"Josephism" reconsidered: the monks of the Iosifo-Volokolamsk Monastery
Historians have long recognized that Iosif of Volokolamsk and the monastery he founded in 1479 had a profound influence on the Russian church and state. "Josephites" are generally considered to have been predominantly a corps of socially elite men from the landowning class who transformed the Russian church into a ritualistic, intolerant, passive "handmaid of the state." They are said to have advocated "blind obedience" in a rigidly hierarchical political structure. And they are said to have not only emasculated the church vis-a-vis the state but created a whole new political philosophy that helped elevate the grand prince---later tsar---to hitherto undreamed of heights of absolutism.This study presents evidence contradicting several of the commonly accepted tenets concerning the Josephites. It finds that they were not predominantly from the landowning class. Nor were they predominantly peasants: many of the Josephites appear to have been from an intermediate class of landless servitors. The dissertation also finds that the ideology governing social relationships was very much anti-hierarchical: high secular social class gave some advantage in monastic society but did not automatically confer leadership positions. Status in the monastery was determined as much or more by ascetic endeavor as by high birth. Finally, in place of "blind obedience," this study finds that Joseph very strongly advised his followers to judge whether establish authorities were acting correctly and to oppose them when they did not. Iosif's followers may actually have taken those exhortations farther than he intended, as the "council of elders" at Volokolamsk became in some ways more powerful than the abbot.
- History