Written by Vladimir Moss


In 1914 the Orthodox commonwealth of nations had reached its zenith from an external, political and economic point of view. The great Russian empire, in which the majority of Orthodox Christians lived, stretched from the Baltic to the Pacific, and its influence spread more widely still, from the protectorate it exercised de facto over the Orthodox Christians of the Balkans and the Middle East, to its important missions in Persia, China, Japan, Alaska and the United State. It was making mighty strides economically, and was modernizing its military capacity - the modernization programme was planned to be completed in 1917. Meanwhile, the Orthodox Balkan states had just driven the Turks out of Europe (almost), and Serbia, Romania and Greece had reached their greatest territorial extent since their foundation as states in the previous century. Serbia’s population growth, in particular, was remarkable: from 2.9 million subjects before the Balkan Wars to 4.4 million after them.

However, looking more deeply (and with the benefit of hindsight), we can see that this was a bubble that was about to burst. All the Orthodox states had very serious internal problems. Liberal constitutionalism and anti-monarchism had taken over the minds and hearts of the wealthier classes in Russia, and western heresies, spiritualism and even atheism were making deep inroads into the Church. In the Balkans, the recent victories over the Turks caused over-confidence and an increase in militarism and nationalism, with the military establishments ascendant over the civil administrations. In Serbia, in particular, the military contested control with the government over the newly-acquired territories in Macedonia.

“In the period 1911-14,” writes Dominic Lieven, “the Ottoman empire appeared to be on the verge of disintegration. Defeat by the Italians in 1911-12 and then by the Balkan League in 1912-13 was accompanied by political turmoil in Constantinople. The fate of the Ottoman lands and of the Balkans affected the interests of all the major European powers and had major implications for the European balance of power. As regards the Balkans, the powers most involved were Austria and Russia. Both general staffs attached great importance to the support of the Balkan states’ armies in the event of a European war. The likelier the latter became, the more this priority obsessed Petersburg and Vienna. For the Russians, Constantinople and the Straits possessed huge strategic and economic importance. In the event of a great power rival controlling the Straits, Russia’s Black Sea trade and ports would be at the latter’s mercy, as would the grain exports on which the empire’s commerce and finances rested. Constantinople was also important to Austria, but still more so was the threat of Balkan nationalism to domestic stability within the multi-ethnic Habsburg Empire. The Balkan wars of 1912-13 had greatly enlarged Serbian and Rumanian territory, together with the ambitions and self-confidence of Serbian and Rumanian nationalists. The Habsburg Monarchy contained large and discontented Serbian and Rumanian minorities. In 1914 Vienna feared that it would soon lose all its influence over the independent Balkan states, which in turn would contribute to its inability to control the Slav and Rumanian populations of the Monarchy. In more general terms, the rulers of the Habsburg state believed that a reassertion of the empire’s power and vitality was essential in order to overawe its potential foreign and domestic enemies, and to contradict the widely prevalent assumption that the Monarchy was moribund and doomed to disappear in the era of nationalism and democracy.”[1]

David Stevenson writes: “On 28 June 1914 in Sarajevo, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian province of Bosnia, a nineteen-year-old Bosnian Serb, Gavrilo Princip, shot and killed the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austrian throne, and the Archduke’s wife, the Duchess of Hohenberg. Franz Ferdinand was an unattractive man, authoritarian, choleric, and xenophobic, but he was devoted to the Duchess, whom he had married against the wishes of the Emperor Franz Joseph, her aristocratic pedigree falling short of Habsburg requirements. Visiting Sarajevo, and the army’s annual manoeuvres, would be a rare occasion when she could ride in public with him. Yet this act of kindness courted disaster. A date heavy with symbolism, 28 June was the anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo in 1389, a catastrophe for the medieval kingdom of Serbia in whose aftermath a Serb had assassinated the Turkish sultan. Despite the emergence of a terrorist movement that targeted Habsburg officials, security arrangements for the state visit were extraordinarily lax. On the fateful day, despite a bomb attempt against the motor-car procession by another member of Princip’s group, the Archduke continued his tour, making an unscheduled change of itinerary to console an injured victim. It brought his vehicle right by Princip, who did not miss his chance.

“These details matter because although in summer 1914 international tension was acute, a general war was not inevitable and if one had not broken out then it might not have done so at all. It was the Habsburg monarchy’s response to Sarajevo that caused a crisis. Initially all it seemed to do was order an investigation. But secretly the Austrians obtained a German promise of support for drastic retaliation. On 23 July they presented an ultimatum to their neighbour, Serbia. Princip and his companions were Bosnians (and therefore Habsburg subjects), but the ultimatum alleged they had conceived their plot in Belgrade, that Serbian officers and officials had supplied them with their weapons, and that Serbian frontier authorities had helped them across the border. It called on Serbia to denounce all separatist activities, ban publications and organizations hostile to Austria-Hungary, and co-operate with Habsburg officials in suppressing subversion and conducting a judicial inquiry. The Belgrade government’s reply, delivered just within the forty-eight hours deadline, accepted nearly every demand but consented to Austrian involvement in a judicial inquiry only if that inquiry was subject to Serbia’s constitution and to international law. The Austrian leaders in Vienna seized on this pretext to break off relations immediately, and on 28 July declared war. The ultimatum impressed most European governments by its draconian demands…”[2]

The Austrian document was indeed draconian, demanding an interference in the affairs of a sovereign state that was unjustified even if the Austrian charge had been true. But it was not. As Rebecca West writes: “It is clear, and nothing could be clearer, that certain Serbian individuals supplied the conspirators with encouragement and arms. But this does not mean that the Serbian Government was responsible…

“There were overwhelming reasons why the Serbian Government should not have supported this or any other conspiracy. It cannot have wanted war at that particular moment. The Karageorges must have been especially anxious to avoid it. King Peter had just been obliged by chronic ill-health to appoint his son Alexander as regent and it had not escaped the attention of the Republican Party that the King had had to pass over his eldest son, George, because he was hopelessly insane. Mr. Pashitch and his Government can hardly have been more anxious for a war, as their machine was temporarily disorganized by preparations for a general election. Both alike, the royal family and the Ministers, held disquieting knowledge about the Serbian military situation. Their country had emerged from the two Balkan wars victorious but exhausted, without money, transport, or munitions, and with a peasant army that was thoroughly sick of fighting. They can have known no facts to offset these, for none existed. Theoretically, they could only rely on the support of France and Russia, and possibly Great Britain, but obviously geography would forbid any of these powers giving her practical aid in the case of an Austrian invasion.

“In fact, the Karageorges and the Government knew perfectly well that, if there should be war, they must look forward to an immediate defeat of the most painful sort, for which they could receive compensation only should their allies, whoever they might be, at some uncertain time win a definite victory. But if there should be peace, then the Karageorges and the Government could consolidate the victories they had won in the Balkan wars,… develop their conquered territory, and organize their neglected resources. Admittedly Serbia aimed at the ultimate absorption of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and the South Slav provinces of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. But this was not the suitable moment. If she attained her aims by this method she would have to pay too heavy a price, as, in fact, she did. No country would choose to realize any ideal at the cost of the destruction of one-third of her population. That she did not so choose is shown by much negative evidence. At the time the murder was committed she had just let her reservists return home after their annual training, her Commander-in-chief was taking a cure at an Austrian spa, and none of the Austrian Slavs who had fought in the Balkan War and returned home were warned to come across the frontier. But the positive evidence is even stronger. When Austria sent her ultimatum to Serbia, which curtly demanded not only the punishment of the Serbians who were connected with the Sarajevo attentat, but the installation of Austrian and Hungarian officers in Serbia for the purpose of suppressing Pan-Slavism, Mr. Pashitch bowed to all the demands save for a few gross details, and begged that the exceptions he had made should not be treated as refusals but should be referred for arbitration to The Hague Tribunal. There was not one trace of bellicosity in the attitude of Serbia at this point. If she had promoted the Sarajevo attentat in order to make war possible, she was very near to throwing her advantage away.”[3]

