Written by Vladimir Moss



     The category of the population that suffered most during Stalin’s great purges – and this fact has been woefully neglected by secular historians - was neither the party, nor the army, but the Orthodox clergy, followed by the Orthodox laity. If Metropolitan Sergei, deputy leader of the Russian Church, thought that by his “Declaration” of loyalty to the Communist state in 1927 he would “save the Church”, the next few years would prove him terribly wrong. From 1935 the Bolsheviks, having repressed most of the True Orthodox clergy, began to repress the sergianists – i.e. those who accepted Sergei’s leadership and justified his Declaration. In fact, the sergianists often received longer sentences than their True Orthodox brothers whom they had betrayed. This only went to show how futile their Judas-like collaboration with the Antichrist, and betrayal of their brothers in Christ, had been. Even a recent biography of Sergei by a sergianist author accepts this fact: “If Metropolitan Sergei, in agreeing in his name to publish the Declaration of 1927 composed by the authorities, hoping to buy some relief for the Church and the clergy, then his hopes not only were not fulfilled, but the persecutions after 1927 became still fiercer, reaching truly hurricane-force in 1937-38.”[1]

     In the nineteen years before the Great Terror of 1937-38, Soviet power killed: 128 bishops; 26,777 clergy; 7,500 professors; about 9,000 doctors; 94,800 officers; 1,000,000 soldiers; 200,000 policemen; 45,000 teachers; 2,200,000 workers and peasants. Besides that, 16 million Orthodox Russians died from hunger and three million from forced labour in the camps.[2]As for the years of the Great Terror, according to Russian government figures, in 1937 alone 136,900 clergy were arrested, of whom 106,800 were killed (there were 180,000 clergy in Russia before the revolution). Again, between 1917 and 1980, 200,000 clergy were executed and 500,000 others were imprisoned or sent to the camps.[3]The numbers of functioning Orthodox churches declined from 54,692 in 1914 to 39,000 at the beginning of 1929 to 15, 835 on April 1, 1936.[4] By the beginning of the Second World War, there were none at all in Belorussia (Kolarz), “less than a dozen” in Ukraine (Bociurkiw), and a total of 150-200 in the whole of Russia.[5]

     This was, without a doubt, the greatest persecution of Christianity in history. But it did not wipe out the faith: the census of 1937 established that one-third of city-dwellers and two-thirds of country-dwellers still believed in God. Stalin’s plan that the Name of God should not be named in Russia by the year 1937 had failed…

     Nevertheless, the immediate outlook for believers was bleak indeed. Thus E.L. writes about Hieromartyr Bishop Damascene: “He warmed the hearts of many, but the masses remained… passive and inert, moving in any direction in accordance with an external push, and not their inner convictions… The long isolation of Bishop Damascene from Soviet life, his remoteness from the gradual process of sovietization led him to an unrealistic assessment of the real relations of forces in the reality that surrounded him. Although he remained unshaken himself, he did not see… the desolation of the human soul in the masses. This soul had been diverted onto another path – a slippery, opportunistic path which led people where the leaders of Soviet power – bold men who stopped at nothing in their attacks on all moral and material values – wanted them to go… Between the hierarchs and priests who had languished in the concentration camps and prisons, and the mass of the believers, however firmly they tried to stand in the faith, there grew an abyss of mutual incomprehension. The confessors strove to raise the believers onto a higher plane and bring their spiritual level closer to their own. The mass of believers, weighed down by the cares of life and family, blinded by propaganda, involuntarily went in the opposite direction, downwards. Visions of a future golden age of satiety, of complete liberty from all external and internal restrictions, of the submission of the forces of nature to man, deceitful perspectives in which fantasy passed for science… were used by the Bolsheviks to draw the overwhelming majority of the people into their nets. Only a few individuals were able to preserve a loftiness of spirit. This situation was exploited very well by Metropolitan Sergei…”[6]


     Sergei has had many apologists. Some have claimed that he “saved the Church” for the future. This claim cannot be justified. He saved only a false church that had been morally crushed. It was rather the Catacomb Church, which “in a sense saved the official Church from complete destruction because the Soviet authorities were afraid to force the entire Russian Church underground through ruthless suppression and so to lose control over it.”[7]

     As St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco wrote: “The Declaration of Metropolitan Sergei brought no benefit to the Church. The persecutions not only did not cease, but also sharply increased. To the number of other accusations brought by the Soviet regime against clergy and laymen, one more was added – non-recognition of the Declaration. At the same time, a wave of church closings rolled over all Russia… Concentration camps and places of forced labor held thousands of clergymen, a significant part of whom never saw freedom again, being executed there or dying from excessive labors and deprivations.”[8]

     Others have tried to justify Sergei by claiming that there are two paths to salvation, one through open confession or the descent into the catacombs, and the other through compromise. Sergei, according to this view, was no less a martyr than the Catacomb martyrs, only he suffered the martyrdom of losing his good name.[9] However, this view comes close to the “Rasputinite” heresy that there can be salvation through sin – in this case, lying, the sacrifice of the freedom and dignity of the Church, and the betrayal to torments and death of one’s fellow Christians! Thus Hieromartyr Sergius Mechev was betrayed by "Bishop" Manuel Lemeshevsky.[10] And more generally, Metropolitan Sergei's charge that all the catacomb bishops were "counter-revolutionaries" was sufficient to send them to their deaths.[11]

