9 October 2010, 14:13

Patriarch Tikhon

Patriarch Tikhon

On October 9th The Russian Orthodox Church commemorates one of its most admired Saints, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Tikhon who suffered from the  Bolsheviks for his undying faith in Our Lord Jesus Christ. P atriarch Tikhon, born Vasily Belavin, came into this world on January 19, 1865. His father was a priest.

On October 9th The Russian Orthodox Church commemorates one of its most admired Saints, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Tikhon who suffered from the  Bolsheviks for his undying faith in Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Patriarch Tikhon, born Vasily Belavin, came into this world on January 19, 1865. His father was a priest. His very looks bespoke the fact that he was loved by God: fair-haired, tall and friendly, he was everyone’s darling. When he was in a theological college, his fellow seminarists loved and respected his formidable scientific talent, heartfelt religiosity and his readiness to help people. They jokingly called him “our Archbishop” and when he moved on to a theological academy, they called him “our Patriarch”. Vasily’s father was quick to appreciate his son’s high calling. Once he had a dream which he related to his sons: “I’ve seen your late mother, she said I won’t last long and, pointing at you, she said this one was going to be a loser, the other one would die early and Vasily would be a great man…”

Graduating from the academy, Vasily decided to devote his life to God and take his monastic vows. Wherever he served as a priest, he was equally loved and respected by both the clergy and the churchgoers. His progress up the church hierarchy ladder was fast and at 33 Tikhon was already ordained as a Bishop becoming the country’s youngest Orthodox hierarch.  In 1898 they sent him to North America to run the Aleutian and Alaskan parishes. In just eight years of his service there Tikhon brought the number of local parishes up to 75 from the 15 they had been when he arrived, opened Orthodox churches and seminaries in a number of American cities and founded North America’s first Orthodox monastery in Pennsylvania. Thanks to his effort, thousands of Roman Catholic emigrants from Western Ukraine and people of other creeds embraced Orthodoxy. Tikhon also did much to have Orthodox services translated into English. Sometimes he conducted Divine services in Greek, Church Slavonic and English. Fully aware of the problems faced by the Orthodox faith in the United States and Canada, Tikhon was working hard to consolidate the New World Orthodox community and was the first to suggest that the American Parish be granted an independent status. “The North American Parish should become a branch of the Russian Orthodox Church in North America,” Tikhon wrote. “The thing is, the North American Parish not only brings together various ethnic groups, but also a plethora of Orthodox Churches which, differing as they are in their guiding principles, services and parish life, still fall in line with the mainstream Orthodox frame of mind.” Sixty years later, his dream finally came true and the American Orthodox Church was officially acknowledged as an independent branch of the Russian Orthodox Church…

In February 1917 a bourgeois revolution in Russia did away with autocratic rule. Tikhon was promoted to become Metropolitan of Moscow and Kolomna. Shortly after that a local council of the Russian Orthodox Church convened to make a groundbreaking decision to restore the patriarchy abolished 218 years before that by the reformist Emperor Peter the Great. Russia was going through a national tragedy with the Bolsheviks and their opponents fighting bloody battles in Moscow. The Bishops refused to just elect Russia’s new Patriarch and decided instead to rely fully on God’s will. They drew lots, and the choice fell on Metropolitan of Moscow and Kolomna Tikhon who became the first Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia in more than two centuries. This was an honorary but very challenging endeavor now that the Russian Orthodox Church was entering the most tragic period of its history. The Bolshevik government issued a decree separating the Church from the State and schools. Shortly after, they started closing down churches, monasteries and seminaries and purging the clergy. After Czar Nicholas II and his family were executed in Yekaterinburg, Patriarch Tikhon, in a written address to the Bolshevik leaders, openly accused them of trampling underfoot the Church, the Orthodox believers and Russia itself. The Patriarch was fast becoming a headache for Russia’s new Communist rulers and they didn’t take long to show their displeasure. After a spate of unsuccessful assassination attempts, Patriarch Tikhon was arrested and thrown behind bars. Only after an international uproar demanded an end to the Bolsheviks’ purge of the Church did they finally let the Patriarch walk free again.  Undaunted by his incarceration, Tikhon spent the rest of his life fighting to keep the Russian Orthodox Church standing tall. The stress was too high for his failing health, though, and on March 12, 1925, Patriarch Tikhon died… In 1989 he was canonized by a Council of Russian Orthodox Bishops in Moscow.

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