay Yarushevich (d. 1961) would visit Paris in August 1945 to achieve the union of the Exarchate with Moscow, which came into effect on 1st October, 1945, although with many organisational and canonical matters still outstanding and waiting to be resolved by the Patriarchs of Moscow and Constantinople. On 8 August, 1946, Metropolitan Evlogy died, aged 78. On the 14 August, Patriarch Alexei appointed as replacement Exarch none other than Metropolitan Seraphim Lukyanov, the same Metropolitan Seraphim who in the 1930s was an implacable critic of the Paris Exarchate of Metropolitan Evlogy. However, in August, 1945, Metropolitan Seraphim had left the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile and placed himself under the Moscow Patriarchate.

Few of his Western European parishes followed Metropolitan Seraphim into the Moscow Patriarchate. [60]Bishop Ieronim reports that only two or three parishes went with the Metropolitan to Moscow; thirty remained with the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile. At the same time, most of the Evlogian parishes … Continue reading Church historian Gernot Seide makes an interesting observation. Writing in 1983, he says “… the great majority of émigré Russians refused to become members of communities belonging to the Patriarchal Church, even though the latter Church has established communities worldwide since 1945. On the contrary, the Patriarchal Church had no success in establishing numerically important communities of Russian emigres, and one sees only communities […] dominated by those of non-Russian nationalities”. [61] Seide, G. 1983. Part I. Chapter 6. P. 16.

As might be predicted, Fr Michael Polsky in London made his position very clear. On 3 October, 1945, Fr Michael wrote (in Russian) to Metropolitan Seraphim:

“To the Most Reverend Metropolitan Seraphim.

The Church Council of the Russian Orthodox Parish in London ruled at its meeting of 3rd November [62] This is an error: the meeting was held on 2.10.1945. of this year to communicate to you that our parish remains under the jurisdiction of both the Council of Bishops and the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. At this time it does not find any changes in the canonical regulation of our Church Authority in comparison with previously.

In this connection, our parish is unable to continue its commitments to its previous Diocesan Authority in Paris, which left the jurisdiction of the Hierarchical Synod and Council”. [63] Lukyanov Archive: 3.10.1945. Translated from Russian.

And again, in November, 1945: “To His Eminence, The Very Eminent Metropolitan Seraphim. Your letter from 11 November, 1945 with No.365 was directed by me to the Very Eminent Metropolitan Anastassy. None of your instructions or interference in life of the London’s Parish will be accepted for consideration.” [64] Lukyanov Archive: 19.11.1945. Translated from Russian.

Meanwhile, Fr Nicholas Gibbes in Oxford could now justify his action in praying liturgically for both the Moscow Patriarch and the formerly Russian Orthodox Church in Exile Metropolitan Seraphim. And in June, 1945, when Metropolitan Nikolay Yarushevich of the Moscow Patriarchate arrived in England in order to visit the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, at last Fr Nicholas Gibbes was able to confirm his commitment to the Moscow Patriarchate.

Head Study of the Archimandrite Nicholas. A study of 1943 for a painted portrait exhibited at the Royal Academy, 1945 by F. Ernest Jackson R.A., who lived in Oxford from 1940 until his death in 1945


For many years I have wondered why the profound monarchist Fr Nicholas Gibbes would even contemplate leaving the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile, where he had converted, where he had been tonsured, and where he had been ordained, and, of his own volition — in the freedom of the west — transfer his allegiance to the Moscow Patriarchate which was so closely connected with a godless regime which had martyred his beloved Emperor and Tsarevich. Having examined the papers of Father Nicholas Gibbes, I think I can now suggest that Fr Nicholas’s dramatic change of allegiance was driven by two inter-related factors: his lack of theological understanding and his deep sense of being an Englishman. [65]SNPA: 1953 n.d.; anonymous report on the life and situation of Fr Nicholas (by now aged 77) comments: “…Father Nicholas remains the typical Northern Englishman and has never acquired the … Continue reading These two main drivers were underpinned by his ‘difficult’ character and, sadly, his profound dislike of his fellow priest, Fr Michael Polsky.

“One who is insufficiently experienced in Church affairs due to your brief service” [66] SNPA: 4.12.1943.

