Orthodox America


Spiritual Heroes of the 20th Century New Martyr Tikhon, Patriarch of All Russia  


"Like the ancient leader of the Hebrew people, I shall also be calling to God, exclaiming, "Wherefore hast Thou afflicted Thy Servant? And wherefore have I not found favor in Thy sight that Thou layest the burden of all these people upon me?'.. From now on my d u t y shall be to take care of all the churches of Russia, and to die for their sake every day."

With these words the future Patriarch of all Russia greeted the news that he had been elected to ascend the patriarchal throne. He knew full well that he was being handed a bitter cup: the throne was his Cross and the white patriarch's hood-his crown of thorns. For nearly eight years he was to endure great sufferings which fell to him as to the head of the Russian Church during one of the most difficult periods in her history.

Patriarch Tikhon was born Vassily Ivanovich Bellavin on Jan. 19, l865,- the son of a priest. As an outstanding student in the Ecclesiastical Seminary of Pskov, he was both loved and respected by his classmates. Tall and fair, he was already characterized by firm yet unaffected piety which he pre served to the end of his life. Later, in the St. Petersburg Academy, his fellow students affectionately nicknamed him "the patriarch." How prophetic this proved to be Who could have foreseen that this quiet and modest young man was to be elected the first patriarch after 217 years of church administration by the Holy Synod.

In 1891 he received the monastic tonsure with the name of Tikhon. In 1898, at the age of 33, he was ordained bishop and appointed to the Aleutian-Alaskan diocese of North America. For seven years he tirelessly labored there in the Lord's harvest fields, winning the love and respect of his flock. Soon, however, the spiritual and administrative talents of the young hierarch were recognized and in 1907 he was appointed as Arch bishop to Yaroslavl-one of the most important dioceses of Russia.

His simplicity, accessibility and modest demeanor won the hearts of people every where, and only he was surprised to hear that the people of Moscow had elected him as their archpastor. Three years later, on August 15, 1917, he was raised to the rank of Metropolitan and elected Chairman of the Council. This Council was comprised not only of learned theologians, but also of simple peasants one of whom said, "We no longer have a Tsar, no father whom we can love; it is impossible to love the Synod; therefore we, the peasants, want a Patriarch."

Prompted by the intense difficulties facing the Church at that time and the fear that the communists may soon dissolve the Council, it was decided to proceed quickly with the election of a patriarch who could provide the sorely needed spiritual leadership. They chose three candidates by general vote and then cast lots, leaving the final decision to God's will. Thus did Patriarch Tikhon enter the arena as a spiritual warrior, to combat an enemy whose malice was to surpass that which anyone had anticipated or even imagined.

The consecration took place in the Cathedral of the Dormition on Nov.21, 1917 The communists had not yet taken a definite stand against the Church and the ceremony was performed amid great triumph and rejoicing

Crowds of people filled the Kremlin and religious processions from all the churches of Moscow gathered on Red Square. Never again was there to be such a display of the Church's might and popularity. The hostile attitude of the godless authorities towards the Church and her faithful servants was soon fanned into a raging blaze of anger and hatred, and hundreds, thousands of the faithful were led like innocent lambs to the slaughter.

The Patriarch tried to bring the evil tyrants to their senses, and called upon the faithful to resist the communists-whom he anathematized as servants of Satan -and, if necessary, to suffer martyrdom.

In an epistle to the Soviet of the People's Commisars, on the occasion of the first anniversary of the October revolution, Patriarch Tikhon wrote:

"While you were seizing the power, you asked the people to trust you, and made promises to them. But have those promises been fulfilled? You gave a stone instead of a loaf, and a serpent instead of fish (Mt. 7:9-10). You have substituted a soulless international concept for our Motherland. You have divided the people into enemy camps and plunged them into a fratricidal war of an unprecedented cruelty. You have openly replaced Christ's love by hatred.. Mark the anniversary of your rule by liberating those imprisoned by you; by ceasing bloodshed, violence, destruction and oppression of religion.... Otherwise all righteous blood shed by you, shall be required of you (Lk. 11:51), and 'you that take the sword shall perish by the sword' (Mt. 26:52)" (Epistle of Oct. 26, 1918).

The Patriarch never acted to protect him self and never hesitated to speak out in defense of the Truth. Fearing for his safety, many of his faithful supporters urged him to flee the country, but the Patriarch would not hear of it. "The flight of the Patriarch ,"he said, "would cause the enemies of the Church to rejoice and they would use it for their own evil purposes." Nevertheless, the Moscow parish communities organized a constant watch over the Patriarch. He continued to fearlessly visit churches in Moscow and else where, drawing large crowds of the faithful who felt in the Patriarch "one of their kind".

The communists, however, were unwilling to make a martyr out of him. Instead they tried to demoralize him by murdering clergy everywhere and weaving about him a net of lies, slander and threats. It was increasingly apparent that nothing he could do or say would pacify their bloody intent to liquidate the clergy whom they blindly accused of counter-revolutionary activity. Under the pretext of raising money to feed the starving populace, the communists ordered the confiscation of Church valuables. Hoping to avoid a blood-bath, the Patriarch issued an appeal, blessing the voluntary donations of valuables. But, the communists would stop at nothing and only used this as an excuse to further terrorize the Church. Some 10,000 executions of the faithful occurred in connection with the requisition of valuables.

Hoping to gain control over the Church, the atheist regime arrested the Patriarch and organized a new Church administration, the so-called "Renovators," who had the audacity to d eclare that never before had the Church been so free as it now was under communist rule. While in prison the Patriarch was deliberately misinformed as to the true situation of the Church and came to believe that the Renovationists had all but usurped the Russian Church. Hoping to preserve what little remained, he asked to be released stating that he was no longer an enemy of the Soviet state and expressing regret over the past. He deliberately made this humiliating concession in order to somehow try and save the Church: "Let my name be ruined in historical annals as long as the Church profits by it."

No amount of concession or compromise, however, would satisfy the communists and the position of the Patriarch grew more and more difficult: "It would be easier for me to stay in prison. I am supposed to be free, but actually I can do nothing. I appoint a bishop to the South, and he gets to the North. I send one to the West and they take him to the East." A special agent was assigned to the Patriarch to harrass him and extract concessions under the guise of what at first might appear to be beneficial to the Church. The strain of being surrounded by such lies and deceit, the feeling of responsibility for the persecuted flock, the arrests and exile of his hierarchy-all this caused such a strain on the Patriarch that he became a victim in the fullest sense of the word.

Exhausted physically and mentally, Patriarch Tikhon entered a private hospital on Jan. 12, 1925. When he was feeling better - he would go and serve in the churches of Moscow, returning to the hospital at night. Even there the communist agents continued to torment him. On the eve following the feast of Annunciation, the Holy Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow and all Russia reposed, having voluntarily offered his self to God as a blood-less sacrifice.

Holy New Martyr, Tikhon, pray for us!

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