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Bishop Kallistos Ware
Orthodox Church

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  • Part I: History.
    • Moscow and Petersburg
      • The Synodical period (1700-1917).
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The Synodical period (1700-1917).

  Peter was determined that there should be no more Nicons. In 1700, when Patriarch Adrian

died, Peter took no steps towards the appointment of a successor; and in 1721 he proceeded to

issue the celebrated Spiritual Regulation, which declared the Patriarchate to be abolished, and set

up in its place a commission, the Spiritual College or Holy Synod. This was composed of twelve

members, three of whom were bishops, and the rest drawn from the heads of monasteries or from

the married clergy.

  The constitution of the Synod was not based on Orthodox Canon Law, but copied from the

Protestant ecclesiastical  synods in Germany.  Its  members were not  chosen by the Church but

nominated  by  the  Emperor;  and  the Emperor who  nominated  could  also  dismiss  them  at  will.

Whereas a Patriarch, holding office for life, could perhaps defy the Tsar, a member of the Holy

Synod was allowed no scope for heroism: he was simply retired. The Emperor was not called

.Head  of  the  Church,.  but  he  was  given  the  title  .Supreme  Judge  of  the  Spiritual  College..

Meetings of the Synod were not attended by the Emperor himself, but by a government official,

the Chief Procurator. The Procurator, although he sat at a separate table and took no part in the

discussions, in practice wielded considerable power over Church affairs and was in effect if not

in name a .Minister for Religion..

 The Spiritual Regulation sees the Church not as a divine institution but as a department of

State. Based largely on secular presuppositions, it makes little allowance for what were termed in

the English Reformation .the Crown rights of the Redeemer.. This is true not only of its provi-

sions for the higher administration of the Church, but of many of its other rulings. A priest who

learns, while hearing confessions, of  any scheme which the  government might consider sedi-

tious, is ordered to violate the secrecy of the sacrament and to supply the police with names and

full details. Monasticism is bluntly termed .the origin of innumerable disorders and distur-

bances. and placed under many restrictions. New monasteries are not to be founded without spe-

cial permission; monks are forbidden to live as hermits; no woman under the age of fifty is al-

lowed to take vows as a nun.

  There was a deliberate purpose behind these restrictions on the monasteries, the chief cen-

ters of social work in Russia up to this time. The abolition of the Patriarchate was part of a wider

process: Peter sought not only to deprive the Church of leadership, but to eliminate it from all

participation  in  social workPeter.s  successors  circumscribed  the work  of  the monasteries  still

more drastically. Elizabeth (reigned 1741-1762) confiscated most of the monastic estates,  and


Catherine  II  (reigned 1762-1796) suppressed  more than half the monasteries, while on such

houses as remained open she imposed a strict limitation to the number of monks. The closing of

the monasteries was little short of a disaster in the more distant provinces of Russia, where they

formed  virtually  the  only  cultural  and  charitable  centers. But  although  the  social  work  of  the

Church was grievously restricted, it never completely ceased.

 The Spiritual Regulation makes lively reading, particularly in its comments on clerical be-

havior. We are told that priests and deacons .being drunk, bellow in the Streets, or what is

worse, in their drink whoop and hollow in Church.; bishops are told to see that the clergy .walk

not in a dronish lazy manner, nor lie down in the Streets to sleep, nor tipple in Cabacks, nor boast

of the Strength of their Heads. (The Spiritual Regulation, translated by Thomas Consett in The Present State

and Regulations of the Church of Russia, London, 1729, pp. 157-158). One fears that despite the efforts of

the reforming movement in the previous century, these strictures were not entirely unjustified.

  There is also some vivid advice to preachers:


A Preacher has no Occasion to shove and heave as tho. he was tugging at an Oar

in a Boat. He has no need to clap his Hands, to set his Arms a Kimbo, nor to

bounce or spring, nor to giggle and laugh, nor any Reason for Howlings and hide-

ous  Lamentations. For tho. he should be never so much griev.d in Spirit,  yet

ought he to suppress his Tears all he can, because these Emotions are all superflu-

ous and indecent, and disturb an Audience (Consett, op. cit., p. 90. The picturesqueness of

the style is due more to Consett than to his Russian original).