Writing these lines to Fr Nicholas, Fr Michael goes to the heart of the matter: Fr Nicholas simply did not understand the theological significance of what he was doing by praying for Patriarch Sergius. It must be remembered that in 1934 Fr Nicholas was still the untutored layman, Charles Sydney Gibbes. In just over 24 months he had converted, been tonsured, and ordained. Fr Nicholas did not attend any formal program of Orthodox theological study, even though in Harbin he would have found that the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile had established its first theological institution. [67] Seide, G. 1983. Part I. Chapter 5. P. 9. From 1928 onwards pastoral courses were offered by the Harbin Saint Vladimir Institute, leading to a degree-awarding theology faculty being established in 1934, the year in which Charles Gibbes became Orthodox. However, it is clear from the papers of Fr Nicholas that he did not take advantage of this possibility and left Harbin soon afterward. [68] SNPA: 16.2.1937; SNPA: n.d. circa 1945.

In contrast, Fr Michael had received an impressive theological education, first at the seminary and then at the prestigious Moscow Theological Academy. By 1943, Fr Michael had been a priest for 23 years, while Fr Nicholas had been a priest for all of eight years. It is entirely probable that Fr Nicholas was unaware that, within the Divine Services, whom the priest commemorates is not a matter of personal choice. A priest must pray for the bishop who rules the diocese; that bishop must pray for the president of the Synod of which he is a member; the leader of that Synod must pray for the Patriarch; the Patriarch must pray for all the other Patriarchs. This is the so-called ‘ladder principle’. There is no choice in the matter. Amongst other things, it signifies the unbroken unity of the priest with the worldwide Church. If Fr Nicholas knew this, then his error in praying in the Divine Services for Patriarch Sergius, purely because of his own predilection, was iniquitous. Fr Michael took a kinder view and suggested that the error occurred through ignorance on the part of Fr Nicholas and I agree with that more charitable view. It should be noted that Fr Michael’s critique of the position of Fr Nicholas always focuses on matters of theology and church order. Additionally, Fr Michael always refers respectfully to Patriarch Sergius, never to the “so-called Patriarch.” [69] The Daily Telegraph. London, England. 19.05.1944. P. 4. His charity towards the Patriarch extended even unto death. On 19 May, 1944, the “Court Circular” page of The Daily Telegraph announced: “A requiem service for Patriarch Sergei of Moscow and of all Russias will be held on Sunday, May 21, at St. Phillip’s Church, Buckingham Palace-Road, S.W. Archpriest Michael Polsky will officiate.”

“People here are all very thrilled by the great changes that are taking place in Russia, particularly the English” [70] SNPA: 18.11.1943.

The evidence of his letters (to Fr Michael and to others) suggests that Fr Nicholas, as a loyal patriot, was deeply embarrassed by the fact that the Synod to which he belonged was behind enemy lines in Yugoslavia. Even worse, there was a vicious campaign of slander against Metropolitan Anastassy, suggesting that he was a Nazi sympathizer. Fr Nicholas was first and foremost an Englishman and this fact led him to take up a heterodox position regarding the theology of the Church: he firmly believed in the so-called “branch theory” in which the Orthodox, the Roman Catholics, and the Anglicans are three branches of the True Vine. For example, five months after he had been ordained, in May, 1935 Fr Nicholas, together with his bishop, Nestor of Kamchatka, held a service in the Russian Cathedral in Harbin in thanksgiving for the 25th anniversary of the accession to the throne by King George V. Fr Nicholas said at that service:

“… it is very meet and right that these prayers should be offered in our Russian Orthodox Church, which throbs with sympathy and affection for its Anglican sister, bound together as the churches are by the possession of the same glorious symbol of faith, the age-old Nicene Creed…” [71] SNPA: May, 1935. In making this point, Fr Nicholas appears to demonstrate his ignorance of the fact that the Orthodox do not share the same Nicene Creed with the Anglicans.

This aspect of Fr Nicholas deserves greater attention than can be given here but it did underpin his 30-year warm and close relations with the Anglicans. The studied material allows me to speculate that that very closeness to the Anglicans would have provided ample opportunity for shame about belonging to a Synod of Bishops which remained in the Nazi territory in order to minister to its people. Furthermore, in 1941 the USA and the UK had gone into an alliance with Stalin’s Russia in a successful effort to defeat the Germans. As we have seen above, Fr Nicholas was highly impressed by that alliance. When interacting with the Anglicans, it was much more congenial for Fr Nicholas to mirror that English alliance with Russia by siding with the Soviets and therefore with Patriarch Sergei. The Anglicans, who in the 1920s and 1930s had been very supportive of the émigré Russian churches (Paris and Karlovci), from 1943 onwards determinedly transferred their focus of attention to Moscow. Fr Nicholas would have been very sensitive to this shift in the allegiance of his Anglican friends; his actions mirrored this discomfort.

