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CHAPTER XI

RUSSIFICATION OF THE CHURCH

Bessarabia, like other parts of the Roumanian territories, had many important convents and monasteries (13 for monks, 7 for nuns), when taken over by the Russians. These establishments, at their best, were not merely religious centers, but also centers of educational activity, particularly as they generally owned great estates. Much land was also owned by monasteries west of the Pruth, and even outside of Roumania. The secular clergy also had great privileges; they were exempt from all state taxes, from the vineyard tag up to 50 vadras of wine (over 160 gallons) for an archpriest and 30 for a priest; from the tax on sheep up to 25 sheep for an archpriest, 15 for a priest; and from the tag on bees, honey being an important Bessarabian product. The boyars were bound to give the clergy free plow-land, enough to sow 11 pounds of grain on; free meadow-land-eight falci (nearly 10 acres) for a priest and 6 for a deacon; and enough pasturage for 16 head of cattle for a priest and 12 for a deacon. They were also free from interference at the hands of either the boyars or the civil authorities.

The first Metropolitan of Bessarabia was a very remarkable man, Gabriel Banulesco-Bodoni (see pp. 68, 71). Born in 1745 at Bistritz in Transylvania, and thus a Roumanian, he studied at Kronstadt (Brashov), Buda-Pesth, Kieff, Mt. Athos, Smyrna and the Isle of Patmos; became a seminary professor and director; then Archbishop of Yecaterinoslav, Metropolitan of Kieff, and in 1808, Metropolitan of Moldavia. He was a most energetic builder; we have seen how he established the Theological Seminary in Kishineff ; he found 750 churches in Bessarabia, and added 200 to the number. He knew his clergy, and though a zealous servant of the Imperial Government, realized that Russification must be a long and slow process; meanwhile the necessary reforms must be accomplished with the use of their native tongue. So in 1813 Gabriel petitioned the Synod for permission to open a Roumanian and Russian printing-establishment in Kishineff. He pointed out that since his transfer from Jassy to Kishineff, he had discovered that both churches and monasteries lacked not merely spiritual books in general, but even the books necessary for divine service; the only Moldavian church printing establishment was in Jassy, and had not been able to meet the demands, so that a large share of the service-books in Bessarabia came from Transylvania, while it was hard to get books from Kieff for the few Russian churches in Bessarabia.

While awaiting permission, he himself translated into Roumanian a prayer-book, a catechism, and two other service-books, and evidently made his business preparations, for the Synod approved his proposal on May 4, 1814, and on the 31st the establishment was already in operation. This church publishing house was of the utmost importance to the inarticulate Roumanian peasantry for the preservation of a national consciousness and their mother-tongue. And the Metropolitan lost no time. In 1815 he brought out his first book-a Liturgy of some 200 pages, well printed, on excellent paper; and others followed at short intervals. Scandalized at the scarcity of copies of the Bible among his clergy, he corresponded with the newly formed Russian Bible Society at St. Petersburg, and at their request, sent them copies of two famous Roumanian versions of the Bible-that printed in 1688 at Bucharest under Sherban Cantacuzene, and that of Blaj (Blasendorf) in Transylvania of 1795recommending that they use the latter. In a letter of Jan. 26, 1816, Prince Golitzin, President of the Society, informs Gabriel that they are using the Blaj Bible, and that Prince Ypsilanti and Counselor Matthew Krupensky are correcting the proof; he wishes however that Gabriel would send him some educated person well versed in Roumanian, to assist, and that Gabriel would himself revise the proof. Gabriel's reply confesses that he has nobody in the eparchy of Kishineff "who really knows Moldavian grammar and spelling, though practically everybody here used both to speak and write Moldavian." So, as he was shocked by the numerous mistakes which the distinguished proofreaders had failed to correct, he undertook personally the revision of the proofs; he did however send up to St. Petersburg, in February 1817, an archimandrite, Varlaam Cuza, educated at the monastery of Dobrovatz in Moldavia, who corrected the Old Testament, the New being already printed.

In 1819 this great Bible was finished; the eparchy of Kishineff gave a copy to every priest on his consecration, while the New Testament was sent to every archpriest, with instructions to have every priest in his district buy one. Gabriel kept insisting at St. Petersburg that the Moldavians should not be " derided and belittled," pointing out that "in hard times, when the French were in the heart of Russia, the Turks along the Danube and the Pruth, when their emigration could not be prevented by force of arms, since, through the treaty with the Porte, the inhabitants were free to go where they wished," they nevertheless remained. In his sermons and addresses to the peasants, he promised them that they would be happy under Russian dominion; and the Czar promised him, in his letter of Apr. 1,1816, that "at the first, temporarily, as an experiment, he would leave the local laws in operation, and send trusted officials to investigate and do away with, evils and abuses."

