Articles Media Moscow Patriarchate Petrov, I.V. Politics Serbia 2021

Contacts Between the ROCOR and Orthodox Clergy and Laity in the Nazi-occupied USSR during World War II

Иван Васильевич Петров Контакты между РПЦЗ и находящимися на оккупированной нацистами территории СССР представителями духовенства и мирян

This article contains evidence that whenever the iron curtain was lowered there were spontaneous contacts between Orthodox Christians in the homeland and diapsora.

This abridged translation of the paper, which will be presented at the conference in November 2021 in Belgrade. It has been posted here to enable conference participants to supply their questions to the presenter beforehand. The translation has been paid by the Fund to Assistance to the Russian Church Abroad.

I should like to note that my research, unlike that of my colleagues — in particular Mikhail Shkarovskii and Andrei Kostriukov — is based on materials from Russian regional archives and the archives of post-Soviet countries. My aim was to find out what channels of communication existed between the former Soviet clergy and diaspora clergy; who initiated these contacts in the German-occupied Soviet Union; when these contacts reached their peak; and why they were terminated without ever being fully elaborated.

Before sketching an account of these events, I would also like to say where the materials capable of shedding light on this complex issue are scattered. With respect to regional archives in the Russian Federation, the Oryol, Smolensk, and Kursk Region State Archives are among the most interesting repositories. Here is just one example. In the collections of the State Archives for Oryol Region, we find file P-4330 (documents of priests and clergymen applying for vacancies in Diocese of Oryol: applications, CVs, records of service, references). This fonds contains biographical data on Orthodox pastors who were in charge of the parishes in Oryol during the Nazi Occupation. Some of them are key figures who corresponded with Metropolitan Seraphim (Lade) and kept up contacts with Berlin, for example, Priests Aleksandr Kutepov and Ioann Makkaveev. Fonds P-159 (Oryol Municipal Administration) makes it possible to reconstruct the structure of civil supervision over the Orthodox churches in Oryol and environs during the Occupation and contains the information that Ivan Konstantinov, a Russian émigré figure, was elder of the churches in Oryol and later head of the 4th Department of Education, Culture, and Religion.

I should like to note that my research, unlike that of my colleagues — in particular Mikhail Shkarovskii and Andrei Kostriukov — is based on materials from Russian regional archives and the archives of post-Soviet countries. My aim was to find out what channels of communication existed between the former Soviet clergy and diaspora clergy; who initiated these contacts in the German-occupied Soviet Union; when these contacts reached their peak; and why they were terminated without ever being fully elaborated.

The former archives of the Soviet state security agencies, which contain materials from investigative case files on clergy and laity who were active during the Nazi occupation, of no less importance as sources. The Archive of the Main Directorate of the Federal Security Service in the Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol, until 2014 the Archive of the Main Directorate of the Ukrainian Security Service in the Crimea, was a real boon for finding out more about the topic in question. File 8152 is of particular interest for studying. File 8152 is a huge two-volume case file on Aleksandr Semenov, head of the Subdivision for Church Affairs of Simferopol Municipal Administration; Priest Evgenii Kovalʹskii, head of the Simferopol parish council; as well as Stephan Zheltikov, a priest from Sevastopol. This file makes it possible for us to determine when representatives of the ROCOR visited the Crimean Peninsula, with whom they conducted talks, and what plans were considered during the War for appointing a bishop of the Karlovci Synod to the See of Taurida (specifically with respect to the person of Bishop Vasilii Pavlovskii).

The Archives of the Diocese of Vilnius and Lithuania (Lietuvos staciatikiu arkvivyskupijos archyvas) in Holy Spirit Monastery in Vilnius, Lithuania, hold extensive materials on this topic, including a sizable collection of documents on Metropolitan Sergijus (Voskresenskis) of Lithuania and Vilna, the Exarch of the Baltics. Among numerous petitions from clergymen, one finds documents from priests who entered the Baltic States in 1943–1944 and joined the Internal Mission in Lithuania. Some of them were priests who served in central Russia when it was occupied by the Germans between 1941 and 1943. Judging by Metropolitan Sergijus’ answers, he does not seem to been troubled by the fact that these priests had been under the church authorities in Berlin, as the priests themselves openly confirmed.

