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The Making of Holy Russia
The Orthodox Church and Russian Nationalism before the Revolution

By John Strickland

The Making of Holy Russia
Paperback, 339 pages
Published: 1st September 2013
ISBN: 9780884653295
Status: Available
Format: 9in x 6in

Hardback, 339 pages
Published: 1st September 2013
ISBN: 9780884653462
Status: Available
Format: 9in x 6in

Electronic book text (EPUB), 339 pages
Published: 16th August 2013
ISBN: 9780884653479
Status: Available

Electronic book text (MobiPocket), 339 pages
Published: 16th August 2013
ISBN: 9780884653486
Status: Available

Category: History

BitLit LogoPurchase of this print edition entitles you to a steep discount on the digital version through our partner BitLit.

This book is a critical study of the interaction between Russian Church and society in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. At a time of rising nationalist movement throughout Europe, Orthodox patriots advocated for the place of the Church as a unifying force, central to the identity and purpose of the burgeoning, yet increasingly religiously diverse Russian Empire. Their views were articulated in a variety of ways. Bishops such as Metropolitan Antony Khrapovitsky—a founding hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia—and other members of the clergy expressed their vision of Russia through official publications (including ecclesiastical journals), sermons, the organization of pilgrimages and the canonization of saints. On the other hand, religious intellectuals (such as the famous philosopher Vladimir Soloviev and the controversial former-Marxist Sergey Bulgakov) promoted what was often a variant vision of the nation through the publication of books and articles. Even the once persecuted Old Believers, emboldened by a religious toleration edict of 1905, sought to claim a role in national leadership. And many—in particularly famous painter Mikhail Vasnetsov—looked to art and architecture as a way of defining the religious ideals of modern Russia. 

Whilst other studies exist that draw attention to the voices in the Church typified as “liberal” in the years leading up to the Revolution, this work introduces the reader to a wide range of “conservative” opinion that equally strove for spiritual renewal and the spread of the Gospel. Ultimately neither the “conservative” voices presented here nor those of their better-known “liberal” protagonists were able to prevent the calamity that befell Russia with the Bolshevik revolution in 1917.

Grounded in original research conducted in the newly accessible libraries and archives of post-Soviet Russia, this study is intended to reveal the wider relevance of its topic to an ongoing discussion of the relationship between national or ethnic identities on the one hand and the self-understanding of Orthodox Christianity as a universal and transformative Faith on the other.

1 Russia’s Faithful Remnant
2 The Theology of Orthodox Patriotism
3 To the Lost Sheep of the House of Israel
4 The New Israel
5 The Crisis of Apostle-Like Statecraft
6 The Lure of Nationalism
7 The Lessons of Patriotic Religious Intellectuals
8 The Germogen Canonization Festival of 1913

In this carefully researched book, John Strickland gives voice to individuals silenced for most of the twentieth century: a small but powerful group of Orthodox clergy and missionaries who responded to Imperial Russia's experience of modernization and secularization in the late nineteenth century, by articulating and promoting a new model of nationality, known as "Holy Rus'.” Rather than "victims of modernity," Strickland argues, these "Orthodox patriots" — especially Metropolitan Antony (Khrapovitskii), Archpriest John Vostorgov, and the missionary V. Skvortsov — demonstrated remarkable "vitality and ambition" in advancing their project of "Making Holy Russia,” convinced that it would bring peace and harmony to the troubled empire while also strengthening the Church's infuence on society (p. 219).

Part I, "Cultivating Holy Russia," opens with the elaborate 1888 festivities in Kiev commemorating the baptism of medieval Rus’, an event which Orthodox patriots used to propagate their twin ideals — that of an "apostle-like tsar," which stressed the monarch 's responsibility to the nation's faith, and that of a “national faith," by which Russia received at its baptism a universal calling to disseminate its faith to other peoples. Following an explication of the theological foundations of Holy Rus’, Strickland explores the various cultural means by which Orthodox patriots sought to strengthen awareness of their vision among the laity, and to reinforce the unique interrelationship between the national and ecclesial community central to it. These included the cultivation of medieval historical memory, the canonization of national literature (especially works by Dostoevsky), and the dissemination of a Russian style of religious art and architecture. Perhaps most importantly, Orthodox patriots worked to build the authority of Holy Rus' by referencing the example of ancient Israel. Although proclaiming the Russian national community as the "new Israel” necessarily involved the particularistic language of “a chosen people,” Strickland explains, the metaphor also enabled Orthodox clergy to argue that the “universalist ambitions it embodied — an evangelical faith radiating from a core nationality — was perfectly suited to serve the multinational and multi-religious empire" (p. 88).

In Part II, "Contesting Holy Russia," the book strikes a more negative tone as it reveals how Orthodox patriots' unbending devotion to their vision ultimately undermined their ability to engage effectively in modern political life after 1905. The turning point was Nicholas II 's decision to grant religious toleration, which signaled his abandonment of the role of apostle-like tsar. That Orthodox patriots reacted to this momentous shift by retaining an "uncompromising faith in autocracy" was no doubt "a sign of the movement 's dislocation from political reality" (p. 114). But, Strickland stresses, their faith was far from blind; on the contrary, influenccd by Orthodox eschatology, they believed their primary responsibility was to remind the tsar of his duty to promote the Russian people's unique religious purpose. A similar motivation was evidently at work in 1913 when the Church decided to proceed with the canonization of the seventeenth-century patriot Germogen, in spite of the tsar's decision not to participate. Rather than an "anti-tsar" moment as Greg Freeze has argued, Strickland casts the festivities as an intentional (yet unsuccessful) exercise of Orthodox patriotism, designed to capitalize on Germogen's support of autocracy.

