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Church History and the Predicament of the Orthodox Hierarchy in the Russian Empire of the Early 1800s

Eugene I. Lyutko


In this article, the author tries to reflect the emergence of the intellectual concept of “Church History” through a number of theoretical frameworks, setting this discursive turn on the map of the epoch using several narratives. The first is the problem of the cultural gap arising during the 18th century between the intellectual elites of the nobility and clergy. Second, we examine the bureaucratization of the empire leading both to the convergence of parallel “ecclesiastical” and “civil” administrative structures and to the emergence of the bureaucratic layer between episcopate and the monarch, who was considered as the formal “head” of the earthly ecclesiastical structure. Third, we consider the establishment of the administrative bonds between governmental authorities and individuals, which were understood as being in competition for the “pastoral” power of the church hierarchy. We next examine the change in the mode of knowledge distribution, which took place within the emergence of the “public sphere” in the early 19th-century Russian Empire. Finally, we look at the problem of the national identity emerging in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, which was centered around the concept of the ethnic community and political body (and its history) rather than on the community of believers actualized in the discourse of the epoch as the concept of Church (and its history). All those narratives on social change strive to explain the global change in Orthodox theology, which became centered on ecclesiology. This change might be effectively problematized as a transition between first and second “orders of theology” within the framework proposed by G. Kaufman. This method of explanation may be especially productive when it comes to drawing an analogy between Russian and Western theology in the modern period.


Russian Church history; intellectual history; Christianity in the modern Russian Empire; ecclesiastical historiography; history of theology

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