Difficult Character

A close reading of the papers of Fr Nicholas Gibbes reveals a man who had great difficulty in his personal relationships with his fellow Orthodox (although not, it has to be noted, with most of his family, nor with his many clerical friends in the High Anglican Church). In this paper, I have documented his falling out with Fr Boris Moltchanoff, Fr Michael Polsky, and the whole of the Church Council of the London parish of the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile. Other notable Orthodox figures with whom Fr Nicholas fell out over the years includes: Fr Lazarus Moore, Mother Mary Robinson, Mother Martha Sprott, Dr Nicholas Zernov and eventually the whole of his Oxford Parish Council (which resigned en masse in 1949 [72] SNPA: 22.12.1949. ), Fr (later Bishop) Basil Krivoshein, Fr (later Bishop) Vladimir Rodzianko and Fr (later Metropolitan) Anthony Bloom. The complete list is somewhat longer.

Sadly, the loyalty of Fr Nicholas to the Moscow Patriarchate was not long-lived. In the early 1950’s, not long after he had opened his Chapel of St Nicholas in Oxford, he attempted to switch jurisdictions again, this time to the Greek Archdiocese of Thyatira and Great Britain, but negotiations with Archbishop Athenagoras Kavadas (d. 1963) petered out as the discussion became focused on unresolvable financial matters. [73] SNPA: 5.8.1953.

His dislike of Fr Michael Polsky is well documented in this paper. The decision of Fr Nicholas to leave the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile might have been caused by the election of the Patriarch of Moscow but it would not have escaped the notice of Fr Nicholas that his move would deeply, deeply hurt Fr Michael personally. Fr Michael, who had been imprisoned by the Soviets for three years, who had lived ‘underground’, before eventually escaping the Soviet terror, and who was a well-known and much-loved witness to the suffering Church of Russia, would feel a deep sense of betrayal.


In writing this paper, I am indebted to many people who offered kind assistance, especially:
• Archpriest Stephen Platt, rector of the parish of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker, Oxford
• Archpriest Yaroslav Hudymenko, priest of the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Mother of God and Holy Royal Martyrs, London
• Fr Deacon Andrei Psarev of Holy Trinity Seminary, Jordanville, New York, USA
• Reader John Harwood
• Dr. Alexei Koloydenko
• Hanna Brightman
• Michael Sarni
• Walker Thompson


