The Epistles of Metropolitan Cyril of Kazan

THE MOST EMINENT of the hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church after the death of Patriarch Tikhon was, without doubt Metropolitan Cyril of Kazan. Chosen by Patriarch Tikhon as the first of the three Locum Tenens who would take his place in case of his death or incapacity, he was also chosen by the vast majority (72) of free bishops in 1926 in an unsuccessful attempt to elect a new Patriarch by a secret election. Being in exile in the years after 1925, he was unable to assume the position of Locum Tenens which therefore fell to the second candidate of Patriarch Tikhon, Metropolitan Peter of Krutitsa, but his voice was still the most authoritative in the whole Russian Church at that time.

After the Declaration of Metropolitan Sergius in 1927, therefore, the opinion of Metropolitan Cyril on this document and on Metropolitan Sergius' "new course" of church action was eagerly awaited. This opinion finally came after about two years, from Metropolitan Cyril's exile in Tunikhan in the far north. In this letter, to his friend Bishop Damascene, and even more in his subsequent correspondence with Metropolitan Sergius and other bishops up to the year 1934, Metropolitan Cyril sets forth, perhaps more clearly than any of the other hierarchs of the time, the ecclesiological nature of the error of Metropolitan Sergius. His observations on the nature of the Church's unity and oneness of mind, on the necessity to reject canonical legalism in the Church, on the question of breaking communion and on the presence or absence of grace in the Moscow Patriarchate and those who have separated from it, remain very relevant for our own day.

EPISTLE NO. 1: June 6/19, 1929

(Addressed to Bishop Damascene Cedrick, who like him had been in exile in Turukhan, but had then been freed and was temporarily in Starodoub. Translated, with omissions, from the complete Russian text in E. Lopeshanskaya, Bishop-Confessors, San Francisco, 1971, pp. 27-35 There is a partial Russian text in Lev Regelson, The Tragedy of the Russian Church, Paris, YMCA Press, 1977, pp. 166-168, 466-467. Regelson gives the date as May 2/15 and the addressee as the Kazan vicar-bishop Athanasius Malinin; this is an earlier letter whose content is mostly repeated in the longer letter to Bishop Damascene.)

Christ is in our midst! Beloved brother in the Lord, dear Vladika, Most Eminent Bishop!

Your letter, weighty in content, of March 1 I received on the Apodosis of Paschal In truth Christ is risen! What you have written to Father John I have read, thanks to the kind attention towards me of my neighbor. Both what you have said to Father John and your letter of March have consoled me—not by their grievous content, but by the oneness of soul and mind of us both which have been revealed there concerning the opinion of the church scandal which is now occurring. . .

Perplexity with regard to Metropolitan Sergius and the church headed by him could have arisen only because the believers have felt in the administrative-ecclesiastical activity of Metropolitan Sergius an exceeding of the authority which was given him by the title of Substitute of the Locum Tenens of the Patriarchal Throne. For me personally there is no doubt that no substitute can be equal in his rights to the one whom he replaces, nor can he take his place. A substitute is assigned for disposing of current affairs, the order of deciding which is precisely defined by the rules in force, by preceding practice, and by the personal directives of the one whom he replaces. No so-to-speak "rights of establishing," as a kind of reform of the existing institutions, the opening of posts, and so forth, can be given without first asking the agreement and directives of the one being replaced. And a fundamental change of the very system of church administration, which Metropolitan Sergius has ventured on, exceed the authority even of the Locum Tenen himself. . .

(There follows a technical discussion of the institution of Locum Tenens under Patriarch Tikhon, in order to show how Metropolitan Sergius has exceeded his authority.)

Therefore, until Metropolitan Sergius abolishes the Synod which he has established, I cannot acknowledge as obligatory for me to fulfill a single one of his administrative-ecclesiastical decrees given with the participation of tile so-called Temporary Patriarchal Synod. Such a relationship to Metropolitan Sergius and his Synod I do not understand as a separation from the part of the Orthodox Church administered by Metropolitan Sergius since the personal sin of Metropolitan Sergius concerning church administration does not do harm to the Orthodox dogmatic teaching observed by this part of the Church also but I am profoundly grieved that among those bishops who are of one mind with Metropolitan Sergius, in violation of brotherly love, the nickname of "splinter-group" and "schismatics" is already being applied in relation to those who are not in agreement with him and who accuse his wrongness.

