Chapter IV - The Village Priest
In formal introductions it is customary to pronounce in a more or less inaudible voice the names of the two persons introduced. Circumstances compel me in the present case to depart from received custom. The truth is, I do not know the names of the two people whom I wish to bring together! The reader who knows his own name will readily pardon one-half of my ignorance, but he may naturally expect that I should know the name of a man with whom I profess to be acquainted, and with whom I daily held long conversations during a period of several months. Strange as it may seem, I do not. During all the time of my sojourn in Ivanofka I never heard him addressed or spoken of otherwise than as "Batushka." Now "Batushka" is not a name at all. It is simply the diminutive form of an obsolete word meaning "father," and is usually applied to all village priests. The ushka is a common diminutive termination, and the root Bat is evidently the same as that which appears in the Latin pater.
Though I do not happen to know what Batushka's family name was, I can communicate two curious facts concerning it: he had not possessed it in his childhood, and it was not the same as his father's.
The reader whose intuitive powers have been preternaturally sharpened by a long course of sensation novels will probably leap to the conclusion that Batushka was a mysterious individual, very different from what he seemed--either the illegitimate son of some great personage, or a man of high birth who had committed some great sin, and who now sought oblivion and expiation in the humble duties of a parish priest. Let me dispel at once all delusions of this kind. Batushka was actually as well as legally the legitimate son of an ordinary parish priest, who was still living, about twenty miles off, and for many generations all his paternal and maternal ancestors, male and female, had belonged to the priestly caste. He was thus a Levite of the purest water, and thoroughly Levitical in his character. Though he knew by experience something about the weakness of the flesh, he had never committed any sins of the heroic kind, and had no reason to conceal his origin. The curious facts above stated were simply the result of a peculiar custom which exists among the Russian clergy. According to this custom, when a boy enters the seminary he receives from the Bishop a new family name. The name may be Bogoslafski, from a word signifying "Theology," or Bogolubof, "the love of God," or some similar term; or it may be derived from the name of the boy's native village, or from any other word which the Bishop thinks fit to choose. I know of one instance where a Bishop chose two French words for the purpose. He had intended to call the boy Velikoselski, after his native place, Velikoe Selo, which means "big village"; but finding that there was already a Velikoselski in the seminary, and being in a facetious frame of mind, he called the new comer Grandvillageski--a word that may perhaps sorely puzzle some philologist of the future.
My reverend teacher was a tall, muscular man of about forty years of age, with a full dark-brown beard, and long lank hair falling over his shoulders. The visible parts of his dress consisted of three articles--a dingy-brown robe of coarse material buttoned closely at the neck and descending to the ground, a wideawake hat, and a pair of large, heavy boots. As to the esoteric parts of his attire, I refrained from making investigations. His life had been an uneventful one. At an early age he had been sent to the seminary in the chief town of the province, and had made for himself the reputation of a good average scholar. "The seminary of that time," he used to say to me, referring to that part of his life, "was not what it is now. Nowadays the teachers talk about humanitarianism, and the boys would think that a crime had been committed against human dignity if one of them happened to be flogged. But they don't consider that human dignity is at all affected by their getting drunk, and going to--to--to places that I never went to. I was flogged often enough, and I don't think that I am a worse man on that account; and though I never heard then anything about pedagogical science that they talk so much about now, I'll read a bit of Latin yet with the best of them.
"When my studies were finished," said Batushka, continuing the simple story of his life, "the Bishop found a wife for me, and I succeeded her father, who was then an old man. In that way I became a priest of Ivanofka, and have remained here ever since. It is a hard life, for the parish is big, and my bit of land is not very fertile; but, praise be to God! I am healthy and strong, and get on well enough."
"You said that the Bishop found a wife for you," I remarked. "I suppose, therefore, that he was a great friend of yours."
"Not at all. The Bishop does the same for all the seminarists who wish to be ordained: it is an important part of his pastoral duties."
"Indeed!" I exclaimed in astonishment. "Surely that is carrying the system of paternal government a little too far. Why should his Reverence meddle with things that don't concern him?"
"But these matters do concern him. He is the natural protector of widows and orphans, especially among the clergy of his own diocese. When a parish priest dies, what is to become of his wife and daughters?"
Not perceiving clearly the exact bearing of these last remarks, I ventured to suggest that priests ought to economise in view of future contingencies.
"It is easy to speak," replied Batushka: "'A story is soon told,' as the old proverb has it, 'but a thing is not soon done.' How are we to economise? Even without saving we have the greatest difficulty to make the two ends meet."
