Written by Vladimir Moss



     Historians like to look for continuities between pre- and post-revolutionary Russia. Thus some of them see a continuation of the idea of Moscow the Third Rome in the Comintern, the international confederation of communist parties – although this “continuation” should more accurately be called a grotesque parody of its pre-revolutionary counterpart. True, the uniting power of the new “Rome” was still a Russian-speaking empire covering roughly the same territory as the former empire. But though Russian-speaking, this new empire so despised everything that the old empire stood for that it chose to change its name to “the Soviet Union” in 1922, and subjected the Russian people to the greatest persecution any people has known in the history of the world. True, the new empire and its Comintern allies or satellites were united, like the old, by a kind of religious faith, Marxism-Leninism. But Marxism-Leninism is about as different from Orthodox Christianity as any two religions can be, while the moralities of the two religions are also polar opposites…

     Nevertheless, the idea did not die. As Simon Sebag Montefiore writes, Stalin “privately believed that Russia needed a ‘tsar’: in April 1926, he mused that, although the Party ruled, ‘the people understand little of this. For centuries the people in Russia were under a tsar. The Russian people are tsarist… accustomed to one person being at the head. And now there should be one.’ He studied Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great particularly. ‘The people need a tsar,’ he said in the 1930s, ‘whom they can worship and for whom they can live and work.’ He carefully crafted his own image to create a new template of tsar, fatherly and mysterious, industrial and urban, the leader of an international mission yet the monarch of the Russians. As the Germans advanced in 1941, he studied 1812 and, in 1942-3, restored ranks, gold braid and epaulettes – and promoted tsarist heroes Kutuzov and Suvorov. Stalin’s Terror allowed him to perform total reversals of policy, such as his pact with Hitler, to survive colossal self-inflicted disasters and force astonishing sacrifices from the Russians. His personal authority, homicidal brutality, Marxist-nationalistic propaganda, breakneck industrialization and command economy meant that he could deploy resources that would have been unimaginable to Nicholas. Stalin was a murderous tyrant, the Soviet experience a dystopian tragedy for the Russians, yet he out-performed the tsars, defeating Germany, leaving Russia as ruler of eastern Europe and a nuclear superpower. He always measured himself against the Romanovs. In 1945, when the US ambassador Averell Harriman congratulated him on taking Berlin, Stalin riposted: ‘Yes, but Alexander I made it to Paris.’”

     However, true monarchism did not survive the end of the Civil War in Russia. It was preserved – but only in the catacombs. And outside Russia, in the Russian Church in Exile.


     The Russian Church in Exile grew out of the chaos of the Civil War. By 1920, the White armies, only fitfully supported by the western powers, were in full retreat on all fronts. “The final evacuation of the Crimea,” writes Douglas Smith, “took place in mid-November 1920 under General Wrangel. As they prepared to leave, Wrangel invited to join them all those who would be in danger were they fall into the enemy’s hands. In the span of a few days, 146,000 people – twice the expected number – were placed on boats and sent out over the waters of the Black Sea to Constantinople. Wrangel embarked from Sevastopol on the cruiser General Kornilov on the fourteenth. ‘We cannot foretell our future fate,’ he told his fellow exiles. ‘May God grant us strength and wisdom to endure this period of Russian misery, and to survive it.’

     “The Russians who fled the approaching Red Army were not exaggerating the danger. Although Mikhail Frunze, the Red commander, had issued generous surrender terms, approximately fifty thousand people – most members of the former privileged classes – were shot or hanged during the final weeks of 1920. As the Red Army moved into the Crimea, the Cheka began registering the cities’ inhabitants and dividing them into three categories: those to be shot; those to be sent to concentration camps; those to be spared. All former White officers were ordered to appear for registration and promised safety. The several thousand who complied were arrested and then taken out over the course of several nights and murdered. No one was safe...