Moreover, the Serbs had warned the Austrian minister in charge of the Sarajevo visit that a plot was afoot. And, as Stevenson admits, “the summary time limit gave the game away, as did the peremptory rejection of Belgrade’s answer. The ultimatum had been intended to start a showdown…”[4] In any case, justice required that the trial of the assassins should take place before it could be concluded that the Serbian Government was guilty. But in fact the trial began a full ten weeks after Austria declared war on Serbia… And then nothing implicating the Serbian government was discovered. As Princip said: “Anyone who says that the inspiration for this attentat came from outside our group is playing with the truth. We originated the idea, and we carried it out.”[5]

In a deeper sense, however, the Serbian nation was guilty of having encouraged, over a period of generations, that nationalist-revolutionary mentality which, among other factors, brought down the civilized world. Thus it is fact denied by nobody that Princip and his fellow conspirators were helped by the secret nationalist society known as the “Black Hand”. “This society,” writes West, “had already played a sinister part in the history of Serbia. It was the lineal descendant of the group of officers who had killed King Alexander and Queen Draga and thus exchanged the Obernovitch dynasty for the Karageorgevitsh. The Karageorges, who had played no part in this conspiracy, and had had to accept its results passively, have never resigned themselves the existence of the group, and were continually at odds with them. The ‘Black Hand’ was therefore definitely anti-Karageorgevitch and aimed at war with Austria and the establishment of a federated republic of Balkan Slavs. Their leader was a man of undoubted talent but far too picturesque character called Dragutin Dmitriyevitch, known as ‘Apis’, who had been for some time the head of the Intelligence Bureau of the Serbian General Staff.”[6]

‘Apis’, besides taking part in the regicide of 1903, confessed to participation in plots to murder King Nicholas of Montenegro, King Constantine of Greece, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany and King Ferdinand of Bulgaria![7] That such a murderous fanatic should be in charge of Serbia’s military intelligence tells us much about the influence within Serbia of the nationalist-revolutionary madness. “In fact,” as Stevenson writes, “Serbia’s army and intelligence service were out of control.”[8]

They were brought back under control only three years later, in 1917, when “Apis” was tried and executed…

“The Serbian evidence,” continues Stevenson, “confirms that Austria-Hungary had good grounds for rigorous demands. But it also shows that the Belgrade government was anxious for a peaceful exit from the crisis whereas the Austrians meant to use it as the pretext for violence. Austria-Hungary’s joint council of ministers decided on 7 July that the ultimatum should be so stringent as to ‘make a refusal almost certain, so that the road to a radical solution by means of a military action should be opened’. On 19 July it agreed to partition Serbia with Bulgaria, Albania, and Greece, leaving only a small residual state under Habsburg economic domination. Yet previously Vienna had been less bellicose: the chief of the general staff, Franz Conrad von Hötzendorff, had pressed for war against Serbia since being appointed in 1906, but his appeals had been rejected. The Emperor Franz Joseph was a cautious and vastly experienced ruler who remembered previous defeats. He and his advisers moved to war only because they believed they faced an intolerable problem for which peaceful remedies were exhausted.”[9]

This “intolerable problem” was the South Slav problem, which the Austro-Hungarian state, being composed of a patchwork of small peoples, all striving for advantages against each other, found “peculiarly intractable”, and which it feared “might set a precedent for the other subject peoples. The Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes were beginning to co-operate as the Yugoslav enthusiasts intended. By 1914 a terrorist campaign had started in Croatia as well as Bosnia. But the most exasperating characteristic of the agitation was Serbia’s support for it, at any rate after the 1903 coup that installed King Peter in Belgrade. Previously a secret treaty had given Austria-Hungary a veto over Serbian foreign policy. Now Serbia became more independent and its stance more nationalist. In the ‘pig war’ of 1906-11 Austria-Hungary retaliated by boycotting Serbia’s exports of livestock, but the Serbs found alternative markets and turned from Vienna to Paris as their main artillery supplier. Similarly, despite Austrian hopes in 1908 that annexing Bosnia-Herzegovina would dispel South Slav dreams of unification, covert Serb support for Bosnian separatism persisted.

The next upheaval came in 1912-13, when the Balkan Orthodox defeated Turkey in the First Balkan War before Bulgaria attacked its former allies and was defeated by them in the Second. Austrian pressure limited the Serbs’ success by forcing them to evacuate the Adriatic coast and by sponsoring the creation of Albania as a new state to counterbalance them. None the less, the wars heightened the threat on Austria-Hungary’s south-eastern borders. Turkey and Bulgaria were weakened as potential Austrian allies, and in the second war Romania fought alongside Serbia. From being Austria-Hungary’s secret partner, Bucharest became another enemy, eyeing the Romanian speakers in Transylvania. Finally, Franz Joseph’s new foreign minister, Leopold Berchtold, concluded from the Balkan Wars that working with the other powers through the Concert of Europe achieved little. He got results when in spring 1913 he threatened to use force unless Serbia’s ally, Montenegro, transferred the town of Scutari to Albania, and again in October when he demanded that Serbia itself should evacuate Albanian territory. By this stage many Austro-Hungarian leaders agreed with Conrad that only violence could solve the Serbian problem. The main exception were [the Hungarian leader Stephen] Tisza and Franz Ferdinand – and after the Sarajevo assassinations, Tisza alone.

“This context helps to explain why the Austrians used the assassinations to force a war they already considered unavoidable. The outrage confirmed Berchtold and Franz Joseph in support of Conrad’s views. Tisza was won over by an agreement that Austria-Hungary would not annex more South Slavs, by evidence that Romania would stay neutral, and - above all – by news that Germany encouraged military action. Given Russia’s position, this latter was indispensable. Austria-Hungary had long competed with the Russians in south-eastern Europe, but in 1897 the two powers reached an understanding to keep the Balkans ‘on ice’, and for a decade, while the Russians focussed their attention on Asia, they kept to it. Here again, however, the Bosnian annexation crisis, if a short-term triumph, exacerbated Austria-Hungary’s plight in the longer term. In 1908 the Russians, still reeling from their defeat by Japan, could do nothing to support their fellow Slavs in Serbia, but they did not forget their humiliation. In 1912, by contrast, they helped to create the Serb-Bulgarian ‘Balkan League’ that attacked Turkey in the First Balkan War, and they mobilized thousands of troops in order to deter Austria-Hungary from intervening. Although the Russians urged Serbia to compromise in the Scutari and Albanian crises of 1913, they were clearly becoming more assertive. By 1914 almost all the Austro-Hungarian leaders expected war against Serbia to mean a war against Russia as well, and without German encouragement they would not have risked one. And whereas the Austrians were so focused on their Balkan dilemmas that they accepted a general European war without even seriously discussing it, the Germans were much more conscious of what they were doing. It is ultimately in Berlin that we must seek the keys to the destruction of peace…

“Before dispatching their ultimatum to Belgrade the Austrians sent the head of Berchtold’s private office, Count Hoyos, to Germany. Hoyos convened a memorandum from Berchtold and and a letter from Franz Joseph, both of which strongly hinted at war with Serbia without being explicit. But when the German Emperor Wilhelm II met Hoyos on 5 July, he responded that Austria-Hungary must ‘march into Serbia’, with Germany’s backing even if war with Russia resulted. The next day the German chancellor (head of government), Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg, reaffirmed the message. Following this secret assurance – usually referred to as the ‘blank cheque’ – Wilhelm went cruising in the Baltic, while Bethmann and his foreign minister Gottliev von Jagow urged the Austrians first to send the ultimatum and then to declare war without delay, while advising them to disregard British proposals to refer the crisis to a conference. Only on 28-29 July, after Austria-Hungary had declared war on Serbia, did the Germans urge Vienna to compromise. But once it became clear that Russia was supporting Serbia and had started military preparations the Germans plunged ahead, issuing ultimatums to Russia and its ally, France, on 31 July and declaring war on them on 1 and 3 August respectively. By simultaneously demanding that Belgium should allow free passage for German troops they also brought in Britain, which declared war on Germany on 4 August. Germany willed a local war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia, deliberately raised a continental war against France and Russia, and finally actually started one…”[10]

