Written by Vladimir Moss



     Exactly one hundred and fifty years ago, Metropolitan Philaret (Drozdov) of Moscow peacefully departed to the Lord. The son of a poor village priest of Kolomna, he was consecrated a bishop at the age of 35 in 1817; he became Metropolitan of Moscow in 1821, serving there for nearly fifty years – fifty! – until his death in 1867. His reputation in Russia was immense: from his fellow hierarchs and the holy Elders of Optina to the simple people who sought his miracle-working help, he was revered as a great saint, the Russian equivalent of St. Photius the Great. And yet in the twentieth century there arose some who contended that he was not only not holy, but a heretic, a “scholastic”. Without examining this charge in detail (which would require a book-length exposition), let us recall some excerpts from his life and teaching.

     Elena Kontzevich writes: “The turning point in the spiritual life of Metropolitan Philaret was his first encounter with Fr. Anthony [Medvedev], then abbot of a poor hermitage who came to him to pay a visit to his ruling bishop. Fr. Anthony was quite outspoken in condemning the unorthodox and harmful ‘mysticism’ propagated by the masonic Bible Society, which was in vogue during the reign of Alexander I. Metropolitan Philaret hoped to have the Bible translated for the first time into modern Russian and thus supported the Society without really being able to see the danger in its ideas. At this meeting he heard for the first time the Orthodox Patristic teaching of the inward activity (Jesus Prayer) and, probably, about Saint Seraphim. He was deeply impressed, and as soon as he could he placed Fr. Anthony as head of the Holy Trinity Lavra, which was in his diocese. After this a great spiritual friendship developed between him and Fr. Anthony, who became his Starets, and without his advice he made no important decision, whether concerning a diocesan matter, governmental affairs, or his personal spiritual life.

     “Fr. Anthony had been absolutely devoted to St. Seraphim from the time he entered monastic life at Sarov at a young age. Contact with the Saints revealed to him the realm of Orthodox spirituality and the path to acquire it. St. Seraphim foresaw that he would become ‘abbot of a great Lavra’ and instructed him how to meet the challenge.

     “Metropolitan Philaret went through the way of the inward activity, the prayer of the heart, under the guidance of St. Seraphim’s disciple, and he thereby acquired great gifts in the spiritual life: gifts of vision, of prophecy, of healing the afflicted. Thus he himself became one of the forces of the great spiritual revival in Russia. He saved the institution of Startsi in Optina Monastery when Starets Lev was persecuted, protected the nuns of St. Seraphim’s Diveyevo Convent, patronized Starets Makary’s publication of Paissy Velichkovsky’s translations, founded the Gethsemane Skete of cave-dwellers near the Lavra. He himself functioned as a Starets. There is a clear indication also that he foresaw the Russian Revolution.”[1] 


      During the Masonic Decembrist rebellion that followed on the supposed death of Tsar Alexander I in 1825, Metropolitan Philaret’s wise refusal to reveal the contents of Tsar Alexander's will immediately helped to guarantee the transfer of power to his brother, Tsar Nicholas I. Philaret continued to defend Russia against Masonry and other western heresies throughout his life, but was pessimistic about the future. Thus he feared “storm-clouds coming from the West”, and advised that rizas should not be made for icons, because “the time is approaching when ill-intentioned people will remove the rizas from the icons.”[2]

     Particularly important and enlightening were Philaret’s views on the Autocracy, and on the relationship between the Church and the State. Indeed, according to Robert Nicols, it is perhaps Philaret, who “should be credited with the first efforts [in the Russian Church] to work out a theory of church-state relations that insisted on the legitimacy of divinely instituted royal authority without endorsing the seemingly unlimited claims of the modern state to administer all aspects of the lives of its citizens.”[3]

     According to Metropolitan Ioann (Snychev), Philaret said that "it was necessary for there to be a close union between the ruler and the people - a union, moreover, that was based exclusively on righteousness. The external expression of the prosperity of a state was the complete submission of the people to the government. The government in a state had to enjoy the rights of complete inviolability on the part of the subjects. And if it was deprived of these rights, the state could not be firm, it was threatened with danger insofar as two opposing forces would appear: self-will on the part of the subjects and predominance on the part of the government. 'If the government is not firm,' taught Philaret, 'then the state also is not firm. Such a state is like a city built on a volcanic mountain: what does its firmness signify when beneath it is concealed a force which can turn it into ruins at any minute? Subjects who do not recognize the sacred inviolability of the rulers are incited by hope of self-will to attain self-will; an authority which is not convinced of its inviolability is incited by worries about its security to attain predominance; in such a situation the state wavers between the extremes of self-will and predominance, between the horrors of anarchy and repression, and cannot affirm in itself obedient freedom, which is the focus and soul of social life.'


     "The holy hierarch understood the [Decembrist] rebellion as being against the State, against itself. 'Subjects can themselves understand,' said Philaret, 'that in destroying the authorities they are destroying the constitution of society and consequently they are themselves destroying themselves.'”[4]

     Philaret "did not doubt that monarchical rule is 'power from God' (Romans 13.1) in its significance for Russian history and statehood, and more than once in his sermons expressed the most submissively loyal feelings with regard to all the representatives of the Royal Family. But he was one of the very few archpastors who had the courage to resist the tendency - very characteristic of Russian conditions - to reduce Orthodoxy to 'glorification of the tsar'. Thus, contrary to many hierarchs, who from feelings of servility warmly accepted Nicholas I's attempt to introduce the heir among the members of the Synod, he justly saw in this a manifestation of caesaropapism..., and in the application of attributes of the Heavenly King to the earthly king - a most dangerous deformation of religious consciousness..., and in such phenomena as the passing of a cross procession around statues of the emperor - a direct return to paganism."[5]

