Born Vasily Ivanovich Belavin, the son of a village priest in the Pskov diocese, Tikhon, Enlightener of North America, was the first Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia since Czar Peter the Great suppressed the patriarchate and created a ruling Holy Synod for the Russian Orthodox Church in 1700. Vasily studied theology at the seminary in Pskov and the Theological Academy of St Petersburg, becoming after graduation an instructor in the Pskov Seminary and then the Kholm Seminary, where he became rector. Prior to his transfer to Kholm he was tonsured a monk, took the name Tikhon (after the 18th century Russian bishop and spiritual writer, Tikhon of Zadonsk), and was ordained.
He became successively Bishop of Lublin (1897), of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska (1898), of Yaroslav (1907), and of Vilna (1914). In April 1917 he became metropolitan (archbishop) of Moscow, and in November of that year was elected Patriarch by the Panrussian Council. Though not an eminent scholar or Church politician, his courage and humility gave him the moral authority needed in the subsequent difficult years. He openly condemned the killings of the Czar’s family in 1918, protested against the violent attacks of the Bolsheviks on the Church, and in 1919 he anathematized all who persecuted the Church, calling upon the people to resist, though in the same year he imposed neutrality on the clergy in the civil war between the Reds (Bolsheviks) and the Whites (anti-Bolsheviks) and refused to give his blessing to the latter. Owing to his resistance to the State policy of confiscating Church property during the famine of 1921-22 he was placed under arrest, but due to English political pressure, was not brought to trial. During his imprisonment the State-supported schismatic “Living Church” was set up, which called a council in 1923 to depose him and gained many adherents. In the same year Tikhon signed a declaration professing loyalty to the Soviet government, which gained him less intolerable conditions, and he was allowed to live in the Donskoy monastery at Moscow (where he had been imprisoned) and to officiate in the churches of the capital.
Owing to his personal influence many schismatics returned to the Patriarchal Church, and his death was the occasion of great popular demonstrations of veneration and affection. Tikhon was canonized in 1989, and his relics were discovered in Donskoy Monastery after his canonization. His feast day is celebrated on April 7, and his glorification (canonization) is celebrated on October 9.
As Bishop of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska, and later (after 1903) Archbishop of the Aleutian Islands and North America, Tikhon encouraged the publication of Orthodox writings in English, including a translation of the Russian Orthodox liturgy. He himself wrote a catechism based on the Nicene Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.
In 1900, the Rt Revd Charles Grafton, Bishop of the Diocese of Fond du Lac (in The Protestant Episcopal Church), invited Bishop Tikhon to the consecration of the Revd Dr RH Weller as Bishop Coadjutor of Fond du Lac. One writer states that it was Bishop Grafton’s intention that Bishop Tikhon should join in the laying on of hands as a co-consecrator, but “owing to the strong opposition of one of the assisting bishops”, this did not occur. Bishop Tikhon remained a close friend of Bishop Grafton, and through the latter’s influence, Tikhon was made an honorary doctor of theology by Nashotah House.
A eucharistic liturgy known as the Liturgy of St Tikhon, based on the 1892 Holy Communion service of the Book of Common Prayer (Protestant Episcopal Church) with extensive amendments to conform to Orthodox worship, is used by some Western Rite Orthodox parishes. Tikhon is not known formally to have approved this rite that bears his name, though the Holy Synod in Moscow, to whom he passed on a request from Anglo-Catholic Episcopalians during his North American episcopate, granted the possibility of a Western Rite based on the Anglican liturgy with extensive changes to conform to Orthodox praxis.
- Compiled from various sources, including The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, the Orthodoxwiki website, and others.
- Also see these other sources on the life of St Tikhon the Confessor.
Almighty God, who gave to your servant Tikhon boldness to confess the Name of our Savior Jesus Christ before the rulers of this world, and courage to suffer for this faith: Grant that we may always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us, and to suffer gladly for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.