I have to admit that in going to meet Bishop Lazarus I went with certain prejudices. I thought that a person from the underground was sure to be embittered, that he would consider that he alone was honest, that he alone was right, l thought he would be proud of his correctness and purity, and that he would consider the rest of us to have gone astray, perhaps even to be lost. But I must say, I was very favorably impressed by Bishop Lazarus. This is truly a hierarch by the mercy of God. -- Priest Georgi Edelstein
This spring, Bishop Lazarus, a member of Russia's Catacomb Church now guiding the free Russian parishes under the jurisdiction of the Church Abroad, granted the following interview to Archprlest Victor Potapov.
Fr. Victor: Vladika Lazarus, I am so very happy to be able to talk with you. You are unusual in that you are a bishop but you do not represent the official Church. You are a catacomb bishop, but here in the West you serve openly and, by virtue of the fact that we are talking here on the airwaves of "Voice of America', you are now making yourself known to the entire Soviet Union.
I should like to begin our discussion by asking you to tell us briefly
about yourself and the path which led you to the Catacomb Church and to the
Bishop Lazarus: I grew up practically an orphan. My mother died in 1933, of hunger, in the district of Belgorod, while my father went away to Kuban where he found work as a carpenter. At least he received what was left after sunflowers are pressed for oil, and this is what he ate. After mother died my sister took me to Voronezh, then I was sent to my father.
During the war some churches were opened in Kuban. We lived near the town of Kropotkin, which - used to be a farm belonging to the Romanovsky family. Someone came to the market and announced that a church had been opened in town. It was a metochion belonging to the Abalsk-Caucasus Missionary Monastery. The following Sunday I went to church. There were a lot of people; even the church yard was full. I had never been in a church and felt rather awkward at first. The saints looking down at me from the walls scared me. But I soon got over this initial reaction and stood through the service. I watched how people crossed themselves and began to make the sign of the cross myself. The next Sunday I went again and squeezed my way through the crowd. The old women pushed me to the front. I gradually became bolder, began to pray better. And from that time I was always drawn to church. At home, of course, there was a lot of work; we had a large household. When a church opened in the capital, I started going there to services, on Sundays, feastdays. 1 came to the attention of the churchgoers and was invited to help out. I was constantly in the altar, helping the priest.
There was a wonderful batiushka, Archpriest Konstantin Vysotsky, from Yaroslavl, Metropolitan Agafangel's diocese. He greatly revered St. John of Kronstadt, who cured him in his student years (he studied at the St. Petersburg Theological Academy) of a passion for gambling; he served panikhidas for him, spoke a lot about him, with tears.. He was a great preacher and attracted many people, Old Believers, Baptists came to listen. On Sunday evenings after vespers he always held discussions. As an acolyte, I accompanied him when he made house calls to serve molebens, panikhidas.., and then other priests. The priests, of course, were frequently transferred.
In 1944 our church was closed; it was turned into a club for young people. At first no one showed up, but then they were pressed to come, and since the youth had nowhere to go, they began coming.
In 1945 I met some catacomb monks who told me about renovationism , about Sergianism,  about all these various church currents in Russia. After the war years when I had to leave home where I was no longer needed, some kind people took me in and introduced me to many catacomb believers. I became acquainted with Fr. Samuel, a well-known wandering elder of the Catacomb Church, then with Hiero-schemamonk Elder Theodosius from Mt. Athos, who died in 1948. This was a rare elder: he received everyone--the Tikhonites, as we were so-called then, and from the official church; he made no distinctions and received everyone with love. His manners reminded one of St. Seraphim: affectionate, kind; it was as if a light emanated from him; it drew people, they became glued to him, as it were, and didn't want to leave him. Even today there are people who remember him. For three years I was in contact with him. I was 16 years old at the time. I came with some believers, and he said to me, "Why don't I make you some wings?" which was his way of suggesting he make me a monk. I agreed and was tonsured. After Fr. Theodosius died, some believers recommended that I meet a secret bishop who lived in the Caucasus. I spent two years under his guidance, fulfilling various obediences.