     Metropolitan Philaret, as Fr. Georges Florovsky writes, "distinctly and firmly reminded people of the Church's independence and freedom, reminded them of the limits of the state. And in this he sharply and irreconcilably parted with his epoch, with the whole of the State's self-definition in the new, Petersburgian Russia. Philaret was very reserved and quiet when speaking. By his intense and courageous silence he with difficulty concealed and subdued his anxiety about what was happening. Through the vanity and confusion of events he saw and made out the threatening signs of the righteous wrath of God that was bound to come. Evil days, days of judgement were coming - 'it seems that we are already living in the suburbs of Babylon, if not in Babylon itself,' he feared... 'My soul is sorrowful,' admitted Metropolitan Philaret once. 'It seems to me that the judgement which begins at the house of God is being more and more revealed... How thickly does the smoke come from the coldness of the abyss and how high does it mount'... And only in repentance did he see an exit, in universal repentance 'for many things, especially in recent years'.

     "Philaret had his own theory of the State, of the sacred kingdom. And in it there was not, and could not be, any place for the principles of state supremacy. It is precisely because the powers that be are from God, and the sovereigns rule by the mercy of God, that the kingdom has a completely subject and auxiliary character. 'The State as State is not subject to the Church', and therefore the servants of the Church already in the apostolic canons are strictly forbidden 'to take part in the administration of the people'. Not from outside, but from within must the Christian State be bound by the law of God and the ecclesiastical order. In the mind of Metropolitan Philaret, the State is a moral union, 'a union of free moral beings' and a union founded on mutual service and love - 'a certain part of the general dominion of the Almighty, outwardly separate, but by an invisible power yoked into the unity of the whole'... And the foundation of power lies in the principle of service. In the Christian State Philaret saw the Anointed of God, and before this banner of God's good will he with good grace inclined his head. 'The Sovereign receives the whole of his lawfulness from the Church's anointing', that is, in the Church and through the Church. Here the Kingdom inclines its head before the Priesthood and takes upon itself the vow of service to the Church, and its right to take part in ecclesiastical affairs. He possesses this not by virtue of his autocracy and authority, but precisely by virtue of his obedience and vow. This right does not extend or pass to the organs of state administration, and between the Sovereign and the Church there cannot and must not be any dividing wall or mediation. The Sovereign is anointed, but not the State. The Sovereign enters into the Church, but the State as such remains outside the Church. And for that reason it has no rights and privileges in the Church. In her inner constitution the Church is completely independent, and has no need of the help or defence of the secular authorities - 'the altar does not fear to fall even without this protection'. For the Church is ruled by Christ Himself, Who distributes and realizes 'his own episcopacy of souls' through the apostolic hierarchy, which 'is not similar to any form of secular rule'.

     "The Church has her own inviolable code of laws, her own strength and privileges, which exceed all earthly measures. 'In His word Jesus Christ did not outline for her a detailed and uniform statute, so that His Kingdom should not seem to be of this world'... The Church has her own special form of action - in prayer, in the service of the sacraments, in exhortation and in pastoral care. And for real influence on public life, for its real enchurchment, according to Metropolitan Philaret's thought, the interference of the hierarchy in secular affairs is quite unnecessary - 'it is necessary not so much that a bishop should sit in the governmental assembly of grandees, as that the grandees and men of nobles birth should more frequently and ardently surround the altar of the Lord together with the bishop'... Metropolitan Philaret always with great definiteness drew a firm line between the state and ecclesiastical orders. Of course, he did not demand and did not desire the separation of the State from the Church, its departure from the Church into the arbitrariness of secular vanity. But at the same time he always sharply underlined the complete heterogeneity and particularity of the State and the Church. The Church cannot be in the State, and the State cannot be in the Church - 'unity and harmony' must be realized between them in the unity of the creative realization of God's commandments.

     "It is not difficult to understand how distant and foreign this way of thinking was for the State functionaries of the Nicolaitan spirit and time, and how demanding and childish it seemed to them. Philaret did not believe in the power of rebukes and reprimands. He did not attach great significance to the external forms of life - 'it is not some kind of transformation that is needed, but a choice of men and supervision', he used to say. And above all what was necessary was an inner creative uplift, a gathering and renewal of spiritual forces. What was needed was an intensification of creative activity, a strengthening and intensification of ecclesiastical and pastoral freedom. As a counterweight to the onslaught of the State, Metropolitan Philaret thought about the reestablishment of the living unity of the local episcopate, which would be realized in constant consultative communion of fellow pastors and bishops, and strengthened at times by small congresses and councils, until a general local Council would become inwardly possible and achievable.[6] Metropolitan Philaret always emphasized that 'we live in the Church militant'... And with sadness he recognized that 'the quantity of sins and carelessnesses which have mounted up in the course of more than one century almost exceeds the strength and means of correction'... Philaret was not a man of struggle, and was weighed down 'by remaining in the chatter and cares of the city and works of men'. He lived in expectation 'of that eternally secure city, from which it will not be necessary to flee into any desert', He wanted to withdraw, to run away, and beyond the storm of affairs to pray for the mercy and longsuffering of God, for 'defence from on high'."[7]

     The State was "a union of free moral beings, united amongst themselves with the sacrifice of part of their freedom for the preservation and confirmation by the common forces of the law of morality, which constitutes the necessity of their existence. The civil laws are nothing other than interpretations of this law in application to particular cases and guards placed against its violation."[8]

