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In Memoriam: Metropolitan Laurus: on the Holiness of Metropolitan Kyrill of Kazan and the Healing of the Russian Church of Extremism

Russian history is all about morality triumphing over difficulties, temptations, dangers and enemies. That is how it always has been and how it always will be.

Ivan Ilyin


The truth is always persecuted, slandered, hated or ignored, that is, killed by indifference. Our Lord Himself warned His disciples that this would be so. ‘If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you’ (Jn 15, 20). ‘Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake’ (Matt. 24, 9). Naturally, we have abundant evidence of this in recent and present times, as well as in the past.

In 2007 there took place the momentous and historic re-establishment of eucharistic communion between the two parts of the Russian Church. They had been divided by the forces of spiritual impurity, worldliness, following the persecution of the 1920s and the compromises of Metropolitan Sergius (Stragorodsky) who had usurped power in Moscow with Communist backing. The re-establishment of canonical communion had been unthinkable only seven years previously. Why did it take place?

What brought it about were the unambiguous statements of the hierarchs of the Moscow Patriarchate at its Jubilee Council of August 2000. Then they rejected Sergianism, Ecumenism (in the generally accepted sense of the word) and accepted the glorification by ROCOR (Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia) of the New Martyrs and Confessors. These acts were in fact the rejection of former positions, the rejection of extremism forced on the Church inside Russia by persecution. Having verified that these new policies were being put into practice, the re-establishment of canonical communion became merely a matter of time - not of ‘if’, but of ‘when’.


This Jubilee Council marked the departure of the Patriarchate from the position adopted by the Declaration of Metropolitan Sergius in 1927. Essentially, that Declaration had been a compromise by the Church administration with the Soviet atheist State, showing an erastianism and servility of extraordinary proportions. It implied that the triumphs of militant atheism were the triumphs of the Church. For a long time senior individuals within the Soviet Union had lied in order to justify Metropolitan Sergius’ compromise and been forced to put that lie into practice. The shift in 2000 was to take the compromises of Metropolitan Sergius out of the spiritual centre and put them back to where they belonged – on the political left. This ‘revealed the Renovationist nature of Sergianism’ (1).

Renovationism was a form of modernism, or apostasy from the Orthodox Faith and Tradition that had begun mainly in St Petersburg before the Revolution. It had been promoted by pro-Revolutionary left-wing groups and was espoused by gnostic philosophers and aristocrats. It was actively encouraged inside Russia in the 1920s by both the Communist Party and the Patriarchate of Constantinople. However, the abandonment of the renovationist positions of Metropolitan Sergius in the Year 2000 left the remaining renovationists in Moscow and abroad, notably those who for decades controlled the Sourozh Diocese in Great Britain, high and dry, despite their efforts.

For it should not at all be imagined that Renovationism existed only inside Russia, its scars affected the life of the Moscow Patriarchate in the Diaspora very deeply. This was despite the fact that most of the renovationists, semi-Orthodox aristocrats and intellectuals in Paris and elsewhere, had left the Russian Church for the Patriarchate of Constantinople some three generations before, in search of a westernised Orthodoxy with its personality cults of dubious intellectuals. After 1945 the Paris renovationists exported their ideology to Great Britain and North America, where they are still very active. In this way Moscow renovationists in Great Britain at least found the ground taken from under them and were faced with the opportunity of repenting and following the disciplines of the Church or otherwise rebelling and leaving for isolation.

Sadly, but exactly as predicted, the largely Anglicanized renovationist group decided to rebel and leave the Russian Church – all the while, incredibly enough, claiming to be ‘Russian Orthodox’. Thus, 25 years after being cast out, slandered and exiled to our Siberia, we faithful Russian Orthodox were charged with translating into English the documents from His Holiness in Moscow re-establishing Orthodoxy in the Sourozh Diocese. We were able to re-enter the Ennismore Gardens Cathedral of the Sourozh Diocese in London and find our rightful place there once more. In a historic concelebration, we were able to proclaim long-awaited Russian Church unity in the British Isles, in a Church now free of alien influences, our generation-long confession of the Faith vindicated.


