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15 Dechristianization in Holy Rus? Religious Observance in Vladimir Diocese, 1900–1913

Heather J Coleman Indiana University Press ePub

Gregory L. Freeze

COMPARED TO FRENCH AND ENGLISH HISTORIOGRAPHY, scholarship on Russian religious life has yet to map out the patterns of religious observance. The fundamental question concerns the scale of “dechristianization” before the 1917 revolution: did believers abandon the faith, cease attending church, and omit rituals and sacraments (such as confession and communion)? Did literacy and secular mass culture, industrialization and migrant labor, and radical propaganda undermine religious life? Did proselytizing by other confessions (especially after 1905) lead to large-scale “apostasy”? One place to look for answers is the documentation amassed by the church – the reports and statistics on religious observance that the church compiled each year. From the church’s perspective, was religious life waning on the eve of the 1917 revolution?

Given the heterogeneity of this vast empire and the sheer volume of the data, it is essential to focus on a single diocese – in this case, Vladimir. An old religious heartland, Vladimir remained a bastion of Orthodoxy, claiming 1.6 million adherents (98 percent of the province in 1901).1 Here the church had a strong institutional base: the bishop had two vicar-bishops and 69 local deans (blagochinnye) to help govern the dense network of monasteries, clergy, and parishes. But the church faced growing challenges in Vladimir – rapid industrialization, cultural change, revolutionary agitation, and proselytization by other confessions (especially Old Believers and sectarians).

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16 Petitions to the Holy Synod Regarding Miracle-Working Icons

Heather J Coleman Indiana University Press ePub

Vera Shevzov

ICONS HISTORICALLY PLAYED AN EXTRAORDINARILY IMPORTANT role in the lives of Orthodox believers in imperial Russia. Officially linked since the eighth century with the church’s teachings regarding Jesus’ identity as both human and divine, icons found their justification in the Orthodox Christian understanding of the incarnation and the nature of humanity. Moreover, as quintessential symbols of religious and national identity, icons were as often bearers of political and social meaning as they were of the spiritual and theological.

While the prominence of icons in imperial Russia is well known, the complexities and nuances associated with their use and veneration are much less appreciated. The two cases that follow offer first-hand insights into the often entangled world of iconic piety from the perspective of two lay believers, both male peasants, writing at the beginning of the twentieth century. Lay men and women frequently petitioned diocesan officials and even central church authorities in the capital, St. Petersburg, testifying to their active engagement in church life. Their letters concerned a broad array of issues, including parish administration and management, the construction of churches and chapels, fund raising, and icons, to name a few. Their numbers rose and took on a particularly sharp, candid tone at the end of the nineteenth century, and especially in the wake of the revolutionary events of 1905, when many lay believers seemed to awaken to their roles and responsibilities as members of the church.

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7 “Another Voice from the Lord”: An Orthodox Sermon on Christianity, Science, and Natural Disaster

Heather J Coleman Indiana University Press ePub

Nicholas Breyfogle

MULTIPLE EARTHQUAKES SHOOK THE LAKE BAIKAL REGION OF Russian Siberia for several consecutive days beginning on New Year’s Eve 1861/62.1 In the province’s capital city of Irkutsk, buildings wobbled violently, cracked, and collapsed (especially churches and other stone structures). Church bells rang uncontrollably and an organ in someone’s house suddenly started playing on its own – an eerie, discordant music to accompany the screams of residents and the crashing of household items that tumbled to the ground. Barrels of fish weighing over seven hundred pounds went flying across courtyards; animals howled and ran in panic. Across the lake, on the eastern shore on the Tsagan Steppe, the shock of the earthquake unleashed a tsunami that rolled rapidly over the steppe and then retreated as quickly as it came. It left behind a “mincemeat” landscape and piles of ice blocks more than two kilometers inland. More ominously, water began to gush from widespread fractures in the land created by the seismic shaking and the ground began sinking. More than two hundred square kilometers of the Tsagan steppe, along with the villages on it, sank permanently underwater – Atlantis-style.

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11 Written Confessions to Father John of Kronstadt, 1898–1908

Heather J Coleman Indiana University Press ePub

Nadieszda Kizenko

AT THE TURN OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, WHEN THESE confessions were written, Orthodox Christians in the Russian empire learned how to confess their sins from a variety of sources. Children going to their first confession at the age of seven learned from their mothers, older siblings, church school, and even children’s story-books. A daily confession at the end of the evening prayers in the standard prayer-book kept fresh the main categories of sin and a general sense of compunction. Before and during Great Lent, when most people went to their annual confession, priests delivered sermons on the sacrament’s importance. Lenten church services fostered the themes of sinfulness and repentance. Published guides grouped by sins pertaining to the ten commandments contained helpful questions meant to aid in soul-searching, and concrete models of what to say. Fictional accounts, such as those written by Tolstoi and Dostoevskii, illustrated how literary heroes like Konstantin Levin and Natasha Rostov went to confession. Although such models dealt with conventional spoken, or auricular, confessions, the confessions presented here show how successfully they could be adapted to written form.

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2 The Miraculous Revival and Death of Princess Anna Fedorovna Golitsyna, 22 May 1834

Heather J Coleman Indiana University Press ePub

Christine D. Worobec

TWO UNDATED COPIES OF THIS EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT OF Princess Anna Fedorovna Golitsyna’s miraculous revival after being pronounced dead by medical experts and of her subsequent death have survived in two different Russian archives in separate files devoted, in one case, to miracles attributed to both icons and saints and, in the other, to the full or partial biographies of spiritually uplifting individuals, most of whom had been monks. The shorter of the copies found in the latter category lists the author as Golitsyna’s spiritual adviser, the parish priest Mikhail Lavrent’evich.1 The editor of the redaction presented below is identified only by the initials G. K. The comments that G. K. made in the narrative itself, which he bracketed with the markings // and which I have kept in the translation and added where necessary, suggest that he was preparing either a sermon (if he, too, was a priest) or publication of the noblewoman’s experiences for the edification of both Orthodox believers and non-believers. The record does not contain any evidence that the supposed miracle underwent investigation or the process of verification, although the original author is careful to note that he is relaying eyewitness testimonies. Such verification had become standard by the late eighteenth century. In polemical language the editor G. K. reveals his concerns about the dangers of the triumph of scientific rationalism over religious faith as well as the popularity of Pietism and other Protestant influences among members of the Russian nobility and his belief in the strength of the Orthodox God, whose omnipotence and grace, as demonstrated in this miracle story, ultimately triumph over both science and Protestantism.

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