     Philaret emphasized the rootedness of the State in the family, with the State deriving its essential properties and structure from the family: "The family is older than the State. Man, husband, wife, father, son, mother, daughter and the obligations and virtues inherent in these names existed before the family grew into the nation and the State was formed. That is why family life in relation to State life can be figuratively depicted as the root of the tree. In order that the tree should bear leaves and flowers and fruit, it is necessary that the root should be strong and bring pure juice to the tree. In order that State life should develop strongly and correctly, flourish with education, and bring forth the fruit of public prosperity, it is necessary that family life should be strong with the blessed love of the spouses, the sacred authority of the parents, and the reverence and obedience of the children, and that as a consequence of this, from the pure elements of family there should arise similarly pure principles of State life, so that with veneration for one's father veneration for the tsar should be born and grow, and that the love of children for their mother should be a preparation of love for the fatherland, and the simple-hearted obedience of domestics should prepare and direct the way to self-sacrifice and self-forgetfulness in obedience to the laws and sacred authority of the autocrat."[9]

     If the foundation of the State is the family, and each family is both a miniature State and a miniature monarchy, it follows that the most natural form of Statehood is Monarchy - more specifically, a Monarchy that is in union with, as owing its origin to, the Heavenly Monarch, God. Despotic monarchies identify themselves, rather than unite themselves, with the Deity, so they cannot be said to correspond to the Divine order of things. In ancient times, the only monarchy that was in accordance with the order and the command of God was the Israelite autocracy. The Russian autocracy was the successor of the Israelite autocracy, was based on the same principles and received the same blessing from God through the sacrament of anointing to the kingdom .

     In 1851, Metropolitan Philaret preached as follows: "As heaven is indisputably better than the earth, and the heavenly than the earthly, it is similarly indisputable that the best on earth must be recognized to be that which was built on it in the image of the heavenly, as was said to the God-seer Moses: 'Look thou that thou make them after their pattern, which was showed thee in the mount' (Exodus 25.40). In accordance with this, God established a king on earth in the image of His single rule in the heavens; He arranged for an autocratic king on earth in the image of His almighty power; and He placed an hereditary king on earth in the image of His imperishable Kingdom, which lasts from ages to ages.

     "Oh if only all the kings of the earth paid sufficient attention to their heavenly dignity and to the traits of the image of the heavenly impressed upon them, and faithfully united the righteousness and goodness demanded of them, the heavenly unsleeping watchfulness, purity of thought and holiness of intention that is in God's image! Oh if only all the peoples sufficiently understood the heavenly dignity of the king and the construction of the heavenly kingdom in the image of the heavenly, and constantly signed themselves with the traits of that same image - by reverence and love for the king, by humble obedience to his laws and commands, by mutual agreement and unanimity, and removed from themselves everything of which there is no image in the heavens - arrogance, disputes, self-will, greediness and every evil thought, intention and act! Everything would be blessed in accordance with the heavenly image if it were well constructed in accordance with the heavenly image. All earthly kingdoms would be worthy of being the ante­chamber of the Heavenly Kingdom.

     "Russia! You participate in this good more than many kingdoms and peoples. 'Hold on to that which thou hast, that no man take thy crown' (Revelation 3.11). Keep and continue to adorn your radiant crown, ceaselessly struggling to fulfil more perfectly the crown-giving commandments: 'Fear God, honour the king' (I Peter 2.17).

     "Turning from the well-known to that which has perhaps been less examined and understood in the apostle's word, I direct our attention to that which the apostle, while teaching the fear of God, reverence for the king and obedience to the authorities, at the same time teaches about freedom: 'Submit', he says, 'to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake; whether to the king, as being supreme, or to governors as being sent through him... as free'. Submit as free men. Submit, and remain free...

     "But how are we more correctly to understand and define freedom? Philosophy teaches that freedom is the capacity without restrictions rationally to choose and do that which is best, and that it is by nature the heritage of every man. What, it would seem, could be more desirable? But this teaching has its light on the summit of the contemplation of human nature, human nature as it should be, while in descending to our experience and actions as they are in reality, it encounters darkness and obstacles.

     "In the multiplicity of the race of men, are there many who have such an open and educated mind as faithfully to see and distinguish that which is best? And do those who see the best always have enough strength decisively to choose it and bring it to the level of action? Have we not heard complaints from the best of men: 'For to will is present in me, but how to perform that which is good I find not' (Romans 7.18)? What are we to say about the freedom of people who, although not in slavery to anybody, are nevertheless subject to sensuality, overcome by passion, possessed by evil habits? Is the avaricious man free? Is he not bound in golden chains? Is the indulger of his flesh free? Is he not bound, if not by cruel bonds, then by soft nets? Is the proud and vainglorious man free? Is he not chained, not by his hands, and not by his legs, but by his head and heart, to his own idol?

     "Thus does not experience and consciousness, at least of some people in some cases, speak of that of which the Divine Scriptures speak generally: 'He who does sin is the servant of sin' (John 8. 34)?

     "Observation of people and human societies shows that people who to a greater degree allow themselves to fall into this inner, moral slavery - slavery to sin, the passions and vices - are more often than others zealots for external freedom - freedom broadened as far as possible in human society before the law and the authorities. But will broadening external freedom help them to freedom from inner slavery? There is no reason to think that. With greater probability we must fear the opposite. He in whom sensuality, passion and vice has already acquired dominance, when the barriers put by the law and the authorities to his vicious actions have been removed, will of course give himself over to the satisfaction of his passions and lusts with even less restraint than before, and will use his external freedom only in order that he may immerse himself more deeply in inner slavery. Unhappy freedom which, as the Apostle explained, 'they have as a cover for their envy'! Let us bless the law and the authorities which, in decreeing and ordering and defending, as necessity requires, the limits placed upon freedom of action, hinder as far they can the abuse of natural freedom and the spread of moral slavery, that is, slavery to sin, the passions and the vices.

