Orthodox America

Patriarch Tikhon's Relics Discovered

The Lord shall preserve their bones...

On February 19, 1992, a midnight peal of bells from Moscow's Donskoy Monastery joyfully announced that the earthly remains of St. Tikhon had been found. The holy confessor and Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia died March 25 (O. S.) 1925, and was buried in the monastery's small summer church. When, two years later, the communists closed the monastery, it was feared that the hierarch's remains had been dug up and burned in the crematorium the communists had constructed in another of the monastery's churches-a not unreasonable surmise considering the Patriarch headed a list of "enemies of the people" published in Izvestia. According to other rumors, the monks had anticipated such a fate and had reburied him elsewhere in the monastery or in the German cemetery. Their actual whereabouts had, for years, been a painful mystery, and when, in May 1991, the monastery was reopened, one of the first things the monks did was to ask Patriarch Alexis' blessing to search for St. Tikhon's relics.

An opportunity unexpectedly presented itself in the wake of a tragic fire, the work of arsonists, which severely damaged the church-miraculously sparing the altar-and required extensive repairs. The search began on the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord, in the evening, after a service of intercession to the Saint.

Hearts sank when, after hours of digging beneath the marble slab bearing the Patriarch's name, they finally uncovered a burial vault only to find it contained nothing but cobwebs. Closer inspection, however, revealed that this chamber was but part of the underground heating system. They also noticed that the heating ducts directly beneath the assumed burial place were firmly secured with cement and not limestone as elsewhere in the system. More significantly, this portion of the system lay not on the ground but on top of a massive cement slab. The care with which it was all arranged made it doubtful that this was the work of Chekists. Two more days of intense digging-and the real sepulchre was uncovered. It may have been that this was the plan from the first, which would explain why only a few hierarchs were admitted into the church for the actual burial.

Beneath the stone slab was an oak coffin with a marble plaque which read, "Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, Tikhon," and the dates of his enthronement and repose. In spite of the extreme dampness in the vault, the relics were almost entirely incorrupt, while a panagia carved of bone had turned to dust, leaving only its silver casing. Also preserved were the Patriarch's velvet mantia and the pussy willow branches with which he was buried (he was buried on Palm Sunday).

On April 5 (N. S.), the anniversary of St. Tikhon's repose, his relics were solemnly transferred to the monastery's main cathedral. At the reliquary there is a beautiful icon in which the Saint is depicted holding a scroll with the words:

My children, stray not from the path of the Cross, which has been sent to us by God.

It is a timely admonition for all of us, and especially for those hierarchs of the Moscow Patriarchate who, while claiming to be St. Tikhon's successors, have taken the wider path of compromise. Will they repent and change course? Until now, their behavior only bears out Abraham's words to the rich man: neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead (Luke 16:30-31).