Turgenev described the feverish atmosphere in St. Petersburg just after the Emancipation of the serfs in 1861, when the intelligentsia debated the future of the traditional peasant communes: Should they be abolished as the remnants of a primitive economy, or preserved as the repositories of the Russian soul? Slavophiles and Westernizers, radicals and conservatives, Turgenev wrote, “whirl before one’s eyes like figures in a danse macabre, while below them, in the dark background of the picture, lurks a sphinx—the Russian people.”

One hundred and thirty years later a similar ideological clamor attended the liberation of the peasants from the serfdom of the Communist collective farms set up after the Revolution. Reformers urged them to seize the chance to become independent farmers, while old Communists and neo-Slavophiles lamented the destruction of the Russian communitarian spirit by the poison of selfish Western individualism. The arguments of both sides have met with a deafening silence from the Russian villages, whose sullen resistance to the reforms fits no ideological stereotype. As at earlier points of crisis in its history, Russia seems divided into two mutually hostile and uncomprehending worlds.

The westernization that Peter the Great forced on his country in the early eighteenth century sundered Russian society in a way that had no parallel in Europe. The old Muscovite hierarchies were replaced by a Table of Ranks in the army, the state service, and the court. The culture of this new meritocracy had no impact on the peasantry who made up most of the population. They showed their displeasure with landlords and officials by killing them in periodic rampages (the fearsome Russian bunt), looting and burning estates. The more intensely religious among them were drawn to the sects and the Old Believers, who saw Peter’s cutting off of beards and his other innovations as a sign that Antichrist had taken charge of the world. Most continued to live peaceably within their mir (the word means both “commune” and “world”).

The commune, the universal form of peasant land tenure in central Russia until the early twentieth century, ensured its members’ security by allotting each adult one strip of arable land on which to support himself while meeting his obligations to the landlord. Peasant dress—a long linen shirt tied at the waist, linen trousers, boots of bark or felt, and a sheepskin coat—was a relatively rare sight outside the communes; when the Slavophile Konstantin Aksakov took to wearing an antiquated version of it in Moscow in the 1840s in order to parade his national roots, he was reportedly taken for a Persian. It became recognized as a badge of true Russianness only when adopted (also for ideological reasons) by Tolstoy.

The peasants bore the cost of Peter’s reforms while reaping none of the rewards. Attainment of a certain rank in the Table automatically conferred noble status, including the right to own land worked by serf labor. When in the mid-eighteenth century the nobility were freed from the obligation to serve the state, many retired to a life of leisure in the countryside, surrounded by a compliant work force which could be made to cater to their every need: some landlords, for example, maintained regular harems on their estates. As well as serfs trained as cooks, carpenters, and tailors, the grander estates had their own serf orchestras and theater troupes.

The last census taken before the Emancipation of 1861 showed that serfs—i.e., peasants bonded to private landlords as opposed to those bound to state land—comprised up to 70 percent of peasants in Russia’s central and western provinces. From the serf economy arose a rich aristocratic culture; among its last fruits were the works of the nineteenth-century writers whose love of the Russian countryside was fostered by life in “gentry nests,” such as Pushkin’s Mikhailovskoye, Tolstoy’s Yasnaya Polyana, and Turgenev’s Spasskoye. But as the Marquis de Custine observed amid the magnificence of nineteenth-century Petersburg, this was largely a culture of façades, without roots in history or the Russian soil, an apparent order thrown like a veil over Asiatic barbarism.

Barbarity was never far from the surface on the rural estates, where serfs were often, in practice if not in law, their landlords’ slaves. Few landlords may have been monsters, but those who were seldom had to pay for their crimes. The archives of Tsarist Russia contain many real-life horror stories that rival the one told by Ivan Karamazov to his brother Alyosha, in which a general punishes a serf child who had lamed one of his hunting dogs by having the boy torn to pieces by the pack in front of his mother.

From the late eighteenth century there was mounting moral protest against serfdom from the educated elite, but the decisive reason for its abolition in 1861 seems to have been the government’s perception that human bondage was incompatible with Russia’s claim to be a great European power. Under the emancipation edict each peasant got a land allotment to be paid for in installments, but though freed from the landlords, peasants were not given the right to move from their communes. They remained separate from the rest of the population, without full civil rights and (from 1889) under the authority of land captains chosen by the bureaucracy from among local landlords.


