09 October 2016

Remembering our Father among the Saints, Hieromartyr Tikhon of Moscow

Patriarch Saint Tikhon of Moscow and All Rus’

This Sunday we commemorate the glorification, on 9 October 1989, of a particularly great and holy Russian-American saint and martyr for the Orthodox faith – Holy Father Tikhon (Bellavin), Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus’. Tikhon’s life, though it began in Pskov, ranged far to the east, to Alaska, to San Francisco, to New York, and everywhere he went he was a tireless, humble, self-giving labourer in God’s newly-sown fields, who worked not out of fear or in the expectation of reward, but out of a true filial affection for God, and a paternal affection for those of us who were (and are) still taking our first struggling steps in the faith. Vladika Tikhon’s great and good influence in North America has touched us even here in Minneapolis and Saint Paul in a very personal way; he was present at the founding of our own St. Mary’s Cathedral, and was a staunch and enthusiastic supporter of our parish school.

Tikhon began his life as Basil Ivanovich Bellavin, the son of – as has been common in Russia throughout her history – a poor country priest from a rural village in the Pskov region on the northwestern march of Great Russia, close to Latvia. As is also common in Russia, as the son of the parish priest, he was expected to follow in his father’s footsteps. But he did take to his education either resentfully or grudgingly: from an early age he showed great love for the Liturgy, and was blessed with a meek and uncomplaining disposition throughout his youth, as well as a very clever mind. His fellow-students, who came to him for gladly-given help with their schoolwork and compositions, took to calling him ‘bishop’ and ‘patriarch’ – though what they said in friendly jest would turn out to have a far deeper truth. He attended seminary both in Pskov and in Saint Petersburg, and was a teacher of moral and dogmatic theology at the seminary in Pskov before he took the tonsure at Kholm at the age of 26. He became the Bishop of Lublin (a diocese now located in eastern Poland) at the tender age of 34, and later the Bishop of Kholm, where he served with great affection not only the Russians who lived there, but also equally the Lithuanian and Polish Orthodox parishioners. Very soon afterward, Patriarch Tikhon was transferred to the Aleutian Islands and Alaska to minister to the mission there that had been founded and tended by Saint Herman the Wonderworker.

Similarly to Saint Herman, Father Tikhon devoted all of his energies single-mindedly to the service of his flock, and through his great love for the Aleutian and Alaskan people he won many converts, and moved successfully to redesignate his bishopric as the ‘Diocese of the Aleutians and of North America’. He was even well-liked (as Saint Herman had not been!) by the local government, such that he was given citizenship in the United States. He was involved in founding and blessing many churches on the North American continent, including Saint Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral in New York, and also the Saint Nicholas Syrian Orthodox Cathedral in the same city, led by the sainted Bishop Raphael (Hawaweeny) of Brooklyn.

Saint Tikhon’s collected sermons, letters and missives to various Church bodies from his time in America have recently been translated into English and published; these are very much worth reading. They display the gentleness of soul the good Bishop possessed, the deep and patient and self-emptying love he showed for his flock. But they also show that he was neither silent on matters of contemporary importance, nor even particularly convenient in his political convictions.

Saint Tikhon despised the racism he encountered, both within the Orthodox diocese he served, and within the broader American culture, which saw the American Indians and Alaska Natives as ‘less civilised’ and therefore unworthy of being treated as children of God. When poor Native parishes in Alaska were suffering from a very hard winter, and he was attempting to get aid for them from Orthodox believers in richer and more comfortable parishes, Vladika Tikhon had this to say to his flock in San Francisco:
The compassionate Christ told His disciples, ‘Give them something to eat yourselves’. We must help our brothers in the Faith. It does not matter that they belong to a different, less civilised race. It is not civilisation at all—which is shamefully preached by some—wherein the sole idea is that the white race must not only be prevailing in the world, but must wipe out the other ‘coloured’ races…

