Konstantin Pobedonostsev: symbol of Russian monarchal absolutism

PHOTO: Konstantin Pobedonostsev drinking tea in the garden of the Cottage Palace, the Peterhof residence of Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, July 1898

Konstantin Petrovich Pobedonostsev was born in Moscow on 30th (O.S. 18th) November 1827. He remains one of the most interesting, yet controversial persons from the life and reign of Emperor Nicholas II.

Pobedonostsev was a Russian jurist, statesman, and adviser to three Tsars: Alexander II, Alexander III and Nicholas II. Nicknamed the “Grand Inquisitor,” he came to be the symbol of Russian monarchal absolutism.

Pobedonostsev and Tsesarevich Alexander Alexandrovich [future Emperor Alexander III] remained very close for almost thirty years, through Alexander’s ascension as Tsar in 1881 and until his death in 1894. During the reign of Alexander III he was one of the most influential men in the Russian Empire. He was the mastermind of Emperor Alexander II’s Manifesto of 29th April 1881. The Manifesto on Unshakeable Autocracy proclaimed that the absolute power of the Tsar was unshakable thus putting an end to Loris-Melikov’s endeavours to establish a representative body in the empire.

Pobedonostsev was the chief spokesman for reactionary positions. He was the “éminence grise” of imperial politics during the reign of Alexander III, holding the the distinguished position of Chief Procurator of the Most Holy Synod, the non-clerical Russian official who supervised the Russian Orthodox Church [from 1880 to 1905].

In 1883, Emperor Alexander III appointed Konstantin Pobedonostsev, as chief tutor to his son and heir Nicholas Alexandrodovich [future Emperor Nicholas II].

Nicholas received a thorough training under the direction of the best teachers in Russia. Among his teachers, the one who exerted the greatest influence on him was undoubtedly the ultra-conservative Russian academic Konstantin Pobedonostsev, who was highly intelligent, widely read and very hardworking. Pobedonstsev believed that only the power and symbolism of an autocratic monarchy, advised by an elite of rational expert officials, could run the country effectively.

Pobedonostsev’s guidance and influence imbibed the principles of absolutism, dynasty, military greatness and the official religious tradition on the future Tsar. He constantly reminded Nicholas that the Tsar was anointed by God and was a divinely inspired source of wisdom and order.

PHOTO: Emperor Nicholas II with Konstantin Pobedonostsev (far right). Empress Alexandra Feodorovna and Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, both dressed in white (center) standing next to the Tsar. This photo was taken on the steps of the Cottage Palace, the Peterhof residence of Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, July 1898

Following the death of Alexander III on 1st November [O.S. 20 October] 1894, Pobedonostev remained an aide to Nicholas II, although he lost much of his influence. While the new Tsar adhered to his father’s Russification policy and even extending it to Finland, he generally disliked the idea of systematic religious persecution, and was not wholly averse to the partial emancipation of the Church from civil control.

In 1901, Nikolai Lagovski, a socialist, tried to assassinate Pobedonostsev, shooting through the window of Pobedonostsev’s office, but missing. Lagovski was sentenced to 6 years.

It was Pobedonostsev who ordered the excommunication of the great Russian writer Leo Tolstoy in 1901.

As the Chief Prosecutor of the Holy Synod – a position he held until 1905 – Pobedonostsev opposed the canonization of the Monk Seraphim of Sarov in 1903. Standing firm in his beliefs, Emperor Nicholas II ordered the canonization of Seraphim of Sarov.

Konstatnin Pobedonostsev died in St. Petersburg on 23rd March (O.S. 10th March) 1907. He was survived by his wife Ekaterina Alexandrovna, née Engelhardt (1848-1932), and their adopted daughter Martha (1897-1964).

Pobedonostsev’s funeral took place on 26th March (O.S. 13th March) 1907 at the Novo-Devichsky Convent; members of the Imperial Family were not present. He was buried at St. Vladimir Church in St. Petersburg. The church has not survived, however, the grave has survived to the present day.

