The True Orthodox Church

The True Orthodox Church is a canonic self-governed association of episcopacy, clergy and laity out of communication with Moscow Patriarchy by theological and church-canonical reasons. Canonical issues of the TOC existence, being treated differently by representatives of various trends, are beyond the scope of the present survey. Historically, the TOC, as it will be further demonstrated, have never been a single administrative structure and at present is represented by several trends, being to one or other extent spiritual and actual successor of the historical TOC. The goal of the present survey is to clarify which ones of these trends can be viewed as most close to the ideology of the historical TOC.

Historical Reference

The TOC appearance is connected with non-acceptance by a part of episcopacy, clergy and laity of Metr. Sergiy (Stragorodsky)’s declaration (“The Address to the Pastors and Flock”) of July 29, 1927, calling upon the loyalty toward the civil Communist authorities. The point was not that the TOC episcopacy took the stand of principle and uncompromising opposition to the authorities in general and the then authorities in part, but that hierarch disagreeing with Metr. Sergiy believed that, first, his concessions to the authorities were excessive and, second, they were at variance with him on a number of other canonical and theological issues. However, with his declaration Metr. Sergiy extended the argument from the canonical-dogmatic sphere to the political one. P.P. Ivanov wrote about the stand of one of the TOC members, Bishop Pavel (Kratirov), “Bish. Pavel also condemned the fatal consequences of Metropolitan Sergei’s statements, i.e. giving up to Bolsheviks those hierarchs who disagreed with him on the purely church-related issues, thus prophesying their own fate. ‘Assuring the civil authorities of his changing in views upon it and the feelings we mentioned above (Bishop Pavel is speaking there about the Declaration being unacceptable for Christian conscience), he [Metr. Sergiy] thus jeopardized all honest Church servitors who are loyal to the authorities but disapprove his church work… What is this if not a denunciation of and ill-concealed accusation of counter-revolution activity against those hierarch having differences with him on solely church grounds.’” (P. I. Ivanov, New Martyr of the Russian Church Prelate Pavel (Kratirov), Tan Publishers, Kazan, 1992, p.4).

Independent researchers also point to such TOC position. For instance, M. Shkarovsky wrote about TOC biggest branch headed by Metr. Joseph (Petrovykh), “The overwhelming majority of the Josephites primarily tried to observe all Soviet laws. Thus, November 20, 1928 commissioner of the Tikhvin Church Twenty A. V. Sakulina handed in an application to the registration office of the Volodarsky District Council, ‘We have to inform you that the believers… from November 1 of this year officially joined and consolidated in prayer communication with Metr. Joseph in the person of Bish. Dimitry, thus renouncing the dictated to us church authority of Metr. Sergiy. [We] have registered four clergymen, with timely notifying you on this. We request to preserve the number of the Twenty as it was in practice heretofore, to avoid probable slyness on the part of Metr. Serafim (Chichagov).’ (Central State Archive, St. Petersburg, f. 7383, op.1, d.25. l.31).” (Josephitism: a Trend in the Russian Orthodox Church, the Memorial Scientific-cum-Information Center, St. Petersburg, 1999, pp. 22-23). In his introduction to the aforementioned book he also points out, “The goal of the present paper is studying the Josephite movement, an attempt by a part of clergy and laity to find an independent (alternative to both Sergian and catacomb) way of development in the form of legal or half-legal opposition to the Soviet state in the situation of totalitarianism being firmly established… The Josephites chose the way of legal opposition, and their further fate was tragic…” (ibidem, 1999, pp. 3-4).

It is worth mention that a considerable part of the Church in Russia also took the TOC stand at that time. In M. V. Shkarovsky’s view, “primarily around forty archbishops turned down administrative subordination to the Acting Deputy Patriarch,” (ibidem, p.3).  By the evidence of Academician Dmitry Likhachiov, “The Solovki clergy was divided into ‘Sergians’ and ‘Josephites,’ supporting Metropolitan Joseph who didn’t recognize the Declaration. Josephites were an overwhelming majority. All young believers were also with the Josephites.” (“From the Newest History of the Russian Church” // Pravoslavnaya Rus’ [The Orthodox Rus’], 1995, No. 14, p. 7). L. Regelson points out “mass returns of the ‘declaration’ to Metr. Sergiy by Orthodox parishes as a sign of their protest. In some eparchies (in the Urals) 90% parishes sent the ‘declaration’ back” (L. Regelson, The Tragedy of the Russian Church, IMKA Press, Paris, 1977, pp. 136, 434). The evidences of Metr. Sergiy’s supporters are also important: “Many of the pastors, proving themselves sound champions of the purity of the Orthodoxy in the years of the fight against Renovation, now opposed Metr. Sergiy.” They have viewed his policies as “direct distortion of the purity of the Orthodoxy and enslavement of the Church by the state (Metropolitan Ioann (Snychev), “The Dissents,” Khristianskoye chteniye [Christian reading], 1991, No. 6, p. 19); “The best pastors have broken away, those standing high above all others in their fight against Renovation,” (Bishop Manuil (Lebedev) in his April 29, 1928, sermon at the St. Petersburg St. Trinity Cathedral; cited by Metropolitan Ioann Snychev, Church Dissents in the Russian Church in 1920s-1930s, Sortavala, 1993).

