Written by Vladimir Moss



     In the summer of 1934, Stalin summoned Leningrad Party Boss Sergei Kirov to spend the summer at his dacha in Sochi, “to join him and Zhdanov in laying down the guidelines for the rewriting of history textbooks. Published in 1936, Remarks Concerning the Conspectus of a Textbook on the History of the USSR produced an abrupt reversal in Soviet historiography, establishing the Soviet regime as the custodian of national interests and traditions. The new history celebrated the great men of Russia’s Tsarist past – Peter the Great, Suvorov, Kutuzov – whose state-building, military victories and territorial conquests had created modern Russia. It was the autocratic [in this context – “absolutist”] tradition… which was highlighted, so establishing a natural link between the new patriotism and the cult of Stalin.”[1]

     It was ironic that Stalin, who had spent the last five years in an unprecedented assault on everything Russian, should now seek to celebrate the great tsars and military leaders of Russia’s past. Of course, not all of them were celebrated - Nicholas II would remain “bloody Nicholas” to the end. But Stalin was proud to see himself as the successor of the more totalitarian and bloody tsars such as Ivan the Terrible (his favourite) and Peter the Great.

     In this policy, as Alan Bullock writes, “sentiment and calculation coincided. To combine the Marxist vision with the deep-seated nationalist and patriotic feelings of the Russian people was to give it a wider and stronger emotional appeal than ideology by itself could generate. As early as June 1934 Pravda had sounded the new note, ‘For the Fatherland’, ‘which alone kindles the flame of heroism, the flame of creative initiative in all fields, in all the realms of our rich, our many-sided life… The defence of the Fatherland is the supreme law… For the Fatherland, for its honour, glory, might and prosperity!’”[2]

     Other factors influencing Stalin’s change of tactics probably included the failure of the revolution to catch fire in other countries – and the success of Hitler’s nationalist socialism. Probably he came to realize that, as Mussolini had put it, “the nation has not disappeared. We used to believe that it was annihilated. Instead, we see it rise, living, palpitating before us!” Hence his adoption of the slogan: “Socialism in one country”, which emphasized the national uniqueness of Russia. Hence, too, his persecution of many ethnic minorities from the early 1930s, transporting them en masse from one end of the Union to the other, and the artificially-induced famine of 1932-33, whose aim appears to have been to wipe out Ukrainian nationalism. After all, in spite of the fact that Stalin was Georgian, Lenin had called him “a real and true ‘nationalist-socialist’, and even a vulgar Great Russian bully”.

     In the middle of the 1930s, perhaps as a result of his new national policy, Stalin began to ease up in his unprecedentedly savage war on the Russian people. The God-haters seemed to have triumphed, violence was no longer so necessary, and they were now building a new, godless civilization to replace the old one of Holy Russia. But the reign of fear continued, and was about to be ratcheted up yet again…

     The West, to its shame, cooperated with the red beast. America now joined the European nations recognizing the Soviet Union, and helped its rapid industrial growth through trade. Moreover, comparing their own economic slump with the Soviet performance, westerners even began to applaud the achievements of Communism, as journalists closed their eyes to Stalin’s appalling assault on his own people. “The chief luminaries of the British Labour Party,” writes Norman Davies, “wrote a glowing survey of the ‘New Civilization’. The chief reporter of the New York Times, Walter Duranty, probably a victim of blackmail, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his enthusiastic descriptions, which have since been found to be completely and knowingly false.”[3] Probably the cleverest of these fellow-travellers was the famous Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, who had spent his life championing democracy and equality, but who in this period spoke out for dictatorship – not only Stalin, but also Hitler and Mussolini!


     “Totalitarianism,” writes Piers Brendon, “won adherents across frontiers, for the failures of capitalism were palpable during the Depression and the democracies suffered a sharp crisis of confidence. Hearing that Stalin had achieved planned progress and social equality [!], that Hitler had abolished unemployment and built autobahns, that Mussolini had revived Italy and made the trains run on time, people in Britain, France and the United States were inclined to believe that Utopia was another country…”[4]

