St. Tikhon of Moscow’s Recommendations for Church Reform

Submitted to the Holy Synod of the Church of Russia in 1905, 
in Preparation for the Great Council of Moscow
Eventually held in 1917-1918


English translation from the Russian by Alex Maximov,
with editing by Dr. David C. Ford 
St. Tikhon’s Seminary and Monastery Church
S. Canaan, PA


This translation is of the text as it appears in the Russian-American Messenger.



Opinions on the Issues Proposed for Discussion  at the Pomestni Council of the All-Russia Church 

(November 24, 1905)

On the issue of the division of the Russian Church into metropolitan provinces.

By the decision of the Holy Synod as of March 18-25, 1905, it was suggested that the office of the Patriarch be reinstated in Russia.  This would not only reflect the significance and grandeur of the Russian Church, but it would also move its governance closer to the order outlined in the Canons.

The desire to follow that order calls for another reform in our Church – its division into metropolitan provinces. As is known, we already have metropolitans at the present time – but they only differ from other bishops by titles and not by rights.  However, according to the canons the metropolitan is the “the head of the area,” and the bishops in each region must treat him as the head and do nothing that exceeds their authority without his consideration.  

Aside from canonical reasons, practical considerations speak for the division into metropolitan provinces. The Russian Church is too vast, and the highest Church authority is burdened with an abundance of matters many of which may be transferred to the provinces.  It is quite reasonable to agree with the thought expressed in the suggestion of Mr. Ober-Prokuror as of June 28, 1905, # 100, that “it is impossible to deny the existence of unique tasks in various territories of the Empire which require Church administration and which serve as a vital reason for the establishment of regional and  district self-governing bodies (as for example in the western region, in the eastern provinces, and in the Caucasus).”  

There are no valid reasons at the same time to fear that the division into metropolitan provinces would contradict the principle of state unity.  These provinces are only parts of one and the same Church, whose highest administrative body is located in the capital of the Empire.  In spite of some local peculiarities, the common Faith nevertheless remains in the provinces, and its unity already in itself is the solid moral cement that bonds the multinational population into a single family.

As far as the division itself of Russia into metropolitan provinces is concerned, it is of course unfeasible to base it upon one single principle – such as, for example, geography or ethnography.  In some cases it would be necessary and quite natural to use the first of these two as the basis for the division, and in other cases, the second, and in yet some other cases to take into consideration the prior history of the Orthodox nationalities that make up the Empire.  

In accordance with that, the division of Russia into the following metropolitan provinces might not seem unreasonable: 

  • Novgorod Province, which would include all the northern provinces with the exception of Petersburg, where the Archbishop of Petrograd, the Patriarch of all Russia, would reside; 
  • Vilno Province for the Western region (the former Uniate diocese); 
  • Kiev Province for the South-Eastern region;
  • Moscow Province for central Russia; 
  • Kazan Province for the eastern provinces and the Volga region; 
  • Tbilisi Province for the Caucasus (the Exarch of Georgia ought to be called Catholicos); 
  • Tomsk (or Tobolsk) Province for Western Siberia, along with the Turkestan region; and
  • Irkutsk Province for Eastern Siberia, where it might be possible to include the Chinese and the Japanese Orthodox Churches. 
  • And the North American Diocese should be reorganized into the Exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church in North America.  The fact is that its members include not only different nationalities but also different Orthodox Churches, each of which, within the unity of the Faith, has its own peculiarities in canonical structure, in liturgical order, and in parish life.  These peculiarities are dear to them and are quite tolerable from the common Orthodox point of view. 

Therefore, we do not believe we have the right to encroach upon the national character of the local Churches.  On the contrary, we are trying to preserve it in them, giving them an opportunity to be under the direct authority of a superior of their very own nationality.  Thus last year the Syrian Church here received her own bishop (the Most Reverend Raphael of Brooklyn), who is considered to be the second vicar to the bishop of the Aleutian Diocese, but is almost independent within his area – and the Most Reverend bishop of Alaska is in the same position.  The Serbian parishes now are subject directly to a special superior who still remains in the rank of archimandrite, but he might be elevated to the order of a bishop in the near future.  And the local Greeks would like to have their own bishop, regarding whom they are petitioning the Athens Synod. 

