Written by Vladimir Moss



     The 1935 ROCOR’s Hierarchical Council approved a “Statute on the Orthodox Diocese of Berlin and Germany” which had been worked out in the ministry of ecclesiastical affairs of the Third Reich. This Statute envisaged the following demands: the agreement of the government on appointing the head of the diocese of Berlin and Germany; the agreement of the local State organs in the appointment to a parish of a priest “who is a foreigner or without citizenship”, which affected almost all the clergy of ROCOR in Germany; and in the appointment by a bishop of members of the diocesan council and when forming new parishes or accepting old ones into the diocese.[1]

     On February 14, 1936 the German government began to help ROCOR, seeing it was now a State-recognized institution: the German clergy of ROCOR began to receive regular salaries; subsidies were granted for various needs of the German diocese and its parishes; and the clergy and the diocese received various privileges.[2] On February 25, 1938 Hitler signed a law “On the land-ownership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Germany”, according to which “the State in the person of the minister of ecclesiastical affairs received the right to dispose of the Russian ecclesiastical property in the country and in the territories joined to it.” On the basis of this law the German State handed over all the pre-revolutionary property of the Russian Church in Germany into the possession of ROCOR, besides the church in Dresden.[3 

     However, it did not do this immediately. As Metropolitan Evlogy of Paris writes in his Memoirs (p. 648), for some time the government still retained parishes in Berlin, in Eastern Prussia and in Dresden. But on May 5, 1939 the law was extended to Dresden and the Sudetenland.

     Why was the German government so favourably disposed to ROCOR? Part of the answer may lie in the fact that the authorities had a negative opinion of the Paris jurisdiction of Metropolitan Evlogy because of its links with the YMCA and other internationalist and Masonic organizations, and were therefore more favourably disposed to ROCOR, which had broken links with the Evlogians. Also, some of the churches in their possession had been built with the participation of German royalty who had family links with the House of the Romanovs, and ROCOR was, of course, the Orthodox jurisdiction with the closest links with the Romanovs. Perhaps also they were hoping in this way to elicit the sympathy of the Balkan Slavic peoples towards Germany.[4]

     In 1938 Hitler gave ROCOR a plot of land in Berlin to build a church, for which Metropolitan Anastasy thanked him. This formed the basis for “Patriarch” Alexis of Moscow to accuse him of sympathy for fascism, an accusation which has been repeated many times since then. The truth of the matter was explained by Metropolitan Anastasy himself in October, 1945 as follows: “Soon after his coming to power Hitler learned that the Russian Orthdoox people in Berlin did not have a church of their own after the church built by them had been removed from the parish because they could not pay the debts they had incurred for it. This led immediately to order the release of considerable sums of money for the building of a new Orthodox church on a beautiful plot of land set aside for this in the German capital. We should note that Hitler took this step without any deliberate request on the part of the Russian Orthodox community and did not attach any conditions to his offering that might have been compensation for it. The Hierarchical Synod as well as the whole of Russia Abroad could not fail to value this magnanimous act, which came at a time when Orthodox churches and monasteries were being mercilessly closed, destroyed or used for completely unsuitable purposes (they were being turned into clubs, cinemas, atheist museums, food warehouses, etc.), and other holy things in Russia were being mocked or defiled. This fact was noted in the address [given by the metropolitan], but the Synod of course gave no ‘blessing to destroy and conquer Russia’.”[5 

     In fact, according to Bishop Gregory Grabbe, the address sent to Hitler was not composed by Metropolitan Anastasy, but by the president of the Russian colony in Berlin, General Biskupsky. When it was shown to the metropolitan, he found it too “flowery”. But it had already been sent to the ministry of the interior, and it was too late to compose a new, more moderate variant.[6]

     As regards Metropolitan Anastasy’s attitude towards Fasicm, he displayed, as Mikhail Vitalievich Shkarovsywrites, “a negative attitude toward how some Russian émigré figures were toying with fascist ideas. Vladyka Anastasy said that ‘fascism is incompatible with Christianity because it suppresses personal spiritual freedom, without which the spiritual life of Christianity is not possible. 