© Paul Gilbert. 14 December 2022

Paul Gilbert cuts ties with Russian Imperial House

PHOTO: Maria Vladimirovna and her son George Mikhailovich

NOTE: this article was updated with additional information on 12th February 2021 – PG

For the record, I hereby announce that I am cutting all ties with the Russian Imperial House. I no longer support Maria Vladimirovna and her son George Mikhailovich. Further, I am severing all ties with the Russian Legitimists and their cause.

Today, I have returned by mail the Order of St. Stanislaus 3rd Class (2013), and the Order of St. Anna 3rd Class (2016), and also withdraw my oath of allegiance to Maria and her son, dated and signed 03/14/16.

During the February Revolution of 1917, Maria’s grandfather Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich (1876-1938), marched to the Tauride Palace in Petrograd at the head of the Naval Guards bearing a red armband and swore allegiance to the Russian Provisional Government. In 1926, Kirill proclaimed himself emperor-in-exile, but his claims were contested by a number of grand dukes, grand duchesses, princes and princesses of the Imperial Blood in exile, as well as monarchists in a division that continues to this day.

Many monarchists (including myself) and those faithful to the memory of Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II, believe that Kirill’s act of treason in 1917, should eliminate the Vladimir branch of the Russian Imperial Family from any further consideration.  

I no longer wish to involve myself in the dynastic squabbles which continue to this day between Legitimists and those monarchists who dispute Maria’s claim as Head of the Russian Imperial House.

While I am a devout monarchist, I do not recognize any person as the claimant to the now defunct throne of Russia. I believe that the Russian monarchy ceased to exist upon the abdication of the Sovereign Emperor Nicholas II on 15th (O.S. 2nd) March 1917 and the murder of both the Tsar and his family on 17th July 1918. If the monarchy is ever to be restored in 21st century Russia, it is up to the citizens of Russia to make that decision, no one else.

I will continue to devote my time to researching and writing about the life and reign of Nicholas II, and committing myself to clearing his much slandered name.

© Paul Gilbert. 5 February 2021

“Heir” to Tsar Nicholas II to marry an Italian

PHOTO: George Mikhailovich with Rebecca Victoria Bettarini

NOTE: this article was updated with additional information on 28th January 2021 – PG

An interesting headline in the Russian media this morning caught my attention: «Наследник царя Николая II женится на итальянке» – which roughly translated reads “The heir to Tsar Nicholas II to marry an Italian”. 

Clearly, whoever wrote the announcement in Rosbalt.ru, needs a history lesson. It is a well known fact that Nicholas II’s only son Alexei Nikolaevich (1904-1918), was the sole heir to the Russian throne. The tsesarevich was brutally murdered along with the rest of his family on 17th July 1918.

The article which caught my attention, was referring to the upcoming nuptials of Grand Duke George Mikhailovich with Rebecca Bettarini, the daughter of Italian Ambassador Roberto Bettarini and Carla Bettarini. The announcement was made on 20th January 2021 by the Head of the Russian Imperial House Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna, who lives in Madrid, her son currently lives in Moscow.

Rebecca Bettarini was received into the Orthodox faith on 12 July 2020 in the SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg, taking the name Victoria Romanovna [named after Grand Duchess Victoria Feodorovna, wife of Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich]. The wedding is expected to take place in Russia in the fall of 2021.

Shortly before the engagement of Rebecca Bettarini with Grand Duke George Mikhailovich, Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna awarded the Order of St. Anne 1st Class to the bride-to-be’s father the Italian diplomat Roberto Bettarini. This ceremony thus set the stage for awarding a “false nobility” on both father and daughter. 

The Italian surname Bettarini never had any connection with the nobility. Ms. Bettarini’s pedigree can hardly be traced back to the early 19th century. Thus, despite her conversion to the Orthodox faith, and her upcoming marriage to George Mikhailovich, their union remains a morganatic marriage.