In one word, an entire exarchate of Orthodox national Churches might form in North America, with their own bishops headed by an Exarch – a Russian archbishop. Each one of them would be independent in his own area, but matters common for the entire American Church would be dealt with by way of sobor under the chairmanship of the Russian archbishop.  Through him the connection of the American Church to the All-Russia Church is preserved, along with a certain dependency on her. 

At the same time, one should not lose sight of the fact that life in the New World compared to the Old has its own peculiarities, which have to be taken into consideration by the local Church as well.  Therefore a greater degree of autonomy (autocephaly) should be granted to the American Church than to the other Russian metropolitan provinces. 

Within the structure of the proposed North American Exarchate, the following might be included:

  • The Archdiocese of New York, which would have all the Russian parishes in the United States and Canada under its authority; 
  • The Diocese of Alaska, which would include the churches of the Orthodox inhabitants of Alaska (Russians, Aleuts, Indians, Eskimos); 
  • The Diocese of Brooklyn (Syrian); 
  • The Diocese of Chicago (Serbian); and
  • The Greek diocese (?).

In order to resolve the issue of the division of Russia into metropolitan provinces, we do not consider it excessive to say that the bishops of prominent cities, although subject to the metropolitan, might bear the title of archbishop, especially those who have vicars.  Regarding these vicars, however, it is preferable that they be aides to the bishop and be independent in those cities and areas that they bear the title of and reside in in as many cases as possible.  In general, it is necessary to define the position of vicar bishops and give them more rights than they have presently.

Regarding the reform of the diocesan administration and court.

The diocesan administration also requires reform.  At the present time the main organ of this administration is the chancery, which draws many reproaches from the laypersons as well as from the clergy itself.  The Statutes of the chancery are outdated and are imbued with extreme formalism, which extinguishes the “spirit of life.”  There is a need in the revision of these Statutes that the chancery in its spirit be brought closer to the “council of elders” (presbyters) which existed under the bishops in ancient times.  It should not serve as a “divider” separating the bishop from the clergy along with the flock.  The Right Reverend Bishop of Volyn writes in his review,

“The fewer matters that the bishop refers to the chancery, the better it would be for the Church.  Thus, assignments to places of duty, transfer of clergy, and various decisions concerning liturgical matters must be dealt with outside of the chancery and be referred to it after such matters have been decided upon.  The bishop must use the existing administrative bodies as little as possible and must himself deal directly with those appealing to him.”


Rather, the chancery should deal with “household” and financial matters, as well as be a judicial body.  We do not find it necessary and agreeable with the canons of the Church to separate the Church court from the chancery, and making it into a separate organization, regarding which many wrote in the ’70s of the last century.  

But this does not mean that the chancery court is not at all in need of reforms.  On the contrary, they are necessary regarding its composition and in the scope of the judicial matters it is to deal with, and in the order of legal procedures.  The staff of the “court table” in the chancery, aside from a person appointed by the bishop, should include two clergymen, elected from the clergy at the diocesan convention.  

In regard to the electoral principle we have to deal with two extreme opinions.  Some are ready to see salvation from every kind of evil in the electoral principle, and so they promote it in places where there is no particular need for it.  And those who hold the second of these opinions reject the electoral principle as being completely defective, seeing in it an expression of “parliamentarianism,” the spirit of the republic. 

But in the true Church of Christ, where there should not be any possessiveness and  dominance of one group, with another group struggling in opposition, as we see so often in the world – and where, on the contrary, all should be seeking the common good, uniting in amicable, harmonious work, the electoral principle might be applied not without benefit in many areas.  Thus it can be allowed in the selection of spiritual judges, and in the selection of a dean (if he is regarded not only as an organ of the archpastoral power but also as the one who expresses and tends to the needs of the clergy and the churches of his area in front of the diocesan authorities – needs that a bishop cannot personally identify in many dioceses). 

