In Imperial Russia, "white" priests (as opposed to "black" monks) of the non-noble clergy ministered to the Orthodox public. Entering this profession meant entering a new social class; it did not require celibacy.

Since the job involved using written materials, priests had to be literate. The Orthodox liturgical language was Church Slavonic, somewhat different from modern Russian. As French was the prestige language of the time, it too was widely studied in seminaries. Apart from languages, surely the seminary students focused on mysteries, rituals, commentaries, etc.

I'm interested in things around the year 1800. How much education did local priests have in Imperial Russia? Did all priests attend seminaries, or could those at the frontier skip a formal education? What qualifications were needed to become a priest?

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    I'm too lazy to make this a legit answer, but this covers it pretty well: books.google.com/…
    – Brian Z
    Commented Apr 10, 2017 at 17:48
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    When? 1700 or 1900, or somewhere in between. Even in Western Europe and North America a significant increase in literacy, numeracy, and general education is occurring between those dates. Commented Aug 4, 2017 at 21:12
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    @AaronBrick Just want to make sure you've heard of this book by Belliustin. A few decades after your period of interest, but perhaps still relevant. Commented Aug 4, 2017 at 23:22
  • If you understand Russian, start from here : ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – rs.29
    Commented Mar 21, 2021 at 18:59

2 Answers 2


google translate of original text Hello, I myself am a descendant of a line of Russian Orthodox priests, from the modest village of Strelets (! Ipetsk) near Orel My great great uncle Joseph Wassilievitch Wassilieff and my great grandfather Dimitri, son of a humble village priest managed to climb to the seminary to finish graduating from the Theological Academy of Saint Petersburg. You had to be very intelligent or protected from a noble to succeed in rising. The sons of priests formed a priestly caste, often despised (Popovitchi: son of popes,) the two brothers founded in Paris a Russian Church, St Soul Nievsky. Dimitri died in Paris in 1902.

Sometimes, as is the case with MM Speransky, who became a minister in 1800, son of village priests, (Tchekoutino, pr. De Wladimir) they could be noticed by a wealthy protector who favored their social rise, but as a general rule, they remained in their humble parish and condition, without any real theological training.

original text follows

Bonjour,je suis moi-même descendant d'une lignée de prêtres Orthodoxes russes,issus du modeste village de Strelets (!ipetsk) près d'Orel Mon arrière grand oncle Joseph Wassilievitch Wassilieff et mon arrière grand père Dimitri, fils d'un humble prêtre de village réussirent à se hisser au séminaire pour finir diplômés de l'Académie de Théologie de Saint Petersbourg. Il fallait être très intelligent ou protégé d'un noble pour parvenir à s'élever. Les fils de prêtres formaient une caste sacerdotale, souvent méprisés ( Popovitchi: fils de popes,) les deux frères fondèrent à Paris 'Egise russe,St Âme Nievsky. Dimitri est mort à Paris en 1902.

Parfois, comme c'est le cas de M M Speransky, devenu ministre en 1800 ,fils de prêtres de village, (Tchekoutino,pr. de Wladimir) ils pouvaient être remarqués par un riche protecteur qui favorisait leur ascension sociale mais en règle générale, ils restaient dans leur humble paroisse et condition, sans réelle formation théologique.


Orthodox Priests in 1800's generally had access only to an elementary education. Some self taught, advanced on their own beyond that, but they were not the norm. The only access to a higher education beyond the elementary level for slavs would be to travel to the west, which wasn't an option for many. Some were reportedly able to afford to make the trip.

encyclopedia britannica

The Union of Florence became fully inoperative as soon as the Turks occupied Constantinople (1453). In 1484 a council of bishops condemned it officially. Neither the sultan nor the majority of the Orthodox Greeks were favourable to the continuation of political ties with Western Christendom. The Byzantine cultural revival of the Palaeologan period was the first to experience adverse effects from the occupation. Intellectual dialogue with the West became impossible. Through liturgical worship and the traditional spirituality of the monasteries, the Orthodox faith was preserved in the former Byzantine world. Some self-educated men were able to develop the Orthodox tradition through writings and publications, but they were isolated exceptions. Probably the most remarkable among them was St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, the Hagiorite (1748–1809), who edited the famous Philocalia, an anthology of spiritual writings, and also translated and adapted Western spiritual writings (e.g., those of the Jesuit founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola) into modern Greek.

The only way for Orthodox Greeks, Slavs, or Romanians to acquire an education higher than the elementary level was to go to the West. Several of them were able to do so, but in the process they became detached from their own theological and spiritual tradition.

Peter the Great (1682–1725) -- was not a supporter of the Orthodox Church. He vastly increased the power of the Czars over the Russian church. When Patriarch Adrian died, Peter blocked a successor being appointed. Instead he the Tzar would appoint all bishops. A the Holy and Supreme Synod was established to govern the church, instead of a single Patriarch, and it would remain this way until 1917.

Under Peter: "A clerical career was not a route chosen by upper-class society. Most parish priests were sons of priests, were very poorly educated, and very poorly paid.".

The late 18th century influential spiritual revival in the Russian Orthodox church. The rise of starchestvo under Paisiy Velichkovsky and his disciples at the Optina Monastery. This revival did not address the education or more specifically lack of formal education of most priests.

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    The long quote seems to be about the Turkish empire and therefore probably irrelevant to this question.
    – Jan
    Commented Mar 21, 2021 at 14:16
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    -1 Uh oh, I'm afraid completely wrong answer. It was Peter the Great that actually introduced seminaries and better education for priesthood. Text in Russian : ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – rs.29
    Commented Mar 21, 2021 at 19:00

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