The Battle for History – Part VII

Author: Vladimir Karpets

Translator: Yulian Orlov

Zavtra no. 26 (919), 29 June 2011


Mikhail Zelenogorsky (Grinberg), a famous Israeli historian born and raised in the USSR, has recently published the second edition of his book The Life and Works of Archbishop Andrei (Prince Ukhtomsky) with the “Mosty kultury/ Gerashim” publishing house (Moscow-Jerusalem). The first, significantly less voluminous edition of this work was published in 1991. M. L. Grinberg describes himself as an “Orthodox Jew and historian of the Russian Old Believers.”

Orthodox asceticism and “force of personality” are two things that are difficult to put together. It is impossible to imagine the “force of personality” of Saint Sergius or Saint Serafim. But many Russian archpriests of the pre- and- post-revolutionary periods truly did wield “force of personality”, and one of the strongest of them was undoubtedly Father Andrei (Prince Ukhtomsky, 1873 – 1937). A direct descendant of Rurik [1], he distinguished himself among many other Church hierarchs through the “uncommon expression of his face/personality”: on the one hand, he was a partisan of the older clergy and union of the Synodal Church and the Old Believers, and on the other he was a political republican.

However, love for Church “antiquities” was a genetic trait of all the princes Ukhtomsky’s (Father Andrei’s brother, the academic Aleksei Alekseevich Ukhtomsky, was the elder of the Nikolsky Edinover Church in Saint-Petersburg). He didn’t come to the republican cause immediately, having been a convinced monarchist until the beginning of the ’90’s. Having visited the Sarov festivities, he wrote in July 1903 that “love for one’s Tsar and Divine anointed leader is an entirely fundamental, irreplaceable feeling of the Russian heart… Orthodox Rus is indivisible, just like the Tsar and the people; and the popular soul, the soul of the Russian people, is unthinkable without temperance and without love for God and Tsar.” In 1905, Archimandrite Andrei openly supported right-wing monarchist organisations. Sadly, there is not one word of this in the book.

M. Zelenogorsky pushes the reader to think that the reason for Father Andrei’s crossing over to the liberal camp was his desire to restore the Church to ancient, catholic [2] principles. This is not so. Father Andrei’s views began to “change” after his conflict with Grigori Rasputin. However, this was, of course, not the only factor. Here was a “princely frond” of many centuries, starting with Prince Andrei Kurbsky [3] and the “verkhovniki” [4] up to the Decembrists [5]. The Rurikovichi were initially higher than the Romanovs, but there were many of them, which led some of them to republicanism. But there was also the general sign of the times: a desire by part of the clergy (as is happening today) to move from the “people’s faith” to “biblical roots”, to “kerygma” [6].

Father Andrei himself also acknowledged this: “I have said that the Holy Scripture contains an entire, separate “Book of Judges” that describes the ideal republic. And when the ancient Jews wanted to have a king instead of those honourable judges, this summoned the wrath of God.” He went even further: he translated the word “liturgy” (common thing) as “republic”. But we are not dealing with the old rituals here, but with the ancient battle for the “kingdom” and the “priesthood”, under the auspices of which such views are closer to Nikonianism than to Old Orthodoxy. And when Father Andrei (in his post-revolutionary works of the ’20’s) calls Nikonianism “caesaro-papism”, he is in deep contradiction with himself: Nikonianism is “papo-caesarism”, “clericalism”. Another modern who has recently released another book (The Kingdom and the Clergy, Moscow 2011), the author Mikhail Babkin [7], beautifully describes this system in his work The Russian Clergy and the Downfall of the Monarchy in 1917 (Moscow, 2006). 

