Reply of Metropolitan Philaret to I. Solzhenitsyn[1]


On behalf of the whole Council of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia I thank you for sharing your observations and thoughts with us. We feared for your life when you were arrested but the Lord heard our prayers; and you came out from the fiery furnace and now are able to speak to us. The members of the Council have listened most attentively to your letter, finding in it many profound and valuable thoughts.

It was of especial value to hear from you, just as from other writers who have recently arrived in the West, an affirmation of the basic rightness of our attitude to events in the Church in our homeland. These events have been reflected in our ecclesiastical life to a much greater degree than it may seem to you at the present time, without your having made a deep study of the history of Russian Orthodoxy abroad over the past fifty-four years.

Least of all do we desire to pass judgement on anyone but, being from the very flesh and blood of our people, our clergy had to make a decision whether to accept the path taken by Metropolitans Peter and Joseph[2] or that taken by Metropolitan Sergii. To follow the latter seemed to us to be not only especially absurd abroad—not only, practically speaking, basically erroneous—but also incompatible with our faith. Therefore those who preceded me at the head of the Church, the distinguished late hierarchs Metropolitans Antonii and Anastasii,[3] having gone deeply into the question and obeying their consciences, rose up against the policy adopted by Metropolitan Sergii, which, taken to its furthes’t point of development, has led to the present degree of degradation in the Moscow Patriarchate. After all, from us too, beginning in 1927, the Moscow Patriarchate repeatedly required our word of loyalty (here, abroad) to the Soviet government. You write with justice about the difficulty of explaining the path taken by the leadership of the dioceses of the Moscow jurisdiction in the West. And it was, after all, this very matter that constituted the subject of our dispute with Metropolitan Evlogii and his followers in 1927. Protopresbyter George Grabbe, incidentally, has said justly of your letter to the Council: ‘What A. I. Solzhenitsyn does not realize is just how much effort, from the twenties until the present day, we have put into proving to our brethren who have become separated from us, that the hierarchy of Metropolitan Sergii was not free and that the path taken by it was sinful and not in accordance with its aims. A. I. Solzhenitsyn writes in his letter with the brilliance peculiar to him. But the writings of Metropolitan Evlogii’s supporters about the “holy lie” when they were backing Metropolitan Sergii, have not yet come to his attention. At that time they sought to prove his correctness, while calling us “political intriguers”. Metropolitan Evlogii and others in America did their utmost to prevent the Church abroad from remaining united. Thus Metropolitan Evlogii signed a declaration of loyalty to the Soviet régime, which afterwards he inevitably broke. Dismissed and placed under the interdict by Metropolitan Sergii, he went over to the Greek Church.’

We can well understand that a Russian idealist such as yourself cannot help being overwhelmed at finding this division amongst Russian people in the West. We are all much grieved by this. Unfortunately, however, we have had against our will to accustom ourselves to it. Metropolitan Antonii bore this with particular heaviness; for were not Metropolitans Sergii and Evlogii in their time his favourite pupils? His successor, a man of a naturally peace-loving disposition, toiled hard, striving to unite all the Russian Orthodox abroad. The whole difference between us and those who separated themselves from us lay exactly in the fact that we desired a united Church abroad for the sake of the Russian people, but the others isolated themselves from us and explained away our desire as love of power.

To use your own words, it may be said that those who preceded me, as I too, considered that the best way in which Russians abroad could serve the Church was ‘to keep safe in Orthodoxy the treasure of unity, to unite all the Russian Orthodox abroad into one youthful, harmonious and unanimous Church’.

That is why we refused all offers to make our position easier by attaching ourselves to some other Church. We in freedom did not in any way wish to cut ourselves off from the cross of our suffering brethren in the homeland, and we had no desire whatsoever to deny our affiliation to the Church of Russia. On the other hand, the Western European Exarchate and the American Metropolia divorced themselves from it—the one going over to the Greek Church, the other declaring autocephaly, i.e. definitively breaking with the Russian Church. Already in their official appellation and in essence they can no longer be termed Russian. Only certain individual parishes still preserve to some extent a Russian character, and in America these are very few. But it can be said with certainty that if our Church did not exist, then there would be hardly anything Russian left in the West.

It was not very long ago that the American Church declared autocephaly. Once more we called it to unity but our call was not heeded. Nevertheless, amidst the continuing experience of this painful division, our Council has now again resolved to address to our brethren an appeal for a return to unity. With ardour and sincerity we desire this, and we are sure that with good will on their part it would be possible to find the way to reunion, just as it was found in America in 1936.

