of exotic places they had visited and strange people they had encountered. A smaller number of women from all strata of society chose a more radical path and formed lay nunneries or women's communities (zhenskie obshchiny) that remained beyond the formal supervision of monasteries. These lay communities of religious women provided leadership roles not available anywhere else. Within the more traditional realm of parish life, women were active in charitable activities and education, but also sought with increasing frustration to obtain official permission to serve as members of parish councils and in more important capacities in the various religious services. In a more prosaic way, women throughout Russia - regardless of their social standing - served as the guardians of tradition who took it upon themselves to instruct the next generation in the customs and beliefs they felt were essential to survival and prosperity. While their accomplishments were belittled by male-orientated restrictions, the efforts of pre-revolutionary women were rewarded during the national church council of i9i7-i8, which accorded them the right to be active members of parish councils and to engage in most administrative functions of the local religious community. As the Romanov dynasty's time on the political stage drew to a close, the varieties of popular piety challenged more traditional elements within Orthodoxy, but also turned out to be the strongest source of support for the faith once the antireligious movements unleashed their destructive forces in the countryside and cities alike.44

Russian Orthodoxy in the context of European Christianity

A comparative approach to the history of Christianity in Europe underscores the overwhelming commonalities in experiences of faithful individuals and communities throughout the centuries, but especially since the fateful eighteenth century, when the French Revolution helped to demystify the idea of divine mandate of royal families and public prominence of favoured churches. The secularisation of the church in France was part of the democratic values propounded by revolutionaries, but it was also a logical consequence of the Lutheran Reformation's brash insubordination to the Catholic Church. Just

44 B. Meehan, 'Popular piety, local initiative and the founding ofwomen's religious communities in Russia, i764-i907', in Seeking God, 83-i05; B. Meehan-Waters, 'To save oneself: Russian peasant women and the development of women's religious communities in prerevolutionary Russia', in Russian peasant women, ed. B. Farnsworth and L. Viola (New York: Oxford University Press, i992), m-33; B. Meehan, Holy women of Russia: the lives of five Orthodox women offer spiritual guidance for today (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir's Seminary Press, i997).

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