Written by Vladimir Moss



     One of the biggest fruits of glasnost – which did not, however, lead to a real ecclesiastical perestroika – was the confirmation in January, 1992, by a Commission of the Presidium of the Russian Supreme Soviet investigating the causes and circumstances of the 1991 putsch, that for several decades at least the leaders of the Moscow Patriarchate had been KGB agents.

     Members of the commission - L. Ponomarev, V. Polosin and Fr. Gleb Yakunin – obtained access to the records of the fourth, Church department of the KGB’s Fifth Directorate (in which the future president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, had worked), and revealed that Metropolitans Juvenal of Krutitsa, Pitirim of Volokolamsk, Philaret of Kiev and Philaret of Minsk were all KGB agents, with the codenames “Adamant”, “Abbat”, “Antonov” and “Ostrovsky”.

     This “news” was hardly unexpected. In 1989 Kharchev, Chairman of the Council for Religious Affairs, confirmed that the Russian Orthodox Church was rigorously controlled by the Central Committee of the Communist Party, especially its Ideological Department, and by the KGB.[1] Again, Victor Sheimov, a former KGB major with responsibilities for upgrading the KGB’s communications security system until his defection in 1980, described the Fifth Directorate as being “responsible for suppressing ideological dissent, running the Soviet Orthodox Church and laying the groundwork for the First Chief Directorate’s subversive promotion of favourable opinion about the country’s position and policy.”[2] One of Sheimov’s jobs was to draft agents to infiltrate the “Soviet Orthodox Church”. Again, in 1992 a former KGB agent, A. Shushpanov, described his experiences working in the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department of External Ecclesiastical Relations. He said that most of the people working there were in fact KGB agents.[3]

     But it was the Commission’s report on March 6 that contained the most shocking revelations: “KGB agents, using such aliases as Sviatoslav, Adamant, Mikhailov, Nesterovich, Ognev and others, made trips abroad, organised by the Russian Orthodox Department of External Relations [which was headed by Metropolitan Cyril (Gundiaev), the future patriarch], performing missions assigned to them by the leadership of the KGB. The nature of their missions shows that this department was inseparably linked with the state and that it had emerged as a covert centre of KGB agents among the faithful.”

     Again: “The Commission draws the attention of the Russian Orthodox Church leadership to the fact that the Central Committee of the CPSU and KGB agencies have used a number of church bodies for their purposes by recruiting and planting KGB agents. Such deep infiltration by intelligence service agents into religious associations poses a serious threat to society and the State. Agencies that are called upon to ensure State security can thus exert uncontrolled impact on religious associations numbering millions of members, and through them on the situation at home and abroad.”[4]

     The findings of the Commission included:- (i) the words of the head of the KGB Yury Andropov to the Central Committee sometime in the 1970s: “The organs of state security keep the contacts of the Vatican with the Russian Orthodox Church under control…”; (ii) “At the 6th General Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Vancouver, the religious delegation from the USSR contained 47 (!) agents of the KGB, including religious authorities, clergy and technical personnel” (July, 1983); (iii) “The most important were the journeys of agents ‘Antonov’, ‘Ostrovsky’ and ‘Adamant’ to Italy for conversations with the Pope of Rome on the question of further relations between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church, and in particular regarding the problems of the uniates” (1989).[5]

     The Commission also discovered that the patriarch himself was an agent with the codename “Drozdov” (he was thought to have the rank of major). This was not made public because, writes Fen Montaigne, “members of the parliamentary commission had told the patriarch that they would not name him as an agent if he began cleaning house in the church and acknowledging the breadth of cooperation between the church and the KGB. ‘So far, we have kept silence because we wanted to give the patriarch a chance,’ said Alexander Nezhny, a journalist who said his comparison of the archives and church bulletins convinced him that Alexis II is indeed ‘Drozdov’.”[6] 