     This fact demonstrates that “sergianism” can best be defined as, quite simply, the sin of Judas…

     Meanwhile, deep in the underground, the Catacomb, True Orthodox Church delivered its verdict. In July, 1937, four bishops, two priests and six laymen met in Ust-Kut, Siberia, convened a council, and declared:

     “1. The Sacred Council forbids the faithful to receive communion from the clergy legalized by the anti-Christian State.

     “2. It has been revealed to the Sacred Council by the Spirit that the anathema-curse hurled by his Holiness Patriarch Tikhon is valid, and all priests and Church-servers who have dared to consider it as an ecclesiastical mistake or political tactic are placed under its power and bound by it. 

     “3. To all those who discredit and separate themselves from the Sacred Council of 1917-18 – Anathema!

     “4. All branches of the Church which are on the common trunk – the trunk is our pre-revolutionary Church – are living branches of the Church of Christ. We give our blessing to common prayer and the serving of the Divine Liturgy to all priests of these branches. The Sacred Council forbids all those who do not consider themselves to be branches, but independent from the tree of the Church, to serve the Divine Liturgy. The Sacred Council does not consider it necessary to have administrative unity of the branches of the Church, but unity of mind concerning the Church is binding on all.”[12]

     This completed the de-centralization of the Church, which Patriarch Tikhon had already begun through his famous ukaz no. 362 of 1920. It was elicited by the fact that the organization of the Church was now destroyed, and all its leaders dead or in prison or so deep underground that they could not rule the Church. This process was sealed in the autumn of 1937, when the patriarchal locum tenens Metropolitan Peter of Krutitsa, and his only possible successors, Metropolitans Cyril of Kazan and Joseph of Petrograd, were all shot. And so by the end of 1937, the Church’s descent into the catacombs, which had begun in the early 20s, was completed. From now on, with the external administrative machinery of the Church destroyed, it was up to each bishop – sometimes each believer – individually to preserve the fire of faith, being linked with his fellow Christians only through the inner, mystical bonds of the life in Christ. Thus was the premonition of Hieromartyr Bishop Damascene fulfilled: “Perhaps the time has come when the Lord does not wish that the Church should stand as an intermediary between Himself and the believers, but that everyone is called to stand directly before the Lord and himself answer for himself as it was with the forefathers!”[13]

     Even sergianist sources have spoken about the falsity of Sergei’s declaration, the true confession of those who opposed him, and the invalidity of the measures he took to punish them. Thus: “Amidst the opponents of Metropolitan Sergei were a multitude of remarkable martyrs and confessors, bishops, monks, priests… The ‘canonical’ bans of Metropolitan Sergei (Stragorodsky) and his Synod were taken seriously by no one, neither at that time [the 1930s] nor later by dint of the uncanonicity of the situation of Metropolitan Sergei himself…”[14]

     And again: “The particular tragedy of the Declaration of Metropolitan Sergei consists in its principled rejection of the podvig of martyrdom and confession, without which witnessing to the truth is inconceivable. In this way Metropolitan Sergei took as his foundation, not hope on the Providence of God, but a purely human approach to the resolution of church problems… The courage of the ‘catacombniks’ and their firmness of faith cannot be doubted, and it is our duty to preserve the memory of those whose names we shall probably learn only in eternity…”[15]

     Sergei forgot that it is God, not man, Who saves the Church. This mistake amounts to a loss of faith in the Providence and Omnipotence of God Himself. The faith that saves is the faith that “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19.26). It is the faith that cries: “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses, but we will call upon the name of the Lord our God” (Psalm 19.7). This was and is the faith of the Catacomb Church, which, being founded on “the Rock, which is Christ” (I Corinthians 10.7), has prevailed against the gates of hell. But Sergei’s “faith” was of a different, more “supple” kind, the kind of which the Prophet spoke: “Because you have said, ‘We have made a covenant with death, and with hell we have an agreement; when the overwhelming scourge passes through it will not come to us; for we have made lies our refuge, and in falsehood we have taken shelter’; therefore thus says the Lord God,… hail will sweep away the refuge of lies, and waters will overwhelm the shelter. Then your covenant with death will be annulled, and your agreement with hell will not stand; when the overwhelming scourge passes through you will be beaten down by it…” (Isaiah 28.15, 17-19)     

     A Catacomb Appeal of the period wrote: “May this article drop a word that will be as a burning spark in the heart of every person who has Divinity in himself and faith in our One Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ. Beloved brethren! Orthodox Christians, peace-makers! Do not forget your brothers who are suffering in cells and prisons for the word of God and for the faith, the righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ, for they are in terrible dark bonds which have been built as tombs for all innocent people. Thousands and thousands of peace-loving brothers are languishing, buried alive in these tombs, these cemeteries; their bodies are wasting away and their souls are in pain every day and every hour, nor is there one minute of consolation, they are doomed to death and a hopeless life. These are the little brothers of Christ, they bear that cross which the Lord bore. Jesus Christ received suffering and death and was buried in the tomb, sealed by a stone and guarded by a watch. The hour came when death could not hold in its bonds the body of Christ that had suffered, for an Angel of the Lord coming down from the heavens rolled away the stone from the tomb and the soldiers who had been on guard fled in great fear. The Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead. But the thunder will also strike these castles where the brothers languish for the word of God, and will smash the bolts where death threatens men..."[16]

July 23 / August 5, 2020.