     “The killing of former White officers across Russia continued until 1922, despite an amnesty of June 1920 extended to all White officers and soldiers. In Yekaterinodar, about three thousand officers were shot; in Odessa as many as two thousand; in Yekaterinburg, twenty-eight hundred. The worst, however, was in the Crimea, where as many as fifty thousand officers and officials were executed. Justification, after a fashion, for the executions was made with a November 1921 modification to the June 1920 amnesty, according to which all those who had voluntarily fought with the White armies for ‘the goal of defending their class interests and the bourgeois order’ were no longer covered by the amnesty and were henceforth to be deemed ‘outcasts’.

     “Around the time the White Army under Wrangel was abandoning the fight, the White forces collapsed in Siberia. Ataman Semenov was run out of his capital in Chita on October 22, 1920, and what remained of his forces fled to Manchuria. In one of the most bizarre chapters of the civil war, Baron Ungern-Sternberg, a Baltic nobleman and former lieutenant of Semenov’s, set up a murderous, occultic base in Outer Mongolia for attacking Soviet Russia. He was overthrown in 1921, captured, and executed. The last White outpost was in Vladivostok, ruled by one of Kolchak’s generals [General Diterichs] until his defeat by the Red Army in late October 1922. With that, the White forces had been crushed, and the civil war was truly over.”

     A.F. Traskovsky writes: “The part of the Russian Orthodox Church which was abroad already had quite a long history before the formation of ROCOR. In Western Europe Russian Orthodox churches had been built beginning from the eighteenth century at Russian embassies and holy places that were often visited by Russians on trips abroad. In the East, thanks to the missionary activities of the Russian Orthodox Church missions were founded in China and Japan that later became dioceses, as well as a mission in Jerusalem. The spread of Orthodoxy in Alaska and North America also led to the creation of a diocese. In the “Statute concerning the convening of an Emigration Assembly of the Russian Churches”, mention was made that in 1921 there were 15 emigration regions which had Russian bishops and 14 districts where there were Russian Orthodox parishes but no bishops. The regions included: North America, Japan, China, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Germany, France, Italy, Serbia, Bulgaria, Turkey and the Far East. The districts included: Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, England, Switzerland, Czechia, Hungary, Austria, Romania, Palestine, Greece and the city of Bizert in Tunisia. All the emigration missions, parishes and dioceses were in canonical submission to the higher ecclesiastical authorities in Russia – the Holy Ruling Synod until the restoration of the patriarchate in 1917, and his Holiness the Patriarch after 1917. But then after the revolution there began the Civil War and anarchy. The Bolsheviks began to persecute the Church. The majority of emigration missions and dioceses found themselves either deprived of the possibility of normal relations with the higher ecclesiastical authorities of Russia, or such relations were exceptionally difficult. Moreover, in Russia itself many dioceses were cut off by the front from his Holiness Patriarch Tikhon (Bellavin)’s leadership. After the defeat of the White army, a huge flood of émigrés flooded abroad, amongst whom were not a few representatives of the clergy, including bishops and metropolitans. On the shoulders of the clerics who were abroad and the clergy who had emigrated lay the burden of care for the spiritual nourishment of the huge Russian diaspora. That was the situation in which the part of the Russian Church that was abroad found itself on the eve of the formation of the Church Abroad.

     “What was the prehistory of the Russian Church Abroad? Her beginnings went back to 1919, in Russia. In Stavropol in May, 1919 there took place the South Russian Church Council headed by the oldest hierarch in the South of Russia, Archbishop Agathodorus of Stavropol. There took part in the Council all the bishops who were on the territory of the Voluntary army, the members of the All-Russian Ecclesiastical Council and four people from each diocesan council. At the Council there was formed the Higher Church Administration of the South of Russia (HCA of the South of Russia), which consisted of: President – Archbishop Metrophanes of Novocherkassk, Assistant to the President – Archbishop Demetrius of Tauris, Protopresbyter G. Shavelsky, Protopriest A.P. Rozhdestvensky, Count V.V. Musin-Pushkin and Professor of theology P.V. Verkhovsky. In November, 1919 the Higher Church Administration was headed by Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) of Kiev and Galich, who had arrived from Kiev. 

