Cover image for Orthodox Russia: Belief and Practice Under the Tsars Edited by Valerie A. Kivelson and Robert H. Greene

Orthodox Russia

Belief and Practice Under the Tsars

Edited by Valerie A. Kivelson, and Robert H. Greene


$40.95 | Paperback Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-02350-2

304 pages
6" × 9"
18 b&w illustrations/1 map

Orthodox Russia

Belief and Practice Under the Tsars

Edited by Valerie A. Kivelson, and Robert H. Greene

Orthodox Russia resituates the study of Russian Orthodox culture within the history of lived experience—something that scholars would not have attempted a generation ago. With essays by some of the finest historians working on Russian Orthodox culture, the book demonstrates how the field has become an ever more integral part of wider cultural studies.”


  • Description
  • Reviews
  • Bio
  • Table of Contents
  • Sample Chapters
  • Subjects
Orthodox Christianity came to Russia from Byzantium in 988, and in the ensuing centuries it has become such a fixture of the Russian cultural landscape that any discussion of Russian character or history inevitably must take its influence into account. Orthodox Russia is a timely volume that brings together some of the best contemporary scholarship on Russian Orthodox beliefs and practices covering a broad historical period—from the Muscovite era through the immediate aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Studies of Russian Orthodoxy have typically focused on doctrinal controversies or institutional developments.

Orthodox Russia concentrates on lived religious experience—how Orthodoxy touched the lives of a wide variety of subjects of the Russian state, from clerics awaiting the Apocalypse in the fifteenth century and nuns adapting to the attacks on organized religion under the Soviets to unlettered military servitors at the court of Ivan the Terrible and workers, peasants, and soldiers in the last years of the imperial regime. Melding traditionally distinct approaches, the volume allows us to see Orthodoxy not as a static set of rigidly applied rules and dictates but as a lived, adaptive, and flexible system.

Orthodox Russia offers a much-needed, up-to-date general survey of the subject, one made possible by the opening of archives in Russia after 1991.

Contributors include Laura Engelstein, Michael S. Flier, Daniel H. Kaiser, Nadieszda Kizenko, Eve Levin, Gary Marker, Daniel Rowland, Vera Shevzov, Thomas N. Tentler, Isolde Thyrêt, William G. Wagner, and Paul W. Werth.

Orthodox Russia resituates the study of Russian Orthodox culture within the history of lived experience—something that scholars would not have attempted a generation ago. With essays by some of the finest historians working on Russian Orthodox culture, the book demonstrates how the field has become an ever more integral part of wider cultural studies.”
“Although the editors also claim the authority of the archives, only one essay rests extensively on new documents. Nevertheless, each of these works is filled with a wealth of interesting information and insight, even the epilogue, which may teach readers more about the Western church than the Eastern. Despite footnotes intended to make them accessible to non-specialists, these essays, both in style and content, are extremely academic, and the bibliography alone makes the book a valuable scholarly asset.”
“The series of essays in this book are written by some of the best scholars in the field of Russian religion and culture.”
“This volume breaks fresh ground in the study of Orthodoxy in Russia. In fact, Valerie A. Kivelson and Robert H. Greene’s compilation provides a good barometer on the study of Russian Orthodoxy in the American academy. Fortunately, the news is good—these chapters show great nuance and depth.”
“This collection of essays edited by Valerie A. Kivelson and Robert H. Greene adds to the growing literature on Russian religious life, with a particularly welcome focus on the pre-revolutionary phase from the mid-fifteenth to the early twentieth centuries.”
“The stimulating essays in this book should give folklorists food for thought.”
“This book is a must reading for those interested in the history of religion and culture in Russia.”
“This excellent collection provides both generalist and specialized essays about revelatory aspects of Russian Orthodoxy. . . . Using a variety of methods, they shed light on the complex and variegated practices and beliefs that have shaped Russian Orthodoxy over the past thousand years.”

Valerie A. Kivelson is Associate Professor of History at the University of Michigan. She is the author of Autocracy in the Provinces: Russian Political Culture and the Gentry in the Seventeenth Century (1997).

Robert H. Greene is a graduate student in the Department of History at the University of Michigan.