This important conclusion was first demonstrated by the German historian Fritz Fischer: “The official documents afford ample proof that during the July crisis the emperor, the German military leaders and the foreign ministry were pressing Austria-Hungary to strike against Serbia without delay, or alternatively agree to the despatch of an ultimatum to Serbia couched in such sharp terms as to make war between the two countries more than probable, and that in doing so they deliberately took the risk of a continental war against Russia and France.”[11]

Again, as J.M. Roberts points out, it was Germany that first declared war on France and Russia when neither country threatened her; and by August 4 Germany had “acquired a third great power [Britain] as an antagonist, while Austria still had none… In the last analysis, the Great War was made in Berlin…”[12]

And David Fromkin writes: “The generals in Berlin in the last week of July were agitating for war – not Austria’s war, one aimed at Serbia, but Germany’s war, aimed at Russia… Germany deliberately started a European war to keep from being overtaken by Russia…”[13]

Further proof of the German-speaking powers’ guiilt, and of the sincere desire of the Orthodox powers to avert war by all honourable means, is contained in the telegrams between Tsar Nicholas and the Serbian regent, Prince Alexander in the last hours before the catastrophe. Prince Alexander, who had commanded the First Serbian Army in the Balkan wars and later became king, wrote to Tsar Nicholas: “The demands of the Austro-Hungarian note unnecessarily represent a humiliation for Serbia and are not in accord with the dignity of an independent state. In a commanding tone it demands that we officially declare in Serbian News, and also issue a royal command to the army, that we ourselves cut off military offensives against Austria and recognize the accusation that we have been engaging in treacherous intrigues as just. They demand that we admit Austrian officials into Serbia, so that together with ours they may conduct the investigation and control the execution of the other demands of the note. We have been given a period of 48 hours to accept everything, otherwise the Austro-Hungarian embassy will leave Belgrade. We are ready to accept the Austro-Hungarian demands that are in accord with the position of an independent state, and also those which would be suggested by Your Majesty; everyone whose participation in the murder is proven will be strictly punished by us. Certain demands cannot be carried out without changing the laws, and for that time is required. We have been given too short a period… They can attack us after the expiry of the period, since Austro-Hungarian armies have assembled on our frontier. It is impossible for us to defend ourselves, and for that reason we beseech Your Majesty to come as soon as possible to our aid…”

To this the Tsar replied on July 14/27: “In addressing me at such a serious moment, Your Royal Highness has not been mistaken with regard to the feelings which I nourish towards him and to my heart-felt disposition towards the Serbian people. I am studying the present situation with the most serious attention and My government is striving with all its might to overcome the present difficulties. I do not doubt that Your Highness and the royal government will make this task easier by not despising anything that could lead to a decision that would avert the horrors of a new war, while at the same time preserving the dignity of Serbia. All My efforts, as long as there is the slightest hope of averting bloodshed, will be directed to this aim. If, in spite of our most sincere desire, success is not attained, Your Highness can be assured that in no case will Russia remain indifferent to the fate of Serbia.”

“The Austrian ultimatum to Serbia faced the Russian government with a terrible dilemma. In 1914 Russia’s rulers did not want war. Whatever hankering Nicholas II may ever have had for military glory had been wholly dissipated by the Japanese war. That conflict had taught the whole ruling elite that war and revolution were closely linked. Though war with Germany would be more popular than conflict with Japan had been, its burdens and dangers would also be infinitely greater. Russian generals usually had a deep respect for the German army, to which on the whole they felt their own army to be inferior. Above all, Russian leaders had every reason to fell that time was on their side. In strictly military terms, there was good reason to postpone conflict until the so-called ‘Great Programme’ of armaments was completed in 1917-18. In more general terms, Russia already controlled almost one-sixth of the world’s land surface, whose hitherto largely untapped potential was now beginning to be developed at great speed. It was by no means only Petr Stolypin who believed that, given 20 years of peace, Russia would be transformed as regards its wealth, stability and power. Unfortunately for Russia, both the Germans and the Austrians were well aware of all the above facts. Both in Berlin and Vienna it was widely believed that fear of revolution would stop Russia from responding decisively to the Austro-German challenge: but it was also felt that war now was much preferable to a conflict a decade hence.

“In fact, for the Russian government it was very difficult not to stand up to the Central Powers in July 1914. The regime’s legitimacy was at stake, as were the patriotism, pride and self-esteem of the key decision-makers. Still more to the point was the conviction that weakness would fatally damage Russia’s international position and her security. If Serbia became an Austrian protectorate, that would allow a very significant diversion of Habsburg troops from the southern to the Russian front in the event of a future war. If Russia tamely allowed its Serbian client to be gobbled up by Austria, no other Balkan state would trust its protection against the Central Powers. All would move into the latter’s camp, as probably would the Ottoman Empire. Even France would have doubts about the usefulness of an ally so humiliatingly unable to stand up for its prestige and its vital interests. Above all, international relations in the pre-1914 era were seen to revolve around the willingness and ability of great powers to defend their interests. In the age of imperialism, empires that failed to do this were perceived as moribund and ripe for dismemberment. In the judgement of Russian statesmen, if the Central Powers got away with the abject humiliation of Russia in 1914 their appetites would be whetted rather than assuaged. At some point in the near future vital interest would be threatened for which Russia would have to fight, in which case it made sense to risk fighting now, in the hope that this would deter Berlin and Vienna, but in the certainty that if war ensued Serbia and France would fight beside Russia, and possibly Britain and certain other states as well.”[14]

Austria invaded Serbia the next day, which was followed by Russia’s partial mobilization. However, the Tsar made one last appeal to the Kaiser: “I foresee that very soon I shall be overwhelmed by the pressure brought upon me and forced to take extreme measures which will lead to war.” On July 30 the Kaiser replied that he was neutral in the Serbian question (which he was not). Sazonov then advised the Tsar to undertake a full mobilization because “unless he yielded to the popular demand for war and unsheathed the sword in Serbia’s behalf, he would run the risk of a revolution and perhaps the loss of his throne”.

With great reluctance, the Tsar gave the order on July 31. According to Grand Duchess Elizabeth Fyodorovna, the Tsar had not wanted war. She blamed her cousin, Kaiser Wilhelm, “who disobeyed the bidding of Frederick the Great and Bismarck to live in peace and friendship with Russia.”[15] Although the Tsar knew that resisting popular national feeling could lead to revolution, he also knew an unsuccessful war would lead to it still more surely. So the decisive factor in his decision was not popular opinion, but Russia’s ties of faith with Serbia. And if one good thing came out of the First World War it was the strengthening of that bond both during and after it. For as Prince Alexander replied to the Tsar: “Difficult times cannot fail to strengthen the bonds of deep attachment that link Serbia with Holy Slavic Rus’, and the feeling of eternal gratitude for the help and defence of Your Majesty will be reverently preserved in the hearts of all Serbs.”

Nor did the Tsar’s support for Serbia fail during the war. In the winter of 1915, after their heroic resistance to the Austrian invasion had failed, tens of thousands of Serbs set off on a terrible forced march to the Albanian coast. Very many died of hunger and starvation. Their allies looked upon them with indifference from their ships. The Tsar informed his allies by telegram that they must immediately evacuate the Serbs, otherwise he would consider the fall of the Serbs as an act of the greatest immorality and he would withdraw from the Alliance. This telegram brought prompt action, and dozens of Italian, French and English ships set about evacuating the dying army to Corfu. But western propagandists could not forgive the Tsar for his intercession and rumours that he wanted a separate peace began to seep out.