     “The trauma of the Great Slump,” writes Eric Hobsbawn, “was underlined by the fact that the one country that had clamorously broken with capitalism appeared to be immune to it: the Soviet Union. While the rest of the world, or at least liberal Western capitalism, stagnated, the USSR was engaged in massive ultra-rapid industrialization under its new Five Year plans. From 1929 to 1940 Soviet industrial production tripled, at the very least. It rose from 5 per cent of the world’s manufactured products in 1929 to 18 per cent in 1938, while during the same period the joint share of the USA, Britain and France, fell from 59 per cent to 52 per cent of the world’s total. What was more, there was [supposedly] no unemployment. These achievements impressed foreign observers of all ideologies, including a small but influential flow of socio-economic tourists to Moscow in 1930-35, more than the visible primitiveness and inefficiency of the Soviet economy, or the ruthlessness and brutality of Stalin’s collectivisation and mass repression. For what they were trying to come to terms with was not the actual phenomenon of the USSR but the breakdown of their own economic system, the depth of the failure of Western capitalism. What was the secret of the Soviet system? Could anything be learned from it? Echoing Russia’s Five Year Plans, ‘Plan’ and ‘Planning’ became buzz-words in politics… Even the very Nazis plagiarized the idea, as Hitler introduced a ‘Four Year Plan’ in 1933.”[5]

     So far, Stalin had simply continued the work of Lenin on a larger, more systematic scale. But in 1937 he began to do what Lenin had never done: destroy his own party. According to Hobsbawm: “Between 1934 and 1939 four or five million party members and officials were arrested on political grounds, four or five thousand of them were executed without trial, and the next (eighteenth) Party Congress which met in the spring of 1939, contained a bare thirty-seven survivors of the 1827 delegates who had been present at the seventeenth in 1934.”[6]

     Norman Davies writes that Stalin “killed every single surviving member of Lenin’s original Bolshevik government [Ordzhonikidze killed himself]. Through endless false accusations, he created a climate of collective paranoia which cast everyone and anyone into the role of suspected spy or traitor or ‘enemy’. Through orchestrated show trials, he forced distinguished Communists to confess to absurd, indecent charges. Through the so-called ‘purges’, he would thin the ranks of the Communist Party, and then, having put the comrades into a mood of zombie-like deference, he would order the exercise to be repeated again and again. Everyone accused would be cajoled or tortured into naming ten or twenty supposed associates in crime. By 1938 he reached he point where he was ordering the shooting of citizens by random quota: 50,000 this month from this province, 30,000 next month from the next province. The OGPU (the latest incarnation of the Cheka) sweated overtime. (They too were regularly purged.) The death pits filled up. The GULag became the biggest employer of labour in the land. State officials, artists and writers, academics and soldiers were all put through the grinder. Then, in March 1939, it stopped, or at least slowed down. The Census Bureau had just enough time to put an announcement in Izvestia saying that 17 million people were missing, before the census-takers themselves were shot…”[7] Thus was fulfilled the prediction of Pierre Vergniaud in 1793 concerning the French revolution: “There is reason to fear that, like Saturn, the Revolution may devour each of its children in turn”.[8]

     One of the few Old Bolsheviks who refused to incriminate themselves was Nicholas Bukharin, whom Lenin had called “the party’s favourite”. In his “Letter to a Future Generation of Party Leaders”, he wrote: “I feel my helplessness before a hellish machine, which has acquired gigantic power, enough to fabricate organised slander… and which uses the Cheka’s bygone authority to cater to Stalin’s morbid suspiciousness… Any member of the Central Committee, any member of the Party can be rubbed out, turned into a traitor or terrorist.”[9]

     Bukharin wrote to the Politburo from prison that he was innocent of the crimes to which he had confessed under interrogation – and, probably, torture. But he said that “he would submit to the Party because he had concluded that there was some ‘great and bold political idea behind the general purge’ which overshadowed all else. ‘It would be petty of me to put the fortunes of my own person on the same level as those tasks of world-historical importance, which rest upon all your shoulders’…

     “During his final speech from the dock [he] said that he had given in to the prison investigators after having completely re-evaluated his past. ‘For when you ask yourself: “If you must die, what are you dying for?” – an absolutely black vacuity suddenly rises before you with startling vividness. And, on the contrary, everything positive that glistens in the Soviet Union acquires new dimensions in a man’s mind. This is the end disarmed me completely and led me to bend my knees before the Party and the country… For in reality the whole country stands behind Stalin; he is the hope of the future…”[10]