      “Again, on July 15, 1936, the Metropolitan clearly stated his stance against fascism at the Saint Vladimir Festival in Belgrade: ‘Fascism as a type of state-political structure can never be our ideal. It is founded upon principles of compulsion which extend to a person’s very ideology. Yet without freedom, there can be no moral heroism nor moral responsibility. Without either of the latter a Russian Orthodox state is also unthinkable for us.” 21 In his 1939 Christmas encyclical, Vladyka Anastasy outlined, as a counterweight to the race theory of Nazism, the Church’s understanding of love for one’s people and for one’s native country: “The very concept of our native country has, in our consciousness, never been crudely materialistic, and our national image has never been defined by purely outward zoological racial markers. What we call our Fatherland is not the physical air that we breathe, nor the vast expanses of forests, rivers and seas… but rather first and foremost our native spiritual atmosphere engendered by Holy Orthodoxy, the incorruptible moral values passed down to us by the past millennium of history.’”[7]

      After the German annexation of Czechia and Moravia in March, 1939, the Germans tried to put all the Orthodox there in the jurisdiction of Archbishop Seraphim (Lyade). On November 3, Seraphim concluded an agreement with the Eulogian Bishop Sergius of Prague whereby his parishes were transferred, from a purely juridical point of view, into the jurisdiction of Archbishop Seraphim, but retained their real independence and submission to Metropolitan Evlogy.[8] 

     The influence of Archbishop (later Metropolitan) Seraphim in the German government was to prove useful again.  On November 4, 1940 the Eulogian Archbishop Alexander (Nemolovsky) of Brussels was arrested after the liturgy and imprisoned as “enemy 2” in Aachen. From there he was transferred to a prison in Berlin. It was Archbishop Seraphim who rescued Archbishop Alexander from prison and settled him at the Russian church in Tegel, where he remained until the end of the war.[9]


     “The beginning of the Second World War,” writes Mikhail Shkvarovsky, “stimulated hopes in a part of the emigration regarding the possibility of the fall of Soviet power, and these hopes were bound up, above all, with the excitation of the spiritual powers of the people itself. In an address on September 3, 1939 by Metropolitan Anastasy and representatives of the Russian national organizations in Yugoslavia to Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich, it was said: ‘The cruel war that has begun could raise the question of the destiny of the Russian people and of our much-suffering Homeland… The course of developing events will keep us in extreme tension, and the Russian emigration abroad does not have the right to refrain from using the opportunity that has presented itself. We can and must count on ourselves and on the popular forces “there” that have preserve in their souls the feeling of love for all that is native and Russian.’ Moreover, every possibility of compromise with Soviet power in the name of a resolution of the historical tasks of Russia was rejected. The power of the communists was represented as an absolute evil than which there could be nothing worse.”[10]

     But the metropolitan was cautious. “There is a reference in the Russian émigré literature to the fact that the occupation authorities had offered that Metropolitan Anastasy make a special appeal to the Russian people to cooperate with the Russian army, as if a crusade for the liberation of Russia from Bolshevism were taking place. This suggestion was supposedly strengthened by the threat of internment in the case of his refusal. But the metropolitan rejected it, ‘pointing out that since the Germans’ policy was unclear to him, and their aims in invading Russia were completely unexplained, he could not do it.’ According to other sources representative of some émigré organizations asked him to make a similar speech. In any case the metropolitan, who always displayed caution and tried not admit extremes in the expression of his sympathies and antipathies, did not write any epistle in connection with the beginning of the war in the summer of 1941.”[11]


     However, ROCOR could not refrain from welcoming the resurrection of Orthodoxy in the occupied territories. Thus in his paschal epistle for 1942 Metropolitan Anastasy wrote: “The day that they (the Russian people) expected has come, and it is now truly rising from the dead in those places where the courageous German sword has succeeded in severing its fetters… Both ancient Kiev, and much-suffering Smolensk and Pskov are radiantly celebrating their deliverance as if from the depths of hell. The liberated part of the Russian people everywhere has already begun to chant: ‘Christ is risen!’”[12]

     The Germans did eventually allow ROCOR to convened a Synod meeting in Vienna in 1943 at which the whole of the hierarchy of the Belorussian Autonomous Church was absorbed into ROCOR and the election of Sergius Stragorodsky was rejected as uncanonical. 