     “The aim of the creation of the HCA was the organization of the leadership of church life on the territory of the Volunteer army in view of the difficulties Patriarch Tikhon was experiencing in administering the dioceses on the other side of the front line. A little earlier, in November, 1918, an analogous Temporary Higher Church Administration had been created in Siberia headed by Archbishop Sylvester of Omsk. Later, a part of the clergy that submitted to this HCA emigrated after the defeat of Kolchak’s army and entered the composition of the Chinese dioceses of the Russian Orthodox Church. The HCA of the South of Russia, like the Siberian HCA, was, in spite of its self-government, nevertheless in canonical submission to his Holiness Patriarch Tikhon, and in this way Church unity was maintained.

     “After the defeat of the armies of Denikin, in the spring of 1920 the head of the HCA of the South of Russia, Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky), was evacuated from Novorossiysk to Constantinople, and was then for a time in a monastery on Mount Athos. However, in September, 1920, at the invitation of General Wrangel, he returned to Russia, to the Crimea, where he continued his work. The final evacuation of the HCA of the South of Russia took place in November, 1920, together with the remains of Wrangel’s army. On the steamer ‘Alexander Mikhailovich’ there set out from the Crimea to Constantinople the leaders of the HCA and a large number of simple priests.

     “On arriving in Constantinople, as Archbishop Nicon (Rklitsky) indicates in his Biography of Metropolitan Anthony, Metropolitan Anthony ‘first considered that from now on all the activities of the Russian Higher Church Administration should be brought to an end and all the care for the spiritual welfare of the Russian Orthodox people should be taken upon herself by the Church of Constantinople and the Local Orthodox Churches in whose bounds the Russian Orthodox people found themselves.’ However, as soon became clear, the realization of this variant became extremely problematic in view of the fact that huge masses of Russian refugees did not know the language and customs of those countries to which they had come, and the nourishment of such a large flock by priests speaking other languages (for example Greeks) presented very many problems. Moreover, the numerous émigré Russian clergy, who were fully able to deal with these problems, would not be involved. Therefore it was decided to continue the activities of the Higher Church Administration.

     “In order to work out a plan of further action, the first session of the HCA outside the borders of Russia took place on November 19, 1920… Metropolitan Dorotheus [locum tenens of the Ecumenical patriarchal throne] gave his agreement [to the HCA’s decisions] and the HCA of the South of Russia was transformed into the Higher Church Administration Abroad.

     “Literally the day after the above-mentioned session, on November 20, 1920, an event took place in Moscow that had an exceptional significance for the Russian Church Abroad – his Holiness Patriarch Tikhon passed decree 362 concerning the self-governance of church dioceses in the case of a break of communications between this or that diocese and his Holiness the Patriarch for external reasons over which they had no control (what they had in mind was war or repression by the authorities). This is the decree’s main content:

     “’1. With the blessing of his Holiness the Patriarch, the Holy Synod and the Higher Church Council, in a joint session, judged it necessary… to give the diocesan Hierarch… instructions in case of a disconnection with the higher church administration or the cessation of the activity of the latter…

     “’2. If dioceses, as a result of the movement of the front, changes of state boundaries, etc., find themselves unable to communicate with the higher church administration or the higher church administration itself together with his Holiness the Patriarch for some reason ceases its activity, the diocesan hierarch will immediately enter into relations with the hierarchs of neighbouring dioceses in order to organize a higher instance of church authority for several dioceses in the same conditions (in the form of a temporary higher church government or metropolitan region, or something similar).

     “’3. The care for the organization of the higher church authority for the whole group who are in the situation indicated in point 2 is the obligatory duty of the eldest ranked hierarch in the indicated group…’

     “This wise decree of his Holiness Patriarch Tikhon, which was passed in conditions of anti-church terror, was given to the foreign bishops a year after its passing with the help of Bishop Meletius of Nerchensk. It served as the canonical basis for the formation of the Russian Church Abroad, since the émigré clergy were in the situation indicated in points 2 and 3.

