Metropolitan Joseph of Petrograd
AND THE BEGINNING OF THE CATACOMB CHURCH
Commemorated Dec. 15 (†1938)
"And fear not them which kill the body, but are
not able to kill the soul; but rather fear him
which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell."
St. Matthew 10:28
IN THE HISTORY of the Church of Christ there have been several critical moments when the official leadership of a Local Church has fallen away from Orthodoxy, and for a time the faithful hesitate, uncertain whom to follow, or where the Church Herself is to be found. At such times Christ our Lord, faithful to His promise that the gates of hell shall not prevail against His Church (St. Matthew 16:18), raises up a champion to speak the truth and rally the faithful t the side of Orthodoxy. At the dawn of the modern age such a champion was St. Mark of Ephesus, who alone of the hierarchs of the Greek Church fearlessly condemned the impious Council and psuedo-Union of Florence and awakened the Orthodox faithful to the realization that the Church of Rome had fallen into heresy, and those who united themselves to it thereby placed themselves outside the Church of Christ.
In our own century, when a yet more formidable enemy of the Church appeared in the form of the pseudo-religious totalitarianism of atheistic Communism; and when the acting head of the Russian Church, Metropolitan Sergius, proclaimed with his Declaration of 1927 the principle of practical and ideological cooperation with the forces of anti-Christianity—then God raised up, at the head of a veritable army of confessors, a champion in the person of Metropolitan Joseph to oppose and accuse this soul-destroying "legalization" and lead the movement of the faithful of the true Russian Orthodox Church into the catacombs.
THE LIFE OF Metropolitan Joseph (Petrovykh) before the Revolution is largely unknown to us, although its general features may be discovered in his writings, which began to appear in the Russian religious press around the turn of the century. Thus we know that he was born, approximately between 1870 and 1875, in Novgorod province in the area of Tikhvin, famous for its wonderworking Icon of the Mother of God, for which the future hierarch had great veneration. In 1899 he went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and perhaps it was there that the spark of his Orthodox faith was first kindled into a flame of ardent desire to serve Christ's Church. After spending the whole night of June 18 in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, he emerged at dawn and, walking through the deserted streets of Jerusalem, he was filled with the noblest feelings: "It was so good, as it is only at Pascha, when you return home after the service, burning with the desire to embrace the whole world, to renounce the earth, to fly somewhere far, far away, into the depth and breadth of the boundless heavens!…" All his life he was to remain faithful to this Christ-inspired enthusiasm of his youth. Years later, sharpened by ascetic labors and refined by suffering, it led him to become a confessor and martyr for Christ and His Holy Church.
The writings of Metropolitan Joseph on questions of spiritual life reveal a firm foundation in Orthodox patristic and ascetical literature and draw much inspiration from the texts of the Church's service books. In 1901, when he was a hieromonk, he wrote a thorough and precise article on the question: "May an Orthodox Christian, and How May He, Pray for Non-Orthodox Christians?" Beginning in 1905, now an archimandrite, he published his major work, a whole book composed of brief spiritual reflections with the title "In the Father's Embrace: From the Diary of a Monk." The following excerpts from this work will give an idea of the author's sensitivity and precise insights into spiritual questions.
"Intense sorrows, like gold in a furnace, purify the soul, give it life, fortify and temper it. A man becomes less sensitive to his everyday sorrows and sufferings on earth, becomes calmer, more balanced, looks at the world more seriously and soberly, becomes less attached to the earthly, thirsts more for the heavenly, the eternal, the unending."
"In a man there is much energy for activity; only it needs to be awakened. It is awakened by need, sorrow, the battle for existence, love toward God, thirst for salvation, awareness of the fragility of the present life and the sweetness of the future life, and much else that is taught by the means which the Church of God possesses for the guidance and enlightenment of every man that is given to Her…"
"The more we trust in man's help and in defense by others, the farther from us are the saving and merciful grace and help of God. And this is natural: for after all, if we received help from God at a time when we expected to receive it from men, we would ascribe what is God's to men, and would turn the glory of God into human glory. Therefore the Lord arranges it even so, that His help becomes all the more evident to us, to the extent that our helplessness becomes sure and obvious and all our hope remains in Him!"
Shortly after 1908 Archimandrite Joseph was consecrated bishop of Uglich. His address on this occasion, given below in full, is consciously prophetic. Penetrated with an awareness of the rising movement of anarchy and unbelief that was already dissolving the very fabric of Orthodox Russian civilization and was about to give birth to the hideous Revolution, the young hierarch's words sound almost like a manifesto of the very soul of Holy Russia as it faces even today the assembled armies of world-wide satanism.
YOUR HOLINESS, divinely wise Archpastors!
In this unique, exceptionally significant, and most sacred moment of my life, when the call of our Lord—"follow Me"—has touched even my extreme unworthiness—both joy and trembling, both blessedness and suffering embrace my lowly soul.
Before my mental gaze stand the choirs of holy apostles, the ranks of great hierarchs—the builders and disseminators of faith and Christ's Church on earth… From the simple to the highly-educated, from the greatly infirm to those strong and rich in power of soul—they have offered and placed their life and all their strength on the altar of Christ's love, have given themselves as food to that sacred Fire of Christ by which the whole universe now blazes in Grace.