List of Illustrations



Valerie A. Kivelson and Robert H. Greene

Part I: Destabilizing Dichotomies

1. Old and New, High and Low: Straw Horsemen of Russian Orthodoxy

Laura Engelstein

2. Two Cultures, One Throne Room: Secular Courtiers and Orthodox Culture in the Golden Hall of the Moscow Kremlin

Daniel Rowland

3. Letting the People into Church: Reflections on Orthodoxy and Community in Late Imperial Russia

Vera Shevzov

Part II: Imagining the Sacred

4. From Corpse to Cult in Early Modern Russia

Eve Levin

5. Protectors of Women and the Lower Orders: Constructing Sainthood in Modern Russia

Nadieszda Kizenko

Part III: Encountering the Sacred

6. Till the End of Time: The Apocalypse in Russian Historical Experience Before 1500

Michael S. Flier

7. Women and the Orthodox Faith in Muscovite Russia: Spiritual Experience and Practice

Isolde Thyrêt

Part IV: Living Orthodoxy

8. Quotidian Orthodoxy: Domestic Life in Early Modern Russia

Daniel H. Kaiser

9. God of Our Mothers: Reflections on Lay Female Spirituality in Late Eighteenth- and Early Nineteenth-Century Russia

Gary Marker

10. Paradoxes of Piety: The Nizhegorod Convent of the Exaltation of the Cross, 1807–1935

William G. Wagner

11. Orthodoxy as Ascription (and Beyond): Religious Identity on the Edges of the Orthodox Community, 1740–1917

Paul W. Werth

Epilogue: A View from the West

Thomas N. Tentler

Annotated Bibliography

List of Contributors



Orthodox Russia

Valerie A. Kivelson and Robert H. Greene

After seventy years of neglect, the study of Russian religious life has entered an exciting period of growth in the decade since the fall of the Soviet Union. Long proscribed as a topic of study in the antireligious Soviet Union, religion, when it did appear in scholarly works, was treated primarily as primitive superstition or as a manifestation of an oppressive, ruling-class ideology. Russian religious history was overlooked nearly as completely by Western scholars, who concentrated on more popular and pressing subjects of political and social history. By fortuitous coincidence, the transformation of the political climate of Russia since 1991 coincided with shifts in the intellectual currents of Western scholarship, where renewed interest in cultural anthropology has driven a rush of work on religious life and culture. Thus, serious study of Russian Orthodoxy in a cultural context is relatively new, a product of the last ten to fifteen years. Recent scholarship, by Gregory Freeze and others, has fundamentally altered the ways in which we can understand Orthodoxy in its historical context. This is still an emerging field, and the authors represented in this collection are among the major players in making the study of Russian Orthodoxy as dynamic as it is today.

Until recently, most American students came into contact with Russian Orthodoxy through terse stereotypes in textbooks, which dispensed with the topic in a dutiful paragraph or two, or sequestered religion in a decidedly skippable chapter titled "Religion and Culture," or something similar. For instance, one textbook explains that "Byzantine Christianity, while raising Kievan Rus to a new cultural level, introduced into its cultural tradition a degree of rigidity and formalism, which would inhibit future Russian cultural development." Another widely used textbook emphasizes that "the Russian Church had developed especially in the direction of religious ceremony, ritualism, and formalism." "Religion occupied a central position in Muscovite Russia and reflected the principal aspects and problems of Muscovite development: the growth and consolidation of the state; ritualism and conservatism; parochialism and the belonging to a larger world; ignorant, self-satisfied pride, and the recognition of the need for reform." But even the reformers of the seventeenth century "confus[ed] the letter with the spirit," mistaking superficial ritual practices for theological doctrine. "Religious content lagged behind form." The religious ritualism of Orthodoxy offered the believers "a great unifying bond and tangible basis for their daily life," but gave them little room for enlightenment or spiritual development.

Such characterizations perpetuate a fixed image of what Orthodox religion meant for Russia: rigid, hierarchical structure; superficial conception of doctrine; and static, repetitive ritualism. Paired with fast and free use of religion as a key to a purportedly mournful, deep, or fatalistic Russian soul, sweeping statements about Russian Orthodoxy surface frequently in discussions of Russian exceptionalism. Formulaic stereotypes are still frequently invoked in efforts to resolve the haunting question of Russia’s relation to and difference from the West. If Orthodoxy, or the variants that it assumed in Russia, explains any significant aspects of Russian history, then it is a task of some urgency to identify the specific ways in which Russian experience was inflected by Orthodoxy. With the opening of archives and the unprecedented access to primary source materials on the history of religion in Russia, it is now possible to pursue this project in depth, perhaps for the first time since the Revolution.