     But it was Trotsky whom Stalin hated most, and around whom so many of the trials and executions revolved. “By the mid-1930s,” write Christopher Andrews and Vasily Mitrokhin, “Stalin had lost all sense of proportion in his pursuit of Trotskyism in all its forms, both real and imaginary. Trotsky had become an obsession who dominated many of Stalin’s waking hours and probably interfered with his sleep at night. As Trotsky’s biographer, Isaac Deutscher, concludes: ‘The frenzy with which [Stalin] pursued the feud, making it the paramount preoccupation of international communism as well as of the Soviet Union and subordinating to it all political, tactical, intellectual and other interests, beggars description; there is in the whole of history hardly another case in which such immense resources of power and propaganda were employed against a single individual.’ The British diplomat R.A. Sykes later wisely described Stalin’s world view as ‘a curious mixture of shrewdness and nonsense’. Stalin’s shrewdness was apparent in the way that he outmanoeuvred his rivals after the death of Lenin, gradually acquired absolute power as general secretary, and later outnegotiated Churchill and Roosevelt during their wartime conferences. Historians have found it difficult to accept that so shrewd a man also believed in so much nonsense. But it is no more possible to understand Stalin without acknowledging his addiction to conspiracy theories about Trotsky (and others) than it is to comprehend Hitler without grasping the passion with which he pursued his even more terrible and absurd conspiracy theories about the Jews.”[11]

     In September, 1936 Stalin appointed Nikolai Ivanovich Yezhov as head of the NKVD in succession to Yagoda. As he “supervised the spread of the Terror, arresting ever-larger circles of suspects to be tortured into confessing imaginary crimes, the Soviet press worked the population up into a frenzy of witch-hunting against Trotskyite spies and terrorists. Yezhov claimed that Yagoda had tried to kill him by spraying his curtains with cyanide. He then arrested most of Yagoda’s officers and had them shot. Then he arrested Yagoda himself. ‘Better that ten innocent men should suffer than one spy get away,’ Yezhov announced. ‘When you chop wood, chips fly!’”[12]

     In November, 1938 Yezhov himself was arrested and killed. He was succeeded by Stalin’s fellow-Georgian, Lavrenty Beria…

     With the murder of Trotsky in Mexico in 1940 the last possible threat to Stalin’s absolute authority from the Old Guard was gone. For, as Bullock writes, “his suspicion never slept: it was precisely the Bolshevik Old Guard whom he distrusted most. Even men who had been closely associated with him in carrying out the Second Revolution were executed, committed suicide or died in the camps.”[13] 

     Hannah Arendt defined the true role of Stalin’s party purges: as “an instrument of permanent instability.” “The state of permanent instability, in turn” writes Masha Gessen, “was the ultimate instrument of control, which sapped the energies and attention of all. The best way to insure being able to strike when it is least expected is to scramble all expectations.”[14] 

     The manifest absurdity of the trials, and of the idea that so many of Lenin’s and Stalin’s closest and most loyal collaborators were in fact spies, did not stop the “useful idiots” of the West from justifying the charade. Thus, as Tony Judt writes, in 1936 the French Ligue des Droits de l’Homme established a commission to investigate the great Moscow trials of that year. The conclusion to its report state: “It would be a denial of the French Revolution… to refuse [the Russian] people the right to strike down the fomenters of civil war, or conspirators in liaison with foreigners.”[15] Again, the US ambassador Joseph Davies wrote to Washington that “the indictments of the defendants in the Moscow show trials had been proved ‘beyond a reasonable doubt and that ‘the adjudication of the punishment’ had been entirely justified’”…[16]


     Two events portended the coming of this unprecedentedly bloody massacre. The first was the suicide of Stalin’s wife, which made him turn more in on himself. (There is a parallel here with his favourite Ivan the Terrible, who also began to get worse after the death of his first wife.) The second was the murder of Kirov on December 1, 1934. As Evgenia Ginzburg put it in Into the Whirlwind: “That year, 1937, really began on the 1st of December, 1934”.[17] Although it is likely that Stalin himself ordered the killing, it – together with the continued opposition of Trotsky from abroad - became the excuse to root out supposed counter-revolutionary conspiracies and fascist spy-rings within the party.