Thus, we can see that the TOC did not adhere to the stand of averting the authorities in principle and was prepared to reasonably consider its interests. The TOC didn’t intend to be involved into any political relations with the authorities, as well as unambiguously support its opponents. The TOC tried to observe the secular, though obviously unjust, legislation. However, the authorities had already taken their stand in the purely church dispute: its repressive bodies were used to bring the bishops to obedience to Metr. Sergiy. Recall Bishop Pavel (Kratirov)’s case: (In late July – early August 1928 Archbishop Pavel served in the churches of the Izium District. After a complaint from Sergian Bishop Konstantin (Dyakov) he was summoned to the local OGPU department. Later the Kharkiv OGPU demanded that he ceased offering up prayers for Acting Deputy Patriarch Metr. Pitr (Poliansky). After his denial the administrative bodies banned him from long travels and further incorporating parishes.” (M. V. Shkarovsky, the aforementioned opus, p. 101).

Keeping up with its policies of religious prosecutions in USSR, the authorities forced the TOC to resort to illegal position. On account of these reasons, the TOC have never been a single organization, representing an aggregation of self-governed eparchies, parishes, deaneries, and Metropolitan districts, united with a single theological and canonical position. In spite of the repression, TOC communities have existed during the whole Soviet period. In the 1970s-80s many of them have lost their last bishops, with some forced to exist and celebrate cervices according to a special rite in the (more or less prolonged) absence of a priest.

The TOC under the Present Conditions

After the change in the political conditions in the country in late 1980s, the TOC started leaving the underground. Various TOC trends solved the question of their further existence in different ways. Some of the communities joined the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, which had opened its communities in Russia’s territory; others renewed their episcopacy and clergy, making agreements with other jurisdictions.

The TOC trend now headed by Archbishop Vyacheslav (Lisovy) renewed the continuity with the help from the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (with no subordination relationship involved).

Along with this trend, there exist a number of others also calling themselves TOC.

One of them is the True Orthodox Church Interregional Spiritual Administration (headed by Archbishop Lazar (Vasilyev) of Moscow and Kashira and registered by the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation in May 1991). Its leader is former Moscow Patriarchy priest Konstantin Vasilyev from the town of Kashira (Moscow oblast) who proclaimed himself Archbishop Lazar of Moscow and Kashira. Being married with three children, he obtained bishop dignity from Archbishop Ioann (Bodnarchuk). Other TOC trends didn’t recognize this agglomeration claiming for TOC leadership. Lazar of Kashira started assuming more and more sumptuous titles, with proclaiming himself the Tsar and Patriarch in September-October 1993, anathematizing all those not recognizing his authority. Calling himself “court officer of the Last Judgment,” he was sending “death sentences” to people he was unpleased with by some or other reasons. Remarrying to a woman belonging to the so-called Great White Brotherhood, he adorned her with a title of Empress. At present, Lazar has proclaimed himself “the Afflatus Lamb,” i.e. Christ coming to the Earth in accordance with the Apocalypse prophesies. One can state that the dogma professed by this trend has nothing in common with the historical TOC one.

Another trend is the structure headed by Archbishop Amvrosy (Sivers; by some data, his previous name was Smirnov) of Goth and bearing the name, The Catacomb Church of True Orthodox Christians. It is worth notice that the historical TOC and TOCh have considerable differences in their ideology. The TOCh adhered to the stand of final loss of the clergy by the Church on the threshold of the last times. Thus, the name of the structure itself is ambiguous: it’s either TOCh or episcopacy. At that, representatives of this structure treat TOCh and TOC as synonyms.

From the viewpoint of the TOCh ideology, its leader Archbishop Amvrosy’s statements are rather characteristic. The following quotations were taken from the TOCh official web site at :

On the sacrament of marriage: “A Christian can have only one wife. However, he can, and now even should, have a number of concubines, to increase the impoverished Christian kind. However, the concubines’ inclusiveness cannot be arbitrary, but should be, first, directly agreed upon with the wife and, second, confirmed by the Church, so that the posterity of such union not be bastards.”

On German fascism: Question (from Voronezh-based TOCh communities): “Your Eminence, What is your view on the afterlife of Fuhrer Adolph Hitler’s true brothers-in-arms who professed identical Christianity, in part, the 88 warriors?” Archbishop Amvrosy’s answer; “I hope for their good afterlife fate.” Q.: “What does mystic and pagan Hitler have to do with the Orthodoxy?” A.: “Fuhrer A. Hitler is immediately connected with the Orthodoxy as the promised Leader-Liberator, similar to the ancient King Cyrus of Media or Alexander the Great. Any paganism as well as occultism is out of question. Mein Kampf, along with a number of Hitler’s articles and addresses and the 1920 NSDAP program are graphic evidences of his Christian mentality.”