So much for the Spiritual Regulation. Peter.s religious reforms naturally aroused opposition in

Russia, but it was ruthlessly silenced. Outside Russia the redoubtable Dositheus made a vigorous

protest; but the Orthodox Churches under Turkish rule were in no position to intervene effec-

tively,  and in 1723 the four ancient Patriarchates accepted the abolition of the Patriarchate of

Moscow and recognized the constitution of the Holy Synod.


  The system of Church government which Peter the Great established continued in force un-

til 1917. The Synodical  period in the history of Russian Orthodoxy is usually represented as  a

time  of  decline,  with the Church  in  complete  subservience  to  the  State. Certainly  a  superficial

glance at the eighteenth century would serve to confirm this verdict. It was an age of ill-advised

westernization in Church art, Church music, and theology. Those who rebelled against the dry

scholasticism of the theological academies turned, not to the teachings of Byzantium and ancient

Russia, but to religious  or pseudo-religious movements in the contemporary west: Protestant

mysticism, German pietism, Freemasonry (Orthodox are strictly forbidden, on pain of excommunication, to

become Freemasons), and the like. Prominent among the higher clergy were Court prelates such as

Ambrose (Zertiss-Kamensky), Archbishop of Moscow and Kaluga, who at his death in 1771 left

(among many other possessions) 252 shirts of fine linen and nine eye-glasses framed in gold.

  But this is only one side of the picture in the eighteenth century. The Holy Synod, however

objectionable its theoretical constitution, in practice governed efficiently. Reflective Churchmen

were  well aware of the  defects in Peter.s  reforms, and submitted to them without necessarily

agreeing with them. Theology was westernized, but standards of scholarship were high. Behind

the façade of  westernization, the true life of Orthodox Russia continued without interruption.

Ambrose Zertiss-Kamensky represented one type of Russian bishop, but there were other bish-

ops of a very different character, true monks and pastors, such as Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk

(1724-1783), Bishop of Voronezh. A great preacher and a fluent writerTikhon is particularly


interesting as an example of one who, like most of his contemporaries, borrowed heavily from

the west, but who remained at the same time firmly rooted in the classic tradition of Orthodox

spirituality.  He drew upon German  and Anglican books of devotion; his detailed meditations

upon the physical sufferings of Jesus are more typical of Roman Catholicism than of Orthodoxy;

in his own life of prayer he underwent an experience similar to the Dark Night of the Soul, as

described by western mystics such as Saint John of the Cross. But Tikhon was also close in out-

look to Theodosius and Sergius, to Nilus and the Non-Possessors. Like so many Russian saints,

both lay and monastic, he took a special delight in helping the poor, and he was happiest when

talking with simple people . peasants, beggars, and even criminals.

  The second part of the Synodical period, the nineteenth century, so far from being a period

of decline, was a time of great revival in the Russian Church. Men turned away from religious

and pseudo-religious movements in the contemporary west, and fell back once more upon the

true spiritual forces of Orthodoxy. Hand in hand with this revival in the spiritual life went a new

enthusiasm for missionary work, while in theology, as in spirituality, Orthodoxy freed itself from

a slavish imitation of the west.

  It was from Mount Athos that this religious renewal took its origin. A young Russian at the

theological academy of Kiev, Paissy Velichkovsky (1722-1794), horrified by the secular tone of

the teaching, fled to Mount Athos and there became a monk. In 1763 he went to Romania and

became Abbot of the monastery of Niamets, which he made a  great spiritual centergathering

round him more than 500 brethren. Under his guidance, the community devoted itself specially

to the work of translating Greek Fathers into Slavonic. At Athos Paissy had learnt at first hand

about the Hesychast tradition, and he was in close sympathy with his contemporary Nicodemus.

He made a Slavonic translation of the  Philokalia, which was published at Moscow in 1793.

Paissy laid great emphasis upon the practice of continual prayer . above all the Jesus Prayer .

and on the need for obedience to an elder or starets. He was deeply influenced by Nilus and the

Non-Possessors, but he did not overlook the good elements in the Josephite form of monasti-

cism: he allowed more place than Nilus had done to liturgical prayer and to social work, and in

this way he attempted, like Sergius, to combine the mystical with the corporate and social aspect

of the monastic life.

  Paissy  himself  never  returned  to  Russia,  but  many  of  his  disciples  traveled  thither  from

Romania and under their inspiration a monastic revival spread across the land. Existing houses

were reinvigorated, and many new foundations were made: in 1810 there were 452 monasteries

in Russia, whereas in 1914 there were 1,025. This monastic movement, while outward-looking

and concerned to serve the world, also restored to the center of the Church.s life the tradition of

the Non-Possessors, largely suppressed since the sixteenth century. It was marked in particular

by a high development of the practice of spiritual direction. Although the .elder. has been a

characteristic figure in many periods of Orthodox history, nineteenth-century Russia is par excel-

lence the age of the starets.

  The first and greatest of the startsi of the nineteenth century was Saint Seraphim of Sarov

(1759-1833), who of all the saints of Russia is perhaps the most immediately attractive to non-

Orthodox Christians. Entering the monastery of Sarov at the age of nineteen, Seraphim first spent

sixteen years in the ordinary life of the community. Then he withdrew to spend the next twenty

years in seclusion, living  at first in a hut in the forest, then  (when his feet swelled up  and he

could no longer walk with ease) enclosed in a cell in the monastery. This was his training for the

office of eldership. Finally in 1815 he opened the doors of his cell. From dawn until evening he

received all who came to him for help, healing the sick, giving advice, often supplying the an-


swer before his visitor had time to ask any questions. Sometimes scores or hundreds would come

to see him in a single day. The outward pattern of Seraphim.s life recalls that of Antony of Egypt

fifteen centuries before: there is the same withdrawal in order to return. Seraphim is rightly re-

garded as a characteristically Russian saint, but he is also a striking example of how much Rus-

sian Orthodoxy has in common with Byzantium and the universal Orthodox tradition throughout

the ages.

  Seraphim was extraordinarily severe to himself (at one point in his life he spent a thousand

successive nights in continual prayer, standing motionless throughout the long hours of darkness

on a rock), but he was gentle to others, without ever being sentimental or indulgent. Asceticism

did not make him gloomy, and if ever a saint.s life was illuminated by joy, it was Seraphim.s. He

practiced the Jesus Prayer, and like the Byzantine Hesychasts he was granted the vision of the

Divine and Uncreated Light.  In Seraphim.s case the Divine Light actually took a visible form,

outwardly transforming  his body. One of Seraphim.s .spiritual children,. Nicholas Motovilov,

described what happened one winter day as the two of them were talking together in the forest.

Seraphim had spoken of the need to acquire the Holy Spirit, and Motovilov asked how a man

could be sure of .being in the Spirit of God.:


  Then Father Seraphim took me very firmly by the shoulders and said: .My

son, we are both at this moment in the Spirit of God. Why don.t you look at me?.

  .I cannot lookFather,.  I replied, .because  your eyes are flashing like

lightning. Your face has become brighter than the sun, and it hurts my eyes to

look at you..

  .Don.t be  afraid,. he said. .At this very moment  you  yourself have be-

come as bright as I am. You yourself are now in the fullness of the Spirit of God;

otherwise you would not be able to see me as you do..

  Then bending his head towards me, he whispered softly in my ear: .Thank

the Lord God for His infinite goodness towards us.. But why, my son, do you

not look me in the eyes? Just look, and don.t be afraid; the Lord is with us..

  After these words I glanced at his face, and there came over me an even

greater reverent awe. Imagine in the center of the sun, in the dazzling light of its

midday rays, the face of a man talking to you. You see the movement of his lips

and the changing expression of his eyes,  you hear his voice,  you feel someone

holding your shoulders; yet you do not see his hands, you do not even see yourself

or his body, but only a blinding light spreading far around for several yards and

lighting up with its brilliance the snow-blanket which covers the forest glade and

the snow-flakes which continue to fall unceasingly...