Studies of Russian Orthodoxy as a topic in itself, rather than as an expression of other political or social forces, traditionally have focused on church controversies or structural developments detached from everyday life. That is, Orthodoxy has been seen alternatively as a practice of class oppression or of folk custom, devoid of theological, spiritual, or genuine religious content, or as a rarefied realm of doctrine and ecclesiastical institutions, populated by a handful of educated churchmen and unconnected to the world of the laity. In keeping with more recent developments in the field, the essays collected here interrogate the place of religion and religious belief in the lives of Russian subjects and collectively try to resituate the history of Orthodoxy more squarely into history itself. The chapters of this book examine lived religious experience between the fifteenth century and the immediate aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.

In twelve essays, the authors address questions of how Orthodoxy touched the lives of a wide variety of subjects of the Russian state, from clerics awaiting the Apocalypse in the fifteenth century to nuns adapting to the attacks on organized religion under the Soviets, and from unlettered military servitors at the court of Ivan the Terrible to peasants and urban dwellers in the last years of the imperial regime. Examining the role of religion in the lives of Russians and non-Russians, Orthodox believers and sectarians, clerics and laity, elites and commoners, men and women, the authors bring together the fields of religious and sociocultural history. By melding traditionally distinct approaches, the authors allow us to see Orthodoxy as a lived, adaptive, and flexible cultural system, rather than as a static set of rigidly applied rules and dictates.

Orthodox Christianity came to Russia from Byzantium by official fiat in 988 and remained the official religion until the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Vladimir, the tenth-century grand prince of Kiev credited with converting the "Rus’ people" from paganism, chose Greek Orthodoxy from the array of monotheisms—Islam, Judaism, Catholicism, Orthodoxy—presented to him. In spite of the solemn princely mandate for conversion and the willingness of the Greek missionaries to translate liturgical texts into a more or less comprehensible Slavonic language, the spread of Christianity was a long, slow, faltering process. Christianity remained concentrated in cities and monastic outposts, only slowly filtering out to the sparsely populated, heavily forested lands beyond the walls. Some scholars have argued that Orthodox Christianity never made deep inroads into the peasant mentality, but rather coexisted with traditional pre-Christian pagan practices and superstitions in a dual belief system called dvoeverie.

As the new religion gradually took root in Russia, a series of religious schisms and institutional restructurings affected Christendom at large and, by extension, Russia. Relations between the Byzantine Greeks and the Latin West, already tense in the ninth and tenth centuries when the Slavic peoples converted to Christianity, were strained over questions of theology and ecclesiastical authority. At issue were questions such as the nature of the Trinity, the use of leavened or unleavened bread for communion, and the legitimacy of clerical marriage. Another point of contention was the Latin claim to the primacy of the pope, which clashed with the Greek commitment to conciliar decision-making within the church. Matters reached a breaking point in 1054, when the Eastern and Western churches severed their ties. Russia remained under the institutional jurisdiction of the Greek patriarch even after Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453 and the center of Eastern Christianity itself came under the rule of the Muslim sultan. An independent or autocephalous Moscow Patriarchate was founded in 1589, but proved short-lived.

Leaving the post unfilled after the death of the last patriarch, in 1721 Peter the Great entrusted control of the church to a newly created administrative institution, the Holy Synod, which remained in charge of church affairs until the end of the imperial era. The abolition of the patriarchate signified a radical change in the relationship between church and state in Russia. The Holy Synod operated as a branch of the bureaucratic, secular government and was headed by a layperson appointed by the tsar. The eighteenth century witnessed further decline of the institutional church, when Catherine II secularized the extensive church land holdings and left an impoverished and weakened institution behind. Some scholars have extrapolated from the dependent status of the church a theory that the clergy subscribed to and propagated an ethos of submissiveness. Gregory Freeze has questioned this harsh judgment against the church as "handmaiden of the state" and pointed out that government regulation produced a more educated clergy in the eighteenth century. He and others have shown that, freed from the worldly burdens of managing land and people, the Russian church experienced a burgeoning of new forms of spirituality, religious devotion, and moral engagement. The most powerful example of this new kind of rigorous spiritual expression is the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century movement of the holy elders, startsy, who combined traditions of Orthodox monasticism with elements of Catholicism and Pietism that were filtering in from the West. The mode of religious life they created, starchestvo, melded the hermit’s contemplative retreat with a theology of engaged action in the world.

With the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, Orthodoxy not only lost its status as the official state religion but also found itself banned and anathematized by a militantly atheistic state. Marxism and historical materialism replaced Orthodoxy as the official state doctrine. The patriarchate enjoyed a brief restoration after the fall of the tsar in 1917, but was abandoned in the early Soviet period, only to be reestablished as an appeal to Russian patriotism by Joseph Stalin during the Second World War. After the war the church survived in various forms: as an officially sanctioned institution, more or less aligned with the Soviet regime; as an émigré church abroad; and as an underground movement periodically persecuted by state and party. Because the Revolution ushered in such a profoundly different era for the church, and because the context and issues confronting religion were so completely altered after 1917, we have chosen to concentrate in this volume on the years in which Orthodoxy enjoyed imperial support.

