Russian Byzantine Catholics in the ussr in the 1970s and 1980s: Between the Hammer and the Anvil icon

Russian Byzantine Catholics in the ussr in the 1970s and 1980s: Between the Hammer and the Anvil

НазваниеRussian Byzantine Catholics in the ussr in the 1970s and 1980s: Between the Hammer and the Anvil
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1. /rbc7080.docRussian Byzantine Catholics in the ussr in the 1970s and 1980s: Between the Hammer and the Anvil

Catholic Influences in the Community of Fr. Alexander Men

Fr. Alexander Men was only the vicar of a rural Orthodox parish near Moscow for most of his active life. Many well-educated people visited his parish each Sunday. He made up a small group among his followers, who gathered for prayer meetings and underground seminars in private apartments in Moscow. Fr. Men cultivated the spirit of ecumenism and the acculturation of Christianity to modern secular culture.

The conservative mainstream charged him with deviation from Orthodoxy and even with the propagation of Zionism.

The followers of Fr. Men visited the Catholic parish of Fr. Dobrovolskis41 very often and learned about Latin spirituality. The philosopher Vladimir Soloviev was for Men an example of a true Christian and preacher of belief. It was difficult for him was to explain why Soloviev himself was received into communion with the Church of Rome as a Russian Byzantine Catholic in 1896. Fr. Men in his lectures had to explain that Soloviev was mistaken and that later he regretted his action. Men said that all people of Russian culture must be Orthodox and under no circumstances convert to Catholicism. He believed that the Russian Orthodox Church had validity only for Russia, and the Roman Catholic Church for Western Europe.

This lame commentary suggested the idea of joining the Catholic Church to several of his followers, who were fascinated by post-Vatican II theology. The leader of a catechetical group, Vladimir Nikiforov,42 learned and translated the “Dutch catechism.” He had a positive image of the modern Catholic Church, which he never knew in reality. He and his friends intended to convert to Catholicism formally. In Moscow, there was only one Catholic Church, St. Louis's, which was situated on Lubianka Street, near the headquarters of the KGB. However, they were afraid of this legal Catholic parish, and instead got into touch with several Catholics from Poland, who visited the parish of Fr. Men in 1981. The office of the Primate of Poland had an interest in ordaining underground Roman Catholic priests in Moscow, but there had been martial law there since 13 August 1981. So the office got into touch with several underground Roman Catholic bishops in Czechoslovakia.

In October 1981, Bishop Dusan Spiridion Spiner43 visited Moscow as a tourist. He received Vladimir Nikiforov and his fellow Sergey Nikolenko44 into full communion with the Catholic Church and ordained them Roman Catholic priests in secret, despite their married status. When Fr. Men heard about it, he was shocked.
Nikiforov broke with Fr. Men and led away part of his followers. They made the underground community of Sts. Cyril and Methodius at his flat in Moscow, where he celebrated only the Latin Mass. Nikiforov got into touch with foreign journalists and officers from the embassies, who attended his Masses. About 100 people belonged to this community. They were soon infiltrated by "intelligencers." In 1983, Nikiforov was arrested by the KGB on suspicion of contacts with foreign intelligence agencies, illegal religious activity and supporting Zionism. He was under examination for 9 months, but the investigators could not find anything criminal in his activities. In 1984 he was released, and emigrated with his wife with the help of an invitation to Israel, but actually they went to Stockholm.

The KGB came upon the tracks of illegal activities by Men and underground Byzantine Catholic priest Fr. Viktor Danilov, who was in touch with him. The investigators made searches and interviewed both of them in 1983-84, as a result of the intensification of persecution of religious dissidents by the government of Yuri Andropov as the General Secretary of the CPSU. A campaign against Fr. Men in the newspaper “Trud” began in 1984. The disciples of Men considered the sufferings of their pastor to be a consequence of the betrayal of Fr. Nikiforov, whom they mistakenly regarded as a “Catholic of the Byzantine rite..” Many of them, e. g. Krekshin45 and Krotov,46 had sympathies with Catholicism and later tried to convert to the Catholic Church.