For me, too, to touch this grace-giving Fire; for me, too, to offer my feeble powers—or rather, infirmities—to the alter of the Universal Church; for me, too, to place my life in the furnace of the Flame of Christ, to hear the Lord's call to serve such a great work of God and receive the possibility of answering this call with the labor of the highest Apostolic expression of love and devotion to the Sweetest Heavenly Hierarch—Oh, how many grounds there are in this for joy! How sufficient this is to fill one with a feeling of unutterable heartfelt consolation and tender feeling!…
Yet—the source of such joy and consolation at the same time represents for me a source as well of an oppressive fear, of apprehensions, of heartfelt trouble and suffering. The beauty of the Apostles' feat, the beauty of the highest expression of love and devotion to the Saviour, of the highest service to the Church of God on earth—appear to my gaze not as mere WORDS, but as true deeds, as the most living REALITY, outside all embellishments of thought and word. And what labors, what ascetic feats, what suffering has this reality not given us as an example, instruction, and fortification! Behold the bloody wounds on the absolute prisoners of Christ's love—wounds lifted up with a meek prayer for their torturers on their lips and with the shining of an unearthly joy in their faces! Behold all the horrors of persecution, torments, tortures—every kind and every endurance of death by means of which hell has attempted to unbalance the emissaries of the Crucified One, only deepening thereby its own defeat and disgrace.
Bearing in mind all this—which is great and glorious not by human standards, and by means of which the Church of Christ, great and mighty until now, was established—unwillingly I ask myself: Can it really be that even I am capable of bearing all this? Can it really be that even I have sufficient foundation, sufficient courage, to stand in the same rank with such exemplifications of God's power and of all that is done by the power of God's love toward man and of man's love toward God?…
Yet—my fear and trembling increase all the more at the thought that, while the strength and zeal of the leaders of the Church of Christ today are far from rivaling those of the Apostles, they must do battle with considerably stronger enemies and overcome considerably more powerful obstacles and difficulties in this service. The holy Apostles, after all, had to do with a fervent—even if falsely directed—striving toward truth, whereas we, in our time, must have to do with a hardened REJECTION OF TRUTH and even of the very idea that the Living God and His indispensability for the human heart. With all their dark sides, their insufficiencies and errors, the paganism and Judaism of antiquity were nonetheless an honest seeking of God, an honest desire to serve Him, a living and active exemplification of thirst for communion with Him. But the unbelief of today, every conceivable form of error and frenzy—both learned and illiterate, both anti-religious and anti-moral—and the whole public life of today: do they not express in men a complete UNWILLINGNESS TO KNOW GOD, and unwillingness even to admit His existence, but on the contrary the desire TO BE COMPLETELY RID of Him, to do without Him, to live solely by the accomplishments of the proud human mind and culture?
In such painful times, accepting in obedience the new service in Christ's Church laid upon me by God's will, in all humility I implore you, divinely wise pastors, to bring down upon me by your hierarchical prayers the strength from God worthily to conduct myself in this great service. May the all-powerful Grace of the Spirit of God descend upon the head obedient to God's call and do in me, who am unworthy, His will and power. Amen.
W ITH THE COMING of the Revolution the forces of unbelief, whose power the hierarch well knew, were unleashed with full fury upon the Russian land and especially against the Orthodox Church, the very existence of which was a threat to the program of Bolshevism and a reproach to what conscience still remained in the frenzied atheists. As long as Patriarch Tikhon was alive, the Church had a visible center of unity. Even when the Patriarch was imprisoned, when the apostates of the "Living Church" had taken possession of the vast majority of the Orthodox churches in Russia, and the "progressive' Church of Constantinople had given international prestige to this synagogue of satan by recognizing it as the Orthodox Church of Russia—still the faithful, by remaining with their Patriarch, remained Orthodox, and their loyalty to the Patriarch became the very test of their Orthodoxy; and it was this more than anything that broke the power of the "Living Church."
But with the death of Patriarch Tikhon in 1925, the situation became much less clear. Under the conditions of persecution it was impossible for a Church Council to be called to elect a new Patriarch; and, foreseeing this, Patriarch Tikhon had designated three leading hierarchs, one of whom (whoever was not in prison or banishment) should become Locum Tenens of the Patriarchal Throne on his death and safeguard the external unity of the Church. Of these three hierarchs, only one—Metropolitan Peter of Krutitsk—was free at the time of the Patriarch's death, and he was accepted, in a special decree signed by over fifty bishops, by the Russian Church as her acting head. Metropolitan Peter himself designated three "Substitutes" for the position of Locum Tenens in case he should be arrested or killed in turn, one of whom was Metropolitan Joseph (at that time Archbishop of Rostov), and another Metropolitan (later "Patriarch") Sergius. Metropolitan Peter was arrested within five months for refusing to sign a "declaration" which would give away the Church's inner freedom to the atheist regime. From 1925 to 1927 no candidate was able to take his place for more than a few months before being imprisoned, and it became clear that the Soviet Government would not rest until it had found or forced a hierarch to sign a document pleasing to the regime. This hierarch was found in the person of Metropolitan Sergius, who on July 1629, 1927, after being released from several months in prison, issued the infamous "Declaration" that made him and his followers in effect the agents of the Soviet State. In publishing the "Declaration" on August 19, the official Soviet newspaper Izvestia noted that "the far-sighted part of the clergy had already upon this path in 1922"—referring to the "Living Church." Thus did the atheist regime succeed in introducing "Renovationism" into the Patriarchal Church itself, and the result was the decisive protest of the leading hierarchs of the Russian Church, who, when they saw that Metropolitan Sergius was clearly determined to force his will upon the whole Church, soon began to break off communion with him.
