Written by Vladimir Moss


No sooner had the communist regimes of Russia and Eastern Europe fallen and been replaced by democratic governments in 1989-91, than the populations of these countries began to discuss the question of monarchism. This was a surprise for many. In 1992 a Harvard political scientist, Francis Fukyuma, declared “the end of history” and the final triumph of the democratic idea throughout the world – and lo and behold! monarchical feelings were on the increase in Russia, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Georgia. In fact, monarchism was quickly restored – albeit in a limited, constitutional form - in Romania, Bulgaria and Serbia, and at the time of writing (2009) there is strong expectation of its being restored in Georgia soon. To the horror of many westerners, history appears to be going backwards in Eastern Europe!

One explanation of this phenomenon consists in pointing out that democracy has not yet been perfected in the East, and that transitional periods are always difficult and tend to engender nostalgia for the past. Moreover, continues this argument, totalitarian-authoritarian patterns of thinking have not yet died out in the minds of post-communist society…

There is probably a grain of truth in these reflections – but not much more than a grain. The larger falsehood of it consists in the identification of communist-totalitarian modes of thought with monarchical-authoritarian ones, whereas in fact they are very different, especially when the monarchism in question is based on Orthodox Christianity. Moreover, this argument should lead us to infer that totalitarian-authoritarian patterns of thought will gradually die out as new generations grow up educated in democratic rather than totalitarian ways. And yet, if anything the opposite appears to be taking place: as the older generation dies out, monarchism (if not communism) appears to be becoming more, not less popular. Evidently a more profound analysis of the situation is required…

The Teaching of the Ancient Fathers

Now in the works of the Holy Fathers it is possible to find two, apparently contradictory approaches to the question of Church-State relations and the attitude of the Church to various forms of government. On the one hand, it is affirmed that all power is from God, that the Church can live and has lived in states of the most varied kinds, and that if an Orthodox Christian prefers one kind to another, this is a personal preference, and not a matter of the faith. On the other hand, it is affirmed that only monarchical power is from God, that the Church blessed only the monarchical order, and first of all the Orthodox autocracy, and that monarchism is an obligatory part of the truly Orthodox world-view.

In attempting to resolve this paradox, we may begin with the obvious but important point that the rule of God is that of a King. In holy baptism a Christian promises to worship Christ “as King and as God”. And Christ told His disciples: “All power has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28.18). Many of the Lord’s parables describe God as a king. Since, therefore, we are all subjects of the Heavenly King, to whom absolute obedience is required, the idea of submission to an earthly king should not be unnatural or repulsive to us – provided, of course, that submission to the earthly king that does not clash with submission to the Heavenly King. After all, did not the Lord Himself say that we should give to Caesar, a king, what is Caesar’s (Matthew 22.21)? And did not the Apostle Peter say: “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme, or to governors…” (I Peter 2.13-14)? And did not the Apostle Paul say: “Let every soul be subject to the higher authorities. For there is no power that is not of God: the powers that be are ordained by God… For he is the minister of God to thee for good” (Romans 13.1, 4)?

Although democracy was known to the ancient world from the example of the Classical Greeks, it was not common, and since the Nativity of Christ it had given way everywhere to monarchy. The Church saw this development as providential: "When Augustus reigned alone upon earth, the many kingdoms of men came to an end: and when Thou wast made man of the pure Virgin, the many gods of idolatry were destroyed. The cities of the world passed under one single rule; and the nations came to believe in one sovereign Godhead. The peoples were enrolled by the decree of Caesar; and we, the faithful, were enrolled in the Name of the Godhead, when Thou, our God, wast made man. Great is Thy mercy: glory to Thee.”[1]

When the holy Apostle wrote that “there is no power that is not of God”, and that the emperor was “the minister of God”, he wrote as the subject of a monarchical State to co-subjects of the same State, in which all authority from the emperor to the local governors and magistrates (besides the Roman senate) was established on the principle of one-man-rule. This principle became still more firmly established when the Roman empire became Christian.