In 1984, Fr. Danilov was under investigation in Grodno, but the investigators could not begin a criminal prosecution because of the absence of proof. In December that year, Fr. Jozef Swidnicky was arrested in Novosibirsk on the accusation of anti-Soviet propaganda and illegal religious activities. His nearest follower, underground ecumenist Sandr Riga, was confined to a special mental hospital to undergo forced “healing.” Because of these persecutions, the contacts between the Orthodox and the underground Catholics came to an end.

The wind of Perestroika

The liberalization of religious policy in the USSR began after the arrival in power of Mikhail Gorbachev, who was the closest disciple of Yuri Andropov. He realized that Christianity was not dangerous for the new nomenclatura and the Communist regime in the country. One of moral leaders of the “men of the sixties,” the poet Evgeniy Evtushenko, wrote an article in the liberal Soviet newspaper “Komsomolskaya Pravda” about the rehabilitation of Christianity as a progressive ideology. It was a sign of a change of situation. At the beginning of 1987, the religious dissidents were released from jails, camps and special mental hospitals. The year 1988 was the Millennium of Christianity in Russia. Many foreign Catholic clergy visited the USSR and got into touch with their coreligionists. Several underground Byzantine Catholics were disappointed by the state of public opinion revealed by the guests from abroad. They felt that there was connivance between the Roman Curia and the Moscow Patriarchate about the division of spheres of influence on Soviet territory. Several official Catholic ecumenists advised Russian Byzantine Catholics to “return” to the Russian Orthodox Church or to emigrate to the liberal West. They maintained that the Roman Curia always considered the former Russian Exarchate to be the personal utopia of Metropolitan Andrew Sheptytsky and that they would not renew it. “The Russian Exarchate is dead”, one of the experts from the Vatican said.

The followers of Sr. Rubashova and Fr. Nikiforov regarded themselves as a “Russian (or Russian-speaking)" Roman Catholic community and registered “Our Lady of Fatima Roman Catholic parish” at the address of St. Louis's parish in Moscow. Among its founders were Fr. Khmelnitsky,47 OP, J. Schreider,48 N. Trauberg and others.

In 1988-89, Fr. Victor Danilov recommenced his active missionary work and visited Moscow and Leningrad, where he met with individuals and groups of Russian Byzantine Catholics. He had obtained their addresses from Fr. Antony Ilc (Brussels). Usually, they asked for recommendations to study Catholic theology abroad. Their real purposes, however, were very often to leave the Soviet Union and to resettle in Western Europe. Fr. Danilov soon became disillusioned and refused to help with any such emigration plans.

In 1989-1990, Fr. Anastasiy Pernitsky49 visited the USSR, where he invited several young Russian men to go to Rome and enter Catholic seminaries. They settled in Italy and eventually broke contact with the Catholic Church. One of the members of the Dominican community from Leningrad, Nikolay Kovalev50, entered the Papal seminary, the “Russicum,” in 1989, but he did not stay to complete his studies.

In 1989, the uncontrolled legalization of the UGCC injured the relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the Moscow Patriarchate in the USSR. Many former underground Orthodox Christians revised their friendly attitudes towards their Catholic confreres. The hierarchy of the ROC reminded its flock that Catholics were heretics, that sharing the Eucharist with them was prohibited and it renewed anti-Catholic propaganda, as in the tsarist period. The relations between Catholicism and Orthodoxy returned to the level of the 17th century in Russia.


We saw the attempts of underground Catholics in the USSR to renew the activity of the Russian Exarchate for Byzantine Catholics, which was prohibited by Soviet legislation. Ukrainian underground Catholic Bishop Pavlo Vasylyk made the most extensive efforts to do this in the 1970s and 1980s. This was unsuccessful, because of the surge of repression by the KGB in the years of the Andropov government between 1982 and 1984. On the other hand, the new ecumenical policy in some Roman Catholic circles was more interested in close relations with the Moscow Patriarchate than in supporting Byzantine Catholics, whom they regarded as a dead end in Church history.