It thus became immediately clear that the "Declaration" was in flagrant defiance of the 34th Apostolic Canon, having been proclaimed "without the consent of all" bishops, being indeed the work of Sergius alone at the dictation of the atheist regime; and therefore the only ecclesiastical course open for Sergius was to retract the "Declaration" in the face of such overwhelming disapproval of his fellow hierarchs. Instead of this, however, as if to prove that he no longer considered or needed the opinion of the Church, but had become the obedient tool of the regime, he began, together with his uncanonical "Synod"—the formation of which far exceeded his powers as Substitute of the Locum Tenens—an unparalleled transference of bishops from see to see and placed under interdict all who did not agree with him, founding thus a submissive "Soviet" Church.
Metropolitan Joseph, as one of the first the protest the "Declaration," was quickly "transferred" from Petrograd, to which See he had arrived only in September of 1926. By an act of the "Synod" of October 19, 1927, "Metropolitan Joseph is considered transferred to the See of Odessa, and it is suggested that he not be tempted by the easy possibility of living in Rostov, which will cause disturbance among the faithful both of Leningrad and of Rostov…" In reply, Metropolitan Joseph cited those canons that forbid the needless transference of bishops from city to city and stated, quoting the canons: "Even if I allowed to be done with me such a thing contrary to a Council of the Holy Fathers, then still may this order 'be completely invalid' and may he who has been removed 'be returned' to his own Church." Giving his case over "to the Judgement of God," he refused to move.
At this time, in the autumn of 1927, Metropolitan Joseph still regarded his case as a private one, and, as he states in one of the "Documents" that follow, he was prepared to retire in disgrace and under interdict in order not to have any communion with Sergius, but he still had no intention of becoming involved in any kind of "schism."
Soon, however, it became clear that his case was only a small part of an issue that had convulsed the whole of Orthodox Russia. The leading bishops who were still in freedom and were able to judge the issue came to the conclusion that Sergius himself had gone into schism by his "Declaration" and his arbitrary acts directed against the Church, and they hastened to declare their separation from him, in late 1927 and early 1928. Metropolitan Joseph all this time was not allowed by the authorities to reside at his see of Petrograd (Leningrad), but already in December of 1927 he blessed his Vicar Bishops to depart from Sergius; and being himself in Rostov, he signed, together with Metropolitan Agathangel and other hierarchs of the Yaroslavl region, an epistle to Metropolitan Sergius of February 6,1928, which declared their separation from him until he should show repentance for his errors, recognizing in the meantime no head of the Church apart from the banished Metropolitan Peter.
Petrograd at this time had become the very heart of the Church's protest against Sergius, and there was scarcely an Orthodox soul in the former capital that was not anguished over the question of whom to follow. Many refused for a time to receive Communion in any church, uncertain as to whose sacraments were valid or where the Church of Christ was to be found. After signing the epistle of the Yaroslavl Archpastors, Metropolitan Joseph stepped boldly forward into battle for the Church and gave his blessing for the clergy and faithful in Petrograd to follow his example in separating from Sergius, offering his own spiritual guidance and care to this movement, and entrusting the governance of the Petrograd Diocese to his outspokenly anti-Sergianist Vicar, Bishop Dimitry of Gdov. Blessing the "good decision of the zealots of Christ's truth," he prayed "that the Lord preserve us all in unanimity and holy firmness of spirit in the new trial which the Church is undergoing."
But against the spiritual weapons of Christ's warriors, the evil one gathered all the forces of the world's first satanist regime. The interdictions of Metropolitan Sergius were the sign fro the Soviet Political Police to arrest and banish the protesting bishops; even many who attended Sergius' own "legal" churches were not spared by the authorities, and the chief result of the policy of "Sergianism"—to quote the words, born of bitter experience, used forty years later inside the USSR by Boris Talantov—was that "Metropolitan Sergius' actions saved nothing except his own skin." A dark night of expiatory suffering settled upon the Russian land and faithful. "Sergianism" itself was rejected by the faithful, inasmuch as—in the words, again, of Talantov—"by the beginning of the Second World War… the greater part of those churches that remained did not recognize Metropolitan Sergius." Out of the more than 100 bishops known to be still alive in 1943, Sergius could find only 18 (and some of these were newly consecrated) to elect him "Patriarch" in that year.
Metropolitan Joseph, by his decisive words and acts and by his position as one of the Substitutes of the Locum Tenens of the Patriarchal Throne, became the factual head of the separatist movement, acting in the name of the banished Locum Tenens, Metropolitan Peter, whose anti-Sergianist attitude was not to become known for some time. So powerful was the influence and example of Metropolitan Joseph that all who followed him came to be called "Josephites," and to this day all who defend the Sergianist Moscow Patriarchate refer to this movement of the zealots of Orthodoxy as the "Josephite schism."