     "I said: as far as they can, because we can not only not expect from the law and the earthly authorities a complete cutting off of the abuse of freedom and the raising of those immersed in the slavery of sin to the true and perfect freedom: even the law of the Heavenly Lawgiver is not sufficient for that. The law warns about sin, rebukes the sinner and condemns him, but does not communicate to the slave of sin the power to break the bonds of this slavery, and does not provide the means of blotting out the iniquities committed, which lie on the conscience like a fiery seal of sinful slavery. And in this consists 'the weakness of the law' (Romans 8.3), to which the Apostle witnesses without a moment's hesitation.

     "Here the question again arises: what is true freedom, and who can give it, and – especially - return it to the person who has lost it through sin? True freedom is the active capacity of the man who has not been enslaved to sin and who is not weighed down by a condemning conscience, to choose the best in the light of the truth of God and to realize it with the help of the power of God's grace.

     "Only He Who gave this freedom to sinless man at his creation can give it back to the slave of sin. The Creator of freedom Himself declared this: 'If the Son will set you free, then you will truly be free' (John 8.36). 'If you remain in My words, you will truly be My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free' (John 31.32). Jesus Christ, the Son of God, having suffered and died for us in the nature He received from us, by His 'Blood has cleansed our conscience from dead works' (Hebrews 9.14), and, having torn apart the bonds of death by His resurrection, has torn apart also the bonds of sin and death that bind us, and, after His ascension to heaven, has sent down the Spirit of truth, giving us through faith the light of His truth to see what is best, and His grace-filled power to do it.

     "This is freedom, which is restrained neither by heaven, nor by the earth, nor by hell, which has as its limit the will of God, and this not to its own diminution, because it also strives to fulfil the will of God, which has no need to shake the lawful decrees of men because it is able to see in these the truth that 'the Kingdom is the Lord's and He Himself is sovereign of the nations' (Psalm 21.28), which in an unconstrained way venerates lawful human authority and its commands that are not contrary to God, insofar as it radiantly sees the truth that 'there is no power that is not of God, the powers that be are ordained of God' (Romans 13.1). And so this is freedom, which is in complete accord with obedience to the law and lawful authority, because it itself wishes for that which obedience demands…”[10]

     However, as Nicols writes, the holy metropolitan “became disenchanted with Russia’s growing regimentation under Tsar Nicholas I and his officials. For Filaret, this was a period of ‘crisis’, and his response to it shows him to be a follower of the Orthodox ascetical and contemplative approach to the tasks of personal and social reconstruction in the Christian life. This approach decisively defined his outlook as a churchman, for it suggested to him that beyond the decisions of Synods, the education of seminaries and academies, the unity found in political and ecclesiastical formulations, the only adequate means for combating a new irreligious and secular age could be found in the healing power of the Holy Spirit most effectively mediated through those perfected by asceticism, prayer, and silence. Just as in the arduous age of St Anthony the Great in the Egyptian desert, or the dangerous one of St. Sergius of Radonezh, sufficient power for healing, renewal, and salvation could only be acquired by those cloistered in the ‘wilderness’ of Russia’s Northern Thebaid. The divisions of the raskol and the Unia, the theological differences between Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants, the inadequate knowledge of Scripture and Christian teaching by ordinary Russians could not be surmounted by formal decrees of secret committees or specially trained missionaries and dogmatists working in the Nicholaevan spirit of military discipline and regimentation. Christianity required an inner freedom and vitality that was immediately suspected as a subversive current pulling against the official tide. ‘In such circumstances,’ Filaret warned, ‘no amount of caution will suffice, but nonetheless assiduous caution is necessary.’ Filaret’s criticisms and actions in the 1840s brought him into official disfavor, and his private papers at one point were secretly examined for damaging and incriminating evidence against him. He was forced to leave St Petersburg and the Holy Synod under a dark cloud. He did not return again until after the emperor’s death in 1855…”[11]

     Metropolitan Philaret’s courage in relation to the strictest and most powerful of the Tsars is illustrated by the following incident, which he related to his Starets, Fr. Anthony. “In Moscow,” as Kontzevich relates the story, “the newly erected Triumphal Gate was to be dedicated by the Metropolitan, for which occasion Emperor Nicholas I himself was to come. Since there were statues of pagan gods on it, Metropolitan Philaret refused to consecrate it. The Tsar was greatly angered, and society disapproved of his action. Although he had obeyed his pastoral conscience and Fr. Anthony, he was not at peace over this and prayed fervently all night. ‘I fell asleep,’ he said, ‘and it was already close to five when I heard a noise at the door. I awoke and sat up. The door, which I usually lock, opened quietly and in walked St. Sergy, a thin, gray-haired old man of medium height, in his monk’s havit and without epitrachelion. Bending over the bed, he said to me: “Do not be upset, all will pass”… And he disappeared.’ St. Sergy of Radonezh, under whose protection the Metropolitan lived all his life, had personally come from another world to console the sorrowing heart of his servant.”[12] 


      On returning to favour under Tsar Alexander II, Philaret was immediately entrusted again with the most onerous duties. Thus the composition of the manifesto proclaiming the most important act of Alexander’s reign, the Emancipation of the Serfs, on February 19, 1861, was entrusted to him. This extraordinary act – probably the largest-scale act of political liberation in world history, and accomplished without any of the bloodshed caused in the contemporary American Civil War - was in general well received. Thus St. Ignaty Brianchaninov saw it as "a most happy initiative, a majestic order amazing Europe". The radicals, on the other hand, said that the reform provided "inadequate freedom". However, the real problem was not so much "inadequate freedom" as the fact that emancipation introduced "the wrong kind of freedom". The very composer of the manifesto, Metropolitan Philaret, while recognizing the nobility of the act, had doubts about emancipation. True freedom, according to the Metropolitan, "is Christian freedom - internal, not external freedom, - moral and spiritual, not carnal, - always doing good and never rebellious, which can live in a hut just as comfortably as in an aristocrat's or tsar's house, - which a subject can enjoy as much as the master without ceasing to be a subject, - which is unshakeable in bonds and prison, as we can see in the Christian martyrs'."[13] This freedom was not lost under serfdom. Rather, it was emancipation that threatened this true Christian freedom by introducing the demand for another, non-Christian kind.

