The Life and TIMEs of Patriarch Tikhon

So shocking was the imprisonment and conviction of Patriarch Tikhon, that it made this edition of TIME magazine in 1923. Patriarch Tikhon, who was “unfrocked” of his title to simply that of Comrade André Bélavin, was, according to the article, “judged without a hearing” and convicted of counterrevolutionary acts. The article mentioned further that the confiscation of church property, which began shortly after the Patriarch’s arrest by the Soviets, was justified by the All Russian Church Council, stating that “capitalism…is one of the seven deadly sins, therefore its struggle is a sacred struggle”.

The control of the church began with the seizure of church property and valuables. This move implemented by Lenin, heeding the advice of Trotsky to address the “counterrevolutionary clergy” in order to create a schism to separate them, whom Lenin referred to as “Patriarch Tikhon’s Clique” (Gabel, Paul. And God Created Lenin: Marxism vs. Religion in Russia, 1917-1929. Amherst, 2005. pp. 233-236.)

Ivan Skvortsov-Stepanov, a devoted Bolshevik from the early days, said this about the affair: “We cannot deprive ourselves of the pleasure of seeing the views of one part of the clergy opposed by those of the other. But we cannot stop at that and will make use of the splitting among the clergy in order to lead the masses away from any religion whatever.” –The Tasks and Methods of Antireligious Propaganda 1923 (233)

The next step to control the church was to come after its leaders, with the Patriarch being the primary target. Patriarch Tikhon was an obvious target for many reasons. For one thing, he had strong ties to Imperial Russia, an empire which was consolidated with the help of Orthodox Christianity. During the revolution, the Patriarch was adamantly opposed to the execution of the Tsar. But that was not all—he also had connections to the West, specifically in the U.S, where he served as a missionary bishop in Alaska, the Aleutians, New York, and Pennsylvania prior to his appointment as the Patriarch in 1898. If you are ever in South Canaan, Pennsylvania, you can see the monastery he founded, St. Tikhon’s Monastery, which is the oldest monastery in America.

The Patriarch was arrested in April of 1922 over charges of “being the focus of all religious opposition to the Bolsheviks, and of being the agent of foreign organizations, namely Russian Orthodox congregations abroad”. More can be found information can be found here.

With Patriarch Tikhon’s authority compromised, the Soviets issued several decrees, including one in which all congregations with fifty people or more must register with the government. Afterwards, the Living Church Movement began, with the so called “renovationists” making significant changes within the church that would later contribute to the state takeover. The church soon fell entirely into the hands of the state. Anti-Religious propaganda began to circulate. The All-Russian Church Council swiftly removed all traditional clergy from power. In the course of a month all clergy were removed, and Patriarch Tikhon was stripped of his position.

When the Patriarch was finally released a few months after his imprisonment, he emerged as merely another “comrade”. However, he still managed to draw this crowd as photographed above in 1923. You can find out more here.

Subjected to what he himself referred to as “intense” questioning in which his life was threatened, the former patriarch released this statement in which he essentially admitted to being an enemy of the Bolsheviks: “Having been brought up in a Monarchist society and being up to my arrest under the influence of anti-Soviet persons, I had indeed hostile feelings toward Soviet power…” Stating that he would comply with the government and that he was no longer an “enemy of the people”, the patriarch narrowly escaped execution. However, his statement merely sealed the fall of religion and its authority to give way to a new Soviet society.

After the Patriarch died in 1925, his body was buried in the Donskoy Monastery in Moscow, the same monastery in which he has been imprisoned just a few years before. The fortified monastery was later closed and re-purposed during the Stalin era. Part of the building was designated as a penal colony for children and the other part for a museum dedicated to atheism by the wishes of Stalin. His remains were lost and not found on the grounds until 1992 in a hidden crypt, as pictured below.

1992 Patriarch Tikhon’s remains are recovered

The removal of the Patriarch, like the Tsar, solidified the transfer of power to the Soviets. As a symbol of religion, the imprisonment and “unfrocking” of the head of the church sent a powerful message that Russia was finally entering into a new chapter of history, the Soviet Era.

9 thoughts on “The Life and TIMEs of Patriarch Tikhon

  1. I never realized that the Patriarch experienced a similar stripping of power to the Tsar. I like how you connected the two, as both were very important figures in pre-Revolutionary Russia whose power threatened the rise of the Bolsheviks. The picture you added help support the image of the Patriarch’s power and popularity, even as an enemy of the Bolsheviks.


  2. Gina – this is a fantastic post! I love that you used so many quotes from people and documents of the time – it adds so much to your post. Also, the images you’ve used are so poignant. I have to wonder what bias TIME might have exhibited in that article, since it’s a U.S. publication. It would be fascinating to compare U.S. reporting on this incident to Soviet reporting!


    1. Thank you! I agree, it would be so interesting to compare U.S. to Soviet reporting, and perhaps other countries who may have also published a news article on this topic. If I have more time, I will definitely look into this!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You did a really good job on this post. I liked how it was formatted and the amount of detail that you used. I find it interesting how Times covered this event as a company from America with differing values. Thanks for sharing!


  4. Wow, Gina – This is so detailed and interesting. And you’ve mustered some very important sources to support your narrative.The images and links are wonderful. I did not realize that Patriarch Tikhon had founded a monastery in Pennsylvania, for example! Your post sets us up well to talk about the “restoration of the Patriarch” during WWII (when Stalin decides that having “all hands on deck,” as it were, will be essential to victory). And it invites so many questions about the how and why of the Soviet regime’s campaign against the church.
    We know that the church had been a powerful ally of the Imperial Regime, but how about socially? What did Orthodox subjects, especially peasants think about the closing of the churches and the imprisonment and death of the patriarch?


  5. Thank you! I have not given much thought into how the fall of the Patriarch and the Orthodox church impacted society, especially the peasants, and that is a very important point to address.
    I just found some information about it through the Library of Congress. I looked at Gorky’s letter to Stalin, which is very interesting. He tells Stalin that there is a “natural ‘tendency'” towards religion in the peasantry, and that it needs to be stopped because it promotes individualism which would be a hinderance to Soviet society. My guess is that when Gorky wrote of a “natural tendency” he meant that religion was deeply rooted in the peasantry and therefore would be an enormous undertaking to destroy. Therefore, I think the peasantry would have been deeply opposed to how the Patriarch was treated, however because the Bolsheviks had the upper hand, there wasn’t much they could do to stop what happened.


  6. Really well done. I like all the links you included – very informative. I find it interesting how the Russian church council as you mentioned cited capitalism as one of the seven deadly sins especially because they were persecuted so much by the communists that would replace them.


  7. I really enjoyed this paper! It is extremely well typed and had a great narrative with focusing on the life of Patriarch Tikhon. This is a name that probably never have been talked about in a Virginia Tech history class and about 100 year after his death, his story is brought back to life. The best picture on this post would be the modern photo of his crypt and looking at the covering of his body and how it makes him look like a martyr.

    Liked by 1 person

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