At one such trial, that of the 54 in Moscow in May, the Patriarch appeared as a witness for the defence. The presiding judge asked him:
"Do you consider the state's laws obligatory or not?"
"Yes, I recognize them," replied the Patriarch boldly, "to the extent that they do not contradict the rules of piety."
Among the critics of the Patriarch on the question of church valuables was a group of pro-revolutionary "renovationist" clergy, who created the so-called "Living Church". In this same month of May they took advantage of the Patriarch's transfer to the Donskoy monastery to seize control of the Church's central administration.
Soon the renovationists were attacking several of the basic dogmas of the Church, and introduced several modernist innovations such as the new calendar and married bishops. They adopted a vigorously pro-Soviet and anti-patriarchal policy. The GPU supported them while imprisoning those clergy who remained loyal to the Patriarch. Soon most of the churches in Moscow and about a third of those in the whole country were in their hands. However, the masses of the people remained faithful to the Patriarch, whoin April, 1923 was imprisoned in the Taganka prison pending his trial.
At their second council, which met in Moscow in the same month of April, the renovationists first heaped praises on the revolution, which they called a "Christian creation", on the Soviet government, which they said was the first government in the world that strove to realize "the ideal of the Kingdom of God", and on Lenin: "First of all, we must turn with words of deep gratitude to the government of our state, which, in spite of the slandersof foreign informers, does not persecute the Church... The word of gratitudeand welcome must be expressed by us to the only state in the world which performs, without believing, that work of love which we, believers, do not fulfil, and also to the leader of Soviet Russia, V.I. Lenin, who must be dear also to church people..."
The council tried Patriarch Tikhon in absentia, and deprived him not only of his clerical orders but also of his monasticism, calling him thenceforth "layman Basil Bellavin". Then the patriarchate itself was abolished, its restoration being called a counter-revolutionary act. Finally, some further resolutions were adopted allowing white clergy to become bishops, and priests to remarry, and introducing the Gregorian calendar. When the decisions of the council were taken to the Patriarch for his signature, he calmly wrote: "Read. The council did not summon me, I do not know its competence and for that reason cannot consider its decision lawful."
Forty six "bishops" out of the 73 who attended the council signed the decree condemning the Patriarch. One of them, Joasaph (Shishkovsky), told Fr. Basil Vinogradov: "The leaders of the council Krasnitsky and Vvedensky gatheredall those present at the 'council' of bishops for this meeting. When several direct and indirect objections to these leaders' proposal to defrock the Patriarch began to be expressed, Krasnitsky quite openly declared to all present: 'He who does not immediately sign this resolution will only leave this room straight for the prison.' The terrorized bishops (including Joasaph himself) did not find the courage to resist in the face of the threat of a new prison sentence and forced labour in a concentration camp and... signed, although almost all were against the resolution. None of the church people had any doubt that the 'council's' sentence was the direct work of Soviet power and that now a criminal trial and bloody reprisal against the Patriarch was to be expected at any time."
The pressures on the Patriarch were mounting inexorably, with daily visits from the GPU agent Tuchkov, who made blackmail threats to force him to make concessions to the State. (Tikhon called him "an angel of Satan".) In April, the government announced that the Patriarch was about to go on trial on charges arising from the trials of the 54 in Moscow and of Metropolitan Benjamin in Petrograd the previous year. However, partly because the authorities wanted to give the renovationist council the opportunity to condemn him first, and partly, later, as the result of an ultimatum issued by the British foreign minister Lord Curzon, which was supported by an outcry in the British and American press, the trial was postponed to June 17.
At the beginning of June, the Patriarch fell ill and was transferred from the Donskoy monastery to the Taganka prison. There he was able to receive only official Soviet newspaper accounts of the Church struggle, which greatly exaggerated the successes of the renovationists. Feeling that his presence at the helm of the Church was absolutely necessary, and that of his two enemies, the renovationists and the communists, the renovationists were the more dangerous, the Patriarch decided to make concessions to the government in order to be released. Thus on June 3/16 and again on June 18 / July 1 he issued his famous "confession", in which he repented of all his anti-Soviet acts (including the anathema against the Bolsheviks), and "finally and decisively" set himself apart "from both the foreign and the internal monarchist White-guard counter-revolutionaries".
