Twentieth Century: 1900 – 1925

By: Fr. Thomas HopkoRead time: 11 mins2874 Hits

Twentieth Century: 1900 – 1925

American Archdiocese

In 1898, Bishop Tikhon Belavin became the head of the diocese of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska of the Russian Orthodox Church. In 1 900, the name of this diocese was changed to the diocese of the Aleutian Islands and North America. In 1905, the Holy Synod of the Russian Church elevated the diocese to the rank of archdiocese and Tikhon became a:p. archbishop. During this same year, the center of the American archdiocese was moved from San Francisco to New York City where the St. Nicholas Cathedral was built. At this time also, the first ecclesiastical seminary was founded in Minneapolis and the first general council (sobor) of the archdiocese took place in 1907 in Mayfield, Pennsylvania, near St. Tikhon ‘s Monastery in South Canaan where the archbishop had also founded a pastoral school for training priests.

Archbishop Tikhon

The Church in America during the time of Archbishop Tikhon, who remained its leader until 1908, was comprised of all Orthodox Christians living in the new world, from all national backgrounds. Many of the Slavs in the archdiocese were former uniates, i.e. members of the Roman Catholic church of the Eastern rite who came to America from those sections of Eastern Europe where the Union of Brest was still in force. (See above page 185) Many of these Slav Christians were led back into the Orthodox Church by Father Alexis Toth (d.1909), who, in 18’91, joined the Orthodox Church with his parish in Minneapolis.

Archbishop Tikhon had great ideas for the Orthodox Church in America. He wrote to the Holy Synod of the Russian Church in 1905-1906 that the American archdiocese should be an autonomous Orthodox Church made up of all Orthodox Christians of all nationalities, using the English language and the American civil calendar (i.e. the Gregorian calendar) for its church services and activities. English translations
of the main liturgical services of the Church had already been done at this time.

It was Tikhon’s conviction that the American Church would be composed of many national groups and he himself had a plan for the gradual development of the self-governing church with a hierarchy drawn from all of the ethnic Orthodox peoples. In 1904, Raphael Hawaweeny, a Syrian archimandrite, was consecrated as bishop of Brooklyn to care for the faithful of Syrian and Lebanese origins in America. A similar plan was set for the consecration of a bishop from the Serbian clergy, who also would have a territorial diocese while tending to the specific needs of the Serbian Orthodox in the new land. Thus it was the consciously formulated plan to develop a local hierarchy, preserving the Orthodox territorial principle of diocesan government, and yet serving the pastoral needs of the various national peoples. Already in 1905, however, a “Hellenic Eastern Orthodox Church” was incorporated in the state of New York independent of the local Orthodox hierarchy, although, at the time, there was no Greek bishop in the country and no plans for a specifically Greek-American diocese.

From 1908 – 1917

After Archbishop Tikhon returned to Russia, the American diocese was headed by Archbishop Platon Rozhdestvenskii who served until 1914 when he returned to Russia to serve as a member of the Holy Synod under the provisional government. Platon was the former exarch of the Church of Georgia (Iberia) in the Russian empire. In 191_2, the ecclesiastical seminary, called St. Platon’s, was moved from Minneapolis to Tenafly, New Jersey.

Father Leonid Turkevich, the future Metropolitan Leonty, one of the original teachers at the seminary, became, at this time, the dean of St. Nicholas Cathedral in New York. He wrote many articles during this period about the destiny of the American missionary archdiocese to become a self-governing Orthodox Church. With Father A. Kukulevsky, he represented the American diocese at the Russian Church Council of 1917-1918.

Church in Russia

TI1e period from 1900 to 191 7, in Russia, was a time of religious rebirth and ecclesiastical reform. While such atheist intellectuals as P. B. Struve (d.l944), S. N. Bulgakov (d.l 944 ), N. A. Berdyaev (d.l948) S. L. Frank (d.l950), G. P. Fedotov (d.l951) and others were effecting their conversions “from marxism to idealism” and into the Orthodox Church, the bishops and leaders of the Russian Church were subjecting the ecclesiastical structures to critical review. In 1905, the ober-procurator of the Holy Synod, K. P. Pobedonostsev who had virtually ruled the church for a quarter century, made known the emperor’s declaration that at long last a council of the Russian Church would be held and that plans should be made “to carry this great task forward.” The civil power finally yielded to the demands that the Russian Church be free to carry on its life and work without interference from state control.

Council of 1917 -1918

Much pre-conciliar work was done. Surveys of the bishops were conducted to receive their ideas. Discussions were held. Reports were filed. After much debate it was decided that each diocese would send delegates from the clergy and laity to sit in council with the bishops, who, alone, according to the Orthodox Faith, would make the final decisions in matters of church doctrine and practice. In 191 7, in the midst of revolutionary turmoil, the council convened. Its most momentous act was to restore the patriarchate to the Russian Church. On the morning of November 1, 1917, after vigil and prayer, an old monk drew the name of one of the three elected nominees from an urn in front of the icon of the Kazan Mother of God. Thus, Archbishop Tikhon, the former primate of the American archdiocese, became the first patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church since the time of Peter the Great.

Patriarch Tikhon

From the very beginning, the new patriarch struggled for the rights of the Russian Church in its new situation of legal separation from the soviet state. In January 1918, he issued a formal decree of condemnation and excommunication of all “open and secret enemies of the truth of Christ.” This decree, which referred directly to actions of the bolshevik government, was confirmed by the church council which was still in session.

Patriarch Tikhon also was arrested and brought to trial for his refusal to give up consecrated church vessels which the government demanded during the time of famine and civil war, ostensibly to feed the poor. The primate offered all unconsecrated riches of the church and promised as well to raise money for the afflicted through free will offerings of the faithful that would equal the amount which the government was demanding, and which also would be distributed to the people directly by the church.