     Later investigations confirmed the fact. Thus on March 18, 1996 the Estonian newspaper Postimees published the following KGB report from the Estonian SSR: “Agent ‘Drozdov’, born in 1929, a priest of the Orthodox Church, has a higher education, a degree in theology, speaks Russian and Estonian perfectly, and some limited German. He enlisted on February 28, 1958 out of patriotic feelings in order to expose and drive out the anti-Soviet elements among the Orthodox clergy, with whom he has connections, which represents an overriding interest to the KGB agencies. At the time of enlistment it was taken into consideration that in the future (after securing his practical work) he would be promoted through the available channels to Bishop of Tallinn and Estonia. In the period of his collaboration with the organs of the KGB, ‘Drozdov’ has proved himself in a positive manner, is accurate in his reports, energetic and sociable. He understands theological matters and international situations well, is eager to carry out tasks given him by us and has already presented a good quantity of worthy material… After securing the agent in practical jobs for the agencies of state security concretely worked out, we intend to use him to further our interests by sending him into the capitalist countries as a member of ecclesiastical organizations.”[7 

     Nevertheless, what had been revealed was so shocking that the parliamentary commission was closed down by Ruslan Khasbulatov, the President of the Supreme Soviet, at the insistence, according to Ponomarev, of Patriarch Alexis and the head of the KGB, Yevgeny Primakov.  One of the commission’s members, Fr. Gleb Yakunin, was accused of betraying state secrets to the United States and threatened with a private persecution. Fr. Gleb remained defiant. He wrote to the Patriarch in 1994: “If the Church is not cleansed of the taint of the spy and informer, it cannot be reborn. Unfortunately, only one archbishop – Archbishop Chrysostom of Lithuania – has had the courage publicly to acknowledge that in the past he worked as an agent, and has revealed his codename: RESTAVRATOR. No other Church hierarch has followed his example, however. 

     “The most prominent agents of the past include DROZDOV – the only one of the churchmen to be officially honoured with an award by the KGB of the USSR, in 1988, for outstanding intelligence services – ADAMANT, OSTROVSKY, MIKHAILOV, TOPAZ AND ABBAT. It is obvious that none of these or the less exalted agents is preparing to repent. On the contrary, they deliver themselves of pastoral maxims on the allegedly neutral character of informing on the Church, and articles have appeared in the Church press justifying the role of the informer as essential for the survival of the Church in an anti-religious state.

     “The codenames I discovered in the archives of the KGB belong to the top hierarchs of the Moscow Patriarchate.”

     After citing this letter, Vasily Mitrokhin, former chief archivist of the KGB, and Professor Christopher Andrew comment: “The letter to Aleksi II was unprecedented in the history of the Russian Orthodox Church – for, as the Patriarch must surely have been aware, DROZDOV, the most important of the KGB agents discovered by Father Gleb in the KGB archives, was in fact himself…”[8] 

     In April, 1992, Archbishop Chrysostom of Vilnius said in an interview: “I cooperated with the KGB… but I was not a stool-pigeon…. Yes, we – or, at any rate, I, and I am saying this in the first place about myself – cooperated with the KGB. I cooperated, I gave my signature, I had regular meetings, I gave reports. I have my pseudonym or nickname, as they say – ‘Restavrator’. I cooperated with them consciously so as insistently to pursue my own church line – a patriotic line, too, as I understood it, with the help of these organs. I was never a stool-pigeon, I was not an informer… But together with those among us hierarchs, there are still more among the priests, there is a mass of unworthy, immoral people. It was this immorality, in the absence of a church court among us, that the KGB used. They defended them from us, the ruling bishops, so that we could not punish them.”[9]

     In the same year he declared to the Council of Bishops of the MP: “In our Church there are genuine members of the KGB, who have made head-spinning careers; for example, Metropolitan Methodius of Voronezh. He is a KGB officer [code-name PAUL], an atheist, a liar, who is constantly advised by the KGB. The Synod was unanimously against such a bishop, but we had to take upon us such a sin. And then what a rise he had!” According to ex-KGB agent Konstantin Preobrazhensky, Methodius was in fact not only a KGB agent, but “a regular officer of the GRU, the Chief Intelligence Directorate of the Defence Ministry”. In the KGB they call such people ‘officers of deep cover’. There are quite a few of them in today’s Moscow Patriarchate.”[10]

     At the same Council, a commission of eight MP bishops headed by Bishop Alexander of Kostroma was formed to investigate the charges of collaboration with the KGB. This commission has up to now (twenty-six years later) produced absolutely nothing! In view of the lack of a clear-out of KGB hierarchs, it remains true that, as the saying went, “the MP is the last surviving department of the KGB” or “the second administration of the Soviet state”.

