by Jane Swan

Excerpt­ed from Cho­sen for His Peo­ple: A Biog­ra­phy of Patri­arch Tikhon , Paper­back — 172 pages — $14.95– ISBN 978–1-94269–902- 6. Avail­able direct­ly from the pub­lish­er or from any good book­store or online book­seller.

Among the many trag­ic anniver­saries of this cen­ten­ni­al year, the Russ­ian Ortho­dox Church recalls with joy the restora­tion of the Patri­ar­chate of Moscow and the prov­i­den­tial elec­tion of the diminu­tive Met­ro­pol­i­tan of Moscow, His Emi­nence Tikhon (Bellavin), as the first occu­pant of the restored Patri­ar­chal throne. Below we offer an excerpt from a biog­ra­phy of this crit­i­cal fig­ure of 20th cen­tu­ry Russ­ian his­to­ry, recent­ly pub­lished by Holy Trin­i­ty Sem­i­nary Press. After pro­tract­ed debate over the ques­tion of restora­tion and agree­ing on the pro­to­col for the elec­tion, the Coun­cil nom­i­nat­ed three can­di­dates: Antony, Arch­bish­op of Kharkov; Arse­ny, Arch­bish­op of Nov­gorod; and Tikhon, Met­ro­pol­i­tan of Moscow.


The names of the three offi­cial­ly nom­i­nat­ed can­di­dates were placed on sep­a­rate slips of paper, set in a blessed urn, and put before the most famous of all Russ­ian icons, the Vladimir icon of the Theotokos.1 The icon had been moved from its usu­al spot2 in the Dor­mi­tion Cathe­dral to the Cathe­dral of Christ the Sav­iour for this cer­e­mo­ny. All night, the urn remained before the icon dim­ly lit by flick­er­ing can­dles. The fol­low­ing morn­ing, Met­ro­pol­i­tan Vladimir3 cel­e­brat­ed a long and solemn litur­gy before the icon. Then, by a pre­arranged choice, staretz4 Alex­is (Soloviev) of Zosi­mov Monastery5 drew out one of the names. Turn­ing to Met­ro­pol­i­tan Vladimir, the staretz hand­ed him the slip, and the met­ro­pol­i­tan cross­ing him­self read out, “Tikhon, Met­ro­pol­i­tan of Moscow, Axios!“6

The All Russian Council of 1917-1918

The All Russ­ian Coun­cil of 1917–1918

Like a spark ignit­ing dry wood, the entire church was filled with shouts of “Axios, Axios!” Above it all, the choir intoned, “We praise thee, O Lord.”


At the end of the ser­vice, amid pan­de­mo­ni­um, the bish­ops filed out of the church. Sud­den­ly, from among the milling crowds, part of which were obvi­ous­ly hos­tile to the event that had just tak­en place, a half-insane woman with long flow­ing hair rushed up to Arch­bish­op Evl­o­gy and shout­ed: “Not long, not long will you cel­e­brate! Soon your bish­op will be mur­dered.”7

Dur­ing the actu­al draw­ing of the name, Tikhon had remained at the Moscow pod­vorye (rep­re­sen­ta­tion church) of the Trinity–St Sergius Lavra, and a del­e­ga­tion head­ed by Met­ro­pol­i­tan Vladimir was sent to inform him that he had been cho­sen patri­arch of all Rus­sia. On hear­ing the news, Tikhon at once took a bind­ing vow to defend the Holy Ortho­dox Russ­ian Church until his death. Tikhon’s infor­mal accep­tance speech to the del­e­ga­tion gives a very clear pic­ture of Tikhon, the man. For­tu­nate­ly, a copy of this still exists as it is one of Tikhon’s very few record­ed talks. He sel­dom wrote out his speech­es, pre­fer­ring to speak extem­po­ra­ne­ous­ly, and left no dog­mat­ic writ­ings or papers oth­er than a few offi­cial doc­u­ments. Fol­low­ing is the speech:


Beloved in Christ, fathers and brethren;