I am not separating from anything holy, from anything that authentically belongs to the Church. I fear only to approach and cling to that which I recognize as sinful in its origin, and therefore I refrain from brotherly communion with Metropolitan Sergius and the Archpastors who are one in mind with him, since I have no other means of accusing a sinning brother. The many attempts known to me of personal written brotherly exhortations addressed to Metropolitan Sergius by the reposed Metropolitan Agathangelus, by Metroplitan tan Joseph and his two vicars, by Archbishop Seraphim of Uglich and Bishop Victor of Vyatka, have not been able to return Metropolitan Sergius to his proper place and to a fitting manner of action. To repeat this attempt of convincing by words would be useless. Therefore, I acknowledge it as a fulfillment of our archpastoral duty for those Archpastors and all who consider the establishment of the so-called "Temporary Patriarchal Synod" as wrong, to refrain from communion with Metropolitan Sergius and those Archpastors who are of one mind with him. By thus refraining, for my part, I am not in the least affirming or suspecting any lack of grace in the sacred actions and Mysteries performed by Sergianists (may the Lord God preserve us all from such a thought!), but I only underline my unwillingness and refusal to participate in the sins of others.

Therefore, I will not liturgize with Metropolitan Sergius and the Archpastors of one mind with him. But in case of mortal danger, with a peaceful conscience I will receive Unction and the final prayers from a priest appointed by Sergius or who submits to the Synod established by him, if there is not present a priest who shares my relation to Metropolitan Sergius and the so-called "Temporary Patriarchal Synod." Similarly, if I find myself in a locality where all the churches are under the "Temporary Patriarchal Synod," I will not enter them to pray at public Divine services, but I acknowledge it as possible, without a preparatory sanctification of the church, to serve Liturgy in one of them either alone or with the participation of clergy and believing laymen one in mind with me if such ones happen to be there. In my opinion, every clergyman who shares m; attitude to Metropolitan Sergius and the Synod established by him can act in the same way.

As for laymen, in all conscience they should not participate actively in the church-parish life of parishes which commemorate the name of Metropolitan Sergius at Divine services as the chief Archpastor. But in itself such a commemoration of the name of Metropolitan Sergius cannot be made the responsibility of laymen and should not serve for them as an obstacle to attending the Divine services and receiving the Holy Gifts in churches which submit to Metropolitan Sergius, if in the given locality there is no Orthodox church which preserves unharmed its canonical relation to the Locum Tenens of the Patriarchal Throne. And to pray for Metropolitan Sergius, together with other Archpastors and Orthodox Christians in general (on lists for commemoration at the Proskomedia, molebens, and so forth) is not a sin. This is the duty of all Orthodox Christians, until a general church excommunication shall declare the abuse made by Metropolitan Sergius of the church authority entrusted to him to be a sin unto death. (Matt. 18:15-17; I John 5:16). . .

At the present time Metropolitan Sergius no longer conceals the insincerity of his declaration that the Synod exists with him and falls with him. In a conversation with you he directly declared: "My future successors will be compelled to take into account the situation which I have established in the Church." But in this declaration there is much more human self-assurance than a God-enlightened understanding of his and the Church's situation. It is comprehensible after this that obedience to Metropolitan Sergius, which holds up only on moral authority, has automatically ceased on the part of all sincere Orthodox people. All such ones have said both in their conscience and in the hearing of others that they preserve communion with the Universal Church through the Locum Tenens of the Patriarchal Throne, but not through his private delegate.

For me personally ever, thing set forth here is a sufficient feeling-out of a canonical foundation under my feet, and an appeal to Metropolitan Sergius with a cumbersome epistle, it seems to me, would be an unnecessary exaggeration of the church significance of Metropolitan Sergius and a pouring of oil upon the fire of self-esteem which is already burning poor Vladika. There has been no lack of brotherly exhortations with regard to him for these two years but Metropolitan Sergius is deaf to them. He will not listen to a new one, either even though it might be the call of one older.

