In honor of the centenary of the glorious event of the restoration of the patriarchate to the Russian Orthodox Church at the Local Council of 1917-1918, OrthoChristian.com takes a look back at the words of His Holiness Patriarch Alexei II of Moscow and All Russia on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the same event.
This year, 2007, the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates a significant date—the 90th anniversary of the restoration of the patriarchate. The rebirth of the patriarchal ministry in the revolutionary year of 1917 united all the spiritually healthy powers of the people around the throne of the First Hierarchs of Moscow and proved to be salvific for the Church of Christ and the Fatherland.
At the Local Council of 1917-1918, after a 200-year suspension stemming from non-ecclesial reasons, the historic decision was made to fulfil the canonical rule of the holy apostles, which prescribes: “The bishops of every nation must acknowledge him who is first among them and account him as their head, and do nothing of consequence without his consent.”1
One of those who by the providence of God were prepared for the path of service to Christ “even unto death,” Hieromartyr Mitrophan, Archbishop of Astrakhan and Tsarevsky, thus expressed in those restless days the Church’s urgent need for a singular leadership: “At all precarious moments of Russian life, when the helm of the Church began to lurch, the thought of the patriarch would resurrect with particular force… The times imperatively demand a podvig, boldness, and the people desire to see someone at the head of the Church who would unite the people.”
This truly unique event occurred at a critical moment of Russian history: On the eve of the terrible, almost apocalyptic events of the of the looming era of theomachism, the Lord, strengthening the people before the coming trials, gave His Church the opportunity to freely elect a primate.
Highly prophetic were the words of one of the participants of the Local Council of 1917-1918: “Recent events bear witness to the falling away from God not only of the intelligentsia, but also of the lower strata… and there is no authoritative force which could have stopped this phenomenon, no fear, no conscience, no first bishop at the head of the Russian people… Therefore, we must immediately elect a spirit-bearing guardian of our conscience, our spiritual leader—His Holiness the patriarch, who will lead us to Christ.”
The primate of Moscow and All Russia elected by the council, Patriarch Tikhon, truly became a good shepherd, laying down his life for the sake of the salvation of the Church of Christ. His podvig of confession is forever imprinted in the history of Christianity.
His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon clearly foresaw the coming tribulations and travails and spoke about it immediately after his election:
Your news of my election to the patriarchate is for me that scroll on which was written, lamentations, and mourning, and woe, which the prophet Ezekiel had to eat (Ezek. 2:10-3:1). How many tears must in I swallow and how much must I groan in my impending patriarchal ministry, and especially in these present difficult times!... From now on, the care of all the churches of Russia is laid upon me, and dying for them all my days awaits me. And who even among those stronger than I can have the strength for it? But may God’s will be done!
St. Tikhon was not just a zealous man of prayer and genuine hierarch of God, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15), but a reprover of unrighteousness, boldly raising his voice before the authorities in defense of the faith and the Church.
The successors of the Holy Hierarch and Confessor of Christ Patriarch Tikhon continued to walk the thorny path bequeathed by him, taking upon themselves the staggering burden of responsibility for the purity of the faith and the proper canonical structure of Church life. The evidence of this is the firmness and courage of many Orthodox Christians who received martyric crowns rather than apostatizing from truth.
“The blood of the martyrs builds the Church,” ancient Christians would say. Beholding the podvig of witness of Christ of many bishops, priests, and laity, receiving crowns of martyrdom during the years of godless persecutions, and also the confession of the successors of the primates of Moscow, who carried out their ministry in the twentieth century, we are again assured of the truth of these words.
The steadfastness, determination, and boundless patience manifested by the primates of our Church in the difficult years of persecutions made the subsequent spiritual rebirth of our Fatherland possible.
We raise up prayers of thanksgiving to the Lord Almighty, for the Church of Christ, going from strength to strength, lives and acts by His Divine aid, for “who is so great a god as our God. Thou art the God Who workest wonders.”
By the intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos, His grace is repeatedly shown to our people, now accomplishing a spiritual rebirth on the entire canonical expanse of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Behind all of this stands the prayerful boldness, archpastoral labors, and fatherly care for the people of God of the primates of Moscow who have departed this world for the Heavenly habitations, who implore the Almighty at the throne of God, obtaining for us His “great and rich mercy.”
Congratulating all with the 90th anniversary of the restoration of the patriarchate, I heartily wish all the hierarchs, presbyters, deacons, monastics, and laity of our Church to be attentive guardians of Church unity on all of life’s paths, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:2-3).
+ Alexei, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia