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Keeping the Faith

Russian Orthodox Monasticism in the Soviet Union, 1917-1939

By Jennifer Jean Wynot

Publication Year: 2004

In Keeping the Faith, Jennifer Jean Wynot presents a clear and concise history of the trials and evolution of Russian Orthodox monasteries and convents and the important roles they have played in Russian culture, in both in the spiritual and political realms, from the abortive reforms of 1905 to the Stalinist purges of the 1930s. She shows how, throughout the Soviet period, Orthodox monks and nuns continued to provide spiritual strength to the people, in spite of severe persecution, and despite the ambivalent relationship the Russian state has had to the Russian church since the reign of Ivan the Terrible. Focusing her study on two provinces, Smolensk and Moscow, Wynot describes the Soviet oppression and the clandestine struggles of the monks and nuns to uphold the traditions of monasticism and Orthodoxy. Their success against heavy odds enabled them to provide a counterculture to the Soviet regime. Indeed, of all the pre-1917 institutions, the Orthodox Church proved the most resilient. Why and how it managed to persevere despite the enormous hostility against it is a topic that continues to fascinate both the general public and historians. Based on previously unavailable Russian archival sources as well as written memoirs and interviews with surviving monks and nuns, Wynot analyzes the monasteries’ adaptation to the Bolshevik regime and she challenges standard Western assumptions that Communism effectively killed the Orthodox Church in Russia. She shows that in fact, the role of monks and nuns in Orthodox monasteries and convents is crucial, and they are largely responsible for the continuation of Orthodoxy in Russia following the Bolshevik revolution. Keeping the Faith offers a wealth of new information and a new perspective that will be of interest not only to students of Russian history and communism, but also to scholars interested in church-state relations.

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Series: Eugenia & Hugh M. Stewart '26 Series on Eastern Europe


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xvi

Historically, Russian Orthodox monasteries and convents have had important functions in Russian culture, in both the spiritual and the political realm. As centers of spiritual wisdom, they attracted pilgrims from all walks of life. One of the most famous monasteries in Central Russia, Optina Pustyn, became the site of a religious revival in the nineteenth century. ...

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pp. xvii-xviii

Many people helped to make this project a reality. First and foremost I would like to thank the staff at Texas A&M University Press for their assistance in making this project a reality. I would also like to thank my former advisors at Emory University, Drs. Kermit McKenzie and Matthew Payne. Dr. McKenzie’s attention to detail and high expectations ...

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Chapter 1. The Church on the Eve of the 1917 Revolution

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pp. 3-35

Although Orthodoxy is the second largest Christian denomination, Westerners know very little about its history and practices. It is often regarded as simply another form of Catholicism. Although the two do have some common theology and a shared history until the Great Schism in1054, since then they have evolved into two distinct churches. Like the ...

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Chapter 2. Revolution, Civil War, and Famine, 1917–1922

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pp. 36-79

In his Essay “The Role of Dual Models in the Dynamics of Russian Culture,” Yuri Lotman observes that “for Russia at its various historical epochs it is not conservatism that is typical, but on the contrary both reactionary and progressive tendencies.”1 The dual model that Lotman discusses is the “old vs. the new.” For a new idea or way of life to take root ...

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Chapter 3. The New Economic Policy Years, 1921–1928

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pp. 80-113

During the civil war, while the Bolsheviks were fighting for their survival, they implemented “war communism,” a collection of social, economic, and political regulations that to many Russians appeared draconian. Such tactics included tight restrictions on private trade and production and the confiscation of food from peasants to feed the army. ...

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Chapter 4. The Good Friday of Russian Monasticism, 1928–1934

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pp. 114-139

By 1928 the Soviet Union had reached another turning point. The previous decade had witnessed two revolutions, a change from a monarchy to an experimental form of governance based upon communist ideals, but strongly influenced by the experience of civil war and famine. The New Economic Policy (NEP) had been designed to rebuild the country and to ...

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Chapter 5. The Descent into Hell, 1934–1939

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pp. 140-169

With the end of the famine in 1933, another apparent thaw in the relationship between state and society occurred. Some contemporary observers such as Nicholas Timasheff refer to this period as “the Great Retreat,” or the “Second NEP.” According to this interpretation, Stalin realized that the population was not ready for drastic changes and there- ...

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pp. 170-178

During the interwar period, Russian Orthodox monasticism strove to survive the onslaught of the atheistic Bolshevik regime. Despite persecution, monks and nuns succeeded in their efforts to preserve the essence of monasticism. Proof of their achievements lies in recent evidence indicating a revival of interest in monasticism, particularly among young people....

Appendix A: Decree on Land Nationalization, November 8, 1917

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pp. 179-180

Appendix B: Decree of the Soviet Commissars Concerning the Separation of Church and State and of Schools and Church, January 23, 1918

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pp. 181-182

Appendix C: Sample of Agreement between Believers and Soviet of Workmen-Peasant Deputies

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pp. 183-186


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pp. 187-212


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pp. 213-214


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pp. 215-222


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pp. 223-235

E-ISBN-13: 9781603446402
E-ISBN-10: 1603446400
Print-ISBN-13: 9781585443321
Print-ISBN-10: 1585443328

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 16 b&w photos. 4 tables.
Publication Year: 2004

Series Title: Eugenia & Hugh M. Stewart '26 Series on Eastern Europe
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OCLC Number: 774384433
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Keeping the Faith

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Subject Headings

  • Orthodox Eastern monasticism and religious orders -- Soviet Union -- History.
  • Soviet Union -- Church history.
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