Some historical figures, including in the history of the church, stand out from all others and are not matched by any other. The Holy Hierarch Tikhon (Vasily Belavin in the world), was remarkable in this regard. He was the Patriarch and Moscow and All Russia who led the Russian Orthodox Church at a time of great historical upheaval and remained in constant prayer for the people.
The would-be hierarch of the Russian church was born in 1865 in Klin Village in the Pskov Governorship. His father, Ivan Belavin, was a priest and raised his four sons in piety and as good members of the Church.
When Vasily turned nine, the family sent him to a religious school in the county capital Toropetsk. He then went on to study at the religious seminary in Pskov, where he was everybody's favourite among his peers and equally among the teachers. He was deeply respected not just for his academic achievement, but also for his honesty, sincerity, and readiness to help others. After graduation from the seminary, he continued his studies at the Religious Academy in Saint Petersburg. There, his peers called him jokingly Patriarch, and what then seemed only a nickname turned out to be prophetic.
Religious Academy in Saint Petersburg
At 23 years of age, Vasily returned to Pskov with a candidacy in theology and taught at the seminary for several years. Three years later, however, he took his monastic vows and was tonsured with the name Tikhon. Soon, he was ordained a hieromonk. As he progressed up the academic and hierarchical ladder, he served as rector of the Kazan Seminary from 1892, and afterwards as rector at the Kholmsk Seminary, now in South-eastern Poland, and was ordained to the rank of Archimandrite.
In 1897, he was ordained as Bishop of Lublin. In addition to his other duties, he also served as vicar of the Kholmsk and Warsaw Diocese. As he was leaving his seat in obedience to his superiors, the city's people of all faiths gathered to say goodbye to him at the station.
In the service of the Church, he moved on to ascetise in the United States and Alaska. From 1898, stayed nearly a decade in the remote territories of Alaska, setting up and strengthening parish life, overseeing the building of new churches and the establishment of schools and shelters for the needy and destitute. He also managed contacts with other churches and their members. Under Tikhon, the chair of the American diocese moved from San Francisco to New York, Where the metropolitan church of Saint Nicholas was built. For his immense role in the rise of the Orthodox faith in America, he was rightfully called an American Apostle.
Bishop Tikhon shortly before his arrival in America
By the time he ascended to the rank of archbishop in 1905, his flock had grown to 400,000 people of different ethnic backgrounds. He gave his blessing to the establishment of the first Orthodox monastery in the United States, and he facilitated the return of many Uniat Parishes to the fold of the Orthodox Church.
In 1907, he returned to Russia to serve as bishop of the Yaroslavl and Rostov diocese. Through his tireless work, numerous transformations were carried out. He was loved by his flock, and again, many were saddened to part with their beloved shepherd in 1914 to take the bishop's seat in the Diocese of Wilno and Lithuania.
At the start of World War I in 1914, the bishop was evacuated to Moscow. Throughout his short-term stay there, he oversaw the rescue of the Holy Relics from the occupied cities, visited hospitals, conducted services and gave blessings to the soldiers departing for the front line.
The revolutionary upheaval of 1917 descended upon Russia like an avalanche, destroying everything in its path. The Holy Synod had no choice but to accept the new government that came to power after the February Revolution. Despite this act of loyalty, the Synod was speedily dissolved.
That same year, elections of the members of the church hierarchy were introduced, and Bishop Tikhon was elected Archbishop of Moscow by a secret ballot. Later, he was raised to the rank of Metropolitan by a decision of the Synod. The local council of the church that gathered on the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos restored Patriarchy in the Russian church. Metropolitan Tikhon was chosen to become the new primate of the Church.
Left: Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow and All Russia at his enthronement in the Church of the Dormition in the Moscow Kremlin on 4 December 1917. Right: Patriarch Tikhon serving a Moleben at Nikolskiye Gates, 1918
He embraced his Patriarchy as a crown of thorns and the feat of confession of the faith. He took upon himself a great burden of responsibility - to assume spiritual leadership of a people now living without their monarch. From that moment on, his whole life became a daily feat and an act of courage. Amid the upheaval and lawlessness that had engulfed Russia, he stood in the way of the forces of evil and was keeping alive the faith. He served tirelessly in the churches of Moscow and other cities, walked numerous processions of the Cross and led the opposition to the sacrilege and mass pillage of Church relics. He condemned the brutality of the Godless rulers and the oppression of innocent people.