There were "Sergianists" at that time as there are today, who, even while admitting that it was the best element among the clergy and faithful who went over to the side of the "Josephites," nonetheless accuse and condemn them for their "pride" in believing that they represented the true Orthodox Church of Russia. The statements of Metropolitan Joseph, it is true, are extremely outspoken, absolutely uncompromising in principle, and unsparing of persons. But those who find "pride" in such words are perhaps simply unaware of the critical urgency of the issues involved. When the Church is being betrayed and the faithful led astray, it is no time for compliments and polite "dialogues," nor for placing "sympathy" above truth. For courageous souls the knowledge that every word may bring prison and death only increases their boldness in speaking the truth without embellishments. And thus it has always been in the Church of Christ; Her outspoken defenders are hymned as champions in the Church's song of praise. Significantly, the righteous polemic of Metropolitan Joseph and his followers has emerged again in the contemporary Soviet Union in the writings of Boris Talantov (see chapter 33 of this book) and other outspoken critics of the Sergianist hierarchy. By comparison, the criticisms of Sergianism in the Russian diaspora are quite mild and charitable.
METROPOLITAN JOSEPH himself was very soon arrested and sent in banishment to Central Asia. Even in banishment and prison the authorities persecuted religion and prohibited services, and so it was that throughout the Russian land, this one vast concentration camp, in the period after 1927 the "Josephites" became transformed into the Catacomb Church. The full measure of the heroic deeds and sufferings of this Church will become known only in God's time. But even before that ardently-desired time, it is possible to glimpse some small fragments of its history. The following first-hand account was written by Natalia V. Urusova, who was able to escape from the Soviet Union during the Second World War, and died in 1968 in New York.
"In August of 1936 there was living in Alma Ata (Central Asia) the comparatively young Archimandrite Arsenius. From him I found out for the first time that there exists a secret, catacomb Church, headed by Metropolitan Joseph of Petrograd and organized by him with the blessing of Metropolitan Peter of Krutitsk, with whom he, while being in banishment in Chemkent, 100 miles from Alma Ata, had secret contact all the time. Archimandrite Arsenius was ordained by the Metropolitan and had the good fortune to support him materially, earning his living by the manufacture of various kinds of mannikins and small articles for museums. He had a church deep down underground and he and Metropolitan Joseph served in it. The Metropolitan had also consecrated it, secretly, on one of his rare trips to Alma Ata. Fr. Arsenius had dug out this church by great and long labors.
"We had great respect for Archimandrite Arsenius, all the more because he was loved by Metropolitan Joseph and through him we could have contact with the latter. The Metropolitan at that time was living in Chemkent. Before that, from the very beginning of his banishment, he had lived in the small town of Aulieta, where he had not been allowed to live in a room, but had been placed in a shed with farm animals, his bed separated from them by a fence of stakes.
"The church dug out of the earth was in the apartment of Archimandrite Arsenius. The entrance was a trap-door, covered by a carpet. The top was taken off, and under it was a ladder to the cellar In one corner of the cellar there was an opening in the earth, which was covered with rocks. The rocks were moved aside and, bending down completely, one had to crawl three steps forward, and there was the entrance to the tiny church. There were many icons, and lamps were burning. Metropolitan Joseph was very tall, and nonetheless twice in my presence he traveled here secretly and penetrated to this church.
"A remarkable state of mind and soul was created by this church, but I do not hide the fact that the fear of being discovered during the services, especially at night, was difficult to conquer. When the big chained dog began to bark in the yard—even though it was muffled, still it was audible underground—then everyone expected the cry and the knock of the GPU. For the whole of 1936 and until September in 1937 everything was all right. My son sang here together with one nun. On August 26 Metropolitan Joseph came and honored us with a visit on my namesday.
"What a marvelous, humble, unshakable man of prayer! This was reflected in his face and eyes as in a mirror. Very tall, with a large white beard and an extraordinarily kind face, he could not help but attract one to him, and one only wished never to part from him. His monastic garb was covered up, as was his hair; otherwise he would have been arrested immediately right on the street, since he was watched and did not have the right to travel. He himself said that Patriarch Tikhon had offered, right after his election, to designate him as his first Substitute. For some reason this has not been noted anywhere yet in the history of the institution of Locum Tenens. He recognized Metropolitan Peter of Krutitsk as the lawful head of the Church, and right up to the latter's arrest in September 1937, he had secret contacts with him, even while rumors were circulating everywhere that Metropolitan Peter was dead.
"Metropolitan Joseph stayed at tea with us for over an hour. Concerning his banishment of almost ten years, he related that it had been extremely difficult. He had lived in a sty with pigs in a platted shed, slept on boards separated from the pigs by a few stakes. In these conditions he had borne cold and heat, every kind of weather and the stifling air. Once a snake, clinging to a stake on his roof, crawled down right over his head. These conditions were apparently the cause of his illness. At times he suffered terribly from an intestinal ulcer, or perhaps he had some kind of internal tumor, perhaps cancerous, and he was on a diet which Archimandrite Arsenius helped him to keep. He suffered everything like the righteous, and if he related his difficult persecutions, it was only because we all were recalling the cruelties of the GPU.
