861.404/2–845: Telegram

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

366. Following further developments in the religious field have occurred here since despatch of my 319 and 320 of February 3, 8 and 9 p.m.

1. On Sunday February 4 the coronation of the new Patriarch took place in the Epiphany Cathedral, on the northern outskirts of Moscow, at present the leading Moscow church outside the walls of the Kremlin.77 Tradition would have indicated the old Epiphany Cathedral in the Kremlin. The long ceremony and divine service, attended and assisted by the visiting dignitaries, was highly impressive and would have been more so if it had not been for the constant flare of batteries of arc lights set up inside the church and the unceasing activities of the photographers. Entrance to the church was again closely restricted, and large detachments of militia formed cordons around the building. Those admitted appeared to be in large part foreigners or members of the Orthodox priesthood.

2. On the evening of the same day the new Patriarch gave a formal dinner at the Metropole Hotel for visiting Patriarchs and delegations, the members of the Synod, the pastors of local churches and representatives of the congregations.

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3. On Tuesday February 6 Izvestiya carried two remarkable documents over the signature of the Synod [sobor]. Today these same documents were even published by the Moscow Pravda. Translations are being submitted by despatch.78 The first is an appeal of the Synod [sobor] to the Christians of the entire world. The second is a message to the Archbishops, pastors of the true followers of the Russian Orthodox Church. The first of these is noteworthy as an example of prompt implementation of the Government’s determination to use the church as an instrument of foreign policy. It pronounces thundering condemnation on all persons who advocate mercy towards the Germans. These tendencies toward mildness are described as “monstrous distortions of the divine teachings of the Saviour.”

The message to the Russian Church and its followers presents a remarkable mixture of old church and modern Soviet phraseology. Calling upon the believers to maintain “unhypocritical fidelity and obedience to the power ordained by God”, it notes with satisfaction the following phenomena: (a) the great wave of self-sacrifice and spiritual solidarity shown by the Russian people in the war against Germany; (b) the religious revival and the unity of the devout people around the heads of the church; (c) the response of the believers to the church appeal for patriotic sacrifice; (d) the gradual but now almost final cessation of the systematic errors of the “Living Church”79 and others.

At the same time the message views with alarm the following: (a) neglect of the observance of rank and hierarchy on the part of many priests; (b) neglect of ritual; (c) the habit “existing among many believers” of permitting the marriage union to [be] come effective without the sanction of the Holy Sacrament; (d) neglect of proper preparation for the receipt of the Holy Sacraments of Confession and Eucharist.

With particular sorrow the Synod [sobor] notes the fact that priests not properly appointed by canonical procedure are holding services and sacrilegiously performing the holy rites of the church.

The Synod [sobor] expresses the wish that the church might, as in ancient times, “shine with faith and piety and serve as a bulwark of might and prosperity of the motherland, creating the Kingdom of God on earth.”

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The unprecedented feature of these documents was not so much their content (although that was noteworthy enough) but rather the fact of their publication in the official organ of the All Union Communist Party.80

4. On February 7 a concert of Russian church music was held in the great hall of the Moscow Conservatory. The announcement that it would take place appeared to occasion equal perturbation in church circles, where it was viewed as a profanation of religious music, and in Communist circles, where the use of the hall for religious purposes seemed incomprehensible. No one has been able to say for certain how the audience was selected; but it was a motley crowd, with a large smattering of somewhat bewildered priests and their relatives, a number of Soviet officials and cultural celebrities, all looking slightly guilty, and the ubiquitous secret police. The program was opened by an announcement to the effect that the music should be regarded as an expression of the emotional experience of the Russian people in the war. The announcer was noticeably upset and seemed overcome by the shattering quality of the statement he was reading. The magnificent choral singing which followed was again marred by unceasing play of arc lights and by photographing both of singers and audience. The new patriarch, accompanied by his guests and by Karpov (now facetiously referred to in Moscow as the Narkombog, or People’s Commissar for God), sat in the box of honor, and was besieged between the acts by worshippers and admirers.

5. Today’s papers contain an announcement that Karpov, in the presence of the Patriarch and the three leading Russian metropolitans, received all the visiting representatives.

Sent to Department as 366, repeated to Rome as 12, Ankara as 8, and Cairo as 20.

  1. The Church of the Epiphany in the former village of Yelokhovo had become the Patriarchal Cathedral in 1943.
  2. Full translations were sent in telegram 351 from Moscow on February 7, 1945. The first, “Message of National Assembly of Russian Orthodox Church to Christians All over the World”, is printed in the Information Bulletin of the Embassy of the Soviet Union in Washington, February 13, 1945, pp. 5–6: and the second, “Message of National Assembly to the Most Reverend Prelates, Pastors and All True Children of Russian Orthodox Church”, is printed ibid., pp. 7–8.
  3. The group called the Living Church was formed in 1922. Despite some toleration by the Soviet Government it did not have much influence for long, although it lingered for many years.
  4. Pravda.