The White Priest at Work: Orthodox Pastoral Activism and the Publis Sphere in Late Imperial Russia
Scarborough, Daniel Lloyd
During the last half century before its fall, the Romanov Empire experienced the rise of free association, mutual aid, and voluntarism from within its official, Orthodox Church. The clergy of this Church worked and lived within the "spiritual domain" [dukhovnoe vedomstvo], a legally and economically distinct realm of ecclesiastical affairs within the imperial state structure. The state permitted the Orthodox clergy to form independent associations within this "domain" in order to support the pastoral profession through mutual aid, and to work as a quasi-civil service that provided primary education, disaster relief, and other services to the general population. The "white" or non-celibate parish clergy used these privileges of association to expand their professional and mutual-aid networks, which extended from their parishes to the diocesan centers. Ordained clergymen participated in these networks together with their wives, adult children, and lay supporters. With the gradual withdrawal of state supervision over their activities amid the political upheaval of the early 20th century, these self-administering, self-financing networks grew into an autonomous sphere of voluntary association.The primary organizers of these networks were ordained clergymen and their family members, all of whom belonged to the clerical soslovie, or estate. This caste-like estate encompassed tightly-knit communities within each of the empire's dioceses. The men and women of the clerical soslovie became adept at pooling their resources to educate their children, respond to crises, and relieve the suffering of the poorest members of their communities. At the same time, the benefits of clerical mutual aid were extended to non-clerical communities as a form of pastoral service. During the two famines, two wars, and three revolutions that beset the Russian Empire over its final decades, the parish clergy used their own mutual-aid associations to deliver disaster relief to suffering communities. Orthodox laymen and women, primarily from the peasantry, became beneficiaries of, and occasionally active participants in, the diocesan associations of the clerical soslovie. While the soslovie structure of Imperial Russian society is often associated with social fragmentation, the clerical soslovie organized and supported free associations that became a force of social integration in late Imperial Russia.
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