Gregory L. Freeze
The Eastern Orthodox Church, distinct from the Roman Catholic Church since the Great Schism of 1054, includes more than a dozen autocephalous churches in Europe, each autonomous in its administrative structure but all united by ecumenical councils, common dogma, and tradition. They range from the Russian Orthodox Church to much smaller churches in east central and southeastern Europe. In modern times these European churches developed along national state lines, as in the Balkans, where the breakup of the Ottoman Empire in the nineteenth century led to the formation of autocephalous churches in Greece (1833), Romania (1864), Bulgaria (1871), and Serbia (1879). Some sees acquired formal independent status still later, as in Poland (1924) and Albania (1937). In pre-communist regimes the Orthodox Church was often the dominant if not the official church and had sizable flocks. In 1897 Russia had nearly 87.1 million believers, or 69.4 percent of the population, and majorities also prevailed in Romania (17 million), Greece (9 million), Serbia (8 million), Bulgaria (8 million), and Georgia (5 million). Many other countries, not only former parts of the Russian Empire such as Finland and Poland, had small but devoted contingents of Orthodox observers.
Following the example of European historiography, social historians have given increasing attention to Eastern Orthodoxy, especially in the lands of the former Soviet Union. This research has focused on five main issues. The first concerns the church's status in the political order, from privileged to persecuted—a key determinant of its capacity to act independently with respect to social and political questions. A second issue is institutional development. To what degree did this medieval institution internalize the features of modern social organization, and how did this internal growth affect its role in society and culture? The third question is the clergy—size, distribution, status, role, composition, education, and other characteristics—and its capacity and willingness to join and shape social and national movements. A fourth issue is the church's social mission, that is, its engagement in social problems such as alcoholism, divorce, social justice, and revolution. The final issue is "popular Orthodoxy," the patterns and meanings of lay observance as well as forms of deviance and dissent. Whatever the church might have taught, the central question is how the folk received, modified, or rejected the norms of official institutional Orthodoxy.
This article focuses on the Russian Orthodox Church, by far the largest and most influential see in Europe. It has also been the target of intensive research and scholarship, a windfall of the demise of the USSR, which effectively liberated scholarship from the shackles of Soviet archival restrictions. The Moscow Patriarchate wielded considerable influence in the twentieth century, especially after World War II, playing a salient if not dominating role over Orthodox Churches elsewhere within the Soviet bloc.
CAESAROPAPISM AND AGENCY
In contrast to traditional historiography, which portrayed the Orthodox Churches as docile handmaidens of the state and hence devoid of agency, scholarship has demonstrated a far more complex, even conflicting relationship between the Orthodox Church and the secular state. Most important, as Orthodox canonists have emphasized, Eastern Orthodoxy did not adumbrate any so-called caesaropapism, whereby the emperor, in contrast to the medieval papacy, purportedly "ruled" the church. Rather, the operative conception is "symphony," that is, a harmonious cooperation between the temporal and sacred spheres with clear limits on the ruler's authority over purely spiritual matters.
In Russia and elsewhere individual rulers sometimes transgressed these boundaries. In the Muscovite period (1450–1689), such intrusion was uncommon and personal, primarily directed at an individual prelate. In the subsequent imperial period (1689–1917), the intrusion intensified, especially from the early nineteenth century, when the emperor's official representative, the chief procurator, assumed a more active role in church administration. However, traditional accounts tended to exaggerate this role and failed to recognize that intervention—most notoriously by K. P. Pobedonostsev (chief procurator, 1880–1905)—only succeeded in provoking episcopal resentment. Indeed this intrusion, when coupled with a transparent determination by government officials to act in the interests of the state and not the church, impelled even archconservative prelates to demand a radical change in the status and rights of the church.
Given these tensions and diverging interests, Eastern Orthodoxy played a more important role in nation building than in state building. In Russia, Orthodoxy not only left a deep imprint on the dominant political culture but also provided a primary referent for Russian national identity, especially in the late imperial period. During that period the centripetal forces of a multinational and multiconfessional state impelled Russians and other East Slavs to define ethnicity at least partly in religious terms. The church's role in nation building was still more pronounced in the Balkans, where Orthodox clergy and confession were key factors in nationalist movements against the Ottoman Empire, providing support, legitimacy, and leadership in Greece, Serbia, Romania, and Bulgaria. Precisely because Eastern Orthodoxy admitted a division along nation-state lines, with inevitable if begrudging recognition of autocephaly from the ecumenical patriarch in Constantinople, it tended to provide a critical religious dimension to nationalist identity and to liberation movements.
THE INSTITUTIONAL DEVELOPMENT OF THE RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH
Given Russia's vast geographical expanse, population dispersion, and marginal resources, both human and material, the medieval Russian Church had only a minimal capacity to exercise control over popular religious practices or even over its own clergy. Armed with only a handful of far-flung dioceses and preoccupied with administering a vast empire of church-owned properties and peasant inhabitants, bishops had neither the means nor the time for more than episodic, nominal supervision of parishes and priests. Not until the Church Council (Stoglav) of 1551 did prelates even attempt to adumbrate new norms and regulations. That effort received a further impulse in 1589 with the establishment of the patriarchate, which provided the first foundations for ecclesiastical centralization. Thus the seventeenth-century church, like the state, began to construct a more elaborate administration, primarily to regularize the collection of dues and tithes but also to supervise religious matters, such as the appointment of clergy and other dimensions of spiritual life.
Peter the Great, tsar from 1689 to 1725, introduced far-reaching reforms to improve ecclesiastical administration. Emblematic was his demand that the church establish seminaries to educate candidates for the priesthood. Although bishops had earlier complained about the low educational level of priests, the church did not erect a new system of ecclesiastical education until the eighteenth century, and it took several decades to achieve even modest results. By the 1760s the church operated two academies and 26 seminaries with approximately six thousand students, but growth accelerated thereafter. By 1914 this network consisted of four academies, 57 seminaries, and 185 elementary schools with more than fifty thousand students. This system revolutionized the educational standards of parish priests; beginning in the early nineteenth century, virtually all new ordinands had seminary diplomas. The academies, though small in size, likewise had a profound impact on the church, supplying the great majority of recruits for the episcopate, the "learned monasticism" that dominated the hierarchy.