Even during the long era of official Orthodoxy, however, religious life was not unchanging. Historical events affected many of the fundamental terms of the church as an institution, and the cultural milieu altered as well. Although firmly ensconced as the official Russian religion, Orthodoxy faced continual challenges. It had to struggle to establish secure roots among the sparse, dispersed pagan population, then to create and enforce unity of belief and practice within the Orthodox flock, and ultimately, to maintain its primacy in a diverse, multiethnic empire, in which a wide variety of religions coexisted and interacted. Within its own ranks of Russian Christians, Orthodoxy confronted more heterogeneity than outright heresy in its early centuries, partly because of its inability to police the beliefs and practices of its scattered flock. For instance, the Russian church did not institute the convenient surveillance mechanism of mandatory annual confession until the early eighteenth century, five hundred years later than its Western counterpart. Parish registers and confessional books, convenient for tracking and controlling Christian births, deaths, marriages, and taking the sacraments, did not come into active use until well into the eighteenth century. Moreover, Russian church services did not routinely include sermons until the late seventeenth century, which meant that the ecclesiastical establishment had one less mode of communicating its rules and expectations to the faithful. Unable to check up on its parishioners, for most of its history the church could neither establish rigid conventions nor identify and punish violators. This late development of mechanisms of control or standardization lent Orthodoxy a rather attractively expansive, inclusive character, whereby local variation and idiosyncrasy were generally tolerated by default, unless they happened to catch the eye or rouse the ire of the authorities.

Not coincidentally, as the church developed control mechanisms and attempted to standardize religious practice, it confronted increasing challenges from believers who found themselves newly numbered among the schismatics or heretics. A very small circle in the late fifteenth century earned the dubious distinction of being labeled Judaizers and heretics, and some died for their beliefs. These few operated at the heart of the Moscow court and could hardly have escaped detection. A broader-based movement would not emerge until the church itself had the ambition and manpower to attempt to enforce standard practice throughout the land. The first major internal schism occurred in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with the rise of the so-called Old Belief, a movement that purported to defend traditional Russian devotional practices from the reformist innovations introduced by the patriarch and the clerical establishment. The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries produced a richer array of sectarian movements, prompting the church to step up its efforts to enforce a unitary set of practices. Religious toleration was codified into law only after the revolution of 1905, and until then deviance or apostasy could be considered criminal as well as sinful. Even after 1905, religious affiliation and practice remained matters of concern to the state as well as the church.

This brief institutional history gives some idea of the sharply changing circumstances of the church itself during the many centuries of Russia’s relationship with Orthodoxy. If one shifts one’s gaze from the formal configuration of the church to the circumstances in which the religion was taught, internalized, or practiced at a local level, the particularities and peculiarities of any historical moment multiply infinitely. This is the level of analysis that forms the core of the following essays and constitutes their major contribution to the study of Russian religion.

Grand claims have been made about the effect of Prince Vladimir’s choice on the development of Russian history from the tenth century to the post-Soviet present. But all of these claims tend to be either static or rather mystical, generalizing about a putative common Russian soul or national character, and they fail to consider variation over time or even the tremendous variety within a single era. At each historical moment, Orthodoxy incorporated elements of the changing world and adapted to new conditions. Michael Flier’s study of late-fifteenth-century apocalyptic fear traces significant transformations in the millenarian outlook over the course of a few decades, and thus refutes any "timeless" ideas about Russian apocalypticism. Further along the chronological spectrum, Laura Engelstein and Gary Marker highlight the remarkable religious creativity of the late eighteenth century, when a wide variety of spiritual movements developed, covering the gamut from stringent Orthodoxy, to fringe sectarianism, to individualized religious devotion. Nadieszda Kizenko and William Wagner explore Orthodox accommodations with the various hurdles and complications raised by secularization, urbanization, commercialization, and ultimately, communism. The juxtaposition of these studies from a broad chronological span, covering the late fifteenth century to the early Soviet period, exposes the dynamism and variety in religious understanding across time, place, population, and circumstance. By organizing this collection thematically rather than chronologically, we hope to highlight particular aspects of Orthodoxy as a lived religion.

