861.404/2–845: Telegram

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

361. I received a visit yesterday from the Metropolitan Benjamin. He struck me as a sincere and highly astute churchman richly endowed with the Russian genius for rationalization and well equipped by natural ability and education to defend the pro-Soviet position he has taken for some years in the American branch of the church. He is, I believe, a Soviet citizen.72 In any case, he is not an American citizen, and he is an ardent Russian patriot.

He told me that the representatives of Theophilus, namely Bishop Alexis and Archpriest Joseph Dzvonchik, who had tried to fly here via Alaska in time to be present at the election of the Patriarch, had been forced by weather to abandon their flight at Krasnoyarsk, and were now on their way to Moscow by train.73 He doubted that these representatives would succeed in reaching agreement with the Moscow authorities on this occasion, and thought it probable that they would have to return to the United States and consult the officials and congregations of their 250 churches (Benjamin himself has only 30) before coming to any definite arrangement. He, Benjamin, did not expect, 1 gathered, to participate in the conversations. He is leaving in a few days for France, where his task will apparently be to try to effect a similar reconciliation of the local Russian church with the new Moscow Patriarch. After that, the present idea is that he should return to the United States. He is himself opposed to this plan, considering his usefulness there outworn and his person rather an obstacle than a help to the establishment of harmonious relations between the American Metropolitanate and Moscow.

He voiced the hope that I would use my influence to persuade the representatives of Theophilus to accept the authority of the Patriarch, arguing that it would be in the general political interest of our country that the Russian Church in America should not take an anti-Soviet line at this time. I made no comment on this suggestion, other than to observe that in my personal opinion the more the mother church in Russia becomes free to lead its own religious life, as people in [Page 1119] America understand that conception, the easier it will be for the American branch to approach this problem of their mutual relations.

Benjamin was non-committal about the chances for unhampered church development in Russia and professed indifference to this question, taking the position that a certain amount of opposition and trouble was good for the church.

What was important was the spirit of the believers and not the degree of favor the church might enjoy with the state. He had taken a great personal liking however to Karpov, head of the government Committee for Religion, and suspected that the latter was at heart religious.

Sent to Department, repeated to Rome as 10, and to Paris as 18.

  1. According to Georgy Grigoryevich Karpov, Chairman of the Council for Affairs of the Orthodox Church attached to the Council of People’s Commissars of the Soviet Union, Metropolitan Benjamin was not a Soviet citizen but travelled on a Nansen (League of Nations) passport.
  2. Metropolitan Theophilus did not go to the Local Council because of his age and health. Theophilus therefore appointed four delegates to make the trip, but only Bishop Alexey Panteleyev, of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands, and Archpriest Joseph O. Dzvonchik, the vice president and secretary of the Metropolitan Council of the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of North America, succeeded in going. They arrived in Moscow on February 10, and left on February 17, 1945.