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Clerical Outsiders: The Edinoverie Priesthood in Imperial Russia, 1800–1917



Founded in 1800, edinoverie was a missionary mechanism that offered converts from ‘schismatic’ Old Belief the use of their anathematised rituals within the Russian Orthodox Church. However, the edinoverie clergy's distinctive social characteristics and working conditions stymied successful integration into the caste-like clerical estate. These representatives of an alternative form of Orthodoxy chiefly championed by Old Believers therefore remained on the periphery of the confession. This demonstrates the limits of intraconfessional diversity within the imperial Church: even when championed by ethnic Russians, the Church was reluctant to sponsor alternative visions of Orthodoxy in its own ranks.


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This article was written with the financial support of the Russian Foundation for Basic Research (RFBR), project No. 20–49–660015/20: ‘Ekaterinburg-Sverdlovsk as an intellectual centre of Russia in the age of industrial modernity: milestones in formation from the end of the nineteenth to the end of the twentieth centuries’.



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1 ‘The term ‘clergy’ includes priests, deacons and sacristans. It does not include edinoverie monastics, although edinoverie hieromonks (monk-priests) who served regular parishes are occasionally referenced.

2 For clerical election see Bruning, A., ‘Social discipline among the Russian Orthodox parish clergy (17th–18th century): normative ideals and the practice of parish life’, Cahiers du monde russe lviii/3 (2017), 303–40.

3 Freeze, G. L., The parish clergy in nineteenth-century Russia: crisis, reform, counter-reform, Princeton 1983, 146.

4 Manchester, L., ‘An answer to my critics, or the confessions of an unrepentant interdisciplinarian’, Ab Imperio ii (2012), 489.

5 Idem, Holy fathers, secular sons: clergy, intelligentsia, and the modern self in revolutionary Russia, DeKalb, Il 2011, 6.

6 Freeze, G. L., The Russian Levites: parish clergy in the eighteenth century, Cambridge, Ma 1977, 211.

7 For an analysis of clerical costume see A. V. Mangileva, Социокультурный облик приходского духовенства Пермской губернии в XIX–начале XX в. [The sociocultural image of the parish clergy of Perm diocese in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries], Ekaterinburg 2015, 348–58.

8 The percentage of clerics with a seminary certificate declined from 88.1% in 1890 to 63.8% in 1904: Freeze, Parish clergy, 455.

9 We arrive at this figure by using the number of edinoverie parishes in 1897 (278) and tentatively suggesting three clergymen per church. The total number of edinoverie parishes and clergy are taken from Всеподданейший отчет обер-прокурора святейшего Синода по ведомству православного исповедания за 1898 год [The most loyal account of the ober procurator of the most holy Synod on the domain of the Orthodox confession for 1898], St Petersburg 1901, 9–13.

10 The regular Orthodox clergy is referred to as ‘Orthodox’ as shorthand: the edinoverie clergy considered themselves, and were considered, Orthodox.

11 Paul Werth has dealt with the question of ‘alternative Orthodoxies’ in numerous works: for his most recent see ‘One eastern Church or two? Armenians, Orthodoxy, and ecclesiastical union in nineteenth-century Russia’, Journal of Orthodox Christian Studies i (2018), 189–208.

12 Znamenski, A., Shamanism and Christianity: native encounters with Russian Orthodox missions in Siberia and Alaska, 1820–1917, London 1999, 62.

13 Werth, P., ‘Georgian autocephaly and the ethnic fragmentation of Orthodoxy’, Acta Slavica Iaponica xxiii (2006), 74100.

14 The best English accounts of Old Belief remain Crummey, R., Old Believers in a changing world, DeKalb, Il 2011, and Michels, G. B., At war with the Church: religious dissent in seventeenth-century Russia, Stanford, Ca 2000.

15 These two groups were very broad categories containing tens of separate concords. For a basic schema see Robson, R., Old Believers in modern Russia, DeKalb, Il 1995, 2939.

16 For early attempts to establish edinoverie between 1750 and 1795 see Pera, P., ‘Edinoverie: storia di un tentativo di integrazione dei vecchi credenti all'interno dell'Ortodossia’, Rivista di storia e letteratura religiosa xx/2 (1984), 290351.

17 Marsden, T., The crisis of religious toleration in imperial Russia: Bibikov's system for the Old Believers, 1841–1855, Oxford 2015, 4.

18 For the 1845 law see Труды Московского единоверческого съезда [Works of the Moscow edinoverie congress], Moscow 1910, 123–4.

19 RGIA, f. 1473, op. 1, d. 44, l. 45.

20 Собрание постановлений по части раскола [Collection of resolutions regarding the schism], St Petersburg 1875, 9.