In 1950 I was arrested. At that time I was in the area of Rostov and wrote a letter asking to see this bishop, not knowing that he had already been arrested. I was sent a telegram and went immediately to Boloshdv, in the Saratov district, and there on the street, at one o'clock at night, I was arrested. They had been waiting for me. I, of course, suspected nothing. They arrested me, brought me to the Party headquarters, and began interrogating me. I denied everything, afraid of betrayal. For three days they tortured me. I still did not admit to knowing him, but they showed me the telegram and my letter. I replied that I was simply going to see a woman who had invited me, and spoke as though I were going to Moscow to Patriarch Alexis  in order to be assigned somewhere. I was scared, naturally, and lost my head. I was 19 at the time. They wanted to make a separate case of it there in Rostov, but since I was adamant they decided to take me to Saratov for
a face to face meeting with the bishop. They brought me into a large room. Sitting there were ten Chekists. I was scared; they all looked at me. With his back to me sat an old man. When they led me to him and ordered him to stand, I saw it was [my bishop], although I hardly recognized him: his beard was shaved, and he was blue, emaciated, with sunken eyes, but they were affectionate, kind. He told me that we were all here; there was no need to resist: "We are all on the cross, and it will get worse; they will torture us." He blessed me to ascend the cross, and we parted.
They arrested 150 of us in all, including two hieromonks, in various cities and villages around the country. After the six months it took to decide our case we were sent to prison camp. They couldn t pin anything on us: there were no witnesses, no evidence; we were arrested simply because we were believers of the True Orthodox Church (TOC), who didn't agree with [Metropolitan Sergius'] Declaration; after 1927 our hierarchs and clergy were obliged to go underground. Renovationists were making a strong case for themselves; then came the Declaration, in Ukraine you had self-made clergy. all around the Church was being tormented. Since they took the churches away from our bishops and priests we were forced to go underground. Furthermore, we saw that Stalin was behind Patriarch Alexis' election; the Sobor which elected him was not free; it was under strong pressure of the NKVD. Therefore our priests did not recognize him and continued their [underground] existence. And for merely not recognizing Patriarch Alexis, priests were given 25 years' imprisonment and laymen were given 10 years. So it was with us. Our bishop was sentenced to be executed, but it was commuted to 25 years since people were no longer being executed for violation of that particular statute, 58-11 of the criminal code. They charged us with "group agitation and propaganda". In fact, we conducted no propaganda whatsoever: we gathered secretly when a priest or hierarch came, fulfilled our religious needs, the Mysteries, had discussions when we could, and dispersed. We didn't print any leaflets, we didn't write any books, we didn't preach on the streets against the authorities. But they were set against us, accusing us of being monarchists, members of the True Orthodox Church, that we didn't recognize the Soviet regime... They sought for us everywhere. Not just us personally, our group; there are catacomb believers all over the country; there's not a single city in which, to this day, there aren't at least a few people belonging to the Catacomb Church. Most are concentrated in the central republics.
1950. The Church was in ruins; things were confiscated, even houses were confiscated, books were taken, vestments, mantias. I myself saw crosses bent down. They cursed, blasphemed; they called us antichrists. Whenever we went in to the examiner they always gave the order, "Stand up, antichrist!"
Fr. Victor: During this wave of arrests, did
any bishops avoid arrest? Were they all arrested?
Bishop Lazarus: Our bishop was arrested, of course But some bishops remained: Bishop Peter Ladigin who was consecrated by [New Martyr] Archbishop Andrew of Ufa when he was already in exile; he was recognized by Metropolitan Agathangel and Metropolitan Peter of Krutitsa...
Fr. Victor: In this period of the '50s, was the
Moscow Patriarchate used against you by the Soviet authorities?