"Then the widow and daughters might work and gain a livelihood."
"What, pray, could they work at?" asked Batushka, and paused for a reply. Seeing that I had none to offer him, he continued, "Even the house and land belong not to them, but to the new priest."
"If that position occurred in a novel," I said, "I could foretell what would happen. The author would make the new priest fall in love with and marry one of the daughters, and then the whole family, including the mother-in-law, would live happily ever afterwards."
"That is exactly how the Bishop arranges the matter. What the novelist does with the puppets of his imagination, the Bishop does with real beings of flesh and blood. As a rational being he cannot leave things to chance. Besides this, he must arrange the matter before the young man takes orders, because, by the rules of the Church, the marriage cannot take place after the ceremony of ordination. When the affair is arranged before the charge becomes vacant, the old priest can die with the pleasant consciousness that his family is provided for."
"Well, Batushka, you certainly put the matter in a very plausible way, but there seem to be two flaws in the analogy. The novelist can make two people fall in love with each other, and make them live happily together with the mother-in-law, but that--with all due respect to his Reverence, be it said--is beyond the power of a Bishop."
"I am not sure," said Batushka, avoiding the point of the objection, "that love-marriages are always the happiest ones; and as to the mother-in-law, there are--or at least there were until the emancipation of the serfs--a mother-in-law and several daughters-in-law in almost every peasant household."
"And does harmony generally reign in peasant households?"
"That depends upon the head of the house. If he is a man of the right sort, he can keep the women-folks in order." This remark was made in an energetic tone, with the evident intention of assuring me that the speaker was himself "a man of the right sort"; but I did not attribute much importance to it, for I have occasionally heard henpecked husbands talk in this grandiloquent way when their wives were out of hearing. Altogether I was by no means convinced that the system of providing for the widows and orphans of the clergy by means of mariages de convenance was a good one, but I determined to suspend my judgment until I should obtain fuller information.
An additional bit of evidence came to me a week or two later. One morning, on going into the priest's house, I found that he had a friend with him--the priest of a village some fifteen miles off. Before we had got through the ordinary conventional remarks about the weather and the crops, a peasant drove up to the door in his cart with a message that an old peasant was dying in a neighbouring village, and desired the last consolations of religion. Batushka was thus obliged to leave us, and his friend and I agreed to stroll leisurely in the direction of the village to which he was going, so as to meet him on his way home. The harvest was already finished, so that our road, after emerging from the village, lay through stubble-fields. Beyond this we entered the pine forest, and by the time we had reached this point I had succeeded in leading the conversation to the subject of clerical marriages.
"I have been thinking a good deal on this subject," I said, "and I should very much like to know your opinion about the system."
My new acquaintance was a tall, lean, black-haired man, with a sallow complexion and vinegar aspect--evidently one of those unhappy mortals who are intended by Nature to take a pessimistic view of all things, and to point out to their fellows the deep shadows of human life. I was not at all surprised, therefore, when be replied in a deep, decided tone, "Bad, very bad--utterly bad!"
The way in which these words were pronounced left no doubt as to the opinion of the speaker, but I was desirous of knowing on what that opinion was founded--more especially as I seemed to detect in the tone a note of personal grievance. My answer was shaped accordingly.
"I suspected that; but in the discussions which I have had I have always been placed at a disadvantage, not being able to adduce any definite facts in support of my opinion."
"You may congratulate yourself on being unable to find any in your own experience. A mother-in-law living in the house does not conduce to domestic harmony. I don't know how it is in your country, but so it is with us."
I hastened to assure him that this was not a peculiarity of Russia.
"I know it only too well," he continued. "My mother-in-law lived with me for some years, and I was obliged at last to insist on her going to another son-in-law."
"Rather selfish conduct towards your brother-in-law," I said to myself, and then added audibly, "I hope you have thus solved the difficulty satisfactorily."
"Not at all. Things are worse now than they were. I agreed to pay her three roubles a month, and have regularly fulfilled my promise, but lately she has thought it not enough, and she made a complaint to the Bishop. Last week I went to him to defend myself, but as I had not money enough for all the officials in the Consistorium, I could not obtain justice. My mother-in-law had made all sorts of absurd accusations against me, and consequently I was laid under an inhibition for six weeks!"
"And what is the effect of an inhibition?"
"The effect is that I cannot perform the ordinary rites of our religion. It is really very unjust," he added, assuming an indignant tone, "and very annoying. Think of all the hardship and inconvenience to which it gives rise."