     The great purges of 1937-38 wiped out a large proportion of the leaders of Soviet society, and not only the Party. In fact, no section of society was exempt from Stalin’s murderous cull of his own people. He used the term “enemy of the people” to wipe out anyone who represented the remotest prospect of opposition to the regime. In spite of these horrors, it was precisely in 1937 that Stalin said: “Life has become better, life has become happier”!

     His assault on the army was still more thorough than his assault on the party. Thus, according to the Soviet press, “the military purge accounted for:

     “3 of the 5 Soviet marshals

     “11 of the 15 army commanders

     “8 of the 9 fleet admirals and admirals Grade 1

     “50 of the 57 corps commanders

     “154 of the 186 divisional commanders


     “16 of the 16 army political commissars

     “25 of the 28 corps commissars

     “58 of the 64 divisional commanders

     “11 of the 11 vice-commissars of defence

     “98 of the 109 members of the Supreme Military Soviet

     The effect was not confined to the upper echelons. Between May 1937 and September 1938, 36,761 army officers and over 3000 navy officers were dismissed. Allowing for 13,000 re-enrolled and adding the numbers ‘repressed’ after September 1938, this gives a total for 1937-41 of 43,000 officers at battalion and company-commander level arrested and either shot or sent to the camps (the great majority) or permanently dismissed. Roy Medvedev sums up an operation without parallel in the striking sentence: ‘Never has the officer staff of any army suffered such great losses in any war as the Soviet Army suffered in this time of peace.’”[18]

     “However,” writes Brendon, “as the liquidation of top managers took its toll on the economy and the armed forces suffered a further assault, few doubted that Russia’s capacity to resist alien aggression was being seriously impaired. So on 24 January 1938 Stalin touched the brakes and changed direction, just as he had done in 1930 when he wrote his article ‘Dizzy with Success’, condemning the excesses of collectivisation. Now he launched a campaign against false informers, those who had denounced others in order to save their skins. He turned his withering gaze on the secret police, who had reckoned that their ‘personal salvation lay in swimming’ with the tide of terror. The purgers themselves should be purged, though no one knew who would accomplish this or how far they would go.”[19]

     In just one day - September 12, 1938 - Stalin killed 3173 people - more than all the death sentences in the Russian Empire from 1905 to 1913 inclusive.

     We should also not forget the foreign victims of the Terror. Trotskyites, real and imaginary, were killed all around the world; even in Spain, the NKVD was as occupied in destroying the Trotskyite organization POUM as in fighting fascists.[20] Christopher Andrew and Vasily Mitrokhin write: “Comintern representatives in Moscow from around the world lived in constant fear of denunciation and execution. Many were at even greater risk than their Soviet colleagues. By early 1937, following investigations by the NKVD (predecessor of the KGB), Stalin had convinced himself that Comintern was a hotbed of subversion and foreign espionage. He told Georgi Dmitrov, who had become its General Secretary three years earlier, ‘All of you there in the Comintern are working in the hands of the enemy.’ Nikolai Yezhov, the head of the NKVD whose sadism and diminutive stature combined to give him the nickname ‘Poison Dwarf’, echoed his master’s voice. ‘The biggest spies,’ he told Dmitrov, ‘were working in the Communist International’. Each night, unable to sleep, the foreign Communists and Comintern officials who had been given rooms at the Hotel Lux in the centre of Moscow waited for the sound of a car drawing up at the hotel entrance in the early hour, then heard the heavy footsteps of NKVD men echo along the corridors, praying that they would stop at someone else’s door. Those who escaped arrest listened with a mixture of relief and horror as the night’s victims were taken from their rooms and driven away, never to return. Some, for whom the nightly suspense became too much, shot themselves or jumped to their deaths in the inner courtyard. Only a minority of the hotel’s foreign guests escaped the knock on the door. Many of their death warrants were signed personally by Stalin. Mao’s ferocious security chief, Kang Sheng, who had been sent to Moscow to learn his trade, enthusiastically co-operated with the NKVD in the hunt for mostly imaginary traitors among Chinese émigrés…”[21 

     In March, 2014 an inter-departmental Commission for the Defence of State Secrets lengthened the period of secrecy for Cheka-KGB documents in the period 1917-1991 to the following thirty years (that is, until 2044). Under the scope of this decision fell the whole mass of archival documents touching on the Great Terror of 1937-38.”[22] There is a great irony, even a great mystery here: what has already been revealed about the Great Terror is already so appalling, so unprecedented, that it is difficult to imagine that further revelations from closed archives could add anything significant to the horror of what we already know…