On 23rd January, a group of 6 monarchist and Orthodox organizations in Russia issued a statement denouncing the marriage, two of the main reasons which are noted at the end of this article.

But, let us take a look back to some interesting details about this union and the hypocrisy of the Vladimir branch of the Russian Imperial Family . . . 

In January 2019, the RU_ROYALTY blog reported that Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna, had made a formal request to the Head of the Russian Orthodox Church His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, to change the law of the succession to the Russian throne, according to which the children of a representative of the dynasty who entered into an unequal marriage would be deprived of their rights to the throne.

The Russian Imperial House today consists of two people: Maria herself and her son George, and she considers all the other descendants of the Romanovs to be born in morganatic marriages.

PHOTO: Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna and her son Grand Duke
George Mikhailovich pose in front of a portrait of Emperor Nicholas II

Up until recently the 39-year-old Grand Duke George Mikhailovich was still not married and despaired of finding himself a blue-blooded Orthodox princess who would meet the requirements of the law on succession to the throne. To appear in public with his mistresses for the future “Head of the Russian Imperial House” was not comme il faut, so in order to correct this matter, Maria and her son sought the help of Patriarch Kirill.

Of course, Maria Vladimirovna wanted to remove the oath by holding a public event with the participation of the patriarch, and not as a result of some dubious behind-the-scenes negotiations. According to one source: “the Patriarchy, to put it mildly, are not delighted with the idea and are waiting for the Grand Duchess to propose an alternative plan, something which would not jeopardize the reputational risks from Kirill’s participation”.

George Mikhailovich was already is in a relationship with Ms. Bettarini at the time his mother made the request. While her timing was perfect, her request was also somewhat hypocritical. Following the 1917 Revolution, numerous Princes and Princesses of the Russian Imperial House living in exile, were ostracized from the Russian Imperial House, due to the fact that they had entered into morganatic marriages.

The descendants – many of whom make up the Romanov Family Association today – have been treated in the most appalling manner by the Vladimirovichi branch of the dynasty.

For example, according to the late Robert K. Massie, “Following the discovery of the remains of Emperor Nicholas II and most of his immediate family in 1991, Maria Vladimirovna wrote to President Boris Yeltsin regarding the burial of the remains, saying of her Romanov cousins, that they “do not have the slightest right to speak their mind and wishes on this question. They can only go and pray at the grave, as can any other Russian, who so wishes”.

At the behest of the Russian Orthodox Church, Maria did not recognise the authenticity of the remains and declined to attend the reburial ceremony in 1998.

Massie further notes that she also said, regarding some of her Romanov cousins, that “My feeling about them is that now that something important is happening in Russia, they suddenly have awakened and said, ‘Ah ha! There might be something to gain out of this.”

Now, the Grand Duchess has seen it fit to “permit” a morganatic marriage, simply to suit the dynastic position of her family. One source claims that George’s “wife will be a Serene Princess, not a Grand Duchess, and their children will have no dynastic status”. There is no question that once a child is born, that Maria will make yet another change to the laws, simply to ensure that her descendants are at the head of the line – should the monarchy ever be restored in Russia!

The announcement of the marriage of Grand Duke George Mikhailovich with Rebecca Bettarini made media headlines in Russia, as well as Great Britain, France and Italy, among other countries, and generated much attention on social media.

The Director of the Chancellery of the Russian Imperial House Alexander Zakatov enthusiastically reported to journalists about the upcoming marriage, noting: “… This will be the first marriage of a member of the House of Romanov in his homeland after the revolution of 1917”.

Zakatov’s comment, however, is incorrect . . .