As far as the issues for the chancery court are concerned, divorce cases should be excluded from it in favor of the civil court, while preserving for the Church the right to acknowledge or disagree with the decisions of the civil authorities in these cases, and to determine herself who might be allowed to enter into a second marriage after a divorce.  Clergy accused of disturbing the public peace and order, of insulting someone, of disorderly conduct, etc., must be tried by the civil court as well.  Often when the guilty one is tried for these types of offenses by the spiritual court, he becomes subject to punishment that is less severe than it would have been had he been tried in the civil court.  This in turn results in criticism, and the clergy itself becoming less disciplined.

Disapproval of the procedures of the chancery court is expressed as well.  They should be reformed also, according to the latest methods of legal proceedings.  In particular, improvements in conducting the so-called “investigations” of the clergy are much to be desired, since even if they end in an acquittal of the accused clergyman, they undermine his authority in the eyes of his parish.  Here, more rights should be given to the bishop to replace such investigations with a private probe. 

Speaking of reforms and improvements in the diocesan administration, one might also wish for changes and improvements in the way the diocesan councils of the clergy are organized.  They first appeared for the purpose of identifying the means to satisfy the material needs of the spiritual-educational, missionary, and charitable organizations in the diocese.  But should the clergy always “leave the word of God and serve the tables” (Acts 6:2)?  Why should their right to gather and have discussion about service to the Word of God – about issues of the spiritual life, of pastoral guidance, of missionary work, of the struggle against heresies, and so on – not be recognized?  Nowadays in some dioceses these matters are discussed at the “flock meetings.”

The scope of the work and the issues under the authority of the diocesan councils ought to be expanded everywhere by putting on their agenda all matters that concern all aspects of the church-parochial life: matters of faith, education, deaneries, and almsgiving.  And as far as material, financial, and “household” issues are concerned, for their discussion, the representatives of lay folk must be invited without fail, especially the parish presidents [starosta] and the members of the parish councils.  Indeed, the parishes pay all sorts of dues, and it is not surprising that the parish presidents do not want to pay the dues established by the [diocesan] council since nobody consulted them at the time the dues were imposed.  

With the participation of laymen in the diocesan councils, the councils themselves might be conducted in the manner of church conventions that are practiced in America – by Episcopalians, for example.  They have joint sessions of clergy and laymen, as well as private sessions of clergy only that concern purely spiritual matters.  This type of lay participation would bring into Church life a more pronounced “churchly” character, and would promote its rejuvenation.

Regarding improvements in the parish.

Along with the diocesan administration, the life of the parish needs improvement. It is undeniable that in many places in Russia the life of the parish is very stagnant.  The connection between the parish and the Church [as a whole] is weak.  In some parishes the people only turn to the church to satisfy immediate needs; they attend church only on feast days.  Educational and charitable institutions in places like that are absent; the voice of the priest is rarely heard, and few take it into account.  

Very much has been written about all of this recently.  Loud voices are heard regarding the revival of the life of the parish, and the rebirth of the ancient significance of the parish – regarding not only allowing the parochial community to take care of the material needs of the church building, helping the needy, and providing education, but also the very selection of the candidates for priesthood.  It is hard to object to the recognition of the parish as a legal entity which has the right to private property (this has not taken place yet and therefore it is necessary to make changes in our legislation in this respect, as well as on the issue of the acquisition of property by the churches, monasteries, and the clergy in general).  It is also hard to object to the parochial community, with its priest at the head along with the elected council members, being able itself to manage and be in charge of its administration.  Of course, none of this would be done without the knowledge and control of the diocesan authority.  

This is exactly how things are dealt with in most of the parishes of North America.  Here the churches constitute the property of the congregation (parish); and even where the deed is in the name of the bishop, they are maintained by the parish itself.  Usually there is an annual meeting of parishioners (rochny meeting), where the church uryad is elected – the parish administration (the parish president, treasurer, and parish council); at this meeting a report is presented on the income and expenses for the whole year.  In some parishes the report is done semi-annually, or even monthly.  The parish council has the responsibility to collect from the parishioners rochnoe (an annual contribution of five dollars or more), and to do collecta (collect donations).  The parish not only maintains the church building but also pays the salary of its priest and its diakouchitel (the amount varies in different places), according to a mutual agreement between the priest and the parishioners.  Also at the meeting, fees are agreed upon for ceremonial services.  All of this is recorded in statuti, which are approved by the bishop.    

