The Living Church (Russian: Живая церковь, also called Renovated Church or Russian: Обновленческая церковь or Renovationism, Russian: Обновленчество) was a theoretical, reformed "Orthodox church" set up in the old Soviet Union by the Bolshevik government after it confiscated all property of the Church of Russia. It was disbanded in 1943 when Stalin was desperate to bolster the morale of the Russian people in the Second World War.
This church had almost no following among the people, and a number of clergy who had been in the movement in good faith repented and returned to the Orthodox Church. The few who tried to exist in the state run church of the atheistic government were used by the state against those faithful to Patriarch Tikhon. The government knew the renovation (reformation) would cause division and weakening to government opposition. As the leader of the party said, "I will smite the shepherd and scatter the sheep", Patriarch Tikhon was arrested and isolated from the populace and the Church was given to the wolves. But even by the late twenties, it became of little use to the state.
The legacy of this movement, is that now all change is seen to be renovation of the faith. The Living Church used modern Russian, the revised calendar, and non monastic Bishops.
After the revolution of February 1917, the Russia Orthodox Church saw opportunity for the church reform long hoped for by many churchmen but delayed by the tsarist regime. In the All-Russian Church Council of 1917-1918, called together in Moscow, the patriarchate that was abolished by Peter the Great, was restored.
The new patriarch, Tikhon, had an independent approach toward the communist regime that had overthrown the provisional government. Under the official pretext that there was starvation in large sections of the country, the government in 1922 decided to confiscate all church valuables. The patriarch cooperated, but insisted on control of some church property such as the sacred vessels, and other liturgical items. For this, Patriarch Tikhon was placed under house arrest and the offices of the patriarchate were closed.
A group of priests including Alexander Vvedensky and Vladimir Krasnitsky, organized a Temporary Higher Church Administration, which turned into a group aimed at deposing the patriarch and introducing radical church reforms. Some bishops supported the Temporary Administration, but mostly the support came from married clergy who were excluded from the episcopacy by canon law, progressive intellectuals, and the government.
The Renovated Church deposed Patriarch Tikhon at one of its councils, and reestablished the Holy Synod (originally proclaimed by Peter the Great in 1721 to replace the patriarchate) to rule the church. It introduced controversial reforms to the episcopate and to the liturgy.
The undoubtedly deceitful nature of the Church takeover was evident to the faithful. The Living Church struggled much against the patriarch and his followers. Living Church leaders cooperated with the secret police having hundreds of "Tikhonite" clergy executed as counterrevolutionaries.
In an apparent attempt to relieve the harsh pressures on the Church, Patriarch Tikhon publicly repented his anti-Soviet actions, and assured the regime of his loyalty. On June 25, 1923 he was set free. Worshippers flocked to the churches that had remained faithful to him, and the schism of the Living Church lost much ground. Only by government support did it keep going.
The schism collapsed completely during World War II, when Joseph Stalin changed his religious policies and allowed the election of a successor to Tikhon. Except for Vvedensky, the leaders of the Renovated Church repented, and its churches returned to the Patriarch.