"Fr. Arsenius told here of one form of torture and mockery. 'When they were taking us through Siberia, there was a severe frost. In the train there was a bath-car. They chased us, completely naked, through the cars to the bath. With joy we drenched ourselves with the hot water and got a little warm, since the cars themselves were almost unheated. Without giving us anything to dry ourselves with, with wet heads, they chased us back. On the metal platform between cars the deliberately stopped us, and our wet feet immediately froze to the metal. At the command to advance, we tore away with blood the frozen bottoms of our feet…'
"On the next day, after staying overnight with Fr. Arsenius, the Metropolitan returned to his own place. Now he was living in different circumstances. After many years it was permitted to find an apartment for him in Chemkent. Archimandrite Arsenius arranged an apartment for him to live quietly in, saw to his food, not only as to its sufficiency but also to keep his diet. First a zither, and then a harmonium was obtained for him, which were a joy for the Metropolitan, who was a good musician. He put psalms to music and sang them.
"On September 23, 1937, everywhere in the neighborhood of Alma Ata, throughout Kazakhstan, all the clergy of the underground Josephite churches were arrested, after having served their terms of banishment for refusing to recognize the Soviet churches. All of them were sentenced to ten years more without right of correspondence and, as I discovered later, Metropolitan Joseph also was among them. Archimandrite Arsenius was also arrested. After the arrest of my son, being beside myself, I was running to Fr. Arsenius right at dawn, and coming up to his house I saw an automobile and the GPU going in to him. Fortunately they did not see me. The underground church of Fr. Arsenius was discovered. Through lack of caution he once revealed its secret to an elderly man, respectable in appearance, who turned out to be an agent of the GPU.
"On returning to Moscow after my three-year voluntary banishment together with my son, I very soon found out about the existence here also of secret Josephite churches—that is to say, not churches, but services in secret rooms, where sometimes twenty to twenty-five people would gather. The service would be conducted in a whisper, with strict control by the faithful in view of the possibility of betrayal. People came usually at dawn according to an agreed signal. For the most part they would carefully tap at the drain-pipe by a window, where someone would be standing and listening.
"Until the arrival of the Germans in Mozhaisk in 1941, I lived peacefully in this city and went to catacomb services in Moscow."
AT THE END OF 1938 Metropolitan Joseph was executed by firing squad for the "crime" of giving encouragement to wandering priests. Years before he had spiritually prepared himself, as it were, for this, his own martyrdom. He wrote in his "Diary of a Monk," in an entry published in September, 1905:
"Love your enemies (St. Luke 6:35). To say this is easy, but—how difficult to do it. This is much higher than simply love of neighbor. It is the supreme triumph of love, its true essence and most superb expression… In order that one's heart might be inflamed with love toward one's enemy, there must be a special, grace-given state of soul, a special heavenly attunement of the heart—there must be that inexpressible and indescribable quality that abundantly filled the soul of the First Martyr Stephen when he, being stoned, his face shining like an angel, prayed for his murderers: Lord, lay not this sin to their charge (Acts 7:60). Oh, in this great moment for him what a small place did everything earthly around him find in him! What were the executioners to him? Before him were opened the heavens, the Son of God at the right hand of the Father; heavenly glory poured into his soul and seized it entirely with an incomprehensible ecstasy, and the executioners with all their pitiful malice not only could not prevent this, but even assisted it; at this moment they were even, as it were, his benefactors, hastening his departure from the body and the utter immersion of his soul in these oceans of heavenly ecstasy and blessedness… In this blissful moment, could the tortured sufferer cry out in any other way than with the voice of the supreme triumph of love for one's enemies?!"
The example of this fearless confessor and champion of Christ's Church has not been in vain. After Patriarch Tikhon himself, the name of Metropolitan Joseph stands out as a symbol of the integrity and genuineness of the Orthodox of the Russian Church. Even after half a century of persecution, terror, and betrayal, the true Orthodox Church of Russia, though hidden, has not been vanquished. To the present day one can accurately call this Catacomb Church either the Church of "Tikhonites" or the Church of "Josephites;" but most accurately of all, it is known, even to the Soviet authorities themselves, as the "True Orthodox Church." In the following Soviet account, taken from the Atheist's Dictionary (Moscow, 2nd Edition, 1966)—a practical handbook for anti-religious agitators—one may see, behind the exaggerations and fabrications of the Soviet mind, the true and confessing Orthodox Church of Russia today. One may note in this account that the Soviets themselves are well aware of the historical continuities involved; for they date the origin of the "True Orthodox Church" to the years 1922-26, i.e., to Patriarch Tikhon and his followers; whereas the "Sergianists," as Izvestia saw clearly in 1927, have their origins in the "Living Church" of that same period.