If there is no parish house, then the parish rents an apartment (with furniture, light, and heat) for the priest, and accommodation for the school – and in some places for the reading hall.  There is a brotherhood in each parish (and in the populous parishes there are several brotherhoods).  The brotherhood always has a religious character – it selects some saint (or feast) as a protector (patron); from its income it makes contributions for the upkeep of the church, for the priest, for the school, for refurbishing and beautifying the temple.  Aside from that, it also pursues charitable goals – it gives zapomogi to its members in cases of sickness, injury, and unemployment.  And within the brotherhood there is sometimes a benevolent court for the members.  

In general the brotherhoods here are very popular.  Together with the “Orthodox Mutual Aid Society,” with which they unite, and which also by itself helps with the construction of churches and the education of the people, the brotherhoods contribute much to the enlivening of the church-parochial life.

But even here in America there is no election of priests, and thus far we consider it untimely to institute it.  This should be said about Russia even more so.  In itself, the principle of election of clergy is legal, its introduction is desirable, and it is necessary to strive to implement it.  But to set out to introduce it everywhere and right away would mean, according to the vivid expression of The Right Reverend Bishop of Volyn, “to offer a severely sick patient lardy, coarse food, which would be useful for a workman, but mortal for an ill person.”  In his notes, The Right Reverend Bishop reveals the disease of the contemporary parish community in detail, which renders it not ready to have the right to elect a worthy pastor.  Our spiritual schools [i.e., seminaries], which have almost monopolized the right to produce candidates for the priesthood, also present difficulties for the introduction of the elective principle.  Here we approach this issue.

On improving the theological-educational schools.

The foremost shortcoming of our theological schools is that they pursue two goals which in themselves are quite respectable, but in practice they do not always agree with each other.  The theological schools exist, firstly, for the purpose of educating the children of the clergy, and secondly, to prepare candidates for the priesthood.  But not only the children of clergy might become these candidates, but also from other social groups.  Meanwhile, people from other social groups, although they are accepted into the theological schools, it is in very limited numbers, which in effect restricts the flow of fresh forces from the lay folk into the clergy.  

On the other hand, not all children of the clergy wish to join the priestly rank, and they are forced to do so against their will, since there is almost no other option available for them upon graduation from the seminary.  And this is where the constant dissatisfaction, grumbling, and insurgencies of the seminarians start from.  Wishing to calm them with something, the faculty introduces various leniencies into the order of the seminary life, trying to bring a civil character to the seminaries, which causes direct damage to the achievement of their other goal – that of preparing candidates for the priesthood, servants of the Holy Church.  As a result, the ranks of clergy are joined not only by those who do not wish to do this but also by those who are most undesirable for this.  Who and what benefits from this order of things – or to say it better, disorder of things?

It seems that the most natural way out of this situation is that the diocese should have special theological schools (the issue is not how they are named; it is possible to preserve the old name of “seminary”) which would accept without distinction children of all social groups who have finished the courses of secondary educational establishments and who feel the inclination towards the spiritual rank.  The subjects taught at these schools would be theological, their mode of life would be strictly religious, and the passage from them would be to one thing – service to the Church.  The present theological schools may be converted into the secondary educational establishments of the Spiritual Authority, in which the clergy would bring up their children, but the curriculum of these schools must be general.  In this way, those who graduate from them could go, if they wish, to higher educational establishments, and those who feel a calling for spiritual service after graduating from them would enter a theological school.

This is the way candidates for priesthood are prepared not only in the non-Orthodox churches, but also in Austria by the Orthodox and the Uniates.  The question is, however, who would maintain these schools of the Spiritual Authority?  Using Church money?  But this money would go for the upkeep of the theological schools.  And the Church would hardly give money for the education of those who might not serve it in the future.  The government?  But it already supports the secondary educational establishments for all without exception, where children of clergy might enter as well. This means that there is no reason to maintain special schools for them.  And the clergy itself would hardly be able to support such special schools.

