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Red Priests

Renovationism, Russian Orthodoxy, and Revolution, 1905-1946

Edward E. Roslof

Publication Year: 2002

The 1917 revolutions that gave birth to Soviet Russia had a profound impact on Russian religious life. Social and political attitudes toward religion in general and toward the Russian Orthodox Church in particular remained in turmoil for nearly 30 years. During that time of religious uncertainty, a movement known as "renovationism," led by reformist Orthodox clergy, pejoratively labeled "red priests," tried to reconcile Christianity with the goals of the Bolshevik state. But Church hierarchy and Bolshevik officials alike feared clergymen who proclaimed themselves to be both Christians and socialists. This innovative study, based on previously untapped archival sources, recounts the history of the red priests, who, acting out of religious conviction in a hostile environment, strove to establish a church that stood for social justice and equality. Red Priests sheds valuable new light on the dynamics of society, politics, and religion in Russia between 1905 and 1946.

Published by: Indiana University Press


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pp. v-

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pp. ix-xiv

The 1917 Revolution that gave birth to Soviet Russia had a profound impact on Russian religious life. Social and political attitudes toward religion in general, and toward the Russian Orthodox Church in particular, remained confused for nearly thirty years. Orthodox clergy known as “red priests” (krasnye popy) banded together in an organized movement during those decades of religious uncertainty. Their organization followed ...

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pp. xv-xvi

Research for this book was funded by the Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad program, the International Research and Exchanges Board (with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the U.S. Department of State), the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. I...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xvii-xviii

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1. The Path to Church Revolution

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pp. 1-38

Red priests emerged out of the same social turmoil that produced other revolutionary groups in late imperial Russia. After Russia’s disastrous defeat in the Crimean War (1853–1856), the new emperor, Alexander II (r. 1855–1881), decided to introduce significant social changes known as the Great Reforms. Social elites from both ends of the political spectrum...

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2. Renovationists Come to Power

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pp. 39-73

Aborted after the revolutions of 1905 and 1917, renovationism was born anew during the famine of 1921–1922. Several major disturbances in 1921—the Kronstadt sailors’ uprising, the Green Movement in Tambov, banditry in the countryside, and the emergence of the Workers’ Opposition faction within the party itself—gave the Bolsheviks reason to fear ...

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3. Ecclesiastical Civil War

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pp. 74-109

As factions for and against the renovationist revolution coalesced in the summer of 1922, every group claimed that truth was on its side. No group was willing to compromise its position, so the factions continued to splinter. Red priests attacked one another with as much venom as they did anyone who continued to honor Patriarch Tikhon. Radical reformers ...

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4. The Religious NEP

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pp. 110-146

In August 1923, Emelian Iaroslavskii told a group of Moscow party workers that the situation in Soviet Russia had become more complex and, therefore, they must attempt to conduct a dialogue with the church. He informed his audience that the party had decided to turn away from the politics of War Communism in relation to religious leaders and show...

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5. Renovationism in the Parish

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pp. 147-168

The new ecclesiastical policy of the 1920s made a significant impact on Orthodox organizations throughout Russia by giving believers the freedom to choose among church factions vying for their loyalty. Soviet and church records provide detailed accounts of the struggle between red priests and Tikhonites at the local level. The sharp conflict that gripped the Orthodox Church ...

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6. Liquidation

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pp. 169-205

In religion, as in all aspects of Soviet society, 1929 was the year of the Great Turn. The religious NEP was abandoned when the state “substituted itself for society, to become the sole initiator of action and controller of all important spheres of life.”1 Stalinist zeal for building “socialism in one country” resulted in a policy guided by the slogan “the struggle against religion is ...

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pp. 206-212

Red priests saw no inherent contradiction between radical socialism and Christianity. They consistently hoped to fuse the two, even during social upheaval, terror, and war. This attitude separated them from most Orthodox believers, lay or clergy, and caused them to be caught in the whirlwind of Russian revolutionary politics. The history of their movement reflects ...


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pp. 213-242

selected bibliography

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pp. 243-250


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pp. 251-259

E-ISBN-13: 9780253109460
E-ISBN-10: 0253109469
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253341280

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 1 bibliog., 1 index
Publication Year: 2002

Series Title: Indiana-Michigan Series in Russian and East European Studies