Plunged into debt by redemption payments for their land and new taxes, most peasants by the end of the century were worse off than under serfdom. The commune’s method of periodically repartitioning its members’ land according to need gave them a degree of security but was not conducive to individual enterprise. The government preferred to pour money into industrialization rather than modernizing agriculture, and few landowners possessed the necessary skills to farm their estates efficiently without an unpaid labor force. In 1891-1892 crop failures brought calamitous famines in Central Russia. Desperation in the communes led to a wave of uprisings, beginning in 1902 and peaking during the chaos of the revolution of 1905-1906, when the peasants burned manor houses and seized landlords’ property with a savagery reminiscent of the terrible revolts led by Stenka Razin in the seventeenth century and by Emilian Pugachev in the eighteenth.

When order was restored the government made a serious attempt at agrarian reform, annulling the peasants’ outstanding debt and using loans to encourage them to leave the communes and set up as independent farmers. But this attempt to give them a stake in the state came too late. After the abdication of Nicolas II in February 1917, violence rose again in the countryside. The Bolsheviks urged the peasants to seize the land, and in October rose to power on their support.

“God save us from the Russian bunt, devoid of sense or mercy,” wrote Pushkin. Unlike their French or German counterparts, who were a conservative and stabilizing force, the Russian peasants were anarchic and unpredictable, equally prone to turn against their immediate oppressors and against their self-appointed champions, such as those nineteenth-century populist propagandists who went into the countryside with their slogan “land and freedom” and were handed over to the police by suspicious villagers.

Faced with this threatening enigma, the other groups in Russian society sought to construct their own reassuring images of the peasantry. The government stressed the devotion of the peasants to the Orthodox religion and to the tsar (whom the peasants idealized as a distant father, on their side against the landlords), while many intellectuals, who felt (in the words of the philosopher Pyotr Chaadaev) that their culture based on borrowings from the West had made them “lost souls,” turned to the customs and beliefs of the common people in search of their national roots. What they found coincided neatly with their ideological preconceptions. The Slavophiles (and, later, Dostoevsky) saw the village commune as a model for universal human fellowship, based on religious faith and attachment to traditional values. Radical populists praised the socialist potential of the commune, while deploring the peasants’ religious superstition. Bakunin lauded the bunt as anarchism in its purest form, while Tolstoy rated the peasants’ instinctive wisdom higher than all forms of intellectual endeavor.

The landowner Konstantin Levin in Anna Karenina ceases to battle against his peasants’ ways of working when he realizes that, unlike his efforts to force them to follow rational methods, their habits were in harmony with the “natural order of things.”

Few educated Russians were prepared to admit that the peasant mentality remained a mystery for them, like the hero of Turgenev’s story “Hamlet of Shchigry District,” the impoverished landowner from the Russian steppes who has found none of his Western education of the slightest use in helping him make sense of his surroundings: “I should have been delighted to take lessons from the Russian way of life, but it will not speak to me.”

In Russia’s post-Soviet identity crisis, much stress is being given to the necessity of recovering those aspects of the pre-revolutionary past that were suppressed or distorted by Communist ideology; but frequently this process amounts to no more than a reformulation of the myths constructed by earlier generations in their search for roots. The memoirs of émigrés republished in Russia are helping to fuel this nostalgia for an idealized past but, despite its title, Serge Schmemann’s engrossing reconstruction of life in a Russian village from the age of serfdom to the fall of communism is unlikely to find favor among such nostalgic readers. For here is a book where the peasants speak for themselves, and their assembled testimonies help to explain why so many Russian intellectuals have preferred to concoct their own, more comforting, version of the people’s wisdom.


Schmemann’s family background reflects the duality of Russian culture and national identity. On his father’s side he is descended from the bureaucrats of German origin who dominated the court at Petersburg from the time of Peter the Great. His mother’s ancestors belonged to the part of the Moscow nobility that embraced the romantic conservatism of the Slavophiles (they were related by marriage to one of its leading families, the Samarins). His family moved from France to the US when he was a child, and in the course of a distinguished journalistic career he served twice as Moscow correspondent for The New York Times. On his first tour in the early 1980s, he began attempting to locate the estate, set in a typical northern Russian landscape of birch forests and winding rivers, that had belonged to his mother’s family, the Osorgins, from the 1840s to the Revolution. But its name—Sergiyevskoye—had vanished from the maps, and as a foreigner Schmemann had to apply for permission to visit the region, which was repeatedly refused.

