After the February Revolution, the Russian Orthodox Church sought to reconstitute itself to allow broader participation of its clergy and laity in order to fulfill the aspirations of a Church reform movement that had begun around 1900. At the same time, the Church sought to avoid losing its traditional institutional authority in the eyes of believers. To accomplish this, broader participation had to be grounded in sobornost’ – a church ethos of traditional Orthodox catholicity or conciliarism – while avoiding political, secular, and revolutionary influences.
Drawing on many church voices from 1917–1918, this paper sketches the efforts and ultimate success that the Russian Church achieved in reestablishing sobornost’ as its organizational and spiritual foundation. Specifically, it reveals how a revitalized diocesan church press, freed from pre-revolutionary censorship, expressed the widespread hopes that a conciliar church could be
established through active participation of the clergy and laity, and ultimately through the convening of the long-anticipated All-Russian Church Council. Revolution in the church threatened the authority of the Holy Synod and the Preconciliar Committee that planned the Church Council. However, a significant yet relatively unknown episode – the August 1917 elections to the Council’s Presidium – as well as the writings of Sobor members themselves demonstrate how the Council succeeded in institutionalizing sobornost’ at the Council. Although
this quality of sobornost’ expressed “unity in multiplicity,” it was neither quantitative nor geographical, and did not reflect class, estate, or political distinctions. Instead, it expressed a wholeness and communion of ideas that still allowed for vigorous debate.
Keywords: Russian Orthodox Church, All-Russian Church Council of 1917– 1918, sobornost’, Russian Revolution of 1917, religion, church reform, Provisional Government.