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Between State and Estate: The Political Motivations of the Russian Orthodox Episcopate in the Crisis of Tsarist Monarchy, 1905-1917

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Despite recent research on the pre-revolutionary Russian Orthodox Church, the political outlook and affiliations of the episcopate in the last years of the Romanov monarchy remain enigmatic or dominated by established assumptions of the Orthodox Church’s reactionary or loyalist worldview. The available published sources show that the majority of Orthodox prelates remained monarchists in the twilight of the Romanovs. However, in the inter- revolutionary era (1905-1917) of dynamic change, when the very definition of monarchism was fluid and monarchists contested the pros and contras of absolutism versus constitutionalism, a consultative versus a legislative national assembly, passive obedience versus mass activism, the political mind of Orthodox ecclesiastical elites also began to diversify. Archival sources, such as service correspondence, reveal increasing friction between the episcopate and the tsarist government as well as an unsuspected extent of independent opinion among prelates about the portentous events of the time. The mistrust created during that crucial decade made the episcopate’s support of tsarism increasingly inert and conditional and explains the Church’s relatively comfortable accommodation with the regime change and the Provisional Government between February and October 1917. The study utilizes mostly unpublished and previously unused sources from the Russian State Historical Archive (RGIA).

Affiliations: 1: European Commission, Brussels, Belgium, Email:, URL:


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