In spite of its demonstrable historical variation, Orthodox Christianity should not be understood as completely amorphous and adaptable. Certain traits or tendencies characterize Russian Orthodoxy throughout its many manifestations, and this collection of particularized studies helps to define the outlines of a strong and lasting Orthodox culture. In line with a long tradition of descriptions (and even caricatures) of the Russian church, the authors here confirm that Orthodoxy has been grounded primarily in practice and experience. Religion structured daily practices in ways that bypassed the cognitive. Daniel Kaiser’s examination of rites of passage reveals how religion saturated daily life. The Orthodox calendar regulated marriage practices, burial rituals, the naming of babies, and even sexual congress. Vera Shevzov’s piece on tserkovnost’, or "churchness," similarly demonstrates how religion was embedded in community practices and structures. Unlike Protestantism and Judaism, based so centrally on Scripture and textual exegesis, Russian Orthodoxy valued altars, relics, and icons over complex theological argument. The material realm quite literally embodied the incandescent presence of the divine. The sensory and experiential dominated over the textual. Of the senses, vision held pride of place. Icons and frescoes played a crucial function in conveying theological ideas and biblical tales to the worshipers, while inner vision allowed for direct interaction with the saints.

What is different or new, then, in the picture of Russian Orthodoxy presented in this book? The authors here go beyond the overly easy binaries of ritual practice versus intellectual inquiry, image versus text, to explore the interplay between them. The chapters by Daniel Rowland and Michael Flier describe how Orthodox painters carefully structured icons and fresco cycles to communicate biblical lessons and to open the believer’s soul to grace. Orthodoxy employs beauty—the beauty of God’s Creation, the beauty of "the Uncreated Light," the beauty of the choir, the liturgy, the incense and icons during services—as effectively as any more textually based religion might deploy the sermon or the Word, to inculcate religious lessons. Beauty, after all, is presented in the medieval Russian Primary Chronicle as the single most compelling reason for St. Vladimir’s choice of Orthodox Christianity over other world religions. Vladimir reportedly chose Orthodoxy at least in part in response to reports of the dazzling beauty of the Orthodox liturgy in the Hagia Sofia in Constantinople, which left his emissaries not knowing whether they "were in Heaven or on earth."

Embodying both visual and spiritual beauty, icons play a crucial role in Orthodox practice. Western commentators and critics from early modern times on have carped that Russians "worshiped" their painted icons. Assuming that the Russian faithful did not distinguish between the representation and the immaterial sanctity it represented, travelers, particularly Protestants, derided Russian ritual as empty of significance and the worshipers as ignorant of the meanings of their obeisances. Shocked at the absence of sermons or formal religious education among the Russian laity, Western observers sneered that Orthodox worshipers continued in blind idolatry because nothing is told of what it all means. However, to the Orthodox faithful, visual messages were evidently quite clear, if not always accurate, as the chapters that follow demonstrate. In his chapter on the Kremlin frescoes, for instance, Daniel Rowland does something very original, examining not just the intended meaning but also the reception and creative misinterpretation of political-theological frescoes by their unschooled, largely illiterate viewers. He bases his reconstruction on evidence from the cultural world in which Muscovite soldiers and court servitors lived and fought. He is then strongly positioned to assess how and to what extent Orthodoxy actually touched the lives of Russian military men in the sixteenth century. Kaiser’s chapter confirms these findings by looking at other areas in which religious messages shaped lived experience through routine behaviors and conventions. Orthodoxy left its imprint on the patterns of daily life, demonstrating the prosaic ways in which religion provided an organizing structure for lived experience on the most intimate as well as the most public level. Once the problem of the mode of transmission between a learned clerical elite and an illiterate, or barely literate, populace resolves itself, doubts about the extent and impact of Orthodoxy on the masses seem far less pressing, and it is easier to believe that an unlettered people actually considered itself Christian. Michael Flier’s, Eve Levin’s, and Isolde Thyrêt’s studies of manifestations of popular religion establish that Orthodoxy had indeed reached deeply into Russian culture by the early modern, Muscovite era.

