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TIKHON (born Vasilii Ivanovich Belavin; 18651925), patriarch of the Russian Orthodox church. Prior to becoming metropolitan of Moscow (1917), Tikhon served as archbishop of Vilna and archbishop of Yaroslavl. Before that he was bishop and archbishop of the Aleutians and North America (18981907), laying the foundations of the Orthodox church in America. The Alaskan mission, founded in 1794, was extended and coordinated, so that it was able to grow into an autocephalous church in 1970. Tikhon's plan was to permit the Orthodox of various nations to form a single church, initially dependent on the Russian church, but eventually becoming autocephalous. The goal of a single church in the United States remains to be achieved, its delay being one of the consequences of the Russian Revolution.

Patriarch Tikhon was elected twelve days after the Bolshevik coup by the Great Sobor, or Pomestnyi Sobor (19171918), the first assembly of magnitude in the Russian church since the Great Sobor of 16661667. His election signaled the successful outcome of a nearly two-hundred-year struggle by the church to emancipate itself from control by the Russian state. Yet, Tikhon and the sobor delegates were aware of the danger in the demise of the provisional government that left the Orthodox church as the only pan-Russian institution to which the masses could turn. The contest that ensued between the church and the Bolsheviks developed into the most extensive persecution experienced by Christians since the days of the Roman emperor Diocletian.

Tikhon's first months as patriarch witnessed the first onslaught of Bolshevik violence when monasteries, cathedrals, and churches were bombarded and desecrated, and priests, bishops, and lay defenders of the church murdered. Tikhon countered through an encyclical urging the Bolsheviks to cease the massacres and telling them that they were doing the work of Satan; he also excommunicated all collaborators in the terror. The encyclical, combined with the reaction to persecution, produced a major groundswell of support for the church. The Bolshevik regime reacted by depriving the church of its legal status, confiscating all its properties and revenues, and launching a holocaust designed to devastate the church and eliminate its legacy in Russian history and culture.

During the persecution the regime pursued two methods of weakening and discrediting the patriarch. First, it supported dissident schismatics who splintered the ecclesiastical administration, and second, it tried to compromise Tikhon with the public in a dispute over the disposition of church values during the famine of 19211922. The Living Church, composed of those opposed to restoring traditional canonical authority to the patriarchal office, was created as a result of the schism. Its leaders were allowed to seize the patriarchal palace, the patriarchal administrative offices, and the offices of the metropolitanate of Moscow in May 1922. By this time Tikhon was already under arrest, and leading Moscow clergy had either been tried and condemned to death for inciting the masses "to engage in civil war" or were under indictment for that offense. In the resulting paralysis, the Living Church takeover was accomplished under the guise of providing leadership in unusual circumstances and with the assistance of the secret police. Clergy and bishops who refused to acknowlege the takeover were immediately declared unfrocked by the Living Church administration and arrested, tried, and, in many cases, executed by the secret police.

The takeover coincided with vitriolic attacks upon Tikhon, the hierarchy, and the clergy for refusing to hand over eucharistic vessels for famine relief. Tikhon had already agreed to strip the churches, monasteries, and cathedrals of precious metals and jewels except for the eucharistic vessels. The regime accused the church of hoarding its valuables and launched a massive propaganda attack. Churches were plundered anew, and their defenders arrested and indicted for antistate activities. The Living Church administration went through the motions of deposing Tikhon, and the Soviet government prepared to put him on trial for treason.

A major part of the government's indictment consisted in the accusation that Tikhon was working to overthrow the regime. That accusation was based upon a resolution passed by émigré hierarchs and lay leaders at Karlovci, Yugoslavia, in November 1921, demanding the restoration of the Romanov dynasty. Tikhon had already ordered his faithful and clergy to desist from antistate activities in September 1919 and repudiated the Karlovci statement. He also formally dissolved the émigré church administration in May 1922.

The Soviet regime soon realized that the Living Church did not have the support of the majority of Orthodox believers. Moreover, a general intensification of persecution of the Orthodox church in 1922, during which the popular metropolitan of Petrograd, Benjamin Kazanskii, was tried and executed, produced a deepening of dissatisfaction with Bolshevik rule among the masses. The regime also had put on trial Ioann Cieplak, acting Roman Catholic archbishop in Russia, together with Konstantin Budkiewicz, pastor of the chief Roman Catholic church in Petrograd. The execution of Budkiewicz had raised such an international outcry that the Bolsheviks faltered in their determination to execute the patriarch.

The circumstances led to a compromise. Tikhon wished to meet the Living Church challenge head-on, while the regime was concerned to avoid creating a martyr. Tikhon agreed to issue an encyclical in which he stated his personal loyalty to the Soviet government. He implied that the Living Church, rather than the regime, was the key danger to the Orthodox church. The regime slackened its support for the Living Church and Tikhon was released from prison. However, he was required to live in seclusion in the Donskoi Monastery, where he remained, except for brief hospitalization, until his death on April 7, 1925. While Tikhon contained the damage from the Living Church, he paid the heavy price of being effectively isolated from his shattered flock and of paving the way for further subordination of the Orthodox church to the Soviet regime.


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James W. Cunningham (1987)