  .What do you feel?. Father Seraphim asked me.

  .An immeasurable well-being,. I said.

  .But what sort of well-being? How exactly do you feel well?.

  .I feel such a calm,. I answered, .such peace in my soul that no words can

express it..

  .This,. said Father Seraphim, .is that peace of which the Lord said to His

disciples: .My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. [John

14:27], the peace which  passes all understanding [Phil. 4:7]... What else do you


  .Infinite joy in all my heart..


  And Father Seraphim continued: .When the Spirit of God comes down to

man and overshadows him with the fullness of His presence, then the man.s soul

overflows  with  unspeakable  joy,  for  the  Holy  Spirit  fills  with  joy  whatever  He

touches.. (Conversation of Saint Seraphim on the Aim of the Christian Life, printed in A Won-

derful Revelation to the World, Jordanville, N.Y., 1953, pp. 23-25).


So the conversation continues. The whole passage is of extraordinary importance for understand-

ing the Orthodox doctrine of deification and union with God. It shows how the Orthodox idea of

sanctification includes the body: it is not Seraphim.s (or Motovilov.s) soul only, but the whole

body which is transfigured by the  grace of God. We may note that neither Seraphim nor Mo-

tovilov is in a state of ecstasy; both can talk in a coherent way and are still conscious of the out-

side world, but both are filled with the Holy Spirit and surrounded by the light of the age to


  Seraphim had no teacher in the art of direction and he left no successor. After his death the

work was taken up by another community, the hermitage of Optino. From 1829 until 1923, when

the monastery was closed by the Bolsheviks, a succession of startsi ministered here, their influ-

ence extending like that of Seraphim over the whole of Russia. The best known of the Optino

elders are Leonid (1768-1841), Macarius (1788-1860), and Ambrose (1812-1891). While these

elders all belonged to the school of Paissy and were all devoted to the Prayer of Jesus, each of

them had a strongly marked character of his own: Leonid, for example, was simple, vivid, and

direct, appealing specially to peasants and merchants, while Macarius was highly educated, a Pa-

tristic scholar, a man in close contact with the intellectual movements of the day. Optino influ-

enced a number of writers, including Gogol, Khomiakov, Dostoyevsky, Soloviev, and Tolstoy.

(The story of Tolstoy.s relations with the Orthodox Church is extremely sad. In later life he publicly attacked the

Church with great violence, and the Holy Synod after some hesitation excommunicated him [February 1901]. As he

lay dying in the stationmaster.s house at Astapovo, one of  the Optino elders traveled to see him, but was refused

admittance by Tolstoy.s family). The remarkable figure of the elder Zossima in Dostoyevsky.s novel

The Brothers Karamazov was based partly on Father Macarius or Father Ambrose of Optino, al-

though Dostoyevsky says that he was inspired primarily by the life of Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk.

  .There is one thing more important than all possible books and ideas,. wrote the Slavophil

Ivan Kireyevsky, .to find an Orthodox starets, before whom you can lay each of your thoughts,

and from whom you can hear not your own opinion, but the judgment of the Holy Fathers. God

be praised, such startsi have not yet disappeared in Russia. (Quoted by Metropolitan Seraphim [of Ber-

lin and Western Europe], L.Eglise orthodoxe, Paris, 1952, p. 219).

 Through the startsi, the monastic revival influenced the life of the whole people. The spiri-

tual atmosphere of the time is vividly expressed in an anonymous book, The Way of a Pilgrim,

which describes the experiences of a Russian peasant who tramped from place to place practicing

the Jesus Prayer. For those who know nothing of the Jesus Prayer, there can be no better intro-

duction than this little work. The Way of a Pilgrim shows how the Prayer is not limited to monas-

teries, but can be used by everyone, in every form of life. As he traveled, the Pilgrim carried with

him a copy of the Philokalia, presumably the Slavonic translation by Paissy. Bishop Theophan

the Recluse (1815-1894) during the years 1876-1890 issued a greatly expanded translation of the

Philokalia in five volumes, this time not in Slavonic but in Russian.


