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.1The Vladimir Icon of the Virgin was brought to Russia from Constantinople no later than the second quarter of the twelfth century. In 1155, it was removed to the Suzdal lands from Kiev and, in 1161, placed in the Dormition Cathedral in Vladimir. In 1395, it was transferred to Moscow, to the Dormition Cathedral, and taken annually in four cross-processions. During the siege of 1812, the icon was transferred to Vladimir and Murom but returned when Napoleon retreated. From the earliest times, repeated and documented miracles have been caused by the presence of the icon, until it became the most holy object of all Russia and the icon most venerated by the people. The icon had been moved from its usual spot2Metropolitan Evlogy, Путь моей жизни (Paris, 1947), spoke of the extreme difficulty that the churchmen had moving the icon from the Dormition Cathedral to Christ the Saviour Cathedral. 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 Vladimir3Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev was chairman of the council before Tikhon was elected as president. On February 7, 1918, he was brutally abducted from the Monastery of the Caves in Kiev and murdered by a small band of assassins. celebrated a long and solemn liturgy before the icon. Then, by a prearranged choice, staretz4A staretz is a saintly monk who has achieved such spiritual growth that he is expressly able to teach others. Alexis (Soloviev) of Zosimov Monastery5Zosimov monastery was a brotherhood of the strictest rule whose members lived in solitude and under vows of silence. Alexis had been a member of the preconciliar committee. 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!“6Axios is the Greek word meaning “he is worthy.”
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.”7Related by Metropolitan Evlogy in Путь моей жизни.
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.8Polsky, Новые Mученики Россiйскiе [New Martyrs of Russia], 91 (translated by the writer).
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,9After the installation ceremony, telegrams poured in from across Russia, congratulating both the new patriarch and the council. Curtiss, The Russian Church and the Soviet State, 39. 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 kukol10The kukol is a white-rounded headdress worn by the patriarch. and mantle of Patriarch Nikon fitted Tikhon without alteration. The old patriarchal throne11All during the ceremony of enthronement, the patriarchal throne was next to the empty throne of the tsar. 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.12Whenever a bishop gives a sermon, he is handed his staff, which he holds during the actual speech.
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,13the most famous bell tower in Moscow. 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.
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.14Polsky, Новые Mученики Россiйскiе [New Martyrs of Russia], 92–93.
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.15Polsky, Ibid., 93.