The Holy Fathers and Church writers of this period unanimously supported the monarchical order, and condemned democracy for religious reasons. Thus Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea wrote: “The example of monarchical rule there is a source of strength to him. This is something granted to man alone of the creatures of the earth by the universal King. The basic principle of kingly authority is the establishment of a single source of authority to which everything is subject. Monarchy is superior to every other constitution and form of government. For polyarchy, where everyone competes on equal terms, is really anarchy and discord. This is why there is one God, not two or three or even more. Polytheism is strictly atheism. There is one King, and His Word and royal law are one.”[2]

The Holy Fathers agreed with Eusebius. Thus St. Gregory the Theologian wrote: “The three most ancient opinions about God are atheism (or anarchy), polytheism (or polyarchy), and monotheism (or monarchy). The children of Greece played with the first two; let us leave them to their games. For anarchy is disorder: and polyarchy implies factious division, and therefore anarchy and disorder. Both these lead in the same direction – to disorder; and disorder leads to disintegration; for disorder is the prelude to disintegration. What we honour is monarchy…”[3]

“What we honour is monarchy…” That certainly appears to imply that monarchism is part of the Orthodox world-view, even if it does not figure in any of the Creeds.

We find the same in the Fathers of the fifth century. Thus Archbishop Theophan of Poltava writes: “St. Isidore of Pelusium, after pointing out that the God-established order of the submission of some to other is found everywhere in the life of rational and irrational creatures, concludes from this: ‘Therefore we are right to say that the matter itself – I mean power, that is, authority and royal power – are established by God.”[4]

Again, in the eighth century St. Theodore the Studite wrote: "There is one Lord and Giver of the Law, as it is written: one authority and one Divine principle over all. This single principle is the source of all wisdom, goodness and good order; it extends over every creature that has received its beginning from the goodness of God…, it is given to one man only… to construct rules of life in accordance with the likeness of God. For the divine Moses in his description of the origin of the world that comes from the mouth of God, cites the word: 'Let us create man in accordance with Our image and likeness' (Genesis 1.26). Hence the establishment among men of every dominion and every authority, especially in the Churches of God: one patriarch in a patriarchate, one metropolitan in a metropolia, one bishop in a bishopric, one abbot in a monastery, and in secular life, if you want to listen, one king, one regimental commander, one captain on a ship. And if one will did not rule in all this, there would be no law and order in anything, and it would not be for the best, for a multiplicity of wills destroys everything."[5]

The Holy Fathers distinguished between real monarchy and tyranny. Thus St. Basil the Great wrote: “If the heart of the king is in the hands of God (Proverbs 21.1), then he is saved, not by force of arms, but by the guidance of God. But not every one is in the hands of God, but only he who is worthy of the name of king. Some have defined kingly power as lawful dominion or sovereignty over all, without being subject to sin.” A strict definition indeed! And again: “The difference between a tyrant and a King is that the tyrant strives in every way to carry out his own will. But the King does good to those whom he rules.”[6]

The Christian must submit to a king if his laws do not contradict the Law of God. But it is wrong to submit to a tyrant because his authority is not from God. As St. Isidore of Pelusium wrote: “If some evildoer unlawfully seizes power, we do not say that he is established by God [the definition of a true king], but we say that he is permitted, either in order to spit out all his craftiness, or in order to chasten those for whom cruelty is necessary, as the king of Babylon chastened the Jews."[7]

And there were tyrants whom the leaders of the Church refused to submit to. Thus the Persian King Sapor started to kill the clergy, confiscate church property and raze the churches to the ground. He told St. Simeon, Bishop of Seleucia and Ctesiphon, that if he worshipped the sun, he would receive every possible honour and gift. But if he refused, Christianity in Persia would be utterly destroyed. In reply, St. Simeon not only refused to worship the sun but also refused to recognise the king by bowing to him. This omission of his previous respect for the king’s authority was noticed and questioned by the King. St. Simeon replied: "Before I bowed down to you, giving you honour as a king, but now I come being brought to deny my God and Faith. It is not good for me to bow before an enemy of my God!" [8]

Another such tyrant was Julian the Apostate. The Holy Fathers not only did not obey him, but actively tried to have him removed. Thus St. Basil the Great prayed for the defeat of Julian in his wars against the Persians; and it was through his prayers that the apostate was in fact killed, as was revealed by God to the holy hermit Julian of Mesopotamia.[9] Again, St. Basil’s friend, St. Gregory the Theologian wrote: “I call to spiritual rejoicing all those who constantly remained in fasting, in mourning and prayer, and by day and by night besought deliverance from the sorrows that surrounded us and found a reliable healing from the evils in unshakeable hope… What hoards of weapons, what myriads of men could have produced what our prayers and the will of God produced?”[10] Gregory called Julian not only an “apostate”, but also “universal enemy” and “general murderer”, a traitor to Romanity as well as to Christianity[11], explicitly denying that his was a power from God and therefore requiring obedience: “What demon instilled this thought in you? If every authority were acknowledged as sacred by the very fact of its existence, Christ the Savior would not have called Herod ‘that fox’. The Church would not hitherto have denounced ungodly rulers who defended heresies and persecuted Orthodoxy. Of course, if one judges an authority on the basis of its outward power, and not on its inner, moral worthiness, one may easily bow down to the beast, i.e. the Antichrist, ‘whose coming will be with all power and lying wonders’ (II Thessalonians 2.9), to whom ‘power was given… over all kindred, and tongues, and nations. And all that dwelt upon the earth shall worship him, whose names were not written in the book of life of the Lamb’ (Revelation 13.7-8).”[12]

