Days after the Bolsheviks seized power in the October Revolution of 1917, the Council of the Russian Orthodox Church voted to re-instate the office of the patriarchate at the head of the Church, and shortly thereafter elected Tikhon Bellavin to fill that office. There had been neither a Council nor a patriarch in two centuries, since Peter the Great had abolished the patriarchal office in the early 18th century. As patriarch, Tikhon was immediately cast into a position of defending the Orthodox Church from the assaults of a militantly atheist regime. As such, he was the leader of the religious institution to which the majority of Russians still adhered at the time of the Revolution—and yet there are no critical studies of his life in any Western language. This talk will trace the life and career of Tikhon Bellavin, which included diverse postings in the Russian Empire as well as extensive experience in North America. During those years, his leadership style embodied a vision of Church as a community of believers who were actively engaged in its life, rather than emphasizing Church as a hierarchical institution tied to the state that had become the norm since Peter the Great. After becoming patriarch, Tikhon, together with the Church Council, implemented this vision precisely when the Bolshevik regime was forcibly dismantling the Church as hierarchical institution tied to the old regime. By encouraging ordinary believers to assume responsibility for, and defense of, their churches, he helped ensure the survival of Russian Orthodoxy during one of the most intense persecutions Christianity has ever undergone.
Image: Saint Tichon, Wikimedia commons