Therefore it is sufficient, it seems to me, for the personal representative of the Locum Tenens, if everyone who is not in agreement with his church activity should personally bring to his awareness that this activity does not affect us, and we can give no encouragement by our agreement and obedience. One can frankly ask that as long as the so-called "Temporary Patriarchal Synod" exists, Metropolitan Sergius should not trouble to send us his directives, since for them, in our archpastoral conscience, we cannot acknowledge any obligatory significance.

May the Holy Spirit, Who is always in the Church, conduct us through the furnace of the present difficult trials to the greater manifestation of His Truth, lest we in any way decrease in the smallest part of our hope, or become dissolved in thought in this world's evil which surrounds us.

Another epistle of about the same time, which circulated among the episcopate, contains important thoughts on the question of church discipline.


(Russian text in Regelson, p. 168)

I will not and do not condemn anyone, but I cannot call anyone to participate in the sins of others, just as I cannot condemn those hierarchs headed by Metropolitan Joseph (Petrovikh) who have confessed their unwillingness to participate in that which their conscience acknowledges as sinful. This confession is reckoned for them as a violation by them of church discipline. But church discipline is capable of preserving its efficacy only as long as it is an actual reflection of the hierarchal conscience of the Catholic Church; and discipline can never itself replace this conscience. As soon as it produces its demands not by force of the indications of this conscience, but by impulses foreign to the Church and insincere, the individual hierarchal conscience unfailingly will stand on the side of the Catholic-hierarchal principle of the Church's existence, which is not at all one and the same thing as outward unity at any cost. Then the instability of church discipline becomes inevitable, as a consequence of sin. And there can be only one way out of sin—repentance and fruits worthy of it. And it seems to me, from my far-away place, that this repentance is equally to be expected from those of Leningrad (i.e., Metropolitan Joseph and those with him) and those of Tashkent (i.e., Sergianist hierarchs) who condemn them. . .

A copy of the first of these letters was sent to Metropolitan Sergius and provoked from him the following reply of September 5/18, 1929 (text in Regelson, p. 469):

"... Without acknowledging us as either schismatics or as without grace, and consequently having no permissible grounds for a schism, you nonetheless break off communion with us. Can one then agree with you that you are not causing a schism and remain at peace with the Holy Church?

"You have broken off eucharistic communion with us and at the same time do not consider either that you have caused a schism or that we stand outside the Church. Such a theory is entirely unacceptable for church thinking—it is an attempt to keep ice on a hot grill. Of all the visible bonds of the church body, eucharistic communion is the most essential, inasmuch as in its absence the remaining bonds of unity do not hold."

Even before this letter, on July 24/August 6, Metropolitan Sergius and his "Synod" had declared the Mysteries of the bishops who had separated from him to be without grace, comparing their "schisms" to the Renovationists. "The Mysteries performed in separation from church unity... by the followers of former Metropolitan of Leningrad Joseph (Petrovikh), former Bishop of Gdov Dimitry (Lyubimov), former Bishop of Urazova Alexis (Bui), as also being in a state of interdiction, are likewise invalid, and those who return from these schisms, if they were baptized in schism, are to be received through the Mystery of Holy Chrismation; marriages concluded in schism likewise are to be completed by the church blessing and the reading of the final prayer in the rite of marriage, 'Father, Son and Holy Spirit.' Those who die in Renovationism and in the indicated schisms may not be given a funeral, even at the great entreaty of relatives, and no memorial Liturgy may be served for them" (Regelson, pp. 168-9). This action, together with Metropolitan Sergius' letter, evoked a new epistle of Metropolitan Cyril addressed this time directly to Metropolitan Sergius wherein he treats specifically the "blasphemies" of denying grace in the Mysteries either of Sergianists or non-Sergianists.