As I thought of the hardship and inconvenience to which the parishioners must be exposed through the inconsiderate conduct of the old mother-in-law, I could not but sympathise with my new acquaintance's indignation. My sympathy was, however, somewhat cooled when I perceived that I was on a wrong tack, and that the priest was looking at the matter from an entirely different point of view.
"You see," he said, "it is a most unfortunate time of year. The peasants have gathered in their harvest, and can give of their abundance. There are merry-makings and marriages, besides the ordinary deaths and baptisms. Altogether I shall lose by the thing more than a hundred roubles!"
I confess I was a little shocked on hearing the priest thus speak of his sacred functions as if they were an ordinary marketable commodity, and talk of the inhibition as a pushing undertaker might talk of sanitary improvements. My surprise was caused not by the fact that he regarded the matter from a pecuniary point of view-- for I was old enough to know that clerical human nature is not altogether insensible to pecuniary considerations--but by the fact that he should thus undisguisedly express his opinions to a stranger without in the least suspecting that there was anything unseemly in his way of speaking. The incident appeared to me very characteristic, but I refrained from all audible comments, lest I should inadvertently check his communicativeness. With the view of encouraging it, I professed to be very much interested, as I really was, in what he said, and I asked him how in his opinion the present unsatisfactory state of things might be remedied.
"There is but one cure," he said, with a readiness that showed he had often spoken on the theme already, "and that is freedom and publicity. We full-grown men are treated like children, and watched like conspirators. If I wish to preach a sermon--not that I often wish to do such a thing, but there are occasions when it is advisable--I am expected to show it first to the Blagotchinny, and--"
"I beg your pardon, who is the Blagotchinny?"
"The Blagotchinny is a parish priest who is in direct relations with the Consistory of the Province, and who is supposed to exercise a strict supervision over all the other parish priests of his district. He acts as the spy of the Consistory, which is filled with greedy, shameless officials, deaf to any one who does not come provided with a handful of roubles. The Bishop may be a good, well-intentioned man, but he always sees and acts through these worthless subordinates. Besides this, the Bishops and heads of monasteries, who monopolise the higher places in the ecclesiastical Administration, all belong to the Black Clergy--that is to say, they are all monks--and consequently cannot understand our wants. How can they, on whom celibacy is imposed by the rules of the Church, understand the position of a parish priest who has to bring up a family and to struggle with domestic cares of every kind? What they do is to take all the comfortable places for themselves, and leave us all the hard work. The monasteries are rich enough, and you see how poor we are. Perhaps you have heard that the parish priests extort money from the peasants--refusing to perform the rites of baptism or burial until a considerable sum has been paid. It is only too true, but who is to blame? The priest must live and bring up his family, and you cannot imagine the humiliations to which he has to submit in order to gain a scanty pittance. I know it by experience. When I make the periodical visitation I can see that the peasants grudge every handful of rye and every egg that they give me. I can overbear their sneers as I go away, and I know they have many sayings such as--'The priest takes from the living and from the dead.' Many of them fasten their doors, pretending to be away from home, and do not even take the precaution of keeping silent till I am out of hearing."
"You surprise me," I said, in reply to the last part of this long tirade; "I have always heard that the Russians are a very religious people--at least the lower classes."
"So they are; but the peasantry are poor and heavily taxed. They set great importance on the sacraments, and observe rigorously the fasts, which comprise nearly a half of the year; but they show very little respect for their priests, who are almost as poor as themselves."
"But I do not see clearly how you propose to remedy this state of things."
"By freedom and publicity, as I said before." The worthy man seemed to have learned this formula by rote. "First of all, our wants must be made known. In some provinces there have been attempts to do this by means of provincial assemblies of the clergy, but these efforts have always been strenuously opposed by the Consistories, whose members fear publicity above all things. But in order to have publicity we must have more freedom."
Here followed a long discourse on freedom and publicity, which seemed to me very confused. So far as I could understand the argument, there was a good deal of reasoning in a circle. Freedom was necessary in order to get publicity, and publicity was necessary in order to get freedom; and the practical result would be that the clergy would enjoy bigger salaries and more popular respect. We had only got thus far in the investigation of the subject when our conversation was interrupted by the rumbling of a peasant's cart. In a few seconds our friend Batushka appeared, and the conversation took a different turn.