On the national question: Q.: “what do you think, why liberal Christians are attracted by Judaism? The Jewish question is an indicator of liberalism of a kind.” A.: “In my view, such inclination for the kikes origins from the anti-Biblical system of notions based on humanism, the Talmud, and distorted exegetics. They consider the self-proclaimed Jews historical Israel, ‘twice Peculiar,’ etc., completely denying the fact that the Christian people are the new Israel, with ancient Jews being Nordic people instead of degenerative kikes), and misunderstanding the damnation on Jews.”

One can come to a conclusion that the TOCh’s stand toward the TOC is of a pronounced provocative character and discredits the trend as a whole.

Emphatically denying state registration, Archbishop Amvrosy carries out active informative-dogmatic and ideological activities through the Internet and the Russkoye pravoslaviye [Russian Orthodoxy] magazine published by him (The subscription to Russkoye pravoslaviye and its supplements can be obtained at the address, Russia, 191014, St. Petersburg, box 8. Fresh issues are also sold at the newsstand of the Russky vestnik [Russian courier] Publishers in Chernigovsky Alley at the premises of V. Klykov’s Slavic Foundation).

The history of consecrating Archbishop Amvrosy arises serious doubts. The TOCh is actively operating in Moscow’s territory.

Another trend is the “clandestine bishops” group headed by Aleksandr Sergeyev-Zarnadze (a.k.a. Mikhalchenkov). This group consists of the priests defrocked by the Russian True Orthodox Church. Being isolated, they proclaimed themselves clandestine bishops and operate in Moscow under the aegis of the Russian Orthodox Brotherhood Centralized Religious Organization (which, however, doesn’t prevent them from calling themselves “a TOC branch”) and various charitable foundations. The range of their “dogma findings” includes also active ingratiating themselves with A. Barkashov’s Russian National Unity along with negotiations with the Greek Catholic Church in Lviv. However, having not numerous supporters, the group is carrying out active commercial activities, which seems to be their major goal.

The True Orthodox Church headed by Archbishop Vyacheslav (Lisovy) essentially differs from the trends described above. It was formed in January 2000 as an independent structure by Orthodox priests and believers on the basis of the Russian True Orthodox Church in connection with giving up the canonical law norms by some former RTOC pastors and hierarchs (translating service into Russian and its considerable shortening, canceling the obligatory monasticism for the bishops, etc.) and discrediting the trend in general. In their turn, TOC representatives under the jurisdiction of Archbishop Vyacheslav (Lisovy) proclaim their intent to live in entire and invariable obedience to the rules and laws of the Orthodox Church.

According to this Church’s documents, the basics of its dogma are the Holy Script (the Synodal text of the Old and New Testaments – the Bible, the Apocrypha may also be read for spiritual illumination), Holy Tradition, the Decrees and Canons of the First Seven Ecumenical Councils, the Decrees and Canons of the Regional Councils which were accepted by the First Seven Ecumenical Councils, and the Canons of the Church Fathers as accepted by the First Seven Ecumenical Councils.

The Church treats with understanding the parishioners’ concern of their physical health. The Church doesn’t put any limits for using by its members any medicines and medical manipulations recognized by the official medical science. The Church uses in its divine service practices the historically adopted fasts (restrictions in animal food), which in no way affect the believers’ health. On special occasions the Church allows releasing the diseased and handicapped from fasts. Fasts are also not admitted for children under seven. This Church also calls upon its followers to piously preserve the sacrament of marriage and family.

Thus, one can draw a conclusion that this group professes the “classical” canonical Orthodoxy.

In its practical activities this group calls upon its followers to undeviatingly observe their civil duties and the current Russia’s legislation, by no means restricting the believers’ civil rights. The only exception is impossibility for the priests and clergymen (subdeacons, deacons, priests, and bishops) to swear military oath and bear arms.

This trend takes a constructive stand toward the current Russian authorities. Thus, it renounced from characterizing it as “impious” and bringing “bitter tortures,” which, in the view of this TOC branch, applied to the Bolshevik power (whose official ideology was atheism) and not to the present authorities.

The TOC under the jurisdiction of Archbishop Vyacheslav (Lisovy) is now going through the procedure of state registration of three parishes (parish of the Icon of the Holy Mother of God the Healer, St. Sergiy of Radonezh, and Sts. Kirik and Iulitta, all three Moscow-based).

Among all examples under discussion, this one represents the dogma and practice of the historical TOC most authentically. The existence of state registration will help this structure to react in a more adequate manner to the activities of various destructive trends claiming, often groundlessly, for the connection with the historical TOC.

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