I have just uttered the pre­scribed words: “I thank and accept and say noth­ing against.” Of course, enor­mous is my grat­i­tude to the Lord for the mer­cy bestowed on me. Great also is my grat­i­tude to the mem­bers of the Sacred All Russ­ian Coun­cil for the high hon­or of my elec­tion into the mem­bers of can­di­dates for the Patri­ar­chate. But argu­ing, as a man, I could say a lot against my present elec­tion. Your news about my elec­tion for the Patri­ar­chate is to me that scroll on which was writ­ten, “Weep­ing, sigh­ing, and sor­row,” which scroll had to be eat­en by the prophet Ezekiel (2:10, 3:1). How many tears will I have to swal­low or how many sighs emit in my forth­com­ing Patri­ar­chal office and espe­cial­ly in the present woe­ful time. Like the ancient leader of the Hebrews, Moses, I shall have to say to the Lord:


“Where­fore hast thou afflict­ed thy ser­vant? and where­fore have I not found favour in thy sight, that thou layest the bur­den of all this peo­ple upon me? Have I con­ceived all this peo­ple? Have I begot­ten them, that thou shouldest say unto me, Car­ry them in thy bosom, as a nurs­ing father beareth the suck­ing child … I am not able to bear all this peo­ple alone, because it is too heavy for me” (Num­bers 11:11–14).


From now on I am entrust­ed with the care for all the Russ­ian church­es, and what awaits me is the grad­ual dying for them all my days. Who is con­tent with this even amongst those who are firmer than I? But let the will of the Lord be done, I am strength­ened by the fact that I have not sought this elec­tion. It came to me with­out my wish, even with­out the wish of men, accord­ing to the lot of God. I trust that the Lord who had called me, will Him­self help me by His all-pow­er­ful grace to car­ry the bur­den which is placed on me and will make it a light bur­den. Let it be a com­fort and encour­age­ment for me that my elec­tion occurs not with­out the wish of the most pure Theotokos. Twice she, by the com­ing of her pre­cious Vladimir icon in the Cathe­dral of Christ the Sav­iour, was present at my elec­tion. This time the lot itself has been tak­en from her mir­a­cle­work­ing icon. It is as if I were plac­ing myself under her high pro­tec­tion. May she, the all pow­er­ful, stretch out to me, who is so weak, the hand of her sup­port and may she deliv­er this city and the whole Russ­ian land from all need and sor­row.8

Through­out his whole life, Tikhon made fre­quent ref­er­ences to his ven­er­a­tion for the Vir­gin Mary and felt that he had placed him­self in her keep­ing. In this accep­tance speech based on quo­ta­tions from Ezekiel and Num­bers, he sin­cere­ly mourned that he had been elect­ed, feel­ing that he had not the strength to bear such a cross, but then, with a “God’s will be done,” he referred to the twofold inter­ven­tion of the Vir­gin Mary in his life through her mirac­u­lous Vladimir icon. The orig­i­nal ele­va­tion of Tikhon to met­ro­pol­i­tan of Moscow, done by the rev­o­lu­tion­ary method of elec­tion rather than by Syn­od appoint­ment, had been done before the Vladimir icon in the Dor­mi­tion Cathe­dral. Now again, when the actu­al patri­ar­chal lot had been drawn as it were from the icon itself, he was again cho­sen against his own per­son­al will, so he viewed it as divine inter­ven­tion and humbly bowed to the will of God.

That Tikhon should take such a view of the sit­u­a­tion is not sur­pris­ing, for cer­tain­ly the orig­i­nal vot­ing would seem to indi­cate that the coun­cil had desired the strength and fight­ing qual­i­ties of a man like Arch­bish­op Antony or even Arse­ny, while Tikhon quite obvi­ous­ly was viewed as too mild and retir­ing for such a con­tro­ver­sial posi­tion. Nev­er­the­less, the elec­tion of Tikhon was accept­ed by all, and imme­di­ate prepa­ra­tions were begun for the instal­la­tion cer­e­mo­ny. A com­mit­tee was appoint­ed by the coun­cil, head­ed by Met­ro­pol­i­tan Pla­ton, who with two lay­men had to seek per­mis­sion from the Mil­i­tary Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Com­mit­tee to neu­tral­ize the Krem­lin and to cel­e­brate the cer­e­mo­ny of instal­la­tion in the Dor­mi­tion Cathe­dral. On Novem­ber 8, Met­ro­pol­i­tan Pla­ton report­ed to the coun­cil that per­mis­sion had been grant­ed and that imme­di­ate research must be done to deter­mine how the cer­e­mo­ny tra­di­tion­al­ly had been per­formed. The ser­vice of enthrone­ment was worked out and actu­al imple­ments of for­mer enthrone­ments were res­ur­rect­ed from the Krem­lin. Odd­ly enough, the sev­en­teenth-cen­tu­ry kukol10 and man­tle of Patri­arch Nikon fit­ted Tikhon with­out alter­ation. The old patri­ar­chal throne11 of the Dor­mi­tion Cathe­dral was used, and the ancient staff of Met­ro­pol­i­tan Peter of Moscow was hand­ed to Tikhon when it was time for his ser­mon.12

