Mirrors Of Moscow

by Louise Bryant

Lenin and his subordinates:

Tikon and the Russian Church


THERE are two points of importance in regard to the Greek Orthodox Church and the Russian revolution. First, that the church has maintained itself and second, that it has issued no frantic appeals for outside help. While certain priests have allied themselves with counter-revolutionists, officially the church has never taken sides. Even at the present moment when a bitter conflict is on, the quarrel remains a family quarrel.

Tikon, the Patriarch, by remaining unruffled through the barricade and blockade days, proved himself a strong leader in a time when only strong leaders could survive. If he had been frightened or hostile in the Denikin or Kolchak days he might have shared the fate of the Romanoffs; if he had taken part in counter-revolutions, the church itself might have been badly shattered. But until re-cently, Tikon has been as placid as his ikons and as interested in the great change going on about him as a scientist. And therein lay his strength.

"Don't let any one pity me," he said last winter when I talked to him, "I am having the most interesting time of my life."

Much nonsense has been written about antichurch propaganda in Soviet Russia. Dozens of writers have discussed a certain rather obscure sign in Moscow which reads: "Religion is the opiate of the people." This sign, about three feet across, is painted high up on the north side of the Historical Museum building near the entrance to the Red Square. No one in Russia seems to be much interested in it and certainly it attracts less attention than any one of our million billboard advertisements. I tried for a year to find out who had put it up and what group it represented, but could never discover. It was a cab driver who said the wisest thing concerning it. "If somebody took it down," he said dryly, when I asked him what he thought of it, "no one would notice."

The anti-clerical posters gotten out at the beginning of the revolution, however, had a much more far-reaching influence. They were usually to the effect that the priests were hoarding the church lands and at the same time expecting the peasants to support them. Any idea which sanctions giving the land to the peasants is popular in Russia. It was not long before the peasants had seized the church lands and divided them through their land committees. But this did not make them atheists.

I remember meeting an old peasant leader from Siberia who had led a successful revolt against Kolchak. He was received as a hero when he arrived at Moscow for an All Russian Congress of Soviets. He told me a story about a priest in his community who was a counter-revolutionist. He said, "It usually is this way with me and with many of the peasants, we love God and we are religious but we hate the priests." I asked him if it was not possible to find good priests, and he began to tell me about one priest who had been very noble and self-sacrificing. But this was the only one he could think of. "The others disgrace God," he said.

And that is just what one must understand m order to comprehend the Russian church and its present position. The Soviets did not destroy the church or ruin it in any way-no outside pressure could do that. It was Rasputin and other "disgracers" who at last outraged even the credulous and easy-going peasants.

A revolution had to take place in the church as well as outside of it to save it at all. The church, at the time of the revolution, was as corrupt as the Tsardom. Nothing is better evidence of this than ·the way it was deserted by hundreds of priests as soon as the life in the monasteries ceased to be easy. Long before the upheaval the priesthood had grown dissolute. All that the revolution did was to give the church a pruning which saved its soul. By shearing it of its old luxuries it cut off the parasitic priests and by severing it from the state it took the church out of politics. It was forced to stand or fall by its own merits.

And when the wealth of the church was reduced to a certain point it became necessary for a priest to be such a good priest and so well loved and appreciated by his flock that his flock was willing to support him, in spite of the hard life and the terrible conditions. Thus a new and better clergy came into being.

The final test of the priesthood, however, came with the famine. All that was left of the church wealth, outside of the churches themselves, were the jewels in the ikons and the silver and gold ornaments which glitter in the shrines throughout Russia. The government decided to requisition these treasures. The priests who had been shriven in the revolutionary fire were glad and willing to part with these things, but there were many who resisted. The outcome was a split in the church ranks, as well as riots, intrigue, and bad feeling. There probably was a good deal of mismanagement on the part of a few arbitrary Soviet officials like Zinoviev, who do not seem to comprehend the sensitiveness of religious people and how easily outraged they are by outside intrusion. There is little doubt that this heightened a delicate and unfortunate situation. If a Church Committee had been allowed to select and turn over the jewels and precious metal, Tikon and other churchmen would probably never have been brought to trial.'

However, the trials themselves are intensely interesting and mark an epoch in the life of the revolution. They actually mark the real beginning of public opinion in Russia and that, in any case, is a healthy development. It is like letting fresh air into a long-closed room. Discussions of the government and the church have for five years been going on in whispers behind closed doors. It now comes down to this: if the government is wrong and is unjustly stripping the church of wealth, the government will suffer by lack of support or even open hostility on the part of the peasants, who have so much power now that they can no longer be ignored on any question; and if the priests are wrong and prove themselves selfish in this time of need, the priests will be deposed. But the church itself will go on because the peasants are religious; they will continue to "love God" in the traditional manner.