     The category of the population that suffered most during Stalin’s great purges – and this fact has been woefully neglected by secular historians - was neither the party, nor the army, but the Orthodox clergy, followed by the Orthodox laity. If Metropolitan Sergius, deputy leader of the official Russian Church, thought that by his “Declaration” of loyalty to the Communist state in 1927 he would “save the Church”, the next few years would prove him terribly wrong. From 1935 the Bolsheviks, having repressed most of the True Orthodox clergy, began to repress the sergianists – i.e. those who accepted Sergius’ leadership and justified his Declaration. In fact, the sergianists often received longer sentences than their True Orthodox brothers who rejected their submission to the antichristian state, and whom they had betrayed. This only went to show how futile their Judas-like collaboration with the Antichrist, and betrayal of their brothers in Christ, had been. Even a recent biography of Sergius by a sergianist author accepts this fact: “If Metropolitan Sergius, in agreeing in his name to publish the Declaration of 1927 composed by the authorities, hoping to buy some relief for the Church and the clergy, then his hopes not only were not fulfilled, but the persecutions after 1927 became still fiercer, reaching truly hurricane-force in 1937-38.”[23]

     In the nineteen years before the Great Terror of 1937-38, Soviet power killed: 128 bishops; 26,777 clergy; 7,500 professors; about 9,000 doctors; 94,800 officers; 1,000,000 soldiers; 200,000 policemen; 45,000 teachers; 2,200,000 workers and peasants. Besides that, 16 million Orthodox Russians died from hunger and three million from forced labour in the camps.[24]As for the years of the Great Terror, according to Russian government figures, in 1937 alone 136,900 clergy were arrested, of whom 106,800 were killed (there were 180,000 clergy in Russia before the revolution). Again, between 1917 and 1980, 200,000 clergy were executed and 500,000 others were imprisoned or sent to the camps.[25]The numbers of functioning Orthodox churches declined from 54,692 in 1914 to 39,000 at the beginning of 1929 to 15, 835 on April 1, 1936.[26] By the beginning of the Second World War, there were none at all in Belorussia (Kolarz), “less than a dozen” in Ukraine (Bociurkiw), and a total of 150-200 in the whole of Russia.[27]

     This was, without a doubt, the greatest persecution of Christianity in history. But it did not wipe out the faith: the census of 1937 established that one-third of city-dwellers and two-thirds of country-dwellers still believed in God. Stalin’s plan that the Name of God should not be named in Russia by the year 1937 had failed…

     Nevertheless, the immediate outlook for believers was bleak indeed. Thus E.L. writes about Hieromartyr Bishop Damascene: “He warmed the hearts of many, but the masses remained… passive and inert, moving in any direction in accordance with an external push, and not their inner convictions… The long isolation of Bishop Damascene from Soviet life, his remoteness from the gradual process of sovietization led him to an unrealistic assessment of the real relations of forces in the reality that surrounded him. Although he remained unshaken himself, he did not see… the desolation of the human soul in the masses. This soul had been diverted onto another path – a slippery, opportunistic path which led people where the leaders of Soviet power – bold men who stopped at nothing in their attacks on all moral and material values – wanted them to go… Between the hierarchs and priests who had languished in the concentration camps and prisons, and the mass of the believers, however firmly they tried to stand in the faith, there grew an abyss of mutual incomprehension. The confessors strove to raise the believers onto a higher plane and bring their spiritual level closer to their own. The mass of believers, weighed down by the cares of life and family, blinded by propaganda, involuntarily went in the opposite direction, downwards. Visions of a future golden age of satiety, of complete liberty from all external and internal restrictions, of the submission of the forces of nature to man, deceitful perspectives in which fantasy passed for science… were used by the Bolsheviks to draw the overwhelming majority of the people into their nets. Only a few individuals were able to preserve a loftiness of spirit. This situation was exploited very well by Metropolitan Sergius…”[28]

     Sergius has had many apologists. Some have claimed that he “saved the Church” for the future. This claim cannot be justified. He saved only a false church that had been morally crushed. It was rather the Catacomb Church, which “in a sense saved the official Church from complete destruction because the Soviet authorities were afraid to force the entire Russian Church underground through ruthless suppression and so to lose control over it.”[29]