True civilisation consists in giving as many people as possible access to the benefits of life. Since all people originate from one man, all are children of the one Heavenly Father; all were redeemed by the most pure blood of Christ, in Whom ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free’. All are brothers and must love one another—love one another not only in words, but in deeds as well!
Saint Tikhon was also, as many Orthodox priests (including Father Saint Alexis Tovt) were at the time, highly sympathetic to organised labour and the labour movement, in which so many recent converts – many of them miners with origins in Rusin Subcarpathia – were involved. When it came to disputes between the working men of America and the capitalist class which oppressed them, Saint Tikhon did not hesitate to come down firmly and resolutely on the side of the suffering workers! But he didn’t just give homilies on the matter. He wrote, for example, the following letter to the newspaper Svet about the anthracite strike of 1902:
The strike is still going on, our parishioners endure everything and become poorer; and it is not known when there will be an end to this onerous situation. But the saddest part is that even if an accord is reached (between the group of capitalists and the representatives of the workers), still it will bring only temporary calm and satisfaction.

Without a doubt, in the future, life will become more expensive, supplies and goods will increase in price, while wages will remain the same and therefore will be insufficient. This means, with the way things are around here, it will again become necessary to resort to a strike, and suffer again, and continue to live in poverty.

In these circumstances it is necessary to come to help the needy. Why not establish a special fund specifically for the purpose of helping during strikes?—since many of our parishioners now work in factories, and, not taking part in the present strike have a certain income. It would be sinful not to remember the needy and the suffering during the well-to-do times! Likewise, when the needy attain what they want, why should they not set up at least a small reserve for a ‘rainy day’ in the future?

How to pay the dues in order to establish the fund, how and to whom to distribute funds from it—the [unions] themselves can discuss these things at their meetings. The fund may be opened under the patronage of the Board of the Mutual Aid Society, which could contribute to this cause from their funds. To start this undertaking off, I am sending 100 dollars from myself to the Board of the Society. May God grant that it will be successful!
As we can see, then, on contemporary matters of race and class, the blessed Bishop Tikhon was neither silent, nor neutral, nor indifferent, but approached these situations practically, and took a side and a stand with the same self-giving love and fatherly concern that he always had. On other political matters, though, he stood just as boldly against the current of the entirety of American society at the time. He called upon his fellow Russians not to be ashamed nor to be shy of defending, when it was attacked, either the person or the institution of the Tsar, for whom and for which Bishop Tikhon always had a high esteem:
We who live far from the motherland, in a foreign land, among people who know little or nothing at all about our country and its regulations, quite often have to hear criticism, censure, and ridicule of the institutions that are native and dear to us. These kinds of attacks are most often directed against the autocracy, which is one of the foundations of the Russian State. To many here it seems to be a sort of ‘scarecrow’, an Eastern despotism, a tyranny, an Asian thing. All of the failures, shortcomings and disorderliness of the Russian land are attributed to it.

We cannot dissuade all those who wish to remain under delusion--those whose eyes do not see and ears do not hear. But on you, who live abroad and love your native land from this faraway place, lies a special duty to explain and acquaint the local honest thinkers with what the autocracy in Russia really is.

Autocratic power means that this power does not depend on any human power; it does not draw anything from the latter, is not limited by it, and has within itself the source of its being and strength...

This means the Tsar’s power must guard the law and righteousness, protecting the subjects from violence and especially those who are destitute and crippled, who do not have any other intercessors and protection. And for this reason it has to be autocratic and independent, not limited by either the powerful or the rich. Otherwise, it would not fulfil its purpose, since... it would have to please the rich, the powerful and the influential, and to serve the truth in the way it is understood by the latter, to deliver the judgement of men and not of God.
Bishop Tikhon wished Tsar Nicholas II well throughout his tenure both in Russia and America, supported him firmly, and viewed him, rightly, as an agent of peace in Europe and Asia, during an age sadly inclined toward war. ‘The closer the nations come to Christian ideals,’ he said in a homily, speaking here of Russia’s progress toward building peace in Europe, ‘and the more they become imbued with Christ’s commandments, the less hostility, division, and warlike vehemence is in them.’ Bishop Tikhon had to leave us, sorrowfully, in 1907; he was transferred to the Diocese of Yaroslavl, and after that to Vilna, where again he displayed the same humble and gentle forthrightness with his flock, and undertook the same charitable, material and activist support of the poor that he had done here. When World War I erupted on the continent, Bishop Tikhon made it a point to minister and provide shelter to the homeless and to war refugees from the Eastern Front.

