November 01, 1997

The Last Patriarch

Of all the institutions that were lost when the Bolsheviks came to power, the most painful for many was the autonomous Russian Orthodox Church. In the early 1920s, in a desperate attempt to save this Church, its last Patriarch (until the present day, that is), Tikhon, was forced to take on the role of a compromiser, urging his congregation to cooperate with the Soviet powers.

Patriarch Tikhon — known secularly as Vasily Ivanovich Belavin — was born in 1865 in the Pskov region into the family of a village priest. From 1878-1883, he studied at the Pskov Spiritual Seminary and then entered the St. Petersburg Spiritual Academy. Having graduated in 1888, he became a teacher at the Pskov seminary where he himself had studied. In 1891, at the age of 26, he took monastic orders. He was given the monastic name Tikhon, in honor of the well-loved religious teacher Tikhon Zadonsky.

In 1898, Tikhon was sent to the far-off eparchy (the Orthodox equivalent of a diocese) of America and elevated to the rank of bishop. As bishop of the Lyublinsky, Aleutian and Alaska dioceses, he worked hard to spread the Orthodox faith in America. At the beginning of the 20th century, Tikhon, who by then had been promoted to archbishop, became an honorary US citizen.

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