Between 1917 and 1920, five marriages among the members of the Russian Imperial House were concluded in their homeland: on 22nd April 1917 Prince Gabriel Konstantinovich (1887-1955) married Antonina Rafailovna Nesterovskaya (1890-1950) in Petrograd. On the same day Prince Alexander Georgievich Romanovsky, Duke of Leichtenberg (1881-1942) married Nadezhda Nikolaevna Karelli (1883-1964) in Petrograd. On 25th April 1917, Princess Nadezhda Petrovna (1898-1988) married Prince Nikolai Orlov (1891-1961). On 18th July 1917 Princess Elena Georgievna Romanovskaya, Duchess of Leichtenberg (1892-1971) married Count Stefan Tyshkevich (1894-1976) in Yalta, Crimea. And the last marriage before emigration took place on 25th November 1918 in Ai-Todor, when Prince Andrey Alexandrovich (1897-1981) married Duchess Elizabeth Sasso-Ruffo (1887-1940).

PHOTO: Grand George Mikhailovich and Rebecca Victoria Bettarini, with their retinue at the Epiphany Cathedral of the Ipatiev Monastery in Kostroma, on 24th January 2021. Russia currently has the 4th highest number of COVID-19 cases in the world: 3.7 million! Despite this, you see NO masks, NO social distancing among those in the photograph. This is nothing short of blatant disrespect for the nearly 69,000 Russians who have died from the disease in the past year.

As a lifelong monarchist myself, one who has lived under monarchy from the day I was born, I of course support the idea of restoring the monarchy in Russia. While many non-Russians also support a restoration, I can not stress enough that no foreigner has the right to force the issue in Russia. The Russian people of today are still trying to come to terms with more than 70 years of Soviet oppression, and struggling with their own form of democracy in a post-Soviet Russia. At the end of the day, it is up the people of Russia “if” they choose to restore the monarchy, no one else’s.

The idea of restoring monarchy in post-Soviet Russia is not popular with most Russians. In the summer of 2019, a poll conducted by REGNUM of some 35,000 Russian citizens showed that only 28% supported the idea of restoring the monarchy, more than half (52%) of which would not support placing a Romanov on the throne!

Further still, many Russians, including many self-proclaimed monarchists do not recognize Maria Vladimirovna and her son George Mikhailovich [many recognize George as a Hohenzollern, NOT a Romanov] as the heirs to the Russian throne. Their detractors cite numerous reasons, the most pressing of which are:

(a) That Maria’s grandfather Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich (1876-1938) entered into an incestuous marriage with his first cousin Princess Victoria Melita of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (1876-1936). It was common for European royal cousins to marry, however, Kirill married without consent from Nicholas II. Kirill’s marriage was in violation of the house law which forbid the marriage of any member of the Imperial Family without the advance permission of the Emperor. Kirill’s marriage also violated the canon of the Russian Orthodox Church prohibiting marriages between cousins.

(b) That during the February Revolution of 1917, Kirill marched to the Tauride Palace at the head of the Garde Equipage (Marine Guard) to swear allegiance to the Russian Provisional Government, wearing a red band on his uniform. Kirill had authorised the flying of a red flag over his palace on Glinka Street in Petrograd. This act was nothing short of treason! 

While those who support Grand Duchess Maria and her son continue to argue their case, they overlook one simple fact: that the Russian monarchy ceased to exist upon the abdication of the reigning Nicholas II on 15th (O.S. 2nd) March 1917 and the murder of both him and his family on 17th July 1918.

A colleague of mine recently brought to my attention the following: “I met Grand Duchess Leonida in the 1990s. She was a charming, intelligent woman. I asked her “do you think the monarchy will be restored in Russia?” Without hesitation, she replied: “It will never happen!”

© Paul Gilbert. 26 January 2021

Putin’s plan to restore the Romanovs


This 3-part series by Matthew Dal Santo was published in The Interpreter, which features in-depth analysis & expert commentary on the latest international events, published daily by the Lowry Institute.

Although dated – originally published in July 2016 – it is still an interesting and thought provoking read.

He is the author of the forthcoming book, A Tsar’s Life for the People: The Romanovs and the Redemption of Putin’s Russia, to be published by Princeton University Press.

