Russian Church as 'static, corrupt and intellectually barren',4 it is all the more important, and in some ways more difficult, to understand why a far from monolithic institution found it so hard to respond to the spiritual needs of its flock. Though developments such as the social formation of the clergy inevitably reflected changing patterns of secular reform and counter-reform,5 this chapter will suggest that the main motor of ecclesiastical change lay in complex currents of religious rivalry, driven from within and beyond Russia's multinational empire. The church's response to these challenges created as many difficulties for its mission as the restrictive framework imposed by the state.
Like his father before him, Peter I (1682-1725) sought to emasculate the church's political power and exploit its material wealth. More ambitious than Aleksei Mikhailovich (1645-76), he saw religion as a means of disciplining rational and industrious subjects. Yet if the tsar's strategy was never in doubt, his tactics varied. When Patriarch Adrian died on 16 October 1700 - shortly after the declaration of war against Sweden on 19 August and a month before the Russian defeat at Narva on 19 November - Peter took the opportunity to seize temporary control of monastic revenues and to appoint an inexperienced Ukrainian, Stefan (Iavorskii), as locum tenens of the patriarchal throne. Though it was nowhere suggested that the patriarchate should be abolished, Stefan was obviously intended to be Peter's man: since his return from the grand embassy, the tsar had promoted Ukrainians not only as western-educated scholars capable of dispelling Muscovite ignorance, but also as a way of destabilising a potentially disloyal native episcopate. Stefan, however, was no cipher: between 1708 and 1712, he wrote, and sometimes gave, sermons openly critical of the tsar. Preoccupied by war in these years, Peter paid little attention to ecclesiastical affairs. Though he returned to them in 1715, it was not until 1718 that the trial of the tsarevich crushed most of the opponents who expected the tsar's death to herald the restoration of the patriarchate. Peter now moved towards its formal abolition under the guidance of Feofan (Prokopovich), a Ukrainian who had reacted against his Jesuit education in Rome in favour of an exalted view of the monarch's role in the church, which had something in common with the Protestant arguments Peter first heard in England in 1698 in conversation with
4 E. Keenan, 'Muscovite political folkways', RR 45 (1986), 164.
5 G. L. Freeze, The parish clergy in nineteenth-century Russia: crisis, reform, counter-reform (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983).
Was this article helpful?