No less important was the process of institution building in central and diocesan administration. Although later derided by critics as bureaucratization, this organizational development gave the church a new capacity to exercise influence in rural parishes, not merely elite palaces. The critical impulse again came from the reforms engineered by Peter the Great, who applied the principles of secular governance to the church. His reforms replaced the patriarch, head of the church, with a governing Holy Synod made up of ranking prelates and subject to oversight by a secular official, the chief procurator. He also constructed a regularized diocesan administration with explicit norms to direct the clergy, parishes, and popular religious practices. Peter's prescriptions gradually took effect after his death in 1725, and by the late eighteenth century the church had an elaborate structure that enabled it to establish and enforce uniform policies. For the balance of the imperial period the church continued to expand its administration. For example, it divided dioceses into smaller, more manageable units. It also developed important adjuncts, such as the ecclesiastical press. Although the church had a press earlier, chiefly to publish liturgical books, in the mid–nineteenth century it produced a vast complex of printed literature, including catechisms, sermon collections, official newspapers, academic journals, diocesan gazettes, and popular spiritual literature for the lay reader.
Institutionalization of Orthodoxy was not without negative dimensions. Contemporaries, whether lay or clerical, complained loudly about a bureaucratization that, in the idiom of prerevolutionary Russia, was synonymous with corruption and venality. The lay clerical staffs, underpaid and overworked, routinely succumbed to the temptation of bribes to expedite petitions and to circumvent canons. These problems, while endemic to the ancien régime as a whole, were especially acute in the church, for its minuscule, inelastic budget failed to keep pace with the explosion in the volume of administrative duties. As a further aggravation, hypercentralization mandated synodal review and approval of even the most trivial diocesan matters, from the divorce of individuals to the construction of a new parish church. This episcopal
|Year||Average number of parishioners per church|
preoccupation with compiling vast, often unutilized documentation alienated priests and parishioners, who castigated bishops as bureaucrats, and it distracted the church administration from essential, urgent spiritual matters.
Bureaucratization also had a profound impact on that nuclear unit of church, the parish. In medieval Russia the parish was the church. It functioned as a self-governing unit, built and maintained the local church, and selected and supported the parish priest. That autonomy gradually receded in the eighteenth century. One change concerned the appointment of parish clergy. Previously selected by parishioners and subjected to a perfunctory review by the bishop, the local clergy in the eighteenth century were chosen by the bishop, increasingly from select students in the seminary. Diocesan authorities asserted control over parish finances, especially income from the sale of votive candles. Bishops restricted the formation of new parishes and encouraged mergers. Although the purpose was to eliminate a profusion of small, uneconomic parishes, the net effect was to increase the average size of parishes nearly fourfold between 1740 and 1914 (see table 1). As in Western churches, the situation was most acute in cities and industrial areas.
In the mid–nineteenth century, however, the church made a concerted effort to resuscitate parish life as one means to bolster popular piety and observance. In 1864, for example, the church, with state collaboration, promulgated a statute for parish trusteeships ( prikhodskie popechitel'stva), which were essentially parish committees to raise funds for church repairs, parish schools, charity, and support for the local clergy. That reform was not successful because the funds generated were usually minimal and were used mainly for renovation of church buildings, but it did signal a growing recognition of the need to involve the laity in parish affairs. From the 1890s to 1917 the church considered far-reaching proposals for parish reform, while the laity became increasingly assertive, chiefly with respect to the parish treasury and the appointment of local clergy. This process culminated in the parish revolution of 1917, when the church finally recognized the laity's prerogatives. In January 1918 the Bolshevik decree on the separation of the church from the state, which denied the church juridical status and conferred all operational power on the parish, completed and legitimized the new status quo in Russian Orthodoxy.
The clergy has its own social history—origins, training, recruitment, career patterns, and public role. Regardless of the specific national church, Orthodox canon provided for two distinct subgroups: a married parish clergy and a celibate monastic clergy from which all bishops were to come. That universal structure acquired a specific coloration in imperial Russia, where central authorities came increasingly to regulate the training, recruitment, and assignment of clergy. In contrast to medieval Muscovy, where monasteries and parishes had chosen new clergy, the church in imperial Russia had a system of diocesan and central controls and a formal table of organization (shtat) specifying the number and rank of monks and parish clergy. This centralized regulation, moreover, incorporated an emerging government policy of estate building, whereby the state restricted social movement and endeavored to engineer social composition and identity by aggregating amorphous, complex social groups into larger, more homogeneous estate categories (sosloviia).
Parish clergy. The parish clergy in pre-Petrine Muscovy were a motley group. Elected by the parish and formally ordained by the bishop, they had a modicum of education and remained largely exempt from effective supervision by diocesan superiors. They served at the will and expense of the parishioners, whether serf-owning nobles or communities of peasants and townspeople. In that sense the secular clergy were intimately bound to this world and barely distinguishable in culture or economy from peasant or urban parishioners. Although fathers naturally preferred for sons to follow their crafts and succeed them, neither the church nor the state imposed barriers to recruitment of nonclerical young men or to the pursuit of a secular career by the clergy's offspring.
That all changed in the eighteenth century, when several factors coalesced to transform the parish clergy into a hereditary caste estate. One factor was state policy. After Peter the Great in 1718 established a capitation tax, freezing the status and residency of nonprivileged groups, it gradually became virtually impossible for peasants and townsmen, those most likely to seek the lowly status of priest, to enter the clergy. Another factor that steadily gained in importance was the educational requirement. Because the seminaries served only the clergy's offspring, outsiders could not acquire the seminary degree that, after 1800, became a prerequisite for ordination to the priesthood. Finally, the clergy blocked access by outsiders. That natural hereditary instinct gained new momentum when the Petrine table of organization (shtat) limited the number of clergy in each parish and left few openings for clerical progeny, let alone outsiders. Moreover, a priest needed to have a kinsman inherit his position. Since the church had no pension system, an "heir," such as a son, son-in-law, or other kinsman, was the priest's only assurance of material support in his old age. As a result, by the late eighteenth century almost all priests came from the clerical estate, a pattern that prevailed until the end of the ancien régime in 1917. That process of social exclusion ran contrary to the democratization tendencies in contemporary European churches, in which Protestant pastors came decreasingly from clergy families and Catholic priests came increasingly from lower-status groups. In the Russian Empire, however, where the nineteenth-century state had belatedly raised new estate barriers, the social exclusivity of the clergy was part of a larger system that sought to ensure sufficient and trained manpower for basic professions and to avoid the mobility and instability characteristic of contemporary western European societies.