EPISTLE NO. 3: October 28-30/November 10-12, 1929

(Russian text in Regelson, pp. 168-9, 469-71)

Concerning these blasphemies I learn for the first time from you. As for my only possible attitude to them you can judge at least by the horror with which "I cast away from myself the idea of the absence of grace in the sacred actions and Mysteries performed by Sergianists." You yourself make note of my horror, and when after this you join me also to the number of such blasphemers, you are simply speaking an untruth. If such blasphemies are actually uttered by anyone, they are the fruit of the personal temperament of the speakers, the fruit—I shall say with your own words—of "the unillumined darkness of some and the loss of spiritual balance of others." And how bitter it is, Vladika, that you also, in an equal degree, reveal the loss of spiritual balance. For your Christian love, which, according to your awareness, has "a certain boldness to believe that the threatening utterance of the Lord (Matt. 12:31—Every sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men but the blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven) wilt not be applied to these unfortunate ones with all strictness," you nonetheless do not dare to find a more loving means of acting on them than the decree of your Synod of July 24 (August 6) 1929, n. 1864 which forbids, in spite of all entreaties, the serving of funerals for those who die alienated from your church administration. Not to mention the re-chrismation of the baptized who have been chrismated with the same Holy Chrism with which the priests obedient to you anoint, or the re-marriages of those already married. In April, in concern over the erring, you busy yourself with the removal of the anathemas of the Council of 1667 (i.e., against the Old Believers), while in August you consolidate the church dispute which has been evoked by your activity and is not yet clear to all, making it an irreconcilable church animosity.

Do not forget that you are creating animosity... chiefly against those who, during the existence of Renovationism of various degrees, by their Orthodox feeling, without knowing the written laws, faultlessly determined the authentic church truth and returned to it the shepherds themselves, who were about to waver in their church path as a result of a bookish application of the written canons. In the decree no. 1864 of your Synod I hear a sentence similar to that of the Jewish high priests: This people that knoweth not the law are accursed (John 7:49).

This proceeds, of course, from the fact that you and the Synod understand a negative attitude to your activity in church administration to be a denial of the Church Herself, Her Mysteries and all Her holy things. This is why it so amazes you that, while refraining from celebrating Liturgy with you, I nonetheless do not consider either myself or you to be outside the Church. "For church thinking such a theory is completely unacceptable," you declare; "it is an attempt to keep ice on a hot grill." If in this case these is any attempt on my part, it is not to keep ice on a hot grill, but rather to melt away the ice of a dialectical-bookish application of the canons and to preserve the sacredness of their spirit. I refrain from liturgizing with you not because the Mystery of the Body and Blood of Christ would not be actualized at our joint celebration, but because the communion of the Chalice of the Lord would be to both of us for judgment and condemnation, since our inward attitude, disturbed by a different understanding of our church relation to each other, would take away from us the possibility of offering in complete calmness of spirit the mercy of peace, the sacrifice of praise.

Therefore, the whole fullness of my refraining concerns only you and the hierarchs one in mind with you, but not the ordinary clergy, and even less laymen. Among the ordinary clergy there are very few conscious ideologues of your church activity. . .

No matter how much you emphasize the strictness of the judgment of the canons to which you refer in accusing those disobedient to you, your interpretations produce little impression either on those who are disobedient or on the church community as a whole, which is entirely ceasing to trust the dialectical canonics which has developed among us to frightful proportions since the appearance of Renovationism. Remember how, on the basis of canonical literalism, the Renovationist constituent so-called council of 1923 condemned the Patriarch not only to deprivation of rank, but even of monasticism. Therefore, do not misuse the letter of the canonical norms, Vladika, lest we turn the holy canons into simple canons. Church life in the last years is composed and actualized not according to the literal meaning of the canons. The very transferal of the Patriarchal rights and obligations to Metropolitan Peter was done in a way unprecedented and unknown to the canons, but the church consciousness accepted this unprecedented way as a means of preserving the wholeness of the Patriarchal order considering the latter as the chief guarantee of our Orthodox way of life, especially in view of the Renovationist denial of the idea of the Patriarchate.