Since that time I have frequently spoken on this subject with competent authorities, and nearly all have admitted that the present condition of the clergy is highly unsatisfactory, and that the parish priest rarely enjoys the respect of his parishioners. In a semi-official report, which I once accidentally stumbled upon when searching for material of a different kind, the facts are stated in the following plain language: "The people"--I seek to translate as literally as possible--"do not respect the clergy, but persecute them with derision and reproaches, and feel them to be a burden. In nearly all the popular comic stories the priest, his wife, or his labourer is held up to ridicule, and in all the proverbs and popular sayings where the clergy are mentioned it is always with derision. The people shun the clergy, and have recourse to them not from the inner impulse of conscience, but from necessity. . . . And why do the people not respect the clergy? Because it forms a class apart; because, having received a false kind of education, it does not introduce into the life of the people the teaching of the Spirit, but remains in the mere dead forms of outward ceremonial, at the same time despising these forms even to blasphemy; because the clergy itself continually presents examples of want of respect to religion, and transforms the service of God into a profitable trade. Can the people respect the clergy when they hear how one priest stole money from below the pillow of a dying man at the moment of confession, how another was publicly dragged out of a house of ill-fame, how a third christened a dog, how a fourth whilst officiating at the Easter service was dragged by the hair from the altar by the deacon? Is it possible for the people to respect priests who spend their time in the gin-shop, write fraudulent petitions, fight with the cross in their hands, and abuse each other in bad language at the altar?
"One might fill several pages with examples of this kind--in each instance naming the time and place--without overstepping the boundaries of the province of Nizhni-Novgorod. Is it possible for the people to respect the clergy when they see everywhere amongst them simony, carelessness in performing the religious rites, and disorder in administering the sacraments? Is it possible for the people to respect the clergy when they see that truth has disappeared from it, and that the Consistories, guided in their decisions not by rules, but by personal friendship and bribery, destroy in it the last remains of truthfulness? If we add to all this the false certificates which the clergy give to those who do not wish to partake of the Eucharist, the dues illegally extracted from the Old Ritualists, the conversion of the altar into a source of revenue, the giving of churches to priests' daughters as a dowry, and similar phenomena, the question as to whether the people can respect the clergy requires no answer."
As these words were written by an orthodox Russian,* celebrated for his extensive and intimate knowledge of Russian provincial life, and were addressed in all seriousness to a member of the Imperial family, we may safely assume that they contain a considerable amount of truth. The reader must not, however, imagine that all Russian priests are of the kind above referred to. Many of them are honest, respectable, well-intentioned men, who conscientiously fulfil their humble duties, and strive hard to procure a good education for their children. If they have less learning, culture, and refinement than the Roman Catholic priesthood, they have at the same time infinitely less fanaticism, less spiritual pride, and less intolerance towards the adherents of other faiths.
* Mr. Melnikof, in a "secret" Report to the Grand Duke Constantine Nikolaievitch.
Both the good and the bad qualities of the Russian priesthood at the present time can be easily explained by its past history, and by certain peculiarities of the national character.
The Russian White Clergy--that is to say, the parish priests, as distinguished from the monks, who are called the Black Clergy--have had a curious history. In primitive times they were drawn from all classes of the population, and freely elected by the parishioners. When a man was elected by the popular vote, he was presented to the Bishop, and if he was found to be a fit and proper person for the office, he was at once ordained. But this custom early fell into disuse. The Bishops, finding that many of the candidates presented were illiterate peasants, gradually assumed the right of appointing the priests, with or without the consent of the parishioners; and their choice generally fell on the sons of the clergy as the men best fitted to take orders. The creation of Bishops' schools, afterwards called seminaries, in which the sons of the clergy were educated, naturally led, in the course of time, to the total exclusion of the other classes. The policy of the civil Government led to the same end. Peter the Great laid down the principle that every subject should in some way serve the State--the nobles as officers in the army or navy, or as officials in the civil service; the clergy as ministers of religion; and the lower classes as soldiers, sailors, or tax-payers. Of these three classes the clergy had by far the lightest burdens, and consequently many nobles and peasants would willingly have entered its ranks. But this species of desertion the Government could not tolerate, and accordingly the priesthood was surrounded by a legal barrier which prevented all outsiders from entering it. Thus by the combined efforts of the ecclesiastical and the civil Administration the clergy became a separate class or caste, legally and actually incapable of mingling with the other classes of the population.