     “Meanwhile the HCA in Constantinople continued to work out a plan for further action. At the sessions of April 19-21, 1921, it was decided to convene a ‘Congress of the representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad to unite, regulate and revive church activity abroad’, which was later renamed the ‘Russian Church Council Abroad’, also known in the literature as the Karlovtsy Council. Soon, at the invitation of Patriarch Demetrius of Serbia, the HCA led by Metropolitan Anthony moved to Sremskie Karlovtsy in Serbia – a fraternal country which in the course of many years proved to be a safe haven for the leadership of the Church Abroad.” 

     ROCOR found greater sympathy among the Serbs than among the Greeks. “Alexander I never identified Russia with her new communist government. Being a deeply believing Orthodox man, King Alexander could not contemplate the destiny of Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church without pain… During the Civil war, by command of the Monarch of Yugoslavia, a Serbian corps of volunteers was formed in the South of Russia to fight against the Bolsheviks. When the civil war was lost and the remains of the Volunteer Army, thanks to the efforts of General Wrangel, were saved and left their homeland, Alexander I magnanimously stretched out his hand of help and received those who were without a homeland, the Russian refugees who were needed by nobody, and gave them the opportunity to set themselves up, work and live in this country. The young Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes needed cultural and intellectual forces. It well understood this, but it did not give refuge to Russian people out of avaricious motives – it strove to repay good with good, to repay the joyful hospitality it received from Russia when it was a political émigré, and for help in the war.” 

     Meanwhile, at the end of 1920, 200,000 Russian refugees with the retreating remnants of the White armies in Siberia crossed from Siberia into China. Among them were six bishops and many priests. This large colony of Russians recognized the authority of the HCA in Serbia.

     Among these refugees was a distinguished group of philosophers and theologians, who on September 29, 1922 were sent on the steamer “Oberbürgermeister Haken” from Petrograd to Stettin, including N.A. Berdyaev, S.L. Frank, I.A. Ilyin, S.E. Trubetskoy, B.P. Vysheslavtsev and L.P. Karsavin…  


     The canonical status of ROCOR was unique in the history of the Orthodox Church. She always called herself a part of the Local Russian Church - that part which was situated outside Russia and had jurisdiction exclusively outside Russia (point 1 of the Polozhenie or Statute of ROCOR). And yet she had dioceses and parishes on all six continents of Europe, North and South America, Asia, Africa and Australia, and was in canonical submission to none of the Local Orthodox Churches already existing in those places. Moreover, at the beginning of the 1990s, when she returned to Russia, she claimed jurisdiction in Russia as well! 

     And so ROCOR was, in effect, a world-wide jurisdiction claiming to have jurisdiction in every part of the globe, but which claimed to be only a part of one Local Church, the Russian!

     This clearly anomalous situation was justified on a temporary basis, - until the fall of communism in Russia, according to the Polozhenie, and, at least for a time, such established Local Churches as Serbia and Jerusalem recognized her. The situation was seen as justified on the grounds, first, of the extraordinarily difficult situation of the three million or so Russian Orthodox scattered around the world, whose spiritual and physical needs had to be met by Russian-speaking pastors. And secondly, on the grounds of the critical situation in the Orthodox Church as a whole, when even the leaders of Orthodoxy were falling into heresy. 

     On October 13, 1921, in response to a request from ROCOR, the Russian Holy Synod and Higher Church Council under the presidency of Patriarch Tikhon issued resolution 193, which declared: “(1) In view of the inappropriateness of submitting to the Higher Church Administration of the Russian Church Abroad all the Orthodox churches and communities of the Moscow Patriarchate beyond the borders of Soviet Russia, to leave this Administration with its former privileges, without spreading the sphere of its activities onto the Orthodox Churches in Poland, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which preserve their presently existing form of Church administration, (2) also to turn down the petition for the creation of a post of deputy of his Holiness the Patriarch abroad, as being unnecessary, and (3) to accept the news of the proposed convening of a Council of the Russian Orthodox churches abroad on October 1 old style.”