But this caste-like system was also fraught with serious dysfunctions. The first, the most obvious by the mid-nineteenth century, was a surfeit of candidates. The clerical caste simply produced too many seminary graduates for an inelastic service structure. In addition they were not necessarily inclined toward church service. Family circumstance and necessity rather than vocation and religious zeal were the main forces channeling clerical progeny to careers in the church. Moreover, by excluding potential recruits from the lower-status groups, this caste order eroded the bonds between the clergy and the laity and reinforced a distinctive, alienating clerical subculture. The caste walls also forced pious laymen to pursue religious careers outside the church in schismatic and sectarian movements.
To overcome these deficiencies, a reform commission of the 1860s attempted to engineer changes in the church's social and educational policies. The principal goal was to improve the status and service of parish clergy, chiefly by enhancing the opportunities for the clergy's sons to pursue secular careers and for outsiders to gain admittance to the seminary and parish service. The result was a series of reforms adopted between 1867 and 1871 that abolished the "inheritance" of clerical positions, gave the priests' sons a nonclerical social status, and opened the seminary to matriculation by nonclerical children.
Like many of the other great reforms, these well-intentioned changes worked far better on paper than in reality. They mainly facilitated a mass exodus of clerical sons into lay careers without a compensatory influx of candidates from other social groups. In the 1870s the number of candidates for the priesthood dropped sharply, along with their educational qualifications. For the remaining decades of the ancien régime, the church experienced a decline in the educational standards of the parish clergy as bishops were driven to ordain candidates with poor seminary performance and incomplete education. According to data on those ordained between 1906 and 1912, nearly half (49.3 percent) lacked a seminary degree or its equivalent. The reforms did not democratize this contingent of candidates, for the seminaries continued to serve primarily the sons of clergy, not other social groups. In the last seminary class before World War I, for example, 83 percent of the seminarians came from the clerical estate and the rest from sundry social categories.
Monastic clergy. The monastery was traditionally the dominant force in the church, claiming a monopoly over appointments to the hierarchy and possessing enormous wealth in land and church peasants. In medieval Muscovy the proliferation of monasteries reflected the strong monastic, contemplative impulse in Orthodoxy and resulted in the accumulation of much land, estimated at a third of all land, and other resources. Such expansionist power and pretensions reached a zenith after the establishment in 1589 of the patriarchate, as its occupant constructed his own set of administrative and financial institutions to mimic those of the state.
Not surprisingly the resource-starved early modern Russian state became increasingly envious, especially as it struggled to finance its armies and civil service. It therefore attempted to restrict church landholding and, from the mid-seventeenth century, repeatedly
sought to divert church resources for its own needs. Peter the Great went much farther, transferring a substantial portion of monastic estates to state control and exploitation, though without formally sequestering the property. His vacillating successors hesitated to take the final step and left it to Catherine the Great to confiscate church estates and peasants in 1764. The prize was indeed immense: 816,736 male peasants, who provided an annual income of 293,848 rubles along with vast quantities of dues in kind, including 167,375 bushels of grain. Although in exchange the state provided a budget to support the monasteries and ecclesiastical administration, that budget was exceedingly niggardly, worth far less than the revenues the church received from its lands and peasants before confiscation.
The secularization of church property was fraught with momentous consequences for the church. Most important was the impact on the church's economic independence and its capacity to attend to strictly ecclesiastical needs, let alone undertake a broader social mission. Secularization dramatically and immediately affected monasticism, triggering a contraction in the number of monasteries and those who lived in them. Whereas the church had started the century with 1,201 monasteries, secularization reduced the number to a mere 400, one-quarter of which were convents. The number of monks and nuns decreased as well, falling from about 25,000 in 1724 to 5,861 in 1796.
That contraction was not permanent, however, as the nineteenth century witnessed a renaissance of monastic life, especially for women. Altogether the number of monasteries increased nearly 2.7 times between 1796 and 1914, and the increase in the number of monks, nuns, and novices was even larger (see table 2). Significantly, female monasticism accounted for most of the growth in the number of monasteries (64 percent) and their inhabitants (80.1 percent). Expressed most dramatically, male monastics increased 5.1 times, but nuns and female novices multiplied 43.9 times during this same period. As in the Catholic states of western Europe, Russian monasticism underwent a feminization, and the convent provided an attractive and ever-expanding alternative to marriage and secular careers. In contrast to the men, the majority of whom came from the clerical estate, female monastics came predominantly from the lower social orders of townspeople and peasants. Although secular society regarded monasticism with unveiled hostility, monasteries, often the sites of relics and miracle-working icons, remained a powerful force in popular religion and exercised a considerable influence over the more conservative elements of the educated classes.
Although Russia had been nominally Christianized in 988, Christianization remained a slow process that had to eradicate paganism and overcome the vast dispersion and high mobility of the medieval Russian population. The church, especially through the role of colonizing monasteries, had made substantial progress in converting the populace, but by the sixteenth century Russian Orthodox beliefs and practices remained profoundly local with only a modicum of control and uniformity. At the council of 1551 the church began defining an orthodox Orthodoxy—free of pagan customs, with one standard for the newly and self-consciously Orthodox realm. In the mid-seventeenth century Patriarch Nikon instituted dramatic liturgical reforms, but given the backwardness of the ecclesiastical administration and its preoccupation with the management of huge landholdings and church peasants, attention to purely spiritual, sacramental, and liturgical matters remained marginal and episodic. Hence religious practices, especially in the multitude of dispersed rural parishes, remained localized and diverse, free from external control, and permeated with superstition and magic that had little to do with the norms of hieratic Orthodoxy.
Nevertheless, the church continued its attempts to make popular Orthodoxy "orthodox," most explicitly in the Spiritual Regulation (1721) and later in a steady stream of synodal decrees. The goals were to regularize religious practices and to instruct the flock in the rudiments of the faith. Such instruction, however, proved difficult, especially in rural areas, where the seasonality of church attendance, driven by weather conditions and the agrarian production cycle, and nearly total illiteracy hindered catechization. The church made headway in urban parishes, particularly in the early nineteenth century, and expanded its role by teaching religion in the emerging network of schools. By the late nineteenth century local diocesan authorities generally could boast that many parishioners, chiefly younger ones, had learned to recite the Ten Commandments, the creed, basic prayers, and other rudiments of the faith. Diocesan authorities took strict measures to protect the sanctity of the church by restricting religious processions, combating suspicious miracles, regulating icon production, resisting appeals to canonize local saints, and dissuading laity from observing pagan traditions and rites.