From the ecumenical perspective, one group of Catholics (from Western Europe) regarded Russian Orthodoxy as a valid Christian Church and tried to get in touch with it.

Another group (from Eastern Europe) regarded the Russian ecclesial tradition as not valid and tried to convert Orthodox Christian to Catholicism and to promote the switch to the Latin rite.

Unfortunately, none of them showed any interest in what Russian Christians (whether Orthodox or Catholic) thought about themselves and in which ways they believed the problem of Church unity could be dealt with.

Thus, the development of the Russian Byzantine Catholic movement in Russia began from “ground zero” in the 1990s.

Sources in Russian and Ukrainian

Gavrilіv M. Kozhna lyudina - ce persh za vse іstorіya.- Rim: Ukrains'ka Presova Sluzhba, 1987

I.V.L. [Lupandin] Vospominanija o dominikanskom ordene i katolikah v Rossii [Memoir about the Dominican orders and Catholics in Russia ] (1978-1993). – Typescript from the private archive of Fr. Sergey Golovanov

Litinsky G. Delo Nikiforova. -

Lupandin I.V. Dvizhenie k tseli. -


Anastasio di Odessa Pospettive die riconciliazione tra il Patriarcato di Mosca e la Chiesa di Roma. – Roma, 1994.

Andrews, C. & Mitrokhin, V., The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive  and the Secret History of the KGB, New York, 1999

Church of the martyrs: the new Saints of Ukraine, Lviv, Svichado, 2004

Diaconus Basilius, O.S.B., Leonidas Fiodoroff, De Vita et Operibus Enarratio, Publicationes Scientificae et Litterarae "Studion" Monasteriorum Studitarum, No. III-V, Roma, 1966

Douroff, Anastasia, La Russie au creuset Journal d'une croyante а Moscou (1964-1977). - Paris, Editions du Cerf, 1995.

Keleher, S., Passion and Resurrection - The Greek Catholic Church in Soviet Ukraine 1939-1989, Stauropegion, L'viv, 1993 (contains important data and documents concerning the Russian Byzantine Catholics)

Mailleux, P., Leonid Feodorov: Bridge Builder Between Rome and Moscow, P.J.Kenedy, New York, 1964

Osipova, I., Se il mondo vi odia ... Martiri per la fede nel regime sovietico, R.C. Edizioni La Casa di Matriona, Milan, 1997

Stadnik Thomas (Methodios) "Nec Plus, Nec Minus, Nec Aliter: A Brief History of the Russian Byzantine Catholic Church and the Russian Catholics". -

Vicini, A., "Colossei del XX secolo ... La terra restituisce i suoi morti...." 7 La Nuova Europa 1, pp. 79-85, 1998

Univ (Ukraine), St. Assumption Monastery of the Studite Order,

22 May 2007 A.D. on the Day of the Transference of the Relics of St. Nicolas

Edited by Paul Delaney

1 Vladimir Soloviev (1853 - 1900) – famous Russian philosopher and poet. He was received into communion with the Holy See as a Russian Byzantine Catholic on February 18, 1896 by Fr. Nicholas Tolstoy, the first Russian Byzantine Catholic priest

2 Andrew Sheptitsky, metropolitan (1865-1944) – Head of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, Metropolitan of Galych, Archbishop of Lvov in 1911-1944.

3 Leonid Feodorov, protopresbyter (1879-1935) – was born in Sankt-Petersburg to a Russian Orthodox family, studied in Rome and Innsbruck. In 1911 he was ordained a Byzantine Catholic priest. In 1917-1935 was Exarch of Russian Apostolic Exarchate. He died in Vyatka as confessor of the faith and church unity.

4 Clement Sheptytsky, archimandrite (1969-1951) – was brother of Andrew Sheptitsky. He was born in Austria, studied in Krakow and Munich. Since 1911 he was abbot of Monastery of Studit order near Lvov. He was appointed second Exarch of the Russian Apostolic Exarchate in 1942 by his brother, Metropolitan Andrew Sheptytsky.

