St. Tikhon, the Russian Council of 1917-18, and the Metropolia

The video takes a few minutes to get going, but here is a roughly 80-minute history of the Russian council of 1917-18, bracketed by history of the Russian Metropolia, entitled True Faith and the Ground of Liberty (subtitled St. Tikhon and the 1917-1918 Council: Architect and Blueprint for the Orthodox Church in America), delivered by OCA chancellor Fr. Alexander Garklavs. It was delivered on June 18 at the recent conference held at St. Vladimir’s Seminary (the same conference which featured our own Matthew Namee).

The first fifteen minutes or so are the conference’s opening talk by seminary dean Fr. John Behr and the introduction of Garklavs by seminary chancellor Fr. Chad Hatfield.

Toward the beginning, Garklavs does include some sidelong remarks indicating he agrees with the conventional depiction of a mono-jurisdictional Orthodox administration prior to 1921, but his narrative largely avoids this question. He does comment at one point when mentioning the Greeks under the Russians that there were also Greeks outside the Russian jurisdiction.

Regarding America, he mainly focuses on the life of St. Tikhon and his work in America, as well as the effect of the Russian council of 1917-1918 on the Russian Metropolia and, subsequently, the OCA (and Tikhon’s effect on it, based on his experience in America). The bulk of the talk is on the council itself, based on reading primary sources coming out of the council. The last fifteen minutes come back to America and cover mainly administrative history.

There’s nothing too controversial here, as the parts of this speech concerned with America revisit well-worn ground regarding one of the great heroes of Orthodox history in America. One controversial comment is his suggestion that Tikhon’s model for administration—independent bishops whose jurisdiction is based on ethnicity rather than geography, but sitting together in synod—might represent a best hope for Orthodox unity in America.

It is probably not terribly controversial when Garklavs hails the 1917-18 Russian council as a proper “blueprint” for the OCA. What is more debatable, of course, is whether the blueprint was followed in the construction. Despite this conventional take on the council, I do recall one of my seminary professors (a cleric of the Moscow Patriarchate), who seemed to believe that the council was largely a failure and that the Bolshevik Revolution was God’s final judgment on such a colossal apostasy. That, I think, is somewhat of a minority view, at least here in America. I’d be interested to read what modern Russian Orthodox have to say about the council. To be sure, its effects are not felt there hardly at all (probably at least partly because of the later association of anything “progressive” with the Soviet-sponsored “Living Church” movement). I imagine American Orthodox talk about it quite a lot more.

Hat tip to Byzantine, TX.

3 Replies to “St. Tikhon, the Russian Council of 1917-18, and the Metropolia”

  1. A hat tip is always appreciated – thanks.

    I’m still plowing through these videos. Some have proved quite enlightening while others are rather good as historical bookmarks to the thinking of the day. I wonder how much history will play into the future face of Orthodoxy in America. Will scholarly debate prove more influential, will old resentments, or will it be something else entirely that “resolves” this convoluted organizational state.

  2. As a history lover, I of course hope that a consciousness of history will play a big role in our future. (History itself always plays a role. The key thing is to be conscious of it.)

    These videos are a fine resource, I think, for the same reason that this website purposes: to bring the history of Orthodoxy in the New World to people who might otherwise not have access to the sources.

    I have, for instance, a number of out of print and hard to find books in my library that I’ve used as sources for writing that folks without access to seminary (or similar) libraries can never hope to get hold of, at least not without serious investment. I’m hoping that we can begin to affect that situation for the better by means of putting more and more onto the web.

  3. Before my own talk at the SVS conference, one of the webcast viewers asked a question about why we spend so much time talking about the past. In response, I quoted Robin Collingwood, the great British historian-philosopher (and, I have now learned, uncle of Met. Kallistos Ware). Here’s what Collingwood said:

    “History is for human self-knowledge … the only clue to what man can do is what man has done. The value of history, then, is that it teaches us what man has done and thus what man is.”

    I don’t think history is going to give us all the answers to lead us into the future. But history CAN tell us about who we are, and knowing who we are is essential to moving forward as a Church

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