TRUE ORTHODOX CHURCH (TOC): An Orthodox-monarchist sect, originating in the years 1922-26, which was organized in 1927, when Metr. Sergius proclaimed the principles of a loyal relation to Soviet authority. Monarchist elements, united around the Metropolitan of Leningrad Joseph (Petrovykh), or JOSEPHITES, in 1928 established a directing center of the TOC, and united all groups and elements which had come out against the Soviet order. In the country the TOC had support among the kulaks and together with other anti-Soviet elements came out against collectivization and organized terroristic acts against Party and Soviet activities, uprisings, etc. It directed into the villages a multitude of monks and nuns who roamed about the countryside spreading anti-Soviet rumors. The TOC was a widely ramified monarchist-rebellious organization. In its compositions were 613 priests and monks, 416 kulaks, 70 former tsarist officials and officers. The more fanatical members, crazy women, passing themselves off for prophets, saints, healers, members of the imperial family, spread monarchist ideas, conducted propaganda against the leadership of the Orthodox Church, called on people not to submit to Soviet laws.
Basic characteristics of the sect: (1) rejection of the Orthodox Church headed by the patriarch as having 'sold itself to Antichrist,' to the world; (2) recognition as canonical of only those clergy who have been ordained by followers of Tikhon; (3) acceptance of Orthodox rites; (4) propaganda of the approaching 'end of the world;' (5) cult of members of the imperial family of Romanov: their portraits are preserved as holy objects, and believers in secret make prostrations in front of them; (6) assumption of the names of tsars and their relatives by the leaders of the sect; (7) preservation and spread of counter-revolutionary monarchist literature; (8) establishment of catacomb churches and monasteries in houses. The institution of priesthood is preserved, but in many places certain rites are performed by ordinary believers. On great religious holidays the members of this sect gather at so-called sources (lakes, springs, and the like), where propaganda is conducted by various kinds of clairvoyants, foretellers, crazy men, holy fools, who enjoy special honor in the sect. Striving to fence off the members of the sect from the influence of Soviet reality, the leaders of the sect in order to frighten believers make use of the myth of Antichrist, who has supposedly been reigning in the world since 1917. So as not to fall into his nets, Christians are to lead a closed-up, hermitic form of life, spend all their free time in prayer, not take part in public life.
The Soviet press in recent years has given ample evidence of the existence of this True Orthodox Church. Its existence is illegal, and its members are treated as criminals by the regime. Of necessity its governing principle must be Metropolitan Joseph's instruction to his followers in 1927: "Govern yourselves independently;" and its members are chiefly, as he foresaw (see here), "not only not bishops and not archpriests, but the simplest mortals."
The existence of this Catacomb Church today is surely a sign to world Orthodoxy: the age of Orthodoxy's grandeur is past; the last age of catacombs is in our midst. In Russia this truth is more than evident; among its many proofs, perhaps the most striking is the history of the Church of Christ the Saviour in Moscow (see here). Once a magnificent temple, a monument to God's preservation of the Russian land in 1812 and a visible symbol of the faith of a whole people, it was entirely destroyed by the Soviets, and to this day nothing has been built on its site, an it remains a gaping hole in the center of the capital of world atheism. A surprising testimony of its meaning for the Russian people even today may be found in a short novel, Iskupleniye ("Redemption"), by the Soviet writer Yuly Daniel; while not a believer himself, his observations touch something very deep within Soviet life. "I met Mishka Lurye at the Metro station 'Hall of the Soviets' near the board fence surrounding the excavation. Interesting: will they build something here, or will the hole remain this way as a monument to the blown-up Church of Christ the Saviour? How many years the boards have been here, posters stuck up on them. 'Mishka, when did they blow up the church?' 'What church?… Oh, they blew it up in '34…' 29 years ago they blew up the church. Despite the proverb, the holy place is empty. Of course, I don't argue, there's no benefit in churches, not a bit; they're architectural monuments, no more; but all the same… They blew up God, and the shock-wave from the explosion wounded man, gave him a contusion.. Deafness, dumbness… The pus flows from under the bandage, from under the articles on humanism…" (Author now in prison).
Even so, he who looks for the Church in the Soviet Union today finds—a hole in the earth, a deep wound in the Orthodox Russian people that is not at all hidden by the false front of the Moscow Patriarchate. But is the situation so very different in the free world? Here voluntary apostasy, renovationism and heresy have achieved much the same result as the coercion of the atheist regime in the USSR. Behind the glittering facade of almost all the free Orthodox Churches, with their "ecumenical" triumphs—is a gaping hole in the earth, all the abyss of difference that exists between the "official" apostates and the "simple mortals:" the saving remnant of Orthodox faithful of many nations. Even now these faithful are being driven into the voluntary catacombs of separation from the ecumenist heresiarchs, gathering around the few truly Orthodox bishops who remain. Thus the Divine Head of the Church prepares them for the greater trials that seem to lie ahead. The prophecy of the holy and clairvoyant Elder Ignaty of Harbin, made some 30 years ago, no longer seems remote: "What began in Russia, will end in America."
But if such terrible days be truly upon us, even Orthodox America—so weak, so inexperienced, so naive—has all that is necessary to face these days in the example of Metropolitan Joseph and the True Orthodox Christians of the first land to experience the fearful yoke of satanic atheism.
Holy New Hieromartyr Joseph and all the new martyrs of the Communist Yoke, pray to God for us!