Another tyrant was the iconoclast Emperor Leo III, who was called “forerunner of the Antichrist” in the Byzantine service books, and was anathematised by the Church as “the tormentor and not Emperor Leo the Isaurian”.[13] In two hagiographical texts, Leo is even given the apocalyptic title of “beast”.[14] The next iconoclast emperor, Constantine Copronymus, was also anathematized; he was called “tyrant, and not Emperor”.[15] Even more emphatic was the anathematisation of Emperor Leo V the Armenian: “the evil first beast, the tormentor of the servants of Christ, and not Emperor Leo the Armenian”.[16]

While carefully distinguishing true kings from tyrants, the Holy Fathers always upheld the institution of monarchy as such, and never called for anything resembling democracy. Thus in an epistle addressed to both the Patriarch and the Emperors, the Seventh Ecumenical Council wrote: “God gave the greatest gift to men: the Priesthood and the Imperial power; the first preserves and watches over the heavenly, while the second rules earthly things by means of just laws”.[17] The epistle also produced a concise and inspired definition of the Church-State relationship: “The priest is the sanctification and strengthening of the Imperial power, while the Imperial power is the strength and firmness of the priesthood”.[18]

The first and last appearance of “democracy” (if not communism) in Orthodox history before the French revolution was probably the “zealot movement” in Thessalonica in the mid-fourteenth century, which did not last long. The ruling bishop of Thessalonica, St. Gregory Palamas, strictly condemned this movement, remaining loyal to the Byzantine Emperor: "God has counted the Emperors worthy to rule over His inheritance, over His earthly Church".[19] And so in the ancient Christian world there were kings and there were tyrants: but there were no democracies. The Church did not bless non-monarchical forms of power, nor revolutionaries…

The Church and Democracy

After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Byzantines fell under the yoke of the Turkish sultan. This yoke brought, of course, many woes to the Christian population. But by the Providence of God it also protected them from the Protestant and Democratic viruses that were raging in the West. If the Turkish sultan was sometimes called “the antichrist” or “the forerunner of the antichrist”, this was because of his antichristian faith, not because he was a king. Kingship still remained the normal mode of political power.

In Russia also nobody disputed that lawful power was monarchical power. Nor that there was a tyrannical power that was not from God. Thus St. Joseph of Volotsk wrote: “The holy Apostles say about kings and hierarchs who do not worry or care for those placed in their charge: an impious king who does not care for those placed in his charge is not a king, but a tormentor; and an evil bishop who does not care for his flock is not a pastor, but a wolf.”[20] As for the power of “the multi-mutinous mob”, in the words of Tsar Ivan the Terrible, this was not recognized to be a true authority. Thus when the English executed King Charles I and declared their State to be a republic, Muscovite Russia in horror cut off all mercantile contacts with them.

In the epoch of the French revolution Orthodox theologians continued to defend the principle of one-man-rule. For example, towards the end of the 18th century Patriarch Gregory V of Constantinople, the future hieromartyr, even defended the far-from-ideal power of the Turkish sultan against revolutionary ideas from the West in his Paternal Exhortation. And Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow developed a whole “political theology” defending Orthodox autocratic power: "God has placed a king on earth in the image of His Heavenly single rule an autocratic king in the image of His almighty power, an autocratic king, and a hereditary king in the image of His Kingdom that does not pass away."[21]

But non-Orthodox kings were recognized only to a lesser degree, and only if they did not fight against the Orthodox kings. Thus during the Crimean War between Turkey and Russia Hieroschemamonk Hilarion the Georgian, who was struggling on Mount Athos, condemned the commemoration of the Turkish sultan at the liturgy, saying that only the Orthodox Christian Emperor is “in the image of Christ the Anointed One, in nature like Him and worthy to called Tsar and Anointed of God, because he has in himself the Anointing Father, the Anointed Son and the Holy Spirit by Whom he is anointed. The other kings of the peoples make themselves out to be something with a lofty name, but God is not benevolent towards and them and does not rest in them. They reign only in part, according to the condescension of God. Therefore he who does not love his God-appointed tsar is not worthy to be called a Christian.[22]

