The clerical estate (soslovie) of late Imperial Russia was legally segregated from the rest of the population, subject to separate systems of education, justice, taxation, and access to employment. The state permitted participation in free associations within the clerical soslovie in order to encourage the practice of mutual aid among clergymen and their families. By the late nineteenth century, the parish clergy had begun to use these mutual-aid associations to provide education, charity, and disaster relief to the non-clerical communities on which they and their families depended for tithes. By using their own mutual-aid networks as tools of pastoral work, the parish clergy expanded those networks, in terms of both beneficiaries and participants, beyond the limits of the clerical soslovie. Key reforms of the diocesan structure in 1905 both loosened central control over the clerical networks and authorized the direct participation of non-clergy in their work. The associations of the parish clergy thus obtained unprecedented independence and social integration at the moment when they were confronted with the humanitarian disaster of 1905. Focusing on the dioceses of Moscow and Tver, this article examines the parish clergy’s use of their own soslovie networks to provide famine relief to fellow clerics and the general population between 1905 and 1909. This famine relief campaign demonstrated the independence and initiative of voluntary associations in late Imperial Russia. It also revealed the potential for cooperation and social integration among seemingly disparate communities, even within the divisive framework of the soslovie system.
Gregory Freeze, The Parish Clergy in Nineteenth-Century Russia: Crisis, Reform, Counter-Reform (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983), 146; Gregory Freeze, The Russian Levites: Parish Clergy in the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1977), 210.
In1903, there were 105,962 parish clergymen employed throughout the empire, and 4,904 retired. Combined with the female and non-ordained members of the clerical soslovie, this figure would comprise less than 2% of the population that had reached about 126,367,000 by 1897. See: Vsepoddanneishii otchet Ober-prokurora Sviateishago Sinoda po vedomstvu Pravoslavnago ispovedaniia za 1903–1904 gody (St. Petersburg: n.p., 1909), 24–27; B.R. Mitchell, ed., European Historical Statistics, 1750–1975, 2nd ed. (New York: Facts on File, 1980), 33.