Tikhon was released on June 12/25, 1923, and his appearance in public - he had aged terribly in prison - was enough to send the Living Church into a sharp and irreversible decline. They remained dangerous as long as they retained the favour of the authorities; but by 1926 the authorities were already turning to others (the Gregorians, then Metropolitan Sergius) as better suited for the task of destroying the Church. And by the end of the Second World War the last remaining renovationists had been absorbed intothe neo-renovationist Moscow Patriarchate. However, the government still supported the schismatics, and to the end of his life the Patriarch's main preoccupation was to limit their influence.
On seeing the real situation, the Patriarch bitterly repented of his "repentance" in prison: he said that if he had known how weak the Living Church really was, he would not have signed the "confession" and would have stayed in prison.
On July 2/15 he anathematized the Living Church, declaring: "They have separated themselves from the body of the Ecumenical Church and deprived themselves of God's favor, which resides only in the Church of Christ. Consequently, all arrangements made during our absence by those ruling the Church, since they had neither legal right nor canonical authority, are non-valid and void, and all actions and sacraments performed by bishops and clergymen who have forsaken the Church are devoid of God's grace and power; the faithful taking part in such prayers and sacraments shall receive no sanctification thereby, and are subject to condemnation for participatingin their sin..."
The authorities then tried to make the Patriarch introduce several ofthe innovations which the renovationists had adopted. One of these was the new calendar. For a short time, the Patriarch was in favour of this, thinking that the other Orthodox Churches had accepted the new calendar. However, the people were against it, and when he received a telegram from Archbishop Anastasius of Kishinev, the future first-hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, saying that the other Orthodox Churches had not accepted the new calendar, the Patriarch reversed his decision. He informed the authorities about this, and noted with some irony that he did not quite understand why the secular authorities should be interested in changing to the new style...
"The brutal persecution," writes Fr. Demetrius Serfes, "did not let up during the entire remaining period of the Patriarch's life. They wished thereby to make him their obedient slave, as Metropolitan Sergius subsequently became, but he remained a guardian of Orthodoxy. Never during the Church's entire history had it ever been confronted by such a cruel and evil foe. The Patriarch literally fell ill after every encounter with Tuchkov, who directed Soviet ecclesiastical policy. The Patriarch was not afraid of martyrdom. The most savage death would probably have been easier for him than having to be constantly concerned over exiled bishops, priests and faithful laymen. On the other hand, as the breakdown which took place during his imprisonment indicated, it would seem that it was essential todo everything possible without changing the fundamental principles of the Church and its internal freedom, so that the recent state of affairs under whichthe sheep were abandoned to the mercy of wolves, would not occur again. The sheep however, realized that their shepherd had not forsaken them, but had been parted from them against his will. And they showed their love for him whenever possible."
The Patriarch was in effect powerless. As he said: "It's better to sit in prison - you know, I'm only considered to be free, but in fact I can do nothing. I send a hierarch to the south and he turns up in the north, I send him to the west, and they take him to the east."
In February, 1924, one of the renovationist leaders, Krasnitsky, with GPU backing, tried to join the patriarchal Church. After some wavering, the Patriarch rejected this, though the effort caused him to fall ill. Then Patriarch Gregory IV of Constantinople, who had just caused a schism in his own Church by introducing the new calendar, tried to reconcile the Patriarchal Church with the "Living Church". The Patriarch decisively rejected this attempt.
The Bolsheviks now resorted to another tactic. Instead of trying to remove the Patriarch, whose popularity was too solidly entrenched among the people, they tried to force him into accepting legalization by the state on terms that involved more-or-less total submission to them. To this end they applied blackmail - the threat of shooting several bishops. Under this terrible moral torture, the Patriarch's health began to deteriorate...