  Hitherto we have spoken chiefly of the movement centering on the monasteries. But among

the great figures of the Russian Church in the nineteenth century there was also a member of the

married parish clergy, John Sergiev (1829-1908), usually  known  as Father John of Kronstadt,


because throughout his ministry he worked in the same place, Kronstadt, a naval base and suburb

of Saint Petersburg. Father John is best remembered for his work as a parish priest . visiting the

poor and the sick, organizing charitable workteaching religion to the  children of his parish,

preaching continually, and above all praying with and for his flock. He had an intense awareness

of the power of prayer, and as he celebrated the Liturgy he was entirely carried away: .He could

not keep the prescribed  measure of liturgical intonation: he called out to God; he shouted; he

wept in the face of the visions of Golgotha and the Resurrection which presented themselves to

him  with  such  shattering immediacy.  (FedotovA Treasury of Russian Spiritualityp348). The same

sense of immediacy can be felt on every page of the spiritual autobiography which Father John

wrote, My Life in Christ. Like Saint Seraphim, he possessed the gifts of healing, of insight, and

of spiritual direction.

  Father John insisted on frequent communion, although in Russia at this date it was very un-

usual for the laity to communicate more than four or five times a year. Because he had no time to

hear individually the confessions of all who came for communion, he established a form of pub-

lic confession, with everybody shouting their sins aloud simultaneously. He turned the iconosta-

sis into a low screen, so that altar and celebrant might be visible throughout the service. In his

emphasis on frequent communion and his reversion to the more ancient form of chancel screen,

Father John anticipated  liturgical developments  in contemporary  Orthodoxy.  In 1964 he was

proclaimed a saint by the Russian Church in Exile.

  In nineteenth-century Russia there was a striking revival of missionary work. Since the days

of Mitrophan of Sarai and Stephen of Perm, Russians had been active missionaries, and as Mus-

covite power advanced eastward, a great field was opened up for evangelism among the native

tribes and among the Mohammedan Mongols. But although the Church never ceased to send out

preachers to the heathen, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries  missionary  efforts had

somewhat languished, particularly after the closing of monasteries by Catherine. But in the nine-

teenth  century  the  missionary  challenge  was  taken  up  with  fresh  energy  and  enthusiasm:  the

Academy  of  Kazan, opened in 1842, was specially concerned  with missionary  studies; native

clergy  were trained; the scriptures and the Liturgy were translated into a wide variety of lan-

guages. In the Kazan area alone the Liturgy was celebrated in twenty-two different languages or


  It is significant that one of the first leaders in the missionary revival, Archimandrite Macar-

ius (Glukharev, 1792-1847), was a student of Hesychasm and knew the disciples of Paissy

Velichkovsky: the missionary revival had its roots in the revival of the spiritual life. The greatest

of the nineteenth-century missionaries was Innocent (John Veniaminov, 1797-1879), Bishop of

Kamchatka and the Aleutian Islands, who was proclaimed a saint in 1977. His diocese included

some of the most inhospitable regions of the world; it extended across the Bering Straits to

Alaska, which at that time belonged to Russia. Innocent played an important part in the devel-

opment of American Orthodoxy, and millions of American Orthodox today can look on him as

one of their chief .Apostles..

  In the field of theology, nineteenth-century Russia broke away from its excessive depend-

ence upon the west. This was due chiefly to the work of Alexis Khomiakov (1804-1860), leader

of the Slavophil circle and perhaps the first original theologian in the history of the Russian

Church. A country landowner and a retired cavalry captain, Khomiakov belonged to the tradition

of lay theologians which has always existed in Orthodoxy. Khomiakov argued that  all western

Christianity, whether Roman or Protestant, shares the same assumptions  and betrays the same

fundamental point of view, while Orthodoxy is something entirely distinct. Since this is so


(Khomiakov continued), it is not enough for Orthodox to borrow their theology from the west, as

they had been doing since the seventeenth century; instead of using Protestant arguments against