In the mid-nineteenth century, however, the Russian Church, like its peers in the West, began to take a less negative attitude toward popular Orthodoxy. While consistent with the populist ethos current in secular culture, this new posture primarily derived from a desire to rekindle religious fervor and popular commitment to the Orthodoxy. To be sure the church continued its efforts to enlighten the believers through religious instruction in schools and at services, but it began to respond more favorably to manifestations of popular Orthodoxy. For example, whereas it had earlier severely restricted public icon processions, it now perceived them as a valuable demonstration of piety and an effective tool in raising religious consciousness. Church authorities also displayed a greater receptivity toward canonization of local saints. Although still insisting on observance of canonical requirements, namely formal investigations to demonstrate the veracity of purported miracles, the church proceeded with several canonizations and had several others under consideration in the last two decades of the ancien régime.
The willingness to accommodate popular Orthodoxy derived from anxieties about Russian piety. The official statistics appeared to demonstrate an extraordinarily high level of observance. Despite vast social and economic change, official statistics on the proportion of believers who confessed and received communion at Easter did not suggest de-Christianization. Those figures actually rose in the second half of the nineteenth century (see table 3). These data are all the more striking when compared with the far lower rates of communicants reported in contemporary European churches, for example, 43 percent in Prussia and 18 percent in Paris. Nevertheless, these statistics show an overall rise in the number of people who participated in neither communion nor confession, chiefly because of the decline in semicompliance, that is, those who made confession but did not receive communion either because they deemed themselves unworthy or because the priest withheld this rite. Moreover these official data understate the number of noncommunicants, for they often failed to record the large number of migrants to the factories and cities, precisely the areas most affected by religious indifference. The revolution of 1905–1907, in the view of many bishops, had a still more unsettling effect, especially
|Year||Both confession and communion||Confession only||Neither confession nor communion|
on the younger generation, and bequeathed a new level of religious indifference and immoral conduct.
Significantly, the Orthodox Church experienced a feminization in religious observance and piety as well as in monastic life. The most direct evidence comes from the statistics on Easter Communion. In 1900, for example, the rate of participation was 91 percent for women compared to 87 percent for men, a gap that increased steadily in the last years of the ancien régime. A patriarchal institution, the church increasingly recognized women as its bastion and sought ways to accommodate and tap their piety. The most striking measure was the decision in 1912 to establish a female theological institute, in effect a form of higher theological education, to train women for spiritual and other service in the church. Despite the masculine bias in tradition and canon, the church recruited women for missionary activities, reestablished the ancient office of deaconess, gave women franchise in parish assemblies and councils, and in 1918 permitted them to serve as sacristans and parish elders.
DISSENT: OLD BELIEVERS AND SECTARIANISM
The Orthodox Church's campaigns to purify popular beliefs and practices alienated a large segment of believers, creating a population of "Old Believers," or "Old Ritualists," who repudiated the liturgical reforms of the seventeenth century and the subsequent attempts to impose them on parish religious life. Their rebellion had multiple causes, some purely religious, such as fears of deviating from traditional (therefore "true") Orthodoxy; some broadly cultural, such as a widespread apocalyptical spirit of the seventeenth century; some social, such as reactions to enserfment and the degradation of the popular status; and others political, such as the rise of the secular, absolutist state. Such sentiments found their most dramatic expression in the wave of self-immolations of the late seventeenth century, when resolute Old Believers sought to evade Antichrist and save their souls by committing mass suicide.
Whatever the particular mix of motives for the initial rebellion, the subsequent growth of the Old Belief had other dynamics. One was the imposition of a standardized Orthodoxy in lieu of local, popular religion, a process that removed the immanent sacred and extirpated other icons of popular veneration. Another factor increasingly important in the nineteenth century was the secular meaning of Old Belief. Namely,
it provided a transcommunity network, facilitated business dealings, and provided a safety net for fellow believers. The Old Belief protected its adherents from invasive church policies, above all those directed toward the sacrament of marriage, including canonical restrictions on minimum age and kinship.
The result was an incessant growth in the number of registered Old Believers. Because the Old Believers were subjected to various forms of discrimination and disabilities, the official figures were notoriously unreliable. State authorities estimated that their numbers were severalfold higher than those reported by the church. The church's statistics, for all their incompleteness, register a steady increase in Old Believers from fewer than 10,000 in 1740 to 2.2 million in 1897 (see table 4). These impressive numbers still fail to capture the influence and appeal of the Old Belief or the number of Orthodox who in some degree also observed the Old Belief and bore the label of "semischismatics" (poluraskol'niki).
Sectarian movements had deep roots in medieval and early modern Russia but gained momentum only in the late nineteenth century, chiefly because of Western influence and the emergence of more private, individualized religious practices. These movements included a plethora of mystical or rationalist sects, some with ties to Orthodoxy and claiming membership in the church. Many Orthodox prelates regarded them as even more menacing than the Old Belief. As the church convened its first missionary councils in the 1880s, sectarianism loomed as the fastest growing, most menacing threat to its supremacy.
CHURCH AND SOCIETY
The rise of the secular state paralleled a decline in the church's role and status in society. Earlier, in the particularistic society of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Muscovy, the parish church formed the epicenter of community life. The local church was the site for sacraments and rites of passage and the locus of sociability, official business, and trade. After 1700, however, the parish gradually surrendered this central role, with power devolving from the clergy to the civil service, and the parish failed to acquire legal status as a juridical entity in state law. Although the church retained some secular power, including the authority to impose penance for crimes and sins, its authority gradually receded in the imperial period. The marginalization was in part deliberate. To prevent peasant disorders, the state in 1767 specifically forbade priests to pen petitions for peasants or to become embroiled in serf-squire disputes. Priests did become entangled, especially in borderlands, where non-Orthodox squires were involved, but they did so at their own peril. By the first half of the nineteenth century, in theory if not always in fact, the church and clergy had been confined to the spiritual domain.
