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Filaret of Moscow


FILARET OF MOSCOW (17821867) was a metropolitan of Moscow and Russian Orthodox church leader. Filaret was born into the clerical "caste." He became a monk in 1808 and was ordained a priest in the following year. By 1812 he was rector of the Saint Petersburg Theological Academy. He became archbishop of Moscow (1821), then metropolitan of Moscow (1826); he served in the latter office until he died. Meanwhile Filaret had become a member of the Holy Synod (1819), the governing body of the Russian Orthodox church. Whether active participant or (from 1842) estranged consultant, he was to dominate its work for almost half a century. In the process he was able to demonstrate that the church need not be as subservient to the state as successive lay procurators-general of the synod expected it to be.

Filaret was barred from participation in the deliberations of the synod after 1842 largely because of the ban imposed on a privately circulated translation of the Old Testament. This translation was held suspect for two reasons: It was made from the Hebrew, rather than the Septuagint (considered normative by the Orthodox church), and it was made into modern Russian. Filaret had early been a proponent of exactly such a translation, and he had participated in the Russian Bible Society's work on the New Testament and Psalms (published 18181823). This work, discouraged after 1824, was not resumed until 1858. The publication of a complete (and, until the late twentieth century, standard) Russian translation of the Bible was begun in the year after Filaret's death. But it was associated with his name.

Filaret also supported the pioneer translation into Russian of patristic literature. This translation had an impact far beyond the boundaries of those academic centers in which it was undertaken. The freshly uncovered wisdom of the Fathers was to inform and transmute the thought, even the piety, of the Russian church and to rescue it from its previous "Babylonian captivity" to Western theological patterns. Filaret himself was prominent among the beneficiaries of this rescue operation.

Filaret gave much thought to the reform of theological schooling and stressed that Russian Orthodox scholarship should "develop its own models in the true spirit of the apostolic church." He produced a standard text, Longer Catechism (1823, revised 1839), to help the clergy with its work. Of more lasting importance were his carefully considered sermons, which mark him as an exceptionally subtle theologian, always willing to have his personal and profound experience tempered by Orthodox tradition.

Filaret's posthumous publications include a vast range of memoranda, opinions, and correspondence. They show him to have been a statesman as well as a hierarch of the church. They also demonstrate his curious mixture of determined liberalism with cautious conservatism. He was ill at ease with "democratic principles." But whatever his limitations in the secular sphere, he reinvigorated the Russian church at every level of its life and, in the fullest sense, reoriented it.


A rich Russian-language bibliography is provided in Georgii V. Florovskii's Puti russkogo bogosloviia (Paris, 1937). Among Filaret's variously collected works should be mentioned his sermons: Slova i rechi, 7th ed., 5 vols. (Moscow, 18731885). Some of these appeared in English translation as Select Sermons by the Late Metropolitan of Moscow, Philaret (London, 1873). Others appeared in French, notably those translated by A. Serpinet as Choix de sermons et discours de son Eminence Mgr Philarète, 3 vols. (Paris, 1866). Less revealing is Filaret's Longer Catechism, translated by R. W. Blackmore in The Doctrine of the Russian Church (1845; Willits, Calif., 1973). No full-length study of Filaret has appeared in English aside from R. L. Nichol's dissertation on him, "Metropolitan Filaret of Moscow and the Awakening of Orthodoxy" (University of Washington, 1972).

Sergei Hackel (1987)

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