Thus at the start there was an effort to keep up Roumanian culture among the clergy and their parishioners, side by side with a more powerful effort at Russification by the importation of Russian priests and the installation of Russian seminaries for the Moldavian students. Gabriel's successor, Demetrius Sulima, had worked with him as his vicar from 1811 to 1821, date of Gabriel's death; and through his incumbency of 23 years, he kept up this double function-Russification, together with the preservation, to a certain degree, of Roumanian culture. Irinarkh Popoff, who succeeded him (1844-58), neglected the Moldavian printing-house, and tried by every means to get theological students from Russia, but unsuccessfully; even in 1858, of the 24 archpriests and 879 priests in Bessarabia, only 14 archpriests and 152 priests had had a seminary education; and services were held in Kishineff itself in Roumanian as well as Russian. We even find a priest named Muranevitch complaining to the consistory that the peasants of Comrat did not understand his preaching in Russian, and understood Roumanian better, although they are Bulgarians (Gagaoutz) and talk Turkish. In fact, Roumanian is one of those languages which expand continually at the expense of their neighbors; the Bessarabians have a rhyme illustrating this:

Tata rus', mama rus', Dar Ivan, moldovan.

(Father Russian, mother Russian, but Ivan, the son, is Moldavian.) This explains in part the Russian fear that their peasantry in Bessarabia would be Roumanized. Roumanian has always been a lingua franca in that part of the world-a great advantage for the new country of Greater Roumania, since only about 5% of her population do not talk Roumanian, and every member of the Roumanian Parliament understands it-the only Parliament, perhaps, of the Succession States, where every member of the Parliament understands the language in which the proceedings are carried on! In one of these Parliaments, about one-fifth of the members never have an idea of what is being said in the sessions!

A Bessarabian Country Church

The same tolerant policy was pursued more or less under Irinarkh's successor, Antonius Socotoff (1858-1871) ; but with Paul Lebedeff (1871-882) begins a period of violent Russification. In 1874, the old exemption from service in the Russian army, a Bessarabian privilege from the start, was removed; schools and civil administration cast out Roumanian altogether; and Lebedeff attacked the monasteries, where Roumanian services had been peacefully going on all this time. He installed Russian schools in the monasteries, replaced Moldavian superiors and priests with Russians, and in 1872 was able to boast that all church records were being kept in Russian alone. When, in 1878, lower Bessarabia, which had been returned to Roumania after the Crimean War, again became Russian, he set a limit of two years within which the Roumanian priests must learn Russian or leave. He was promoted to be Egarch of Georgia, where his employment of the same energetic measures of Russification led to an uprising in which one of his proteges, Rector Tchiudetzky of the Tiflis Seminary (his former Inspector of the Kishineff Seminary) was killed; and the Imperial Government sent him off to Kazan. As a result of his closing Moldavian churches in Bessarabia, for which no Russian priests could be found, 340 Bessarabian churches remained without spiritual heads.

The church printing establishment had been closed since 1882. But Russian made little headway among the great mass of the Bessarabian people. The children who learned a little in the schools-and few had the chance to go to school-speedily forget it.

A favorite -story illustrating this, tells of a Ruthenian priest in a Moldavian village, who discovered, after commencing the service, that he had forgotten his prayer-book. He could quote the prayers by heart, in the Church Slav, but not the gospels. Undismayed, he repeated from memory in their place a famous poem of the Ruthenian poet Kevchenko, "Dumi moi, dumi," (thoughts, my thoughts), to the entire satisfaction of his hearers, who understood not a word, either of the Church Slav or any dialect of Russian.