As the Serbian Bishop Nicholas (Velimirovich) of Zhicha, wrote: “Great is our debt to Russia. The debt of Serbia to Russia, for help to the Serbs in the war of 1914, is huge – many centuries will not be able to contain it for all following generations. This is the debt of love, which without thinking goes to its death, saving its neighbour. ‘There is no greater love than this, that a man should lay down his life for his neighbour.’ These are the words of Christ. The Russian Tsar and the Russian people, having taken the decision to enter the war for the sake of the defence of Serbia, while being unprepared for it, knew that they were going to certain destruction. The love of the Russians for their Serbian brothers did not fear death, and did not retreat before it. Can we ever forget that the Russian Tsar, in subjecting to danger both his children and millions of his brothers, went to his death for the sake of the Serbian people, for the sake of its salvation? Can we be silent before Heaven and earth about the fact that our freedom and statehood were worth more to Russia than to us ourselves? The Russians in our days repeated the Kosovo tragedy. If the Russian Tsar Nicholas II had been striving for an earthly kingdom, a kingdom of petty personal calculations and egoism, he would be sitting to this day on his throne in Petrograd. But he chose the Heavenly Kingdom, the Kingdom of sacrifice in the name of the Lord, the Kingdom of Gospel spirituality, for which he laid down his own head, for which his children and millions of his subjects laid down their heads…”[16]

Germany declared war on Russia on July 19 / August 1, the feast of St. Seraphim of Sarov, the great prophet of the last times… The First World War was the great watershed in modern European history. In 1914 Europe was a family of nations united by a single royal dynasty and a cosmopolitan elite confessing what most considered, according to ecumenist fashion, to be a single Christianity, albeit divided into Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant varieties, that tried to maintain the pax Europaica throughout the world. The family was German in origin, being made up of branches of the Saxe-Coburg dynasty. [17] Thus even the matriarch of the family, Queen Victoria, once told King Leopold of the Belgians: “My heart is so German…”[18] For many generations, the Russian tsars and princes had taken brides from German princely families; Nicholas II, though thoroughly Russian in spirit, had much more German blood than Russian in his veins; and the Tsaritsa Alexandra and her sister Grand Duchess Elizabeth were Hessian princesses. However, as Metropolitan Anastasy (Gribanovsky) pointed out, the sisters were more English than German in their tastes and upbringing, taking after their English mother rather than their German father.[19]

In the summer of 1914 many hoped that the family links between the Kaiser and the Tsar would prevent war. And they did talk, even after the outbreak of war. But to no avail, because in the last resort family unity counted for less for the Kaiser than nationalist pride…[20] The same could be said of the confessional links. Tsar Nicholas II became the godfather of the future King Edward VIII at his Anglican baptism – and in 1904 Kaiser Wilhelm was invited to be godfather of the Tsarevich Alexis.[21] But these spiritual links counted for less than the Orthodox faith: Tsar Nicholas went to war with Catholic Austria in order to defend his Orthodox Serbian co-religionists. And in this we may see one providential reason for the war. It was not so much a war between Slavdom and Germanism, as between Orthodoxy and Westernism, and saved the Orthodox, not only from violent conquest by those of another race, but also, and primarily, from peaceful, ecumenist merging with those of another faith.

The religious nature of the war was understood by many Russians. In 1912 the country had celebrated the one hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Borodino, and in 1913 – the three-hundredth anniversary of the establishment of the Romanov dynasty. These were patriotic celebrations, but also religious ones; for both the commemorated events had taken place on the background of great threats to the Orthodox Faith from western nations. When the Tsar, however reluctantly, declared war on August 1, 1914, this was again seen as the beginning of a great patriotic and religious war.

Thus on that day, as Lubov Millar writes, “large patriotic crowds gathered before the Winter Palace, and when the Emperor and Empress appeared on the balcony, great and joyful ovations filled the air. When the national anthem was played, the crowds began to sing enthusiastically.

“In a sitting room behind this balcony waited Grand Duchess Elizabeth, dressed in her white habit; her face was aglow, her eyes shining. Perhaps, writes Almedingen, she was thinking, ‘What are revolutionary agents compared with these loyal crowds? They would lay down their lives for Nicky and their faith and will win in the struggle.’ In a state of exaltation she made her way from the Winter Palace to the home of Grand Duke Constantine, where his five sons – already dressed in khaki uniforms – were preparing to leave for the front. These sons piously received Holy Communion and then went to the Romanov tombs and to the grave of Blessed Xenia of Petersburg before joining their troops.”[22]

The great tragedy of the war was that this truly patriotic-religious mood did not last, and those who rapturously applauded the Tsar in 1914 were baying for his blood only three years later…

That the war was indeed a religious war was asserted in 1915 by Archbishop Anthony (Khrapovitsky) of Kharkov: “Germany and Austria declared war on us, for which the former had already been preparing for forty years, wishing to extend its control to the East. What then? Should we quietly have submitted to the Germans? Should we have imitated their cruel and coarse manners? Planted in our country in place of the holy deeds of Orthodoxy piety the worship of the stomach and the wallet? No! It would be better for the whole nation to die than to be fed with such heretical poison!

“We have swallowed enough of it since the time of Peter the Great! And without that the Germans have torn away from the Russian nation, from Russian history and the Orthodox Church its aristocracy and intelligentsia; but in the event of a total submission to the German governmental authority, in the end the simple people would have been corrupted. We already have enough renegades from the simple people under the influence of the Germans and of German money. These are above all those same Protestants who so hypocritically cry out for peace. Of course, they were not all conscious traitors and betrayers of their homeland, they did not all share in those 2.000,000 marks which were established by the German government (and a half of it from the personal fortune of the Kaiser) to be spent on the propagation of Protestant chapels in Russia…”[23]

In the defeat of Germany and Austria, which started the war, we must see the judgement of God against those who were, after all, the aggressors and initiators of the conflict. But all the participant nations, with the possible exception of the United States, were significantly weaker, spiritually as well as politically, as a result of it. In a deeper sense, however, the judgement fell hardest on the Orthodox, for “judgement begins at the household of God”. Thus the Russians were deprived of victory by revolution from within, and came to almost complete destruction afterwards; the Serbs suffered proportionately more than any other country, even if they were on the winning side in the end; the Romanians were crushed by the Germans before also appearing on the winning side; the Bulgarians betrayed their Russian benefactors but still appeared on the losing side. Only the Greeks emerged from the war relatively unscathed – but their judgement would come only a few years later, in the Asia Minor catastrophe of 1922-23. So the First World War was a judgement on the whole of European civilization, and first of all on the Orthodox nations who had allowed Europeanism to replace their God-given inheritance…

It was also a judgement on the failure of the Orthodox nations – with the exception, of course, of the Russo-Serbian alliance - to unite with each other during the war to secure victory for the interests of Pan-Orthodoxy. Instead, territorial aggrandizement – often at the expense of Orthodox neighbours – was their main motivation. Thus Bulgaria, still thirsting for control of Macedonia, united with Germany, Austria and the Ottoman empire against Orthodox Russia and Serbia... Romania, after much vacillation, entered the war only in August, 1916, during the Brusilov offensive, when it looked as if Russia was going to win the war, and only after she had been offered Transylvania, the Romanian-inhabited part of Bukovina and even a large part of Hungary. But the Romanians forces only operated in Transylvania, and did not coordinate with the Russian command. They were promptly crushed by Germany. But then, on November 10, 1918, more than eighteen months after the fall of the Tsar, they re-entered the war and occupied the lands they coveted… The Greeks vacillated for even longer than the Romanians – and for similar reasons. They wanted Epirus, Thrace, western Anatolia, certain Aegean islands and Cyprus. It was not until there was already an Allied army in Salonika, and a British and French fleet was gathered at the Piraeus, that the Germanophile King Constantine resigned and the Cretan revolutionary Venizelos led the country into war on the Allied side.