At about this time the Patriarch confided to his close friend and personal physician, Michael Zhizhilenko, the future Catacomb Bishop Maximus, that he feared that soon the "political" demands of the Soviets would go beyond the bounds of faithfulness to Christ, and that the Church, in order to remain faithful, would have to go into the catacombs.
On December 7, 1924, the Patriarch sent an epistle to all the clergyof the Church, in which he wrote: "Whoever was in the administration of the Living Church in the HCA cannot take up any further administrative position in our Church. And not only can he not be an administrator: he cannot have a vote during a Council." This was an important decree, because it disqualified the man who eventually became "patriarch" after Patriarch Tikhon, Metropolitan Sergius of Nizhni-Novgorod, who had been a member of the renovationist Higher Church Administration.
After the publication of this epistle, the Bolsheviks decided to kill the Patriarch. Jane Swan writes: "On December 22, 1924, a second attempt on the life of the Patriarch was made. For many years the Patriarch had been served by a man called James Sergievich Ostroumov. James had been with him during his years in America, and then on returning to Russia had married Princess Drutskaya-Sokolinskaya. When Tikhon became Patriarch, James was again with him, probably the closest person to him throughout those harrowing years. On the evening of December [9/]22, the Patriarch was standing before the icons in his bedroom praying. Hearing a shot, he crossed himself in the direction of the shot, then opened the door. For a moment, the door could not be opened for something was obstructing it. Then it suddenly gave and there James lay covered with blood, half on the floor and half against the door. Two men stood there. On seeing the Patriarch, one of them grabbed his own head with his hands and turning, ran out. The other followed, also running. Tikhon shouted,
"'Stop, what have you done? You have killed a man!'
"James opened his eyes, looked at the Patriarch, and then died. The police were called at once, and next day a notice was printed in Izvestia that two thieves had entered the apartment of Citizen Bellavin and stolen a fur coat. No mention was made of the murder and no investigation was ever made. Curiously enough, the Bolsheviks made an issue over James' burial. The Patriarch wished to have him buried at the monastery and for a while the Bolsheviks refused. Finally it was allowed, but almost as soon as the grave was made, the government announced that they were building a crematorium on that spot. Tikhon had the grave removed next to the walls of the church and eventually his own body was to be placed in the grave next to James'. This incident shattered the little health which remained to the Patriarch and his attacks [of angina] increased."
According to the witness of Bishop Maximus (Zhizhilenko), during the murder of his cell-attendant, the Patriarch remained in a chair in the same room, but the murderer did not see him.
On January 12, 1925, the Patriarch was admitted to a small private hospital run by Dr. Bakunina. Even here he came under pressure from the GPU agent Tuchkov. However, his health recovered somewhat, and for a while he was able to officiate in church again.
On March 23, he consecrated two bishops. But the following evening he arrived back at the hospital exhausted after a meeting of the Holy Synod.
According to the official version of the Patriarch's death, he died at 11.45 p.m. on March 25 / April 7, 1925, "at the end of the feast of the Annunciation. There is no hint in the official version that the Patriarch may have been poisoned. But this is the inference to be drawn from the following account by the Catacomb Schema-Bishop Peter (Ladygin), which he received from the Patriarch's cell-attendant:
"The Patriarch continued his work. On the Annunciation [March 25], having celebrated the Liturgy, he was completely healthy. At four o'clock Metropolitan Seraphim of Tver [a suspected GPU agent who later joined Metropolitan Sergius' false synod] came to him. The Patriarch told him that he would serve the next day, but Seraphim said:
"'Do not serve, your Holiness, have a rest. You are very tired and weak.'
"Seraphim left at eight o'clock in the evening.
"The Patriarch felt well and was getting ready to serve the next day. But suddenly there was a ring at the door. When they opened the door, a doctor entered. The doctor said:
"'Your Holiness! You rang us and asked us to come since you were weak. Here I am to examine you and prescribe you some medicines.'
"The Patriarch said: 'But no. I feel fine.'
"'Okay,' said the doctor, 'but just allow me to examine you. Your pulse is weak. You must drink some medicine.'