However, in one important sphere, marriage and divorce, the church actually expanded its role. The medieval church had claimed exclusive competence over the sacrament of marriage, but its skeletal administration was hardly able to regulate the formation or dissolution of families. Bishops assessed a fee for wedding certificates, but they did not mandate verification of age, kinship, and the like. In fact, before 1700 the church did not even compile parish registers to expose uncanonical marriages, bigamy, or other violations of canon law. Marital dissolution, whether for divorce or for entry into a monastery, was virtually unregulated. At most the laity required a letter of divorce from the local priest.
That all changed after the mid-eighteenth century. As the church developed its new bureaucracy and documentation, including parish registers of births, marriages, and deaths, it could determine and verify such matters as age, kinship, and marital status. Although the initial goal was to combat uncanonical marriages, after 1800 the church was increasingly concerned with preventing marital dissolution, whether through separation or divorce. Responding to the post-Napoleonic restoration's revulsion against the liberal divorces of the French Revolution, considered synonymous with an assault on social and political stability, and reflecting a new sacramentalism in teachings emphasizing the indelibility of sacraments, the church strictly banned separation and made divorce all but impossible. It formally recognized several grounds for annulment and divorce, such as bigamy, exile to Siberia, premarital impotence and insanity, adultery, and disappearance for more than five years, but in practice it made such proceedings extremely protracted and seized every opportunity to cavil, stall, and reject. The church granted no separations whatsoever and approved only 32.8 annulments and 58.3 divorces per year between 1836 and 1860.
In the final decades of the ancien régime, however, the church began to retreat from this strict application of canon law. It did so partly in response to growing criticism from elites, who looked jealously at the more liberal separation and divorce practices in western Europe, but also in response to complaints from the lower social orders, who resisted this modern intrusion into their private lives and envied the relative freedom of sectarians and Old Believers. The church became more liberal and expeditious in processing divorce cases, the number of which rose from a few score at midcentury to nearly four thousand by the eve of World War I. Although the church was much less eager to modify canon law, in 1904 it agreed to allow the guilty party in adultery cases to remarry after a relatively brief penance.
The Orthodox Church reoriented toward greater involvement in worldly matters. The church intensely desired to secure a prominent role in public education, partly to help prepare former serfs for citizenship and also to ensure religious instruction (zakon bozhii) in the curriculum. Although the church had evidenced interest before by participating in schools established for state peasants in the late 1830s, the approach of emancipation in the late 1850s triggered a furious attempt to establish parish schools all across the empire. This effort abated in the 1860s and 1870s, when state and public schools took precedence, but the church intensified its educational activities in the 1880s. The butt of much criticism by professional pedagogues and anticlerical intellectuals, the resulting network of parish schools functioned more effectively than once thought and substantially augmented the network of state and public schools.
The church's social engagement went beyond divorce and education to include a host of other critical social issues. The medieval church had taught the need for charity and alms, especially for the orphaned, and eighteenth-century bishops developed a social theology of mutual reciprocity between husband and wife, elites and commoners, each expected to perform his or her duties toward the other. But in the mid-nineteenth century some clergy adumbrated a new, this-worldly Christology that enjoined the church to enter into the world and its problems as Christ had done and explicitly rejected a one-sided, otherworldly focus and indifference to temporal problems. In addition some clergy believed that, to hold the flock's loyalty, the church had to become meaningful in the people's everyday lives. Such ideas were particularly attractive after midcentury to the seminarians, many of whom had been exposed to the radical subculture of Russia's emerging intelligentsia.
As a result, clerical participation and sometimes leadership in movements to address social issues steadily expanded. Priests preached frequently about various social ills, such as abuse of wives and children and inhumane treatment of animals. But the church did more than just preach. To address poverty, for example, the Russian Empire had little in the way of institutionalized, formal welfare. Although the church had few means to alleviate this evil, it promoted the duty of the rich to aid the indigent and attempted, through the parish trusteeships, to organize parish assistance for the poor, sick, and orphaned. It also gave attention to the problem of alcoholism because of its ruinous effect on the peasant household economy and its pernicious impact on morality and spiritual life. The church addressed other issues, such as prostitution, and played a key role in raising funds (through special collections during the liturgy) for social causes.
This social engagement reached a peak during the revolutionary turbulence of the early twentieth century, when liberal and radical segments of the clergy became deeply embroiled in their parishioners' battle for social justice. In the revolution of 1905–1907 many clergy not only urged reforms to improve their own lot but also expressed support for the "liberation movement" and the demands of peasants and workers. Those sentiments were crushed during the years of reaction (1907–1914), when state authorities and church hierarchs joined forces to eliminate radical aspirations, but social discontent continued to run deep in the ranks of the parish clergy. The February Revolution of 1917 demolished inhibitions entirely, impelling clergy, often in joint assemblies with the laity, to endorse radical programs for ecclesiastical, political, and social reform. Many priests soon had second thoughts about radicalism, however, as it took on new and destructive forms and was sometimes directed against the clergy.
FROM SOVIET DE-CHRISTIANIZATION TO POST-SOVIET RENEWAL
The troubles and travails the clergy experienced in the aftermath of the February Revolution paled in comparison with what ensued after the October Revolution of 1917. The Bolshevik leadership disestablished the institutional church, expropriating its assets and dismantling its administration, but also sought to avoid antagonizing the country's huge rural population of believers. Local radicals, however, were less circumspect. They attacked the clergy, executing some 5,000 to 10,000 of them, and destroyed monasteries, relics, and icons. The radical leadership engineered a campaign in the early 1920s to seize church valuables to feed the starving during the Volga famine, but in fact they aimed at demolishing the church and its hold on the laity. That campaign resulted in numerous arrests and executions but did not shake the church's influence with the laity. While the regime ruthlessly closed monasteries and removed religious symbols from public spaces, dismantling chapels in schools and icons in railway stations, it remained cautious in its dealings with parishioners. Consequently of the 41,000 parishes that existed in 1914, approximately 37,000 were still operating in the late 1920s. To the consternation of party stalwarts, in the second half of the 1920s popular piety experienced a revival not only in villages but in some urban and factory districts.
The Bolsheviks perceived the religious revival through a strictly class perspective, claiming that the bourgeoisie, whether rural kulaks or urban entrepreneurs, was using the parish church to mobilize political opposition. Their fears were all the more intense since they coincided with a deepening crisis of the New Economic Policy, perceived as a growing contradiction between the regime's industrialization imperative and the resistance from peasants and workers. By the late 1920s, as the regime grew alarmed over an apparent religious revival, it redoubled the efforts of its propaganda organs and voluntary antireligious associations such as the League of Militant Godless.