     The First All-Emigration Council opened in Sremskie Karlovtsy on November 21, 1921. Eleven Russian and two Serbian bishops took part; twenty-four Russian bishops who could not attend the Council sent telegrams recognizing its authority. Clergy, monastics and laity also took part in the Council – 163 people in all. Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) was the president of the Council, and Patriarch Demetrius of Serbia its honorary president. However, when the Bulgarian Metropolitan Stefan of Sophia arrived, bringing a greeting from the Bulgarian Holy Synod, this upset the Patriarch of Serbia, whose relations with the Bulgarians were not good. So he did not come, while Metropolitan Stefan immediately returned to Bulgaria. 

     Bishop Seraphim (Sobolev), who was in charge of the Russian communities in Bulgaria, reported to the Council about the great difficulty of their position in Bulgaria because of the Bulgarian schism and the impossibility of concelebrating with the Bulgarian clergy. The hierarchs discussed this matter from all sides and declared that they would like to restore communion with the Bulgarian Church, but could not exceed their canonical prerogatives without the participation of the other Local Churches, and in particular of the Church of Constantinople. In spite of that, continuing the practice of the Russian Church and basing themselves on the canons (71, 81, 88 and 122 of Carthage), the delegates allowed the Russian priests and deacons to serve all kinds of Divine services and sacraments with the bishops and clergy of the Bulgarian Church, and they also allowed the Russian bishops to serve with the Bulgarian clergy. Between bishops only joint serving of molebens, pannikhidas, etc. was allowed, but “in no way the celebration of the Divine Liturgy and other holy sacraments of the Orthodox Church”.

     The Council issued two Epistles, one addressed to the Russian emigration, and the other to the Genoa conference. The first epistle declared: “May [God] return to the All-Russian throne his Anointed One, strong in the love of the people, a lawful tsar from the House of the Romanovs”. 51 delegates voted for this motion, but 32 abstained, including Archbishop Evlogy of Paris, Bishop Benjamin of Sebastopol and most of the clergy. Evlogy abstained because he thought this was a political question beyond the competence of a Church Council. Ironically, he later joined the Moscow Patriarchate, which allowed the Bolsheviks to take control of church life… Archbishop Anastasy of Kishinev also voted against, but for different reasons: he was not anti-monarchist, but did not want the Romanovs to be designated as the only possible monarchs. The hierarchs were split in two, two-thirds of the clergy abstained, and the Epistle was issued only thanks to the votes of the laity. 

     The second epistle called on the statesmen assembled at Genoa to initiate a kind of crusade to drive the Bolsheviks out of Russia.

     “At the Karlovtsy Council,” writes Bishop Dionysius (Alferov), “remembrance was finally made of St. Sergius’ blessing of the Christian Sovereign Demetrius Donskoj for his battle with the enemies of the Church and the fatherland, and of the struggle for the Orthodox Kingdom of the holy Hierarch Hermogenes of Moscow. The question was raised of the ‘sin of February’, but because some of the prominent activists of the Council had participated in this, the question was left without detailed review. The decisions of this Council did not receive further official development in Church life because of the schisms that began both in the Church Abroad and in the monarchist movement. But the question of the re-establishment of the Orthodox Kingdom in Russia had been raised, and thinkers abroad worked out this thought in detail in the works, first of Prince N.D. Zhevakhov and Protopriest V. Vostokov, and then, more profoundly, in the works of Archbishop Seraphim (Sobolev), Professor M.V. Zyzykin, Archimandrite Constantine Zaitsev, V.N. Voejkov and N.P. Kusakov.”

     The strongly monarchist tone of the Karlovtsy Council marks an important step in the spiritual recovery of the Russian Church. St. John of Kronstadt had said that Russia without a Tsar would be “a stinking corpse”. But this truth had been largely lost in the chaos and confusion of the revolution. As we have seen, the Holy Synod in February, 1917 had done little, if anything, to protect the monarchy. And the Councils that took place during the Civil War shied clear of any commitment to monarchism. 