It was only on a private visit to Russia in the twilight of Communist rule that he located a village called Koltsovo, ninety miles south of Moscow and near the city of Kaluga, that had been part of the family property and was now, with the surrounding land, a Soviet collective farm (kolkhoz). On his second tour as correspondent in Moscow, between 1991 and 1995, Schmemann went regularly to Koltsovo, coming to know the inhabitants and even buying a log house there. As a result of interviews he gave about Sergiyevskoye on Russian television and in the press, people began seeking him out to share memories of the village or direct him to relevant archives. “Everywhere I encountered the same fascination, the same longing to reclaim the past.”

Schmemann’s own nostalgia for the Russian past does not lead him to romanticize it. He cites a perceptive tsarist bureaucrat: “The distinctive poesy of estate culture—a pungent blend of European refinement and purely Asiatic despotism—was feasible only in an epoch of slavery.” The recorded history of his family’s estate starts with its purchase in 1775 by a Major General Kar, in local legend a cruel monster who was killed by enraged peasants. The manor house he built, designed by English architects, was a fitting palace for a country of façades. Photographs show it to have been a magnificent mansion with two broad wings ending in round towers, but Schmemann notes that much of the second and the entire third floor of the main block were never finished or used.

The Osorgins, who acquired it in 1843, exemplified the paradoxes of the Russian gentry. Deeply conservative and patriotic, devoted to the Orthodox religion and disdainful of the “Germans” at the Petersburg court, they spoke French at home, and acquired their patriarchal status over eight villages and more than six hundred serfs through a sale made on a whim during a card game in Moscow’s exclusive English Club. Their wealth declined sharply after the Emancipation, and Mikhail Mikhailovich Osorgin, the head of the family in the last decades before the Revolution, was forced like many of his caste to take up a career in the civil service in order to make ends meet. He retired to Sergiyevskoye at the end of 1905, proud that, even though a neighboring estate had been burned by the peasants that year, he had not followed other landowners to the safety of the cities. His attitude to his peasants was deeply paternalistic: he set up a parish school for their children and often substituted for the priest as their teacher. Religious observance had a central part in life on the estate. All worshiped together daily in its magnificent church (built by the widow Kar in expiation, it was rumored, for her husband’s sins) and the passing of the seasons was marked by religious festivals.

Here, it would appear, was the patriarchal idyll whose memory has been kept alive by so many émigrés. But nothing was what it seemed in this empire of façades. Mikhail Mikhailovich’s memoirs (discovered by Schmemann in the archives of Moscow’s Lenin Library) reveal him as a “superfluous man” of a type familiar from Russian literature, reduced to ineffectiveness by the discovery that his values could not be reconciled with the realities of a despotic system. He was appointed governor of Tula in 1905 in the midst of the country-wide strikes, assassinations, and uprisings to which the government reacted with a mixture of savagery and indecisiveness.

On seeing the vicious faces of a troop of Cossacks as they moved to disperse a crowd of rioting youths with their whips, he ordered them to retreat, and from that moment understood that his sense of humanity was a fatal impediment to a career in the tsar’s service. “I lost the ground under my feet, and my faith in myself. All my feelings were ambivalent.” He was drawn to the idealism of the leftists, but their demands horrified him as much as the self-serving narrowness of the bureaucracy. At the end of the year he offered his resignation, which was promptly accepted. The only group sorry to see him go were the Jews of Tula, whose leaders informed him that in the absence of his moral authority a pogrom was now inevitable. He retired with the title of Chamberlain of the Court—awarded not for his courage in keeping the peace in riot-torn cities but for his part in organizing a royal hunt.

Like many others alienated from official Russia, Mikhail Mikhailovich found consolation in the countryside and the native virtues of the peasants, whom he once described in an address to the local land captains as simple, guileless, and trusting people, who “love their tsar with a selfless love, as children love their father.” Secure in their idyllic vision of the peasantry, the Osorgins showed very little interest in the reality of the lives around them. Reestablished on the estate, the family with its seven children retained close social and intellectual links with Moscow, where the two elder sons attended university, while leading a rich cultural life at Sergiyevskoye that included musical recitals and amateur theatricals. Visitors from Moscow tended to be amazed at the sophistication of their Osorgin country cousins. Meanwhile in the surrounding fields, illiterate peasants were reaping with sickles and threshing with flails, scratching a bare subsistence from the soil. Only half of them had iron plows; the “three-field” system of crop rotation, abandoned in England after the Middle Ages, was the norm, leaving a full third of the land always out of production (the corresponding ratio in Germany was one sixteenth, and in England one forty-eighth).