     Writing in 1995, John Dunlop concluded that “the overwhelming majority of the current one hundred and nineteen bishops of the Moscow Patriarchate were ordained to the episcopacy prior to August of 1991. This suggests that each of these bishops was carefully screened and vetted by both the ideological apparatus of the Communist Party and by the KGB.”[11] Keston College came to the same conclusion.[12]

     In fact, according to Preobrazhensky, “Absolutely all [my italics – V.M.] the bishops and the overwhelming majority of the priests worked with the KGB. After all, the Church was considered to be a hostile medium, and it had to be controlled through agents. Even the very mechanism of appointing bishops allowed only agents there.

     “Bishops were put into the nomenklatura of the Central Committee of the CPSU, and so each one was confirmed by the Ideological department. And what department sent documents there for important personnel appointments? You’re right: the KGB. The certificate on the future bishop was prepared by the Fifth administration, which carried out a general watch over the Church, together with the spy service, if he had been even once abroad. Each of the certificates ended with the same phrase: ‘He has been cooperating since such-and-such a year’.

     “This was precisely the most important thing for the Central Committee of the CPSU! This phrase witnessed to the fact that the future bishop was not only loyal to Soviet power, but was hanging from it by a hook: after all, there are unfailingly compromising materials on every agent! And this means that no dissident outbursts were to be expected from this bishop…”[13] 

     Other leading hierarchs in the Soviet bloc were communist agents. Thus Patriarch Ilia of Georgia was enrolled as an agent in 1962 – and still remains in power today, in 2018. Metropolitan Savva of Poland was recruited by the Polish communist security forces in 1966, with the codename “Yurek”. Another Polish Church leader, Metropolitan Basil, was also an agent.[14]

     The Romanian hierarchy was thoroughly penetrated. So was the Bulgarian. Metropolitan Nicholas (Corneanu) of Banat confessed that he had collaborated with the Securitate, the Romanian equivalent of the KGB, and had defrocked the priest Fr. George Calciu for false political reasons, but nevertheless declared that if he had not made such compromises he would have been forced to abandon his post, “which in the conditions of the time would not have been good for the Church”. In other words, as Vladimir Kozyrev writes: “It means: ‘I dishonoured the Church and my Episcopal responsibility, I betrayed those whom I had to protect, I scandalized my flock. But all this I had to do for the good of the Church!’”[15] 

     The first Serbian patriarch to be an agent of the Yugoslav equivalent of the KGB was Patriarch German from about 1960. This fact drew from Archbishop Averky of Jordanville the just demand that the Russian Church Abroad break all communion with the Serbian Church. Unfortunately, ROCOR went in the opposite direction, and in 2007 joined the KGB church of Moscow…

     These facts, which had the capacity to shock some years ago, now only elicit boredom or mockery from the vast majority of World Orthodox. They have either “forgiven” their KGB hierarchs, or they think that their membership of the organization that has killed vastly more Christians that any other in world history was perfectly alright – perhaps even wise and necessary. This indifference to truth and justice witnesses to the inner gracelessness of World Orthodoxy and its inevitable judgement at the hands of Almighty God.


January 27 / February 9, 2018.

St. John Chrysostom. 



[1] Kharchev, Argumenty i Fakty  (Arguments and Facts), 1992, 8, p. 5.

[2] Sheimov, Tower of Secrets, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1993, p. 418, in “The New Soviet Man”, Orthodox Christian Witness, June 3/16, 1996.