     In view of the important role played by Metropolitan Philaret in the emancipation manifesto, it is not surprising, that his advice should have been solicited in other reforms, too, including, of course, Church reform. And yet, as Gregory Frazee writes, “from the very onset of the Great Reforms, Philaret expressed deep reservations about ambitious plans for a radical reconstruction of Russian state and society. In a sermon delivered at Chudovo Monastery in 1856 (and ostensibly directed at more radical perspectives, but implicitly applicable to those with excessive ambitions for reform), Philaret upbraided those who ‘work on the creation and establishment of better principles (in their opinion) for the formation and transformation of human cities. For more than half a century, the most educated part of mankind, in places and times, see their transformation efforts in action, but as yet, never and nowhere, have they created a “calm and tranquil life”. They know how to disturb the ancient buildings of states, but not how to create something solid. According to their blueprints, new governments are suddenly built – and just as quickly collapse. They feel burdened by the paternal, reasonable authority of the tsar; they introduce the blind and harsh authority of the popular crowd and endless fights among those seeking power. They seduce people by assuring that they will lead them to freedom, but in reality they lead them away from lawful liberty to wilfulness, and then subject them to oppression.’

     “Philaret was still more candid in his private correspondence. The same year, 1856, after receiving a far-reaching proposal to restore the Church’s prerogatives, Philaret warned that ‘it is easy to discern what should be improved, but not so easy to show the means to attain that improvement.’ His experience over the next few years only intensified his abiding scepticism. In February 1862, he wrote a close confidante that ‘now is not the time to seek new inventions for Church authority. May God help us to preserve that which has not been plundered or destroyed’.”[14]

     Appeals were even made, writes Fr. Alexis Nikolin, “for the summoning of a Local Council of the Russian Church. However, conditions for that had not yet ripened. The Russian Church, in the opinion of the holy hierarch Philaret (Drozdov), was not yet ready for it at that time. His words are well-known: ‘The misfortune of our time is that the quantity of sins and carelessnesses that have piled up in the course of more than one century almost exceed the strength and means of correction.’ The holy hierarch Philaret considered that a change in the situation could take place as a result of a Church initiative, but not from State supervision…”[15]

     Why should Philaret, the churchman par excellence, turn down the opportunity to increase the Church’s independence in relation to the State? Partly because “the Great Reforms… entailed a relaxation of the oppressive censorship of the Nikolaevan era, primarily to stimulate public involvement in the reform process and to complement and correct the activities of officialdom. But glasnost’ – as it was then termed – also entailed an unprecedented discussion of the Church and its problems. Philaret, understandably, found this critical comment in the press deeply disturbing, partly because it revealed the transparent animus of the educated and privileged toward the Church, but also because the government – ostensibly duty bound to defend the Church – allowed such publications to circulate. Even a conservative newspaper like Moskovskie Vedomosti elicited sharp complaints from Philaret, but far worse was to appear in the moderate and liberal press. The flow of antireligious publications made Philaret increasingly suspicious: ‘Is there not a conspiracy striving to bring everything honourable into contempt and to undermine the convictions of faith and morality so that it will be easier to turn everything into democratic chaos?’”[16]

     Philaret’s archconservatism was especially manifested in his reaction to the proposals for Church reform put forward by the minister of the interior, P.A. Valuev. “In the summer of 1861,… Valuev wrote the emperor that he would like to prepare a memorandum on the matter, but because this sphere lay outside his jurisdiction, first asked permission to undertake the task. The issue had long been of concern to Valuev; while still a provincial governor, he had criticized the Church for its weaknesses and its tendency to resort to state coercion to shield believers from other confessions. Permission granted, Valuev then prepared a comprehensive memorandum that essentially became the blueprint for ecclesiastical reform in the 1860s.

      “Entitled ‘On the Present Condition of the Orthodox Church and Orthodox Clergy’, his report argued that earlier proposals for Church reform in the Western provinces were doomed to failure, for the fundamental problems were structural, not regional. In Valuev’s opinion, the Orthodox Church had fallen into such an abject condition that it could not combat apostasy without relying on the coercive apparatus of the state – a practice that was ineffective for the Church and troublesome for the state officials charged with prosecuting religious dissenters. Like many in the government, Valuev wanted the Church to provide support for the state, but now found the relationship one-sided: although the Church relies upon state power, ‘the government cannot enjoy reciprocal assistance from ecclesiastical authorities, because their influence is too insignificant.’ In Valuev’s opinion, not only the Church as an institution, but its servitors (above all, the rank-and-file parish clergy) were in dire straits: ‘One cannot help feeling profound sorrow when seeing the conditions which the Orthodox clergy, the closest representatives and the pastors of the Church, occupy among other classes of the population. Everywhere one notices a lack of feeling of respect and trust toward [the clergy], and a feeling of profound, bitter denigration is apparent among them.’ Much of the problem, he contended, derived from the deep animus between the black and white clergy. In Valuev’s view, all this resulted from the social isolation of the bishops: ‘The diocesan bishops for the most part lead the life of involuntary recluses, avoiding the secular world around them, neither understanding nor knowing its needs.’ Valuev further asserted that the bishops ‘are primarily concerned not with the flock entrusted to them, but with the lower pastors subordinated to them,’ and that they reign over the latter ‘like the most brutal despots’. He stressed that this despotism is all the more onerous, since it unleashes ‘the avarice of the diocesan chancelleries and consistories’, who subject the parish clergy to merciless abuse: ‘The priests are obliged to pay them tribute. If the tribute is deemed insufficient, they are punished by endless, ruinous relocations from one parish to another. Not a single priest is secure against such relations by the most zealous performance of his duties, the most impeccable life.’ While not denying that the bishops were ‘in general worthy of every respect in terms of their personal qualities,’ Valuev complained that the prelates often fell under the sway of their chancelleries. The result is ‘a certain hardening of feelings’ and inaccessibility compounded by ‘advanced age and illness’, which left them unfit for ‘intensified independent work’. These problems, warned Valuev, caused parish clergy not only to despise their superiors but to exhibit an attraction to radical, even Protestant ideas: ‘The white clergy hates the black clergy, and with the assistance of this hatred there is already beginning to spread not only democratic, but even socialist strivings, but also a certain inclination toward Protestantism, which with time could lead to a convulsion within the bosom of the Church. The white clergy is poor, helpless, and lacking with respect to its own means of existence and the fate of their families. For the most part it stands at a low level of education and lives under conditions that efface the traces of that inadequate education which they acquired in the ecclesiastical seminaries and academies; it does not constitute and organized soslovie (estate) in the state, but a caste of Levites; it sees no hope for an improvement in its material existence, because it understands that, given   its very large numbers, it cannot count on significant generosity on the part of the government. That explains why part of the parish priests live at the expense of the schism, which they pander to, and the other resorts to extortion from parishioners, or languishes in need that often extinguishes its mental and moral powers.