To this letter Metropolitan Sergius replied with an epistle of December 20/January 2, 1930, defending his "rights" as possessing all the authority of a Patriarch himself. Shortly after this letter Metropolitan Sergius and his obedient Synod announced that Metropolitan Cyril had been given over to a church trial and was relieved of the administration of his diocese; unlike Metropolitan Joseph and other more outspoken opponents of Metropolitan Sergius, however, he was not yet totally interdicted or declared to the outside the Church.

Nothing more was done by either hierarch until 1933, when Metropolitan Cyril was given a brief period of freedom (in the city of Gzhatsk) from his exiles and imprisonments. On July 15/28 of that year he addressed a final letter to Metropolitan Sergius, summarizing his own position (Russian text in Regelson, pp. 175-9). It begins thus (referring to the 70th year of his life, which he had just reached):

"Having reached the age which is, according to the word of the holy Psalmist, the beginning of the boundary of earthly human life (Ps. 89:10), standing, so to speak, at the entrance to the grave, I acknowledge my duty to explain to my brethren, the Archpastors, pastors, and believing people, why I consider you a usurper of church authority and refuse to submit to your administrative-ecclesiastical decree, as well as those of the Synod which you have established. However, I have no immediate opportunity' to bring my confession to the hearing of the Church, and therefore I am compelled to do this, addressing it to you who brazenly affirm yourself to be the Chief Bishop of the country, perhaps out of sincere error, and, in any case, with the tacit allowance of a part of the brother bishops, who are now guilty together with you of the violation of the canonical good order of the Orthodox Russian Church."

The rest of this epistle details once again Metropolitan Cyril's reasons for refusing to accept the authority which Metropolitan Sergius was claiming for himself in the Church.

During this time of freedom, Metropolitan Cyril actively entered into contact with—and himself encouraged and organized—''non-commemorators" of Metropolitan Sergius, those who commemorated only the name of Metropolitan Peter at Divine services and were now developing a separate church organization, later to be called the "Catacomb Church." In two epistles written before his next arrest in July, 1934, he gives the canonical foundation for his activity, which continues to be the canonical foundation to this day not only of the "non-commemorating" Catacomb Church in Russia, but also of the Russian Church Outside of Russia. The decree of Patriarch Tikhon of November 7/20, 1920, which Metropolitan Cyril cites as the specific canonical basis for church organization, states that those cut off from contact with the church center in Moscow should organize themselves as well as possible in their circumstances, choosing the eldest among them as their chief hierarch.

EPISTLE NO. 4: January, 1934

(Russian text in Regelson, pp. 179-181)

Reply to the opinion of a certain one that it was indispensable for Metropolitan Cyril to declare himself Locum Tenens until the liberation of Metropolitan Peter.

The disorder in the Russian Orthodox Church I view not as concerning the teaching which She holds, but as concerning administration. The preservation of a fitting order in church administration from the death of His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon until the calling of a lawful Church Council is secured by the Testament of His Holiness the Patriarch, which he gave by authority of a special right given only to him, and not to be transmitted to anyone else, to name a Substitute for himself. This Testament is the norm of the administration of the Russian Church until the content of this Testament shall be entirely exhausted. The Hierarch who bears the obligations of the Patriarchal Locum Tenens preserves his church authority until the election by a Council of a new Patriarch. If there is a delay in the election of a Patriarch, the Locum Tenens remains in his post until death, or his own voluntary renunciation of it, or his removal according to an ecclesiastical trial. He has no authority to assign for himself a Substitute with rights identical to his own rights as Locum Tenens. He can only have a temporary Substitute for current affairs who acts according to his instructions. It is in this point that the error of Metropolitan Sergius is to be found, since he has recognized himself, in the absence of Metropolitan Peter, to have all his rights as Locum Tenens. His sin is in exceeding his authority, and the Orthodox Episcopate should not have acknowledged such an authority, and once being convinced that Metropolitan Sergius is administering the Church without the guidance of Metropolitan Peter, it should have been administered by force of the Patriarchal Ukase of November 7/20, 1920, preparing to give an answer of its activity to Metropolitan Peter or to a Council. If the Locum Tenens should die before the calling of a Council, it is essential again to turn to the Patriarchal Testament and to acknowledge as having the rights of the Locum Tenens one of the still-living hierarchs indicated in the Patriarchal Testament If none of these is alive, then the effect of the Testament is ended, and the Church automatically goes over to administration according to the Patriarchal Ukase of November 7/20, 1920, and the common efforts of the Episcopate should bring into realization the calling of a Council for the election of a Patriarch.