21 V. N. Vitebskii, Раскол в Уральском войске и отношение к нему духовной и военногражданской власти в конце XVIII и XIX в. [The schism in the Uralsk host and the relationship of the ecclesiastical and military administration with it, the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries], Kazan 1878, 189–91.

22 RGIA, f. 797, op. 77, V otd. 3 st., d. 3, l. 1.

23 A. Nikolskii, Шестидесятилетие 1843–1903 Покровской единоверческой церкви в Холмского-Варшавской епархии [Sixty years (1843–1903) of the Pokrovskaia edinoverie Church in the Kholm-Warsaw diocese], Warsaw 1904, 22.

24 NART, f. 4, op. 1, d. 127924, l. 11.

25 RGIA, f. 796, op. 190 VI otd. 3 st., d. 30, l. 4.

26 For these figures see Alexander Palkin, Единоверие в середине XIII–начале XX века: общероссийский контекст и региональная специфика [Edinoverie from the middle of the eighteenth to the early twentieth century: national context and regional specifics], Ekaterinburg 2016, 279.

27 Ibid. 95.

28 ‘Обзор деятельности первого епархиального съезда в г. Томске 10–27 августа 1898 года’ [Review of the activities of the first diocesan missionary congress in Tomsk, 10–27 August 1898], Tомские Епархиальные Ведомости [Tomsk Diocesan Gazette] vi (1899), 9. For complaints about Orthodox clergy's ignorance of the old rite see M. S. Vrutsevich, ‘Раскол в Пермской губернии’ [The schism in Perm province], Отечественные Записки [Notes of the Fatherland] vi (1883), 156–8.

29 L. N. Suslova, ‘Единоверие в Тобольской губернии во второй половине xix и xx в.’ [Edinoverie in Tobolsk province from the second half of the nineteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth], Проблемы Истории России [Problems of Russian History] vii (2008), 227–8.

30 GAPK, f. 198, op. 1, d. 314, ll. 4–9.

31 R. V. Kaurkin and O. A. Pavlova, Единоверие в России (от зарождения идей до начала XX в.) [Edinoverie in Russia (from the birth of an idea to the beginning of the twentieth century)], St Petersburg 2011, 106.

32 NART, f. 4, op. 1, d. 127924, ll. 1–5.

33 N. Varushkin, ‘О единоверии в Нижнетагильском заводе и его округ’ [On edinoverie in Nizhnii Tagil and its environs], Православный Cобеседник [Orthodox Interlocutor] ii (1867), 314.

34 RGIA, f. 796, op. 170, d. 1489, l. 20ob.

35 TsANO, f. 570, op. 559 (1904), d. 16, l. 3ob.

36 The spasovtsy were a priestless Old Believer group distinguished by their practice of partaking in key Orthodox rituals in order to avoid police scrutiny: Bushnell, J., Russian peasant women who refused to marry: Spasovite Old Believers in the 18th–19th centuries, Indianapolis, In 2017, 161–88.

37 Церковные Ведомости [Church Gazette] was the principal Synodal newspaper.

38 S. Smirnov, Записки сельского священника. Дневниковые записи священнослужителя единоверческого храма Архангела Михаила села Михаиловская слобода протоиерея Стефана Смирнова, написанные им самим с 1905 по 1933 год [The notes of a village priest: the diary entries of Archpriest Stefan Smirnov of the Archangel Michael edinoverie church in Mikhailovskaia Sloboa, written by himself from 1905 to 1933], ed. E. Sarancha, Moscow 2008, 32–3.

39 Ibid. 35.

40 RGIA, f. 796, op. 131, d. 1788, l. 26ob: Avtonom was tonsured during the same visit.

41 TsANO, f. 570, op. 559 (1904), d. 124, l. 2ob.

42 S. Shleev, ‘К открытию православно-старообрядческого реального училища в г. С.-Петербурге’ [On the opening of an Orthodox-Old Believer middle school in St Petersburg], Правда Православия [The Truth of Orthodoxy] xl–xli (1907), 2.

43 GAKO, f. 237, op. 139, d. 1750, ll. 55–9, 66–66ob.

44 S. I. Matveev, Краткая история Златоустовского Воскресенского единоверческого мужского монастыря, Уфимской губернии, Златоустовского уезда [A brief history of the Zlatoustovskii Voskresenskii edinoverie monastery of Ufa province, Zlatoustovsk district], Ufa 1913, 2.

45 For clerical females see Manchester, L., ‘Gender and social estate as national identity: the wives and daughters of Orthodox clergymen as civilizing agents in imperial Russia’, Journal of Modern History lxxxiii/1 (2011), 4877.