There are similar materials in the collections of the National Archives of Latvia (Latvijas nacionālais arhīvs). The Latvian State Historical Archive (Latvijas Valsts vēstures arhīvs) is an important part of the National Archives. Fonds 7469, that of the Synod of the Latvian Orthodox Church (Latvijas Pareizticīgā Baznīca Sinode), contains documents from the Internal Mission in Latvia, which included a large number of Orthodox priests from the Russian provinces.

Lastly, diocesan archives in the Russian Federation are of no lesser interest. As our research in the Archives of the Dioceses of Saint Petersburg and Kursk has shown, the case files of clergymen in the territories “under Soviet control” contain information on how it was deemed desirable for them to come under the omophorion of the Karlovtsi Synod.

We would like to note that a number of collections of documents recently published in Russia can provide insights into the problem we are studying. It should be noted that some of these collections, such as the two-volume book Istoriia Pskovskoi Pravoslavnoi Missii v Dokumentakh i Materialakh [History of the Pskov Orthodox Mission in Documents and Materials] published by Optina Hermitage Press, and the infamous collection of documents Prikaz: Arkhiv unichtozhitʹ [Your Orders are to Destroy the Archives], contain interesting materials with information on how members of the ROCOR entered Soviet territory.

I will now move on to describe the actual events. It is no secret that beginning in the very early days of the war between Germany and the USSR, Archbishop Seraphim began to receive letters from the occupied territories with requests for protection, liturgical objects, and literature, and a mission with clergy to restore parish life in the Soviet Union.

For example, on September 24, 1941, Archbishop Seraphim received a letter from a resident of Panevėžys, Lithuania. The latter, a young man, noted that he had good knowledge of church music and had been a choir director in his town for ten years. He stated that “all Orthodox parishes” were now under the jurisdiction of Archbishop Seraphim, and therefore hoped that Archbishop Seraphim might assign him, at least on a pro bono basis, to one of the parishes. It is remarkable that this letter was written at the very beginning of the war, and that many people in the Soviet Union were immediately able to able to appeal to the authority of the ROCOR at this time.

Another petitioner thanked Archbishop Seraphim and asked to be assigned to serve in the occupied territory of the Reichskommissariat Ostland. The author of this letter, dated 17 October 1942, cited “Saint Petersburg, Pskov, and Estland Governorates [the German name for Estonia —trans.]” as “desirable” locations for his ministry (note that with the place-names used in this letter, it is as if the territorial and political transformations of the past 25 years had not occurred).

On September 27, 1942, Metropolitan Seraphim received a letter from Anna Kostenko from Kyiv Region. Kostenko described her life under the Bolsheviks and how her peasant family inwardly did not accept the Soviet regime and was waiting expectantly for the Germans to come. When they did come, she was deported to Germany in 1942 and began a new life there. Anna Kostenko described all the hardships she had to endure in the Third Reich. She emphasized that she was only 16 years old, that she had not yet been able to live, and asked that her father, Timothy Kostenko, be informed of her whereabouts.

At the same time, correspondence was initiated between the church authorities in Berlin and representatives of the dioceses of Smolensk, Kursk, and Oryol. In the early days of the occupation, all three dioceses had an organized administration. However, owing to years of repression or the evacuation of members of the episcopate such as Bishop Alexis (Sergeev), who had briefly held the Sees of Oryol and Kursk, there were no bishops to spearhead the revival of religious life there.

In Oryol especially, priests began to commemorate Archbishop Seraphim during services almost immediately after the beginning of the occupation. We shall presume that this decision was due to the fact that Ivan Konstantinov, a Russian émigré, was elder of the cathedrals of Oryol diocese and in charge of church affairs in the city.

A session of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia on November 18, 1942, adopted the following resolution: “Deeming it necessary for the Church Abroad to come to the aid of the faithful in our homeland whenever possible, to suggest that His Eminence Metropolitan Seraphim of Berlin and Germany take all possible measures to ascertain whether it would be possible to send bishops to Smolensk and Oryol in order to organize church life there. In addition, Metropolitan Seraphim should be asked to keep the Synod of Bishops informed about reports on church life in the liberated regions as they come in.”