Therefore, only after the death of Metropolitan Peter or his lawful removal do I find it not only possible for myself, but even obligatory, to actively interfere in the general church administration of the Russian Church. Until then the hierarchs who acknowledge as their Chief Hierarch only Metropolitan Peter commemorating his name in proper order at the Divine services, and not recognizing the administration of Sergius as a lawful succession, can exist parallel to those who recognize Sergius, until a conciliar trial. Those banished from their dioceses should spiritually guide those few who acknowledge them as their Archpastors, and those who have not been banished should guide the spiritual life of the whole diocese, by every means sustaining ties with each other and church unity.

For me personally it is impossible at the present time to step forth, since I am entirely unsure of the character of the attitudes of Metropolitan Peter, in order to be convinced of his actual views and to decide how to act. In any case, I cannot be the Substitute of Metropolitan Peter in correct order without his decree concerning this. But if Metropolitan Peter voluntarily renounces his post of Locum Tenens, then by authority of the Testament of His Holiness the Patriarch, and of the promise which I gave him, I will fulfill my duty and take up the weight of the post of Locum Tenens, even if Metropolitan Peter might have assigned another successor to himself, for he has no right to make such an assignment.

EPISTLE NO. 5: February, 1934

(Russian text in Regelson, pp. 181-184)

To an unnamed Hierarch:

Christ is in our midst! Your Eminence, Most Eminent Master beloved in the Lord, brother Archbishop!

Your lines filled with condescension and trust towards me, a sinner, eve furnishes me profound consolation. May the Lord save you! You are distressed by my slowness and what seems to you excessive caution. Forgive me for thus distressing you, and be patient a little longer with me. It is not weariness from long wanderings that calls this forth in me, but an incomplete clarification of the conditions which surround me and all of us. I lack this clarity not for an evaluation of the conditions themselves, but for a fitting understanding of the further conclusions from them which turn out to be unavoidable for those who have made these conditions. The putting of these conclusions into practice will probably not be long in coming, and then the presence of facts will convince everyone of the necessity of definite actions according to the needs of the moment.

But are there really so few such facts in existence? you may ask. Yes, they are not few, but the acceptance of them is refracted in the consciousness of the church community into such a variety of tints that they cannot by any means be pinned down to a single common stem. The necessity for a correcting antidote is acknowledged, but there is no common foundation for it, and Metropolitan Sergius well understands the benefit of such a situation and does not cease to take advantage of it. In one of two letters to me he, not without a certain right, indicates this difference of opinion among those who have addressed reproaches to him, and therefore, of course, he does not take them into consideration. The accusation of heresy, even the most decisive one, is capable only of causing a smile on his lips, as a pleasant pretext to console yet again, by means of his mastery of dialectical canonics, those who keep communion with him in assurance of his total irreproachability in relation to dogma.

However, among them there are not a few who see the erroneousness of many of Metropolitan Sergius' measures, but since they understand in the came way he does the source and degree of the authority which he has appropriated, they condescendingly endure this erroneousness as merely a kind of enticement by power, and not as a criminal appropriation of it. Reproaching him with failing to oppose, and consequently of belonging to, a heresy, we risk depriving them of the psychological possibility of re-uniting with us and losing them forever for Orthodoxy. After all, to acknowledge belonging to a heresy is much more difficult than to acknowledge the incorrectness of one's understanding of the outward order of church life. It is necessary that for such ones of noble soul also, the authoritative utterances of Metropolitan Sergius should be explained as his personal invention, and not as a right that is based on the Testament of His Holiness the Patriarch. Everyone must realize that this Testament in no way applies to Metropolitan Sergius and those like him.