1 In the 1930’s, what we now call ‘The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia’ was known in the UK variously as the ‘Russian Orthodox Church in Exile’ or the ‘Karlovci Synod’. The church adopted the name ‘Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR)’ in 1950. In this essay I will use the name ‘Russian Orthodox Church in Exile’; using the name ‘ROCOR’ in this context would be anachronistic.
2 Christine Benagh, An Englishman in the Court of the Tsar (Chesterton, IN.: Ancient Faith Publishing, 2000), p. 273.
3 Archimandrite Nicholas Gibbes archive held by the parish of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker, Oxford. All cited documents were written in English unless otherwise noted. St Nicholas Parish Archive (SNPA): Undated document, probably September 1937.
4 Zarya (Заря. Dawn). Harbin. 10.09.1937. Translated from Russian.
5 SNPA: 10.11.1937.
6 In his book, Embassy, Emigrants, and Englishmen: The Three Hundred Year History of a Russian Orthodox Church in London (Holy Trinity Publications, Jordanville, New York, 2014. P. 305.) Fr Protodeacon Christopher Birchall suggests that Fr Michael first reached London after his visit to Belgrade in August 1938. In fact, Fr Michael first arrived in London in January 1938.
7 Russian Vice-Consul in Calcutta, India, 1912; father of Abbess Elizabeth (d. 1999).
8 Archbishop Seraphim Lukyanov: In 1917, Father Seraphim Lukyanov became Bishop of Finland; in 1921, Archbishop. When in 1923 the Orthodox Church in Finland joined the Patriarchate of Constantinople, Archbishop Seraphim protested and refused to recognize Bishop Germanus Ava, whom Constantinople had appointed. Archbishop Seraphim finally had to leave Finland under pressure from the civil authorities and was appointed Rector of the parish in London, becoming a vicar bishop to Metropolitan Evlogy in Paris. After the break between Metropolitan Evlogy and the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile in 1926, Archbishop Seraphim remained faithful to the bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile, who, in turn, entrusted him with the leadership of the Diocese of Western Europe, with his see in Paris. He was elevated to metropolitan in 1938 during the Second All-Emigration Council in Sremski Karlovci, Yugoslavia. In August 1945, Metropolitan Seraphim joined the Moscow Patriarchate, together with a number of his parishes. Upon the death of Metropolitan Evlogy, who had likewise joined the Moscow Patriarchate, he became the Exarch of Western Europe. In 1949 he was retired “for health reasons.” In 1954 Metropolitan Seraphim moved to the Soviet Union, wherein 1959 he died at the Gerbovetsky Monastery, now in Moldova.
9 Metropolitan Seraphim (Lukyanov) archive held by the Church of the Three Hierarchs, Paris: box ‘London’ (unsorted); Metr. Seraphim (Lukyanov) papers in folders ‘London 1936-1940’, ‘London 1945-1951’. All cited documents were written in Russian, translated into English for this paper”.
10 Lukyanov Archive: 23.07.1938. Translated from Russian.
11 Lukyanov Archive: 29.07.1938. Translated from Russian.
12 SNPA: 27.08.1945.
13 The present writer is preparing a paper that explores the intriguing story of the “Belgrade Nightingales”.
14 SNPA: 9.03.1940.
15 As did the parishes in Switzerland and also some in France.
16 SNPA: 27.08.1945.
17 SNPA: 2.01.1942. Translated from Russian.
18 SNPA: 6.01.1942.
19 Wassilij Alexeev and Theophanis G Stavrou, The Great Revival: the Russian Church Under German Occupation (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Burgess Publishing Company, 1976), p. 43.
20 Daniela Kalkandjieva, The Russian Orthodox Church, 1917-1948 (London and New York: Routledge, 2015), p. 95.
21 Daniel H. Shubin, The Orthodox Church During the Twentieth Century ( 2016), p. 189.
22 Gernot Seide, History of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia from Its Beginning to the Present (Geshichte der Russischen Orthodoxen Kirche im Ausland von der Grundung bis in die Gegenwart, Munich, Germany: Veroffentlichungen Des Osteuropa-institutes, Munich, 1983). ROCOR Studies. Accessed November, 2019.
23 Dimitry Pospielovsky, The Orthodox Church in the History of Russia (Crestwood, NY.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1998), p. 264.
24 “…at the start of the war, between 150 and 400 parishes were active in the Soviet Union. But after a few years, this number increased to 22,000.” This number includes all the parishes regained in the annexed territories. Christian Basar, War and Faith: Memories of the Great Patriotic War in the Russian Orthodox Church (, 2016) Accessed November, 2019.
25 Shubin. 2016. P. 199.
26 Alexeev. 1976. P. 59.
27 Alexeev (1976) says 8-13 October; Kalkandjieva (2017), follows this. However, other sources (e.g., say 21-26 October. Perhaps the first is the Church calendar; the second is the civil calendar. Pospielovsky (1998) says that it happened in November while Shubin (2016) is silent on the Vienna Conference.
28 Pospielovsky. 1998. P. 277.
29 Monk Benjamin (Gomartely), Timeline of the Orthodox Church 1917-1998, (ROCOR Studies, 2019.) Accessed November, 2019.
30 A detailed account of the conference proceedings can be found at Alexeev. 1976. P. 90-92.
31 Pospielovsky. 1998. P. 277.
32 Правда о религии в России. 1942, стр. 26. Cited from Gomartely. 2019.
33 Alexeev. 1976. P. 56.
34 The Daily Telegraph. London, England. 6.9.1943. P. 3.
35 The Times. London, England. 17.09.1943. P. 5.
36 The Times. London, England. 15.10.1943. P. 2.
37 SNPA: 18.11.1943.
38 SNPA: 17.12.1943.
39 A reference to the division in the London church and other western European parishes between Metropolitan Anastassy (Russian Orthodox Church in Exile) and Metropolitan Evlogy (Exarchate of the Ecumenical Patriarchate) dating back to 1927.
40 A translation improvement suggested by John Walker
41 Metropolitan Veniamin Fedchenkov (d. 1961), Exarch of the Moscow Patriarchate in North America, 1933 –1947.
42 A translation improvement suggested by John Walker
43 SNPA: 4.12.1943. Translated from Russian.
44 SNPA: 18.12.1943.
45 SNPA: 1.11.1943.
46 The Royal Institute of International Affairs, commonly known as Chatham House after the building at which it is based, is a non-governmental organization based in London whose mission is to analyze and promote the understanding of major international issues and current affairs. However, for the duration of World War II it was housed at Baliol College, Oxford. Russian émigré analysts worked there and they would be known to Fr Nicholas.
47 SNPA: 23.12.1943.
48 Sir Dimitri Obolensky FBA FSA (1918 – 2001) was a Russian-British historian who later was Professor of Russian and Balkan History at the University of Oxford and the author of various historical works, of which his Byzantine Commonwealth is widely esteemed.
49 SNPA: 27.12.1943.
50 The Moscow delegation arrived in June, 1945: it did not visit Oxford. In fact, the three visiting Russian clergy only made one visit to an Orthodox Church in the UK during their ten-day visit – Aghia Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Bayswater, London, in order to celebrate the feast of the Ascension.
51 SNPA: 30.12.1943.
52 SNPA: 6.1.1944.
53 SNPA: 10.01.1944.
54 accessed November, 2019.
55 SNPA: 18.01.1944.
56 SNPA: 21.1.1944.
57 i.e. first Bayswater, and then Oxford.
58 SNPA: 4.2.1944.
59 SNPA: 28.5.1944.
60 Bishop Ieronim reports that only two or three parishes went with the Metropolitan to Moscow; thirty remained with the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile. At the same time, most of the Evlogian parishes also refused to go under Moscow and remained with the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Bishop Ieronim (Chernov) (Епископ Иероним [Чернов]). The Current State of the Church Abroad [Современное положение Русской Церкви Заграницей], (New York, 1946).” ROCOR Studies. Accessed November 2019.
61 Seide, G. 1983. Part I. Chapter 6. P. 16.
62 This is an error: the meeting was held on 2.10.1945.
63 Lukyanov Archive: 3.10.1945. Translated from Russian.
64 Lukyanov Archive: 19.11.1945. Translated from Russian.
65 SNPA: 1953 n.d.; anonymous report on the life and situation of Fr Nicholas (by now aged 77) comments: “…Father Nicholas remains the typical Northern Englishman and has never acquired the characteristic features of the Russian.”
66 SNPA: 4.12.1943.
67 Seide, G. 1983. Part I. Chapter 5. P. 9.
68 SNPA: 16.2.1937; SNPA: n.d. circa 1945.
69 The Daily Telegraph. London, England. 19.05.1944. P. 4.
70 SNPA: 18.11.1943.
71 SNPA: May, 1935. In making this point, Fr Nicholas appears to demonstrate his ignorance of the fact that the Orthodox do not share the same Nicene Creed with the Anglicans.
72 SNPA: 22.12.1949.
73 SNPA: 5.8.1953.


