Holy Synod

views updated Jun 11 2018


The Russian Holy Synod was instituted by peter i, the Great (Jan. 25, 1721) to govern the Orthodox Church of Russia in place of the patriarchate. It consisted of a college of bishops and monks under a lay procurator. Its full name was the Most Holy Directing Synod. It originated after Leibniz suggested to Peter that he should complete his reorganization of the state by creating an ecclesiastical college. Peter conceived the idea of establishing an ecclesiastical body that would be unable to impede his reforms; yet he declined to become himself a part of the general structure of the Russian Church. He wanted to be its patron, not its spiritual head. On one occasion, however, when the Russian bishops asked him to restore the patriarchate, he struck his breast and replied, "Here is your patriarch."

The Church-State relation was outlined in detail in the organization of the Holy Synod. It was impossible for the hierarchy to meddle in state affairs, but the Czar would not be able to treat the bishops as Ivan the Terrible (153384) had. The opposition of the Russian episcopate to Peter's reform looked to Patriarch Adrian for support, but that indecisive churchman suffered from poor health and offered only a tacit resistance. Adrian died in 1700, and the Moscow Patriarchate, which began in 1589, ceased to exist in 1721. Peter the Great prevented the appointment of a patriarch of Moscow by naming stefan, Bishop of Riasan, as keeper and administrator of the patriarchal see (October 1721). Stefan sided with the Czar in the beginning, but later, especially after the execution of Czarevich Alexej, he became an opponent of the change. Peter found a more willing collaborator in Feofan prokopovich, whose ideas were embodied in the Church Statute of 1721. Stefan, a former Jesuit novice and a pro-Catholic, provided the last serious opposition to the Holy Synod, but he capitulated eventually and cooperated as an appointed member of it.

The statute was more a political charter than an ecclesiastical one; it provided for the reorganization of Church administration and outlined an educational program. Stefan opposed Prokopovich's episcopal consecration and accused him of Calvinism. Prokopovich, in his treatise The Right to the Monarch's Will, delineated modern Western ideas on the absolute power of the ruler combined with Byzantine theocratic concepts. His Ecclesiastical Regulation applied to religion and the state and made the Church subject to the state's laws and ordinances.

Members of the Holy Synod were drawn from both the "white" (secular) and the "black" (monastic) clergy. By founding the Synod, Peter ended the "state within the state" by abolishing the patriarchate, which had come to rival the Czar. Originally there were to be 12 members, all appointed by the Czar. The Ukase of 1763 determined that there should be at least six ecclesiastical members. In accord with the Czar, Prokopovich elaborated the spiritual regulations and in 1721 solemnly opened the Holy Synod, where, in spite of the nominal presidency of Stefan, he himself governed and reformed the Russian Church. The members of the ecclesiastical college had to swear that they recognized "as supreme judge of this college, our most clement monarch of all Russia." By a decree of March 11, 1722, the Holy Synod was placed under the supervision of a lay chief procurator who was de facto the head of Church administration. During the reign of Peter the Great, the Synod retained, for the most part, its ecclesiastical character. After his death, however, this character was lost by degrees, and the Synod became a vast political bureaucracy. Under such rulers as Šakhovskij, Čhebyšeff, and Galycin, the Russian Church was mistreated and humiliated. In 1881 Konstantin Pobedonostsev was called to the government of the Synod; he was a man of great culture who wished to unite all the religions professed in Russia into the one Orthodox Church. The Statute of 1721 provided the Holy Synod with the "full" rights and powers of the patriarch in religious matters, but in ecclesiastical administration it became a bureaucratic department. The jurisdiction of the Holy Synod extended not only to all kinds of ecclesiastical questions but also to some that were purely secular. All processes for heresy and all matrimonial cases were brought before the Synod.

The patriarchs of Antioch and Jerusalem recognized the Holy Synod in 1723, but the liberal Russian clergy attacked both the Synod and the anticanonical constitution of the Church and demanded a reestablishment of the patriarchate. The government then proposed the convocation of a great national synod to restore the Church's liberties and to give it a new constitution, but this purpose was defeated by friction between the "white" and the "black" clergy and by the outbreak of the revolution. The Holy Synod survived until 1917, when the patriarchate was restored (November 5), with tikhon as the first patriarch. On Jan. 23, 1918, a law of State-Church separation was promulgated. (see orthodox churches).

Bibliography: a. m. ammann, Storia della Chiesa Russa (Turin 1948), Ger. tr. Abriss der ostslawischen Kirchengeschichte (Vienna 1950). t. v. barsov, Sviatieiš Synod V jego prošlom (Most Holy Synod and Its History) (St. Petersburg 1896). f. dvornik, The Slavs in European History and Civilization (New Brunswick, N.J.1962) 556. m. i. florinsky, Russia, A History and an Interpretation (New York 1960). j. ledit, "Russie," Dictionnaire de theologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al. (Paris 190350) 14:324333. a. palmieri, La Chiesa Russa (Florence 1908). j. serech, "Stephan Yavorsky and the Conflict of Ideologies in the Age of Peter I," Slavonic and East European Review 30 (1951) 4062. p. v. verkhovskoi, Uchrezdenie dukhovnoi Kollegii i dukhovnii reglament (Establishment of the Ecclesiastical College and the Ecclesiastical Regulation) (Warsaw 1916).

[j. papin]

Holy Synod

views updated May 11 2018


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 (18801905), 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

views updated Jun 11 2018

Holy Synod. The supreme institution for the government of the Russian Orthodox Church from 1721 to 1917. The governing body of the Church in Greece, a synod composed of bishops, is also called the ‘Holy Synod’.

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