     “Not surprisingly, he concluded, the Church had proven incapable of combating the steady inroads by the schism, sects, and other confessions.

     “To address these problems, Valuev proposed systematic, fundamental reform. One was to dismantle the hereditary clerical estate (dukhovnoe soslovie), at a minimum by permitting the clergy’s sons – who normally remained within the hereditary clerical estate – to choose their own career path, but perhaps by excluding them from inclusion in the estate altogether. Valuev also urged a ‘radical transformation’ of the seminary curriculum in order to provide an education that would facilitate mobility into secular careers. No less important was the problem of material support for the clergy: a combination of gratuities (a source of humiliation and endless conflict) and agriculture (a distraction from the clergy’s spiritual duties). Since the state was in position to provide salaries, Valuev could only suggest a traditional remedy (set reasonable fees to preclude haggling over rites), surplus state land (where available), and the merger of parishes (to form larger, more economically viable units). More attractive to the clergy, no doubt, was Valuev’s proposal ‘to give the parish clergy an honorable, active, and independent participation in public education’, a measure that would simultaneously provide them with additional income and help draw them ‘closer to the other educated classes’. No less important, in Valuev’s view, was the need to involve the bishops in worldly matters: ‘This improvement [in relations between prelates and priests], in turn, is hardly possible so long as the prelates of our church will remain alien to all everyday relations, all the civil needs of their flock. It is desirable to draw them [the bishops] closer to the latter; for this rapprochement, it is almost necessary to give them the opportunity, even if in some cases, to participate in the civil affairs of their fatherland, to show them the path along which they can acquire the right to this participation. The summoning of several members of the Holy Synod to the State Council, with the right to participate in discussions of all the matters brought before it (except criminal cases), would open this opportunity and indicate this path to the upper members of our clergy.’

     “Fully aware of the sensitive nature of these proposals, Valuev proposed that he first hold private discussions with the venerable metropolitan of Moscow, Philaret, and seek to gain his approval – a critical step in securing the Church’s approval and cooperation… His principal concern was to secure Philaret’s support for a joint Church-state committee, an intrusion into the ecclesiastical domain likely to raise the hackles of this determined tserkovnik. In part, Valuev hoped that the emperor’s special solicitude toward Philaret would carry the day; he later reported to Alexander that ‘the attention and trust shown by Your Majesty to the opinion of His Grace Philaret was obviously pleasant and flattering for him.’

     “Valuev did in fact win Philaret’s general assent, but met with resistance on several issues. First, although Valuev tactfully avoided ‘using the phrases “closed estate” (zamknutoe soslovie) and “break up the estate” (razomknut’ soslovie), Philaret understood perfectly what the minister had in mind. He denied that the clergy constituted a caste and cited his own vicar – born into the nobility – to demonstrate the point. Second, Philaret showed little enthusiasm for allotting the clergy additional land, but appeared to withdraw his objection in view of the state’s inability to provide salaries. Third, Philaret categorically opposed permitting a joint Church-state committee to reform ecclesiastical schools, a matter falling exclusively within the Church’s competence. Finally, Philaret rejected the idea of including Synod members in the State Council. He feared that the latter might treat the prelates with condescension and attempt to raise issues about Church finances (an allusion to the issue of the Church budget, an issue still unresolved at this point). In cases where the State Council needed the Synod’s view, declared Philaret, it could simply invite them to special sessions – as had been done in the past…

     “Although the government did not further consult Philaret, it did pare back the original vision. Thus Valuev jettisoned his scheme for Synodal membership in the State Council, but still tried to give the new committee a broad range of authority, even over spheres that Philaret had explicitly precluded. Thus, a Valuev draft proposal of January 1862 still gave the committee the power to deal not only with the ‘clerical question’, but also with the reform of ecclesiastical schools. More important still, Valuev wanted the committee determine ‘the degree and means for the participation of parishioners in the economic governance of the affairs of the parish church’. That was a highly sensitive issue, given the laity’s strong aversion to the diversion of local resources to finance general Church needs. In the teeth of clerical opposition, however, Valuev eventually trimmed back the original charge to the matters condoned by Metropolitan Philaret.