Bishop Lazarus: The catacomb believers feared the Moscow Patriarchate priests even more than the police. Whenever a priest came for some reason or other, he was met by a feeling of dread. The catacomb people would say, "A red detective has come." He was sent deliberately, and he was obliged to report everything to the authorities. Not infrequently, hierarchs and priests told the people outright, directly from the ambo, "Look around, Orthodox people. There are those who do not come to church. Find out who they are and report to us; these are enemies of the Soviet regime who stand in the way of the building of socialism." We were very much afraid of these Sergianist-oriented priests.
When, in 1961, the priests' rights were taken away from them and given to the church council, they quieted down and it was easier for us; at least we could, get to our priests and priests began more freely to come to us, to confess and commune us. From 1961 the Moscow Patriarchate calmed down in its attitude towards us. Of course, when foreigners asked representatives of the M.P., "Does a catacomb church exist?" the answer was always "No". That was a lie. There were catacomb believers all over Russia, just as there are today. Today, however, there is a great disorder caused by the fact that when a bishop died they would send us various impostors who passed themselves off as bishops. We were obliged, of course, to investigate them; we'd discover they were false, planted in our midst, or simply impostors. Naturally, when people learned they had been deceived, they splintered into small groups. This caused great confusion in our midst. This was all caused, as we understood it, by the official Church or its secret collaborators. Even today there are various rumors circulating concerning the Church Abroad, and against me personally.
Fr. Victor.. Vladika, earlier you said that
representatives of the Catacomb Church did not accept Patriarch Alexis' election
as lawful: they considered him to have been placed in that position by Stalin. I
should like to know the reasons you did not enter the Moscow Patriarchate.
Bishop Lazarus: We did not recognize Metropolitan Scrgius' Declaration because to do so one had to betray Orthodoxy. How? It would mean becoming a builder of socialism, renouncing... not the dogmas of Orthodoxy, but gradually stepping away from Orthodoxy, from the faith. This was the idea behind it. Perhaps Sergius himself didn't do this; he was told to by enemies of the Church; they wrote the Declaration in such a way as to paralyze church activity. We wanted no part of such evil. This was betrayal, and we didn't join this Judas business.
Fr. Victor, In what way, concretely, do you see this
as a betrayal?
Bishop Lazarus: You see, church leaders are not doing church work; they are merely fulfilling rituals. In their sermons they may say a few words on the meaning of the Feast--and then they turn to socialism and world peace. Furthermore, they have to denounce their sheep to the government deputy, i.e., to the KGB. In the Moscow Patriarchate there was no other way. If, let's say, a priest showed resistance, they either transferred him to such a remote place that he could die of hunger, or they kicked him out and he was forced to take up an illegal existence.
We considered it an act of Judas to become tied up with the Soviet regime, a regime that was theomachist, traitorous, blasphemous. It directed all its strength to destroy religion, especially Orthodoxy. In order not to participate in this, in order to preserve the purity of Orthodoxy, we went into the catacombs. We did not leave the Church, we did not leave Orthodoxy, we preserved everything, but we left the organization which had been organized by the Soviet regime with the help of Metropolitan Sergius and his dubious synod, people who weren't very reliable as far as the good of the Church was concerned--renovationists, priestless people... While the better hierarchs, locum tenens, were arrested, harassed; the better bishops, clergy were arrested; they were sought out everywhere, wherever they remained: clergy, monastics..ˇ We considered the Moscow Patriarchate organization to be the KGB, just in a different guise.
Fr. Victor, Vladika, what were the conditions of
your imprisonment? You were in the camps for five years for your faith. How did
they treat you there?
Bishop Lazarus: When 1 was arrested, I was held six months for interrogation: day or night, the entire six months they interrogated me, harassed me. Twice I fell unconscious from hunger and exhaustion.
When I was transferred to a regime prison, I was thrown in with thieves, recidivists, frightful people. From these I heard the worst imaginable language, immoral. Prison fare, of course, is well known. We were taken out for 15 minutes for a walk, we weren't allowed to stop, hands had to be held behind the back. The slightest infraction was punished with three days in solitary. I was given seven and a half. I was held in a basement cell where people were shot; there was water, it was damp. I was supposed to be there for five days. But they kept me and kept me. Finally I knocked for the warden: if they had added more time I should have been told. He went and found out. When I was let out from this cell I fell unconscious, overcome by the warm prison air.