5 Nomenklatura - a small, elite subset of the general population of Party members and officials in the Soviet Union, who held various key administrative positions in all spheres of the Soviet Union: in government, industry, agriculture, education, etc. The Russian Orthodox bishops belonged to the special kind of nomenklatura too. Nomenklatura had more authority and claimed higher privileges as precisely the same kind of ruling class, which Communist doctrine denounced in the "Capitalist" West. Members of nomenklatura were free of control of the KGB.

6KGB - the umbrella organization name for the Soviet Union's premier security, secret police, and intelligence agency, from 1954 to 1991. The term KGB is also used in a more general sense to refer to the successive Soviet State Security organizations before 1954 (from the Cheka in 1917). The 5th Department of the KGB tracked the religion underground by recruiting of intelligencers.

7 Alexander Men, archpriest (1935 – 1990) - born into a Jewish family in Moscow, he was baptized at the age of seven months along with his mother in the banned Catacomb Russian Orthodox Church. He studied biology, but was expelled from the Institute in 1958 because of his religious beliefs. Upon graduating from the Leningrad Theological Seminary in 1960, he was ordained a priest. In the early 1970s, Men became a popular figure in Russia's religious community, especially among the assimilated Jewish intelligentsia. He provided an ideological framework which led a number of Jewish converts to Christianity in USSR to adopt Russian Orthodoxy. On Sunday morning, September 9, 1990, he was assassinated. Despite personal orders from the Soviet and later the Russian governments that the case be further investigated, the murder remains unsolved. Since his death, Men's works and ideas have been seen as controversial among the conservative faction of the Russian Orthodox Church. He is held in suspicion and sometimes attacked for his Jewish heritage and his concealed propaganda of Catholic ideas.

8 Antony Ilc, archpriest (1923-1998) – Slovenian catholic priest of Byzantine rite. He was born near Liubliana, graduated from the Pontifical Russian College in Rome in 1951. In 1955-1997 – rector of the Russian Catholic mission in Brussels.

9 Cyrill Kozina, archpriest (1925-2004) - Slovenian catholic priest of Byzantine rite. He was born near Liubliana, graduated from the Pontifical Russian College in Rome in 1953. In 1965-2000 – vicar and rector of the Russian Catholic mission in Brussels and editor of religion literature in Russian. He died in Bruxelles.

10 Irina Posnova (1914-1997) – was born in Kiev in family of Orthodox historian Mikhail Posnov, emigrated with him in Bulgaria, studied in the Leuven Catholic University (Belgium). She was in 1950-1997 as director of Russian Catholic edition in Brussels.

11 Anastasia Durova (1908-1999) – was born in Russia, emigrated with parents in French. She jointed the congregation of Sisters of Francis Xavier. In 1964-1979 she worked in French embassy in Moscow.

12 Vsevolod Roshko (de Rochcau), archpriest (1917-1982) – was born in Russian family of Moldavian origin. He graduated from the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome He was ordained a Catholic priest of Byzantine rite and made activities in the Russian Catholic Apostolate abroad. His older brother Fr. George de Rochcau was last Apostolic visitator of Russian Byzantine Catholic abroad. He died in Jerusalem after surgical operation.

13 Georgiy Friedmann, OPL, priest – was born into a Jewish family in Ostrov (near Saint-Petersburg) in 1930, he studied music, became a famous jazz musician in the 1960s and was a good athlete. In 1979, he was ordained a Catholic priest of the Byzantine rite. He provided an active ideological framework, which led a number of Jewish converts to Christianity in Russia to adopt Roman Catholicism. In 1981-1983, Fr. Georgiy stopped his activities in 1981-1985 because of threats from the KGB. After the beginning of Perestroika, he went to Western Europe many times to find support for his activities. From 1991 to 2002, he celebrated Mass privately. Only in 2002 did Latin-rite church authorities officially confirm him as Roman Catholic vicar in the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Assumption in Saint-Petersburg. In 2006, he retired.

