Becoming Pastors: The Russian Orthodox Parish Clergy and Civil Society in the Last Decades of the Russian Empire




clergy, clerical estate, seminary, parish schools, civil society


The American scholar Daniel Scarborough has written a monograph dedicated to the history of the Russian Orthodox clergy in the late imperial regime. This work both encapsulates recent developments in the historiography of the imperial Russian Orthodox Church and contributes fresh archival research, principally using documents held in repositories in Moscow and Tver. His main focus is the mutual aid networks in which the clergy participated. Created over the course of the nineteenth century, these mutual aid networks were initially aimed at distributing resources among poor members of the clerical estate: the development of these networks was facilitated by the freedom of association granted to the clergy by the imperial state. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Scarborough argues, these networks began to lose their estate focus, both supporting and including members of the laity: this was partially a response to the fact that the material position of the clergy was heavily dependent on the material condition of the laity and partially due to the fact that the clergy slowly began to lose their estate focus and transform into a profession focused on the spiritual and material wellbeing of the Orthodox flock. Scarborough emphasises several key moments (such as the famine of 1891–1892) and institutions (the seminary, for example) to demonstrate the extent to which clerical support networks included members of the laity and the forces that either facilitated or blocked this development. He concludes that while the clerical mutual aid networks did succeed, to some extent, in incorporating members of the laity, they were hampered by the imperial state’s attempts to strictly control the clergy and use them as cheap civil servants, police officials, and propagandists: equally, while sometimes supporting the expansion of clerical aid networks, the episcopate and the Synod was often concerned to ensure that the Church’s thinly-spread resources were mostly used to support the members and institutions of the clerical estate. All of this damaged the prestige of the clergy in the eyes of their parishioners and made them less willing to transfer scarce resources to clerical networks. Only with the all-Russia local church council of 1917–1918 did the Russian Orthodox Church fully incorporate the laity, a step which allowed the institution to survive Bolshevik rule.

Author Biography

James White

PhD, Head of the Laboratory for Digital Technologies in Historical and Cultural Research, Senior Researcher, Ural Federal University named after the first President of Russia B. N. Yeltsin.

19, Mira Str., 620002, Yekaterinburg, Russia.

ORCID 0000-0002-4549-9381


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How to Cite

White, J. (2023). Becoming Pastors: The Russian Orthodox Parish Clergy and Civil Society in the Last Decades of the Russian Empire. Quaestio Rossica, 11(4), 1491–1500.



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