     However, the Germans did not want was the resurrection of the Great Russian people through the Church, and they hindered ROCOR’s attempt to send priests into the occupied territories. Moreover, as the war progressed and the behaviour of the Germans became steadily crueller, the attitude of the Russian Orthodox to them changed.

     G.M. Soldatov writes: “It was suggested to the metropolitan that he issue an appeal to the Russian people calling on them to cooperate with the German army, which was going on a crusade to liberate Russia from the Bolsheviks. If he were to refuse to make the address, Vladyka was threatened with internment. However, the metropolitan refused, saying that German policy and the purpose of the crusade was unclear to him. In 1945 his Holiness Patriarch Gabriel of Serbia witnessed to Metropolitan Anastasy’s loyalty to Serbia and the Germans’ distrust of him… 

     ”Referring to documents of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other departments of the German government, the historian M.V. Shkarovsky pointed out that Metropolitan Anastasy and the clergy of ROCOR were trying to go to Russia to begin organizing missionary and charitable work there, but this activity did not correspond to the plans of Germany, which wanted to see Russia weak and divided in the future.”[13]

     Nevertheless, of the two alternatives – the Germans or the Soviets – ROCOR considered the latter the more dangerous enemy. For Soviet power had been anathematized at the Russian Local Council in 1918, and had subjected the Russian Church to a persecution that was unprecedented in the history of Christianity. Thus Metropolitan Anastasy supported the Russian Liberation Army under General Vlasov and in November, 1944 addressed them as follows: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit! From ancient times there has existed such a custom in the Russian land; before undertaking any good work, especially a collective work, they used to ask the blessing of God on it. And you have gathered here, dear brothers and fellow-countrymen, you workers and inspirer of the Russian national movement, thereby demonstrating the historical link of the great work of the liberation of Russia with the actions of our fathers and great-grandfathers… We are now all united by one feeling – a feeling of deadly irreconcilability with the Bolshevik evil and a flaming desire to extirpate it on the Russian land. For we know that as long as it reigns there, no rational human life is possible, no spiritual movement can go forward; as long as this evil threatens both our fatherland and the whole of Europe, death and destruction will be established everywhere. And insofar as you, dear brothers and sisters, are striving to crush this terrible evil… you are doing a truly patriotic, even more than that, universal work, and the Church cannot fail to bless your great and holy beginning… Dear brothers and sisters, let us all unite around this Liberation Movement of ours, let each of us struggle on this path and help the common great work of the liberation of our Homeland, until this terrible evil of Bolshevism falls and our tormented Russia is raised from her bed…”[14]

     In October, 1945 the metropolitan rejected the charge that ROCOR had sympathised with the Nazis: “… The Patriarch is not right to declare that ‘the leaders of the ecclesiastical life of the Russian emigration’ performed public prayers for the victories of Hitler’. The Hierarchical Synod never prescribed such prayers and even forbade them, demanding that Russian people prayed at that time only for the salvation of Russia.  Of course, it is impossible to conceal the now well-known fact that, exhausted by the hopelessness of their situation and reduced almost to despair by the terror reigning in Russia, Russian people both abroad and in Russia itself placed hopes on Hitler, who declared an irreconcilable war against communism (as is well-known, this is the explanation for the mass surrender of the Russian armies into captivity at the beginning of the war), but when it became evident that he was in fact striving to conquer Ukraine, Crimea and the Caucasus and other rich regions of Russia, and that he not only despised the Russian people, but was even striving to annihilate it, and that in accordance with his command our prisoners had been starved to death, and that the German army during its retreat had burned and destroyed to their foundations Russian cities and villages on their path, and had killed or led away their population, and had condemned hundreds of thousands of Jews with women and children to death, forcing them to dig graves for themselves, then the hearts of all reasonable people – except those who ‘wanted to be deceived’ -  turned against him…”[15]

