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Christianity even when they rejected them for more appealing secular alternatives. Russia's writers, artists and philosophers struggled with ways to reconcile their penchant for the essence of the Orthodox faith they considered to have redeeming qualities and their rejection of organised religion. This ambiguous stand on religion coloured the 'Russian Idea', whose essentialist definition of identity has been painted in religious as well as irreligious and secular tones, and is also present in the communism that dominated most of the Soviet period. At the beginning of the twentieth century, symbolists dominated the Russian art world. Their work betrays the influences of the magic, superstitions and otherworldliness that were inseparable from Orthodoxy. The cultural activity associated with the 'Silver Age' of the first decade of the twentieth century was deeply embedded in spiritual and psychological structures found in Orthodoxy.41

As Russia's peasantry began to migrate in large numbers to urban areas in search of work, traditional Orthodox piety remained a powerful force. While large urban cathedrals may not have been as welcoming as familiar village churches, workers sustained themselves spiritually by organising religious reading groups and choirs, by employing religious themes in their creative writing and by adhering to traditional Orthodox customs.42 Rather than disappearing in the face of literacy and migration, Orthodox piety offered a means of easing the transition from traditional to modern life. This devotion to the faith did not, however, prevent the rapid and devastating demise of the Orthodox Church after 1917 because the gap that had long separated the upper clergy, parish priests and the faithful proved insurmountable in the years leading up to the Bolshevik Revolution. While faith remained strong among the vast majority of Russians, a lack of confidence in the church and its clerics favoured a decentralised, democratised and localised faith that became highly individualised and easily hidden during antireligious campaigns of the 1920s.43

As Russian society experienced tumultuous change, opportunities for women grew within the strict context imposed by the Orthodox Church. A majority of pilgrims were women travelling in groups, spending large periods of time away from family and domestic responsibilities. When they returned to their villages, they were often spiritually renewed and shared tales

41 L. Engelstein, 'Paradigms, pathologies and other clues to Russian spiritual culture: some post-Soviet thoughts', Slavic Review 57 (1998), 864-77.

42 Herrlinger, 'Class, piety and politics: workers, Orthodoxy and the problem of religious identity in Russia, 1881-1914'; Steinberg, 'Workers on the cross', 213-39.

43 Chulos, Converging worlds, 104-11.

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