Rome,  and  Roman  arguments  against  the  Protestants,  they  must  return  to  their  own  authentic

sources, and rediscover the true Orthodox tradition, which in its basic presuppositions is neither

Roman nor Reformed, but unique. As his friend G. Samarin put it, before Khomiakov .our Or-

thodox school of theology was not in a position to define either Latinism or Protestantism, be-

cause in departing from its own Orthodox standpoint, it had itself become divided into two, and

each of these halves had taken up a position opposed indeed to its opponent, Latin or Protestant,

but not above him.  It was Khomiakov who first looked upon Latinism and Protestantism from

the point of view of the Church, and therefore from a higher standpoint: and this is the reason

why he was also able to define them. (Quoted in Birkbeck, Russia and the English Church, p. 14). Khomi-

akov was particularly concerned with the doctrine of the Church, its unity and authority; and here

he made a lasting contribution to Orthodox theology.

  Khomiakov during his lifetime exercised little or no influence on the theology taught in the

academies and seminaries, but here too there was an increasing independence from the west. By

1900 Russian academic theology was at its height, and there were a number of theologians, his-

torians, and liturgists, thoroughly trained in western academic disciplines, yet not allowing west-

ern influences to distort their Orthodoxy. In the years following 1900 there was also an important

intellectual revival outside the theological schools. Since the time of  Peter the Great, unbelief

had been common among Russian .intellectuals,. but now a number of thinkers, by various

routes, found their way back to the Church. Some were former Marxists, such as Sergius Bulga-

kov (1871-1944) (later ordained priest) and Nicholas Berdyaev (1874-1948), both of whom sub-

sequently played a prominent part in the life of the Russian emigration in Paris.

  When one reflects on the lives of Tikhon and Seraphim, on the Optino startsi and John of

Kronstadt, on the missionary and theological work in nineteenth-century Russia, it can be seen

how unfair it is to regard the Synodical period simply as a time of decline. One of the greatest of

Russian Church historians, Professor Kartashev (1875-1960), has rightly said:


The subjugation was ennobled from within by Christian humility.. The Russian

Church was suffering under the burden of the regime, but she overcame it from

within. She grew, she spread and flourished in many different ways. Thus the pe-

riod of the Holy Synod could be called the most brilliant and glorious period in

the history of the Russian Church  (Article  in  the  periodical The Christian Eastvol. XVI

(1936), pp. 114 and 115).


On 15 August 1917, six months after the abdication of Emperor Nicholas  II, when the Provi-

sional Government was  in power, an All-Russian Church Council was convened at Moscow,

which  did  not  finally  disperse  until  September  of  the  following  year. More  than  half  the  dele-

gates were laymen . the bishops and clergy present numbered 250, the laity 314 . but (as

Canon Law demanded) the final decision on specifically religious questions was reserved to the

bishops alone. The Council carried through a far-reaching program of reform, its chief act being

to abolish the Synodical form of government established by Peter the Great, and to restore the

Patriarchate. The election of the Patriarch took  place on 5 November 1917.  In a series of pre-

liminary ballots, three candidates were selected; but the final choice among these three was made

by lot. At the first ballot Antony (Khrapovitsky), Archbishop of Kharkov (1863-1936), came first

with 101 votes; then Arsenius, Archbishop of Novgorod, with 27 votes; and thirdly Tikhon (Be-


liavin), Metropolitan of Moscow (1866-1925), with 23 votes. But when the lot was drawn, it was

the last of these three candidates, Tikhon, who was actually chosen as Patriarch.

  Outside events gave a note of urgency to the deliberations. At the earlier sessions members

could hear the sound of Bolshevik artillery shelling the Kremlin, and two days before the elec-

tion of the new Patriarch, Lenin and his associates gained full mastery of Moscow. The Church

was allowed no time to consolidate the work of reform. Before the Council came to a close in the

summer of 1918, its members learnt with horror of the brutal murder of Vladimir, Metropolitan

of Kiev, by the Bolsheviks. Persecution had already begun.


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