These efforts presaged a great turn in religious policy in 1929 and 1930 that inaugurated a decade of de-Christianization by the government. The clergy was persecuted, and many were arrested, imprisoned, and executed. The repressions destroyed the few remnants of the institutional church. In 1937 alone the regime closed seventy dioceses and executed sixty bishops. By 1939 only four bishops remained at large, and the former diocesan administration was effectively gone. No less devastating was the assault on the parishes. In 1937 the regime closed some 8,000 parishes, turning their churches into clubs, theaters, and warehouses or leaving them idle and in disrepair. By 1941 the parish, like the church, had virtually disappeared. Of the 41,000 parishes in operation in 1914, fewer than 400 remained. The repression of the 1930s also pummeled lay believers, now labeled "churchmen" (tserkovniki). Of the 150,000 believers arrested, 60 percent were laymen and laywomen, and 80,000 were executed.
Repression failed, however, to extirpate belief. In the 1937 census 45.1 percent of the population admitted that they were believers, and police reports from the late 1930s confirm the tenacity of belief. The traumas of World War II provided a new impulse for religious revival in occupied territories, where religious repression ceased, and in the Soviet-controlled areas as well. In 1943 the regime accepted a new accommodation with the Orthodox Church that restored the patriarchate. By 1946 Soviet authorities reported the presence of some 10,243 churches, 41 bishops, and 104 monasteries. The great majority of them were in areas newly annexed or previously under German occupation, accounting for approximately seven or eight times as many parishes and clergy as the rest of the USSR. In the waning years of Stalinist rule, the regime made some attempt to combat religious sentiments but made no concerted attacks. It even approved some applications to reopen churches.
Joseph Stalin's death in 1953 hardly meant an end to persecution of the church, clergy, and popular believers. Nikita Khrushchev, despite his innovations and flexibility in other spheres, proved a zealous antireligion activist and launched successive campaigns to tame the church that Stalin had partially rehabilitated in the 1940s. Between 1950 and 1965 the number of monasteries contracted from seventy-five to sixteen, churches from 14,273 to 7,551, and ordained clergy from 11,571 to 6,694. The next two decades of stagnation, between 1965 and 1985, did not bring large-scale antireligious campaigns, but the number of parishes slightly decreased to 6,806.
The end of Communism followed by the dissolution of the USSR enabled the Russian Orthodox Church to recover much property and influence. By 1998, for example, the church had 151 bishops in 121 dioceses overseeing some 478 monasteries and 19,000 parishes. The church asserted a new political and social role, participating in the new Russian parliament and organizing relief for the poor. Nevertheless, the decades of official antireligious campaigns took their toll. Given the decades of repression of religious tradition and belief and the scant resources of a transition economy, the church has encountered great difficulty in resuscitating the Orthodoxy, popular and institutional, that shaped the long prerevolutionary history of Russia.
Belliustin, I. S. Description of the Clergy in Rural Russia. Translated by Gregory L. Freeze. Ithaca, N.Y., 1985. Account of religious life by a parish priest in the mid–nineteenth century.
Curtiss, John Shelton. Church and State in Russia: The Last Years of the Empire,1900–1917. New York, 1940.
Ellis, Jane. The Russian Orthodox Church: A Contemporary History. London: 1986.
Florovsky, Georges. Ways of Russian Theology. Translated by Robert L. Nichols. Belmont, Mass., 1977–1987. Translation of a classic, wide-ranging account of the Russian Church from earliest times.
Frazee, Charles A. The Orthodox Church and Independent Greece, 1821–1852. London, 1969.
Freeze, Gregory L. "Bringing Order to the Russian Family: Marriage and Divorce in Imperial Russia, 1760–1860." Journal of Modern History 62 (1990): 709–746.
Freeze, Gregory L. "Church and Politics in Late Imperial Russia: Crisis and Radicalization of the Clergy." In Russia under the Last Tsar: Opposition and Subversion, 1894–1917. Edited by Anna Geifman. Oxford, U.K., and Malden, Mass., 1999. Pages 269–297.
Freeze, Gregory L. "Counter-Reformation in Russian Orthodoxy: Popular Response to Religious Innovation, 1922–1925." Slavic Review 54 (1995): 305–339.
Freeze, Gregory L. "Handmaiden of the State? The Church in Imperial Russia Reconsidered." Journal of Ecclesiastical History 36 (1985): 82–102.
Freeze, Gregory L. The Parish Clergy in Nineteenth-Century Russia: Crisis, Reform,Counter-Reform. Princeton, N.J., 1983.
Freeze, Gregory L. The Russian Levites: Parish Clergy in the Eighteenth Century. Cambridge, Mass., 1977.
Freeze, Gregory L. "A Social Mission for Russian Orthodoxy: The Kazan Requiem of 1861 for the Peasants in Bezdna." In Imperial Russia, 1700–1917: State, Society, Opposition. Edited by Ezra Mendelsohn and Marshall S. Shatz. DeKalb, Ill., 1988. Pages 115–135.
Freeze, Gregory L. "The Stalinist Assault on the Parish, 1929–1941." In Stalinismus vor dem Zweiten Weltkrieg: Neue Wege der Forschung. Edited by Manfred Hildermeier. Munich, 1998. Pages 209–232.
Freeze, Gregory L. "Subversive Piety: Religion and the Political Crisis in Late Imperial Russia." Journal of Modern History 68 (1996): 307–350.
Hauptmann, Peter, and Gerd Stricker, eds. Die Orthodoxe Kirche in Russland: Dokumente ihrer Geschichte (860–1980). Göttingen, Germany, 1988. A valuable collection of published sources.
Hosking, Geoffrey A., ed. Church, Nation, and State in Russia and Ukraine. New York, 1991.
Husband, William B. "Godless Communists": Atheism and Society in Soviet Russia,1917–1932. DeKalb, Ill., 2000.
Nichols, Robert L., and Theofanis George Stavrou, eds. Russian Orthodoxy under the Old Regime. Minneapolis, Minn., 1978.
Peris, Daniel. Storming the Heavens: The Soviet League of the Militant Godless. Ithaca, N.Y., 1998.
