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The Ambassador in the Soviet Union (Standley) to the Secretary of State

1334. My 1289, September 7, and 1320, September 9. The Moscow News for September 8th reports interview with Alexius, Metropolitan of Leningrad, concerning convocation of the Assembly of Bishops and the election of Holy Synod. Alexius stated that the Assembly would be attended by the three Metropolitans and the Archbishops and Bishops of the principal cities of Russia and that accordingly it would be fully competent to pass on the important questions pertaining to the Church which would be submitted for its consideration. With reference to the composition and functions of the Holy Synod, he said that it would consist of three permanent members including the remaining two Metropolitans and one of the ranking Archbishops, and three additional members elected by the Assembly of Bishops, and the Patriarch. The Holy Synod will function under the Patriarch and will be a purely ecclesiastical body. Alexius emphasized that whereas in Tsarist Russia the Synod included a representative of the State93 and the State actually directed the activities of the Church, the Church has now been completely separated from the State94 and the functions of the Synod have changed accordingly. As a purely ecclesiastical body the Holy Synod is not subject to State control. Asked if the convocation of the Assembly meant any changes in policy of the Russian Orthodox Church Alexius replied: If you have in mind changes in relation of Church and State, the answer, in one word is no. These relations were long since defined by Stalin Constitution of the USSR.95 These two documents define the position and rights of the Church with utmost clarity guaranteeing the full right of religious worship and in no way Whatsoever restricting the religious life of the worshippers or the Church as a whole.

Alexius stated that it had been necessary to convoke the Assembly to consider questions arising from its efforts to render assistance to [Page 858]the armed forces in their patriotic struggle and also there were a number of internal Church matters for consideration. One of these is the question of the establishment of theological schools. In this connection Alexius said: I believe these schools and seminaries have not justified themselves. It is common knowledge that a large number of people who studied at seminaries since childhood rejected the clerical calling upon completing studies and did not take Holy Orders. We plan to set up theological institutes and courses open to those who have already received a general secondary education thus selection of the clerical profession will be done by grown up people with character and views already formed.

Commenting on the reception of the Church leaders by Stalin, Alexius said that they consider themselves greatly indebted to J. V. Stalin, the Head of the State, for the sympathetic hearing he gave our plans.

Standley
  1. The Ober-Procuror, or High Procurator of the Holy Synod, a lay official first appointed by Peter the Great to ensure that nothing would be done by the Synod displeasing to the Tsar.
  2. The decree of January 23/February 5, 1918, ordered the complete separation of Church and State. Further religious laws of April 8, 1929, were still in force in 1943.
  3. The Constitution of the Soviet Union was formally adopted at the VIII (Extraordinary) Session of the All-Union Congress of Soviets on December 5, 1936; article 124, concerning religion, reads in translation as follows: “In order to insure to citizens freedom of conscience, the Church in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is separated from the State and the School from the Church. Freedom of religious worship and freedom from anti-religious propaganda is recognized for all citizens.”