The Imported Church: European Ideas and Russian Religion in the Second Half of the Seventeenth Century. The Case of the Eucharistic Controversy (1685-1690).

Date of Award

Spring 2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Bushkovitch, Paul


This dissertation offers a new interpretation of the intellectual development of the Russian Orthodox Church at the end of the seventeenth century. Through a close analysis of the thousand-page polemic, The Shield of Faith, my research offers the first historical evaluation of the Russo-Ukrainian polemical correspondence on the Eucharist (1688-1690) in the context of broader European intellectual trends. It argues that the Russian Orthodox Church followed European trends in justifying theological practices and carrying out scholarly debates. In line with new European intellectual fashions of the 17th century, the Russian Orthodox Church appealed to late Byzantine sources, employed Western editions of the Holy Fathers, repurposed polemical books from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and followed the norms and conventions of the Western European polemical debates. These findings challenge the dominant scholarly interpretation, according to which the Russian Orthodox Church was always “medieval” and as such followed the unbroken tradition of Byzantine texts. In addition to drawing close attention to texts, my research provides a fresh outlook on the interpersonal relations of disputing parties. Contrary to nineteenth-century scholarship that viewed the Eucharistic dispute as an example of civilizational strife either between the Western and Greek-Byzantine cultures or between more abstract ideas of progress and tradition, my account offers a political rather than “civilizational” approach to the Eucharistic dispute. I argue that the Eucharistic conflict was not about the course of cultural development in Russia: progressive versus traditional, Greek versus Latin-oriented, Western versus native. Rather, at the heart of the conflict lay the question of subordination, control, and personal prestige. By re-situating the emphasis from cultural to political, this research bypasses the limitations of the nineteenth-century interpretative schemes. Through a close textual analysis, The Imported Church shows that the key texts of the Russian Orthodox Church were rarely Russian in origin. The Russian Church coopted texts of late Byzantine origin, texts produced by Ukrainians and Belorusians, and texts produced by Catholics and Protestants in the West. Each chapter of my project tackles a new segment of sources – Greek, Western European, and Ukrainian – which when taken together comprise what is called the Russian Orthodox Tradition. Thus, my research offers a new perspective on the Russian Church as an “imported church” – the Church in which “tradition” was essentially a conglomerate of foreign texts that were adapted to local Russian needs. This emphasis on “imported” offers a new narrative through which to rethink the representation of the Russian Church as a national Church and the foundation of “Russianness.” The dissertation demonstrates that changes in the Russian Orthodox Church were fostered by a close encounter with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Having faced a legitimate and sophisticated Ukrainian Church in the shared confines of one state, the Russian Orthodox Church was forced to adopt the scholastic culture of the Ukrainian Church and simultaneously fight for the right to establish control over the dissemination of knowledge. This close encounter with the Ukrainian Church not only changed the Russian Church from within but also made the Russian Church more aware of its own distinctiveness and theology. The active intellectual production and accompanying reforms in the Russian Church indicate growing political emancipation of the Russian Church from the secular elites. My dissertation reconstructs the intellectual profile of the Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox Churches. The first chapter establishes the key historical background and reevaluates the relationship between the main participants of the Eucharistic debates. The second chapter analyzes the use of texts associated with the Eucharistic debates in the Council of Florence (1431-1449) and the Council of Brest (1596). It argues that the Russian and Ukrainian Churches appropriated the post-Reformation scholarship available to them at the time instead of drawing on the medieval heritage, as they claimed. This complicates existing historical narratives of an unbroken continuity from the medieval past through to the 17th century. The third chapter analyzes the polemical use of the Greek Church Fathers and demonstrates that these religious polemics fueled new translations into Church Slavonic. This signifies that the Slavic canon of the patristic texts was still under construction well into the seventeenth century. The fourth chapter examines the use of Catholic scholastic theologians in the Eucharistic debates. It reveals that although the Russian Church claimed to be immutable, it adopted Catholic authors for immediate polemical use. Taken together, my research shows that the Eucharistic debates are an important lens through which to understand the role of Slavic, Greek, and Latin traditions, and the relationship between manuscripts and printed books in the context of post-Reformation developments in Eastern Europe.

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