Historically speaking, democracy appeared everywhere as a result of anti-monarchist and anti-hierarchical movements. As such its root was evil, just as its fruits in the socialist and communist revolutions were evil. But in the 20th century its essence was masked by the fact that the western democracies opposed the communist tyrannies and gave a refuge from the red dragon to millions of Orthodox Christians. However, it should be observed that the western democracies became real defenders against communist tyranny only after these tyrannies had become well established, and only when they began to pose a direct threat to themselves. This inner sympathy between democracy and communism was especially manifest in the tendency to ignore the atrocities of Lenin and Stalin in the western press, and the alliance between the western democracies and Stalin in the Second World War – an alliance that Roosevelt, if not Churchill, considered natural. It was considered natural because of the real inner spiritual kinship between democracy and communism, both being offshoots of the Enlightenment programme of the 18th century.

Moreover, in time even the obvious differences between the two systems have tended to disappear. Thus on the one hand the maintenance of strict communism is a psychological and economic impossibility: “war communism” is inevitably followed by longer and longer periods of semi-capitalist, semi-liberal “thaws”. On the other hand, democratic governments, unchecked by the Church or religious systems of morality, tend to impose their own secular morality with ever-increasing zeal. Hence the paradox that as the democratic system gives its citizens more and more secular “rights” and freedoms, the state apparatus required to enforce these rights becomes more and more oppressive – and more contemptuous of the rights of believers. Thus, as George Orwell noted at the end of Animal Farm, as democracy develops it tends inexorably towards the condition of its spiritual sister, communism – a phenomenon that is at the root of the widespread disillusionment with democratic governments, if not with the democratic system itself, in the contemporary West.

The democratic ideology is incompatible with the Christian Faith because ultimate sovereignty is ascribed, not to God, but to the people. Therefore the final judge of what is true or right belongs to the people – and if the people changes its mind, as it so often does, the convictions and standards of the State must change with it. So even if a democracy declares itself to be Christian in the beginning, there is absolutely no guarantee that it will remain Christian.

Of course, no political system can ensure permanent stability – the human race is fallen and mutable by nature. Nevertheless, logic suggests and history demonstrates that monarchies have been much more stable than democracies in their adherence to Christian faith and morality. The history of democracy since the French revolution shows an ever-accelerating decline in faith and morality, and an ever-expanding undermining of the natural hierarchical relations that God has placed in human society, whether these be between parents and children, husbands and wives, teachers and pupils, or political rulers and their subjects. And by undermining these natural hierarchical relations, it implicitly undermines the most important hierarchical relation of all, that between God and man. The Orthodox monarchy, on the other hand, strengthens all these relationships, and orients society as a whole to spiritual goals rather than the exclusively secular and material goals of contemporary democracy.

We need look no further for confirmation of this thesis than the present global financial crisis. Fareed Zakaria writes: “What we are experiencing now is not a crisis of capitalism. It is a crisis of finance, of democracy, of globalization and ultimately of ethics…

“Most of what happened over the past decade across the world was legal. Bankers did what they were allowed to do under the law. Politicians did what they thought the system asked of them. Bureaucrats were not exchanging cash for favors. But very few people acted responsibly, honourably or nobly (the very word sounds odd today). This might sound like a small point, but it is not. No system – capitalism, socialism, whatever – can work without a sense of ethics and values at its core. No matter what reforms we put in place, without common sense, judgement and an ethical standard, they will prove inadequate.”[23] 

A crisis of democracy, and a crisis of ethics: the two are closely linked. Democracy contains within itself the seeds of its own destruction – the warring wills of millions of people who can agree on no supreme authority, no objective criterion of truth and morality outside the will of the majority as expressed in the ballot box. As often as not it cannot even claim to represent the majority, but only the temporary and technical triumph of one faction...

From the Christian point of view, the most important thing is the attitude of the government to God, the Faith and the Church. Insofar as democracy declares that its power is not from God, but from the people, and therefore does not need the blessing of the Church, this attitude is bound to be more or less negative. We see this in, for example, the European Union, whose constitution does not contain the word “God” (in spite of the persistent requests of the Pope), and which has passed a whole series of antichristian laws, notably in respect of homosexuality and the obligation to “respect” other religions. In the early centuries of western democracy and until approximately the Second World War, this essential contradiction between democracy and Christianity was masked by the continuing power of Christian modes of thought and behaviour, even among the politicians. However, as Christian faith has declined, the essentially atheist and anti-theist essence of democracy has become more evident.