Bishop Lebedeff made one significant commentary, in the course of a tour of inspection: " Priest N., 37 years old, is a graduate of the Seminary, but he has so degenerated in his Moldavian parish that his Russian is already atrocious." And by the time of Bishop Jacob Pyatnitzky (1898-1904), the situation had changed so little that he wrote the Holy Synod on March 23, 1900: "In many parishes of Bessarabia the orthodox population is composed mainly, often exclusively, of Moldavians, who know only Moldavian and do not understand in the least Church Slavonic or Russian, even in the conversational form. Russian religious literature, in the shape of leaflets and brochures, is altogether inaccessible to these people. But the Moldavians also are thirsty for religious instruction, for Christian counsel and comfort through the printed word. The need of Moldavian literature with which to satisfy the thirst of the orthodox Moldavians, is great. It is true that there are, Moldavian books available, printed over the border in Roumania. But the language of these editions differs somewhat from the language spoken by the Moldavians in Bessarabia, and besides, they are printed with Latin characters, impossible or hard for readers here to decipher." In view of this, the Synod granted him permission to reopen the church printing establishment for such edifying literature, in Roumanian with parallel Russian teat, and without; and in 1905, the Synod permitted the new Bishop, Vladimir Sinkovsky, to print Roumanian gospels, psalters and other works-in the Cyrillic characters, of course, abandoned over a generation before in Roumania proper.

With the Russian Revolution of 1905, Bessarabia also breathed more freely; and on Oct. 20, 1906, in the presence of Governor-General Kharuzin and two Russian. Bishops, there was inaugurated a new Moldavian church printing establishment in Kishineff. But a wave of reaction followed the Revolution; and the new Bishop, Seraphim Tchitchagoff, a former army officer, at once (1908) set out to crush the renewed use of Roumanian. In 1912, Seraphim made an interesting report on the situation, connecting the use of Roumanian in the churches with the political separatist movement, which he considers headed by the Jews of Kishineff, who wish union with Roumania. Among the Moldavians, he says, this movement `comes from their fear of losing their language and their church singing, and secondly, from the realization by the priests that the people still do not know Russian at all; the schools have turned out an insignificant percentage of pupils who are able to read Russian; the great mass of the inhabitants do not understand the Church Slavonic. For that reason when the service was carried on in Slavonic, the Moldavians attended church without comprehending; then they began to lose the habit of going to church, and finally they have completely ceased developing religiously, and have begun to degenerate into vice and superstition."

Seraphim had to combat this latter, in the extraordinary movement headed by a Moldavian monk (John Tzurcan, from near Soroca) named Innocent (Inochentie). He was an arch-monk in a monastery at Balta (till recently, capital of the Soviet Moldavian Republic, in the Ukraine), and his powerful religious harangues to the peasantry in their mother-tongue were supplemented by what they believed to be a miraculous power of healing disease. His fame spread through the Roumanian peasantry of Bessarabia, Podolia and Cherson, and Balta became in 1910-11 a Moldavian Lourdes, with shelters on every side for the invalids brought for his ministrations. At first his monastic superiors encouraged him; but then the government became alarmed at the Moldavian character of the enormous crowds which gathered around him. He was transferred to a monastery north of St. Petersburg; but hundreds of peasants in Bessarabia sold their belongings and went up there to be with Innocent. He was again transferred, this time to a monastery on an island on the White Sea, from which, after the Revolution, he returned to Balta, where he died in 1920. But the "Innocentist Movement" still persists in Bessarabia, having fallen into the hands of charlatans who persuade the peasantry to sell their effects and prepare for the approaching end of the world; one such "pastor" was arrested in April 1926, just after consecrating a new meeting-house at Budeshti, near Kishineff.

We have an interesting diagnosis of this movement from the pen of a well-known nerve specialist, Dr. Yacovenco, in which he paints the conditions in Cherson, Podolia and Bessarabia which encouraged the rapid spread of Innocentism (Innokentievshtchina): "The abuse of liquor and poor food on the one hand, spiritual darkness and the low level of intellectual and moral development on the other, taken together, produce a weakening of the organism, an exaggerated irritability of the nervous system, and such instability that when powerful new exciting factors operate, there arises a nervous disease . . . . We are forced to point out the slight intellectual development of the Moldavians, their proneness to superstition, and their lack of schools .... In great overgrown villages of 10-15,000 people, there are only one or two schools, and those in Russian, whereas the Moldavians do not mingle with the Russians, and do not know the Russian language. In their ignorance they are very credulous, and take as gospel all they hear, and particularly what comes to them from the church and in their own language. The passionate addresses of the Moldavian arch-monk pierce deep into their spirits; they come at his call to purify their souls through prayer and fasting."

After this portrayal, the reader will realize with what enthusiasm the Kishineff Theological Seminary was reopened, on November 8, 1926, as a Roumanian educational institution. It began with 454 students, of whom 19 were women.

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