Radically recasting older ideas about Orthodoxy’s ritualism and superficiality, these studies reveal the active, creative deployment of religious concepts by ordinary people in their daily lives and dispel the notion that a ritual-based religion is necessarily an unthinking, superficial, or unproductive one. This volume brings into focus the empowering qualities of a religion that integrated theology into practice and imbued ritual with sanctity. Ordinary Orthodox Russians interpreted religious texts and doctrines all the time in their daily lives and practices. In his reflections on the resonances and contradictions between Christian linear time, stretching from Creation to the Last Judgment, and traditional East Slavic cyclical time, marking the seasons year after year, Flier suggests a productive interplay of ideas about resurrection and salvation. The idea of resurrection fit nicely with ancient Slavic ancestor cults, but the idea of a general resurrection at the end of time did not. The peasants and townspeople of Eve Levin’s and Kizenko’s chapters improvised adeptly on the core themes of Orthodox Christianity by constructing cults of saints, and imagining lives for those saints, that fit the classical hagiographic models. These studies, as well as Thyrêt’s, show how commonly believers appealed to saints for intercession and practical aid in their daily lives. The local peasant communities negotiated, sometimes successfully, sometimes unsuccessfully, with the church establishment for the right to venerate their saints, just as Vera Shevzov’s peasants negotiated for official acknowledgment of their miracle-working icons. Examining rural communities in the nineteenth century, Shevzov shows that laypeople found ways to interpret church teachings that favored their own local practices and to win clerical support for their local interpretations. Pushing this reasoning further, she casts into doubt the assumption that a sharp divide separated clerics, as representatives of an official church, from the laity. She argues instead that the community of believers was defined as integral to the essence of the church itself.

Viewed through the lens of gender, the empowering qualities of Orthodoxy as a religion that enabled the illiterate and uneducated believer to encounter the divine on his or her own terms become all the more intriguing. Not only men, but women as well could interact with the material embodiments of the sacred and assume religious agency on their own, without the learned mediation of priests or texts. A consideration of gender suggests that the sacrality of the material and the immediacy of the sacred may have functioned to level some of the gendered hierarchies at work in the Catholic and Protestant West. Astonishingly little work has applied gender as a category of analysis in the field of Russian religious history, aside from Brenda Meehan’s pioneering book on women’s religious experience in imperial Russia and Levin’s and Thyrêt’s on the Muscovite period. Here, Marker, Wagner, Kizenko, and Thyrêt all touch on gender, and all show how women could put Orthodox models to use flexibly and creatively. Perhaps most striking in their chapters is the way in which the women they examine turned to religion and prayer to provide practical, tangible improvements in their daily lives or to ameliorate the conditions of others in the here and now. Gary Marker shows that with her thoughtful and effective acts of intercession and charity the eighteenth-century Anna Labzina enacted a form of Marian virtue in her daily life, thereby melding theology and practice. Labzina found in religion a moral justification for her involvement in charitable works, and public intercession for prisoners and the poor. Her social activism in turn allowed her to develop a peculiarly female public world. Wagner too shows ways in which women could expand their traditional roles as intercessors and nurturers to allow for broader social, religious, and political participation. The nuns of the Convent of the Exaltation of the Cross found ways to address the particular problems facing women in late imperial society, while acting within the roles and structures allowed to female religious. Wagner also shows that the growth of female religiosity paralleled that found across Europe in the late nineteenth century, but he reveals an active, publicly engaged, entrepreneurial, urban convent, which somewhat muddies expectations of cloistered female piety.

Kizenko further challenges expectations of pious female behavior as she traces in the development of the cult of the cross-dressing St. Kseniia a fascinating amalgam of traditional female preoccupations with a strikingly "unfeminine" vindictiveness and vulgarity. Comparing St. Kseniia with St. Ioann of Kronstadt, both of whom appealed particularly to female supplicants and to the poor, she finds some gender-specific aspects of Orthodox practice, along with a shared focus on miracles that produced tangible improvement in the believers’ daily lives. These saints, like those discussed by Eve Levin, gained followers when they could offer practical results. Thyrêt argues for a more strongly gender-divided religious system, in which women and men approached the sacred differently. She presents a picture of a gender system more similar to a Western model than those provided by Kizenko or Marker. She provides convincing structural and institutional reasons for her arguments that women’s experiences with the divine were more emotional, more isolated, and less institutionalized than men’s. The pious women she studies relied on direct spiritual access and inner vision because they were denied entry into the exclusively male monasteries where most saints’ relics resided. These contributions in no way add up to a new consensus regarding gender and faith in Russia, but they open the doors to further research on a topic that deserves serious study, and that may prove exceptionally fruitful as a way to understanding Russian cultural development.