     As St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco wrote: “The Declaration of Metropolitan Sergius brought no benefit to the Church. The persecutions not only did not cease, but also sharply increased. To the number of other accusations brought by the Soviet regime against clergy and laymen, one more was added – non-recognition of the Declaration. At the same time, a wave of church closures rolled over all Russia… Concentration camps and places of forced labor held thousands of clergymen, a significant part of whom never saw freedom again, being executed there or dying from excessive labors and deprivations.”[30]

     Others have tried to justify Sergius by claiming that there are two paths to salvation, one through open confession or the descent into the catacombs, and the other through compromise. Sergius, according to this view, was no less a martyr than the Catacomb martyrs, only he suffered the martyrdom of losing his good name.[31] However, this view comes close to the “Rasputinite” heresy that there can be salvation through sin – in this case, lying, the sacrifice of the freedom and dignity of the Church, and the betrayal to torments and death of one’s fellow Christians! Thus Hieromartyr Sergius Mechev was betrayed by "Bishop" Manuel Lemeshevsky.[32] And more generally, Metropolitan Sergius' charge that all the catacomb bishops were "counter-revolutionaries" was sufficient to send them to their deaths.[33]

     This fact demonstrates that “sergianism” can best be defined as, quite simply, the sin of Judas…

     Meanwhile, deep in the underground, the Catacomb, True Orthodox Church delivered its verdict. In July, 1937, four bishops, two priests and six laymen met in Ust-Kut, Siberia, convened a council, and declared:

     “1. The Sacred Council forbids the faithful to receive communion from the clergy legalized by the anti-Christian State.

     “2. It has been revealed to the Sacred Council by the Spirit that the anathema-curse hurled by his Holiness Patriarch Tikhon is valid, and all priests and Church-servers who have dared to consider it as an ecclesiastical mistake or political tactic are placed under its power and bound by it. 

     “3. To all those who discredit and separate themselves from the Sacred Council of 1917-18 – Anathema!

     “4. All branches of the Church which are on the common trunk – the trunk is our pre-revolutionary Church – are living branches of the Church of Christ. We give our blessing to common prayer and the serving of the Divine Liturgy to all priests of these branches. The Sacred Council forbids all those who do not consider themselves to be branches, but independent from the tree of the Church, to serve the Divine Liturgy. The Sacred Council does not consider it necessary to have administrative unity of the branches of the Church, but unity of mind concerning the Church is binding on all.”[34]

     This completed the de-centralization of the Church, which Patriarch Tikhon had already begun through his famous ukaz no. 362 of 1920. It was elicited by the fact that the organization of the Church was now destroyed, and all its leaders dead or in prison or so deep underground that they could not rule the Church. This process was sealed in the autumn of 1937, when the patriarchal locum tenens Metropolitan Peter of Krutitsa, and his only possible successors, Metropolitans Cyril of Kazan and Joseph of Petrograd, were shot. And so by the end of 1937, the Church’s descent into the catacombs, which had begun in the early 20s, was completed. From now on, with the external administrative machinery of the Church destroyed, it was up to each bishop – sometimes each believer – individually to preserve the fire of faith, being linked with his fellow Christians only through the inner, mystical bonds of the life in Christ.

     Thus was the premonition of Hieromartyr Bishop Damascene fulfilled: “Perhaps the time has come when the Lord does not wish that the Church should stand as an intermediary between Himself and the believers, but that everyone is called to stand directly before the Lord and himself answer for himself as it was with the forefathers!”[35]

     Even sergianist sources have spoken about the falsity of Sergius’ declaration, the true confession of those who opposed him, and the invalidity of the measures he took to punish them. Thus: “Amidst the opponents of Metropolitan Sergius were a multitude of remarkable martyrs and confessors, bishops, monks, priests… The ‘canonical’ bans of Metropolitan Sergius (Stragorodsky) and his Synod were taken seriously by no one, neither at that time [the 1930s] nor later by dint of the uncanonicity of the situation of Metropolitan Sergius himself…”[36]