It follows that the attitude of Orthodox Christians towards democracy must be negative – not in the sense that democratic governments should be disobeyed (although in particular instances this may well be necessary), but in the sense that the anti-monarchical revolutions that brought democracy into power in England, France and Russia were evil, and that there is no moral value attached to democracy as such. Democracy may be valued as the lesser of two evils – less evil, for example, than communism or fascism. But it is in itself an evil insofar as it is based on a false, even blasphemous theory of the origin of legitimate political power, and insofar it tends in practice, as Alexei Khomyakov pointed out with regard to Athenian democracy, towards the secularization of society, the relativization of morality and the confinement of religion and faith to an ever-decreasing private sphere having no influence on public education or political life.

The Teaching of the Holy New Martyrs of Russia

After the democratic revolution of February, 1917 the traditional Orthodox teaching on authority collapsed in Russia. As is now well-known from the research of M. Babkin, even the Holy Synod did not support the monarchical principle, nor did it call on the people, as in 1612, to rise up against the rebels against the monarchy, but called the Masonic democratic government lawful and even “right-believing” – which it certainly was not. Church liberals even wanted the removal, not only of the Tsar, but also of the very idea of the sacred monarchy.

Thus at its sessions of March 11 and 12, the Council of the Petrograd religio-philosophical society decreed: "The acceptance by the Synod of the Tsar’s act of abdication from the throne… in no way corresponds to the act’s huge religious importance, whereby the Church recognized the Tsar as the anointed of God in the rite of coronation.

“It is necessary, in order to emancipate the people’s conscience and avert the possibility of a restoration, to issue a corresponding act in the name of the Church hierarchy abolishing the power of the Church Sacrament of Anointing, by analogy with the church acts abolishing the power of the Sacraments of Marriage and the Priesthood."[24]

The comparison of the Sacrament of Royal Anointing with the Sacraments of Marriage and the Priesthood is illuminating. Every Orthodox Christian understands that to abolish the Sacraments of Marriage and the Priesthood, and introduce civil marriage or Protestant-style ministers instead, is blasphemy and a serious sin against the Faith. But if that is so, why should not the de facto abolition of the Sacrament of Royal Anointing through democratic revolution not be considered a similar blasphemy and sin against the Faith?

Although the February revolution was undoubtedly a very serious sin against the Faith, and although the Church hierarchy participated in that sin to some degree, it is an exaggeration to assert, as does the former MP Bishop Diomedes of Anadyr and Chukotka, that the whole Russian Church fell into apostasy at that time through confession of the heresy of “fighting against the tsar” (tsareborchestvo). According to Bishop Diomedes, the whole of Russian society, beginning with the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, betrayed the Tsar in February, 1917. Strictly speaking, therefore, even Patriarch Tikhon was not a true patriarch, and even the martyrs and confessors of the Catacomb Church were tarred with the same brush of apostasy.

Now although Bishop Diomedes makes some valid points, his thesis as a whole is a gross distortion of the truth which, whether he means to do this or not, it provides sergianism with a subtle justification. There were still many monarchists in the Russian Church after 1917, and the schism between the Moscow Patriarchate, on the one hand, and the Russian Catacomb Church and the Russian Church Abroad, on the other in 1927 was largely based on whether the revolutions of 1917 could be accepted as legitimate or not. The MP in essence endorsed the revolution – both the democratic one of February, and the Bolshevik one of October – whereas the confessors of the Catacomb Church and the Church Abroad rejected both the one and the other.

In fact, the infatuation of (some, not all of) the Russian Church leadership with the “freedom” offered by the revolution lasted only for a very short time – as long as it took for democracy to surrender to Bolshevism. Thus as early as November 11, 1917 the Local Council of the Russian Orthodox Church declared: “No earthly kingdom can be based on atheism: it will perish from inner strife and party squabbles. Therefore the Russian State also will perish from this demonic atheism… For those who see the only foundation of their power in the violence of one estate over the whole people, the homeland and its sacred things does not exist. They have become traitors of the Homeland; they are carrying out an unheard of betrayal of Russia and our faithful allies. But, to our misfortune, there has not yet arisen a truly popular authority that would be worthy to receive the blessing of the Orthodox Church…”

There followed the anathematization of Soviet power in January, 1918, and the touching sermon of Patriarch Tikhon on the occasion of the murder of Tsar Nicholas in July. True, as Bishop Diomedes points out, there had been no call for the support of the Tsar when he was in prison, nor did any leading figure speak out in defence of the monarchy as such. But this was a sickness or sleep of the Russian Church – and a sickness that was not unto death. The millions of martyrs who defied Soviet power are the proof of that.

