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The Politics of Religion

Kizenko, Nadieszda

Twentieth and 21st century Eastern Christianity in the United States has faced several challenges that reflect broader patterns in American history, Russian history, immigrant and global history. From the first arrival of Russian Orthodox clerics to Alaska in 1794, the Orthodox Church in North America had been fundamentally an immigrant community served by bishops and priests sent from Russia. In 1905, however, signaling a new appreciation of the permanent presence of Russophone Eastern Christians in America, Archbishop Tikhon (Beliavin, later the martyred Patriarch of Moscow) decided to establish a permanent seminary here. This move was prescient. The Russian Revolutions of 1917 inaugurated a crisis and a turning point for Russian-speaking Eastern Christians in America. On the one hand, Eastern Christians in America lost material support from Russia and were divided in their assessments on a number of issues: their further relation with the persecuted and compromised Orthodox Church in Russia, the language of religious services and publications, and the Julian Church calendar. Russian-speaking Eastern Rite Catholics were similarly divided on the policies of the Vatican. On the other hand, the numbers of Russian-speaking Eastern Christian refugees escalated. All this, combined with the hostility of the American government towards the communist Soviet Union, created a situation that grew even sharper and richer after World War II, with the arrival from Europe of so-called 'Second Wave' émigrés, including renowned Russophone scholars, clerics, and theologians. Each ‘wave’ of Russophone immigrants, including the so-called 'Third' (primarily Jewish) and Fourth, has brought a new assessment of religion in both public and private spheres, new attitudes toward language and culture, new opportunities to maintain contacts with Russia and Russian speakers in the former Soviet Union, and new opportunities to convert from one religion to another. The plurality of religious positions among Russian speakers in America has allowed for a diversity of educational institutions (including St. Vladimir's Seminary, Holy Trinity Seminary, and St. Tikhon's Orthodox Seminary), monasteries, and jurisdictions (including the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, the Orthodox Church in America, and the Moscow Patriarchate). The changed political and economic situation in Russia has created opportunities for 'reverse' emigration, with native-born Americans returning to the land of their Russophone ancestors. The story of Russian-speaking Eastern Christians in 20th and 21st Century America is thus no less than a microcosm of both modern American—and modern Russian—history.

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Academic Units
Harriman Institute
Published Here
September 20, 2013
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