     And again: “The particular tragedy of the Declaration of Metropolitan Sergius consists in its principled rejection of the podvig of martyrdom and confession, without which witnessing to the truth is inconceivable. In this way Metropolitan Sergius took as his foundation, not hope on the Providence of God, but a purely human approach to the resolution of church problems… The courage of the ‘catacombniks’ and their firmness of faith cannot be doubted, and it is our duty to preserve the memory of those whose names we shall probably learn only in eternity…”[37]

     Sergius made the basic mistake of forgetting that it is God, not man, Who saves the Church. This mistake amounts to a loss of faith in the Providence and Omnipotence of God Himself. The faith that saves is the faith that “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19.26). It is the faith that cries: “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses, but we will call upon the name of the Lord our God” (Psalm 19.7). This was and is the faith of the Catacomb Church, which, being founded on “the Rock, which is Christ” (I Corinthians 10.7), has prevailed against the gates of hell.

     But Sergius’ “faith” was of a different, more “supple” kind, the kind of which the Prophet spoke: “Because you have said, ‘We have made a covenant with death, and with hell we have an agreement; when the overwhelming scourge passes through it will not come to us; for we have made lies our refuge, and in falsehood we have taken shelter’; therefore thus says the Lord God,… hail will sweep away the refuge of lies, and waters will overwhelm the shelter. Then your covenant with death will be annulled, and your agreement with hell will not stand; when the overwhelming scourge passes through you will be beaten down by it…” (Isaiah 28.15, 17-19)     

     A Catacomb Appeal of the period wrote: “May this article drop a word that will be as a burning spark in the heart of every person who has Divinity in himself and faith in our One Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ. Beloved brethren! Orthodox Christians, peace-makers! Do not forget your brothers who are suffering in cells and prisons for the word of God and for the faith, the righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ, for they are in terrible dark bonds which have been built as tombs for all innocent people. Thousands and thousands of peace-loving brothers are languishing, buried alive in these tombs, these cemeteries; their bodies are wasting away and their souls are in pain every day and every hour, nor is there one minute of consolation, they are doomed to death and a hopeless life. These are the little brothers of Christ, they bear that cross which the Lord bore. Jesus Christ received suffering and death and was buried in the tomb, sealed by a stone and guarded by a watch. The hour came when death could not hold in its bonds the body of Christ that had suffered, for an Angel of the Lord coming down from the heavens rolled away the stone from the tomb and the soldiers who had been on guard fled in great fear. The Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead. But the thunder will also strike these castles where the brothers languish for the word of God, and will smash the bolts where death threatens men..."[38]


June 2/15, 2018.

St. Nicephorus, Patriarch of Constantinople.


[1] Bullock, Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives, London, 1991, p. 702.

[2] Bullock, op. cit., p. 701.

[3] Davies, Europe at War 1939-1945. No Simple Victory, London: Pan Books, 2006, p. 49. Duranty also mocked the truthful dispatches of British journalists Gareth Jones and Malcolm Muggeridge on the famine in Ukraine.

[4] Brendon, The Dark Valley: A Panorama of the 1930s, London: Pimlico, 2001, p. xvi.

[5] Hobsbawn, Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991, London: Abacus, 1994, pp. 96, 97.

[6] Hobsbawm, Age of Extremes, p. 391.

[7] Davies, Europe, London: Pimlico, 1997, p. 50.

[8] Bullock, op. cit., p. 511.

[9] Bukharin, in Bullock, op. cit., p. 541; Brendon, op. cit., p. 568.

[10] Brendon, op. cit., p. 569.

[11] Andrews and Mitrokhin, The Mitrokhin Archive, London: The Allen Press, 1999, pp. 93-94.

[12] Montefiore, Titans of History, pp. 522-523.

[13] Bullock, op. cit., p. 425.

[14] Masha Gessen, “The Very Strange Writings of Putin’s New Chief of Staff”, The New Yorker, August 15, 2016,

[15] Judt, “Francois Furet (1927-1997)”, in When the Facts Change, London: Vintage, 2015, p. 352.

[16] Service, Comrades, p. 208.

[17] Ginzburg, in Bullock, op. cit., p. 516.

[18] Bullock, op. cit., pp. 547-548.

[19] Brendon, op. cit., p. 565.

[20] Andrew and Mitrokhin, The Mitrokhin Archive, p. 95.

[21] Andrew and Mitrokhin, The KGB and the World, London: Penguin, 2006, pp. 3-4.

[22] Pater Alexander, Facebook communication, June 8, 2018.