Pokrovskii, N. N., and S. G. Petrov, eds. Politbiuro i tserkov', 1922–1925 gg. Moscow, 1997. Publication of top-secret materials from the Kremlin Archive.
Roberson, Ronald G. The Eastern Christian Churches: A Brief Survey. 3d ed. Rome, 1990.
Robson, Roy R. Old Believers in Modern Russia. DeKalb, Ill., 1995.
Rössler, Roman. Kirche und Revolution in Russland. Cologne, 1969.
Savramis, Demosthenes. Die soziale Stellung des Priesters in Griechenland. Leiden, Netherlands, 1968.
Schulz, Günther. Das Landeskonzil der Orthodoxen Kirche in Russland 1917–1918:Ein unbekanntes Reformpotential. Göttingen, Germany, 1995.
Smolitsch, Igor. Geschichte der russischen Kirche, 1700–1917. 2 vols. Leiden, Netherlands, 1964–1991. Also published in Russian as Istoriia russkoi tserkvi, 1700–1917. Best inclusive account, with an extensive bibliography on printed sources and secondary literature in Russian and Western languages.
Vasil'eva, Ol'ga IU., ed. Russkaia pravoslavnaia tserkov' i kommunisticheskoe gosudarstvo 1917–1941: Dokumenty i fotomaterialy. Moscow, 1996. Archival documents on the early Soviet era.
Ware, Timothy. Eustratios Argenti: A Study of the Greek Church under Turkish Rule. Oxford, U.K., 1964.
Ware, Timothy. The Orthodox Church. 3d ed. London and New York, 1993. An excellent historical overview and an informed account of theology and dogma.
Eastern Orthodox Christianity arrived in North America in the late 1700s by way of Russian Orthodox missionaries from the Valaam monastery who evangelized among Alaskan natives. Within two years the Russian missionaries had performed eleven thousand baptisms, consecrated two thousand marriages, and put up a church and two portable chapels. The Valaam monks translated the Bible and sacred texts into native languages, with a view toward reflecting local spiritual ideas and practices in their mission and to creating self-sufficient Orthodox churches led by local priests. The missionaries followed the practice of working in native languages and representing local customs in Orthodox worship established by Byzantine missionaries who spread Orthodoxy in the Balkans, Russia, and the Middle East.
Eastern Orthodox Christianity expanded in the United States throughout the 1900s with the influx of Russian, Balkan, Greek, and Middle Eastern settlers seeking refuge from economic hardship, political oppression, and war that prevailed in their homelands. Within the framework of religious freedom and tolerance in the United States, Orthodox Christians established parishes in which they worshiped according to their spiritual vision and were governed by their understanding of episcopal polity. Orthodox settlers in North America in the early 1900s adhered to nationalism and ethnic divisions fostered in Orthodox regions that were under Ottoman rule in Europe and the Middle East. Divisions along ethnic and national lines in the Orthodox Church were further entrenched in a climate of ethnic and racial hostility structuring American settlements and social institutions before the civil rights movement of the 1960s. While ethnicity persists in Orthodox churches, congregations are gradually becoming ethnically diverse as a result of interethnic marriages among first- and second-generation Orthodox Christians and a growing number of converts drawn by the ethos of Orthodox worship.
The Eastern Orthodox Church in North America today consists of about twenty communions with approximately 6 million adherents. Some of these bodies are variously under the jurisdiction of the patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, Jerusalem, Russia, Serbia, Romania, and Albania; these churches rely on their patriarch to appoint archbishops and bishops but are otherwise independent and self-reliant. A smaller number of Orthodox denominations are largely autonomous; they are not under the jurisdiction of a patriarch, they independently appoint the head of their church, and they govern their affairs and are self-sufficient. Since the late 1870s lay groups have established Orthodox parishes in North America. Orthodox parishes rely on volunteers to raise funds to support the clergy, maintain the church building, and sponsor church programs. In North America Orthodox churches elect a parish council from their members to direct church administrative affairs. By the mid-1960s the local parish had become a significant spiritual and social institution among Orthodox Christian minorities in North America. Within the framework of the church they determined their identity based on their articulation of Orthodox tenets and practices.
While Orthodox church buildings in North America vary, their structures adhere to the requirements for Orthodox worship. The church is conceived as heaven on Earth, a place were Orthodox Christians experience God on Earth. In the eyes of believers the structure is the embodiment of the work of the Holy Spirit. The building structure and interior narrate an Orthodox worldview. Icons are placed throughout the sanctuary in positions that are prescribed by Orthodox cosmology and practice. Icons are essential elements in Orthodox worship, and they are used to impart church teachings. Most Orthodox sanctuaries in North America include pews, organs, choir lofts, and fellowship halls. The fellowship halls are used for church organizational meetings, fund-raisers, socials, Bible study, and Sunday school. In the early 1900s some Orthodox churches also established primary schools that taught children their native language and culture as a way of continuing the ethnic identity and character of the group. Since the 1960s the curricula in Orthodox Church–based schools offer a bilingual and bicultural program.
Beliefs and Practices
While the Eastern Orthodox Church in North America is composed of autonomous and largely autonomous bodies, its members are united by shared beliefs and practices. Orthodox Christians believe that they bear the unbroken apostolic legacy; they see themselves as embodying the true and comprehensive faith. Orthodox Christians agree that the foundations of Orthodox spiritual beliefs and practices were established in seven ecumenical councils: Nicea I (325), Constantinople I (381), Ephesus (431), Chalcedon (451), Constantinople II (553), Constantinople III (680), and Nicea II (787). Orthodox Christians rely on the teachings and writings of the holy church fathers. They also believe in scriptural authority revealed to humanity through the church. They agree that the church should be governed by episcopal authority. The Orthodox Church is also united by shared liturgical structure, sacraments, and church feasts. The liturgy of St. John Chrysostom has been used since the fifth century and is enacted on most Sundays in Orthodox churches. The liturgy of St. Basil, written in the fourth century, is a longer version of the text prepared by St. John Chrysostom and is sung ten times a year. The liturgy of the presanctified gifts, written by St. Gregory in the sixth century, is sung on Wednesdays and Fridays of Great Lent and on the first three days of Holy Week. There are seven sacraments enacted in the Orthodox Church: baptism, chrismation, Holy Eucharist, repentance, ordination, marriage, and holy unction. Each sacrament imparts a particular grace. The sacraments are the means by which Orthodox Christians are transformed into divine likenesses.