[3] Shushpanov, Moskovskie Novosti  (Moscow News), 12 July, 1992, p. 20, in “The New Soviet Man”, Orthodox Christian Witness, June 3/16, 1996.

[4] Fr. George Edelshtein, “Double Agents in the Church”, Moscow News, August 26, 2005.

[5] For more details of the parliamentary commission's revelations, see Priamoj Put' (The Straight Path), №№ 1-2, January, 1992, p. 1; 3, February, 1992, p. 1; February, 1992; Alexander Nezhny, "Tret’e Imia" (The Third Name), Ogonek (Little Fire), 4 (3366), January 25 - February 1, 1992; Iain Walker and Chester Stern, "Holy Agents of the KGB", The Mail on Sunday, March 29, 1992; John Dunlop, "KGB Subversion of Russian Orthodox Church", RFE/RL Research Report, vol. 1, 12, March 20, 1992, pp. 51-53; “Three Leading Moscow Hierarchs Unveiled as KGB Operatives”, Orthodox Life, vol. 42, 3, May-June, 1992, pp. 25-29; Protodeacon Herman Ivanov-Trinadtsaty, "A ne nachalo li eto kontsa?" (Is this not the Beginning of the End?), Pravoslavnaia Rus' (Orthodox Russia), 9 (1462), May 1/14, 1992, pp. 609; "Ne bo vragom Tvoim povem..." (I will not give Thy secret to Thine enemy…), Vestnik Germanskoj Eparkhii Russkoj Pravoslavnoj Tservki za Granitsei (Herald of the German Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad), 1, 1992, pp. 16-22; Fr. Victor Potapov,"Molchaniem predaеtsa Bog" (“God is Betrayed by Silence”), Moscow: Isikhia, 1992, pp. 36-39; Joseph Harriss, "The Gospel according to Marx", Reader's Digest, February, 1993, pp. 59-63. See also I.I. Maslova, “Russkaia pravoslavnaia tserkov’ i KGB (1960-1980-e gody)” (The Russian Orthodox Church and the KGB (1960s to 1980s), Voprosy Istorii  (Questions of History), December, 2005, pp. 86-87.

[6]Montaigne, The Philadelphia Inquirer on May 3, 1992; quoted in "The Church of the KGB", Living Orthodoxy, vol. XIV, 2, March-April, 1992, pp. 22-23.

[7]Estonian State Archive, record group 131, file 393, pp. 125-126; James Meek, “File links church leader to KGB”, The Sydney Morning Herald, February 13, 1999; Seamus Martin, “Russian Patriarch was (is?) a KGB agent, files say Patriarch Alexeij II received KGB ‘Certificate of Honour’”,  Irish Times, September 23, 2000; Arnold Beichman, “Patriarch with a KGB Past”, The Washington Times, September 29, 2000.

[8]Andrew and Mitrokhin, The Mitrokhin Archive, London and New York: Allen Lane The Penguin Press, 1999, p. 661.

[9]Rossijskaia Gazeta, 1992, 52, p. 7.

[10] Preobrazhensky, “Ecumenism and Intelligence”.

[11] Dunlop, “The Moscow Patriarchate as an Empire-Saving Institution”, in Michael Bourdeaux, M.E. Sharp (eds.), The Politics of Religion in Russia and the New States of Eurasia, 1995, Armonk, NY, p. 29.

[12]Felix Corbey, “The Patriarch and the KGB”, Keston News Service, September 21, 2000.

[13]Preobrazhensky, KGB v russkoj emigratsii  (The KGB in the Russian emigration), New York: Liberty Publishing House, 2006, p. 41.

[14]“World Orthodoxy: Savva of Poland admits collaboration with Secret Police”, http://newsnftu.blogspot.com./2009/05/world-orthodoxy-sava-of-poland-admits.html.

[15]Kozyrev, “[orthodox-synod] Re: The Orthodox Episcopate of the Russian persecuted Church”, orthodox-synod@yahoogroups.com. 28 November, 2002.

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