Coming to terms with the diversity and mutability of Orthodox practice, Shevzov argues that we should not conclude that there were multiple orthodoxies or "heterodoxies." Rather, such a discovery allows us to recognize that Orthodoxy was an enterprise capacious enough to accommodate a community of conversation, with room for disagreement, negotiation, and even contradiction. Engelstein too encourages us to consider an "Orthodox spectrum . . . broad enough to embrace a range of styles" or to accommodate "different registers of the creed." Werth’s study of Orthodox conversion efforts among the non-Russian peoples of the middle Volga region shows that capaciousness at its greatest, and also demonstrates its limits. Conversion by definition blurred and reconfigured boundaries between Orthodox and non-Orthodox, and within the context of Russian imperial expansion and incorporation, complicated seemingly obvious and eternal divisions between Russians and non-Russians. Werth exposes some of the anxieties and ambiguities that accompanied that process of redefining people from one category to another. Both Russian missionaries and members of the target populations used categories of difference to assert identity. At the same time, conversion and the associated process of Russification forced participants to confront the sometimes convenient and sometimes disturbing porousness of categorical labels, as they encountered such baffling hybrid categories as Orthodox Tatars or, later, Christian Communists. The wide embrace of the church, however, could not expand to include the sectarian movements of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth centuries. Where new Eastern converts, hazy on the basic tenets of Christianity, were militantly shepherded into the flock, sectarians were labeled heretics and definitively excluded from the Orthodox fold.

In a volume commemorating the first millennium of the Russian Orthodox Church, Boris Gasparov writes of the "special—implicit and amalgamative—character of the Christian tradition" among the Eastern Slavs, that is, a tendency to leave rules unstated and institutions and procedures informal. "It may be that the most characteristic feature of the Christian tradition among the Eastern Slavs, apparent from its very origin and evident in the whole span of its thousand-year history, is its ‘implicitness.’ . . . [B]oth the Church itself and the religious sphere of social life generally relied more on the continuity of tradition and the collective mind of its members than on objectified and abstracted regulations and institutions." If this is one of the defining traits of Russian Orthodoxy, as the studies in this collection confirm, then Orthodoxy would be best understood not as dogmatic and rigid, as it has been so commonly cast, but rather as the opposite: malleable and flexible. This lack of formal codification (in spite of occasional clerical efforts to do so) may well explain the generativeness of local practice and the sometimes astounding tolerance for spontaneous interpretive religious practice.

Overall, this volume testifies to the limited utility of the kinds of dualistic models that have so commonly shaped perceptions of Russian history and culture. None of the papers in this volume fits neatly within a dualistic framework. Rather, they all blur binary divisions. Engelstein does so most dramatically. Under her rigorous analysis, the sharp, clear divides between heresy and Orthodoxy, elite religion and popular, theology and practice, become far more complex and mutually implicated. The sectarian self-castrators unambiguously and even defiantly crossed the line from Orthodoxy into heresy, and yet even here, Engelstein challenges the sharply dichotomous categories so often invoked in the literature, arguing that these heretics’ "practices can also be understood as an extreme variation on a common theme." She proposes that a model of a continuum running between popular and elite, sectarian and official, styles of worship reflects the religious spectrum more accurately than a bipolar framework. Shevzov’s study of tserkovnost’ subjects the artificial division of high and low, prescribed and applied, to explicit critique and finds that these divides simply cannot be maintained. In the same vein, Marker shows how Labzina’s world observed no preordained boundaries. Public and private, male and female, traditional and progressive, religious and secular, Orthodox and Enlightened, oral and written, meld into a far richer concoction than a binary model would allow. Kaiser explores a sphere of behavior profoundly structured by Orthodoxy and yet with no discernible ties to doctrine, allowing for the possibility of a prosaic religiosity as yet unexamined by historians. Wagner shows that religious commitment does not rule out commercial pragmatism. The resourceful nuns of the Exaltation of the Cross Convent in Nizhnii Novgorod demonstrate how seemingly separate spheres intermingled with no perceptible disturbance of either sphere of activity. All of these chapters work to replace binaries with spectrums. Yet binaries arise in these essays and in the material at hand all the time, and the polarized pairs are never entirely vanquished. David Frick points out elsewhere that binaries are fundamentally attractive to the human mind, that people like to think in binary categories. Hence the paired opposites—theology and practice, understanding and ritual, Orthodox and heretic, Christian and pagan, male and female, elite and popular—assume cultural weight and explanatory power. Fortunately, Frick reminds us, people also like to escape binaries that are imposed upon them, and often do so in remarkably creative ways. The contributors to this volume, like the people they study, have done so to extraordinary effect.

