- The Heart of Russia: Trinity-Sergius, Monasticism, and Society after 1825 by Scott M. Kenworthy
The Heart of Russia is a thorough study of books and documents related to the nineteenth-century expansion of activity at Trinity-Sergius, the celebrated monastic complex located approximately fifty miles north-north east of Moscow. The author has collected fact and opinion found in archives, published primary sources, and secondary works to describe the monastery’s remarkable revival, as well as its importance in the general revival of religious searching that unfolded in the Russian Empire during its final century. His narrative includes biographical sketches of Trinity-Sergius’ [End Page 797] most energetic priors, relates in considerable detail the many construction projects that increased the size and scope of operations supervised at the monastery, and displays records of the monastery’s income and expenses. The author discards nothing for the sake of brevity, so all readers interested in monasticism will find something for them in the book. He describes the monastery’s publications, giving account of activities associated with pilgrimages, church rituals and hermitage routines, almshouses, miraculous healings, and the schools that eventually grew up in and about the compound surrounding the monastery. Records of the negotiations carried on by monastery elders with both imperial officials and the Synodal hierarchy will be of particular interest to students of church-state relations.
A few sections of the book temporarily shelve its major focus on the activity at Trinity-Sergius, and the most important of these tangential asides considers a social analysis of postulants entering monastic life throughout Russia. The author appends tables of statistics compiled by the Church that lists the original place of residence, former status held in civilian or clerical life, and reasons why the Holy Synod rejected many aspirants who were judged inadequate for the rigors of monastic routine. The conclusion reached by the author after examining these columns of numbers shows the largest percentage of applicants deriving from lower-class families and from regions of Great Russia rather than Ukraine and White Russia. The author understands this phenomenon as a consequence of the freedom granted to a pious agrarian population by the Act of Emancipation enacted in 1861. The heavy concentration of former Russian serfs and artisans taking up an austere life, however, was also influenced by cultural trends not analyzed by the author. The prevalence of Catholic and Protestant traditions (later joined by strong secular trends), for example, discouraged the empire’s educated elite from entering the cloister. They also dampened the interest of peoples in the Russian-administered provinces of the old Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, where West European ecclesiastical traditions promoted a utilitarian monasticism over “the purification of one’s heart with continual prayer” (p. 228).
The author also looks at the critics of Orthodoxy’s revival in Russia and particularly at the unfavorable opinion directed at Trinity-Sergius. He points to detractors concerned about slack discipline among some monks or appalled by the low educational level of clergymen, bereft of learning after almost two centuries of the imperial government’s supervision of church affairs. The book also discusses less empathetic writers who eagerly exploited every opportunity to advance the standards of a strictly secular society. After 1917, antimonastic and anti-Orthodox criticism took the form of a bitterly hostile Bolshevik assault on religion (the supreme expression of twentieth-century secularism), but the first shock came with the Revolution of 1905. As the author explains, the faithful and the clergy were now faced with a surge of opinion that challenged the cherished ideals and practices of Orthodoxy, while defenses erected to protect the Church and monasteries merely inflamed the opposition. Compromise was out of the question. The revival of religious devotion—especially the ancient disciplines of humility and silence practiced by monks and revered by generations of pilgrims—was too powerful a rebuff to the extreme rationalism and distracting clamor of modern life. The Bolshevik regime...