Orthodox Christians believe in a triune God—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God the Father is creator of all things in the universe. God is Christ, the son of God who came to Earth as man and returned to God the Father in heaven. God is the Holy Spirit, who dispenses God's grace to humanity and the universe. Humanity experiences God the Father, who is transcendent and mysterious through God's energies. God is personal. God is reached by personal prayer and devotion conducted in the church and in private, everyday life. Orthodox Christians maintain a small iconostasis—a partition or screen—in their homes, where a small candle or lamp illuminates the family icons. The iconostasis is the site of private devotion and prayer in the home. Private devotion includes observing fasts that accord with Orthodox beliefs, taking part in the celebration of church feasts, and observing the sacraments.
There are twelve great feasts in the Orthodox calendar, excluding Easter. The celebration of Easter is the most significant church feast in Orthodoxy. Christ's resurrection is a central theme and a major structuring element in Orthodox worship; Christ's life, Passion, and resurrection figure prominently in the liturgies and icons represented in church interiors. Orthodox Christians venerate Mary, the mother of God; four church feasts are in Mary's honor. Commemorations of the church fathers and saints are represented throughout Orthodox thought and practice.
Second- and third-generation Orthodox Christians sustain the Orthodox Church in North America. Since the 1960s, ethnic divisiveness and separation have been waning in American society. New generations of Orthodox Christians who have been reared on American soil and have achieved upward mobility in American society are not defensive about their ethnic and religious identity. For this generation, the homelands of their ancestors are points of honor and pride but not places where they seek to resettle. Thus Orthodox parishes in North America are no longer defensive and inward-looking. The expansion of Eastern Orthodox Christianity in a plural and open American society is creating the foundation for ecumenical and interfaith dialogue. Much of this dialogue is taking place at the local level as a result of the increasing pluralism in American society and the growing number of interfaith marriages and conversions. While some Orthodox Christians have left Orthodoxy since the 1960s, the signs of Orthodox renewal and revival abound. The first and second generations are restoring Orthodox churches, embracing the symbols and meanings embodied in Orthodox worship, and taking part in expanding church programs that include opportunities to discuss Orthodox sacred texts to give order and meaning to their lives. Orthodox parents are baptizing their children in the faith and fostering the Orthodox identity of their children.
Christian unity and ecumenical dialogue are major concerns among Orthodox Christians. The Orthodox Church takes part in the World Council of Churches (WCC). Within the framework of the WCC the Orthodox have an opportunity to address doctrinal differences that separate them from Protestant and Roman Catholic Christianity. However, within the WCC the Orthodox see themselves treated as a marginal minority whose concerns are disparaged by the Protestant majority. The Orthodox believe that the WCC should focus less on what Orthodox consider ephemeral concerns of inclusive language and the ordination of women and more on theological themes such as the veneration of Mary, the significance of icons in worship, and the foundations for unity in faith.
On the global scene there are several initiatives unfolding to provide opportunities for dialogue on the divisive issues of the authority of the pope, the veneration of icons, secularism, the primacy of theological claims based on the authority of rational discourse in Western Christianity, and the privileged authority of science in Western society. Orthodox Christians look to their sources—scripture, the teachings of the church fathers, the teachings of Jesus, Mary, and the saints, iconography, the apostolic legacy—to address these concerns. In North America, Orthodox Christians are faced with questions about the ordination of women, abortion, homosexuality, violence, poverty, and the environment. The second and third generations must reconcile the tenets of Orthodox faith that stress humility, self-sacrifice, and stewardship with the secular practices of unencumbered individualism and competition. Orthodox Christians must reconcile the utilitarian ethic defining everyday transactions in American society with the Orthodox ethic of love outlined in Orthodox discourse and practice. Orthodox Christians in North America are increasingly in a position to endow institutions in which they can retrieve their past in order to contemplate and act in the future. Less encumbered by the exigencies of ethnic discrimination and limited economic resources, they are in a position to shed their parochial legacy and reach for the cosmopolitan outlook and practice embodied in North American history during the initial landing of Orthodoxy in Alaska.
Bulgakov, Sergius. The OrthodoxChurch. 1988.
Clendenin, Daniel. EasternOrthodoxChristianity:AWestern Perspective. 1994.
Clendenin, Daniel, ed. Eastern OrthodoxTheology. 1995.
Meyendorff, John. Vision of Unity. 1987.
Ouspensky, Leonid. Theology of the Icon. 1992.
Ware, Timothy. The Orthodox Church. 1997.
135. Eastern Orthodoxy
See also 80. CHRISTIANITY ; 349. RELIGION ; 392. THEOLOGY .
- 1 . any of various Middle Eastern Christian sects in the early church that lacked or rejected theological leaders.
- 2 . a Flagellant. —Achephalist , n.
- an official in the medieval Greek church who collected the money from a monastery or benefice.
- a sacrament corresponding to confirmation in the Western church in which a baptized person is anointed with chrism.
- a diocese. See also 190. GREECE and GREEKS .
- the principal service book of Eastern Orthodoxy. Also Euchology
- 1 . the study of Eastern Orthodox ritual.
- 2 . (cap.) Euchologion.
- 1 . in the early church, the head of a major diocese or province.
- 2 . a bishop inferior to a patriarch but superior to a metropolitan.
- 3 . a deputy of a patriarch, either a priest or a bishop.
- 4 . the head of an autonomous church. —exarchal , adj.
- the head of a monastery.
- the quietistic practices of a 14th-century ascetic sect of mystics drawn from the monks of Mt. Athos. Also called Palamitism . —hesychast , n. —hesychastic , adj.
- 1 . the practice of opposing the veneration of icons.
- 2 . the practice of destroying icons.
- 3 . (cap.) the principles of the religious party in the 8th-century Eastern church that opposed the use of icons. —iconoclast , n. —iconoclastic , adj.
- an iconoclast.
- the head of an ecclesiastic province.
- a bishop’s prayer on behalf of catechumens. —parathetic , adj.
- the head of any of the ancient sees or the see of another principal city or national church.
- a theological system centering on the Holy Wisdom developed by the 20th-century Russian priest Sergei Bulgakov. Also called Sophiology . —Sophianist , n.
- one who reads the synaxarion, or brief narrative of a saint’s life, in Eastern Orthodox liturgies.
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