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Episcopate

EPISCOPATE

The episcopate of the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) encompasses the whole body of bishops who govern dioceses and supervise clergy, as well as perform and administer church sacraments. The episcopate is drawn exclusively from the ranks of the celibate "black" clergy, although widowers who take monastic vows may also be recruited. The patriarch of Moscow and All Russia and the ecclesiastical ranks below himmetropolitans, archbishops, bishops, and hegumens comprise the leadership of the church. The patriarch and metropolitans hold power over the church hierarchy and carry on the debates that produce (or resist) change within the church.

Eastern Orthodoxy is widely believed to have been introduced in Kievan Rus in 988 c.e. At first the Russian church was governed by metropolitans appointed by the patriarchate of Constantinople from the Greek clergy active in the Rus lands. When the Russian church gained its independence from Constantinople in 1448, Metropolitan Jonas, resident in the outpost of Moscow, was given the title of metropolitan of Moscow and All Russia. Metropolitan Job of Moscow became the first Russian patriarch in 1589, thereby establishing the Russian church's independence from Greek Orthodoxy.

The close link between ecclesiastical and temporal authorities in Russia reflected Byzantine cultural influence. The alliance between church and state ended with the reign of Peter the Great (1682-1725). Seeing the Russian Orthodox Church as a conservative body frustrating his attempts to modernize the empire, he did not appoint a successor when Patriarch Adrian died in 1700 and in his place appointed a bishop more open to Westernization. In 1721 Peter abolished the patriarchate and appointed a collegial board of bishops, the Holy Synod, to replace it. This body was subject to civil authority and similar in both structure and status to other departments of the state.

The reigns of Peter III (1762-1763) and Catherine II (1762-1796) brought Peter the Great's reforms to their logical conclusion, confiscating the church's properties and subjecting it administratively to the state. A (lay) over-procurator was empowered to supervise the church, appointing important officials and directing the activities of the Holy Synod. The full extent of the overprocurator's control was realized under the conservative Konstantin Pobedonostsev (18801905), who kept the episcopate in submission.

The calls for reform during Tsar Nicholas II's reign (18941917) included demands for an end to state control of the church. By and large the bishops were dissatisfied with the Holy Synod and the role played by the over-procurator. Nicholas II responded by granting the church greater independence in 1905 and agreeing to allow a council that church officials anticipated would result in the liberalization of the church. In 1917, when the council was finally convened, it called for the restoration of the patriarchate and church sovereignty, and decentralization of church administration.

The October Revolution brought a radical change in the status of the episcopate. The Bolsheviks implemented a policy of unequivocal hostility toward Orthodoxy, fueled by the atheism of MarxistLeninist doctrine and also by the church's legacy as defender of the imperial government. Bishops were a special target and, along with priests, monks, nuns, and laypersons, were persecuted on any pretext. Nearly the entire episcopate was executed or died in labor camps. In 1939 only four bishops remained free. Throughout the Soviet period, the number of bishops rose and fell according to the whims of the communist regime's religious policy.

While initially the episcopate was hostile to the Bolsheviks, the sustained persecution of believers made it apparent that if the church wished to survive as an institution it would have to change its position. In 1927 Patriarch Sergei, speaking for the church, issued a "Declaration of Loyalty" to the Soviet Motherland, "whose joys and successes are our joys and successes, and whose setbacks are our setbacks" This capitulation began one of the most controversial chapters in the episcopate's history. The Soviet authorities appointed all of the church's important officials and unseated any who challenged their rule. The regime and the church leadership worked together to root out schismatic groups and sects. Meanwhile, prelates assured the international community that accusations of religious persecution were merely anti-Soviet propaganda.

The reinstitutionalization of the Orthodox Church during the perestroika years marked the end of the episcopate's subordination to the atheist regime. The Orthodox Church figured prominently in discussions about the renewal and regeneration of Soviet society. In post-communist Russia, the patriarch and other Orthodox dignitaries became high-profile public figures. The episcopate has influenced political debate, most notably the deliberations on new religious legislation during the mid-and late 1990s. The end of communism also produced new challenges for the episcopate. Schismatic movements, competition from other faiths, and reformist priests have created divisions and threatened the Orthodox Church's preeminence.

See also: christianization; job, patriarch; kievanrus; orthodoxy; patriarchate russian orthodox church

bibliography

Ellis, Jane. (1986). The Russian Orthodox Church: A Contemporary History. London: Routledge.

Gudziak, Borys A. (1998). Crisis and Reform: The Kyivan Metropolitanate, the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and the Genesis of the Union of Brest. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Hosking, Geoffrey. (1998). Russia: People and Empire, 15521917. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Knox, Zoe. (2003). "The Symphonic Ideal: The Moscow Patriarchate's Post-Soviet Leadership." EuropeAsia Studies 55:575596.

Zoe Knox

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episcopate

e·pis·co·pate / iˈpiskəpət; -ˌpāt/ • n. the office or term of office of a bishop. ∎  (the episcopate) the bishops of a church or region collectively.

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Episcopate

Episcopate

bishops collectively, 1842.

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