The legend of “Old Believer anti-monarchism” that is commonly evoked today (both with a “plus” and a “minus” appended to it) was actually created by the famous missionary and professor N. I. Subbotin in his work “The Raskol as a Tool of Parties Hostile to Russia” (1867) [8]. Nonetheless, as far back as 1863, the Belokrinits Metropolitan Cyril published a general missive in which the revolutionaries are called the “forerunners of the Antichrist” [9]. “Hereby I bequeath unto you prudence and reverence before your Tsar” – Father Cyril appeals. In the same vein we are confronted by the history of the tragic circumstances of the life of the “Februarist” Bishop Andrei after October 1917 as a struggle for the freedom of the Church from the government; in addition, the Soviet government appears to us as a direct continuation of the Russian Empire (sic!). However, as we know, the roots of the “tragedy of the Russian Church” lie in February, in the betrayal of the Synodal Oath of 1613, and not in the assumption that Soviet atheism is a continuation of “tsarist atheism” [10]. 

Sadly, we must also turn our attention to the far from perfect use which the author makes of the materials he publishes. For example, in his footnotes the author widely uses the comments of the famous historian A. V. Znatnov, while mentioning only his last name. Which comments are Znantov’s and which are the author’s is unclear to the reader. What is more, when publishing the later works of Father Andrei (“Ten Letters on the Old Rite”, the second notebook of “The History of my Old Faith”, fragments of the “Confession” from 1928) (1), the author does not point out their sources… As a result, the book does not explain the issues of Russian ecclesiastical history in the first half of the 20th century, but rather muddles them even more.

Footnotes: 

(1): It is exactly these works which, in general, contain the most controversial theses on the relation between Church and state, monarchy and republic, “Nikonianism” and “caesaro-papism”, etc.

Translator’s notes:

[1]: Rurik (9th century A.D.) was a Varangian warlord who gained control over a significant part of Eastern Europe. He would later lay the foundations of Kievan Rus and become the progenitor of the Rurikovichi, the royal dynasty that ended only in 1612 with the death of Vasily IV.

[2]: Catholic is meant here as “universal”, not in the sense of Roman Catholicism.

[3]: Prince Andrei Mikhailovich Kurbsky (1528 – 1583) was first a strong ally and later political opponent of Tsar Ivan IV (“The Terrible”). He defected to Poland-Lithuania and thus gained the (somewhat dubious) honour of becoming the first Russian political émigré. The prince is now best remembered for his polemic against his former lord, which has not yet seen translation into English.

[4]: The Supreme Privy Council (Верховный Тайный Совет) was founded in 1726 under empress Catherine I as an advisory body. The Council soon outgrew its jurisdiction and attempted to force a constitutional monarchy on Russia. However, the new empress (Anna I) disbanded it through force and had its members sent into internal exile.

[5]: The Decembrists (Декабристы) were a group of liberal officers who attempted to lead a palace coup against tsar Nicholas I in 1825 over a brief succession crisis. The movement counted many freemasons among its members and was of a liberal, rationalist orientation. However, the would-be insurrection was broken up through force, and its ringleaders were either executed or exiled to Siberia.

[6]: In Christianity, kerygma (“preaching”) is a broad concept that can be defined as the totality of Christ’s message, directed both at the individual believer and the world. It also sees use as a category to fit the Gospel’s “literary style” in. The first meaning is used here.

[7]: Mikhail Anatolevich Babkin (1967) is a historian of the Russian Church. Both books mentioned by Karpets have not yet appeared in English.

[8]: Nikolai Ivanovich Subbotin (1827 – 1905) was a professor of ecclesiastical history and journalist who was mainly known for his vitriolic opposition to the Russian Old Believers.

[9]: The Belokrinits hierarchy was formed in 1846 in Northern Bukovina in Ukraine with metropolitan Ambrosius, who departed from the Patriarchate of Constantinople and formed an Old Believer Church. This church later split into three separate jurisdictions.

[10]: The Synodal Oath of 1613 was sworn by the Orthodox Church to the (future) tsar Mikhail Fyodorovich Romanov and sanctioned his accession to the Russian throne. The document has since become a cornerstone of Russian monarchism. However, it has also attracted strong criticism because of the Church’s apparent subordination to the wishes and power of the tsar. Karpets also jests by stating that the roots of the Orthodox Church’s enslavement to the government lie in February; however, not in February 1917 (when many churchmen tried to create an “Orthodox Republic”), but in February 1613.

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