Alexander Ivanovich Vvedensky (Russian: Александр Иванович Введенский) was one of the leaders of the schismatic Living Church movement (Живая Церковь, also known as the Renovationist Church, Обновленческая Церковь), a reformed Orthodox church set up in the early Soviet Union by the Bolshevik government after it confiscated all the property of the Church of Russia. Vvedensky is considered the person "most identified with renovationism in the Soviet era" and is considered a heretic by the Russian Orthodox Church.
Alexander Vvedensky was born on August 30, 1889 in Vitebsk, now in Belarus. His paternal grandfather was Jewish but converted to Orthodox Christianity and served as a precentor (cantor) in the Diocese of Novgorod. During his conversion his grandfather changed his surname to Vvedensky after Vvedenie. Alexander's mother was a member of the provincial bourgeoisie and his father became a nobleman and was headmaster of a school at Vitebsk.
Vvedensky graduated from the History department of St. Petersburg University in 1913. While a student at St. Petersburg, he played the piano and frequented the salon of Dmitri Merezhkovsky and Zinaida Gippius, important figures in the symbolist movement. With their encouragement, he wrote an article entitled "Reasons for Non-belief among the Russian Intelligentsia,” published in the journal Palomnik, finding that the two main reasons for non-belief were
- the disparity between Christian dogma and scientific knowledge and
- the reactionary nature of the Orthodox clergy.
His desire to bridge the gap between religion and science and be an apologist and reformer of the church is seen throughout his subsequent career.
Vvedensky entered an ecclesiastical career in 1910. As priests cannot marry, he married prior to his ordination, though accusations of marital infidelity were to plague him for the rest of his life. He graduated from the St. Petersburg Theological Academy in 1914, but was refused ordination due to his Jewish background and perception in intellectualism. Finally in July 1914, he was ordained a regimental chaplain by Chaplain-General of the Forces Georgy Shavelsky. He served as a regimental chaplain for two years before being assigned as chaplain of the Nikolaevsky Cavalry School in Petrograd in 1916. After the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, he joined the reformist elements of the Church of Russia and maintained good relations with the Soviet government.
In May 1922, Vvedensky, and other priests of the Living Church movement were brought to Moscow with the assistance of the State Political Directorate. Vvedensky and two other priests met on May 10 in the Grebnevsky Church with the church's pastor, Fr. Sergei Kalinsky. They agreed to collaborate for support among the Moscow clergy while also supporting the head of the movement, Archbishop Antonin Granovsky, to gain adherents in the provinces. Also, on their agenda was to arrange a meeting with Patriarch Tikhon in an effort to end what they saw as counterrevolutionary activity on the part of the church. They prepared an appeal at the Military-Revolutionary Council which was certified by Trotsky’s personal secretary and, on May 12, distributed by Stalin to the Politburo, which approved it. The only type-written archival copy of the appeal was signed by Stalin, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Molotov, Mikhail Tomsky, and Aleksey Rykov.
On the same evening of the Politburo meeting, Vvedensky, with several other renovationist priests, confronted Patr. Tikhon, who at that time was under house arrest, with evidence that his anti-Soviet activities were leading to chaos in the Church. Denying such anti-Soviet activity, Tikhon, however, agreed to step down from the patriarchal throne and hand authority temporarily over to Metropolitan Agafangel of Yaroslavl until the new council could be convened to elect a new patriarch.. Several days later, they got Tikhon to agree that the patriarchal chancellery should be run by the Living Church movement, with the stipulation that the activities be overseen by two other bishops. But, upon leaving the meeting, Vvedensky publicly reported that Patr. Tikhon had approved the renovationist's council as the proper church administration until the national council could be convened for the election of a new Patriarch. Abp. Antonin Granovsky was named the president of the council with Vvedensky as the vice-president.
When Vvedensky met with Metropolitan Benjamin of Petrograd in late May, the metropolitan refused to accept the VTsU(the renovationist Supreme Church Administration) as the rightful administration of the church without direct instructions from Patr. Tikhon. In a letter to all parishes in his diocese, Metr. Benjamin forbade Vvedensky and other renovationist priests from performing the sacraments before they had repented before him. This led to the arrest of Metr. Benjamin the day following after the letter was released. Vvedensky's presence at his arrest was compared with Judas Iscariot at the arrest of Christ. Later, Alexy Simansky, restored Vvedensky and the others to their rights on June 4 under pressure from GPU which threatened to execute Benjamin.
From that time, Vvedensky was essentially the head of the Living Church. During this time he adopted various titles, including: Metropolitan - Apologete - Evangelizer - Deputy of the First Hierarch. On October 10, 1941, he was named the "First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church in the USSR" with the title of the "Most Holy and Blessed Lord and Father" (Russian: "Святейший и Блаженнейший Великий Господин и Отец") and in essence was the head of the Living Church. He attempted to have himself named the Patriarch, but that was never accepted by the majority of the church and by December 1941, he reverted back to his less elegant title of Metropolitan.
The Living Church lost the support of the Soviet authorities and the rest of faithful after Stalin issued his concordat with the "Patriarchal", or Tikhonite church, following his meeting with Metropolitan Sergius on September 8, 1943. Many clergy were allowed back into their respective churches at the rank they had before joining the Living Church, except for Vvedensky. As the "founding father" of the schism he was to be laicized. However, he refused and died as unreconciled.
Vvedensky married twice and had five children. As a member of the white clergy (married clergy), he was canonically forbidden to enter the episcopate, which in the Orthodox Church is made up of the black clergy (monastic clergy), with the exception when the white priest is a widower. In such case the priest is not allowed to remarry but can become a monk and thus be eligible for the episcopate.
Vvedensky died of a stroke on July 26, 1946 in Moscow and is buried at the Kalitnikov Cemetery in Moscow.
- Roslof, p.9
- Roslof, pp. 9-10
- Roslof, p. 10
- Roslof, p. 54
- Roslof, p. 57-8
- Roslof, p.62
- See Metropolitan Alexander Vvedensky (in Russian)
- Roslof, Edward E.; Red Priests: Renovationism, Russian Orthodoxy, & Revolution, 1905-1946, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 2002.