Finally, the findings about Russian Orthodoxy in this volume allow for a more productive comparison of Orthodoxy with Western Christianity, a comparison which demonstrates the problems inherent in relying on binary oppositions. As Thomas Tentler observes in his concluding remarks, since early modern times, conventional comparisons have counterposed flattened, ideal-types of Russia and the West. Most comparative treatments have been reflexively Eurocentric, describing Russians as ignorant, idolatrous, and obscurantist. The reaction to that stereotype substitutes another in its place that is just as unsatisfactory, as it extols Russian piety, devotion, and faith. In either case, however, the units of comparison have generally been cartoon images. On one side stands an abstract and idealized West, most perfectly represented by Protestantism in its demythologized, Calvinist forms, whose believers are imagined as educated, highly literate, probing, informed about their religious precepts, fully conversant with biblical texts, and aware of the meanings and implications of their convictions. In this East-West comparison, Catholicism too is viewed as seeking a more intellectual comprehension of revealed truth through reasoned, dialectical argumentation. On the other side of the East-West divide looms a dark and ignorant Russia, steeped in superstition, incense, and blind faith. Such invidious comparisons between a stereotypically obscurantist Orthodoxy and an idealized literate Protestantism or a codified seminarian Catholicism are of little value for the understanding of lived religion in either East or West.

Recent work in Western European religious history has radically revised older assumptions about religious developments in Catholic and Protestant Europe. Western Christianity, even Reformation churches, made slow progress in teaching even basic doctrine. Furthermore, it is clear that religious practices in much of the West were far closer to those encountered in Russia than these idealized generalizations allow. Russian Orthodoxy was not alone in venerating holy images and relics, in seeking inner vision, or in preferring direct contact to intellectual comprehension of the divine. Music, incense, and iconography continued to communicate the faith to Catholic laypeople, even as literacy gradually increased throughout Western Europe. Notwithstanding the continued popularity of models that contrast "transcendent" Protestantism with "immanent" Catholicism, it is just as clear that mystery and the inscrutability of the divine remained enshrined at the core of both Catholic scholasticism and Protestant textuality, in spite of all efforts by the various Western churches to generate abstract formulations and to represent religious thought as reasoned logic. Moreover, as Western scholars have turned their attention to the kind of lived religion that form the focus of this volume, they have found a similar diversity of local practice and emphasis on the material, the ritual and the routine, over the theological and rational. Even among Protestants, there was plenty of room for local custom and aberrant practice, and literacy made for a less uniform set of religious beliefs and attitudes than previously assumed. Throughout history, Western Europe variously nurtured or condemned a wide array of strains of religious mysticism, spiritualism, ritualism, and every other attribute connected with Russian Orthodoxy.

Comparing Russian Orthodoxy with Christianity in its Western guises, Tentler’s concluding piece suggests directions for meaningful exploration of these neighboring and organically related religious traditions that took on such different forms in different historical circumstances. To make clear and easy distinctions between Russia’s religious path and that of a normative and unitary "West" requires substituting stereotypes for research. We do not need to ignore the contrasts. Protestantism cut the ties between the living and the dead, and both Catholic and Protestant churches worked effectively to bring the miraculous under some kind of official surveillance. The Russian church began its first serious forays into regulating the miraculous only in the seventeenth century, and the effort continued in an erratic and sometimes desultory way through the eighteenth century, but even then with very limited effect. Protestantism and then Roman Catholicism actively promoted a literate and catechized laity, whereas similar projects were not broached in Russia until the nineteenth century and even then were greeted with skepticism. Through creeds, seminaries, church ordinances, visitations, and bureaucracy in general, the Western churches tried to bring the laity to practice a more orderly religion, in ways that entered Orthodox organization and practice only slowly and inefficiently. Orthodoxy as a flexible and loosely codified belief system may have allowed more room for diversity of expression, more tolerance, or perhaps simply less effective surveillance and regulation, than the more controlling, and narrowly defined systems developed over centuries in the West.

Orthodox Christianity was perhaps most distinctive in its overall success in maintaining loosely defined religious unity (in spite of the Old Belief, the Uniate challenge, and the multitude of sectarian groups) and in purveying its particular theology through visual, ceremonial, and practical means. Orthodoxy influenced the Russian historical experience more through the contingencies of the moment than by shaping an essentially Russian soul. Leaving the abstract realm of the soul to others, the chapters that follow present religion as applied in belief and practice. In this regard, Christine Worobec’s observation holds as true for the West as for Russia: unless we take practice into account, "the label ‘Christian’ becomes meaningless, referring only to a tiny spiritual and educated elite that knew how to interpret evangelical texts and church dogma correctly." Historical religion cannot be usefully defined by high theology alone; only in examining its lived articulation can one learn about its substance and historical meaning. That is precisely what the contributors to this volume have succeeded in doing.


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