Schmemann observes that while the Osorgins prided themselves on their close paternal relations with “their people,” they seem to have had no real idea of the squalor and poverty in which these people lived. Irina Denisova, who grew up on the estate and whom Schmemann interviewed on his first visit to Koltsovo, recalled how she and other village girls had marveled at the lovely dresses of the young ladies as they rode to church, and at the toys that were found in the house when the family was evicted in 1918. The youngest of ten children, she recalls living in a house with an earthen floor, filled with black smoke because the family was too poor to have the chimney fixed; many of the children died young.

Her recollections coincide in many details with a memoir written in the 1960s by Vasily Bocharov, the eldest of nine from a peasant family in the same region. Quoted by Schmemann, Bocharov wrote:

Our daily life was one of systematic shortages of food and occasional famine. Our old, small house was sunk up to its windows in mud because of its age and the weight of its many inhabitants (in winter they included goats, cows, and pigs). Half of it was taken up by the Russian stove and by benches and pens for young animals. We had no permanent place to sleep, only sacks of straw. Grandpa Daniil wheezed, and the stench of old harness, tanned skins, and tar filled the hut. The horribly heavy air and the systematic shortage of food undermined the health of both children and adults. Pale, with swollen stomachs, skinny arms and legs, in torn caftans, we emerged in early spring to gulp fresh air and bake in the sun.

Bocharov was one of the beneficiaries of the literacy drive launched by the Bolsheviks in the 1920s that finally broke the silence in which so many Russian intellectuals had claimed to read a message coinciding with their own spiritual quest: a serene communal wisdom in harmony with natural processes, Orthodox theology, or socialist togetherness. The accounts of newly literate peasants in the Twenties testify to a single overwhelming urge: to escape the bondage and misery of their parents, and with moving unanimity they claim to have found an undreamed-of fulfillment in knowledge and education, a benefit that they owed to the Bolsheviks, and not to the well-intentioned efforts of tsarist parish schools.

Bocharov recalls that the desperate circumstances of his family had led him to think only about escaping poverty, not about studying: hence he secretly became a cobbler’s apprentice, until his father forced him to return to school. It was only “the great October Revolution and the party of Lenin” that gave him a chance, unthinkable for his parents, to qualify as an elementary school teacher. As Schmemann observes, in its first years the Soviet regime appeared to the peasantry not (as portrayed by some historians) as a new yoke to which they passively submitted, but as a genuine liberation: the Bolsheviks’ promise to free peasants from landlords, merchants, and the state awoke new dreams in people accustomed to being regarded as property, cannon fodder, or, at best, children.

The consolidation of communism in Sergiyevskoye followed the same sequence that was repeated throughout the Russian countryside. At the beginning of 1918 a “committee” of peasants moved into the Osorgin house and took charge of their lands. In the autumn the local Communists evicted the family. They moved to Moscow, emigrating to France in 1931 after one of their sons was executed by the Bolsheviks. Many of the peasants had wept to see them leave the village: Mikhail Mikhailovich had been a good landlord by Russian standards, and his moral influence survived the revolution. His school, enlarged with bricks from the old manor house that burned down in 1923, functioned throughout the 1920s as a teachers’ training college, one of the first centers to prepare teachers for the campaigns against illiteracy.

Drawing mainly on youth from the surrounding villages, it produced unusually idealistic and committed Communists. In 1967 an alumni reunion was held in the former school, which after a period as an orphanage had been turned into a “rest base” for workers from the Kaluga turbine factory. The occasion inspired a local woman and devoted Communist, Aleksandra Trunina, to set up a museum in the building to remind the local people of the achievements of their predecessors in the early years of the Soviet era. The letters, poems, sketches, and recollections that she managed to elicit from the graduates of the Koltsovo teachers’ college are one of the main sources for Schmemann’s account of the mood of these young peasants in the Twenties.

Most had been activists in the Communist youth organization (Komsomol), and wrote in the mind-numbing jargon of Bolshevik ideologues—as Schmemann points out, many of these young people knew no other language; they went directly from illiteracy to Marxism. His book may surprise some readers with its accounts of the ease with which peasants steeped in the beliefs and rituals of the Orthodox Church converted to the new religion of Bolshevism. Nadezhda Likhacheva, the daughter of a local priest, whom Schmemann interviewed in her late eighties, explained: “We were convinced we were ushering in a better world! The village awoke…. We tried to teach everybody. They were raring to learn: ‘Give us knowledge,’ they said. Study, study, study! This was our passion!” (After graduating from the teachers’ college, she worked for a time in a KGB plant, analyzing the metal content of confiscated church treasures before they were melted down.)

