Orthodox America

  “Dark Forces”

Archpriest David Lesko 

Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves (Matt. 10:16) 

    His Eminence, Metropolitan Filaret of Minsk and Byelorussia, Chair man of the Department of External Church Relations of the Patriarchate or Moscow, has been in recent years a regular visitor to the United States. During the current year hats expected to return in May, to deliver the 50th Anniversary Commencement Address to the Class of 1988 of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary in Crestwood, New York. [1]

     That Metropolitan Filaret is a warmly received guest in the United States is a well documented fact. In April of 1986 at the Oyster Bay Cove, New York Administrative Center of the Orthodox Church in America, for example, he was welcomed as the representative of "the life and vitality of the Christian witness in your country, the very faithfulness of the Orthodox Church of Russia to the Gospel of Christ.'' [2]

    Left unannounced by such words of praise are the details of the Metropolitan's own life and activity, the path of his rise to prominence within the Administration of the Moscow Patriarchate. the purpose of this article is to assemble these details.

Born Kirill Varfolomeyevich Vekhromeyev in 1935, the future Metropolitan Filaret pursued theological studies at the Moscow Theological Seminary and Academy at Zagorsk from 1953 to 1961. Following his monastic profession, he was ordained to the diaconate in 1959 and to the priest hood in 1961, with an appointment to the faculty of the Moscow Academy, Elevated to the rank of archimandrite in 1963, he was a member of the Russian Patriarchal delegation to the Third Pan Orthodox Conference on Rhodes in 1964. The next year, he was consecrated Bishop of Tikhvin, vicar to Metropolitan Nikodim of Leningrad and Ladoga and, some six months later, in May of 1966, was elected to the office of Rector of the Moscow Theological Academy and named Bishop of Dmitrov, vicar to Patriarch Alexis.

    At the November 28, 1968 session of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, he was appointed second vice-chairman of the Departmental External Relations, at the specific request of the Departmental Chairman, Metropolitan Nikodim of Leningrad and, now, Novgorod.

    In order to not misinterpret this last, seemingly low-level bureaucratic posting, the 1979 appraisal of the Department from "The Report of Father Gleb Yakunin to the Christian Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights in the USSR," published in translation by Archpriest Dimitry Konstantinow in Stations of the Cross, the Russian Church 1970-1980 (London, Ontario, Canada), is worthwhile recalling:

     "The Department of External Church Relations functions as an arm of official state propaganda, especially abroad, and has very strong links with the KGB. It spends enormous sums of money on sending 'missionaries' to the West and on entertaining visiting Western tourists (p. 217). In the process of cooperating with the 'external' department, a special type of 'complaisant' hierarch is formed, disciplined, trained in obedience to the Soviet authorities, and in addition, skillful in dealing with foreigners. Some of these hierarchs are even allowed as an exception,  to engage in a greater amount of diocesan work in order to increase their authority, especially abroad (p. 209)."

    In 1971, following his elevation to the rank of archbishop, the future Metropolitan Filaret was relieved of his duties in the Department of External Relations, while retaining his position as Rector of the Academy. Two years later, on April 18, 1983, he was further relieved of his obligations at the Academy and named Patriarchal Exarch of Berlin and Central Europe. It was while functioning in this capacity that, in 1975, he was elevated to the rank of metropolitan. 

      Elected in 1978 to rule the Province of Minsk and Byelorussia, he was also assigned, on October 12 of that year, to the post of Patriarchal Exarch of Western Europe, succeeding the recently deceased Metropolitan Nikodim. By the April 11, 1981 decision of the Holy Synod, he was again called upon to succeed Metropolitan Nikodim, as Chairman of the Department of External Relations, with permanent seating on the Patriarchal Synod. In 198l, in view of his election to the presidency of the Committee for Relations with Religious Communities of the Soviet Council for Peace, Metropolitan Filaret submitted his resignation from the position of Western European Exarch.

     It should be noted that it is from this latest period in Metropolitan Filaret's life that the title of this article is derived. In May of 1984 Professor Dimitry Pospielovsky published a commentary on "New Victims of Soviet Persecutors of Religion and the American Media" in which, referring to the July 1983 appeal of Proto-deacon Vladimir Rusak to the General Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Vancouver, he stated that the Proto-deacon "says about his diocesan bishop, Metropolitan Filaret of Minsk, that he is a loved, kind and sincere pastor who sincerely admitted to the deacon that he could not help him because 'dark forces are behind me.'"[3] That in September of 1986 these forces succeeded in convicting the Proto-deacon for "anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda," with a twelve year sentence of strict regime labor camp and internal exile, no one needs be reminded of.

      In a 1977 letter from Bishop Feodosy of Poltava and Kremenchug (now Archbishop of Astrakhan and Yenotayevka), to the then head of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, L .I. Brazhnev (also published in Father Konstantinow’s Stations…) a Russian proverb is quoted:  “If you’re drawing a camel, draw its hump as well.”