Nevertheless, the sickness persisted for some years yet. Thus in one of its last decrees, dated August 2/15, 1918, the Local Council emphasized the refusal of the Church to interfere in politics: every member of the Church was free to take part in political activity in accordance with the promptings of his Christian conscience, but nobody had the right to force another member of the Church by ecclesiastical means, whether direct or indirect, to join any particularly political tendency. As Nicholas Zernov put it, “the patriarch, bishops and laymen could have their own political opinions and sympathies, but none of them had the right to bind the Church as an organization to any political party or system."[25]

It is understandable that the Church at that time did not want to arouse the wrath of the Bolsheviks by openly monarchist appeals or slogans. But this decree could give the impression that the Church did not care what political tendency came to power, that it was making a sign of equality between monarchism and communism. And even that a Christian was free to become a communist if he wanted… Of course, the Council did not have this in mind. But reasons for such misunderstandings were there…

Clarity in this question was introduced, not by new explanatory speeches of Church leaders, but by events: the persecution against the Church, the murders of hundreds of thousands of Orthodox Christians, and especially – the renovationist movement, which welcomed communism in the name of the Church and accused the Orthodox of the “sin” of “counter-revolution”. It became clear to all the True Orthodox Christians it was simply impossible to be simultaneously a Christian and a supporter of the communist order, and that those who tried to do this were traitors and Judases. It was not that the hierarchs did not try to establish some kind of modus vivendi with the Bolsheviks, and show themselves to be loyal citizens of the Soviet Union in a certain limited and relative sense. But the logic of events, and the logic of the communist ideology, which was openly and inexorably atheist and anti-theist, gradually forced the leaders of the Church to recognize the bitter truth: that they could not serve two masters, and that there can be no concord between Christ and Beliar, the believer and the infidel (II Corinthians 6.15).

A step forward in the understanding of this question was provided by the epistle of a group of bishops imprisoned on Solovki in 1926: “The signatories of the present declaration are fully aware of how difficult the establishment of mutually reliable relations between the Church and the State in the conditions of present-day actuality are, and they do not consider it possible to be silent about it. It would not be right, it would not correspond to the dignity of the Church, and would therefore be pointless and unpersuasive, if they began to assert that between the Orthodox Church and the State power of the Soviet republics there were no discrepancies of any kind. But this discrepancy does not consist in what political suspicion wishes to see or the slander of the enemies of the Church points to. The Church is not concerned with the redistribution of wealth or in its collectivization, since She has always recognized that to be the right of the State, for whose actions She is not responsible. The Church is not concerned, either, with the political organization of power, for She is loyal with regard to the government of all the countries within whose frontiers She has members. She gets on with all forms of State structure from the eastern despotism of old Turkey to the republics of the North-American States. This discrepancy lies in the irreconcilability of the religious teaching of the Church with materialism, the official philosophy of the Communist Party and of the government of the Soviet republics which is led by it.

So there was a “discrepancy” between the world-views of the Church and Soviet power that made their cooperation problematic. But how problematic? Further clarification on this was provided in the wake of the notorious declaration of Metropolitan Sergius in 1927, which openly placed the Church he represented on the side of the revolution and forced the descent of the True Church, which rejected his declaration, into the catacombs.

Although many Catacomb hierarchs and clerics under interrogation expressed themselves with great caution (and no wonder!), there were those who did not hide their convictions. Among them was the chief organizer of the “Josephite” branch of the Catacomb Church, Archbishop Demetrius of Gdov. He “not only did not speak about loyalty, but at one interrogation said openly: ‘We believe that the Church cannot be loyal to a power that persecutes it, and Soviet power, in our judgement, does persecute the Church.’ And at his interrogation on March 3, 1931 he declared: ‘We believe on religious grounds that Soviet power is not a State authority for us, it not the kind of authority that we can submit to. Acceptable for us is such an authority as is spoken about in one of our documents, that is, in the recorded conversation with Metropolitan Sergius: “Hierarchy is called authority when not only someone is subject to me, but I myself am subject to someone higher, that is, everything ascends to God as the source of all authority.” In other words, such an authority is the Anointed of God, the monarch.