Surviving evidence suggests that Metropolitan Seraphim’s name was invoked at services in Oryol subsequently, as well. For example, after the Nazis left Oryol, one of the city’s most respected priests, Archpriest Ioann Makkaveev, told Alexander Werth, a correspondent for the Sunday Times and BBC correspondent, that he had been “forced” to commemorate Metropolitan Seraphim at the Liturgy during the Occupation.

Father Aleksandr Kutepov met a tragic fate. On November 25, 1942, he was arrested by the Nazis and sent on a convoy to Kalkov concentration camp near Briansk. He would not be freed by the Red Army until November 1943. Judging by the fact that Father Aleksandr’s filing cabinet was opened in 1944 by the local clergy and a detailed inventory of its contents was made, he did not evade arrest by the Soviet prosecuting authorities, either.

There is evidence that Smolensk was also hoping to get a bishop from Berlin. The memoirs of the then-mayor of Smolensk, Boris Menshagin (1902–1984), record an interesting fact concerning correspondence between the Orthodox Church in the occupied RSFSR and the Russian Church Abroad. In 1943, he and a group of representatives of autonomous local Russian government set off on a fact-finding trip to Germany. During this trip, Menshagin, who was deeply religious, visited Saint Vladimir Church and the Holy Resurrection Cathedral in Berlin. Bishop Philip (Gardner) of Potsdam, a vicar bishop of the Berlin and German Metropolis, was serving in the Cathedral at the time. Those who compiled the collection of Menshagin’s memoirs, letters, and other documents noted in particular that the Smolensk priest Nikolai Shilovskii (who had led the diocesan administration during the first occupation of Smolensk and later served in Lithuania) sent Bishop Philip a letter of thanks on May 18, 1942.

There was also correspondence between members of the ROCOR and local clergy and intelligentsia in Crimea. Aleksandr Semenov, the head of the subdivision for church affairs of the Simferopol Municipal Administration, considered it most reasonable to transfer the Orthodox parishes in Taurida to the jurisdiction of the ROCOR Synod. Semenov knew some key figures from the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad personally. He had studied with Vladimir Pavlovskii in Kazan in the 1900s. In 1930, the latter took monastic vows in Harbin, receiving the name Vasilii. In Harbin, Archimandrite Vasilii (Pavlovskii) taught at the Saint Vladimir’s Theological Institute. In 1938, he was forced to leave Manchuria and move to the Third Reich. In Belgrade, he was consecrated Bishop of Vienna, Vicar to the Diocese of Germany, in 1939.

What can help us to construct a hypothesis about whether Father Igor Tkachuk did indeed visit occupied Crimea? First of all, indirect information is given as testimony to prosecutors. Grigorii Grachev, the manager of a workshop at a church in Sevastopol, found out from one of his employees, also named Igor, that that Father Igor Tkachuk had preached in the Greek church during the Nazi occupation and that he was of “Czechoslovak” nationality. Father Igor had put in an order for a chalice from Grachev, which he took with him during his next visit after paying the amount due (if Grachev is to be believed, Tkachuk placed numerous orders for liturgical objects). In this case, the locals may have been confused about the places Father Igor had served (Poland versus Czechoslovakia), or he himself may have “misled” them.

Archpriest Evgenii Kovalʹskii, who led the council of the Deanery of Crimea during the final period of the Nazi occupation, noted that he had seen the visitor in Taurida twice during the Nazi occupation. Kovalʹskii linked the first meeting to discussions in July–August 1943 about having a new bishop—meaning Bishop Vasili—appointed for Crimea. According to an interrogation record from September 4, 1944, Father Evgenii noted that it was Semenov, the head of the subdivision for church affairs, who had nominated Bishop Vasilii, owing to the fact that he had known him for a long time. Kovalʹskii noted that the remainder of the Crimean clergy had reacted negatively to this suggestion because Bishop Vasilii was a “White émigré” and not suitable to be appointed to Crimea. Father Evgenii further confirmed that he had met with Igor Tkachuk during the service, noting that they had merely exchanged a few words.

During an interrogation on September 16, 1944, the prosecutor tried to elicit from Semenov the details of his acquaintance with Bishop Vasilii. As a result, Semenov testified that along with the report on his activity to Metropolitan Seraphim, he had written and delivered a personal letter to his Kazan classmate Bishop Vasilii via Father Igor, to which he never received a reply.