[23] Sergius Fomin, Strazh Doma Gospodnia (Guardian of the House of the Lord), Moscow, 2003, p. 262.

[24] Kharbinskoe Vremia, February, 1937, N 28, in Protopriest John Stukach, “Vyskomerie kak prepona k uiedineniu” (Haughtiness as an obstacle to union),

[25] A document of the Commission attached to the President of the Russian Federation on the Rehabilitation of the Victims of Political Repressions, January 5, 1996; Service Orthodoxe de Presse(Orthodox Press Service), N 204, January, 1996, p. 15. The rate of killing slowed down considerably in the following years. In 1939 900 clergy were killed, in 1940 – 1100, in 1941 – 1900, in 1943 – 500. In the period 1917 to 1940 205 Russian hierarchs “disappeared without trace”; 59 disappeared in 1937 alone. According to another source, from October, 1917 to June, 1941 inclusive, 134,000 clergy were killed, of whom the majority (80,000) were killed between 1928 and 1940 (Cyril Mikhailovich Alexandrov, in V. Lyulechnik, “Tserkov’ i KGB” (The Church and the KGB), in

[26] Nicholas Werth, “A State against its People”, in Stéphane Courtois, Nicolas Werth, Jean-Louis Panné, Andrzej Packowski, Karel Bartošek, Jean-Louis Margolin, The Black Book of Communism, London: Harvard University Press, 1999, pp. 172, 173.

[27] Nathanael Davis, A Long Walk to Church: A Contemporary History of Russian Orthodoxy, Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2003, p. 13.

[28] E.L., Episkopy-Ispovedniki (Bishop Confessors), San Francisco, 1971, pp. 65-66.

[29] W. Alexeyev, "The Russian Orthodox Church 1927-1945: Repression and Revival", Religion in Communist Lands, vol. 7, N 1, Spring, 1979, p. 30.

[30] St. John Maximovich, The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. A Short History, Jordanville, NY: Holy Trinity Monastery, 1997, pp. 28-29.

[31] E.S. Polishchuk, "Patriarkh Sergei i ego deklaratsia: kapitulatsia ili kompromiss?" (Patriarch Sergius and his Declaration: Capitulation or Compromise?), Vestnik Russkogo Khristianskogo Dvizhenia (Herald of the Russian Christian Movement), N 161, 1991-I, pp. 233-250.    

[32] Alla D. "Svidetel'stvo" (Witness), in Nadezhda (Hope), vol. 16, Basel-Moscow, 1993, 228-230. See also N.V. Urusova, Materinskij Plach Sviatoj Rusi(The Maternal Lament of Holy Russia), Moscow, 2006, pp. 285-287.

[33] I.M. Andreyev, Is the Grace of God Present in the Soviet Church?,Wildwood, Alberta: Monastery Press, 2000, p. 30.

[34] Schema-Monk Epiphanius (Chernov), personal communication; B. Zakharov, Russkaia Mysl’ (Russian Thought), September 7, 1949; "Vazhnoe postanovlenie katakombnoj tserkvi" (An Important Decree of the Catacomb Church), Pravoslavnaia Rus' (Orthodox Russia), N 18, 1949. According to one version, there is a fifth canon: “To all those who support the renovationist and sergianist heresy – Anathema”. See Bishop Ambrose (von Sievers), “Katakombnaia Tserkov’: Ust’-Kutskij Sobor 1937g.” (The Catacomb Church: the Ust-Kut Council of 1937), Russkoe Pravoslavie (Russian Orthodoxy), N 4 (8), 1997, pp. 20-24.

[35] E.L., op. cit., p. 92.

[36] M.E. Gubonin, Akty Sviatejshago Patriarkha Tikhona, Moscow, 1994, pp. 809, 810.

[37] M.V. Danilushkin, Istoria Russkoj Tserkvi ot Vosstanovlenia Patriarshestva do nashikh dnej (A History of the Russian Church from the Reestablishment of the Patriarchate to our Days), vol. I, St. Petersburg, 1997, pp. 297, 520.

[38] M.V. Shkvarovsky, Iosiflianstvo: techenie v Russkoj Pravoslavnoj Tserkvi (Josephitism: a tendency in the Russian Orthodox Church), St. Petersburg: Memorial, 1999, p. 236.

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