The governing body of the Russian Orthodox Church from 1721 to 1917.
On January 25, 1721, Peter the Great formally established an Ecclesiastical College to rule and reform the Russian Orthodox Church. This new governing body was renamed the Most Holy Governing Synod at its first session in February and replaced the former office of Patriarch, which had been in abeyance since the death of the last incumbent, Adrian, in 1700. The creation of the Synod, modeled after the state-controlled synods of the Lutheran church, was an integral part of Peter's wider program for the reform of Russia's secular administrative and military machine, a program aimed at improving efficiency, eradicating abuses, and, above all, increasing the Sovereign's control of revenue.
The Synod was entrusted with the administration of all church affairs. A governing statute called the Ecclesiastical Regulation was written by Archbishop Feofan Prokopovich, with amendments by Peter. According to the statute, the Synod was to have twelve clerical members appointed by the tsar, although in practice there were always fewer. Despite the powers granted by the statute, ecclesiastical authority was effectively reduced in 1722 when Peter created the office of over-procurator to oversee the Synod. The over-procurator was to be a lay official whose chief duty was to be the Sovereign's "eye," to "ensure that the Synod does its duty." In theory the Synod was meant to be equal to its secular counterpart, the Senate, but in reality ecclesiastical government had very little autonomy and was firmly subordinate to the tsar. Collegial administration guaranteed the Sovereign firmer control over the church than patriarchal administration had allowed, and removed the challenge to the tsar's authority that a patriarch had represented.
Despite the formal recognition of the Synod in 1723 by four Eastern patriarchs, Russian clergy resented the abolition of Russia's patriarchate, the domination of the Synod by Peter's handpicked foreign clergy, and the interference in church affairs by the over-procurator. Nonetheless, attempts to restore the patriarchate after Peter's death in 1725 failed. Instead, the office of over-procurator (in abeyance from 1726) was restored in 1741, gaining exclusive access to the tsar in 1803. From 1824 the over-procurator exercised effective authority over all aspects of church administration and held ministerial rank. The best-known incumbent, Konstantin Petrovich Pobedonostsev (1880–1905), was able to wield far-reaching influence during his procuratorship.
After the election of the First Imperial Duma in 1905, deputies began to voice concern over the Synod's subservience to the procurator and tsar, but only after Nicholas II's abdication could steps be taken to restore the autonomy of the church. In July 1917 the Provisional Government abolished the post of over-procurator and invited the Synod to call elections to a council to decide the future of church administration. In November 1917 a council of 564 delegates reestablished the patriarchate and elected Metropolitan Tikhon of Moscow as Patriarch of All Russia, thus bringing to an end Peter the Great's system of Synodal governance.
See also: orthodoxy; peter i; pobedonostsev, konstantin
Cracraft, James. (1971). The Church Reform of Peter the Great. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Freeze, Gregory. (1983). The Parish Clergy in the Nineteenth Century. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Hughes, Lindsey. (1998). Russia in the Age of Peter the Great. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Debra A. Coulter
"Holy Synod." Encyclopedia of Russian History. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/holy-synod
"Holy Synod." Encyclopedia of Russian History. . Retrieved August 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/holy-synod
"Holy Synod." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/holy-synod
"Holy Synod." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Retrieved August 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/holy-synod