Simon Dixon

Under pressure ofrevolutionary upheaval, the system ofRussian ecclesiastical government established by Peter I in 1721 was swiftly dismantled in 1917. On 5 August the Provisional Government abolished the holy synod. Ten days later, an all-Russian church council gathered in Moscow in the hope of securing strong leadership in troubled times. Having determined to restore the patriarchate before the Bolshevik seizure of power, the delegates drew lots on 5 November to appoint Metropolitan Tikhon (Bellavin) from an elected shortlist of three to an office last held in 1700. Though circumstances forced Tikhon into crisis management rather than strategic direction, there was plenty of practical significance for the council to discuss: the synod had not only retained jurisdiction over marriage and divorce, but also continued to manage its own consistory courts, ecclesiastical schools, and the censorship ofreligiousbooks.1 Yet few churchmen were satisfied by mere administrative autonomy.2 Many believed that by forcibly separating the secular sphere from the sacred, Peter had perverted the very nature of the church, reducing it to what Florovskii later described as a period of 'Babylonian captivity', in which Russia's 'ecclesiastical consciousness' was forced to develop under 'the dual inhibition of administrative decree and inner fear'.3

Anxious to explain rather than condemn, recent historians have modified many traditional stereotypes on the basis of unprecedented archival access. But now that new evidence has shown how misleading it is to dismiss the

1 G. L. Freeze, 'Handmaiden of the state? The church in imperial Russia reconsidered', JEcclH 36 (1985), 89. On these issues at the council, E. V Beliakova, Tserkovnyi sud i problemy tserkovnoi zhizni (Moscow: Dukhovnaia biblioteka, 2004).

2 J. P. LeDonne, Absolutism and rulingclass: the formation oftheRussianpolitical order, 1700-1825 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 334, n. 8.

3 G. Florovskii, Puti russkogo bogosloviia, second edition (Paris: YMCA, 1981), 89. For criticism of Peter at the council, D. Pospielovsky, The Russian Church under the Soviet regime 19171982 (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1984), 1, 30; C. Evtuhov, 'The church in the Russian revolution: arguments for and against restoring the patriarchate at the church council of 1917-1918', Slavic Review 50 (1991), 503-6.

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