Friday, May 6, 2016

Chosen for His People: A Biography of Patriarch Tikhon

One of the joys of being in the New World is that many of our saints have long hagiographies due to Orthodoxy's late arrival when compared to the Three Hierarchs or St. Symeon the New Theologian or others. We have photos and news clips and the like to imprint an immediacy to our glorified faithful. For older, Old World saints sometimes we are blessed to have long stories like the Life of Saint Anthony to tell us more about the lives of the holy but other times our calendars only give us the rough outline or even guesses at the lives these people led. In Chosen for His People we are blessed to have the saint's entire life from beginning to end.

The life of St. Tikhon speaks to the birth of Orthodoxy in America and of (what until very recently looked to be) the end of a viable Church in Russia. The book goes into important detail about how the Bolsheviks sought to undermine and frankly embarrass the Church before stripping her of money, lands, and the freedom to operate. It shows how one man refused to bend or meekly retreat into anonymity that will serve the reader as a ready model for dealing with our increasingly chaotic and forcibly secularized modern times.

Additionally, Chosen for His People gives the English reader a rare window into how the Church operated in pre-Revolutionary Russia. The seminary experience and life of a monk after seminary will be eye-opening for those not familiar with the system of the time. Equally interesting, it shows how the Church operated in America and what hand St. Tikhon played in her development.

I recommend this book to the lover of histories and to those interested in the lives of the saints. It's not an overly long book and is broken up so that someone with a busy schedule can put it down at breaks in the narrative and pick it back up without much effort. I'd also recommend this book to parents of high school-aged children. Children today have little understanding of how the Church grew in America and no living memory of the scourge of Soviet communism. Chosen for His People would be an excellent way to start a conversation.

(HTSP) - St Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow (Vasily Ivanovich Bellavin, 1865-1925) is one of the most important figures of both Russian and Orthodox Church history in the twentieth century. Yet ninety years after his death this remains the only complete biography ever published in the English language. It has now been updated and revised with a new preface and bibliography, together with revised and additional endnotes, by Scott M. Kenworthy.

All together these reveal a picture of a man whom no one expected to be chosen as Patriarch. Nevertheless he humbly accepted the call of God and the people to guide the Church during the most turbulent of times as it faced both internal upheavals and external persecution. As he said in his speech immediately following his election as Patriarch in 1917, “…I am entrusted with the care for all the Russian churches, and what awaits me is the gradual dying for them all my days.”

Both specialists and general readers will become better acquainted with St Tikhon through this modest but carefully crafted monograph.


“Swan’s book . . . has stood the test of time. It is particularly valuable because it presents in English many of St Tikhon’s key epistles and addresses, as well as documents from the Soviet side. There are, to be sure, some inaccuracies and factual errors, especially about his early life and his family, which have been indicated in the notes of the current edition. Recent scholarship has not overturned her key insights, however, but in many cases has strengthened them.” —Scott M. Kenworthy, author, The Heart of Russia

About the Author

Jane Swan taught history at West Chester University in Pennsylvania and served as the director of the Women’s Center. She earned her doctorate in Russian history from the University of Pennsylvania. Scott M. Kenworthy is an associate professor of comparative religion at Miami University in Ohio. He was the recipient of the 2010 Frank S. and Elizabeth D. Brewer Prize of the American Society of Church History for his book The Heart of Russia: Trinity-Sergius, Monasticism, and Society after 1825. He lives in Oxford, Ohio.

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