     As A.A. Kostriukov writes: “Both the Stavropol Council and the HTCA created by it tried to adopt a restrained political position. While speaking out against the Bolshevik dictatorship, the leadership of the Church in the south of Russia distanced itself from the monarchy and tried to stand on democratic principles. So as not to destroy the fragile peace between the representatives of various parties represented in the White armies. 

     “Recalling this period, Protopriest Vladimir Vostokov wrote in 1922: ‘In May, 1919 the South Russian Council in Stavropol under the presidency of Archbishop Metrophanes, and through the exceptional participation of Protopriest [George] Shavelsky, who at that time was working in agreement with the chief of staff General Romanovsky, did not allow those members to speak who tried to express themselves definitively in relation to ‘socialism’ and ‘the internationalist executioners’. And the word ‘Tsar’ was feared at the Council like fire.’

     “According to the witness of Protopriest Vladimir Vostokov, even the open condemnation of regicide and the appeal to the people to repent of this sin dates to the period when the HTCA of the South-East of Russia was already in the Crimea. However, ‘not even the Crimean Church administration resolved on appealing’ for the reestablishment of the monarchy’.”

     Now, however, at the Karlovtsy Council, a return to the pre-revolutionary spirit was manifest. The humbling experience of defeat in the Civil War and subsequent exile inspired the Council to speak openly for the restoration of the monarchy. The Russian Church in Exile (that is, the one that is not in communion with the Moscow Patriarchate) continues to this day to preserve the traditions of Russian Orthodox monarchism. 


     Probably the last open and free manifestation of old, Holy, Monarchist Russia on Russian soil was the Zemsky Sobor that took place in Vladivostok from July 23 to August 10, 1922. It has 207 delegates, including several bishops. Patriarch Tikhon was elected honorary president of the Council.

     “It recognized the cause of the revolution to be the sins of the Russian people and called for repentance, proclaiming the only path of salvation for Russia to be the restoration of a lawful Orthodox monarchy. The Council resolved that ‘the right to establish Supreme power in Russia belongs to the dynasty of the House of Romanov’. That is, the Council recognized the Romanov Dynasty to be still reigning in spite of the troubles, and for a short time re-established the Fundamental laws of the Russian empire in the Amur district (until the final conquest of the region by the Reds).

     “Accordingly it was decided that the Amur State formation free from the Bolsheviks should be headed by a representative of the Dynasty. For the transitional period General Michael Konstantinovich Diterichs was elected as Ruler. Patriarch Tikhon, who was in Moscow, was unanimously elected as the honourable president of the Council. The widowed Empress Maria Fyodorovna wrote a welcoming telegram to the Sobor in reply.

     “In order no. 1 dated August 8, 1922 Lieutenant-General Diterichs wrote: ‘For our sins against the Anointed of God, Emperor Nicholas II, who was martyred with the whole of his Family by Soviet power, a terrible time of troubles has struck the Russian people and Holy Rus’ has been subjected to the greatest destruction, pillaging, torment and slavery by atheist Russians and thieves and robbers of other races, led by infidels of Jewish race who have even renounced their Jewish faith… 

     “’Here, at the edge of the Russian land, in the Amur region, the Lord has placed a single thought and faith into the hearts and minds of everyone gathered at the Zemsky Sobor: there can be no Great Russia without a Sovereign, without an Anointed of God of inherited succession. And here in the Amur region, as we, the last people of the Russian land, are gathered in a small body, but one strong in faith and national spirit, we are set the task and the duty and the good intention of directing all our service to preparing the way for him – our future God-seer.’

     “And here are the words of the last order of General Diterichs of October 17, 1922 before his departure from Russia under the pressure of the Reds: ‘I believe that Russia will return to the Russia of Christ, the Russia of the Anointed of God, but I believe that we were unworthy of this mercy from the Supreme Creator…’”

March 8/21, 2018.



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