In his struggles and trials, the patriarch tried to follow the path of political neutrality while he defended the rights of the church without compromise. He died in 1925 as a confessor for the faith and is recognized by many as a martyr and saint.

Living Church

Patriarch Tikhon also had to struggle against the Living Church, a group of ultra-liberal churchmen who enthusiastically supported the soviet regime. The Living Church was recognized by the state as the official Russian Church, and it was used by the state against those faithful to Patriarch Tikhon. This group of “renovationists” in many ways changed the teachings and practices of the Orthodox Church and were greeted by some in the West as the bearers of the Reformation in Russia. The Living Church died out in the late twenties when it was no longer useful to the state. It had no following among the people, and a number of clergy who had been in the movement in good faith repented and returned to the Orthodox Church.

Ukrainian Self-consecrated

In 1921, in Kiev, a council of Ukrainian priests was held to form an autocephalous church for the Ukraine. At this meeting, at which no bishops were present, the priests “consecrated” their leader, Basil Lipkivskii, as a “bishop.” Thus began the group of “self-consecrated” called the Autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which has since spread throughout the world.

Church in America

Fallowing the bolshevik revolution in Russia, the Orthodox Church in America was thrown into confusion and chaos. Since 1914, the American archdiocese was without effective leadership. After the revolution, Archbishop Platon returned to America. He had the blessing of Patriarch Tikhon to care for the American church, but was without official papers of any kind. The third council of the American archdiocese, held in Pittsburgh in 1922, accepted Platon as its leader, but agreed to wait for official word from the patriarch in Moscow as to his official assignment. At the time, however, the patriarch was in captivity to the soviet regime and the official support of the state was given to the Living Church.

In 1923, the unfrocked priest, John Kedrovsky, came to America as a “bishop” of the Living Church and demanded and received by legal action possession of Russian Church properties including St. Nicholas Cathedral in New York. At this time as well, the seminary in Tenafly was closed and its properties and library were sold.

Detroit Council

In 1924, the fourth council of the American archdiocese was held in Detroit. This council, on the basis of Patriarch Tikhon’s decree of November 20, 1920, No. 362 – which declared that all dioceses of the Russian Church cut off from the patriarchate should govern themselves and carry on their church life under local supervision – declared that the American archdiocese would be a self-governing metropolitanate until such time as normal relations could be resumed with the Church in Russia. Platon was officially installed as the metropolitan and the church came to be called the American Metropolia, officially incorporated as the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of America.

American Disunity

The chaos of the post-revolutionary years gave opportunity for the non-Russian Orthodox in America to form their own ecclesiastical jurisdictions, thus inaugurating the existence of many church “dioceses” in the same territory for the first time in Orthodox Church history. In 1922, the patriarchate of Constantinople settled its problems with the Church of Greece over America and officially formed the Greek Orthodox Church in America under its jurisdiction. The Syrian bishop Raphael died in 1915 and the new bishop for the Syrian Orthodox in America, Aftimios, was consecrated in America in union with the local Russian bishops. At this time as well, local groups of Orthodox Christians from all national backgrounds were organizing themselves into parish communities in the new world with virtually no clear and consistent hierarchal leadership.

Church in Greece

In Greece, the first quarter of the century saw the influx of many Greeks from the Turkish territories, particularly at the time of the Greek-Turkish war of 1922 when the patriarchate of Constantinople lost a vast number of members who emigrated to other places, including the new world. In 1911, Father Eusebios Matthopoulos founded the brotherhood Zoe in Greece, an organization dedicated to the enlightenment of Christian Greece. The brotherhood founded many schools and unions and did much good work. It also brought many protestant doctrines, practices and pieties into the church.

Other Churches

In 1920, the five dioceses of Serbian Orthodox which had come into being during the time of the breakdown of the Turkish empire and the formation of the new European nations were formed into one national Serbian Orthodox Church with a patriarch in Belgrade. In 1922, this church was officially separated from the state.

The Roumanian Orthodox Church, with its patriarch in Bucharest, was established in 1925. It remains the national church of Roumania.

The Antiochene Patriarchate in the middle east received its first Arab primate in 1899, not without the aid of the Russians. The Patriarchate in Jerusalem, however, continues to have a Greek primate, although a council of Arab priests and laymen was formed in 1911 to participate in church government.

The Orthodox Church in Poland received autocephaly in 1924. By 1925, there were also two dioceses of Orthodox Christians in Czechoslovakia. The Orthodox Church of Finland became autonomous under the guidance of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1923.

In 1921, the exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church in Western Europe was led by Metropolitan Eulogius Georgievskii (d.1946) who was appointed by Patriarch Tikhon. The Patriarchate of Constantinople appointed a Greek exarch in London in 1922.

Synod in Exile

Immediately following the bolshevik revolution, a group of Russian emigre churchmen, together with leading monarchist laymen, formed themselves into the Russian Orthodox Synod in Exile, also called the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. This group, led by Metropolitan Antony Khrapovitskii (d.l936), finally established its center in Serbia where it received the right to function independently of the local ecclesiastical hierarchy. Because of its location in Sremski-Karlovtsy, the group also received the name of the Karlovatskii Synod. This group was officially condemned by Patriarch Tikhon, as well as the Patriarchate of Constantinople, for disturbing church order.

Ecumenical Movement

The movement for cooperation among Christians, which began among the protestants in the nineteenth century, developed more strongly in the first quarter of this century with the establishment of the International Missionary Council in Edinburgh in 1910. In 1920, the bishops of the Patriachate of Constantinople issued an encyclical letter “Unto All Churches of Christ Wheresoever They Be,” calling for “a closer relationship and a mutual understanding among the several Christian churches.”