In prison I didn't meet a single believer. I prayed fervently that at least some Tatar would be put in with me. I felt they were piercing me with swords, morally defiling me, but I didn't give in. I prayed inwardly. I tried to protect myself from hearing their filthy conversations by stuffing cotton into my ears, but they noticed and pulled it out.
In the camp, of course, I met many believers, priests--worthy priests: Archpriest Paul Kovalevsky from Odessa, Hierodeacon Polycarp from Moldavia--a good singer, very humble; a radiant man. I met Hieromonk Cosma Trnsov who belonged to our "case". And there were other believers. In the last, the so-called "death camp," there were 25,000 prisoners. It was located in the village of Spas, in the district of Karagandinsk. There I met Fr. Vladimir Krivoliutski, a priest from Moscow, who had already been imprisoned: the first time because he would not join the renovationists, the second because he didn't accept Metropolitan Sergius' Declaration, and the third time because he didn't recognize Patriarch Alexis. One might ask what this has to do with the Soviet authorities. Why was it that at the trials the examining magistrates always spoke of Patriarch Alexis in such reverential tones; this was very obvious. They took just the opposite tone if Patriarch Tikhon's name was mentioned; they'd even spit on the floor. And now the Moscow Patriarchate has even glorified him. This amazes us; it almost seems ludicrous.
Fr. Vladimir Krivoliutski was arrested on Pascha night, 1948. A group had gathered; they were all surrounded and each given ten years for not recognizing Patriarch Alexis. Fr. Vladimir was a well-educated priest, ordained by Patriarch Tikhon, a very worthy priest-elder—in looks, in intelligence and by his life; a radiant batiushka. There are still some people from his community left in Moscow, but for the most part we were scattered and lost contact over the years. In 1956 he wanted to come to the northern Caucasus; he sent some books, but then we received news from his close relatives that Fr. Vladimir had died. We were so sorry, so very sorry.
There was Fr. Sergius Tikhrov from Tambov a graduate of the Moscow Theological Academy. He had also been imprisoned twice. An amazing priest, pastor. After his release in 1955 he went underground. I had no permanent residence and moved about from place to place; it was risky to keep addresses and I would lose track of people. Fr, Sergius died in 1977, in Tambov; he was an extraordinary pastor-confessor.
Then there was Alexander Andrcevich Chefnov, a highly educated man, who also belonged to our group. A secret theological school was established where believers attended theological lectures; there were spirited discussions. Alexander would tell us about the diaspora. It was from him I first heard about Metropolitans Anthony [Khrapovitsky] and Anastassy, and later from others. Many prisoners there came from western Ukraine, from Volhynia, worthy priests; they likewise told us about blessed Metropolitan Anthony whom they recalled with great warmth.
Fr. Victor: Vladika, on one hand you do not
recognize the Moscow Patriarchate; you did not become a member of the M.P., but,
as I understand, you do not deny the sacraments of the Moscow Patriarchate. Your
branch of the Catacomb Church does not rebaptize, it does not re-ordain priests.
Bishop Lazarus: This is not my Personal opinion; it is the position of those well-educated priests with whom [ associated. Fr. Vladimir Krivoliutsky belonged to a group led by Metropolitan Cyril of Kazan, a moderate. Fr. Sergius Tigrov was of like mind. They recognized the Mysteries [of the Moscow Patriarchate] because dogmatically there were no violations concerning the Orthodox teaching about the Holy Trinity, and the Mysteries were performed according to the rules of the office. True, they do not immerse, but after all, there were Periods in the Church's history-in the time of Hieromartyr Cyprian, for example----when the Church recognized baptism by sprinkling by virtue of necessity. Not because this was the only way: it should be performed by immersion, and we immerse. But this is not always possible. When I was moving about the country, sometimes there was no water, sometimes there was no suitable vessel, and yet I had to perform the baptism; it couldn't be postponed. And so we would simply pour water over the head, in the name of the Holy Trinity. And we accept the Mystery of Chrismation as a lawful baptism.
