such a prominent reformist as Mikhail in November 1907 added plausibility to the Old Believers' claims that they, long condemned as fanatical reactionaries, were in fact the most creative force in Russian religious life. Indeed, once the synod had been preserved from root-and-branch reform by the tsar's refusal to call a council, it was no longer the Old Believers who could be charged with stagnation but the Orthodox themselves.


Emerging from a period of relative toleration in the 1820s, a newly assertive Russian Orthodox Church was challenged by religious rivals. Unanticipated resistance to conversion campaigns under Nicholas I prompted churchmen to define their confessional position, the better to defend it, and to base an increasingly evangelist internal mission on authentic theological foundations. Yet an unavoidable reliance on western scholarship and pastoral methods made their attempt to differentiate Orthodoxy both complex and controversial. Neither monks nor bureaucrats trusted abstract learning. Statesmen who expected the church to reinforce the tsarist regime were alarmed to discover that its mission could create civil unrest, that its research subverted synodal authority, and that the clergy's growing pastoral commitment ultimately prompted calls for social and political reform. Threatened with collapse in 1905, the government ranked imperial security higher than ecclesiastical satisfaction. Most churchmen saw the toleration edict of 17 April as a betrayal of the confessional policies they had struggled for so long to refine. Prevented from channelling demands for sobornost through the authoritative mechanism of a council, the church's leaders were instead drawn into damaging, politicised disputes. Within an increasingly polarised church, debates moved ever further away from the spiritual needs of its flock. Though by the end of the old regime atheists and zealots were firmly entrenched at the extremes of the popular religious spectrum, the majority of Orthodox Russians continued, even after 1905, to seek the sorts of peaceful accommodation between folk-belief and Christian doctrine that had characterised Russian religious practice for centuries.102 Since humble believers were often more tolerant, more patient and more adaptable than those responsible for their spiritual care, they proved better able to withstand the Bolshevik onslaught than did Patriarch Tikhon and his divided, inflexible church.

102 V Shevzov, Russian Orthodoxy on the eve of revolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004); G. L. Freeze, 'A pious folk? Religious observance in Vladimir diocese, 1900-1914', Jahrbucher fur Geschichte Osteuropas 52 (2004), 323-40.

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