     “Thus, while Philaret acceded to the inclusion of several ranking state officials in the mixed commission…, he had greatly reduced the broad mandate that Valuev originally sought. He defended the Church’s authority (in the issue of ecclesiastical schools) and defeated the scheme to include Synodal members in the State Council. While Philaret could hardly deny the need for reform, he was adamant about preserving the Church’s institutional integrity and privileges.”[17]

     In the last years of Philaret’s life, his influence waned and the secular principles he so feared began increasingly to penetrate Church life.[18] Thus “from 1865,” writes Nikolin, “the over-procurator of the Holy Synod became Count Demetrius A. Tolstoy, who combined this post with the post of minister of popular enlightenment, as if renewing the experiment of the ‘double ministry’ of Prince Golitsyn. However, in contrast to the supra-confessional mysticism of the latter, Count Tolstoy demonstrated an idiosyncratic supra-confessional indifferentism. A man of conservative views and well-versed in matters of common and internal politics, Count Tolstoy showed himself to be a radical and an innovator in ecclesiastical matters, but an innovator who was far from an understanding of Church life. He worked out a series of liberal reforms in various spheres of the ecclesiastical order. Thus, immediately after the publication of the Juridical Statutes, the over-procurator raised the question of the suitability of reforming the Church courts on the same principles on which the civil courts had been reformed. This and other projects of Count Tolstoy suggested the reconstruction of Church life in accordance with the rules of secular consciousness, and not on the basis of the canonical self-consciousness of the Church.”[19]

     Again, “despite earlier promises of including the parish clergy into the new system of elementary public education, the central government ultimately abdicated a primary role and left the responsibility with the community, zemstvo, or Ministry of Education – not the Church. As Philaret acidly complained to a close confidante: ‘But then came the new minister of education. And they say that it is already decided that rural schools will be secular, and that millions of rubles have been allotted for them. A single act of grace was given to us: the priests are not forbidden to keep their schools, without any assistance for them.’ As a result, the parish schools that clergy had so fervently opened in the 1850s came upon hard times, their number sharply dropping, until the government renewed its support – and financing – in the 1880s…”[20]

     While in his life as a hierarch, Metropolitan Philaret encountered many obstacles and sorrows, in two other spheres he went from strength to strength: in his preaching and theological work, and in his work as a pastor. 

     Already as a young man, Philaret had been noted for his superb preaching. Metropolitan Platon of Moscow said of him: “I give sermons like a man, but he speaks like an angel.” He was the automatic choice to preach at all great occasions, and he was especially noted for his profound teaching on the Cross of Christ during Passion Week, and on the intertwining of Love and Justice in the Economy of salvation.

     However, after his death Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) accused the holy Philaret of “scholasticism” in precisely this sphere, arguing that his teaching on the Cross and on the role of Justice in the Divine Economy was harsh and Roman Catholic.Thusin the mystery of the Cross, says Metropolitan Philaret, is expressed “the crucifying love of the Father, the crucified love of the Son, and the love of the Holy Spirit triumphant in the power of the Cross. For God so loved the world…” On which Metropolitan Anthony commented dismissively: “This is a most unpersuasive sophism, a mere juggling of words. What sort of love is it that crucifies? Who needs it?”[21] 

     The whole world needed it. And Russia needed the preaching of Metropolitan Philaret, who expounded the mystery of redemption in very traditional language, never departing from the language and teaching of the New Testament. But let us judge for ourselves whether the holy metropolitan’s teaching on this theme was really “scholastic” by one more quotation from his work.

     “Draw closer,” he says, “and examine the threatening face of God’s justice, and you will exactly discern in it the meek gaze of God’s love. Man by his sin has fenced off from himself the everlasting source of God’s love: and this love is armed with righteousness and judgement – for what? – to destroy this stronghold of division. But since the insignificant essence of the sinner would be irreparably crushed under the blows of purifying Justice, the inaccessible Lover of souls sends His consubstantial Love, that is, His Only-begotten Son, so that He Who ‘upholds all things by the word of His power’ (Hebrews 1.3), might also bear the heaviness of our sins, and the heaviness of the justice advancing towards us, in the flesh of ours that He took upon Himself: and, having Alone extinguished the arrows of wrath, sharpened against the whole of humanity, might reveal in his wounds on the Cross the unblocked springs of mercy and love which was to the whole land that had once been cursed - blessings, life and beatitude. Thus did God love the world.

      “But if the Heavenly Father out of love for the world gives up His Only-begotten Son; then equally the Son out of love for man gives Himself up; and as love crucifies, so is love crucified. For although ‘the Son can do nothing of Himself’, neither can he do anything in spite of Himself. He ‘does not seek His own will’ (John 5.19 and 31), but for that reason is the eternal heir and possessor of the will of His Father. ‘He abides in His love’, but in it He Himself receives into His love all that is loved by the Father, as he says: ‘As the Father hath loved Me, so have I loved you’ (John 15.9). And in this way the love of the Heavenly Father is extended to the world through the Son: the love of the Only-begotten Son of God at the same time ascends to the Heavenly Father and descends to the world. Here let him who has eyes see the most profound foundation and primordial inner constitution of the Cross, out of the love of the Son of God for His All-holy Father and love for sinful humanity, the two loves intersecting with, and holding on to, each other, apparently dividing up what was one, but in fact uniting the divided into one. Love for God is zealous for God – love for man is merciful to man. Love for God demands that the law of God’s righteousness should be observed – love for man does not abandon the transgressor of the law to perish in his unrighteousness. Love for God strives to strike the enemy of God – love for man makes the Divinity man, so as by means of love for God mankind might be deified, and while love for God ‘lifts the Son of man from the earth’ (John 12.32 and 34), love for man opens the embraces of the Son of God for the earthborn, these opposing strivings of love intersect, dissolve into each other, balance each other and make of themselves that wonderful heart of the Cross, on which forgiving ‘mercy’ and judging ‘truth meet together’, God’s ‘righteousness’ and man’s ‘peace kiss each other’, through which heavenly ‘truth is sprung up out of the earth, and righteousness’ no longer with a threatening eye ‘hath looked down from heaven. Yea, for the Lord will give goodness, and our land shall yield her fruit’ (Psalm 84.11-13).”[22]