The Mother of God “The Joy of All Who Sorrow”.

[1] Sergei Fomin, Strazh Doma Gospodnia (Guardian of the House of the Lord), Moscow, 2003, p. 262.

[2] Kharbinskoe Vremia, February, 1937, N 28, in Protopriest John Stukach, “Vyskomerie kak prepona k uiedineniu” (Haughtiness as an obstacle to union),

[3] A document of the Commission attached to the President of the Russian Federation on the Rehabilitation of the Victims of Political Repressions, January 5, 1996; Service Orthodoxe de Presse(Orthodox Press Service), N 204, January, 1996, p. 15. The rate of killing slowed down considerably in the following years. In 1939 900 clergy were killed, in 1940 – 1100, in 1941 – 1900, in 1943 – 500. In the period 1917 to 1940 205 Russian hierarchs “disappeared without trace”; 59 disappeared in 1937 alone. According to another source, from October, 1917 to June, 1941 inclusive, 134,000 clergy were killed, of whom the majority (80,000) were killed between 1928 and 1940 (Cyril Mikhailovich Alexandrov, in V. Lyulechnik, “Tserkov’ i KGB” (The Church and the KGB), in

[4] Nicholas Werth, “A State against its People”, in Stéphane Courtois, Nicolas Werth, Jean-Louis Panné, Andrzej Packowski, Karel Bartošek, Jean-Louis Margolin, The Black Book of Communism, London: Harvard University Press, 1999, pp. 172, 173.

[5] Nathanael Davis, A Long Walk to Church: A Contemporary History of Russian Orthodoxy, Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2003, p. 13.

[6] E.L., Episkopy-Ispovedniki (Bishop Confessors), San Francisco, 1971, pp. 65-66.

[7] W. Alexeyev, "The Russian Orthodox Church 1927-1945: Repression and Revival", Religion in Communist Lands, vol. 7, N 1, Spring, 1979, p. 30.

[8] St. John Maximovich, The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. A Short History, Jordanville, NY: Holy Trinity Monastery, 1997, pp. 28-29.

[9] E.S. Polishchuk, "Patriarkh Sergei i ego deklaratsia: kapitulatsia ili kompromiss?" (Patriarch Sergius and his Declaration: Capitulation or Compromise?), Vestnik Russkogo Khristianskogo Dvizhenia (Herald of the Russian Christian Movement), N 161, 1991-I, pp. 233-250.    

[10] Alla D. "Svidetel'stvo" (Witness), in Nadezhda (Hope), vol. 16, Basel-Moscow, 1993, 228-230. See also N.V. Urusova, Materinskij Plach Sviatoj Rusi(The Maternal Lament of Holy Russia), Moscow, 2006, pp. 285-287.

[11] I.M. Andreyev, Is the Grace of God Present in the Soviet Church?,Wildwood, Alberta: Monastery Press, 2000, p. 30.

[12] Schema-Monk Epiphanius (Chernov), personal communication; B. Zakharov, Russkaia Mysl’ (Russian Thought), September 7, 1949; "Vazhnoe postanovlenie katakombnoj tserkvi" (An Important Decree of the Catacomb Church), Pravoslavnaia Rus'(Orthodox Russia), N 18, 1949. According to one version, there is a fifth canon: “To all those who support the renovationist and sergianist heresy – Anathema”. See Bishop Ambrose (von Sievers), “Katakombnaia Tserkov’: Ust’-Kutskij Sobor 1937g.” (The Catacomb Church: the Ust-Kut Council of 1937), Russkoe Pravoslavie (Russian Orthodoxy), N 4 (8), 1997, pp. 20-24.

[13] E.L., op. cit., p. 92.

[14] M.E. Gubonin, Akty Sviatejshago Patriarkha Tikhona, Moscow, 1994, pp. 809, 810.

[15] M.V. Danilushkin, Istoria Russkoj Tserkvi ot Vosstanovlenia Patriarshestva do nashikh dnej (A History of the Russian Church from the Reestablishment of the Patriarchate to our Days), vol. I, St. Petersburg, 1997, pp. 297, 520.

[16] M.V. Shkvarovsky, Iosiflianstvo: techenie v Russkoj Pravoslavnoj Tserkvi (Josephitism: a tendency in the Russian Orthodox Church), St. Petersburg: Memorial, 1999, p. 236.

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