861.404/2–345: Telegram

The Chargé in the Soviet Union (Kennan) to the Secretary of State

319. On January 31, 1945, the Holy Synod49 of the Russian Orthodox Eastern Church was convened for the purpose of electing a new patriarch to succeed Sergei who died on May 15, 1944. Invitations to attend, in the capacity of visiting dignitaries, were extended to the four patriarchs of Constantinople,50 Antioch,51 Alexandria52 and Jerusalem.53 Antioch and Alexandria accepted personally. The other two sent rather imposing delegations of Metropolitans, Archbishops and Bishops.54 There has been no public announcement of invitations being extended to the national churches, but representatives appeared from the Rumanian and Yugoslav churches.55 The Greek Ambassador in Moscow56 states that no request, official or unofficial, was made for the Hellenic Church to send a representative. It is not surprising that no representative is present from the Bulgarian Church, which is still schismatic though understood to be again attempting to receive acceptance by the Oecumenical Patriarch at [Page 1113] this time.57 Also present were the Catholicos of Georgia58 and Benjamin, Metropolitan of North America and the Aleutians, both dependents of the Russian Church.

The invitations at least in the case of the Near Eastern Prelates, were extended through official Soviet diplomatic channels. Official facilities were made available for travel to Moscow. The visitors are housed in Moscow in rooms of the Hotel National usually reserved for distinguished official guests; and some appear to have applied themselves to the enjoyment of the worldly amenities of that hostelry, as well as of the Moscow Ballet, with an enthusiasm which has caused some raising of eyebrows even in Orthodox Communist circles.

The opening session of the Synod [sobor], held in one of the secondary churches of Moscow,59 was begun with the usual impressive Orthodox Mass. The handling of the ritual seemed slightly rusty and the priests were noticeably nervous. Matters were not improved by water dripping from the ceiling. Following the Mass, the Synod [sobor] was convened and speeches of greeting were made by the official representatives of the Soviet Government, by the locum tenens of the church,60 by the Metropolitan Nicolai61 and by the Patriarch of Alexandria, speaking on behalf of the visitors.

On February 2, in the second session, Alexei, Metropolitan of Leningrad and Novgorod, and locum tenens since the death of Sergei, was elected Patriarch by a vote of 44–0. Alexei was born in Moscow in 1877 and in 1899 graduated from the juridical department of Moscow University. In 1904 he graduated from the Moscow Theological Academy, having taken vows in 1902. He was appointed inspector of the Pskov Theological Seminary in 1904 and in 1906 as rector of Tula Theological Seminary with a rank of Archimandrite. In 1911 he was made rector of the Novgorod Theological Seminary and Dean of the Antonievsky Monastery in Novgorod. In 1913 he became Bishop of Tikhvin. In 1921 he was appointed first Vicar of the Leningrad Diocese, of which he became supervisor in [Page 1114] 1922. In 1926 he was appointed head of the Novgorod Diocese and was promoted to the rank of Archbishop. In 1927 he became a member of the Holy Synod. In 1932 he was promoted to the rank of Metropolitan. In 1933 he was transferred to Leningrad as Metropolitan. He remained in Leningrad during the entire period of the German seige which tremendously increased his prestige with the population of that city. Since death of Sergei he has been guardian of the patriarchal throne.

The election, which was preceded by a short mass, was conducted in full hierarchical panoply, with each of the members of the Synod [sobor] being called upon by the administrative general of the church62 to voice his opinion.

The Coronation, which is to take place tomorrow, February 4, will be in effect the ceremonial climax to the reestablishment of the Orthodox Church in the Soviet Union.

In my next following telegram63 I shall submit certain interpretive comment on this event.

To Department as 319; repeated to AmEmbassy Rome as No. 7, to Ankara as No. 4, to Cairo as No. 13.

  1. The Holy Synod consisted of six members who were diocesan bishops, under the presidency of the Patriarch. Three members (Metropolitans) were permanent; the other three were temporary, and serving in rotation. The assemblage here convened was a local council (sobor).
  2. Benjamin I, the Oecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.
  3. Alexandras (Alexander) III, Patriarch of Great Antioch and All Orient.
  4. Christophoros (Christopher) II, Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa.
  5. Timothy, Patriarch of Jerusalem and All Palestine.
  6. The Metropolitan Hermanos of Phiatir (Thyatria) represented the Oecumenical Patriarch, and the Archbishop Athenagoras (Afinogor) of Sebastieh (Sevastir) represented the Patriarch of Jerusalem.
  7. Bishop Joseph of Arges (Ares) with. 3 delegates represented the Orthodox Church of Rumania, and Metropolitan Joseph of Skoplje (Skoplyane) with 12 delegates represented the Orthodox Church of Serbia (Yugoslavia). These representatives were indeed excluded from some events. In airgram A–36, February 10, from Moscow Chargé Kennan remarked that the fact that they had “appeared anyway indicates that the Soviet Government favored their coming, since they could not have gotten to Moscow without the permission and active assistance of the Soviet Government.” (861.404/2–1045)
  8. Athanase G. Politis.
  9. The Bulgarian Church had been declared schismatic by the local synod of the Oecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople on August 29, 1872. After a period of negotiations beginning in 1944, the Patriarchate consented to annul this pronouncement on February 22, 1945. The Holy Synod in Sofia announced the formation of the Bulgarian Patriarchate on June 22, thereby establishing the autocephaly of the Bulgarian Church. The rumor was spread by Communist sources that this had been accomplished upon the recommendation of Moscow, although this was repeatedly denied in Orthodox circles.
  10. Kallistrat (Callistratus), the Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia.
  11. The Church of the Resurrection in Sokolniki.
  12. The Metropolitan of Leningrad and Novgorod, Alexey (born Sergey Vladimirovich Simansky). In interim periods between Patriarchs the administration of the Russian Orthodox Church is incumbent on the locum tenens jointly with the Holy Synod. The functions of the locum tenens are entrusted to the senior by ordination of the permanent members of the Holy Synod.
  13. Nikolay (born Boris Dorofeyevieh Yarushevich in Kovno on January 12, 1892), Metropolitan of Krutitsy and Kolomna since January 1944, and a permanent member of the Holy Synod.
  14. The Cathedral Archpriest, Nikolay F. Kolchitsky.
  15. Infra.