Russia and the Holy Land
Orthodox Missions in Palestine
The Pilgrimages and Journeys
The first pilgrimage to the Holy City of Jerusalem dates to the very early period of Russian Christianity. The initiator of holy pilgrimage was hegumen Daniil, who visited “the Holy Sepulchre” at the dawn of the 12th century. Many people – commoners and clergymen, the wealthy and the poor, the educated and the uneducated – joined one of the numerous journeys to the Holy Land. Their numbers steadily increased, reaching a peak at the end of the nineteenth century. The sacred journeys to Palestine (
khozhdeniia) were led by, among others, hegumen Daniil (1104- 1107), Archimandrite Agrephenii (1470s), Ignathii Smol’nianin (late 1400s), Hierodeacon Zosima from the Troitse-Sergiev monastery (1419-1422), the celibate priest Varsonophii (1456, 1461-1462), and V.G. Grigorovich- Barskii (1723-1747). As a consequence of the frequent religious trips, the center of Slavic culture was formed in the Laura of the Reverend Sabba the Blessed (†532) near Jerusalem. Later, it became the main departure point for Russians setting off on a pilgrimage through the Holy Land.
The Russian pilgrims describe in their accounts the trip itself, their impressions, the Holy Places, the Christian monuments, the divine service, the nature of Palestine, and the economic activities of the people, as well as the biblical and apocryphal legends, and the political events they witnessed. Readings of the
khozhdeniia accounts were very popular among the people, and played an important role in spreading knowledge about, for example, religion, geography, ethnography, and history. The famous
Zhitie i Khozhdenie (“Life and Journey”) by Daniil is the first of the writings in this genre. Many copies have survived and it has been translated into several foreign languages. It stands out among the descriptions of that time for its accuracy, detail, and brilliant literary merit, and served as an example for subsequent writings. In due course,
khozhdeniia acquired a more pragmatic character, as a result of a new type of traveler who had both commercial and diplomatic aims (Triphon Korobeinikov, Vasilii Pozniakov, Vasilii Gagara, Arsenii Sukhanov, Iona Malen’kii, etc.). In the nineteenth/early twentieth centuries, the research journeys were rather frequent: the Holy Land had become a destination for secular tourists. Accounts of journeys to the Holy Land were left by famous explorers of the Orient, writers, and statesmen, such as D.V. Dashkov, A.N. Murav’ev, A.S. Norov, V.K. Kaminskii, A. Dmitrievskii, and A.A. Vasil’ev.
The pilgrims’ descriptions of the Holy Land and the travelers’ accounts are the most important historical source for the studies of the spiritual life of the Russian people, and of the cultural ties between Russia and the Near East, the historical geography of Palestine and Jerusalem, and church archaeology.
Religious Component of State Ideology
The Russian land, united under the power of Moscow, had a religious symbolic image of itself as a new incarnation of the Christian Kingdom, the extension of the Roman and the Byzantine empires, and Moscow as the Third Rome after the fall of Constantinople. Transforming Russia into the center of the Orthodox world became Russian state policy after the Romanov dynasty came to the throne. In the middle of the seventeenth century, the aspiration to form a unified ecclesiastic space for the whole Orthodox world led to the reforms of Patriarch Nikon, during which the differences between the religious rites of the Greek and of the Russian Church were eliminated. Nikon sent the monk and scribe Arsenii Sukhanov to Mount Athos and Palestine to obtain old Greek manuscripts, he corrected the divine service books, and in 1656 he founded the New Jerusalem monastery on the banks of the Istra river as the symbolic and architectural duplicate of the Holy City.
During the reign of Catherine II (1762-1796), the “Greek” theme became the main priority of Russian foreign policy. Such policy had always had a certain ideological content: the countries of Oriental Christianity were perceived by the Russian Empire as an extension of its own world, and therefore they needed its protection and patronage. This matter became especially tense in the nineteenth century, when the conflict over the patronage of the Holy places was one of the main factors which led to the outbreak of the Crimean war.
