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Between Orthodoxy and Russification: Bessarabian Bishops of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries and their Moldovan Flock

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Abstract. The article analyzes the activities of three Bessarabian bishops in the second half 19th and early 20th centuries, Pavel (Lebedev), Vladimir (Senkovsky) and Seraphim (Chichagov), in the context of the Moldovan question rise in Bessarabia. On the example of these personalities, the evolution of the borderland policy in the religious sphere is presented. This policy drifted from the forced Russification in the 1870–80s and the early 20th century to the turn towards the need of the Moldovan flock. One of the key questions was the issue of the language of worship and sermon. Under Pavel (Lebedev), the mass transition of Moldovan parishes into the Church Slavonic worship service and sermon in Russian was carried out. However, contrary to expectations, the mass Russification of the flock did not happen, but there was a tendency of alienating Moldovans from Orthodoxy. At the turn of the century, the Moldovan language has been restricted in worship and missionary activities, and with the support of Vladimir (Senkovsky), it returned to the sphere of worship, a Moldovan printing house was reopened, and a religious magazine in Moldovan was published. Under Seraphim (Chichagov), the situation with the language has not been changed essentially, notwithstanding his attempts to fight against “Moldovan separatism”. Among many contemporaries, as well as in the Moldavian-Romanian historiography, there was a perception of Serafim as a Romanianphobe and a russifier, but it requires significant revisions.

Keywords: Eparchy of Kishinev and Khotin, Orthodoxy, Moldovans, Moldavian Question, Russification, Moldavian Language.

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