We likewise do not deny their ordinations. Re-ordinations were performed only for renovationists, following the instructions of Patriarch Tikhon. And there were exceptions even here. If a renovationist bishop renounced his monastic vows, or if the bishop were married, the ordinations he performed were not considered canonical. But if he were an old bishop, that is, if the bishop performing the ordination were a monk who hadn't renounced his vows, in that case Patriarch Tikhon accepted the ordination.
The Arians weren't all rebaptized, the monophysites weren't rebaptized; all that was required was that they renounce their heresy. The iconoclasts weren't rebaptized... One can find many examples. Roman Catholics were and were not rebaptized, depending on the times and the local Church. Even in Russia there was no consistent policy with regard to receiving Roman Catholics: some patriarchs in the 17th century rebaptized, others did not. And masmuch as a final judgment on the Moscow Patriarchate has not been made, we consider that the grace of God has not left the people. After all, there are many pious people [within the Moscow Patriarchate], many good priests grieving, tormented. Not everyone knows of the Catacomb Church, and not everyone can emigrate; they are, after all, in bonds, in prison. For this reason, with respect to those living in the Soviet Union there are no such strict demands. Those in freedom, however, are of course to be faulted for belonging to the Moscow Patriarchate; with regard to them it's an entirely different matter. But for those in bends there is a certain condescension. After all, not everyone is to blame; a long time has passed.
Fr. Victor:. Vladika, how would you assess the
present state of the Moscow Patriarchate?
Bishop Lazarus: We, of course, have little to do with the Moscow Patriarchate. In general, we have nothing to do with any of the bishops or priests of the Patriarchate. And we certainly don't concelebrate---not with a single bishop, not with a single priest of the Moscow Patriarchate. If it happens that we meet by chance, somewhere in an apartment, we might talk and we might see that here is a good priest, that he sympathizes with us and the Russian Church Abroad, and if, God grant, he should come to us, well and good; we'll accept him with love, of course. But we've heard from priests themselves, from the people, that the Moscow Patriarchate itself is altogether corrupt: it is immoral, it has lost faith in God, it simply serves the authorities who want to use it to build socialism. Communists don't believe in God, but they want their children to be taught the Law of God. They've made a mess of the country, they've paralyzed the Church, and now they want to inspire their children with something. What is this?! Without repentance, without turning to God, to Christ, nothing will come of it; it's all empty.
Today the Patriarchate conducts magnificent services, especially in Moscow where there are churches, singing, many people attend. And why shouldn't the churches be full? It's a city of ten million people, and people come to Moscow from all over the country. But there are few in the Moscow Patriarchate who are discerning, who really know the Church. Cultured people are trying to understand what religion is all about, but it's not the kind of knowledge that is easily acquired; it is given only to those who have a pious heart, who are trying to be with Christ, with Orthodoxy, with the truth.
All these years the Moscow Patriarchate has been denied the fight to preach, to conduct pastoral work; it has simply fulfilled rituals. Among its ranks are those who were planted there. There are, we know, komsomol organizations in the seminaries. Graduates are ordained and it turns out that they are unbelievers. Believers who have entered the seminaries have discovered that they are expected to report on classmates, and it becomes obvious who is a believer and who is an unbeliever. Then there are those who simply have no place to go, they can't find a place in the secular world and they enter seminary to have a career; they don't care about the Faith, about the people...
Fr. Victor: Vladika, people have been asking: from
whom did you receive your episcopacy?