Putin’s plan to restore the Romanovs (Part 1) published 16th July 2016

Official treatment of Stalin reflects the result of this impasse, neither to suppress nor promote popular support for his legacy.

Putin’s plan to restore the Romanovs (Part 2) published 17th July 2016

If there’s a Russian leader whose reputation has been unequivocally rehabilitated during the Putin era, it’s Nicholas II.

Putin’s plan to restore the Romanovs (Part 3) published 18th July 2016

Russian monarchists are remarkably fond of observing that nobody says Russia’s next tsar must be a Romanov.


Dr. Matthew Dal Santo has been a Danish Council Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the Saxo Institute, University of Copenhagen since 2014. He writes on conservatism as an ideological programme in modern Russia, with a special interest in Russian foreign policy. He has written analysis and commentary on Russian and European affairs for The Australian Broadcasting Casting Corporation (ABC) and has appeared on Radio National’s Counterpoint programme.

His work has been published by The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (Canberra, Australia), The Lowy Institute (Sydney, Australia), The Center for the National Interest (Washington, D.C.) , The Nation (New York), and The Spectator Australia. He travels frequently to Russia and is currently writing a book (provisionally entitled The Romanovs, 1917 and the Redemption of Putin’s Russia) on the cult of Russia’s last tsar, Nicholas II, and on how ordinary Russians see their country’s place in the world in the approach of the 2017 centenary of the Russian Revolution.

He studied history and European languages (BA first-class honours and University Medal) at the University of Sydney (1999-2004) and graduate-level history (MPhil, PhD) at the University of Cambridge (2004-9). In 2007, he was elected a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge and taught as an Associate Lecturer in Cambridge’s Faculty of History. In 2011, he entered the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Matthew speaks Russian, French, Italian, and Danish. He lives in Copenhagen, Denmark, with his wife and daughter.

© Paul Gilbert. 3 August 2020

How the Orthodox Church supported the overthrow of the monarchy


Early 20th century propaganda caricature depicting Emperor Nicholas II
between a member of the Holy Synod and a revolutionary

In 1917, Emperor Nicholas II abdicated the throne, and the country was proclaimed a republic. How did the hierarchs of the Orthodox Church react to this event? In response, I am pleased to present the First English translation of an interview by the Russian media outlet “MK” in St. Petersburg with Doctor of historical sciences, Professor Mikhail Babkin of the Russian State University for the Humanities (Moscow), and author of the monograph “Clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church and the overthrow of the monarchy” who discusses the topic.

– Mikhail Anatolyevich, what place did the Orthodox Church in general and the Holy Synod in particular occupy during the Russian Empire?

– The Russian Empire and the Russian Orthodox Church were a single church-state body, headed by the emperor. The supreme body of church administration in Russia was the Most Holy Governing Synod established by Peter the Great in 1721.

From 1723, the Synod had been titled as “His Holiness” and “Governing”. The first of these denominations pointed to the equality of the Synod with the Eastern patriarchs, and the second to the independence of the Synod from the Governing Senate, to which all colleges were subordinate (from 1802 they became known as ministries). That is, by its status, the Synod was not equated to the college, but to the Senate. If the Senate acted in the civil administration field, the Synod in that of the spiritual. Moreover, the buildings of the Senate and the Synod, located on Senate Square in St. Petersburg, were a single whole, connected by a triumphal arch, and surmounted by the imperial crown.

The activity of the Synod was controlled by a secular person appointed by the emperor – chief prosecutor of the Holy Synod, who was the official representative of the authority of His Majesty. The chief prosecutor was responsible for protecting state interests in the field of church administration, as well as overseeing the governing bodies of the Orthodox Church in the center and in the localities: the Synod and the spiritual consistories, respectively.


The buildings of the Senate (former) and the Holy Synod, in St. Petersburg as they look today

– What was the political position of the hierarchs during the February Revolution?