Dur­ing this time of prepa­ra­tion, Met­ro­pol­i­tan Tikhon went to the Trinity–St Sergius Lavra to pre­pare him­self spir­i­tu­al­ly for the com­ing bur­dens. The coun­cil con­tin­ued its work, but with­out the new patri­arch as chair­man. A pub­lic funer­al ser­vice was held for the killed cadets in the Krem­lin and then, because of so many requests by rel­a­tives of the men who were killed on the Com­mu­nist side, the coun­cil also con­duct­ed a pub­lic funer­al for the dead Bol­she­viks. This, as the coun­cil stat­ed, was to com­fort the rel­a­tives of those mis­guid­ed sol­diers. The new gov­ern­ment took no part in either funer­al.

On Novem­ber 21, 1917, amid the ring­ing of the famous bells of Ivan the Great, Vasi­ly Ivanovich Bellavin was enthroned as the Most Holy Tikhon, Patri­arch of all Rus­sia, in the Dor­mi­tion Cathe­dral. When the cer­e­mo­ny was com­plet­ed and the litur­gy per­formed, the first and sec­ond met­ro­pol­i­tans con­duct­ed him to the patri­ar­chal throne. There Met­ro­pol­i­tan Vladimir, soon to be mur­dered by the Com­mu­nists, pre­sent­ed him with the staff of Met­ro­pol­i­tan Peter of Moscow, and the new patri­arch preached his first ser­mon.

Arrest of Patriarch Tikhon by Filipp Moskvitin

Arrest of Patri­arch Tikhon. Painter: Fil­ipp Moskvitin

It is pre­cise­ly at the great­est moment in his life that Tikhon’s hum­ble yet strong con­vic­tion of the Vir­gin Mary’s guid­ance gave him such joy. He delight­ed in the fact that the instal­la­tion cer­e­mo­ny was on the feast when the Vir­gin was pre­sent­ed in the Tem­ple and likened the strange­ness of a young girl pen­e­trat­ing into the holy of holies to the equal­ly unbe­liev­able restora­tion of the patri­ar­chate. He saw the restora­tion at such a time as a sign of the Lord’s mer­cy to the pover­ty of spir­it of the Russ­ian realm and then came out with a warn­ing to those who were unfaith­ful and dis­obe­di­ent. He lament­ed the destruc­tion of holy places, the sons of Rus­sia who had for­got­ten God’s com­mand­ments, and yet, heed­ing God’s words, said that the Church would not desert the strayed lambs but would tend them, seek them out, and return them to the ways of right­eous­ness. Cloth­ing his words in the spe­cial vocab­u­lary of the Church, Tikhon laid out the path he fol­lowed through­out the rest of his life both as patri­arch and as a man.14

At the end of the ser­mon, an enor­mous pro­ces­sion was formed of the cler­gy and peo­ple, and it wound its way around the Krem­lin. On all sides, the peo­ple knelt to receive the patri­ar­chal bless­ing. Dur­ing the entire cer­e­mo­ny, Bol­she­vik sol­ders had been guard­ing the Dor­mi­tion Cathe­dral and were attract­ing atten­tion by laugh­ing and smok­ing con­temp­tu­ous­ly. As the cler­gy came out of the church, the peo­ple sur­round­ing them formed a bar­ri­er between the cler­gy and the sol­diers. With the appear­ance of the cler­gy car­ry­ing icons and ban­ners, the laugh­ing grew more bois­ter­ous, but as the blue vel­vet man­tle of Nikon cov­er­ing the patriarch’s shoul­ders appeared through the crowd, all grew silent. Sud­den­ly one, then two, then all the sol­diers broke through the pro­tec­tive bar­ri­er of the faith­ful and threw them­selves at the feet of Tikhon, com­plete­ly block­ing his pas­sage. Only when the patri­arch had blessed them many times would they open the way for the pro­ces­sion and join in the slow-mov­ing line of peo­ple joy­ous­ly fol­low­ing the patri­arch.15

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