14 Nikodim Rotov, metropolitan (1929-1978) – was born in near Riazan’, he made his monastic vows, and assumed the name of Nikodim when made deacon in 1947. He combined parochial work with studies at Leningrad, and was archimandrite in charge of the Russian Orthodox Mission in Jerusalem. In 1960 he became Bishop of Podolsk and head of foreign relations of the Russian Church, which he led into the World Council of Churches amid great acclaim in 1961. At the age of 34, he was appointed metropolitan. He was confident of the Chef of the KGB Andropov and had great influence at policy of the ROC. He collapsed and died during an audience with Pope John Paul I in the Vatican.

15 Literary Negro - a "ghost-writer," who did academic and literary work and sold it to customers, who then passed off this work as their own. In Soviet times, many underground Christians worked as “literary Negro” for the Orthodox bishops and wrote Master's or Ph.D. theses for them. The Bishops bought them with money or with theological literature from the West.

16 Alexander Kazem-Bek (1902-1977) - was born in Kazan in aristocratic family. In 1920 he went abroad. He studied at Universities of Beograd and Munich and lived in USA. In 1957 he repatriated in the USSR and worked as consulter of the Moscow Patriarchy.

17 Sergianism - the doctrine of craven submission to the Communist and atheistic government of the former Soviet Union on the part of the Hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church, led by the Patriarchate of Moscow and All Russia. Patriarch Sergiy of Moscow (1867-1944), while deputy locum tenens of the Patriarchal Throne, issued an encyclical letter in 1927, which announced that henceforward the joys of the Soviet Communist homeland would be the joys of the Church and the sorrows of the Soviet Communist homeland would be the sorrows of the Church.

The ROC MP has modernized several ideas of Sergianism and refuses to denounce it.

18 Miguel Arranz, SJ, hieromonk - Spanish catholic priest of Byzantine rite. He was born near Toledo in 1930, graduated from a seminary in Spain and the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome in 1954. Professor of Liturgy in the Gregorian University in Rome. Now he retired and lives in Rome.

19 Keleher, S., Passion and Resurrection - The Greek Catholic Church in Soviet Ukraine 1939-1989, Stauropegion, L'viv, 1993. - 77.

20 Katkov Andrey, MIC, bishop (1916-1995) – He was born in Irkutsk (Russia), emigrated to China together with his parents. He studied in St. Nicolas Catholic college in Kharbin, where he converted to Catholicism and jointed to the Marian Congregation (MIC). He graduated from the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome in 1945 and made activities in the Russian Catholic Apostolate abroad He was consecrated as Byzantine Catholic bishop in 1958. In 1977 he retired. He died in Rome.

21 Valeriy (Mark) Smirnov, hieromonk – was born in Leningrad in 1951, he graduated from the Leningrad Orthodox Academy. He specialized in the works of Vladimir and Sergey Solovievs. Having met metropolitan Nikodim Rotov, he became one of his closest assistants. As an official of the Office of Interchurch Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church, he visited many countries in Western Europe in the 1970s and made contact with the Russian Catholic missions of the Byzantine rite in Brussels, Paris, Finland and Rome. After the death of metropolitan Nikodim, he retired and converted to Roman Catholicism. In 1987, he immigrated to West Europe (Belgium< Germany), where he worked at Radio Free Europe. However, the Catholic clergy in Western Europe did not trust him, suspecting him of being a KGB agent. In 1997, he returned to Russia and works as a religious journalist and editor. He lives in Moscow.

22 Amvrosiy Blinkov, archimandrite – was born in Novgorod about 1950, he graduated from the Leningrad Orthodox Academy. He converted to Roman Catholicism in 1973. After the death of Nikodim, he lived in Novgorod and ministered officially as an Orthodox priest. In 1989 he celebrated Mass in St. Lois Church in Moscow. Then he got in touch with Catholic authorities, who advised him to leave Russia and enter a Latin religious order. In the 1990s, he lived in Lithuania in a monastery of the Marian congregation. He returned to Russia and lives in Novgorod.
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