Of course indifference to Russia and often a total incomprehension of the sufferings of her Church alienate many people from us, but the bitterness to which you refer in your letter has (thank the Lord) not been apparent amongst our flock. We do not know of one case of refusal to give communion to a dying man. No one has ever prevented day-to-day contact between priests, at least not on our side, but when people themselves become estranged from the Russian Church, feeling that they have already become Americans, Frenchmen or Greeks, then much that can link us together is lost.

Your fear that we are counting on returning to Russia as some kind of judges or leaders can only be attributed to a misunderstanding or to incorrect information which someone has foisted upon you. Amongst us we know of no one with such thoughts. But if the liberation of Russia were to take place and we could be reunited with a restored and canonical Orthodox authority, then we would assume that we were a part of the Russian hierarchy. We simply have not considered how much weight we would carry in such an event. The flock abroad is numerically a drop in the ocean when compared with the whole of the Russian people.

You have broached the question of the Catacomb Church. Our informants have presented us with convincing data that there are at this present time churchmen who do not submit to the Patriarchate. A man who is close to us has heard from a very well-informed figure in Russia, who is not sympathetic to us, of the existence of such bishops. Perhaps you do not know this because they decided not to establish contact with you, as long as you were too much at the centre of attention and under constant observation. In any case there can only be very small numbers of them. But, knowing how difficult it is to resist the organized violence of the Communists, we welcome with all our hearts for the sake of Christ any manifestation of religious independence from this yoke of Satan, and we receive all believers coming out of Russia with love.

Your appeal for the repentance of the whole people is near to our hearts. But it seems to us that you put too much stress on the persecution of the Old Believers. The old rite was already permitted by the ukazy of 1798 and 1881 on the edinoverie.[4] The Old Believers have themselves become fragmented into numerous sects, not agreed among themselves, often losing almost all signs whatsoever of Orthodoxy. The heinous deeds of the Revolution, as described in your books, are incommensurate even with the greatest persecutions mounted in the 17th and 18th centuries. On the other hand, the Holy Gospels cite the words of our Lord Jesus Christ: ‘By their fruits you shall know them’ and ‘Every tree is known by its own fruit’. This is the eternal law of the spiritual life. The Russian Orthodox (‘New Believers’) Church has at all periods in its life—and at the separation from it of the Old Believers—given to the world a multitude of great prelates and workers of spiritual feats. But the Old Believers have not produced them, since the sectarian pride, which helped them to keep intact the church way of life, has hindered the development among them of real sanctity.

Is it known to you that both the All-Russian Council[5] and the first All-Emigration Council[6] treated the Old Believers with love? But essentially we share with you the feeling of the oppression of our national historical sins, which cumulatively have been catastrophic for the people. Fr George Grabbe has reminded us of the appeal to repentance of his great-grandfather, A. S. Khomiakov:

Do not say ‘That is in the past,

That is from old times, that is the sin of the fathers;

And our young people

Do not know of these old sins.’

When discussing how we could help our fellow-countrymen in Russia, we did not think of this in terms of leadership, but on a much more modest level than apparently you presumed. As the Council conceives it, what we can do is to bear witness in the West to the persecution of the faith in Russia and to send there the Word of God and religious publications. We have been encouraged by the response with which, up till now, they have welcomed what we have sent.

In conclusion I would like to thank you once more for your letter, for your openness and Christian spirit, on which we all set a high value. We know how precious your time is, the time that you have set aside to continue the sacred work you have begun of unmasking the crimes of the régime of Antichrist. Therefore we would be grateful to you if you would include in the plans for your work the task of acquainting the Russian people and the Western world with the heroic deeds of our many martyrs and confessors for the Faith. The deeds and the blood of the martyrs are an indestructible and terrifying force.

On behalf of the Council I call down on you and your family the blessing of God and I remain your diligent well-wisher,


10/23 September 1974

[1] Translated from the Russian by Andrew Phillips.

[2] Metropolitan Joseph of Petrograd was among the hierarchs who broke with Metropolitan Sergil in 1928, mainly as a result of the latter’s Declaration in the previous year. Joseph, who was shot by the Soviet authorities us 1938, is regarded as one of the leaders of the ‘Catacomb Church’ movement of the late 1920s and the 1930s.—Ed.

[3] Metropolitan Antonii of Kiev was head of the Russian Church Outside Russia (the ‘Synodal’ jurisdiction) from Its creation at the 1921 sobor in Sremski Karlovtsi until his death in 1936; Metropolitan Anastasii headed it during 1936–64, when he was succeeded by Metropolitan Filaret.—Ed.

[4] These ukazy on the edinoverie (united belief’) permitted Old Believer congregations to be received into communion with the official Church of Russia, while retaining their distinctive (pre-Nikonite) rites and ceremonies.—Ed.

[5] Moscow (1917–18).—Ed.

[6] Sremski Karlovtsi (1921).—Ed.