The First World War was, for Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich, a struggle between the All-Man, Christ, and the Superman of Nietzsche, between the doctrine that Right is Might and the opposite one that might is right. For German Christianity with its all-devouring scientism and scepticism had already surrendered to Nietzscheanism: “I wonder… that Professor Harnack, one of the chief representatives of German Christianity, omitted to see how every hollow that he and his colleagues made in traditional Christianity in Germany was at once filled with the all-conquering Nietzscheanism. And I wonder… whether he is now aware that in the nineteen hundred and fourteenth year of our Lord, when he and other destroyers of the Bible, who proclaimed Christ a dreamy maniac [and] clothed Christianity in rags, Nietzscheanism arose [as] the real religion of t he German race.”[24]

The Germans were not only penetrated with Nietzscheanism: they had adopted the doctrine of Social Darwinism. Thus Conrad von Hőtzendorff, chief of the Austrian general staff at the outbreak of war believed that the struggle for existence was “the basic principle behind all the events on this earth”. Militarism was the natural consequence of this philosophy: “Politics consists precisely of applying war as method”.[25]

In another place Bishop Nikolai spread the blame more widely on Europe as a whole: “The spirit was wrong, and everything became wrong. The spirit of any civilization is inspired by its religion, but the spirit of modern Europe was not inspired by Europe’s religion at all. A terrific effort was made in many quarters to liberate Europe from the spirit of her religion. The effort-makers forgot one thing, i.e. that no civilization ever was liberated from religion and still lived. Whenever this liberation seemed to be fulfilled, the respective civilization decayed and died out, leaving behind barbaric materialism in towns and superstitions in villages. Europe had to live with Christianity, or to die in barbaric materialism and superstitions without it. The way to death was chosen. From Continental Europe first the infection came to the whole white race. It was there that the dangerous formula [of Nietzsche] was pointed out: ‘Beyond good and evil’. Other parts of the white world followed slowly, taking first the path between Good and Evil. Good was changed for Power. Evil was explained away as Biological Necessity. The Christian religion, which inspired the greatest things that Europe ever possessed in every point of human activity, was degraded by means of new watchwords: individualism, liberalism, conservatism, nationalism, imperialism, secularism, which in essence meant nothing but the de-christianization of European society, or, in other words, the emptiness of European civilization. Europe abandoned the greatest things she possessed and clung to the lower and lowest ones. The greatest thing was – Christ.

“As you cannot imagine Arabic civilization in Spain without Islam, or India’s civilization without Hinduism, or Rome without the Roman Pantheon, so you cannot imagine Europe’s civilization without Christ. Yet some people thought that Christ was not so essentially needed for Europe, and behaved accordingly without Him or against Him. Christ was Europe’s God. When this God was banished from politics, art, science, social life, business, education, everybody consequently asked for a God, and everybody thought himself to be a god… So the godless Europe became full of gods!

“Being de-christianized, Europe still thought to be civilized. In reality she was a poor valley full of dry bones. The only thing she had to boast of was her material power. By material power only she impressed and frightened the unchristian (but not antichristian) countries of Central and Eastern Asia, and depraved the rustic tribes in Africa and elsewhere. She went to conquer not by God or for God, but by material power and for material pleasure. Her spirituality did not astonish any of the peoples on earth. Her materialism astonished all of them… What an amazing poverty! She gained the whole world, and when she looked inside herself she could not find her soul. Where has Europe’s soul fled? The present war will give the answer. It is not a war to destroy the world but to show Europe’s poverty and to bring back her soul. It will last as long as Europe remains soulless, Godless, Christless. It will stop when Europe gets the vision of her soul, her only God, her only wealth.”[26]

The disciple and admirer of Bishop Nikolai, Archimandrite Justin (Popovich), attributed the cause of God’s wrath against Christian Europe in the two world wars to its betrayal of True Christianity and its embracing an antichristian humanistic metaphysics of progress. The end of such a metaphysic could only be death, death on a massive scale, death with no redeeming purpose, no resurrection in Christ: “It is obvious to normal eyes: European humanistic culture systematically blunts man’s sense of immortality, until it is extinguished altogether. The man of European culture affirms, with Nietzsche, that he is flesh and nothing but flesh. And that means: I am mortal, and nothing but mortal. It is thus that humanistic Europe gave itself over to the slogan: man is a mortal being. That is the formula of humanistic man; therein lies the essence of his progress.

“At first subconsciously, then consciously and deliberately, science, philosophy, and culture inculcated in the European man the proposition that man is completely mortal, with nothing else left over… Humanistic man is a devastated creature because the sense of personal immortality has been banished from him. And without that sentiment, can man ever be complete?

“European man is a shrunken dwarf, reduced to a fraction of man’s stature, for he has been emptied of the sense of transcendence. And without the transcendent, can man exist at all as man? And if he could, would there be any meaning to his existence? Minus that sense of the transcendent, is he not but a dead object among other objects, and a transient species among other animals?

“… [Supposedly] equal to the animals in his origin, why should he not also assimilate their morals? Being part of the animal world of beasts in basic nature, he has also joined them in their morals. Are not sin and crime increasingly regarded by modern jurisprudence as an unavoidable by-product of the social environment and as a natural necessity? Since there is nothing eternal and immortal in man, ethics must, in the final analysis, be reduced to instinctive drives. In his ethics, humanistic man has become equal to his progenitors, monkeys and beasts. And the governing principle of his life has become: homo homini lupus.

“It could not be otherwise. For an ethic that is superior to that of the animals could only be founded on a sentiment of human immortality. If there is no immortality and eternal life, neither within nor around man, then animalistic morals are entirely natural and logical for a bestialized humanity: let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die (cf. I Corinthians 15.32).

“The relativism in the philosophy of European humanistic progress could not but result in an ethical relativism, and relativism is the father of anarchism and nihilism. Wherefore, in the last analysis, the practical ethic of humanistic man is nothing but anarchy and nihilism. For anarchy and nihilism are the unavoidable, final and apocalyptic phase of European progress. Ideological anarchism and nihilism, ideological disintegration, necessarily had to manifest themselves in practical anarchism and nihilism, in the practical disintegration of European humanistic man and his progress. Are we not eyewitnesses to the ideological and practical anarchism and nihilism that are devastating the European continent? The addenda of European progress are such that, no matter how they might be computed, their sum is always anarchism and nihilism. The evidence? Two world wars (actually European wars).

“European man is stupid, catastrophically stupid, when, while disbelieving in God and the immortality of the soul, he still professes belief in progress and life’s meaning and acts accordingly. What good is progress, if after it comes death? What use are the world, the stars, and cultures, if behind them lurks death, and ultimately it must conquer me? Where there is death, there can be no real progress. If there is any, it can only be the cursed progress of the mill of death, which ought to be demolished totally and without a trace…”[27]

The unprecedented destructiveness of the war had been predicted by Engels as early as 1887: “Prussia-Germany can no longer fight any war but a world war; and a war of hitherto unknown dimensions and ferocity. Eight to ten million soldiers will swallow each other up and in doing so eat all Europe more bare than any swarm of locusts. The devastation of the Thirty Years War compressed into the space of three or four years and extending over the whole continent; famine, sickness, want, brutalizing the army and the mass of the population; irrevocable confusion of our artificial structure of trade, industry and credit, ending in general bankruptcy; collapse of the old states and their traditional statecraft, so that crowns will roll by dozens in the gutter and no one can be found to pick them up. It is absolutely impossible to predict where it will end and who will emerge from the struggle as victor. Only one result is absolutely certain: general exhaustion and the establishment of conditions for the final victory of the working class.”[28]

The first year of the war went badly for Russia, and in August, 1915, after a series of heavy defeats, the Tsar took control of the army as Supreme Commander. Almost everyone was appalled at the decision, but “God’s will be done,” wrote the Tsar to the Tsaritsa after arriving at headquarters. “I feel so calm” – like the feeling, he said, “after Holy Communion”.

