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The Pastoral Dilemma

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Clerical Mutual Aid and Famine Relief during Russia’s Crop Failure of 1905

image of Russian History

The clerical estate (soslovie) of late Imperial Russia was legally segregated from the rest of the population, subject to separate systems of education, justice, taxation, and access to employment. The state permitted participation in free associations within the clerical soslovie in order to encourage the practice of mutual aid among clergymen and their families. By the late nineteenth century, the parish clergy had begun to use these mutual-aid associations to provide education, charity, and disaster relief to the non-clerical communities on which they and their families depended for tithes. By using their own mutual-aid networks as tools of pastoral work, the parish clergy expanded those networks, in terms of both beneficiaries and participants, beyond the limits of the clerical soslovie. Key reforms of the diocesan structure in 1905 both loosened central control over the clerical networks and authorized the direct participation of non-clergy in their work. The associations of the parish clergy thus obtained unprecedented independence and social integration at the moment when they were confronted with the humanitarian disaster of 1905. Focusing on the dioceses of Moscow and Tver, this article examines the parish clergy’s use of their own soslovie networks to provide famine relief to fellow clerics and the general population between 1905 and 1909. This famine relief campaign demonstrated the independence and initiative of voluntary associations in late Imperial Russia. It also revealed the potential for cooperation and social integration among seemingly disparate communities, even within the divisive framework of the soslovie system.

Affiliations: 1: Georgetown University1,


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