Some of the most dedicated missionaries of the new order were teachers who had been trained in seminaries and had taught at the college when it had been a parish school. Denisova (who, like many other young people of the village, had rushed to enroll in the teachers’ college and join the Komsomol), recalled how they had cried when Lenin died and how one young peasant, Filip Golubkov, worked all night to produce a portrait of him that they could display in mourning. Golubkov, whom Schmemann befriended in his eighties, found his calling as a leading iconographer of the new religion. He became a celebrated painter of Soviet leaders (for which there were strict iconographic rules). On the first anniversary of Lenin’s death the youth of Koltsovo traveled to Moscow to pay their respects at his mausoleum, much as their parents would have done at the shrines of saints.

Their zealotry had a darker side. A Sergiyevskoye peasant boy became a Komsomol leader at the college and was feared as an informer. As a chief NKVD interrogator at the Lubyanka prison in the 1930s, he would send former classmates to the Gulag. The enthusiasm of the Komsomol youth was channeled into the organized hooliganism of campaigns to destroy religion, and used in the policy of divide and rule whereby the Party eliminated independent farming and individual enterprise. To be denounced as a kulak (a rich, exploiting peasant) and to be exiled or possibly killed, it was enough to have two cows and not one, four windows across the front of one’s hut instead of three. By 1930, 230 families in the region had been dealt with in this way, and the rest herded into collective farms. The terror of the 1930s spared no category of persons; few of those who gathered for the college reunion in 1967 did not have a relative who had been arrested or had not served time in the Gulag themselves.

Speeches at the event emphasized their pride in having set the country on the road to communism, but the brief biographies collected in the museum occasionally hint at what some of them subsequently lived through. Thus T.G. Zakharov, one of the original members of the Komsomol, records that “after repression (1937-1956, Kolyma),” followed by ten years in the Soviet Far East, he was “rehabilitated” by the Communist Party’s Central Committee; as a pensioner, he was still engaged in Party work. As Schmemann puts it, it is difficult to conceive of the kind of faith that is unshaken by nineteen years in one of the worst of Stalin’s camps, followed by a decade of exile. Some of the old people whom he interviewed in the early 1990s continued to rationalize the terrible injustices they had suffered as perversions of the true faith.

The tricks played by memory to blot out unbearable suffering or guilt help explain why so many Russians are nostalgic about the Soviet, even Stalinist, past. In his interviews with Likhacheva, Schmemann asked about the repression in Koltsovo in the 1920s and 1930s. Even after long reflection, she could remember nothing, but on his next visit she met him excitedly at the door. It had all come back to her—the close relatives who had been arrested and imprisoned, the uncle, a priest, who had simply vanished.

She recalled that arrests were never mentioned even at home; if an acquaintance disappeared, it was merely murmured that he or she had “fallen ill.” Returnees from the Gulag never referred to their time there. She cried as she remembered how her closest friends, the children of a miller, had been thrown out of their house as kulaks in the middle of the night, and recalled that she herself had been refused membership in the Party as the daughter of a priest. Memories like this, long repressed through fear and shame, are now aired daily in the Russian press, but they still lack the power to destroy a picture of the world that enabled generations to survive, physically and morally. Likhacheva concluded her reminiscences with a proud litany of her contemporaries’ achievements as builders of the mighty Soviet state.

As reformers hurried to dismantle that structure in the autumn of 1991 and the spring of 1992, after the disastrous record of collectivization had become a matter of common knowledge, Schmemann went several times to Koltsovo (where he was welcomed as an exotic visitor) to see how the villagers reacted to the government’s demand that collective and state farms transform themselves into private enterprises. The situation was frightening—after prices were freed from control, the kolkhoz’s costs had soared tenfold, while government credits and subsidies had been ended and banks were demanding 25 percent interest for short-term loans. The kolkhoz had no money to pay wages and (like other state enterprises) did not know when it would. But the members voted to rename themselves the Koltsovo Agricultural Cooperative and leave everything else as it was.*

When Schmemann asked them why they did not take up the government’s offer of private land to start their own farms, their sullen and confused responses reflected a desire born of bitter experience not to “stand out,” as well as fear of losing the only form of security they knew, and often a genuine adherence to the Communist ethic inculcated in them for so long, which saw private enterprise as “speculation,” selfish and even criminal. The kolkhoz chairman summed it up: “We work badly, we live poorly, we lose money. But at least we still have the collective.”

In Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard the ancient manservant Firs recalls the doomladen portents that preceded the “great disaster.” What disaster? The freeing of the serfs, he replies. Before then, peasants had their masters, masters their peasants, “and now everything’s all mixed up, you can’t make sense of anything.” Firs is ordered to stop talking nonsense. The resistance of the kolkhozes to change is currently being treated by reformers with a similar haughty dismissiveness. The interest provoked in Russia by Schmemann’s New York Times articles on Koltsovo resulted in a visit to the farm by a journalist from the paper Izvestia, who wrote a damning exposé of its miserable level of productivity and brushed aside its members’ stubborn resistance to privatization.

Schmemann found this arrogance repellent. Once again, ideologues were dictating to the peasants how they should think and act: ironically, Izvestia (formerly the mouthpiece of the Soviet government) was now encouraging a rosy vision of pre-revolutionary Russia as a land of happy and productive peasants. Schmemann’s last image of Koltsovo is of a community struggling to cope with the loss of all its bearings, while trying to close its ears to the clamor of alien voices around it—including the author’s. Once the novelty of his visit and his background had worn off, Schmemann writes, “I came to represent a past they did not want to be reminded of, and a hostile world that was seeking to undermine their fragile security and their collective with some alien concept of ‘democracy.”‘ Schmemann does not patronize the Koltsovo villagers by idealizing their doggedness. He admits that he felt irritation at many of the attitudes he encountered there: “I was Russian enough to feel for these people, even to love them, but too foreign to tolerate their maddening fatalism and disorder”—although he suggests that the Russians’ ability to function in conditions of chaos is their abiding strength.

Speculating on the Russian people’s survival strategies in the current chaos, Schmemann quotes what the writer Viktor Erofeyev once said to him. “What was imported in Western Marxism will vanish. But Communism will not disappear, inasmuch as the spirit of collectivism is at the heart of this nation. The nation will always say ‘we’ rather than the Anglo-Saxon ‘I.”‘ The belief that the peasant commune and (in a perverted form) the kolkhoz reflect enduring qualities of the Russian soul has always been more popular among Russian intellectuals than more prosaic explanations (such as economic backwardness) of the collectivist features of Russian social structures. But it is worth recalling that Anton Chekhov, who, as the grandson of serfs and as a country doctor, understood the peasant mentality more deeply than most Russian writers, had no patience with those who urged the retention of the commune. “I’m against the commune,” he wrote; “our national drunkenness and our profound ignorance come from the commune system.” Once it had a function as a defense against invasions and wild animals, “but now it’s a crowd artificially bound together, like convicts…. The commune and culture are not compatible.” Chekhov, who endowed many a country library, placed his hopes for progress on the thirst for knowledge of the kind that inspired the young peasants of the 1920s.

Schmemann’s hopes for the regeneration of the Russian villages are connected with the current revival of religion throughout the country. He is the son of the Orthodox priest Father Alexander Schmemann, whose thoughtful broadcasts to Russia on Radio Liberty on religious and cultural themes were a precious source of inspiration and moral support to many dissident intellectuals from the 1950s to the early 1980s. Serge Schmemann points out that much of the contemporary turmoil in Russia is caused by the loss of a guiding faith. But while the growth of small parishes throughout the land is undoubtedly a healing force, it should be remembered that the thirst for absolutes has been responsible for some of the worst disasters in the country’s history. Ever since the Russian state defined itself as the “third Rome” in the sixteenth century, messianism has been a dominant feature of Russian culture and (as this book shows) it was not uncommon for fervent believers to pass painlessly from one form of unquestioning faith to another. Some of the leading radicals of the nineteenth century (and Joseph Stalin in the twentieth) were ex-seminarians or sons of priests, and the bigots, anti-Semites, and xenophobes among the present leadership of the Russian Church bear a close family resemblance to the vicious persecutors of “cosmopolitans” in Stalin’s time.

In May this year, a public burning of heretical books was conducted by order of Bishop Nikon of the diocese of Yekaterinburg. Among the authors selected for this treatment was Father Alexander Schmemann.

This Issue

October 8, 1998