  • An excellent article thank you. As I am looking at the Russian colony in Persia/Iran in the 1930s to the 1950s including the role of the ROCOR church I would be interested to know your sources for life of Archpriest Michael Polsky as I wasn’t he aware he was there in the 1930s.

    • Thank you for your kind and generous words.
      I apologise for the delay in responding.
      My main source was C. Birchall, Embassy, Emigrants, and Englishmen (New York, 2014). p. 305
      Fr Protodeacon Christopher cites as his sources on Fr Michael Polsky:
      Archpriest Michael Polsky, The Situation of the Church in Soviet Russia (Jerusalem, 1931 and New York, 1995.)
      Archpriest Michael Polsky, The Spiritual State of the Russian People under Bolshevik Rule (in Russian). Report to the Second All-Emigration Council of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (Belgrade, 1938)
      See also:
      Jeanne Vronskaya, A Biographical Dictionary of the Soviet Union 1917 – 1988 (London, 1989). p.332

  • It is amazing, most interesting what you have written. It is the first honest account of Fr Nikolai ever written. Account without bias, honest, and most interesting. It is a pity your talk in Oxford has been canceled because of the quarantine, but I hope to hear it sometime soon.

  • I read your article on Father Nicholas and found it most enlightening as to the early history of ROCA in London. Also, Stalin’s part in allowing the Church to continue in Russia. I remember my grandmother recounting how she went out on to the streets of Moscow carrying an icon to bless those who were marching to defend the city against the Germans.

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