On September 19, 1944, during an evening interrogation that gradually turned into a nighttime interrogation, the prosecutor again inquired about the materials that had been sent to Metropolitan Seraphim in Berlin. This time, however, the prosecutor’s words took on a different tone: he said that the package had been sent through the SD, and had been sent by Archpriest Evgenii Kovalʹskii along with Semenov.

Semenov soon told the prosecutor that during one of his visits, Father Igor Tkachuk had handed him a personal letter from Bishop Vasilii. In this letter, Bishop Vasilii wrote to his former classmate that he had decided to dedicate the rest of his life to serving the Orthodox Church and that he was now a monastic and vicar bishop to Metropolitan Seraphim of Berlin. He asked Semenov to write to about how long he had been in Crimea.

In addition to Semenov, Archpriest Evgenii Kovalʹskii, and the workers at the church workshop, Father Igor met with another person who figures in the case file: Archpriest Stefan Zheltikov. The latter had met twice with the foreign visitor, both times in August 1943. During the first meeting, held in the Holy Protection Cathedral in Sevastopol, Father Igor inquired about how many churches had been destroyed in Sevastopol under Bolshevik rule. The visitor also promised to provide the churches of Sevastopol with everything they needed, especially sacred vessels, liturgical books, and vestments. If Father Stefan Zheltikov is to be believed, Father Igor was especially concerned about who was commemorated during services in the Crimean churches.

Father Igor Tkachuk thus visited the Crimean Peninsula three times during the Nazi occupation. During these visits, he built up relationships with local clergy and intellectuals who collaborated with the Germans. He was interested above all in the jurisdictional allegiance of Orthodox parishes in the region. Like Aleksandr Semenov, the head of the subdivision for church affairs in the local administration, he sought to bring the Crimean clergy into the jurisdiction of the Russian Church Abroad and have Bishop Vasilii appointed to the See of Taurida. The rejection of this initiative by both local pastors and the occupying regime led to a spate of correspondence in which Father Igor acted as “letter carrier,” but it did not go any further.

Finally, a similar incident occurred in Northwest Russia. This region was visited by Archimandrite Germogen (Kivachuk), a military chaplain to the guards marching battalion of the Russian Liberation Army and a former secretary of Archbishop Seraphim who had served at the Holy Resurrection Cathedral in Berlin. Kivachuk was born in 1911 in Rivne and received a good theological education, graduating from the Faculty of Theology at Cambridge University and the Orthodox Theological Institute in Warsaw. Interestingly, he was considered as a possible lecturer for the Faculty of Orthodox Theology at the University of Warsaw in 1940. From the moment of the German attack on the USSR, Archimandrite Germogen became actively involved in the struggle against communism, becoming a priest in the Russian National People’s Army (a Russian special forces battalion consisting of Soviet prisoners of war, led by emigres Igor Sakharov and Constantine Kromiadi, that was formed in March 1942 existed through August of that year). Subsequently, Archimandrite Germogen joined the emerging Russian Liberation Movement, and made it to Northwest Russia. Leonid Samutin, a participant in Vlasov’s movement, later recalled: “…my new patrons and saviors surprisingly and strangely addressed this as yet unfamiliar face, this handsome, still-young captain with a reddish beard and mustache, who was surprisingly similar to our last Tsar Nicholas II, as ‘Father Germogen’… Hailing from Rivne in western Ukraine, this priest with a captain’s shoulder straps and a tricolor white, blue, and red cockade on his cap was nonetheless quite Russian in his beliefs, views, and education, and nationalistic — that is to say, anti-Soviet — in his views…”. Samutin also stressed that, in addition to Russian, Ukrainian, and Polish, Father Germogen was fluent in German and English, as well as knowing some French. As Samutin also notes, Archimandrite Germogen at first was “patronizingly dismissive” of those under Soviet rule, though later he came to be simple and courteous with them. Judging by the above information, Kivachuk was quite an adventurous person, as can be seen from both his biography and his appearance; not only was the latter already too “militarized” for a clergyman, he also carried a Walther pistol.

