Faith without works is dead: Sacred space and civil society in late imperial Moscow and Tver

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This article proposes a reevaluation of the Russian Orthodox parish clergy in the early twentieth century as influential organizers of free associations, mutual aid societies, and other manifestations of late Imperial Russia's nascent civil society. The parish clergy occupied one of Imperial Russia's five estates, which also included the nobility, merchantry, peasantry, and townspeople. The clerical estate was arguably the most segregated from the rest of society. Ordained clergymen were restricted from most non-liturgical employment, rendering them and the estate they supported vulnerable to poverty. The state bestowed privileges of free association on the clerical estate in order to encourage the practice of mutual aid to support the pastorate. The 'estate isolation' of the parish clergy was tempered by their material dependence on the voluntary contributions of parishioners. This article argues that the parish clergy, however, promoted mutual aid beyond narrow estate interest as a religious practice among the laity in order to forge partnerships with lay associations. In some dioceses, the clergy organized social support networks for the laity as extensions of the sacred space that they administered in the parish churches. These networks empowered communities to collaborate across boundaries of space and estate in support of common causes. This article examines the organizational work of the parish clergy in the dioceses of Moscow and Tver during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It first traces the development of clerical-estate associations since 1823, when they first received legal sanction. It examines the expansion and development of clerical mutual aid until the 1905 Revolution, when parishioners engaged in boycotts of church collections, demanding that more Church resources be used for parish needs, rather than to support the clerical estate. These temporary boycotts lent urgency to a movement already in force among the parish clergy to instill the practice of mutual aid into the religious lives of the Orthodox laity. The article next examines evidence from Moscow and Tver' that this movement created parish-based mutual aid networks for the laity, which collaborated with those of the clergy. Finally, the article examines the robust war-relief efforts of the clerical and lay mutual aid networks of Moscow and Tver' after 1914. These impressive efforts during the first years of the First World War provide compelling evidence for the successful development of a working relationship between the two communities in the sphere of mutual aid over the previous decades. The ultimate breakdown of this relationship and fragmentation of the Orthodox social networks must largely be attributed to the proximate cause of protracted industrial warfare, rather than to irreconcilable divisions in Russian society.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)207-232
Number of pages26
JournalJahrbucher fur Geschichte Osteuropas
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History


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