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Filaret Drozdov, Metropolitan


(17821867), Metropolitan of Moscow, theologian, and churchman.

Throughout his long career, Filaret (Vasily Mikhailovich Drozdov) played a central role in important matters of church, state, and society: as a moving force behind the Russian translation of the Bible, as a teacher of the Orthodox faith through his famous catechism, sermons, and textbooks, and as a reformer of the church, particularly its monasteries. His widespread reputation as a man of profound faith and great integrity made him the government's natural choice to compose the emancipation manifesto ending serfdom in 1861. When he died in 1867, the country went into mourning. As Konstantin Pobedonostsev, the future over-procurator of the Holy Synod, wrote on the day of the metropolitan's funeral: "The present moment is very important for the people. The entire people consider the burial of the metro[politan] a national affair."

Filaret's early career focused on reform of religious education, which he shifted from the Latin scholastic curriculum of the eighteenth century to a Russian and Bible-centered one during the early nineteenth century. He wrote two Russian textbooks in 1816 inaugurating a new Orthodox Biblical theology: An Outline of Church-Biblical History (Nachertanie tserkovno-bibleiskoi istorii ) and Notes on the Book of Genesis (Zapiski na knigu Bytiya ). By this time he was also heavily engaged in a contemporary Russian translation of the Bible that would carry the Christian message to the Russian people more effectively than the Slavonic Bible published during the previous century. He personally translated the Gospel of John. In 1823 he wrote a new Orthodox catechism with all of its Biblical citations in Russian. His abilities and work quickly advanced his career. He became a member of the Holy Synod in 1819 and archbishop of Moscow in 1821 (metropolitan in 1826).

Filaret's new Bible and catechetical initiatives provoked opposition in church and governing circles, who saw them as signs of Orthodoxy's deepening dependence on Protestantism. The critics soon stopped the Bible translation, burned its completed portions, and redirected church education on what Filaret called the "reverse course to scholasticism." His catechism was reissued in 1827 in revised form and in Slavonic. Under these circumstances, Filaret had to rethink his own position and ideas.

While he never departed from his belief that the church must communicate its teachings in a language people could understand (he finally won publication of a Russian translation of the Bible during the more liberal reign of Alexander II), Filaret now gave his ideas a more explicitly patristic underpinning, as evidenced in the dogmatic theology he eloquently and poetically expressed in his sermons. Moreover, he sponsored publication of the Writings of the Holy Fathers in Russian Translation (18431893). One eminent Russian theologian identifies the new work as the crucial moment in the "awakening of Orthodoxy" in modern times, the moment when Russian theology began to recover the teachings of the Eastern church fathers and to define itself with respect to both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism.

While many aspects of Filaret's activity as a leader of the Russian church for more than forty years bear mentioning, his efforts to reform and strengthen monasticism stand out. He promoted contemplative asceticism (hesychasm ) on the territory of the Holy TrinitySt. Sergius monastery and elsewhere. Fully reformed monasteries, he believed, might inspire the return of the Old Ritualist and reconvert Byzantine Rite Catholics (Uniates) of Poland. He encouraged informal women's communities to become monasteries, and during the 1860s devised badly needed guidelines for all monasteries, stressing wherever possible that they follow the rule of St. Basil with its obligation for a common table, community property, work, and prayer. Filaret was canonized as a saint in 1992.

See also: metropolitan; russian orthodox church; saints


Florovsky, Georges. (19791985). Ways of Russian Theology, vol. 1, chap. 5. Belmont, MA: Nordland.

Nichols, Robert L. (1990). "Filaret of Moscow as an Ascetic." In The Legacy of St. Vladimir: Byzantium, Russia, America, eds. J. Breck, J. Meyendorff, and E. Silk. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.

Robert Nichols

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