     As for the metropolitan’s pastoral work, “still during his lifetime many people asked his prayers and blessing for the sick, and there were cases of healing from his prayers. One eight-year-old paralyzed girl began at once to walk as soon as her mother carried her to receive a blessing from the Metropolitan. A girl who had been dumb for thirteen years began to talk when Metropolitan Philaret asked her, ‘What is your name?’ and forced her on the spot to read the Lord’s Prayer. One merchant had gangrene on his arm and the doctors decided to amputate it, but the sick man through his parish priest asked with faith for the prayers of Metropolitan Philaret, and after this he saw a dream in which the Metropolitan blessed him; when he awoke he felt better and when the doctors came for the operation they found, to their astonishment, that the army was normal and no surgery was necessary… And there have been many more cases of his intercession…”[23]


     The metropolitan’s death was as Grace-filled as his life had been. Two months before, “his long-dead father appeared to him and said, ‘Beware the 19th’, and he began to prepare for his death. On November 19 he served Divine Liturgy with exceptional feeling and tears. At two in the afternoon he was found dead in his cell. His righteous death, as also his life, was concealed from me.

     “Literally the whole of Moscow participated in the burial of the great hierarch, hundreds of thousands of people accompanying him to his final resting place in the Holy Trinity Lavra of St. Sergy.”[24]

     Although the reputation of Metropolitan Philaret has continued to grow, and he is considered a saint by very many, there are still some parts of the Russian Church, which, quite understandably - even laudably - not wishing in any way to question the judgement or undermine the reputation of his main critic, Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky), have hesitated to glorify him. That is a pity. But we must join ourselves to the hope expressed by E. Sumarokov, that “if a Christian government will be restored to Russia, one may hope that Metropolitan Philaret will be canonized and added to the ranks of the Fathers of the Church.”[25]


November 19 / December 2, 2017.

St. Philaret, Metropolitan of Moscow.








[1] Kontezevich, “Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow”, St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, p. 195.

[2] Fomin S. and Fomina T., Rossia pered Vtorym Prishesviem (Russia before the Second Coming), Moscow, 1998, vol. I, p. 349.

[3] Nicols, “Filaret of Moscow as an Ascetic” in J. Breck, J. Meyendorff and E. Silk (eds.), The Legacy of St Vladimir, Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1990, p. 81.

[4]Snychev, Zhizn' i Deiatel'nost' Filareta, Mitropolita Moskovskogo (The Life and Activity of Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow), Tula, 1994, p. 177.

[5] V. Shokhin, "Svt. Philaret, mitropolit Moskovskij i 'shkola veruiushchego razuma' v russkoj filosofii" ("Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow and the 'school of believing reason' in Russian philosophy"), Vestnik Russkogo Khristianskogo Dvizhenia (Herald of the Russian Christian Movement), 175, I-1997, p. 97.

[6] "Already in the reign of Alexander I the hierarch used to submit the idea of the restoration of Local Councils and the division of the Russian Church into nine metropolitan areas. At the command of Emperor Alexander he had even composed a project and given it to the members of the Synod for examination. But the Synod rejected the project, declaring: 'Why this project, and why have you not spoken to us about it?' 'I was ordered [to compose it]' was all that the hierarch could reply, 'and speaking about it is not forbidden'" (Snychev, op. cit., pp. 226). (V.M.)

[7] Florovsky, "Philaret, mitropolit Moskovskij" (Philaret, Metropolitan of Moscow), in Vera i Kul'tura (Faith and Culture), St. Petersburg, 2002, pp. 261-264.

[8] Metropolitan Philaret, quoted in Lev Regelson, Tragedia Russkoj Tservki, 1917-1945 (The Tragedy of the Russian Church, 1917-1945), Paris: YMCA Press, 1977, pp. 24-25.

[9] Metropolitan Philaret, Sochinenia (Works), 1848 edition, volume 2, p. 169.

[10]Metropolitan Philaret, "Slovo v den' Blagochestivejshego Gosudaria Imperatora Nikolaia Pavlovich" (Sermon on the day of his Most Pious Majesty Emperor Nicholas Pavlovich), in Kozlov, op. cit., pp. 274-275, 277-279.

[11] Nicols, op. cit., pp. 83-84.

[12] Kontezevich, op. cit., pp. 195-196.

[13] Philaret, in Bishop Plato, On the Question of Freedom of Conscience, Kiev, 1902.

[14] Frazee, “Skeptical Reformer, Staunch Tserkovnik: Metropolitan Philaret and the Great Reforms”, in Vladimir Tsurikov (ed.), Philaret, Metropolitan of Moscow, 1782-1867, Jordanville: Variable Press, 2003, pp. 155-156.

[15] Nikolin, Tserkov’ i Gosudarstvo (Church and State),Moscow, 1997, p. 124.

[16] Frazee, op. cit., pp. 157-158.

[17] Frazee, op. cit., pp. 172-178.

[18] He did achieve one major victory, however. His project of translating the Bible into Russian, which had been successfully resisted under Alexander I, was finally approved under Alexander II, even if it was not realized in Philaret’s lifetime.

[19] Nikolin, op. cit., p. 124.

[20] Frazee, op. cit., pp. 184-185.

[21] Khrapovitsky, The Dogma of Redemption, Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Boston, 1982, p. 6).

[22] Metropolitan Philaret, “Sermon on Holy Friday (1816)”, The Works of Philaret, Metropolitan of Moscow and Kolomna, Moscow, 1994, pp. 107-108.

[23] Kontzevich, op. cit., p. 196.

[24] Kontzevich, op. cit., p. 196.

[25] Sumarokov, Lectures on the History of the Russian Church, Harbin, 1945 volume 2.

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