“In the autumn,” writes Robert Massie, “the Tsar brought his son, the eleven-year-old Tsarevich, to live with him at Army Headquarters. It was a startling move, not simply because of the boy’s age but also because of his haemophilia. Yet, Nicholas did not make his decision impetuously. His reasons, laboriously weighed for months in advance, were both sentimental and shrewd.

“The Russian army, battered and retreating after a summer of terrible losses, badly needed a lift in morale. Nicholas himself made constant appearances, and his presence, embodying the cause of Holy Russia, raised tremendous enthusiasm among the men who saw him. It was his hope that the appearance of the Heir at his side, symbolizing the future, would further bolster their drooping spirits. It was a reasonable hope, and, in fact, wherever Alexis appeared he became a center of great excitement…”[29]

Taking advantage of the Tsar’s absence at Stavka, the liberals formed a “progressive bloc” designed to force him to concede “a government responsible to the people” – that is, a constitutional monarchy that they would control. However, while things got worse in the rear they got better at the front. Thanks to organizational changes introduced by the Tsar, the crisis in supplies that had contributed so significantly to the defeats of 1915 was overcome. In 1916 the Brusilov offensive threw back the enemy, and the British military attaché in Russia said that Russia’s military prospects were better in the winter of 1916-17 than a year before.

This estimate was shared by Grand Duke Sergius Mikhailovich, who was at Imperial Headquarters as Inspector-General of Artillery. As he said to his brother, Grand Duke Alexander: “Go back to your work and pray that the revolution will not break out this very year. The Army is in perfect condition; artillery, supplies, engineering, troops – everything is ready for a decisive offensive in the spring of 1917. This time we will defeat the Germans and Austrians; on condition, of course, that the rear will not deprive us of our freedom of action. The Germans can save themselves only if they manage to provoke revolution from behind…”[30]

“By 1916,” writes David Stevenson, “Russia, exceptionally among the belligerents, was experiencing a regular boom, with rising growth and a bullish stock exchange: coal output was up 30 per cent on 1914, chemicals output doubled, and machinery output trebled. Armaments rode the crest of the wave: new rifle production rose from 132,844 in 1914 to 733,017 in 1915, and 1,301,433 in 1916; 76mm field guns from 354 to 1,349 to 3721 in these years; 122mm heavy guns from 78 to 361 to 637; and shell production (of all types) from 104,900 to 9,567,888 to 30,974,678. During the war Russia produced 20,000 field guns, against 5,625 imported; and by 1917 it was manufacturing all its howitzers and three-quarters of its heavy artillery. Not only was the shell shortage a thing of the past, but by spring 1917 Russia was acquiring an unprecedented superiority in men and materiel.”[31]

As. F. Vinberg, a colonel of a regiment in Riga, wrote: “Already at the end of 1916 and the beginning of 1917 many knew that, insofar as it is possible to calculate the future, our victories in the spring and summer of 1917 were guaranteed. All the deficiencies in the material and technical sphere, which had told so strongly in 1914 and 1915, had been corrected. All our armies had every kind of provisions in abundance. While in the German armies the insufficiency in everything was felt more strongly every day…”[32]

“The price of this Herculean effort, however, was dislocation of the civilian economy and a crisis in urban food supply. The very achievement that moved the balance in the Allies’ favour by summer 1916 contained the seeds of later catastrophe.”[33] Fr. Lev Lebedev cites figures showing that the production for the front equalled production for the non-military economy in 1916, and exceeded it in 1917.[34] This presaged complete economic collapse in 1918; so if Russia did not defeat Germany in 1917 she was bound to lose the war…

Nevertheless, from a purely military point of view there were good reasons for thinking that Russia could defeat her enemies in 1917. Thus Dominic Lieven denies that there was “any military reason for Russia to seek a separate peace between August 1914 and March 1917. Too much attention is usually paid to the defeats of Tannenburg in 1914 and Gorlice-Tarnow in 1915. Russia’s military effort in the First World War amounted to much more than this. If on the whole the Russian army proved inferior to the German forces, that was usually true of the French and British as well. Moreover, during the Brusilov offensive in 1916 Russian forces had shown themselves quite capable of routing large German units. Russian armies usually showed themselves superior to Austrian forces of comparable size, and their performance against the Ottomans in 1914-16 was very much superior to that of British forces operating in Gallipoli, Egypt and Mesopotamia. The Russian defence industry performed miracles in 1916 and if there were legitimate doubts as to whether this level of production could be fully sustained in 1917, the same was true of the war economies of a number of other belligerents. It is true that Rumania’s defeat necessitated a major redeployment of troops and supplies to the southern front in the weeks before the revolution and that this, together with a particularly severe winter, played havoc with railway movements on the home front. Nevertheless, in military terms there was absolutely no reason to believe that Russia had lost the war in February 1917.

“Indeed, when one raised one’s eyes from the eastern front and looked at the Allies’ overall position, the probability of Russian victory was very great, so long as the home front could hold. Although the British empire was potentially the most powerful of the Allied states, in 1914-16 France and Russia had carried the overwhelming burden of the war on land. Not until July 1916 on the Somme were British forces committed en masse against the Germans, and even then the British armies, though courageous to a fault, lacked proper training and were commanded by amateur officers and generals who lacked any experience of controlling masses of men. Even so, in the summer of 1916 the combined impact of the Somme, Verdun and the Brusilov offensive had brought the Central Powers within sight of collapse. A similar but better coordinated effort, with British power now peaking, held out excellent prospects for 1917. Still more to the point, by February 1917 the German campaign of unrestricted submarine warfare made American involvement in the war in the immediate future a near certainty: the Allied superiority in resources would thereby become overwhelming.

“Once stalemate set in on the battlefield in 1914, the First World War became as much as anything a contest over which belligerent’s home front would collapse first. This fate befell Russia in large part because even its upper and middle classes, let alone organized labour, were more hostile to the existing regime and less integrated into the legal political order than was the case even in Italy, let alone in France, Germany or Britain in 1914. In addition, opposition to the regime was less divided along ethnic lines than was the case in Austria-Hungary, and Russia was more geographically isolated from military and economic assistance from its allies than was the case with any of the other major belligerents. Nevertheless, unrest on the domestic front was by no means confined to Russia. The Italian home front seemed on the verge of collapse after the defeat of Caporetto in 1917 and the French army suffered major mutinies that year. In the United Kingdom the attempt to impose conscription in Ireland made that country ungovernable and led quickly to civil war. In both Germany and Austria revolution at home played a vital role in 1918, though in contrast to Russia it is true that revolution followed decisive military defeats and was set off in part by the correct sense that the war was unwinnable.

“The winter of 1916-17 was decisive not just for the outcome of the First World War but also for the history of twentieth-century Europe. Events on the domestic and military fronts were closely connected. In the winter of 1915-16 in both Germany and Austria pressure on civilian food consumption had been very severe. The winter of 1916-17 proved worse. The conviction of the German military leadership that the Central Powers’ home fronts could not sustain too much further pressure on this scale was an important factor in their decision to launch unrestricted submarine warfare in the winter of 1916-17, thereby (so they hoped) driving Britain out of the war and breaking the Allied blockade. By this supreme piece of miscalculation and folly the German leadership brought the United States into the war at precisely the moment when the overthrow of the imperial regime was preparing Russia to leave it…” [35]

Russia was not defeated militarily from without, but by revolution from within. And yet the losses sustained by Russia in the war significantly helped the revolution. For in the first year almost all the old cadres, from privates to colonels, that is, the best and the most loyal to the Tsar, were killed. The pre-revolutionary aristocracy of Russia was almost completely wiped out in the first two years of the war.[36] From 1916, to fill up the losses in the ranks of the junior and middle commanders, the officer schools were forced to take 9/10ths of their entrance from non-noble estates. These new commanders were of much lower quality than their predecessors, who had been taught to die for the Faith and the Fatherland. Especially heavy losses were suffered in the same period by the military chaplains. The older generation of clergy had enjoyed considerable spiritual authority among the soldiers. But they were replaced by less experienced men enjoying less authority.[37]

The critical factor was the loss of morale among the rank and file. In general, the appeals of the socialists and Bolsheviks before the war that the workers of different countries should not fight each other had not been successful. Patriotic feelings turned out to be stronger than class loyalties. However, the terrible losses of the war, the evidence of massive corruption in arms deliveries, the propaganda against the Tsar and the return of Bolshevik agitators began to take their toll.

