St. Tikhon Belavin, who was a Russian bishop in America during the early part of this century (with responsibility for all the Orthodox faithful in this country) , and who later became Patriarch of Moscow, was instrumental in the restoration of a Western Rite for Orthodoxy. He was responsible for the study of the Anglican Liturgy by the Moscow Synod and for its correction to bring it completely into conformity with Orthodox theology. This liturgy is now called the Liturgy of St. Tikhon and, with the Liturgy of St. Gregory the Great (the corrected form of the Roman liturgy), is approved for use by Western Rite parishes in our archdiocese. The following information about St. Tikhon is excerpted from New Frontiers: The Orthodox Christian Church Through the Ages, Vol. II, by Sophie Koulomzin, published by the O.C.A. primarily as a Church School text.
A new era in the history of Christianity began with the establishment of the communist regime in Russia in 1917. This event was far more important, had more far-reaching results than a mere change in the form of government of some one country… Communism is not indifferent to faith in God, as were Humanism and the secular culture of earlier centuries. It is bitterly opposed to any form of religion, to any recognition of spiritual values…
In 1917 the Russian Church was forced to work out some plan which would permit it to function in spite of the radically changed conditions. The Church called a Council in Moscow, which was attended not only by bishops and priests, but also by lay representatives. The most important step taken by the Council was the re-establishment of the Patriarchate [which had been abolished in 1721 by Czar Peter the Great]. The names of three greatly respected archbishops were proposed. The Council felt, however, that choice of the right man was so important that it could be decided by no ordinary vote. The three names were written on slips of paper which were put into an urn and placed on the altar of one of the Moscow cathedrals, the church of Christ the Savior. A solemn Liturgy was celebrated, at the end of which a venerable, ninety year old hermit was asked to draw one of the slips. The slip bore the name of the Moscow Metropolitan Tikhon, a mild and humble man of great simplicity and deep spirituality who had been Archbishop of the Russian Orthodox Church in the United States from 1898 to 1907.
It was not an easy matter to accept the title of Patriarch of All Russia in those troubled times. During the very days of the election the city of Moscow shuddered in the desperate fighting of the Communist revolution. When the Council’s delegation brought the news of his election to Metropolitan Tikhon he accepted in humble obedience, but in his answering speech he quoted the Old Testament passage (Ezekiel 2:10-3:1) in which the prophet Ezekiel is given a scroll on which is written: “Lamentations and mourning and woe.” He also quoted the words of Moses: “Wherefore hast thou afflicted thy servant? I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me” (Numbers 11:11-14). Tikhon’s life during the next six and a half years fully justified these words.
The Church Council of 1917 also established rules for the administration of parishes. They were given more responsibility and independence, led by a parish council to assist the priest. Two years later Patriarch Tikhon, knowing that the whole of the Church administration might soon cease to exist issued instructions that, in case of emergency, the bishop of any diocese should take upon himself full responsibility for Church matters. This flexible organization of the Church government proved to be of tremendous value in the bitter days of persecution.
At first the Soviet government fought religion in a rather haphazard way. Blasphemous pageants were organized, posters ridiculed the Church, a nationwide society called “The Godless” was created. Many priests were arrested for no particular reason. In those early days of terror there were so many unexplained arrests and executions that they could not really be called Church persecution. However, the soviet government was looking for an effective weapon against the Church and in 1922 it found one.
A terrible famine broke out in certain parts of Russia, partly from natural failure of crops, partly because the country’s economy was upset. The death rate was high, whole villages died out. Cannibalism was frequent.
…The Patriarch appealed to church people to contribute all they could for the relief of the hungry. He asked the churches to contribute their valuable ornaments. Only holy objects, which according to Church law cannot be used for any purpose other than sacraments, were not to be touched. The government immediately seized upon this exception and ordered that all church valuables, including holy chalices and patens be forcibly removed. This was frequently done in the most brutal and insulting manner. There was no assurance that the valuables thus removed would actually be used for the relief of the hungry. People flocked to the churches to protect them from desecration. There thousands were arrested and executed with or without trial, under the pretext that they opposed the government.
Now the government could really bring pressure upon the Patriarch. Would he, in order to save the lives of his subordinates, all the imprisoned bishops, priests and laymen, agree to support the government?
In 1922 fifty bishops and priests were brought to public trial in Moscow. The Patriarch, who himself was imprisoned at that time in one of the Moscow monasteries, was brought in as a witness. Asked whether he had encouraged the people to disobey the government, the Patriarch answered: “The government knows that my appeal contained no encouragement to disobedience. I merely suggested to the churches that they get in touch with local authorities in order to substitute money contributions for the objects that are holy to us. In this way they would help their hungry brothers and would avoid desecration of sacred objects.”
“And your appeal will cost your obedient servants their lives,” exclaimed the President of the Tribunal, pointing dramatically at the group of accused. The Patriarch glanced steadily and affectionately at them and then turned back to the President. “I have always said, and continue to say, that I alone am to blame. These men have only obeyed their God-given leader,” he said.
The voice of the Patriarch rose to a ringing pitch and was heard in every corner of the packed hall, and he seemed to grow taller as he raised his hands in blessing, continuing: “If there is need for a sacrifice, if the innocent lambs of the Lord’s flock are to die, my blessing be with the faithful servants of our Lord Jesus Christ as they suffer and die for His sake.” The fifty accused men knelt down. The audience was still. The judges remained silent.
Eighteen men were condemned to death and the others to forced labor. As they were led to the place of execution they sang, “Christ is Risen,” and the baffled guards did not know how to deal with the crowds of people who pressed on all sides, kissing the hands of the condemned men and asking for their blessing.
While Patriarch Tikhon was still in prison, the life of the church was endangered still further. Groups were formed within the Church itself calling themselves “The New Church” and “the Living Church”. They introduced radical reforms within the Church, changing canon laws…The “Living Church” was favored by the Soviet government and spread rapidly… The imprisoned Patriarch realized that this division was a far more serious danger than the actual persecutions. He was keenly aware that his imprisonment left the Church without a leader in the face of this new danger. This probably affected his decision to sign a statement in which he appealed to Church people to be loyal subjects of the Soviet government and disassociated himself from any form of political resistance to the Soviets. What mattered was saving the Church, saving the souls and the faith of his people. Political renunciations, even if humiliating, were secondary. The Patriarch was liberated in 1923 and …the “Living Church” movement lost its power. The Patriarch died on the Feast of Annunciation [old calendar – April 7 in the new calendar] in 1925. There was a persistent rumor that he had been poisoned. His funeral showed how deeply he was loved by the Russian people. Thousands and thousands of men, women and children crowded around the monastery where his body was laid out. Through nights and days silent throngs stood patiently awaiting their turn to bid farewell to their Patriarch. By this last act of devotion they expressed their love and loyalty for him, though no one could be sure that it would not be considered an anti-government demonstration and lead to arrest and imprisonment.
May God give us the strength to be faithful in our times, through the prayers of St. Tikhon and others who suffered much for their devotion to Christ and His Church.