– In the last days of February 1917 (I quote the dates according to the Julian calendar), in the conditions of a crisis of state power in the capital of the Russian Empire, there was an increase in the number of strikes and street demonstrations, which resulted in the treasonous defection of military units of the Petrograd garrison to the side of the Revolution. During those days, the Synod was urged to take any measures in support of the monarchy by both representatives of the public and government officials: for example, the Chief Procurator of the Holy Synod, Nikolai Pavlovich Raev (1855-1919) and his deputy (more precisely, in the terminology of those years – comrade) Prince Nikolai Davidovich Zhevakhov (1874-1946). However, the members of the Synod did not meet those motions.

On March 2, 1917, in the chambers of the Moscow Metropolitan (they were located on the courtyard of the Trinity-Sergius Lavra, at 44, Fontanka River Embankment, in the building where the Mayor’s Central City Public Library is now located), a private meeting of the Synod members was held. Six of the eleven members of the supreme body of church administration took part in it. It was decided to immediately establish contact with the Provisional Government, formed that day by the Executive Committee of the State Duma. This fact allows us to argue that the members of the Synod recognized the new government even before (!) The abdication of Emperor Nicholas II from the throne, which took place on the night of March 2–3.

– During the February Revolution, the reigning dynasty was overthrown. How did the clergy of the Orthodox Church react to this event?

– Let’s do a little historical excursion. As you know, on March 2, 1917, in Pskov, Emperor Nicholas II renounced for himself and for his son in favor of his younger brother – Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich. The following day, March 3, in Petrograd, in house No. 12 on Millionnaya Street, Mikhail Alexandrovich signed a document whose official name is the “Act on the refusal of Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich from the acceptance of the supreme power and his recognition of the full power for the Provisional Government  on the initiative of the State Duma ”(source: Collection of Legalizations and Decrees of the Government. Pg., 1917. No. 54. March 6. Sep. 1. Art. 345. S. 534.). However, in early March 1917 that document which was printed in the press, controlled by the Petrograd Soviet of Workers ‘and Soldiers’ Deputies, was published under the title “Abdication of Mikhail Alexandrovich.” It was from that point, that the myth spread about the abdication of the Grand Duke. At the same time, both the Petrograd Soviet, but also the Holy Synod were involved in the creation of this myth.

Let us turn to the text of the Act of March 3, 1917, in which Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich said: “I made a firm decision only in that case to accept the Supreme (tsarist. – Approx. Ed.) Power, if that would be the will of our great people, which should […] establish a government in the Constituent Assembly and new basic laws of the Russian State. Therefore, […] I ask all citizens of the Russian Power to submit to the Provisional Government, […] henceforth before the […] Constituent Assembly, by its decision on the form of government, expresses the will of the people.” There are no words about any abdication in the Act. Moreover, it speaks of Mikhail Alexandrovich’s readiness to take the throne if the Constituent Assembly elects a monarchical form of government for Russia.

Thus, on March 3, 1917, Russia was at a historic crossroads: to be a monarchy or a republic, in one form or another.

We come back to your question. How did the Holy Synod behave in this situation? In short, from March 4, it had taken a whole range of measures to remove the issue of the monarchy from the agenda in the socio-political consciousness of the 100 million Orthodox flock. For example, on March 7, the supreme body of church administration issued a definition in which it was prescribed to all Russian clergy: “in all cases, instead of commemoration of the reigning house, to offer prayers “for the God-Preserving Russian and Noble Interim Government”. That is, on March 7, in the absence of the abdication of Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich and before the decision of the Constituent Assembly on the form of government, the reigning House of Romanov began to be commemorated in the past tense. Thus, the members of the Synod intervened in the state system of Russia, and in this context, we can say that the members of the Synod overthrew royal power as an institution.

Thus, the thesis of the Petrosoviet about the alleged “abdication of Mikhail Alexandrovich” and, as a consequence, that the “House of Romanov abdicated” was supported by the authority of the Holy Synod, after which it was introduced into the public consciousness of the Orthodox flock, turning over time into an enduring myth. It is replicated to this day in contemporary scientific works and educational literature.


Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich and Emperor Nicholas II

– How did the local clergy react to the February Revolution?

– The political line for the entire clergy was determined by the Synod. Its corresponding orders in the order of church administration from Petrograd were distributed to all dioceses, monasteries, and parishes. And the clergy, in turn, brought information to their parishioners. For example, after the changes made by the supreme body of church administration in liturgical ranks, prayers of the following plan began to sound in all the churches of the Russian Orthodox Church: With such “doctrinal” texts, the Synod actually proclaimed the thesis of the divine origin of the authority of the Provisional Government.

– If, in your opinion, the members of the Synod took the side of the Revolution, what did they hope to gain from it?

– After the reform of church administration carried out by Tsar Peter I, there was no Russian patriarchate for more than two centuries. And the clergy over time (especially after 1905) began to cultivate views, but in fact – the myth that, they say, the patriarchate is the “canonical system of church administration”, and that the Russian Church, deprived of the patriarch, is “decapitated” and in a state of “enslavement”.

The actions taken by the Holy Synod in the spring of 1917 were due to motives arising from the centuries-old historical and theological problem of the “priesthood-tsardom,” the main question of which is the relationship between the tsarist and sacred hierarchical authorities, or whose authority is higher: the tsar or patriarch? 

Taking advantage of the socio-political situation prevailing during the February Revolution, members of the Holy Synod decided to “settle accounts” with tsardom. Indeed, if there is tsarist power in the state in any form, then there is the participation of the emperor, as the anointed of God, in the affairs of church administration, there is a problem of correlation of priesthood and tsardom. If in the state there is no tsar, but there is a secular republic, devoid of sacred meaning in any form, then automatically it turns out that “the priesthood is higher than tsardom.”

In other words, in the early days of March 1917, members of the Holy Synod overthrew imperial power as their “charismatic competitor.” They wanted the church in the state to exist as if under the tsar, but without the tsar: in which the clergy, as before, would enjoy special rights and privileges, that it would receive subsidies from the treasury, but that there would be no “state interference in affairs church”, so that the clergy does not have any outside supervision, control and accountability.


Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow (1865-1925)

– It seems paradoxical that the restoration of the patriarchate took place in 1917 – during such a milestone in the history of Russia …

– The patriarchate was restored for the sake of the patriarchal power itself: first of all, so that it would be. Thus, the Local Council, under pressure from the “bishops’ party,” adopted the decision to restore the patriarchate on November 4, 1917, and the next day elected Metropolitan Tikhon of Moscow (Bellavin) [1] to the patriarchate. But at the same time, the powers of the first bishop and his place in the system of church administration were not delineated. Only on December 8, the Council adopted the definition “On the rights and obligations of His Holiness Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia.” Further, the power of the patriarch only increased, right up to his absolutization in the 2000-2010s.

In general, speaking in the context of the problem of the “priesthood of the tsardom”, the year 1917 was reduced to the following: in March there was no royal authority, and in November the patriarchate appeared. That is, the tsar was gone, but the patriarch appeared. Who benefits from this? The question is rhetorical.


[1] When Patriarch Tikhon learned of the vengeful execution of the Imperial Family in 1918, he commanded that Panikhidas (requiems) be served for Nicholas II as the slain Tsar—regardless of the fact that he abdicated the throne; regardless of the fact that under the Bolshevik terror this was dangerous for the Patriarch himself; regardless, finally, of the fact that ironically, it was the Tsarist government that had for two hundred years prevented the restoration of the Patriarchy in general, and would have prevented his becoming Patriarch in particular.

Tikhon was glorified (canonized) a saint by the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) on 1 November [O.S. 19 October] 1981. He was later glorified by the Moscow Patriarchate during the Bishop’s Council of 9–11 October 1989.

© Professor Mikhail Babkin / Paul Gilbert. 8 March 2020