In the spring and summer of 1943, Archimandrite Germogen decided to enter into communion with Exarch Sergijus (Voskresenskis) of the Baltic, a faithful supporter of Patriarchal locum tenens Metropolitan Sergius (Stragorodskii). On May 16, 1943, a meeting took place between Archimandrite Germogen and Archpriest Kirill Zaits, the head of the Pskov Orthodox Mission, at which they discussed the possibility of a military chaplain from one of the anti-Soviet brigades concelebrating with mission clergy in Holy Trinity Cathedral in Pskov, which Father Kirill declined, citing the opinion of Metropolitan Sergijus. As Shkarovskii points out, at his very first meeting with General Vlasov, Metropolitan Sergijus spoke of the dependence of the “Karlovci” party on foreign, especially German, political influence, and of their total isolation from the local population, with whom “foreigners” had long been forbidden from communicating. On May 17, 1943, Metropolitan Sergijus disallowed Archimandrite Germogen from concelebrating with the Pskov missionaries and issued a special memorandum on this matter with a very harsh assessment of the Russian Church Abroad: “The Karlovci Synod of Bishops of represents an élitist church organization that has broken away from the Church of Russia in violation of canon law. Politically, this schismatic Synod has always advocated the restoration of the Romanov dynasty based on the principle of monarchical legitimism.”

His faithful assistant Ivan Davidovich Grimm, a legal adviser to the Exarchate, thought that representatives of the “Karlovci jurisdiction” could still be admitted to ministry, but only on the condition that they personally join the Moscow Patriarchate and formally repent. However, in a report to Metropolitan Sergijus on May 28, 1943, he clearly and distinctly referred to the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad as a “schismatic organization,” underscoring that permitting “members of the Karlovci jurisdiction” to serve in military units formed from prisoners of war and the local population in the East, as well as commemorating “Karlovci” bishops at services in the occupied territories, would be not only a hasty step but “an unpardonable blunder”.

Metropolitan Sergijus himself also met with the visitor from Berlin. On June 3, 1943, he received an extensive delegation, with Archimandrite Germogen among its ranks, at the headquarters of the Pskov Mission. A curious fact is that all of the guests, who were officers of the Russian anti-communist military formations, were invited personally by the Exarch, while Archimandrite Germogen was invited by Vasilii Cherepenʹkin, the mayor of Pskov (it is clear that the head of the Pskov Autonomous Municipal Government was favorably disposed toward the representatives of the Church Abroad). In a personal conversation, Metropolitan Sergijus showed particular interest in whom Archimandrite Germogen was going to commemorate at services: would he commemorate Metropolitans Anastasy (Gribanovskii) and Seraphim (Lade)? In response, if we are to believe Metropolitan Sergijus, Archimandrite Seraphim spoke rather unconvincingly about how the political reasons behind the confrontation between the “Sergian” and “Karlovci” parties had faded away and about how the “church-canonical side of things” could be discarded from now on.

There is evidence that relations between Archimandrite Germogen and the clergy of the Baltic Exarchate and the Pskov Orthodox Mission gradually began to improve. There is also the view of Leonid Samutin that Archimandrite Germogen served in a church in Saint Savva Hermitage (now a pogost in the Pskov district of the Pskov Oblast) with permission from the local abbot. The contemporary researcher Konstantin Oboznyi notes that this statement should be treated with great caution: “Samutin’s assertion that Archimandrite Germogen served in the Pskov church with the abbot’s consent requires clarification. It is possible that he did attend services at the Saint Savva Hermitage Church and even delivered fervent sermons, yet without actually conducting any services. It is difficult to assume that [Metropolitan Sergijus’] order, circulated by the Mission Office to the parishes, was unknown to Priest Stefan Pariiskii (or his successor, Father Michael Pariiskii). It is also unlikely that these clergymen disregarded instructions from their hierarchs.”

Thus, during the Nazi occupation of the RSFSR, emissaries of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad did visit the territories temporarily occupied by the Germans. Getting into Russia was difficult for them. More often than not, they used the opportunities provided by the volunteer units being formed at the time, the Russian-language press, etc., to this end. During their visits, the émigrés tried to establish relationships with the local intelligentsia and “Soviet” clergy. Often, local “secular” collaborators were much more accommodating to the “foreigners” than clergymen who had lived under Stalinism for years and took a critical view of visitors “from the other side”. Nevertheless, German opposition was the real reason why the parishes in the occupied territories could not join the ROCOR. Certain allowances made at the start of the occupation ultimately came to naught. The two Russias met during the war but were not reunited.

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