The “Living” Church: When Wine Turned to Blood

Saint Tikhon of Moscow


Ok, so joke’s on you. The church isn’t really alive, nor is this post about some old world Russian sorcery, (which would be really cool!) This “Living” Church is not focused on a building, but on a movement. Known as the Renovationist Movement, The Living Church Movement started as part of a schism of The Russian Orthodox Church in 1922 lasting until 1946. Early on, it was corrupted by the Soviet government in an effort to combine the political and social goals of the government with the Orthodox Church. The general fear among many Russians at the time was that Orthodoxy faced extinction after the Bolshevik Revolution and subsequent creation of Soviet Russia.

This movement began in 1905 as a result of that revolution, however, it did not gain traction and faded away, much like it would in 1917. It wasn’t until the Famine of 1921 when the Politburo of communist Russia approved a plan to strip the church of its valuables, which they claimed was an attempt to feed the starving population that things really came to a head. In reality, Bolshevik leaders secretly wanted to strip the church of any valuables that might be used to finance any political opposition. Clearly, the Soviet government was meddling in church affairs. They wanted full control of all aspects of the communist government and would quell anyone who attempted to stop them. There was no separation of church and state during this time as the division blurred with the government intervention.

Church Patriarch Tikhon (now Saint Tikhon) was against the Soviet government and did everything he could to rally against them.  Because he refused to cooperate with the government’s order to seize all church valuables, he was arrested by the communist government. After his arrest and removal from power, members of the government moved swiftly to purge the church of anyone loyal to the imprisoned leader. This move led to hundreds of clergy members loyal to Tikhon being executed after being labeled as counterrevolutionaries by the Soviet government.

In 1923, after publically repenting his “sins” in a letter addressed to the Soviet government in an effort to save the church, Tikhon was released from prison. His actions allowed for many to rally behind him, thus gradually weakening the government backed church’s power causing the schism to incrementally lose ground. In 1946, 21 years after Saint Tikhon’s death, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin finally permitted for the election of a new church patriarch and allowed for church governance to be returned to the church and away from the government for the first time since 1922.


**The title of this particular post is a pairing of wine as a sacramental religious beverage commonly consumed in churches, and the blood (blood of christ) to represent the executed bishops who gave their lives for their beliefs. It was not intended to offend anyone with deeply held religious beliefs or otherwise.**


6 thoughts on “The “Living” Church: When Wine Turned to Blood”

  1. I never thought about the political ramifications felt by the Orthodox Church due to the revolution. Another example of the political volatility surrounding this time period in Russia.


  2. Wow – the opening of this post really made me want to read further. Nicely done! The Orthodox church faced daunting challenges under the Bolsheviks. Restoring the Patriarchate (which had been vacant since Peter The Great’s time) was a somewhat shrewd attempt to give the church the space to undercut itself (because the Bolsheviks’ thought that if they gave the church freedom to operate it’s superstitious and exploitative underpinnings would be more obvious to the masses. Tikhon dies in 1925, and the regime leave the post vacant until 1943, when, in the midst of WWII appointing a new Patriarch helps rally support for the regime from Christians in the Soviet Union and from the Allies, who had always frowned on the Bolsheviks’ persecution of the church.


  3. The Bolshevik campaign to weaken, steal from, and ultimately destroy the Church is a fascinating part of the 1920s. Both sides were arguably corrupt, as Lenin wanted to rob the Church of its economic and political wealth in the name of feeding the hungry, while the Church remained a lasting image of the old system under the Tsar that held enormous authority and the influence to spark revolution. Tikhon was an important figure, and I appreciate your segments on his role in the resistance.


  4. The first few sentences of your blog were a great way to get the reader hooked on your blog! Also you did a great job explaining the history of what happened and why the church wasn’t separate from the state or government. You made it super clear that the “Soviet government was meddling in church affairs,”. It’s interesting because it was completely different than the United States. “They wanted full control of all aspects of the communist government and would quell anyone who attempted to stop them.” This topic is something that really interests me because I’m a christian and it’s interesting seeing what rights of religion looked like around the world in the early 20th century and even now. Great job!


  5. This was really intriguing to read about and I had no clue about the Renovationist Movement. I never knew that the Bolsheviks felt so threatened by the church that they had to go through the trouble of stripping the valuables from the buildings. It just goes to show how controlling and authoritarian the government was.


  6. I liked reading your post because it tied in with mine, which was about the Soviet’s stripping the Church of the valuables. It is truly amazing how much Lenin and the Bolsheviks feared the Church, viewing it as a rival power. It must just been because it was the only institution within Russia that had any ability to challenge the Soviets.


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