On the other hand, no matter how unsatisfactory the theological schools of our day are, nevertheless one might not want to challenge their existence.  Some of them have been in existence for over a hundred and fifty years, and they have produced a significant number of outstanding, prolific figures in all fields of religious, government, and public service.  Therefore, would it not be better and fairer to establish the schools proposed above at the existing seminaries?  

In other words, the curriculum of the general secondary school must be introduced at the theological schools and seminaries where the children of the clergy study, while at the same time preserving the character, the religious order of life that is native to the clergy since childhood.  The seminary would have theological courses (lasting three years) taken by those who wish, who have finished the secondary educational program at the seminary or at another civil educational establishment.  These courses would provide an educational program and training of a strictly religious character, one which is necessary for future pastors.  With this sort of arrangement of things, the question of financing the theological schools is naturally taken off the agenda. The Church and the government and the clergy would take part in it as before. We only have the following left to say.

On the issue of participation of the clergy in public organizations and other matters that might be discussed at the future All-Russia council.

Some are against the participation of the clergy in public institutions because pastors thereby join the stir of worldly events and the bustle of life which is contrary to their direct duties and the eternal principles of pastoral service.  To that, however, one might object that since a pastor is the guide of the conscience of a Christian, his spiritual life, and spiritual, purely Christian principles, must be reflected and implemented in the area of worldly affairs especially in a Christian state.  And who better than clergy can remind the public institutions about these principles?  And is this the time for the clergy to show inactivity and indifference when the government willingly is inviting elected persons into collaboration?  And is this the time to give up the influence of the Church over the government, when circumstances are turning in such a way that the Orthodox Faith is turning from the dominant one in the State to one that is only tolerable – and in some places even intolerable? It is only necessary that the spiritual participants in the public institutions think of themselves specifically as representatives of the Church, advancing Her views there and not their own, even if they might be humane and liberal.

As far as other issues are concerned which might be discussed at the council, there would be quite a few of them.  And it would be better for the representatives of the Church authorities to put them on the agenda themselves and discuss them than to be forced to do so by Mr. Rozanov and other followers of the “new way.” 

From among these other issues, in light of the decree on tolerance in faith, the issue of the relations of the Orthodox Church with the Old Believers and other confessions is highlighted in the recommendations of the Ober-Prokuror.  In accordance with this, a question might be raised regarding “unity of faith” (about a bishop who would be in charge of the common faith issues and who would take part in the sessions of the Holy Synod), and about the oaths of the Moscow Council of 1666 which until this day confuse some of those who adhere to the old rites.  

For the American mission it is necessary to receive a resolution of the issue of relations with the Anglicans and their hierarchy; and for all the churches abroad, the resolution of the issue of the calendar.  It is necessary also for the representatives of the various Orthodox churches living abroad to coordinate practical matters in liturgical and canonical areas so that other confessions see that we indeed have “one faith.”  For the Russian Church it is necessary to have a new Slavic translation of the liturgical books (the present one is out of date and is incorrect in many places) by which the demands of some to serve in the everyday Russian language might be forestalled.  It would not be excessive, it seems, to make certain changes in the liturgical services – for example, to shorten ektenias which are repeated often, and to read aloud some secret prayers. The fasts also could be discussed, as well as the issue of the relinquishment of one’s spiritual rank and the possibility of getting reinstated, etc.

Many of these issues are common to the entire Church.  Therefore, when these matters are discussed it is necessary to hear the voices of representatives of all the eastern and Slavic churches.  It is most desirable to invite them to the All-Russia Council (the rectors of the representation churches in Moscow could serve as the representatives).  And it is even more desirable, after the local Church council is held in Moscow, to have a council of all the Orthodox Churches.  A great need is felt to have it, and its summoning would bring unquestionable benefit for the [entire] Holy Orthodox Church.


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Filed under Orthodox Church in America 15th AAC, Preparing for the 15th All-American Council

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