46 For Verkhovskii's life and thought see White, J. M., ‘Ritual, ecclesia, and the reform of Russian Orthodoxy: the life and thought of Ioann Verkhovskii, 1818–1891’, in Milovanovic, A. D. and Radic, R. (eds), Orthodox Christian renewal movements in Eastern Europe, Chalm 2017, 2346.

47 I. T. Verkhovskii, Сочинения Иоанна Верховского [Essays of Ioann Verkhovskii], Leipzig 1886–8, iii. 21–2..

48 P. Zlotnikov, ‘Неправда “Правды православия” и “Глагола времен” об особом единоверческом епископе и австрийщине’ [The falsity of “The Truth of Orthodoxy” and “Word of the Times” about a special edinoverie bishop and the Austrian hierarchy], Миссионерское Oбозрение [Missionary Review] iv (1907), 593.

49 Figures compiled from N. I. Dranitsyn, Адрес-календарь Нижегородской епархии на 1904 г. [Address book of Nizhnii Novgorod diocese for 1904], Nizhnii Novgorod 1904, 149–305.

50 Пермский епархиальный адрес-календарь на 1882 [Perm diocesan address book for 1882], Perm 1882, 106–11.

51 Вятская епархия: историко-географическое описание [Viatka diocese: an historico-geographical and statistical description], Viatka 1912, 82–3.

52 Suslova, ‘Единоверие’, 228.

53 N. M. Kutepov (ed.), Памятная книга по С.-Петербургской епархии [Commemorative book on St Petersburg diocese], St Petersburg 1899, 201–6.

54 For these reforms see White, J., ‘Orthodox Old Belief: edinoverie as a movement for religious rejuvenation in the Russian Church, 1905–1918’, Russian History xliii (2016), 181208.

55 ‘Отчет Екатеринбургского епархиального наблюдателя о состоянии церковных школ в учебно-воспитательном отношении за 1913–14 ученый год’ [Account of the Ekaterinburg diocesan overseer on the condition of church schools in educational terms for the 1913–14 academic year], Екатеринбургские Епархиальные Ведомости [Ekaterinburg Diocesan Gazette] lii (1914), 23.

56 Shleev, ‘К открытию’, 3; RGIA, f. 796, op. 197, VI ot. 3 st., d. 111.

57 Второй Всероссийский съезд православных старообрядцев (единоверцев) в Н. Новгороде 23–28 юлия 1917 года [Second all-Russian congress of Orthodox Old Believers (edinovertsy) in Nizhnii Novogord, 23–28 July 1917], Petrograd 1917, 60; Деяния собора православной Российской церкви [Acts of the council of the Orthodox Russian Church], Moscow 1918, vii. 84.

58 Freeze, Parish clergy, 57.

59 By 1905 two-thirds of all parish priests received a subsidy: ibid. 453.

60 For parish guardianships see A. L. Beglov, ‘Приходские попечительства при православных церквах Российской империи в 1890-е гг.: итоги 30-летней деятельности’ [Parish guardianships in Orthodox churches of the Russian Empire in the 1890s: the total of 30 years of activity], Российская История [Russian History] vi (2014), 104–27.

61 ‘Притязания единоверцев’ [Assertions of the edinovertsy], Церковно-Oбщественный Вестник [Church and Society Herald] cxxix (1878), 2.

62 For Verkhovskii's selection by Nicholas see T. A. Verkhovskii, Стародубье: записки прот. С.-Петерб. Никольск. единоверческ. церкви Т. А. Верховского [Starodube: the notes of Archpriest T. A. Verkhovskii of the St Petersburg Nikolskaia edinoverie church], Kazan 1874, 20.

63 Quoted from F. Kiprianovich, ‘Устроение единоверческой церкви в Риге’ [Construction of the edinoverie church in Riga], Рижские Епархиальный Ведомости [Riga Diocesan Gazette] iv (1914), 106.

64 GASO, f. 6, op. 4, d. 68, l. 9.

65 V. P., ‘К вопросу о состоянии единоверия в Сибири’ [On the question of the standing of edinoverie in Siberia], Томские Eпархиальные Bедомости [Tomsk Diocesan Gazette] viii (1884), 14.

66 GAKO, f. 237, op. 70, d. 49, l. 33ob. Old Believers refused to recognise saints created by the Orthodox Church after 1666–7: Mitrofan of Voronezh was canonised in 1832. The term shchepotniki translates as ‘pinchers’, an insult directed at the way in which Orthodox believers made the sign of the cross by ‘pinching’ three fingers together. Old Believers often regarded shaving a sin: they had the same attitude to European (‘German’) fashions. Omutninsk was a factory settlement, hence the reference to the managers.

