Apollos Baibakov and the Popularisation of Scripture in Eighteenth-Century Russia

Sun10  Apr09:00am(10 mins)
Umney Lounge


Kelsey Rubin-Detlev


Recent work by scholars such as Barbara Skinner and Andrey V. Ivanov has revealed a movement resembling the European Reformation, complete with a new interest in teaching the Scriptures, within the eighteenth-century Russian Orthodox Church. The present paper seeks to understand how this rethinking of Scripture was manifested in printed literature, thereby reaching beyond clerical circles and interacting with the broader intellectual life of the Russian educated elite. It takes as an example the work of Archbishop Apollos (A. D. Baibakov, 1737-1801), a student of Metropolitan Platon (Levshin) with close contacts to the Moscow Freemasons, whose experiments in numerous genres, from theatre and fiction to Biblical commentary and almanacs, have been almost entirely ignored in the scholarship. I argue that Apollos' writings aim to render Scripture more accessible, removing it from the purely liturgical context and transforming it into a moral guidebook. I trace how Apollos blends older religious genres like the school drama and the beseda (sermon or meditation) with newer forms like neoclassical drama and the Masonic allegorical tale to repackage Biblical material for new readers. In the process, I assert, Apollos brought Russian attitudes toward the Bible closer to those of the Protestant West, where, as Jonathan Sheehan has argued, the "Enlightenment Bible" ceased to be a theological book and instead became an element of secular culture.

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