“… Evidence suggests that many soldiers were convinced by 1915 that they could not beat the Germans, and that by the end of 1916 they were full of despondency and recrimination against the authorities who had sent them into war without the wherewithal to win. The evidence that victory was as remote as ever, despite Brusilov’s initial successes and another million casualties, produced a still uglier mood. Soldiers’ letters revealed a deep anxiety about the deteriorating quality and quantity of their provisions (the daily bread ration was reduced from three pounds to two, and then to one, during the winter), as well as anger about rocketing inflation and scarcities that endangered their loved ones’ welfare. Many wanted to end the war whatever the cost, and over twenty mutinies seem to have occurred in October-December 1916 (the first on this scale in any army during the war), some involving whole regiments, and in each case taking the form of a collective refusal of orders to attack or to prepare to attack.”[38]

The Germans were well aware of this, which is why they smuggled Lenin and a lot of money into Russia in a sealed train. This plan went back to 1915, when Alexander Helphand, code-named Parvus, a German agent, persuaded the German Foreign Ministry that they might engineer a mass strike in Russia. In March, 1917, Arthur Zimmermann convinced the Kaiser and the army that the Bolsheviks’ leader, Lenin, who was living in exile in Switzerland, should be smuggled back into Russia.” [39] The Germans must have known that if Lenin, a sworn enemy of all governments, were to succeed in Russia, they would have created a scourge for their own backs. But they knew that the Russian offensive of spring, 1917, if combined with simultaneous attacks from the west, would very likely be successful. So their only hope was the disintegration of Russia from within…

But a description of the February revolution in Russia is beyond the scope of this article… Suffice it to say that St. Seraphim’s words, that the first duty of the Orthodox Christian after fidelity to Orthodoxy itself is loyalty to the Lord’s anointed, were trampled underfoot by all classes of society. The just recompense was an age of unprecedented barbarism from which Russia has still not recovered…

In other Orthodox countries the situation was no better. Thus in 1916 two-thirds of Romania was occupied by the Germans, Austro-Hungarians, Bulgarians and Turks. King Ferdinand I (1865-1927) withdrew to Iaşi, while Germany appointed a military governor for Wallachia. The Germans then introduced a decree that Christmas of 1916 and New Year’s Day of 1917 should be celebrated according to the western calendar. On December 29, 1916 (Old Style) Archimandrite Galaction (Cordun) wrote to Metropolitan Primate Conon (Arămescu-Donici): “The issue that today preoccupies all strata of Romanian society in the territories under foreign occupation is, without doubt, the introduction of the Gregorian Calendar, imposed on us by the German government for use by our Church, even after the passing of the New Year and our Orthodox Theophany. From the standpoint of the traditional law and practice observed in the Eastern Orthodox Church from time immemorial, this innovation, which does not involve, in and of itself, an immutable dogma, but rather a difference of eleven or thirteen days between one calendar and the other, will nonetheless be a great moral blow for our Orthodox people, but, at the same time, a huge success for the Roman Catholic Church, whose hand can be seen here, too, in that, by availing herself of the German authorities, she is now endeavouring to force us to adopt her calendar, especially in the present circumstances, when the mission of the occupying body and its concerns are directed towards something totally different from what Romanians celebrate at Pascha, Christmas, and New Year, and especially when we can anticipate that even the occupation of our territory will not remain in effect once peace has been established and measures are taken to ensure the proper administration of our territory.”

It was not only the Catholics that Fr. Galaction feared, but also the “renegades” from the ranks of the Orthodox: “In the hand that is trying to orchestrate this arrangement, I can detect hiding with the greatest of caution under the mask of Catholicism the shadows of those renegades from our ranks who left because their exaggerated personal expectations were not fulfilled. Serving the cause of the enemy Church in this way, they are yearning to win there some miserable glory and a recompense greater than the thirty pieces of silver, the price of selling the traditions of the Lord’s Church. For this reason, as Your Eminence’s humble servant, I declare that you must energetically defend our traditional rights, and that I am ready to defend you, even at the price of my life, sacrificing the last drop of my blood out of respect for our ecclesiastical institutions and for the traditions inherited from our forefathers. Therefore, Your Eminence, make a grand gesture. Stretch forth your Archpastoral staff and defend with all courage the holy treasure that is entrusted to you. You are living in an age and in a situation in which you can no longer expect anything from the world. Out of respect for the position that you occupy, you must be willing to unite with the Lord in the struggle to preserve what He has established. If you come forth to fight with zeal, you will revive the memory of the great Metropolitans and patriots of our past, who were ready to die defending our traditional rights and ecclesiastical traditions with their pastoral staffs.”[40]

In the same fateful year of 1917 the future Hieromartyr Nicon, Archbishop of Vologda, said: “In recent times we have been infected with the fashion for every kind of change; we philosophise too much and we apply the measure of our own philosophising to the Church herself, forgetting that she is the Kingdom that is not of this world, as the Lord said to Pilate, that its basic principles are unchanging, that to touch them is criminal, that they are eternal, as is the Church herself, and that he who rejects them has already left the Church and ceased to be a Christian... That is what all our ‘renovationists’, ‘revivalists’ and ‘transformers’ of Church life must remember, if they want to remain faithful sons of the Orthodox Church. If they are her sons, then from them is required first of all filial obedience, otherwise they will turn out to be self-called, and capable of creating a schism in the depths of the Church.”[41]

Some years later, Hieromartyr Damascene, Bishop of Glukhov, summarized this pre-revolutionary period as follows: “The absence of zeal in Christians and of a firm confession of their faith makes many of our enemies (who do not, of course, consciously arise up against the Holy Spirit) to see in Christianity – hypocrisy, and in the Church – an organization of exploiters. In the same way, the absence in us of Christian zeal can be seen as an indirect reason why those who are perishing in the darkness of atheism and the spite of anti-theism leave the Church. It goes without saying that the real, especially spiteful ‘rising up against the Lord and against His Christ’ has other, deeper, age-old reasons. Still, if such a significant quenching of the spirit of faith and love amidst believers in the preceding age had not taken place, the faithful servants of the prince of darkness would not have found among us so many voluntary and involuntary helpers. It was said at one Masonic congress: ‘Russia has preserved the most ardent love for our eternal Enemy, and He Whose name I do not want to name will send a horde of His invisible powers to the defence of the Russian people’… And it was decided in counter-action to this to implant lack of faith in Russia…”

The First World War was a major watershed both in modern world history and in the history of the Orthodox Church. For the Orthodox, it exposed the terrible spiritual scourges on the Body of the Church which the comparative power and prosperity of the previous era had partially covered up – ecumenism, democratism, socialism, nationalism, renovationism, etc. It removed “him who restrains” the appearance of the Antichrist, the Orthodox Christian Emperor, and with his removal all the islands of Orthodoxy throughout the world began to tremble and contract within themselves. Also gone were the German, Austrian and Ottoman empires… And so the very principle of monarchy was fatally undermined, surviving for a short time only in post-war Yugoslavia and Bulgaria.