The simple fact that the clergy became an exclusive caste, with a peculiar character, peculiar habits, and peculiar ideals, would in itself have had a prejudicial influence on the priesthood; but this was not all. The caste increased in numbers by the process of natural reproduction much more rapidly than the offices to be filled, so that the supply of priests and deacons soon far exceeded the demand; and the disproportion between supply and demand became every year greater and greater. In this way was formed an ever- increasing clerical Proletariat, which--as is always the case with a Proletariat of any kind--gravitated towards the towns. In vain the Government issued ukazes prohibiting the priests from quitting their places of domicile, and treated as vagrants and runaways those who disregarded the prohibition; in vain successive sovereigns endeavoured to diminish the number of these supernumeraries by drafting them wholesale into the army. In Moscow, St. Petersburg, and all the larger towns the cry was, "Still they come!" Every morning, in the Kremlin of Moscow, a large crowd of them assembled for the purpose of being hired to officiate in the private chapels of the rich nobles, and a great deal of hard bargaining took place between the priests and the lackeys sent to hire them--conducted in the same spirit, and in nearly the same forms, as that which simultaneously took place in the bazaar close by between extortionate traders and thrifty housewives. "Listen to me," a priest would say, as an ultimatum, to a lackey who was trying to beat down the price: "if you don't give me seventy-five kopeks without further ado, I'll take a bite of this roll, and that will be an end to it!" And that would have been an end to the bargaining, for, according to the rules of the Church, a priest cannot officiate after breaking his fast. The ultimatum, however, could be used with effect only to country servants who had recently come to town. A sharp lackey, experienced in this kind of diplomacy, would have laughed at the threat, and replied coolly, "Bite away, Batushka; I can find plenty more of your sort!" Amusing scenes of this kind I have heard described by old people who professed to have been eye-witnesses.
The condition of the priests who remained in the villages was not much better. Those of them who were fortunate enough to find places were raised at least above the fear of absolute destitution, but their position was by no means enviable. They received little consideration or respect from the peasantry, and still less from the nobles. When the church was situated not on the State Domains, but on a private estate, they were practically under the power of the proprietor--almost as completely as his serfs; and sometimes that power was exercised in a most humiliating and shameful way. I have heard, for instance, of one priest who was ducked in a pond on a cold winter day for the amusement of the proprietor and his guests--choice spirits, of rough, jovial temperament; and of another who, having neglected to take off his hat as he passed the proprietor's house, was put into a barrel and rolled down a hill into the river at the bottom!
In citing these incidents, I do not at all mean to imply that they represent the relations which usually existed between proprietors and village priests, for I am quite aware that wanton cruelty was not among the ordinary vices of Russian serf-owners. My object in mentioning the incidents is to show how a brutal proprietor--and it must be admitted that they were not a few brutal individuals in the class--could maltreat a priest without much danger of being called to account for his conduct. Of course such conduct was an offence in the eyes of the criminal law; but the criminal law of that time was very shortsighted, and strongly disposed to close its eyes completely when the offender was an influential proprietor. Had the incidents reached the ears of the Emperor Nicholas he would probably have ordered the culprit to be summarily and severely punished but, as the Russian proverb has it, "Heaven is high, and the Tsar is far off." A village priest treated in this barbarous way could have little hope of redress, and, if he were a prudent man, he would make no attempt to obtain it; for any annoyance which he might give the proprietor by complaining to the ecclesiastical authorities would be sure to be paid back to him with interest in some indirect way.
The sons of the clergy who did not succeed in finding regular sacerdotal employment were in a still worse position. Many of them served as scribes or subordinate officials in the public offices, where they commonly eked out their scanty salaries by unblushing extortion and pilfering. Those who did not succeed in gaining even modest employment of this kind had to keep off starvation by less lawful means, and not unfrequently found their way into the prisons or to Siberia.
In judging of the Russian priesthood of the present time, we must call to mind this severe school through which it has passed, and we must also take into consideration the spirit which has been for centuries predominant in the Eastern Church--I mean the strong tendency both in the clergy and in the laity to attribute an inordinate importance to the ceremonial element of religion. Primitive mankind is everywhere and always disposed to regard religion as simply a mass of mysterious rites which have a secret magical power of averting evil in this world and securing felicity in the next. To this general rule the Russian peasantry are no exception, and the Russian Church has not done all it might have done to eradicate this conception and to bring religion into closer association with ordinary morality. Hence such incidents as the following are still possible: A robber kills and rifles a traveller, but he refrains from eating a piece of cooked meat which he finds in the cart, because it happens to be a fast-day; a peasant prepares to rob a young attache of the Austrian Embassy in St. Petersburg, and ultimately kills his victim, but before going to the house he enters a church and commends his undertaking to the protection of the saints; a housebreaker, when in the act of robbing a church, finds it difficult to extract the jewels from an Icon, and makes a vow that if a certain saint assists him he will place a rouble's-worth of tapers before the saint's image! These facts are within the memory of the present generation. I knew the young attache, and saw him a few days before his death.