Only those three persons mentioned in the Testament could accept the Patriarchal rights and obligations, and only to these three personally belongs the right to step forth as a temporary church center until the election of a new Patriarch. But they cannot entirely give over this right to anyone of their own choice, because the Patriarch's Testament is a document of quite exceptional origin, bound up by conciliar sanction only with the person of our first Patriarch. Therefore, with the death of all three candidates indicated in the Testament, the Testament of Patriarch Tikhon loses its validity, and church administration is to be established on the foundation of the Ukase of November 7/20 1920. One must also be guided by this Ukase in case of the temporary impossibility of having contact with the person who bears the dignity of the church center by power of the Testament. This is what should hold also at the historical moment which the Church is now going through.

The different understanding of the Patriarchal Testament which is affirmed by Metropolitan Sergius has already led to the fact that the Testament which was left for securing the speedy election of a new Patriarch has become the foundation of the substitution for the person of a Patriarch in the church administration by some kind of collegial "Patriarchate." Whether the blessing of God rests on this undertaking of Metropolitan Sergius we do not dare to judge until a lawful Council by its sentence shall utter the judgment of the Holy Spirit concerning him. However, just as with everything akin to Renovationism, we cannot acknowledge the church administration which has been renovated by Metropolitan Sergius as our Orthodox administration coming by fight of succession from His Holiness, Patriarch Tikhon. And therefore, remaining in canonical unity with Metropolitan Peter, the Patriarchal Locum Tenens, under the present impossibility of contact with him, we acknowledge as the only legitimate thing the organization of the church administration on the foundation of the Patriarchal Ukase of November 7/20, 1920.

I firmly believe that the Orthodox Episcopate, with brotherly union and mutual support, will preserve the Russian Church, with God's help, in age-old Orthodoxy all the time of the validity of the Patriarchal Testament, and will conduct it to a lawful Council. . .

It seems to me that both you yourself and your correspondent do not distinguish those actions of Metropolitan Sergius and his partisans which are per formed by them in proper order by power of those grace given rights received through the mystery of the priesthood, from those other activities which are performed with an exceeding of their sacramental rights and according to human cunning, as a means of protecting and supporting their self-invented rights in the Church. Such are the actions of Bishop Zacharius and Priest Patapov of which you speak. These are sacramental acts only in form, while in essence they are a usurpation of sacramental activity, and therefore are blasphemous, without grace, non-ecclesiastical. But the Mysteries performed by Sergianists who are correctly ordained and not prohibited to serve as priests, are undoubtedly saving Mysteries for those who receive them with faith, in simplicity, without deliberations and doubts concerning their efficacy, and who do not even suspect anything incorrect in the Sergianist order of the Church. But at the same time they serve for judgment and condemnation for the very performers of them and for those who approach them well understanding the untruth that exists in Sergianism, and by their lack of opposition to it reveal a criminal indifference towards the mocking of the Church. This is why it is essential for an Orthodox Bishop or priest to refrain from communion with Sergianists in prayer. The same thing is essential for laymen who have a conscious attitude to all the details of church life.


The epistles of Metropolitan Cyril that have come down to us all deal with one and the same question: the canonical position of Metropolitan Sergius in the Russian Orthodox Church. But their significance goes far beyond any mere question of canonical "correctness" or "incorrectness." The canons were made to bring order among Christians, not to force them into a strait-jacket of legalism, and thus the epistles of Metropolitan Cyril, which are full of this awareness, are a guide to us in the difficulties and often unprecedented canonical conditions of 20th-century Orthodoxy. The apostasy of our times, to a degree unique in Christian history, is proceeding not primarily by false teachings or canonical deviations, but rather by a false understanding of Orthodoxy on the part of those who may even be perfectly Orthodox in their dogmatic teaching and canonical situation. A correct "Orthodoxy" deprived of the Spirit of true Christianity—this is the meaning of Sergianism, and it cannot be fought by calling it a "heresy," which it is not, nor by detailing its canonical irregularities, which are only incidental to something much more important.