THE EPISTLES OF METROPOLITAN JOSEPH
The following are the principal epistles that have come down to us from
the first head of the Catacomb Church, demonstrating his fearless stand
against Sergianism at its very outbreak
RESOLUTION ON THE REPORT OF THE PETROGRAD VICARS
Document of December 23, 1927
IN ORDER TO CONDEMN and counteract the latest actions of Metropolitan Sergius, which are contrary to the spirit and the good of the Holy Church of Christ, under present conditions we have no other means apart from a decisive departure from him and an ignoring of his orders. Let these orders be accepted henceforth only by the paper they are written on, which tolerates anything, and by the unfeeling air which contains everything—but not by the living souls of the faithful children of Christ's Church.
In separating from Metropolitan Sergius and his acts, we do not separate from our lawful Chief Hierarch, Metropolitan Peter, nor from the Council, which will meet at some time in the future, of those Orthodox hierarchs who have remained faithful. May this Council, our sole competent judge, not then hold us guilty for our boldness. May it judge us, not as despisers of the sacred canons of the Fathers, but only as fearful to violate them. Even if we have erred, we have erred honestly, out of zeal for the purity of Orthodoxy in the present evil age. And if we turn out to be guilty, then may we be even especially deserving of condescension, and not of deposition.
And so, even if all pastors should leave us, may the Heavenly Pastor not leave us, according to His unfailing promise to remain in His Church to the end of the age.
APPEAL TO THE FAITHFUL OF PETROGRAD
Document of early 1928, written from Rostov
THE ARCHPASTORS of the ecclesiastical province of Yaroslavl—Agathangel Metropolitan of Yaroslavl, Seraphim Archbishop of Uglich, former Substitute of the Patriarchal Locum Tenens, Archbishop Varlaam, formerly of Pskov, now ruling the Dashedovsky Vicariate of the Diocese of Yaroslavl, and Eugene Bishop of Rostov—by a special document have declared their separation from Metropolitan Sergius and their independent governance from now on of the flocks entrusted to them by God. This document, signed on January 27 (February 9), has to such an extent been called forth by the conditions of the times and the attitude of the faithful masses of people, and this separation is so well founded, that I, residing in the Yaroslavl region, have taken part in it and added my own signature to it.
Thus, henceforth all the orders of Metropolitan Sergius have no force for us. This gives me grounds to protest anew my unlawful removal from the flock of Leningrad and to ask for a canonically correct decision on this question at an appropriate trial by Orthodox bishops. And until such a decision I consider myself to have no right to leave the flock entrusted to me (in the sense of the 16th Canon of the First and Second Council) to the arbitrary whim of Church administrators who do not have our confidence; and before the Lord God and my conscience I accept the obligation to take measures to pacify y disturbed and agitated flock. To this end I call first of all upon my vicar bishops to serve the flock of Leningrad in concord with me. To the Right Reverend Bishop of Gdov, Dimitry, I give over the temporary governance of the Diocese of Leningrad. The Right Reverend Gregory I likewise request to continue serving in the St. Alexander Nevsky Lavra as my substitute, in concord with me.
Invoking God's blessing upon the shepherds and all the faithful, I request and beg you to trust our leadership and our archpastoral concern, peacefully and quietly continuing the work of prayer, salvation of the soul, and Divine service, humbly submitting to the civil authority, which for the time being has not found it possible to permit my unworthiness to come into immediate communion in prayer with the flock entrusted to me. Being far away, I shall nonetheless be in constant prayerful remembrance of and concern for you, requesting that my name be pronounced at Divine services in the customary way. May the Lord hear our common lamentation, and may He bless with peace and quiet our much-suffering Church.
EPISTLE TO AN ARCHIMANDRITE OF PETROGRAD (1928)
DEAR FATHER: Until lately I thought that my dispute with Metropolitan Sergius was finished and that, refusing to offer myself as a sacrifice to the crude politics, intrigues, and pursuits of the enemies and betrayers of the Church, I could peacefully go off to the side, voluntarily offering myself as a sacrifice of protest and warfare against this foul politics and arbitrariness. And I was entirely sincere when I thought and said that "I am not starting any kind of schism," and I will submit to the unlawful punishment against me—all the way to interdict and excommunication hoping in God's justice alone.
But it turned out that ecclesiastical life does not stand at freezing point, but bubbles and foams above the normal boiling point. My "small case" soon turned out to be only a small part of such a monstrous arbitrariness, flattery of men, and betrayal of the Church, that it remained for me henceforth to wonder not only at my own calmness and patience, but now as well at the indifference and blindness of those others who still suppose that those who have allowed and done this hideous thing are doing the work of God, are "saving" the Church, are governing and not crudely injuring Her, mocking Her, numbering themselves among Her enemies, cutting themselves off from Her—for it is not they who are cutting off those who cannot bear any longer this bacchanalia, this crude coercion and hideously blasphemous politics.
Perhaps I could have borne even this. I could have assumed that it was none of my business, just as my affair now is none of yours. But, dear Father, I suddenly with particular pain began to feel myself to a significant degree responsible for the Church's misfortune. After all, as you know, I am one of the Substitutes of the Patriarchal Locum Tenens, who is obliged by an obligation of suffering not only to take the place of my arrested predecessor, but also to be for him, even when he is free, a precaution, ready to take his place in case he should spiritually fall. To be sure, such a spiritual fall should be, in the normal conditions of ecclesiastical life, accompanied by a trial and a conciliar decision. But what kind of trial and conciliar decision are possible now, under present conditions? And by what kind of trial and conciliar decision was there administered to me a punishment which is permissible according to the canons only for a great sin on my part? Why is it that, demanding a trial and conciliar decision in one instance you allow their absence in another?
