Red Priests

Red Priests

Renovationism, Russian Orthodoxy, and Revolution, 1905-1946
Edward E. Roslof
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 10/24/2002
Format: Hardback 1 bibliog., 1 index
ISBN: 978-0-253-34128-0
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A Choice Outstanding Academic Book of 2003

The 1917 revolutions that gave birth to Soviet Russia had a profound impact on Russian religious life. Social and political attitudes toward religion in general and toward the Russian Orthodox Church in particular remained in turmoil for nearly 30 years. During that time of religious uncertainty, a movement known as "renovationism," led by reformist Orthodox clergy, pejoratively labeled "red priests," tried to reconcile Christianity with the goals of the Bolshevik state. But Church hierarchy and Bolshevik officials alike feared clergymen who proclaimed themselves to be both Christians and socialists. This innovative study, based on previously untapped archival sources, recounts the history of the red priests, who, acting out of religious conviction in a hostile environment, strove to establish a church that stood for social justice and equality. Red Priests sheds valuable new light on the dynamics of society, politics, and religion in Russia between 1905 and 1946.

Author Bio

Edward E. Roslof is Dean of Masters’ Studies and Associate Professor of Church History at United Theological Seminary, Dayton, Ohio.


“". . . presents the most penetrating and comprehensive analysis of church-state relations available for the early Soviet period. . . . Roslof has identified an important topic and told his story well." -William B. Husband, author of Godless Communists Red Priests recounts attempts by Russian clergy to adapt the Orthodox faith to revolutionary changes in Russia during the first half of the twentieth century. It focuses particularly on the fate of priests who tried to combine Christianity and Bolshevism in the early Soviet era. Their movement was called renovationism, also known as the Living Church.”

“Roslof (United Theological Seminary, Ohio) has produced a wonderfully successful and clearly written study of the Russian Orthodox clergy, who attempted to reconcile Christianity with the goals of the Bolshevik state . . . by actively accommodating Orthodox religious beliefs and institutions to new Soviet realities. This renovationist church faced a hostile world, opposed by the hierarchy of the traditional Orthodox Church and trusted by neither Orthodox believers nor the Soviet state. The first chapter is an insightful reading of the best secondary literature on the Orthodox Church and the rise of renovationism, especially in the era of the 1905 revolution. The remaining six chapters are abreast of the secondary literature but rooted in fresh archival research that is really fruitful, making possible a new and convincing picture of the history and significance of renovationism. Roslof finds renovationists neither self-serving renegades nor naive stooges, but believers who acted out of religious conviction. Stalin's decision in 1943 to support the traditional, patriarchal church not only ended the renovationist alternative but made it very difficult for the church to reform, to define its place and role in a modern Soviet, and then post-Soviet, world. An important contribution to understanding modern Russia. Summing Up: Essential. Upper—division undergraduates and above.”
 — J. T. Flynn, emeritus, College of the Holy Cross , 2003jun CHOICE.

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Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations

1. The Path to Church Revolution
2. Renovationists Come to Power
3. Ecclesiastical Civil War
4. The Religious NEP
5. Renovationism in the Parish
6. Liquidation


Selected Bibliography