Small wonder, then, that as the war ground on and as the society erupted into revolution, the men and women of Moscow would turn to him for spiritual guidance. He was called to Moscow to advise the Diocesan Congress, to serve them as bishop, and to make plans to restore the Patriarchate of Moscow and All Rus’, which had been abolished under the Petrine reforms nearly two hundred years before. The three candidates for the position of Patriarch were Archbishop Antony (Khrapovitsky) of Kharkov, greatest in wisdom and learning; Archbishop Arseny (Stadnitsky) of Novgorod, renowned for piety and strictness; and Metropolitan Tikhon (Bellavin) himself, who was humblest and kindest in temperament. The ballot for the patriarchate was held in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour before the Vladimir ikon of the Holy Theotokos; and it was determined by the monks there that Metropolitan Tikhon had been chosen to become Patriarch. He was thus consecrated as Patriarch by Metropolitan (later Hieromartyr) Vladimir (Bogoyavlensky) of Kiev. After this happened, Patriarch Tikhon, referring to the Prophet Ezekiel’s scroll which read ‘lamentations, mourning and woe’, foresaw that his tenure as patriarch would be one filled with hardship; yet he let neither the status nor the hardships he foresaw change his character – he continued to surprise all those who met him with his meekness.

The Russian Revolution, after all, was well under way. Even though he had not shied away from making politically-outspoken statements in America; the situation in Russia demanded that the clergy take, to protect their flocks and indeed the witness of Church itself, a much more circumspect approach. ‘I can’t bless civil war,’ Patriarch Tikhon said, refusing to condemn either the communists or the counter-revolutionaries. ‘Red or White… all are children of the Church: sometimes faithful, sometimes straying. The only thing that I can do is to pray for reconciliation among our people.’ Rather than blessing or assenting to the bloodletting, Patriarch Tikhon used his position to call his people to repentance and to spiritual rebirth. He donated many church valuables to the aid of famine victims in the Volga basin, but he would not assent to the confiscation of Church property which was later demanded by the new Soviet government – for this he was thrown into prison, and many priests and believers were either imprisoned or executed. Likewise, he protested and resisted the ‘Living Church’ schism which took place under Soviet auspices in 1922, though when many of the schismatics repented and returned to the Orthodox Church, he met them with open arms and without recriminations – just as twenty years before he had been welcoming Uniates with similar joy and simplicity back into the Orthodox fold in America.

The upheavals in the Church and the repressions of the Soviet government took their toll on the good and generous Patriarch’s health; he worked and prayed through many sleepless nights. In 1924 he took ill and had to be admitted to a hospital – though he would leave it on Sundays and feast days to hold the Divine Liturgy, even to the very end of his life. He held his last Liturgy on the 23 March (OC), and two days later he was visited by Metropolitan Peter at the hospital, where they had a long conversation. He fell asleep, then awoke during the middle of the night; he crossed himself twice with the words ‘glory to Thee, O Lord, glory to Thee’, and thus met his repose.

Patriarch Tikhon was met with nearly a million mourners in Moscow when he was interred at Donskoy Monastery. He had, after all, for all his self-defacement, gentleness and meekness, been a shining beacon of Orthodoxy – his mild forgiveness on matters corporeal and his firmness on matters eternal had steered the Orthodox faithful through one of their most difficult trials in recent history. Not for nothing is our beloved and blessed Patriarch Tikhon, dear to our hearts here in America as I’m sure he is to those in Russia, counted among the martyrs!
Let us praise Tikhon, the patriarch of all Russia,
And enlightener of North America:
An ardent follower of the Apostolic traditions,
And good pastor of the Church of Christ.
Who was elected by divine providence,
And laid down his life for his sheep.
Let us sing to him with faith and hope,
And ask for his hierarchical intercessions:
Keep the church in Russia in tranquillity,
And the church in North America in peace.
Gather her scattered children into one flock,
Bring to repentance those who have renounced the True Faith,
Preserve our lands from civil strife,
And entreat God's peace for all people!

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