All these are of course extreme cases, but they illustrate a tendency which in its milder forms is only too general amongst the Russian people--the tendency to regard religion as a mass of ceremonies which have a magical rather than a spiritual significance. The poor woman who kneels at a religious procession in order that the Icon may he carried over her head, and the rich merchant who invites the priests to bring some famous Icon to his house, illustrates this tendency in a more harmless form.
According to a popular saying, "As is the priest, so is the parish," and the converse proposition is equally true--as is the parish, so is the priest. The great majority of priests, like the great majority of men in general, content themselves with simply striving to perform what is expected of them, and their character is consequently determined to a certain extent by the ideas and conceptions of their parishioners. This will become more apparent if we contrast the Russian priest with the Protestant pastor.
According to Protestant conceptions, the village pastor is a man of grave demeanour and exemplary conduct, and possesses a certain amount of education and refinement. He ought to expound weekly to his flock, in simple, impressive words, the great truths of Christianity, and exhort his hearers to walk in the paths of righteousness. Besides this, he is expected to comfort the afflicted, to assist the needy, to counsel those who are harassed with doubts, and to admonish those who openly stray from the narrow path. Such is the ideal in the popular mind, and pastors generally seek to realise it, if not in very deed, at least in appearance. The Russian priest, on the contrary, has no such ideal set before him by his parishioners. He is expected merely to conform to certain observances, and to perform punctiliously the rites and ceremonies prescribed by the Church. If he does this without practising extortion his parishioners are quite satisfied. He rarely preaches or exhorts, and neither has nor seeks to have a moral influence over his flock. I have occasionally heard of Russian priests who approach to what I have termed the Protestant ideal, and I have even seen one or two of them, but I fear they are not numerous.
In the above contrast I have accidentally omitted one important feature. The Protestant clergy have in all countries rendered valuable service to the cause of popular education. The reason of this is not difficult to find. In order to be a good Protestant it is necessary to "search the Scriptures," and to do this, one must be able at least to read. To be a good member of the Greek Orthodox Church, on the contrary, according to popular conceptions, the reading of the Scriptures is not necessary, and therefore primary education has not in the eyes of the Greek Orthodox priest the same importance which it has in the eyes of the Protestant pastor.
It must be admitted that the Russian people are in a certain sense religions. They go regularly to church on Sundays and holy-days, cross themselves repeatedly when they pass a church or Icon, take the Holy Communion at stated seasons, rigorously abstain from animal food--not only on Wednesdays and Fridays, but also during Lent and the other long fasts--make occasional pilgrimages to holy shrines, and, in a word, fulfil punctiliously the ceremonial observances which they suppose necessary for salvation. But here their religiousness ends. They are generally profoundly ignorant of religious doctrine, and know little or nothing of Holy Writ. A peasant, it is said, was once asked by a priest if he could name the three Persons of the Trinity, and replied without a moment's hesitation, "How can one not know that, Batushka? Of course it is the Saviour, the Mother of God, and Saint Nicholas the miracle- worker!
That answer represents fairly enough the theological attainments of a very large section of the peasantry. The anecdote is so often repeated that it is probably an invention, but it is not a calumny of theology and of what Protestants term the "inner religious life" the orthodox Russian peasant--of Dissenters, to whom these remarks do not apply, if shall speak later--has no conception. For him the ceremonial part of religion suffices, and he has the most unbounded, childlike confidence in the saving efficacy of the rites which he practises. If he has been baptised in infancy, has regularly observed the fasts, has annually partaken of the Holy Communion, and has just confessed and received extreme unction, he feels death approach with the most perfect tranquillity. He is tormented with no doubts as to the efficacy of faith or works, and has no fears that his past life may possibly have rendered him unfit for eternal felicity. Like a man in a sinking ship who has buckled on his life-preserver, he feels perfectly secure. With no fear for the future and little regret for the present or the past, he awaits calmly the dread summons, and dies with a resignation which a Stoic philosopher might envy.
In the above paragraph I have used the word Icon, and perhaps the reader may not clearly understand the word. Let me explain then, briefly, what an Icon is--a very necessary explanation, for the Icons play an important part in the religious observances of the Russian people.