The 1905 Revolution also challenged Orthodox patriots' efforts to resolve the tension between Church universalism and national particularism inherent to the model of Holy Rus'. Indeed, their decision to align with ethnic nationalists organized into patriotic unions after 1905 provoked controversy even among clergy sympathetic to them (not least because secular nationalists courted Old Believers). Yet, Orthodox leaders like Antony endorsed the move, insisting that Russian nationalist self-consciousness was not "racial or tribal" but "religious and ecclesial," and that nationalists were concerned not with "their own country and themselves" but with "higher purposes that are holy, divine, and universal." In other words, Strickland argues, Orthodox patriots engaged with secular nationalists "not to join them but to convert them" — a project that was, again, largely ineffective and fateful for their movement as a whole (p. 131).

"Like an icon," the model of Holy Rus' was "designed to provoke a change of heart in all who encountered it" (p. 221). Yet the question of reception — that is, the influence of Orthodox patriotism on the broader Russian public — remains elusive in this study. Strickland notes that even sympathetic lay intelligentsia like Soloviev and Bulgakov had serious reservations about the clerical model, especially around the ideal of the apostle- like tsar, and the limited role given to laity in defining the national faith. Beyond attempts to gauge public response to key celebratory moments, however, Strickland does little to connect the national to the "local" and hesitates to discuss how and to what extent Orthodox patriotic ideals resonated among the laity or parish clergy. Moreover, because the study concludes in 1914, when the lackluster Gcrmogen canonization festivities suggested that Orthodox patriotism was all but dead, the question remains open as to whether or not war gave the ideology new life again (if only temporarily). Strickland assures us that it did not, but he does not elaborate.

This study nonetheless has much to offer. Written in a generally accessible manner, and drawing on a rich pool of clerical and cultural texts, it provides unique insight into the Orthodox imagination in the late Imperial period, especially as it was expressed by some of the Church's most powerful and nominally conservative men. In so doing, it helps to correct the recent focus on liberal clerical voices within the historiography. Most compellingly, perhaps, Strickland demonstrates that for Orthodox patriots, the model of "Holy Rus'" was "neither a 'myth' (Cherniavsky) nor ‘reactionary utopia' (Zyrianov)," but, rather, the inspiration for a multifaceted mission to "transfigure" Russia's increasingly secular culture into a religious one (p. 53). While highlighting the impressive scope of Orthodox patriots' faith and ambition in the face of modernity, the analysis is balanced by careful consideration of the "fateful" narrowness and contradictions of their vision, thus helping us to better appreciate why they failed to offer a viable alternative to a secular ethnic nationalism and found themselves isolated politically by 1914. In addition to shedding new light on the relationship between secular and religious forms of nationalism at a key moment in Russia's past, the book provides valuable context for understanding nationalist forces within the Russian Orthodox Church today. It should also serve as a useful resource for future comparative work between Eastern and Western forms of Christianity.

Page Herrlinger
Bowdoin College
Published in The Russian Review vol. 73, no. 4
© 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Reproduced with permission

It is frequently asserted that "to be Russian is to be Orthodox," thus tying national and religious identities. But the opposite equation--that to be Orthodox is to be Russian--has sometimes also been made. This view asserts that "Holy Russia" as a special chosen nation alone preserved Orthodoxy uncorrupted. John Strickland persuasively argues that this ideology was primarily a construct of influential churchmen in the early twentieth-century. They sought to tie inextricably national and religious identities so that modern concepts of nationalism did not displace religious identity as they had in Western Europe. As the identification of Orthodoxy and Russian nationalism is frequently believed (both by outsiders and insiders) to be a perpetual feature of Russian Orthodoxy, and is being asserted again today in Russia, this book is extremely timely and important for both those who wish to understand Russia historically and today.


Scott Kenworthy

Associate Professor 

Dept of Comparative Religion

Miami University, Oxford OH


Archpriest John Strickland was born and educated in California. After discovering a love of Russian history and culture as an undergraduate at California State University, Fullerton, he went on to do research in St. Petersburg for two years. He obtained his MA in modern European history from the State University of New York , Stony Brook, and was awarded a Ph.D in Russian and European history from the University of California at Davis in 2001. Currently, (2013) he is Associate Professor of History at Saint Katherine College in Encinitas, CA. and attached to the parish of Saint John of Damascus Church in Poway, CA. Fr. John served as the rector for several parishes in the Orthodox Church in America on the West Coast. He and his wife Yelena, with their five children, live in Southern California.

Publication Details:

Binding: Paperback, 339 pages
ISBN: 9780884653295
Format: 9in x 6in

Binding: Hardback, 339 pages
ISBN: 9780884653462
Format: 9in x 6in

Binding: Electronic book text, 339 pages
ISBN: 9780884653479

Binding: Electronic book text, 339 pages
ISBN: 9780884653486

BISAC Code:  HIS032000, REL045000, REL049000, REL108020
Imprint: Printshop of St Job of Pochaev

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