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Trials of the Unorthodox Orthodox: The Followers of Brother Ioann Churikov and Their Critics in Modern Russia, 1894-1914

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A pious Orthodox peasant from Samara province who moved to St. Petersburg in mid-1890s, “Brother Ioann” (Ivan Alekseevich Churikov, 1861-1933?), always believed himself to be a faithful son of the church, but his flamboyant public preaching against the ills of alcohol ultimately led to his excommunication in 1914. Naturally gifted as a preacher, Brother Ioann regularly attracted thousands of listeners to his Sunday prayer meetings, the vast majority of whom were simple working people, suffering the devastating effects of alcoholism and the chronic insecurities associated with poverty. Debates over his relationship to the Orthodox tradition began almost as soon has he appeared in St. Petersburg, and over time, he suffered imprisonment in an insane asylum and faced a range of serious charges. Drawing on published and archival sources, this article explores the ongoing and increasingly bitter debate between leading members of the Church and Churikov’s followers between 1910 and 1914. By illuminating the central points of conflict and the competing visions of Orthodoxy at work in the Churikov case, it reflects more broadly upon the nature of the contemporary crisis within the Russian Orthodox Church, particularly with respect to issues of religious and spiritual authority.

Affiliations: 1: Bowdoin College,


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