Of course, it is true that the renovationist Declaration of Metropolitan Sergius of 1927 had also provoked sectarian reactions at the other extreme inside Russia. These included extremists, self-proclaimed ‘traditionalists’ and westernised moralists, who fell into Donatism. Among them were those who falsely proclaimed that they were only following the holy Metropolitan Joseph of St Petersburg, martyred for Orthodoxy in 1940 (2), who had strongly opposed the compromises of Metropolitan Sergius. This was not the case.

They used the good name of Metropolitan Joseph as an excuse and justification for extremism. As a reaction to the servile attitudes of Metropolitan Sergius, some of these right-wing ideologues were actually willing to see a Crusade of the West against Russia, as preached by the Pope (3). These were those who considered Sergianism a ‘heresy’ and stated that the Moscow Patriarchate had no grace, welcoming Hitler’s 1941 invasion as a deliverance and even fighting alongside Hitler’s Orthodox-hating and Slav-hating forces. This was a tragic error.

So great had their hatred been that they found themselves hating their own, unable to allow for the miracle of repentance, like the elder son, who was unable to forgive his prodigal brother. They did not understand, as the last Rector of the Optina Monastery had predicted after the Revolution, that Communism would not fall through military intervention, but by itself, through its own economic and moral bankruptcy (4). Thus, they accused other Orthodox, including those who, willingly or unwillingly, followed Metropolitan Sergius, of having no grace. This was devilish pride, a form of self-flattery and sectarian exclusivism. For in denying others grace, they were in fact granting themselves all grace, setting themselves up as the judgement of God.


However, there were those who stood in the middle ground, following the royal path, veering neither towards the administrative Renovationism of Metropolitan Sergius, nor towards sectarian Phariseeism, which asserted that all other Russian Orthodox had ‘lost grace’. Adopting the position of the ever-memorable Patriarch Tikhon, those in the middle ground followed the spiritual lead of the holy figure of Metropolitan Kyrill of Kazan, the holy Patriarch Tikhon’s first deputy.

Born in 1863, Metropolitan Kyrill was a widowed priest who had gained immense experience as a missionary both among former Nestorians in Persia and then in Russia, working against sectarian movements in Tambov. He was also the hierarch who had presided over the funeral of St John of Kronstadt, the centenary of whose repose we celebrate in 2008. Having lived for 37 years in the nineteenth century, he lived for 37 in the twentieth century. Of the twenty years he lived under the Bolsheviks, seventeen were spent in camps, prisons and exile and he was martyred in November 1937.

Metropolitan Kyrill was an outstanding practical pastor and also spiritual figure. He was one of those who had the discernment to see between the strictness of akrivia and the dispensation of ekonomia. He saw that although Metropolitan Sergius was wrong and therefore communion with him should be avoided, the Metropolitan was not a heretic. His error was due to his personal sin and weakness, it was not a sin of the whole Church.


This perception came from the fact that Metropolitan Kyrill of Kazan was neither a bureaucratic administrator and academic theologian like Metropolitan Sergius, nor a zealous but simplistic and ill-educated ideologue like some of the extremists in the anti-Sergianist movement. He was a pastor and, at that, a holy pastor. Little wonder that Metropolitan Kyrill was recognised by those in freedom as the true head of the Russian Orthodox Church. Thus, of Metropolitan Sergius, Metropolitan Kyrill wrote:

‘I acknowledge it as a fulfilment of our archpastoral duty for those Archpastors and all who consider the establishment of the so-called ‘Provisional Patriarchal Synod’ (by Metropolitan Sergius) as wrong, to refrain from communion with Metropolitan Sergius and those Archpastors who are of one mind with him. By thus refraining, for my part, I am not in the least affirming or suspecting any lack of grace in the sacraments performed by Sergianists (may the Lord preserve us all from such thought), but I emphasise my unwillingness and refusal to partake of the sins of others’ (5). He considered that the talk of sacraments as being without grace was ‘zeal not according to knowledge’ (6).