Inevitably, the chaos of these years produced an unprecedented famine. As a partial response, the government began the sale of Church possessions. The Patriarch blessed the people to hand over to the government any valuables that had no sacral or liturgical uses. However, the sale soon escalated into indiscriminate theft and pillaging, a campaign the Patriarch declared to be sacrilegious. Many people died as martyrs for resisting the looting of church property.
On his part, the Patriarch spared no effort to relieve the suffering of the famine victims. He wrote appeals to the emigration and the Christian communities in America and England. With his high moral authority and standing, he was able to mobilise substantial resources for famine relief. Donors from abroad sent their donations personally to the Patriarch. In helping the hungry, he did not forget about the plight of the clergy, whom the authorities had doomed to a hungry death by denying them food ration cards, as they were considered to be classless elements.
Nevertheless, the Patriarch himself was under constant surveillance with his movements and contacts severely restricted.
The early 1920s was a time of internal turmoil within the Church. With the Church Council losing all its influence and authority, the Patriarch became the face of leadership within the Church. The Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia was established in Serbia, and Belarus, Metropolitan Melhisedek declared the autonomy of the Belarusian Orthodox Church. All these moves aimed to preserve Orthodoxy in the face of the pressure of Renewal. The governing body of the Renewalist Church was established in May 1922.
Hierarch Tikhon (Belavin) amid the clergy and flock
The authorities could no longer tolerate an influential and trusted figure such as the Patriarch enjoying the trust of the people. After being forced to sign a resolution on his resignation, he was put under guard at Donskoy Monastery. Meanwhile, the first Renewalist Congress expelled him from his rank and monasticism. It also annulled his anathema against the Soviet authorities because he was now a former patriarch. This chain of events entered history as the Renewalist schism.
Patriarch Tikhon’s arrest by Philipp Moskvitin
After decades of his selfless service to the people, Patriarch Tikhon was facing absurd charges that carried the death penalty. In 1923, he was transferred to a jail for interrogation. At an immense risk to their lives, the people continued to flock to Donskoy Monastery in the hope of seeing their true shepherd at least from afar.
On 1 July 1923, the newspapers carried a statement by the former Patriarch Belavin in which he admitted to engaging in anti-Soviet activity, regretted his actions and asked for clemency. Less than a month later, he was released.
Some historians interpret this concession as the Soviet authorities' reaction to Lord Kerson's ultimatum, which threatened the USSR with complete severance of all relations unless it met several demands, including ending the persecution of the clergy. On his release, Patriarch Tikhon released an official statement announcing his return to the leadership of the Church, denouncing the Renewalist schism and the decisions of the last council. Again, the people flocked to their archbishop. Crowds of worshippers attended the services he conducted. Nobody believed in the reality of the Patriarch's admission of guilt, dismissing it as a paper for the Bolsheviks.
In 1924, the Patriarch survived an assassination attempt, which took the life of his cell attendant. His health condition, already poor, further deteriorated. In the meantime, secret police operatives began another case, this time of an alleged spy ring within the Church. Again, the Patriarch was subjected to interrogations.
He served his last liturgy on 23 March 1925, and departed to God several days later, at age 60. His remains were laid to rest on Palm Sunday. Many thousands attended. The liturgy began at 7 and lasted until the evening. According to one eyewitness, that was a day of public glorification of the Patriarch and his life - even though the papers wrote that nothing too noteworthy had happened.
Patriarch Tikhon’s interment. Thousands came to bid farewell to their Patriarch
The authenticity of the widely publicised will of the Patriarch that came out after his death and called on the faithful to obey Soviet rule “in full conscience, not out of fear”, is now questioned. Extensive facts and evidence have been produced to cast doubt over the authorship of the text.
In 1989, Tikhon, the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, was canonised in the rank of a holy hierarch. This opened the way to the canonisation of the synaxis of new martyrs and confessors of the 20th century who suffered in the years of the persecution of the Church by the Soviets.
The relics of Patriarch Tikhon at Moscow’s Donskoy Monastery
Commemoration: 22 February (9 February old style): finding of the relics in 1992, 7 April (25 March): repose in 1925: 9 October (26 September): glorification in 1989 18 (5) November: election to the Patriarchal throne in 1917, Synaxis of Saints Hierarch of Moscow, Synaxis of the Saints of Saint Petersburg, Synaxis of the saints of Rostov and Yaroslavl, and Synaxis of the New Martyrs and Confessors of the Russian Church.
If you have prayer requests for the health of your family, we invite you to submit them for inclusion in a prayer service to St. Tikhon. Follow the link to share your intentions: https://obitel-minsk.org/prayer-request.
Prepared by Yulia Goiko