    Thus, on May 22, 1981, Metropolitan Filaret was awarded the Commemorative Meal of the Soviet Peace Fund and, on September 7 of that year, the Order of St. Sergius of Radonezh, First Class, of the Russian Orthodox Church. On March 21, 1985, on the occasion of his fiftieth birthday, he was granted the Order or Friendship Between Peoples by the Supreme Soviet of the USSR and the Worker for Peace Medal of the Soviet Council for Peace. That same year, during a June visit to Czechoslovakia, he was presented the Gold Medal of the Czechoslovakian Society for International Relations, "in recognition of hi s accomplishments in promoting friendship between the Czechoslovakian and Soviet peoples." [4] In these years, he was the recipient of three honorary doctorates of theology: from the Orthodox Theology Faculty of Presov (1982), the Theology Faculty of the Martin Luther University of Malle-Wittenberg (1983) and the Evangelical Theology Faculty of Bratislava (1985). Likewise in these years, in his cathedral city of Minsk, with a population then in excess of 700,000, only three Orthodox Churches were open for liturgical worship. [5]

    In his Stations...of the Russian Orthodox Church during the decade of the 1970s, the period in which Metropolitan Filaret advanced to prominence in the Central Administration of the Moscow Patriarchate, Father Konstantinov demonstrated exhaustively that, throughout those years, "the administrative bodies of the... Patriarchy continued their unswerving and excessive loyalty to the Soviet regime, pursuing their course at tremendous cost to the actual well-being of the Church. The moral position of the Patriarchy remains untenable. The Church cannot support those who attempt to destroy its very existence(p. 199). It seems ironic that while the hierarchs of the Church are receiving both religious and secular decorations and awards, believers are pleading to them for protection and help against the illegal acts perpetrated by the authorities against the Church (p. 186). Thus there is a rift between the main body of believers, who resist the atheistic state and in some cases take offensive action to protect their rights, and the Church administration, which is loyal and subservient to the regime (p. 199)."

      The sobriety which characterizes this assessment is of the kind which for nearly twenty-five years, as editor of both St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly (1961 - 1964)and The Orthodox Church (1965-1984), Archpriest John Meyendorff, present Dean of St. Vladimir's Seminary, continuously promoted and defended, "by looking at the situation as a whole, in its historical development, in the light of Christ's truth, and with concern for the good of the Church ,"[6] never forgetting that, as far as the administrative officials of the Moscow Patriarchate themselves are concerned, "direct co-operation on their part in silencing the true expression of Church consciousness would close every possibility of considering them, even partially, as spokesmen for the Church of God."' [7]  Indeed, the forced repetition by these officials of public declaration, which "are hardly taken seriously by anyone in the Soviet Union or abroad (except for a few naive fellow travelers),' contributes to nothing but the further humiliation and discreditation of the Church. [8]

     Admittedly, with the dawning of glasnost in the Soviet Union, the ongoing applicability of these observations eventually may require revision. In the meantime, heeding Metropolitan Filaret' s own notice of the dark forces behind him, no one should neglect Father Konstantinow's' similar warning that the “charisma” of the Moscow Patriarchate, in which his chief representative abroad, the Chairman of the Department of External Relations, automatically participates, "has often been usurped by the forces which oppose Him, Who conferred this authority upon the Patriarch .... Such is the true situation, which should not be ignored due to the pragmatic interests or conditions of a given moment. " [9]

Archpriest David Lesko
Duquesne, Pennsylvania


[1.] "St. Vladimir's Seminary Begins Golden Anniversary Year--1988" in The Orthodox Church, March 1988, p. 6.

[2.] "Church Leaders Received by Metropolitan'' in The Orthodox Church June 1986 p. 1. (For a commentary on this report see Archpriest David Lesko, "Thoughts on the Second Sunday after Pentecost" in The Orthodox Church, September, 1986)

[3.] D. Pospielovsky, "New Victims of Soviet Persecution of Religion and the American Media" in The Orthodox Church, May 1984, p. 5.

[4] See the report of Metropolitan Filaret's Czechoslovakian trip in Egyhazi Khronika (Ecclesiastical Chronicle), Hungarian Orthodox Administration, Budapest, January-February, 1986, p. 2.

[5]. "Lutheran Visits Russian Church: Urges Peace" in The Orthodox Church, April 198l, p. 1.

[6.] Archpriest John Meyendorff, "The Russian Church After Patriarch Tikhon" in St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, Spring 1975, p. 3l.

[7.] Archpriest John Meyendorff, "The Church in Russia" in St. Vladimir's Seminary

Quarterly, Spring-Summer 1966, p. 6.

[8.] Archpriest John Meyendorff, Editor' s Note to "Patriarch Pimen on Church's Concern for Peace in the World" in The Orthodox Church, April 1983, p. 1.

[9.] Archpriest Dimitri Konstantinow, Stations of the Cross, The Russian Orthodox Church 1970-1980, London, Ontario, Canada, 1984, p. 192


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