67 N. V. Lysogorskii, Единоверие на Дону в XVIII и XIX в. (по 1883 г.) [Edinoverie on the Don in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (to 1883)], Sergiev Posad 1915, 606–9.

68 GASO, f. 43, op. 3, d. 35, ll. 37–120.

69 V. M. Skvortsov (ed.), Деяния 3-го Всероссийского миссионерского съезда в Казани, по вопросам внутренней миссии и расколосектантства [Acts of the third all-Russian missionary congress in Kazan on questions of the internal mission, the schism, and sects], 2nd edn, Kiev 1898, 236.

70 Kutepov, Памятная книга, 201–2.

71 P. Ershov (ed.), Справочная книга Пермской епархии на 1912 год [Reference book of Perm diocese for 1912], Perm 1911, 107.

72 ‘Подужемский единоверческий приход’ [Poduzheme edinoverie parish], Архангельские Eпархиальные Bедомости [Arkhangelsk Diocesan Gazette] xi (1896), 118.

73 Varushkin, ‘О единоверии’, i. 271.

74 Тобольский епархиальный адрес-календарь на 1897 год [Tobolsk diocesan address book for 1897], Tobolsk 1897, 227–8.

75 V. P., ‘К вопросу’, 10.

76 ‘К истории православного старообрядчества (единоверия) в Екатеринбургском уезде’ [On the history of Orthodox Old Belief (edinoverie) in Ekaterinburg district], Екатеринбургские Eпархиальные Bедомости [Ekaterinburg Diocesan Gazette] xxiii (1905), 799–801.

77 RGIA, f. 1473, op. 1, d. 24, ll. 275ob–276ob.

78 Varushkin, ‘О единоверии’, i. 314.

79 Пензенская епархия: историко-статическое описание [Penza diocese: an historic-statistical description], Penza 1907, 290–1.

80 S. Shleev, ‘Благочинные единоверческих церквей’ [Deans of edinoverie churches], Правда Православия [The Truth of Orthodoxy] x–xi (1908), 2.

81 GARF, f. 63, op. 50, d. 232, l. 3.

82 RGIA, f. 831, op. 1, d. 51, ll. 2–8.

83 I. Nevestin, ‘Раскол в селе Поиме и учреждение единоверия’ [The schism in the village of Poima and the establishment of edinoverie], Пензенские Eпархиальные Bедомости [Penza diocesan gazette] x (1868), 389.

84 GASO, f. 6, op. 4, d. 71, l. 23.

85 GAKO, f. 237, op. 139, d. 1816, l. 265ob.

86 GAKO, op. 8, d. 627, ll. 1–5. For the prohibition against Old Believer marriage see Paert, I., ‘Regulating Old Believer marriages: ritual, legality, and conversion in Nicholas i's Russia’, Slavic Review lxiii/3 (2004), 555–76.

87 GAKO, f. 237, op. 8, d. 227, ll. 1–5.

88 Деяния, vii. 46.

89 ‘По поводу нововведение в некоторых единоверческих церквах’ [On the introduction of novelty into some edinoverie churches], Московские Eпархиальные Bедомости [Moscow Diocesan Gazette] iv (1878), 46.

90 Деяния, vi. 110.

91 RGIA, f. 796, op. 204, 5 otd., 1 st., d. 32, l. 11.

92 RGIA, f. 796, op. 88, d. 534, l. 1.

93 Amendments were made in 1832, which allowed Orthodox who had not taken any sacraments in ten years to join edinoverie, and in 1885, which reduced the period to five years.

94 NART, f. 4, op. 1, d. 6902, l. 24.

95 V. P., ‘К вопросу’, 12–13.

96 GASO, f. 1, op. 1, d. 2, ll. 92–3ob.

97 TsANO, f. 570, op. 559 (1897), d. 83, l. 1ob.

98 EAA, 1655.2. 2571.19–24.

99 EAA, 1655.2.2607 (unpaginated).

100 E. Sarancha (ed), Труды II и III Всероссийских съездов православных старообрядцев (единоверцев) [Works of the second and third all-Russian congresses of Orthodox Old Believers (edinovertsy)], Mikhailovskaia Sloboda 2018, 314.

This article was written with the financial support of the Russian Foundation for Basic Research (RFBR), project No. 20–49–660015/20: ‘Ekaterinburg-Sverdlovsk as an intellectual centre of Russia in the age of industrial modernity: milestones in formation from the end of the nineteenth to the end of the twentieth centuries’.


Clerical Outsiders: The Edinoverie Priesthood in Imperial Russia, 1800–1917



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