Such an argument can be no more than material for a section on incongruities in a textbook on logic. Just wait; the time will come, we hope, when we shall speak of our events also at a trial. And there is still a great question as to who will then be the more accused. But for the time being the matter stands thus: We will not give the Church as a sacrifice over to the mercy of betrayers and foul politicians and agents of atheism and destruction. And by this protest we do not cut ourselves off from Her, but we cut away, and will never go away from the bosom of the true Orthodox Church, but those who are not with us and for us, but against us, we consider Her enemies, betrayers, and murderers. It is not we who go into schism by not submitting to Metropolitan Sergius, but rather you who are obedient to him go with him into the abyss of the Church's condemnation. We call upon you and fortify your powers for battle for the independence of the Church, only not at all in the way you suppose is required: not by agreement with the enslavers of this Church and the murderers of Her holy independence, which is manifested now in Her holy rightlessness, but rather by a loud and decisive protest against every acquiescence, against hypocritical and lying compromises and against the betrayal of Her interests to the interests of godless satanism and a bitter warfare against Christ and His Church.
Do you really not see the contradiction and incongruity, which are not compatible with anything, in your dilemma? (You say:) "Will you take away our obedience to you by going into schism, or by submitting to Metropolitan Sergius, fortify our powers for the battle for the independence of the Holy Church?" I am going into schism?! Submission to Sergius is a battle for the independence of the Church?! My dear! Any old lady in Leningrad will laugh tat out of town!
Perhaps, I do not dispute, "there are more of you, presently, than of us." And let it be that "the great mass is not for me," as you say. But I will never consider myself a schismatic, even if I were to remain absolutely alone, as one of the holy confessors once was. The matter is not at all one of quantity, do not forget that for a minute: the Son of God, when He cometh, shall He find faith on the earth? (St. Luke 18:8). And perhaps the last "rebels" against the betrayers of the Church and the accomplices of Her ruin will be, not only not bishops and not archpriests, but the simplest mortals, just as at the Cross of Christ His last gasp of suffering was heard by a few simple souls who were close to Him.
And so, dear Father, do not judge me severely, especially by means of your Balsamon. I reckon that he is quite far from being the same thing that the very authors of the holy canons wrote in a sense understandable to everyone even without commentaries, and that in any case this Balsamon cannot be an authoritative and faithful commentary of our circumstances, which were not foreseen by any commentaries and canons at all.
Do not judge me so severely, and clearly understand the following:
1. I am not at all schismatic, and I call not to a schism, but to the purification of the Church from those who sow real schism and provoke it.
2. To indicate another his errors and wrongs is not schism but, to speak simply, it is putting and unbridled horse back into harness.
3. The refusal to accept sound reproaches and directives is in reality a schism and a trampling of the truth.
4. In the construction of ecclesiastical life the participants are not only those at the head, but the whole body of the Church, and a schismatic is he who assumes to himself rights which exceed his authority and in the name of the Church presumes to say that which is not shared by his colleagues.
5. Metropolitan Sergius has shown himself to be such a schismatic, for he has far exceeded his authority and has rejected and scorned the voice of many hierarchs, in whose midst the pure truth has been preserved.
You remark incidentally that among the number of ways to truth, "Christ indicated to us yet another new path: that ye love one another;" About this I only remind you Father, of the marvelous conclusion of Metropolitan Philaret in his sermon on love for one's enemies: "And so, despise the enemies of God, strike the enemies of the fatherland, love your enemies! Amen." (Vol. I, p. 285. See also the Apostle of love, II John 1:10,11.)
The defenders of Sergius say that the canons allow one to separate oneself from a bishop only for heresy which has been condemned by a council. Against this one may reply that the deeds of Metropolitan Sergius may be sufficiently placed in this category as well, if one has in view such an open violation by him of the freedom and dignity of the Church, One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.
But beyond this, the canons themselves could not foresee many things. And can one dispute that it is even worse and more harmful than any heresy when one plunges a knife into the Church's very heart—Her freedom and dignity? Which is more harmful—a heretic or a murderer (of the Church)?
…Lest imperceptibly and little by little we lose the freedom which our Lord Jesus Christ, the Liberator of all men, has given to us as a free gift by His Own blood (8t Canon of the Third Ecumenical Council).
SOURCES: "Documents" and Urusova (p. 17) from Protopresbyter M. Polsky, RUSSIA'S NEW MARTYRS, vol. 2, Jordanville, N.Y., 1957, pp. 1-10; writings of Metr. Joseph: DUSHEPOLYEZNOYE CHTENIYE, 1901, 1905, 1906; address on consecration (p. 11): Appendix to TSERKOVNIE VEDOMOSTI, c. 1909, no. 13-14, pp. 601ff; Yuly Daniel (Nikolai Arzhak), ISKUPLENIYE, Inter-Language Literary Associates, N.Y.. 1964, p. 17.