By: Rev. Father George, SSJt. - Cor-Bishop
In American Orthodox Catholic Christianity there have been questions raised about what constitutes, or make up the "Catacomb Church".
What is said below pertains to the AMERICAN ORTHODOX CHURCH, the North American Orthodox Church, the International Communications Headquarters (New Mexico) and her dependencies (Mexico, U.S.A. and Canada) only, and does not necessarily apply to any other jurisdiction although the principals, actions and events of any one or more of them may apply in part or whole.
In these present times most people, including clergy, do not know the history of the "Catacomb Church" movement. They are unaware even of its very existence for the most part. As a result, when talking about the "Catacomb Church" movement, they have been more than a few hierarchy of various jurisdictions of the One, Holy, Orthodox, Catholic and Apostolic Church who would lead you to believe they are in 'control' of this movement ... and that they know who is or is not a member of the clergy who make up this movement.
The truth is... no one actually controls or maintains a national or international registry of clergy in the movement whatsoever. The only exception to this would be the Primate (Metropolitan or Archbishop) of the jurisdiction to which the clergy actually belong such as the AMERICAN ORTHODOX CHURCH and the NORTH AMERICAN ORTHODOX CHURCH. To maintain such information on an international scale of all jurisdictions (churches) would be an astronomical feat and a definite prison sentence or death warrant for several of them in some countries.
This brief history of the Catacomb Church movement's earliest beginnings does not do justice to the colorful and panoramic view which began in the earliest times of the Church just after the life, death, Resurrection and Ascension of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, although - even then - it was not necessarily known or called the "Catacomb Church" as a direct nomenclature, but referenced in vague terms.
The "Catacomb Church" movement never ceased to exist from those times. It gained its prominence more in our own time during World War II (W.W.II) in Italy, Greece, Russia, German, the Ukraine and many other countries where clergy of various nationally named Orthodox Churches and even the Roman Catholic Church were suffering under the tyranny of what was then the Nazi regime (under Hitler), Stalin, Mussolini and others. It became more well known in Russia as a result of Stalin and subsequent Presidents of the Soviet Union.
Many clergymen, priests and bishops were sent out in a manner where there was maintained little to no information as to the newly ordained's identity. These deacons, priests and bishops went among their own friends and people whom they knew in order to maintain a low profile while continuing to build the Church Catholic (Orthodox and Roman) and to provide for their sheep when they lost a previous priest or bishop due to they tyranny on-going then. Many of those clergy were not able to leave their homelands.
Other clergy went UNDERGROUND where possible as they heard and watched or saw their brother priests and monks in the vineyard being tortured, maimed, or even killed and executed because they would not bend their necks to the political arm of sadistic governments. Many of those who were caught, but not killed, were sent to prison. In Russia, Gulags, as some were also called in other countries bordering Russia.
While many were going to the Gulags or prison, even to their death, many others unknown to the government were going another direction. Not wearing their collars, crosses, or any emblem that might, could or would identify them as clergy, carrying nothing more than what a faithful citizen would carry.
To say or provide "Divine Liturgy" (Orthodox) or "Holy Mass" (Roman) was an effort in subterfuge and other 'shadowy' tactics in order to feed their flocks on the Word of God, in the Holy Mysteries (which is errantly called today as the "Sacraments").
With Stalin's government in place after murdering the Czar and his family; Russia's persecution of the Orthodox Clergy who refused to become tools, grew to a fever pitch, driving many bishops into ordaining not only priests, but consecrating in secret, new bishops to carry on the lines of Apostolic Succession by the Grace of God through Holy Spirit.
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