SERGII (1867–1944), born Ivan Nikolaevich Stragorodskii, was a Russian Orthodox theologian and patriarch of Moscow, was one of the leading advocates of church reform in tsarist Russia. Among his earlier writings are The Question of Personal Salvation (Moscow, 1895), Eternal Life as the Highest Good (Moscow, 1895), and contributions to Meetings of the Religious Philosophical Society (Saint Petersburg, 1901–1903) and to Responses of the Diocesan Bishops (Saint Petersburg, 1905–1906). In 1927 Sergii formally acknowledged the U. S. S. R. as the true motherland of the Orthodox people and was enthroned as patriarch in 1943 with the approval of Joseph Stalin.
Sergii's purpose in accommodating himself to the Soviet regime was to enable the church to achieve at least a minimal visibility during the time of the Soviet holocaust. In signing the controversial Declaration of Loyalty in 1927, he agreed to publish a clear and unambiguous statement of loyalty to the Soviet regime, to exclude from church administration those hierarchs and clergy whom the government deemed unacceptable, as well as those who had emigrated abroad, and to establish defined relations with organs of the Soviet government. His declaration immediately caused confusion and schism within the church in Russia, for millions of the faithful, together with many leading bishops and clergy who were not yet in prison, refused to accept it.
The regime did not repay Sergii with freedom for the church. Instead, the church was subjected to repeated waves of persecution (1929–1930, 1932–1934, and 1936–1939), each more devastating than the last. By 1940, when Russia lay broken and exhausted by the Stalinist revolution, only a few of the prerevolutionary churches remained open and only a fraction of their clergy remained alive and at liberty.
Sergii gambled that the Soviet system would either collapse or moderate enough to permit the church to function as an autonomous institution in accordance with canonical norms. In the meantime, he publicly denied that the church was being persecuted and became a subservient supporter of Soviet propaganda.
Soviet attitudes toward the church softened in 1939 and 1940 for two reasons. In 1939, as a result of the Stalin-Hitler pact of mutual nonaggression, the U.S.S.R. annexed eastern Poland, which contained a substantial Orthodox population. Persecution diminished as the regime sought to utilize the church in integrating the newly acquired population into the U.S.S.R. Further, in 1941, Germany attacked the U.S.S.R. and quickly overran large land masses. In the occupied areas the church speedily revived, and Stalin knew that Sergii was the only one who might be counted upon to defend Moscow's interests behind German lines.
In 1942, Sergii published The Truth about Religion in Russia in which he denied that there was any persecution in the U.S.S.R. In September 1943, he was summoned by Stalin and granted permission to formally reestablish the patriarchal administration. Churches were reopened on the Soviet side of the war frontier, and plans were laid to reestablish a network of seminaries and theological academies. Most of the surviving schismatic bishops recognized Sergii's administration before his death in May 1944. Although he died before the details of his agreement with Stalin could be accomplished, Sergii had outwaited the regime and had ensured a period of revival and stabilization for the church that lasted until the outbreak of the persecution by Khrushchev (1959–1964).
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James W. Cunningham (1987)