alternative form of piety, distinct from, and sometimes in competition with, the work of the secular clergy.
It scarcely seemed likely in the eighteenth century that a Russian religious revival would be carried on a monastic 'wave of holiness'. Monasticism was a prime target of the Spiritual Regulation, and since Peter's immediate successors did nothing to mitigate his hostility to 'useless' contemplation, the number of religious of both sexes almost halved from 25,207 in 1724 to 14,282 in 1738. Prompted by urgent fiscal need in the wake of the Seven Years War, Catherine II took the antimonastic trend to its logical conclusion by expropriating the monasteries' lands and peasantry in 1764. Some 496 Russian houses were abolished in the process, 136 of them convents.54 Apart from the Trinity lavra at Sergiev Posad, the Alexander Nevsky lavra founded by Peter I in his new capital, and the Chudov monastery in the Moscow Kremlin, only 67 convents and 319 monasteries survived the empress's reform outside Ukraine, 161 of which were entitled to no official endowment under the new regulations. Yet the nadir was still to come. For the next thirty years, even the limited establishments of the remaining houses proved impossible to fill as aspirants were inhibited from taking their vows by a combination of explicit imperial disapproval and a covert attack on monastic values by archpriest Petr Alekseev of Moscow's Archangel Cathedral, a prominent member of the white clergy, who was anxious to discredit Metropolitan Platon.55 Had Potemkin prevailed, the consequences might have been still more severe. In 1786, the theologically adept prince, who twelve years earlier had himself ostentatiously retreated to the Alexander Nevsky lavra during a period of personal crisis, argued that no more than three monasteries were required for 'straightforward monks' in the whole of Russia: the remainder should be either closed or converted to hospitals, schools and almshouses.56
This grim picture helps to explain why only three monks were resident at Optina pustyn by the turn of the century, one of whom was blind.57 Yet it was from a hermitage attached to this monastery in Kaluga province that three
54 V V Zverinskii, Materialy dlia istoriko-topograficheskago issledovaniia o pravoslavnykh monastyriakh v Rossiiskoi imperii (St Petersburg: V Bezobrazov, 1890-97), 1, x-xii.
55 B. V Titlinov, Gavriil Petrov: Mitropolit novgorodskii i sanktpeterburgskii: ego zhizn' i deia-tel'nost',vsviazi s tserkovnymi delami togovremeni (Petrograd: M. Merkushev, 1916), 681-714; O. A. Tsapina, 'Secularization and opposition in the time of Catherine the Great', in Religion andpolitics in enlightenment Europe, ed.J. E. Bradley and D. K. Van Kley (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2001), 342-3, 350-71.
56 Quoted inextenso by N. N. Lisovoi, 'Vosemnadtsatyi vekvistorii russkogo monashestva', in MonashestvoimonastyrivRossii:XI-XXveka, ed. N. V Sinitsyna (Moscow: Nauka, 2002), 200-1.
57 J. B. Dunlop, Staretz Amvrosy (London: Mowbrays, 1975), 33.
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