Unfortunately, few seem to be able to understand this in our day of deceptive over-simplifications. Metropolitan Sergius himself, despite his theological reputation, could make no sense of Metropolitan Cyril's position, which is nothing but the balanced "royal path" of Orthodox moderation, between the extremes of Renovationism and Sergianist legalism on the one hand, and a too hasty accusation of Sergianist heresy or lack of grace on the other. Metropolitan Cyril's position is all the more important in that the situation in the 20th. century Greek Church has been very similar to that of the Russian Church: the Calendar reform also was not a question either of heresy or (primarily) of canonical transgressions, and the denial of grace in the Mysteries either of new-calendarists or old-calendarists has only served to increase the spirit of factionalism and to hinder any possible reconciliation of those who stand in the tradition and those who have followed the reformers thus far against their will Metropolitan Cyril took up the organization of a separate church organization only with great reluctance, and he did so not because he believed that he and his followers alone constituted the true Church, but solely in order to avoid dependence on those whose confession of Orthodoxy had been compromised, even though they were still part of the same Church. The position today of the Russian Church Outside of Russia with regard to the other Russian jurisdictions is identical to that of Metropolitan Cyril with regard to the Sergianist Synod and her relation to the other Orthodox Churches of the free world is heading in the same direction, although communion with them has not yet been formally broken. Metropolitan Cyril's message of moderation is thus still very applicable in our own day.

Metropolitan Cyril's important distinction between the true Mysteries of Sergianist clergy, and the "usurpation of sacramental activity" manifested in such acts as Metropolitan Sergius' interdictions and excommunications of those who disagreed with his "new church policy," is likewise a fundamental one for our time. The "bookish" application of the canons, which Metropolitan Cyril so severely condemns, cannot understand this distinction, and thus some people can find themselves in a position which may be "legally correct" but is at the same time profoundly un-Christian—as if the Christian conscience is compelled to obey any command of the church authorities, as long as these authorities are properly "canonical." This blind concept of obedience for its own sake is one of the chief causes for the success of Sergianism in our century—both within and outside the Moscow Patriarchate. Of course the Christian conscience does not accept the excommunications of a church authority made under political or other non-ecclesiastical pressure (whether from the Turkish Sultan upon the Patriarchate of Constantinople in the 19th century, or the Communist authorities upon the Moscow Patriarchate in our own century), but it is a kind of ecclesiastical legalism to draw from this the conclusion that all the Mysteries of such a church authority are thereby without grace.

The epistles of Metropolitan Cyril present, perhaps as clearly as it can be stated, the truth that the law and teaching of the Church of Christ can never be a matter of merely soulless "obedience." The Catacomb Church inside Russia to this day (to the best of our knowledge), together with the free Russian Church Outside of Russia have not denied the Mysteries of the Moscow Patriarchate, but they hold no communion with it; thus they have no part in the un-Christian acts performed in the name of "Orthodoxy" by the Moscow leadership under Communist pressure, but they are also not deprived of solidarity with a confessor within the Moscow Patriarchate such as Father Dimtri Dudko, with whom full canonical communion is impossible only because of his politically-dominated leadership.

Finally, Metropolitan Cyril's emphasis on the oneness of mind of those traveling the path of true Orthodoxy shows us our own path today. The leaders of "world Orthodoxy" are pursuing a ruinous policy of renovationism and apostasy, but it is a hazardous and self-defeating thing to attempt to define the precise point beyond which they, and especially their unwitting followers, will have left Orthodoxy without hope of return. This judgment is not ours to make. But to us is given to stand firm in the true tradition of Orthodoxy handed down to us by our Fathers, to refrain from communion with those who participate in the apostasy from true Christianity, and to seek out those of like mind who are resolved to be faithful to Orthodoxy to the death. On such a foundation the Catacomb Church remains firm to this day in Soviet Russia, awaiting the day when it can freely and openly give its testimony of faithfulness to Christ.

From Ivan Andreyev's Russia's Catacomb Saints (Platina, CA: St. Herman of Alaska Press, 1982), 242-59. I encourage everyone to find a copy of this out-of-print, 600+ page masterpiece.