Bishop Lazarus: Our last bishop in Moscow was Sergius, the former rector of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Milevsky. He lived secretly in an apartment not far from the Kremlin. After his death we experienced considerable confusion: we were tossed to and fro, we were infiltrated by vagante bishops. It was all very sad. We priests all searched for a bishop who had survived prison, exile, but we didn't find a one. We knew something about the Church Abroad, that she had lost neither canonicity nor the fullness of Orthodoxy. And in 1981, at the Sobor preceding the canonization of the New Martyrs, the Church Abroad decided to consecrate a bishop. At that time I was already corresponding with Archbishop Leonty of Chile. I was introduced to him by Archimandrite Eugene Zhukov who lived on Mount Athos, in the kellion of Archangel Michaelˇ and through Vladika Leonty we made contact with the Church Abroad. We began asking that they send us a bishop and consecrate someone. I suggested two candidates: Fr. Michael Rozhdestvensky, living in Petersburg, and Fr. Nikita Kharkov, but when the hierarch arrived neither of them showed up. I had no thoughts of becoming a bishop myself, I didn't even imagine such a thing; I was scared, but I had to take up this cross. This was in Moscow, in 1982. Of course, I endured a lot of slander; all kinds of rumors spread--that I had been consecrated by Patriarch Pimen, that Patriarch Pimen came here to America and called me here... All sorts of foolishness, dreadful... I cannot name the bishop, but he belongs to the Russian Church Abroad.
Fr. Victor:. Vladika, many believers and clergy of
the Moscow Patriarchate have become very interested in the Church Abroad. There
is a call now to open parishes of the Church Abroad [there in Russia]. But this
has raised a question in people's minds. According to the canons of the Orthodox
Church it is forbidden to have more than one bishop in a city. How can the
Church Abroad open parishes in Russia without violating these canons?
Bishop Lazarus: In the Thirty Apostolic Canons we read:" If a bishop or presbyter uses worldly leaders, through them receives his episcopal authority, let him be cast out and excommunicated, and all those associated with him." Inasmuch as we consider the Moscow Patriarchate hierarchy to be unlawful-although it was passed down along the apostolic chain, it is still unlawful because all the bishops are filtered by the KGB, by the Kremlin--these bishops are unlawful, uncanonical. Therefore one can have a canonical bishop in the same city with an uncanonical bishop. Just as in the time of Arianism and all subsequent heresies----rnonophysitism, iconoclasm,--next to the catholic church was an iconoclast bishop. We consider the Declaration of Metropolitan Sergius to be a new form of idol worship, a burning of incense before the devil, the worship of form, of a system of false freedom....One can say this is worse than heresy.
Fr. Victor: Against this background, how do you plan
to act on your return to the Soviet Union?
Bishop Lazarus: If we find the means, suitable people, church people who with all their heart and soul will serve God and the Holy Orthodox Church, who won't lead us astray, who won't dissolve us, who will help us acquire a church building, we shall exist of course. And if the authorities don't interfere in the internal affairs of the Church we shall exist openly. Before leaving I met with the priests; some of them have agreed to come into the open, while others prefer to hold back for a time. What if something should happen, what if we are arrested, isolated, and our community is left without any pastors? This can happen. The Moscow Patriarchate can even cooperate in this.
Fr. Victor:. Now that you will be serving openly,
Vladika, do you anticipate more trouble from the [State] authorities or from the
Moscow Patriarchate? How will the Moscow Patriarchate react to your coming into
Bishop Lazarus: Here we cannot say. There experience will tell. Whether the authorities will pressure us, or whether the Moscow Patriachate will try to destroy us by means of various provocations--we don't know. Of course, the gates of hell will not prevail against Christ's Church. And the Lord said, Fear not, little flock, Take up your cross... We have renounced everything; we don't need anything pertaining to this World; we have given ourselves over entirely to Christ and desire to serve Him, as best we know how.
 A state-supported movement in the '20s to 'modernize' the Orthodox Church in the direction of Protestantism
 The doctrine of loyalty to the Soviet state, proclaimed in the 1927 Declaration of Metropolitan Sergius, which effectively crippled the Church in Russia and limited its activity to a formal performance of rites.
 Patriarch from 1945-70.[OA/_private/oabot.htm]