In 1858, a separate Russian Consulate was established in Jerusalem. The Palestine Committee (1859-1864), which was headed by Grand Duke Constantine Nikolaevich, was established to receive donations and to help pilgrims. In 1864, the Committee was replaced by the Palestine Commission, which was attached to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and whose remit was to improve the life of pilgrims.
This collection provides the opportunity to study in great detail both the intellectual sources of the emerging state ideology and the centuries-old history of the religious-ethnic selfidentification of the Russians of very different social strata – the common people, the clergy, state officials, and scholars – as well their attitudes toward the problem of the Orthodoxy in the Orient.
The Russian Ecclesiastical Mission
In 1847, six centuries after the “discovery” of the Holy Land, the Holy Synod decided to send the first Russian Ecclesiastical Mission to Jerusalem. In the middle of the nineteenth century, the official Mission in Palestine became part of the state policy of Russia. Its purpose was to offer Russian pilgrims spiritual supervision, provide assistance, and sponsor charitable and educational work among the Orthodox Arab population of Palestine and Syria, and to carry out the divine service in Church Slavonic. The Mission was guided by Archimandrite (later Bishop) Porfirii (Uspenskii), the outstanding scholar, archaeologist, and traveler. Bishop Porfirii was the first in a long line of most distinguished monks-presbyters, who were famous not only for their excellent education and ability to combine church service with academic work, but also for their ability to honorably serve Russia’s interests in the Middle East. Among the successors of Bishop Porfirii were such outstanding personalities as Bishop Kyril (Naumov), a famous theologian and Rector of the Ecclesiastic Academy in Kiev, Archimandrites Leonid (Kavelin) and Anthonin (Kapustin), who contributed to the Byzantine and who Paleoslavonic studies, Archimandrite Cyprian (Kern), patrologist and pastorologist and Metropolitan Nikodemos (Rotov). All of them left an abundance of materials on, and about the study of, the history and the antiquities of the Holy Land. The Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem functioned until the 1917 Revolution, when its activities were suspended.
The results of the missionary activities were appreciable: lots of land was bought, and many temples, monasteries, hotels for pilgrims, and educational and medical institutions were built. At the same time, the Mission promoted the spread of education among the local Arab inhabitants, and established a network of Russian schools. To list but a few of Father Antonin’s achievements: purchases of land in Hebron (including the
Oak of Mambre), the summit of the Mount of Olives, property in Jaffa, gardens in Jericho, and a plot of land in Tiberias on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, Under his supervision, churches were built in Jaffa, on the Mount of Olives, in Ein- Karem, and in Gethsemane. He was also actively involved in the excavations that uncovered the
Threshold of Judgement Gate. By the eve of the First World War, there was a considerable amount of Russian property in Palestine: eleven churches, seventeen hotels, seven monasteries, a hotel in Jerusalem, four out-patients’ clinics, etc. The Russian church in Jerusalem was the largest piece of property in the town. Since 1856 the transportation of pilgrims to the Holy Land, and their settlement there, had been effected by the Russian Society of Steam Navigation and Trade (
Russkoe obshchestvo parohodstva i torgovli, ROPIT).
This collection deals with the activities of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem, and with the history of its relations with other government and private institutions and organizations. It includes official and reference editions, the research and religious works of the heads of the missions, and biographical material.
The Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society
The Orthodox Palestine Society (later, the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society;
Imperatorskoe Pravoslavnoe Palestinskoe Obshchestvo, IPPO) was established in 1882. It was chaired by Zhivopisnye vidy Sviatykh miest Palestiny. S.-Peterburg, 1853. Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich until his assassination by terrorists in 1905, when his widow Elizaveta Fedorovna took over. Its foundation was the result of the efforts of one man, Vasilii Nikolaevich Khitrovo (1834-1903), nobleman and ministerial official. The idea of establishing the Society had come to Khitrovo during his first visit to Palestine as a pilgrim. He was so stirred by the deplorable living conditions of Russian pilgrims and the dismal state of the local Orthodox inhabitants, that he devoted the rest of his life to strengthening the Orthodoxy positions in the Near East. Khitrovo published many articles and reviews on the Palestine studies and on the problems associated with the Society’s activities. The aim of the Society was to promote the Russian pilgrimage, to strengthen the Orthodoxy among the local inhabitants, and to study the country, its antiquities, and its sacred places. The Society was the most important instrument of Russian cultural policy in the Near East. Although it was subsidized by the government, its main income came from donations received in churches and cemeteries, and from contributions from members of the royal family and individual patrons. The Society had its own eparchial departments, and carried out an enormous amount of educational and humanitarian work. The Orthodox Arabs received free medical aid in hospitals and outpatients’ clinics in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Nazareth. Graduates from Russian schools formed the nucleus of the rising group of Arab intellectuals. After the 1917 Revolution, the Palestine Society became a research institution.
