Next up was the Synodical Period which lasted from 1700 to 1917 in Russia. Remember in the previous post that Nikon had attempted to give the Church too much power. He wanted the Church to be able to interfere with secular business. Well, Peter the Great came on the scene and decided that would never happen again. He dismantled the Patriarch position and set up a Spiritual College or Holy Synod made up of twelve members. Members were chosen by the Emperor as opposed to the Church and the constitution of the Synod was copied from Protestant ecclesiastical synods of Germany! While the Emperor did not attend the meetings, the Chief Procurator, a government official in a Minister of Religion type of role, observed and "wielded considerable power over Church affairs." Peter's Spiritual Regulation had made the Church a department of the State instead of a divine entity.
|Peter the Great|
At this time in Russian history monasteries were the social hub, the chief areas for social work and Peter sought to limit this drastically! His successors, Elizabeth and Catherine II, went even further in their decrees against the monasteries' work. Criticism and opposition to Peter's reforms were "ruthlessly silenced."
The author says people often think of this period as the Russian Church in decline. There was much westernization of theology, Church music and art, however, it wasn't all bad.
The second part of the Synodical period was a time of great revival in the Russian Church. St. Paissy Velichkovsky studied in Kiev and "was repelled by the secular tone of the teaching." He later became a monk and ended up combining aspects of Nilus (Non Possessor) and Joseph's (Possessor) teachings to bring the mystical as well as social aspects to monastic life.
Already characteristic figures of Orthodoxy, nineteenth century Russia was the age of the starets, the elders who served as spiritual guides. Most famous among them was St. Seraphim of Sarov whom the author notes is "perhaps the most immediately attractive to non-Orthodox Christians." (pg. 118)
His life was noted for his devotion to seclusion and prayer so that he could later advise and help people. He was known as being gentle and his life "illuminated by joy."
Another great figure from the married clergy was St. John of Kronstadt. He would sometimes have such an "intense awareness of the power of prayer" and sometimes would get "carried away" while celebrating Liturgy. "'He called out to God; he shouted; he wept in the face of the vision of Golgotha and the Resurrection which presented themselves to him with such shattering immediacy.'"
He was a proponent of frequent communion, but since he had no time to listen to every confession, he instituted "a form of public confession, with everybody shouting their sins aloud simultaneously." Can you imagine?
The 19th century also saw a revival of missionary work with the Orthodox sharing the Scriptures and Liturgy in a variety of languages. "In the Kazan area alone Liturgy was celebrated in twenty-two different languages and dialects." (pg. 123) "The greatest of the nineteenth-century missionaries was St. Innocent (John Veniaminov, 1797-1879), Bishop in Alaska, honoured by millions of American Orthodox today as their chief 'Apostle.'"
Alexis Khomiakov helped the Russian Church break from its "excessive dependence on the west." He said no longer should they use Reformed positions against Roman and Roman against Reformed. Orthodoxy was distinct, unique and they shouldn't worry about the Roman and Reformed stuff.
The chapter ends with the Synodic Period dissolving and a new Patriarch being chosen, St. Tikhon. Unfortunately the Bolsheviks soon came and with them, persecution.