A little later, in October 1929, Metropolitan Kyrill again wrote to Metropolitan Sergius on the subject of the latter’s extremist attitudes towards those who could not accept his unacceptable compromises with the atheist State: ‘How bitter it is, Vladyka, that you too, to an equal extent, reveal the loss of spiritual balance…the whole fullness of my abstention (from concelebration with you) concerns only you and the hierarchs who are of one mind with you. (7). For Metropolitan Kyrill, as for the whole of the free Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, Metropolitan Sergius was ‘a usurper of Church authority’ (8). In 1934, he wrote again: ‘The disorder in the Russian Orthodox Church I view not as concerning the teaching which She holds, but as concerning administration’ (9).


Over thirty years ago the ever-memorable Hieromonk Seraphim Rose summed up these events in Orthodox wise: ‘A correct ‘Orthodoxy’ deprived of the spirit of true Christianity – this is the meaning of Sergianism, and it cannot be fought by calling it a ‘heresy’, which it is not, nor by detailing its canonical irregularities, which are only incidental to something much more important’ (10)….‘Metropolitan Kyrill’s position…is nothing but the balanced ‘royal path’ of Orthodox moderation between the extremes of Renovationism and Sergianist legalism on the one hand, and a too-hasty accusation of Sergianist heresy or lack of grace on the other’ (11). Metropolitan Sergius’ error consisted in his ‘exceeding his powers’ (12).

It is in the figure of the true Churchman, Metropolitan Kyrill, martyred in 1937, that the Church finds its spiritual centre of balance again. Through him we clearly understand the aberrations of Metropolitan Sergius. The voice of the Church spoke through him and it was he, and not Metropolitan Sergius, who has since been glorified and canonised by the whole Russian Church (13). His voice is that of the New Martyrs and Confessors, the voice of unity, the voice of the Truth of God, the voice of the ‘spiritual sobriety of holiness’ (13). His was the voice of the spiritual purity of living Orthodoxy against the impurity of the renovationist legalism of Metropolitan Sergius and also against the impurity of the sectarianism of those who declared that his sacraments possessed no grace. For it is only holiness that heals and it is only through holiness that Orthodoxy has been fully restored within the Russian Church.

Today this should be particularly apparent to us in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, who mourn our Metropolitan Laurus, the Restorer of Church Unity in the spirit of the Holy Hieromartyr Kyrill of Kazan. For his lifelong struggle was also for the spiritual purity of the heritage of Holy Russia against extremism, against the dead letters of laws, against the abuse of canons in the interests of self-justification. This includes both the laws and canons of Renovationism, including the administrative Renovationism of Metropolitan Sergius, and the laws and canons of old calendarist ideologies which lead straight to the sectarianism of groups, which split away from the Church both inside Russia and outside Russia.

To His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus, the Restorer of Church Unity:
Eternal Memory!

Priest Andrew Phillips,
East Anglia

Sunday of St Gregory Palamas,
The Preacher of Grace,
10/23 March 2008


1) In the Name of the Truth and Dignity of the Church (NTDC), The Life and Works of the Holy Hieromartyr Kyrill of Kazan by A. V. Zhuravsky, Sretensky Monastery, Moscow 2004, p. 768.

2) Schismatics using Metropolitan Joseph’s good name as an excuse to justify their extremism, have considerably delayed his canonisation by the Church inside Russia. Although not at all excluded in the Church’s Report of 1995, that canonisation still has not taken place there, where there are small extremist groups who object to such things as tax code numbers and new passports and make of them some new heresy and are prepared to break away from the Church as a result. These still justify themselves using the holy Metropolitan Joseph as an excuse. ROCOR had no such inhibitions when it canonised him in 1981, because it did not fear any schisms as a result of his canonisation. (See NTDC, p. 790).

3) NTDC, pp. 786-87

4)The words of His Holiness Patriarch Alexis II himself in ‘Sobiratel Russkoi Tserkvi’, Moscow 2001, p.54

5)Russia’s Catacomb Saints (RCS), Lives of the New Martyrs by I. M. Andreyev, Platina 1982, p. 244

6)NTDC, p. 382

7)RCS, p. 248-49

8)RDS, p. 250

9)RCS, p. 253

10)RCS, p. 257

11)RCS, p. 257-58

12) NTDC, pp. 770 and 797-798

13) NTDC, p. 382

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