This collection includes numerous sources on the history of the Society as well as biographical material on its officials, in particular V.N. Khitrovo. It contains all the Society’s editions:
Pravoslavnii Palestinskii sbornik,
Chteniia o Sviatoi Zemle,
The Beginning of Academic Studies of the Holy Land
The original Russian schools of Oriental and Byzantine studies were founded in the second half of the nineteenth century. Representatives of such were active members of the IPPO, of the
Obschestvo Lubitelei drebnei pis’mennosti (Society of Ancient Written Language Lovers), and of other research institutions. The heads of the ecclesiastical missions, starting with father Porphirii (Uspenskii), willingly engaged in biblical archaeology. Researchers focused special attention on the collections of medieval manuscripts of the Athos monasteries in Greece, the cloistral collections in Palestine, the collections of manuscripts in Constantinople, and especially those of the Sinay cloister of Saint Catherine. Among the researchers of the treasuries of manuscripts were Archimandrite Porphirii (Uspenskii) – who had the honor of discovering the famous
Sinay Codex of the Bible – and such outstanding Russian scholars as A.S. Norov, A.Kh. Vostokov, N.F. Krasnosel’tsev, and A.A. Dmitrievskii. The research heritage of the Society was realized in 63 editions of
Pravoslavniy Palestinskiy Sbornik (PPS), published in 1881-1917; they are represented with exhaustive completeness in this collection. Both the research works, which are dedicated to the history and the culture of the peoples of the Near East, and the historical sources and the literary monuments were published in the PPS editions. The history of the Orthodox divine service and liturgics was a special theme of research. Besides the research works, this series consists of Greek, Slavonic, Georgian, and Latin descriptions of Palestine, descriptions of Christian sacred places in Palestine, Russian and foreign
khozhdeniia, hagiography, and so on.
Images of the Holy Land
The reconstruction of images of the Holy Land in Russian architecture that flourished in the 17th century is a characteristic feature of the cultural heritage of the Orthodox Mission in Palestine. Patriarch Nikon (†1681) created a replica of Jerusalem and its surroundings (known from Evangelic texts), which was situated near Moscow on the banks of the Istra river. This replica was a symbol of the most successful attempts to embody the reminiscences of biblical events. The dimensions, structure, and layout of the Voskresenskii cathedral, which was in the center of the monastery, resembled those of the Temple of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The city of Sinay was the source of numerous artefacts, descriptions of which entered the paleographic history of Greece and the Holy Land. The illustrated manuscripts of monastic libraries in Palestine and Sinay were studied by A.S. Norov, A.Kh. Vostokov, N.F. Krasnoseltsev, A.A. Dmitrievskii, and V.N. Beneshevich.
The National Library of Russia
The National Library of Russia was established at the end of the 18th century. Today, it is one of the biggest libraries in the world: it possesses over 30 million items. The National Library of Russia occupies ten large buildings in St. Petersburg. It is more than just a library: it is a cultural center with concert halls, information centers, and its own publishing house.
The library is famous for its collections of liturgical writings and descriptions of numerous sacred journeys, which were published by the Orthodox Palestine Society, ecclesiastic academies, and many private publishers in Russia. “Russia and the Holy Land” is part of a vast collection of the National Library of Russia. It contains monographs, periodicals, maps, and illustrations. Among the monographs are biographies, bibliographies, and religious, political, economic, archaeological, geographic materials related to the Russian Missions in the Holy Land.