About a week ago I met a Russian priest in New York and I asked him at once how he felt about the requisitioning of the jewels. He raised his hands devoutly. "What man could pray to God and hoard jewels at such a time?" he exclaimed. Then he showed me a very old and precious carved wooden cross. "There was a ruby in this cross," he said. "It was the only valuable thing I possessed. I can't tell you how happy I was when it was sold and the money used for relief. This is not a stone you see in it now; it is a piece of red glass, but it is somehow more precious to me than the ruby." Here is the expression of a really devout man and the only sort of priest that people will follow in such a crisis.

It is perfectly true that the leaders of the Communist movement are not religious. All students, in fact the entire "intelligentsia" or educated classes of Russia, were never religious. Before the revolution all groups of revolutionaries and literary folk prided themselves on their lack of religion. So anti-religion is not confined strictly to the leaders of the Communist movement. Any other party except the Monarchist Party would be equally devoid of interest in religion.

The Monarchists necessarily support the church because the Tsar was really head of the church. This has been true since the time of Peter the Great, who while not actually abolishing the office of Patriarch, never allowed another Patriarch to be elected. One of the curious and interesting sidelights of the revolution was that a few weeks after the church was separated from the state, a Patriarch was elected for the first time in two hundred years, so that while in one way the church lost its power, in another way it really came into its own.

Freedom of religion, as we know it in the United States, was a surprise and a shock to the members of the Russian church, for up until 1917 no other sects but the Greek Orthodox were permitted by law in Ru·ssia. Naturally, when other religious orders began to send in missionaries the old church protested, and when the Soviets answered that freedom of religion was now an stablished fact they did not understand it as "freedom" and called it discrimination. And it seemed like discrimination, because, while the Orthodox Church was losing its former possessions, other religions were gaining concessions.

Tikon, whose official title is Patriarch of Moscow and All the Russias, and who is called, with a sharp flavor of French revolutionary days, by the Supreme Revolutionary Tribunal, "Citizen Basil Ivanovitch Baliavin," was born in Pskoff in 186o. He was educated in Petrograd Theological Academy and became a monk upon the completion of his studies. He later held several important posts as a professor in theological institutions. He was consecrated Bishop of the Aleutian Isles and North America in 1897 and then came to America. In 1905 he was made Archbishop and moved the cathedral residence from San Francisco toNew York. He returned to Russia in February, 1907, having been appointed Archbishop of Jaroslav. In 1913 he became Archbishop of Vilna. Early in 1917 he was elected Metropolitan of Moscow and in November of that same year, just when the Bolsheviks came into power, he became Patriarch.

Just what influenced Tikon and made him so much more democratic than most of his colleagues, I do not know. My own opinion, after a conversation with him, is that he is somewhat of a student of history and a philosopher, as well as a priest. It is the opinion of many people, inside and outside of Russia, that it was his long residence

in America which made him so liberal. Of one thing I feel sure. He would have resisted the Soviet Government if he had believed that it was better for the future of the church. I do not think he refrained because of any personal fears, but because he actually saw a real revival of religion in the fire through which the church was passing.

No one could have expected the church to embrace the revolution. The nobility and the clergy had walked too many centuries hand in hand. The nobility perished in the course of events and the church survived, as it did in France. And the church will continue to survive-merely the poorer by a few jewels or a few thousand acres of land. But it will never wield the same power that it once did or that it could wield if there was a return to Tsardom. It cannot be as strong, for example, as the Church of Rome is in Italy.

The real menace to the power of the Russian church lies in its own medieval outlook on life. It has scarcely anything to do with anti-church propagandists or with opposition by force or by requisition. The youth of Russia is interested in reconstruction and the government for the first time. The young people have learned to read and to think. They are no longer content with the old forms; they are repelled by dissolute or un-Christlike priests. If the church wishes to be strong and to have an influence in the life of the nation it cannot gain that influence by haggling over a pile of rubies and diamonds and emeralds while thousands of children are dying of hunger. The old peasants might follow Tikon when he says that the famine is the business of God, but the young people will not. It is almost inconceivable that a man can follow the lowly Christ in such a proud way. Certainly, the young Russians, who have so passionately defended the revolution, will never be satisfied with such a conception.

It seems very sad, from the religious point of view, that Tikon, who steered his church through the long period of fighting and destruction, should lose his equilibrium in the period of adjustment. He was able to smile through all the worst days of terror and suspicion. He could joke about the Cheka guard outside his door, he could calm his agitated congregations, but he could not sacrifice form. When I interviewed him he wore a gorgeous robe and jewels.

Tikon is sincere. Even in his clinging to the splendor of gold and jewels, he is sincere. It is his particular mystical way of loving God, which is difficult to understand in our age of materialism. Tikon, in a lesser degree, has many of those quali- ties of Lenin which make him a leader of men. If he had been as great a man as Lenin he would have thoroughly purified the church and led a great religious revival in Russia.