Icons are pictorial, usually half-length, representations of the Saviour, of the Madonna, or of a saint, executed in archaic Byzantine style, on a yellow or gold ground, and varying in size from a square inch to several square feet. Very often the whole picture, with the exception of the face and hands of the figure, is covered with a metal plaque, embossed so as to represent the form of the figure and the drapery. When this plaque is not used, the crown and costume are often adorned with pearls and other precious stones--sometimes of great price.
In respect of religions significance, Icons are of two kinds: simple, and miraculous or miracle-working (tchudotvorny). The former are manufactured in enormous quantities--chiefly in the province of Vladimir, where whole villages are employed in this kind of work--and are to be found in every Russian house, from the hut of the peasant to the palace of the Emperor. They are generally placed high up in a corner facing the door, and good orthodox Christians on entering bow in that direction, making at the same time the sign of the cross. Before and after meals the same short ceremony is always performed. On the eve of fete-days a small lamp is kept burning before at least one of the Icons in the house.
The wonder-working Icons are comparatively few in number, and are always carefully preserved in a church or chapel. They are commonly believed to have been "not made with hands," and to have appeared in a miraculous way. A monk, or it may be a common mortal, has a vision, in which he is informed that he may find a miraculous Icon in such a place, and on going to the spot indicated he finds it, sometimes buried, sometimes hanging on a tree. The sacred treasure is then removed to a church, and the news spreads like wildfire through the district. Thousands flock to prostrate themselves before the heaven-sent picture, and some are healed of their diseases--a fact that plainly indicates its miracle-working power. The whole affair is then officially reported to the Most Holy Synod, the highest ecclesiastical authority in Russia, in order that the existence of the miracle-working power may be fully and regularly proved. The official recognition of the fact is by no means a mere matter of form, for the Synod is well aware that wonder-working Icons are always a rich source of revenue to the monasteries where they are kept, and that zealous Superiors are consequently apt in such cases to lean to the side of credulity, rather than that of over-severe criticism. A regular investigation is therefore made, and the formal recognition is not granted till the testimony of the finder is thoroughly examined and the alleged miracles duly authenticated. If the recognition is granted, the Icon is treated with the greatest veneration, and is sure to be visited by pilgrims from far and near.
Some of the most revered Icons--as, for instance, the Kazan Madonna--have annual fete-days instituted in their honour; or, more correctly speaking, the anniversary of their miraculous appearance is observed as a religions holiday. A few of them have an additional title to popular respect and veneration: that of being intimately associated with great events in the national history. The Vladimir Madonna, for example, once saved Moscow from the Tartars; the Smolensk Madonna accompanied the army in the glorious campaign against Napoleon in 1812; and when in that year it was known in Moscow that the French were advancing on the city, the people wished the Metropolitan to take the Iberian Madonna, which may still be seen near one of the gates of the Kremlin, and to lead them out armed with hatchets against the enemy.
If the Russian priests have done little to advance popular education, they have at least never intentionally opposed it. Unlike their Roman Catholic brethren, they do not hold that "a little learning is a dangerous thing," and do not fear that faith may be endangered by knowledge. Indeed, it is a remarkable fact that the Russian Church regards with profound apathy those various intellectual movements which cause serious alarm to many thoughtful Christians in Western Europe. It considers religion as something so entirely apart that its votaries do not feel the necessity of bringing their theological beliefs into logical harmony with their scientific conceptions. A man may remain a good orthodox Christian long after he has adopted scientific opinions irreconcilable with Eastern Orthodoxy, or, indeed, with dogmatic Christianity of any kind. In the confessional the priest never seeks to ferret out heretical opinions; and I can recall no instance in Russian history of a man being burnt at the stake on the demand of the ecclesiastical authorities, as so often happened in the Roman Catholic world, for his scientific views. This tolerance proceeds partly, no doubt, from the fact that the Eastern Church in general, and the Russian Church in particular, have remained for centuries in a kind of intellectual torpor. Even such a fervent orthodox Christian as the late Ivan Aksakof perceived this absence of healthy vitality, and he did not hesitate to declare his conviction that neither the Russian nor the Slavonic world will be resuscitated . . . so long as the Church remains in such lifelessness (mertvennost'), which is not a matter of chance, but the legitimate fruit of some organic defect." *
* Solovyoff, "Otcherki ig istorii Russkoi Literaturi XIX. veka." St. Petersburg, 1903, p. 269.