“’I accept that our recognition of Soviet power as an antichristian power must entail for the believers who orient themselves on us the impossibility of taking part in any of its enterprises, whatever they may be.’”[26]

Let us also take note of the testimony given on this matter by another organizer of the Catacomb Church, Hieromartyr Bishop Mark (Novoselov): “I am an enemy of Soviet power - and what is more, by dint of my religious convictions, insofar as Soviet power is an atheist power and even anti-theist. I believe that as a true Christian I cannot strengthen this power by any means... [There is] a petition which the Church has commanded to be used everyday in certain well-known conditions... The purpose of this formula is to request the overthrow of the infidel power by God... But this formula does not amount to a summons to believers to take active measures, but only calls them to pray for the overthrow of the power that has fallen away from God.”

So the True Orthodox Christian must pray for the overthrow of Soviet power. But this does not amount to a summons to physical war. For, as another Catacomb hierarch, Hieromartyr Archbishop Barlaam of Perm wrote: “The Church may not carry on external struggle, but the Church should devote herself to spiritual struggle with such a government.”


We come to the conclusion that to the question: “Must an Orthodox Christian be a Monarchist?”, the answer of the great majority both of the ancient Fathers of the Church and of the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia was: “Yes”. Monarchy is the natural, God-established mode of political government, the one most conducive to the practice of the Christian life, and the only one blessed by the Church in a sacramental rite – the rite of the anointing to the kingdom. It is a grave sin – and one subject to the Church’s anathema (see the eleventh anathema of the Order of the Sunday of Orthodoxy) – to rise up in rebellion against the Lord’s Anointed. Revolution against a monarch can be justified only in the case that the monarch has apostasized from Orthodoxy and persecutes the Orthodox Church - in which case he is no longer an “authority” in the Church’s language, but a “tyrant” or “anti-authority”. Julian the Apostate and Soviet power are two examples of “monarchical” powers which the Church refused to submit to; for, as the Kherson protopriest, Hieromartyr John Skadovsky said in his interrogation on November 28, 1934, a true supporter of the truly Orthodox Church must be a supporter of the Russian monarchy and cannot be loyal to Soviet power or enter into any kind of compromise with it…[27]

However, it may be objected to this conclusion that it is applicable only to the inhabitants of Russia or other Orthodox countries with monarchist traditions. What about those who have been brought up in non-Orthodox countries under non-monarchist regimes all their lives? In what way can they be monarchists?

In answer to this objection, we may reply that between the extremes of an Orthodox monarchy such as Byzantium or Russia, on the one hand, and an antichristian power such as Julian the Apostate or Soviet power, on the other, there are many gradations of more or less legitimate political power, which have elicited correspondingly varied degrees of support or criticism from the Church. As the epistle of the imprisoned Solovki bishops says, the Orthodox Church has got on “with all forms of State structure from the eastern despotism of old Turkey to the republics of the North-American States”. Sometimes it has actively prayed for a non-Orthodox government when it has been pursuing policies approved by the Church, as when the Synod of the Russian Church Abroad blessed the war of the Unites States against communist North Vietnam. In all these intermediate cases a pragmatic approach is required based on the principle: the Christian can support that which is good and cannot support that which is evil. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that even in Orthodox monarchies the Church and individual Christians have at times had to oppose – sometimes even at the cost of their lives – mistaken measures that have given to Caesar what is God’s…

However, even Christians living in non-Orthodox or democratic States can and should be monarchists in this sense, that, even while obeying the laws of their non-Orthodox State to the extent that their conscience allows, they must believe with their hearts and confess with their lips that the political structure that God has blessed for His people is the Orthodox monarchy, and that where this monarchy has been overthrown it is the duty of Orthodox Christians to pray for its restoration. In this sense, therefore, the Orthodox Christian, regardless of where or when he lives or to what kind of Caesar he pays his taxes, must be a monarchist. Thus even non-Russians living under completely different political and social conditions can and should join themselves to the following words of Metropolitan Macarius (Nevsky) of Moscow, the only hierarch who refused to recognize the new democratic government of Russia in February, 1917: “He who does not pray for the Russian Orthodox Tsar is not Russian, nor Orthodox, nor a faithful subject, nor a son of the Fatherland. He is like a stranger who merely lives on the Russian land, but in fact has no moral right to be called Russian.”[28]

July 4/17, 2009.

Tsar-Martyr Nicholas and his Family.

[1] Festal Menaion, Great Vespers, the Nativity of Christ, "Lord, I have cried", Glory… Both now...

[2] Eusebius, Oration in Honour of Constantine.