     The ardent desire of ROCOR and all truly Orthodox Christians was not fulfilled. Probably because the Russian people were not ready to repent of their submission to Communism, Vlasov’s army accomplished little, Stalin triumphed, and Vlasov himself was captured and shot in Moscow in 1946. The liberation of Russia would have to wait for another era and other liberators…


December 10/23, 2019.





[1]A.K. Nikitin, Polozhenie russkoj pravoslavnoj obschiny v Germanii v period natsistskogo rezhima (1933- 1945) (The Position of the Russian Orthodox Community in Germany in the Nazi Period (1933-1945)), annual theological conference PSTBI, Moscow, 1998, pp. 321-322.

[2]Monk Benjamin, , part 2, p. 55.

[3]A.K. Nikitin, op. cit..

[4] G.M. Soldatov, personal communication, March 19, 2006.

[5]Poslanie k russkim pravoslavnym liudiam po povodu ‘Obraschenia patriarkha Aleksia k arkipastyriam i kliru tak nazyvaemoj Karlovatskoj orientatsii’ (Epistle to the Russian Orthodox people on the ‘Address of Patriarch Alexis to the archpastors and clergy of the so-called Karlovtsy orientation), in G.M. Soldatov, Arkhierejskij Sobor Russkoj Pravoslavnoj Tserkvi Zagranitsej, Miunkhen (Germania) 1946 g. (The Hierarchical Council of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad at Munich in 1946), Minneapolis, 2003, p. 13.

[6]Soldatov, op. cit., pp. 12-13.

[7] Shkarovsky, “The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and the Holocaust”, translated in ROCOR Studies, December 7, 2019,

[8]M. Nazarov, Missia russkoj emigratsii (The Mission of the Russian Emigration), Moscow, 1994, vol. 1, p. 266; M.V. Shkarovsky, Istoria Russkoj Tserkovnoj Emigratsii (A History of the Russian Church Emigration), St. Petersburg, 2009.

     The parishes of the Serbian Bishop Vladimir (Raich) in Transcarpathia and Slovakia also passed into Seraphim’s jurisdiction after Vladimir was detained by the Hungarian authorities.

[9] M.V. Shkarovsky, in Monk Benjamin, op. cit., part 3, p. 14-15.

[10] Shkarovsky, Istoria Russkoj Tserkovnoj Emigratsii (A History of the Russian Emigration), St. Petersburg: Aleteia, 2009, p. 31.

[11] Shkarovsky, Istoria, p. 33.

[12] Tserkovnaia Zhizn’ (Church Life), 1942, N 4; Monk Benjamin, op. cit., part 3, p. 41.

[13] Soldatov, op. cit., pp. 12, 13.

[14] I.L. Solonevich, “Rossia v kontslagere” (Russia in the concentration camp), Volia Naroda(The Will of the People), November 22, 1944.

[15] Poslanie k russkim pravoslavnym liudiam po povodu ‘Obraschenia patriarkha Aleksia k arkipastyriam i kliru tak nazyvaemoj Karlovatskoj orientatsii’ (Epistle to the Russian Orthodox people on the ‘Address of Patriarch Alexis to the archpastors and clergy of the so-called Karlovtsy orientation), in G.M. Soldatov, Arkhierejskij Sobor Russkoj Pravoslavnoj Tserkvi Zagranitsej, Miunkhen (Germania) 1946 g. (The Hierarchical Council of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad at Munich in 1946), Minneapolis, 2003, p. 13.

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