"The Patriarch asked: 'Why have you come and not my doctor, who always looks after me?'
"'He's not at home now, he's on call, but I was at home - so here I am,' replied the doctor. 'In an hour's time I shall send you a mixture.'
"An hour after the doctor had left, at ten o'clock in the evening, Mark brought the Patriarch a mixture and said that the doctor had ordered him to drink a spoonful.
"'Give it to me,' said the Patriarch.
"Mark poured out a spoonful of the mixture and the Patriarch drank it. Immediately he began to vomit (be sick). The cell-attendants Stratonicus and Mark rang the doctor. After a few minutes the doctor appeared. The Patriarch was lying down.
"'What's the matter with him?' asked the doctor.
"'The doctor prescribed a mixture and ordered us to give him one spoonful,' replied Mark.
"The doctor demanded to see the mixture immediately. They gave it him. On seeing it, the doctor threw up his hands and immediately sent the Patriarch to hospital. Mark and Stratonicus took him out and put him in the carriage. They got in themselves and accompanied him to the hospital. There they gave him some milk, and prepared some baths, but nothing helped. Within an hour and a half Patriarch Tikhon had died. The cell-attendants took him back. At three o'clock the Patriarch was laid out as a corpse at home. I write this from the words of the cell-attendants Mark and Stratonicus, who were with the Patriarch in the place of the murdered James."
Just as the official version of the Patriarch's death may have been tampered with, so his official will, which was flagrantly pro-Soviet, was almost certainly a forgery. That was the opinion of Bishop Maximus and Protopriest Basil Vinogradov. As Bishop Gregory Grabbe writes: "We know that on the day of the death of the Patriarch the question of the epistle [his will], which was demanded by Tuchkov, was discussed. Apparently the last conversation between the Patriarch and Metropolitan Peter was precisely about this. The room in which the Patriarch died was immediately sealed by Tuchkov. Only after several days did Tuchkov give what purported to be the will of his Holiness to the two metropolitans to be taken to the newspaper.
"But Fr. B. Vinogradov tell us, from the words of people who were near the room of his Holiness the Patriarch, that during the conversation with Metropolitan Peter the Patriarch was heard to say: 'I cannot do that.' Then it is very important to draw attention to the fact that at the meeting of the assembled bishops the notorious 'will' was NOT proclaimed. Fr. Vinogradov is right in emphasizing that Tuchkov, in allowing the meeting, would undoubtedly have demanded its proclamation if it had really been signed by the Patriarch. Moreover, Metropolitan Peter in his first address as locum tenens not only did not mention the will, but wrote in a quite different spirit."
Schema-Monk Epiphanius Chernov has further pointed out that the wording of the Patriarch's will is lifted almost word for word from the renovationist appeal published on April 30 / May 12, 1922 under the heading: "To all the believing sons of the Orthodox Church of Russia". Moreover, continues Fr. Epiphanius, "the official Soviet 'variant of the death' of Patriarch Tikhon was timed to take place in the clinic of Dr. Bakunina. There, as this 'variant' affirms, the 'will' was 'written', 'edited' and 'signed' by his Holiness Patriarch Tikhon. That's how it is in accordance with the official Soviet version... But why then does this 'will' end with these words:
"'... May the Lord strengthen you all in faithfulness to the Holy Orthodox faith, the Church and Her hierarchy. Patriarch Tikhon. Moscow. Donskoy monastery. March 25 / April 7, 1925.'
"This means that the writing and signing of this 'document' took place and was finished in the Donskoy monastery, and not in the clinic of Dr. Bakunina! Which corresponds to the hidden truth..."
According to the Patriarch' cell attendant, Constantine Pashkevich, his last words, uttered in an unusually strict tone, were: "I shall now go to sleep... deeply and for a long time. The night will be long and very dark."
The burial of the Patriarch took place on March 30 / April 12 in the presence of fifty-eight bishops and enormous crowds. There has never been such a huge demonstration of religious feeling in Russia from that time to the present day. He was buried in the old winter church of the Donskoy monastery.
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