[3] St. Gregory the Theologian, Sermon 29, 2. We find the same teaching in St. Ephraim the Syrian, who, as К.V. Glazkov writes, “noted that God’s unity of rule in the Heavenly Kingdom and Caesar’s unity of rule in the earthly kingdom destroy polytheism and polyarchy...” (“A Defence from Liberalism”, Pravoslavnaya Rus’, № 15 (1636), 1/14 August, 1999, p. 10)

[4] Quoted in Richard Betts and Vyacheslav Marchenko, Dukhovnik Tsa’rskoj Sem’i (Spiritual Father of the Royal Family), Моscow, 1994, p. 213.

[5] St. Theodore, The Philokalia, volume IV, p. 93.

[6] Quoted in Sergius Fomin & Tamara Fomina, Rossia pered Vtorym Prishestviem (Russia before the Second Coming), Moscow, 1994, pp. 66, 102. The difference between king and tyrant is also implicit in the Church services. Thus: “Caught and held fast by love for the King of all, the Children despised the impious threats of the tyrant in his boundless fury” (Festal Menaion, The Nativity of Christ, Mattins, Canon, Canticle Seven, second irmos). Again the implication was that the pious worshippers of the true King will reject the threats of tyrants.

St. Ephraim, in the first of his Hymns against Julian, makes a similar distinction: “The royal sceptre governed men and cared for cities and chased away wild animals; the opposite was the sceptre of the King who turned to paganism. The wild animals saw it and were glad…” (Hymns against Julian, I, 1. Translated in Samuel N.C. Lieu, The Emperor Julian: Panegyric and Polemic, Liverpool University Press, 1986, p. 105)

[7] St. Isidore, Letter 6 to Dionysius.

[8] St. Demetrius of Rostov, Lives of the Saints, April 17.

[9] Theodoret, Ecclesiastical History, III, 19.

[10] St. Gregory, First and Second Words against Julian.

[11] St. Gregory, First Word against Julian, 35; Second Word against Julian, 26.

[12] St. Gregory, quoted in the Encyclical Letter of the Council of Russian Bishops Abroad to the Russian Orthodox Flock, 23 March, 1933; translated in Living Orthodoxy, #131, vol. XXII, № 5, September-October, 2001, p. 13. V.A. Konovalov writes: “The Christians could not help Julian the Apostate by their prayers, since his return in good health would bring about the death of Christians. And the Christians, headed by such lights of the Church as Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian, prayed to God for the defeat of Julian. God heard their prayer, and Julian was killed.” (Otnoshenie Khristianina k sovietskoj vlasti (The Relationship of Christianity to Soviet Power), Montreal, 1936, p. 35)

[13] Menaion, May 12, Service to St. Germanus of Constantinople, Vespers, “Lord, I have cried”; Fomin and Fomina, op. cit., vol. I, p. 88.

[14] D.E. Afinogenov, “Povest’ o proschenii imperatora Feofila” i Torzhestvo Pravoslavia (The “Tale” of the Forgiveness of the Emperor Theophilus and the Triumph of Orthodoxy), Moscow: Ilarik, 2004, pp. 26, 28 (in Russian).

[15] Fomin and Fomina, op. cit., p. 89.

[16] Fomin and Fomina, op. cit., p. 94.

[17] Fomin and Fomina, op. cit., p. 91.

[18] Fomin and Fomina, op. cit., p. 91.

[19] St. Gregory, quoted in Fomin and Fomina, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 122.

[20] St. Joseph, The Enlightener, Word 16.

[21] Мetropolitan Philaret, “Sermon on the Birthday of Emperor Nicholas Pavlovich”, Works, 1994, p. 274.

[22] Hieromonk Anthony of the Holy Mountain, Sketches of the Life and Exploits of Elder Hilarion the Georgian, Jordanville, 1985, p. 95.

[23] Zakaria, “The Capitalist Manifesto”, Newsweek, June 22, 2009, p. 40.

[24] Quoted in T. Groyan, Tsariu Nebesnomu i zemnomu vernij (Faithful to the Heavenly and Earthly King), Moscow: Palomnik, 1996, p. CXLII (in Russian).

[25] N. Zernov, “The 1917 Council of the Russian Orthodox Church”, Religion in Communist Lands, vol. 6, no. 1 (1978), p. 19.

[26] L.E. Sikorskaia (compiler), Sviaschennomuchenik Dmitrij Arkhiepiskop Gdovskij (Hieromartyr Demetrius, Archbishop of Gdov), Moscow, 2008, pp. 187-188 (in Russian).

[27] “Novosvyaschennomuchenik Tserkvi Katakombnoj Arkhiepiskop Prokopy (Titov) Odessky i Khersonsky”, (in Russian).

[28] Groyan, op. cit., p. LV.

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