Though the unsatisfactory condition of the parochial clergy is generally recognised by the educated classes, very few people take the trouble to consider seriously how it might be improved. During the Reform enthusiasm which raged for some years after the Crimean War ecclesiastical affairs were entirely overlooked. Many of the reformers of those days were so very "advanced" that religion in all its forms seemed to them an old-world superstition which tended to retard rather than accelerate social progress, and which consequently should be allowed to die as tranquilly as possible; whilst the men of more moderate views found they had enough to do in emancipating the serfs and reforming the corrupt civil and judicial Administration. During the subsequent reactionary period, which culminated in the reign of the late Emperor, Alexander III., much more attention was devoted to Church matters, and it came to be recognised in official circles that something ought to be done for the parish clergy in the way of improving their material condition so as to increase their moral influence. With this object in view, M. Pobedonostsef, the Procurator of the Holy Synod, induced the Government in 1893 to make a State-grant of about 6,500,000 roubles, which should be increased every year, but the sum was very inadequate, and a large portion of it was devoted to purposes of political propaganda in the form of maintaining Greek Orthodox priests in districts where the population was Protestant or Roman Catholic. Consequently, of the 35,865 parishes which Russia contains, only 18,936, or a little more than one-half, were enabled to benefit by the grant. In an optimistic, semi-official statement published as late as 1896 it is admitted that "the means for the support of the parish clergy must even now be considered insufficient and wanting in stability, making the priests dependent on the parishioners, and thereby preventing the establishment of the necessary moral authority of the spiritual father over his flock."
In some places the needs of the Church are attended to by voluntary parish-curatorships which annually raise a certain sum of money, and the way in which they distribute it is very characteristic of the Russian people, who have a profound veneration for the Church and its rites, but very little consideration for the human beings who serve at the altar. In 14,564 parishes possessing such curatorships no less than 2,500,000 roubles were collected, but of this sum 2,000,000 were expended on the maintenance and embellishment of churches, and only 174,000 were devoted to the personal wants of the clergy. According to the semi-official document from which these figures are taken the whole body of the Russian White Clergy in 1893 numbered 99,391, of whom 42,513 were priests, 12,953 deacons, and 43,925 clerks.
In more recent observations among the parochial clergy I have noticed premonitory symptoms of important changes. This may be illustrated by an entry in my note-book, written in a village of one of the Southern provinces, under date of 30th September, 1903:
"I have made here the acquaintance of two good specimens of the parish clergy, both excellent men in their way, but very different from each other. The elder one, Father Dmitri, is of the old school, a plain, practical man, who fulfils his duties conscientiously according to his lights, but without enthusiasm. His intellectual wants are very limited, and he devotes his attention chiefly to the practical affairs of everyday life, which he manages very successfully. He does not squeeze his parishioners unduly, but he considers that the labourer is worthy of his hire, and insists on his flock providing for his wants according to their means. At the same time he farms on his own account and attends personally to all the details of his farming operations. With the condition and doings of every member of his flock he is intimately acquainted, and, on the whole, as he never idealised anything or anybody, he has not a very high opinion of them.
"The younger priest, Father Alexander, is of a different type, and the difference may be remarked even in his external appearance. There is a look of delicacy and refinement about him, though his dress and domestic surroundings are of the plainest, and there is not a tinge of affectation in his manner. His language is less archaic and picturesque. He uses fewer Biblical and semi-Slavonic expressions--I mean expressions which belong to the antiquated language of the Church Service rather than to modern parlance--and his armoury of terse popular proverbs which constitute such a characteristic trait of the peasantry, is less frequently drawn on. When I ask him about the present condition of the peasantry, his account does not differ substantially from that of his elder colleague, but he does not condemn their sins in the same forcible terms. He laments their shortcomings in an evangelical spirit and has apparently aspirations for their future improvement. Admitting frankly that there is a great deal of lukewarmness among them, he hopes to revive their interest in ecclesiastical affairs and he has an idea of constituting a sort of church committee for attending to the temporal affairs of the village church and for works of charity, but he looks to influencing the younger rather than the older generation.
"His interest in his parishioners is not confined to their spiritual welfare, but extends to their material well-being. Of late an association for mutual credit has been founded in the village, and he uses his influence to induce the peasants to take advantage of the benefits it offers, both to those who are in need of a little ready money and to those who might invest their savings, instead of keeping them hidden away in an old stocking or buried in an earthen pot. The proposal to create a local agricultural society meets also with his sympathy."
If the number of parish priests of this type increase, the clergy may come to exercise great moral influence on the common people.