Christianity as a whole was on the defensive. In most places it became a minority religion again, and in some, especially Russia, it was fiercely persecuted. It was as if the Edict of Milan had been reversed and a new age of the catacombs had returned. States everywhere became more powerful and more all-encompassing. Politics took the place of religion as religion was gradually forced back into the sphere of private life (and even further than that in Russia). The rule of the people – or rather, of the mob – became the rule; and before this great populist tsunami true political rule, rule in accordance with the commandments of God, rule for the people rather than by the people, was swept away. The pax Europaica of the pre-1914 age, based on a debased but still powerful common legacy of the Christian Faith and monarchical rule, had been succeeded by a new age of barbarism, in which nations were divided within and between themselves, and the neo-pagan ideologies of Communism, Fascism and Democratism held sway. Christian leaders attempted to make compromises with each of these ideologies. But you cannot serve two masters, God and mammon; and the attempt to do so only hastens the victory of mammon…

The nature of the war itself contributed to this seismic change. It was not like almost all the wars of earlier centuries – short, fought between professional armies, with only limited effects on the civilian population. It was (with the possible exception of the Napoleonic wars) the first of the total wars, making possible the appearance of the totalitarian age. Its length, the unprecedented numbers of killed and wounded, and the sheer horror of front-line combat succeeded in depriving it, after the patriotic élan of the first month or two, of any chivalric, redemptive aspects – at any rate, for all but the small, truly Orthodox minority who fought for the true Faith, the Tsar and the Fatherland.

The main legacy of the war was simply hatred – hatred of the enemy, hatred of one’s own leaders, hatred of all that is old and venerable. This hatred that did not die after the war’s end, but was translated into a kind of universal hatred that presaged still more horrific and total wars to come… But this was not its only legacy. The Tsar’s self-sacrificial support for Serbia in August, 1914, and the heroism of those Orthodox warriors who truly gave their lives for King, Faith and Fatherland, constituted a legacy of love. And the hope must be that in the grand scheme of things presided over by Divine Providence this legacy will prove the stronger…

Vladimir Moss.

May 3/16, 2012.

[1] Lieven, “Russia, Europe and World War I, in Edward Acton, Vladimir Cherniaev, William Rosenberg (eds.), A Critical Companion to the Russian Revolution, 1914-1921, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997, p. 42.

[2] Stevenson, 1914-1918: The History of the First World War, London: Penguin, 2005, pp. 10-13.

[3] West, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Edinburgh: Canongate, 2006, pp. 366-368.

[4] Stevenson, op. cit. As Lieven (op. cit.) writes,”the Austrian ultimatum to Serbia of July 1914… aimed to turn Serbia into an Austrian protectorate and to reassert the Habsburg regime’s power and prestige both in the Balkans and at home”.

[5] West, op. cit., p. 376.

[6] West, op. cit., p. 358.

[7] West, op. cit., p. 369.

[8] Stevenson, op. cit. Oleg Platonov claims that “in the course of the investigation into the case of the murder of the Archduke Ferdinand it emerged that the assassins Princip and Gabrilovich were Masons. The plan of the assassination was worked out by the political organization, ‘The People’s Defence’. Later, already in 1926, a representative of the Masonic circles of Serbia, Lazarevich, at a masonic banquet in the House of the Serbian Guard in Belgrade, officially recognized that ‘Masonry and “The People’s Defence” are one and the same’” (Ternovij Venets Rossii (Russia’s Crown of Thorns), Moscow, 1998, p. 344).

[9] Stevenson, op. cit.,

[10] Stevenson, op. cit., pp. 14-16.

[11] Fischer, Germany’s Aims in the First World War, 1961, chapter 2.

[12] Roberts, The Penguin History of Europe, London: Penguin, 1997, pp. 510-511.

[13] Fromkin, Europe’s Last Summer, London: Vintage, 2005, pp. 272, 273.

[14] Lieven, “Russia, Europe and World War I”, op. cit., pp. 42-43.

[15] Abbot Seraphim, Martyrs of Christian Duty, Peking, 1929; quoted in Millar, op. cit., p. 176.

[16] Victor Salni and Svetlana Avlasovich, “Net bol’she toj liubvi, kak esli kto polozhit dushu svoiu za drugi svoia” (There is no greater love than that a man should lay down his life for his friend), http://catacomb.org.ua/modules.php?name=Pages&go=print_page*pid=966.

[17] Sophie Gordon, “The Web of Royalty”, BBC History Magazine, February, 2012, pp. 16-18.

[18] Niall Ferguson, The War of the World, London: Penguin, 2007, p. 97.

[19] Gribanovsky, "Homily on the Seventh Anniversary of the Martyric End of Emperor Nicholas II and the Entire Royal Family", Orthodox Life, vol. 31, no. 4, July-August, 1981.

[20] Ferguson, op. cit., pp. 100-101.

[21] Ferguson, op. cit., p. 100.

[22] Millar, Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia, Redding, Ca.: Nikodemos Publication Society, 1993, p. 171.

[23] Khrapovitsky, The Christian Faith and War, Jordanville, 2005, pp. 8-9.

[24] Velimirovich, “The Religious Spirit of the Slavs”, in Sabrana Dela (Collected Works), volume 3, 1986, Khimelstir, 1986, pp. 221-222.

[25] Von Hőtzendorff, in Hew Strachan, The First World War, London: Pocket Books, 2006, pp. 10-11.

[26] Velimirovich, “The Agony of the Church”, in Sabrana Dela (Collected Works), volume 3, 1986, Khimelstir, pp. 83-84.

[27] Popovich, The Orthodox Church and Ecumenism, Thessaloniki, 1974, translated in Orthodox Life, September-October, 1983, pp. 26-27.

[28] Engels, in M.J. Cohen and John Major, History in Quotations, London: Cassell, 2004, p. 707.

[29] Massie, Nicholas and Alexandra, London: Indigo, 2000, p. 282.

[30] Millar, op. cit., p. 182.

[31] Stevenson, 1914-1918: The History of the First World War, London: Penguin, 2005, p. 237.

[32] F. Vinberg, Krestnij Put’ (The Way of the Cross), Munich, 1920, St. Petersburg, 1997, p. 149.

[33] Stevenson, op. cit., p. 237.

[34] Lebedev, Velikorossia (Great Russia), St. Petersburg, 1997, p. 465.

[35] Lieven, “Russia, Europe and World War I”, in Edward Acton, Vladimir Cherniaev, William Rosenberg (eds.), A Critical Companion to the Russian Revolution, 1914-1921, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997.

[36] Sergius Vladimirovich Volkov, “Pervaia mirovaia vojna i russkij ofitserskij korpus”, Nasha Strana, N 2874, August 29, 2009, p. 3.

[37] Lebedev, op. cit., pp. 463- 464.

[38] Stevenson, op. cit., p. 218.

[39] Strachan, op. cit., p. 256.

[40] Constantin Bujor, Resisting unto Blood: Sixty-Five Years of Persecution of the True (Old Calendar) Orthodox Church of Romania (October 1924 – December 1989), Etna, CA: Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, 2003, pp. 28-29. “For his opposition to the interference in Church affairs by the German occupying forces, [Archimandrite Galaction] was detained on January 18/31, 1917, by the German Central Police and interned as a hostage at Săveni, Ialomiţa County. This was the beginning of sufferings for the man who would become the founder of the Hierarchy of the Old Calendar Church of Romania. In a communiqué from the German Central Police, No. 10591, dated July 27, 1917 (New Style), he was accused of ‘activity damaging to German interests, in blatant contradiction to his Apostolic mission, which renders impossible his reinstatement in the position that he has occupied until now.’” (Bujor, op. cit., p. 33)

[41] Archbishop Nicon, “Beregite osnovnia nachala tserkovnoj zhizni”.

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