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August 31, 2013

IN MEMORIAM: September 1 - GEORGY PETROVICH FEDOTOV

FEDOTOV, GEORGY PETROVICH (1886-1951)

MEMORY ETERNAL.

Russian academic, church historian, and migr intellectual.

Born in Saratov 1 January 1886, young Fedotov graduated from gymnasium in 1904 and enrolled briefly as an engineering student at the St. Petersburg Technological Institute before transferring to the Department of History and Philosophy at the University of St. Petersburg in 1906. As a student, he embraced Marxism and was an active member of the Social Democratic Party during the years of the 1905 Revolution. He was arrested in 1906 and exiled to the north for two years but managed to go abroad. Fedotov spent his exile studying philosophy and history at the universities of Berlin and Jena and returned to Russia in 1908 to pursue medieval history at the University of St. Petersburg. He gave up Marxist politics for academic pursuits but remained under surveillance and, fearing arrest, fled in 1910 to Italy, where he studied in Florence and Rome. He returned to St. Petersburg to finish his thesis on St. Augustines Confessions, for which he was awarded a gold medal. The department kept him on as a lecturer (privat-dotsent) from 1914 to 1918, and he moonlighted at the St. Petersburg public library.

During the revolutionary events of 1917-1918 Fedotov was active in the religious philosophical circle of Aleksander Meier (1874-1939) known as Christ and Freedom (Khristos i Svoboda). In 1919 he married Elena Nikolaevna Nechaeva (1885-1966) and moved back to Saratov, where he obtained a position in the Medieval History Department at the university in 1920. Fedotov had few students, bristled under obligatory Bolshevik rituals on campus, and resigned in 1922. His research focused on religious life of Merovingian France, leading to the publication of a monographic study of Peter Abelard (1079-1142) in 1924. Further research provided the pretext for a visa abroad, and in 1925 the Fedotovs emigrated to Paris by way of Berlin. In Paris Fedotov joined the faculty of the St. Sergius Theological Institute, founded in 1925 by Father Sergei Bulgakov (1871-1944). Fedotov taught courses in western church history, Latin language, and hagiology, the history and nature of holiness in the Orthodox Church. He was also active in ecumenical movements, notably the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius, which promoted Anglican-Russian Orthodox unity. In 1928 he published both a Russian-language biography of the Metropolitan St. Phillip of Moscow (1507-1569), who was martyred for resisting Ivan IV (r. 1533-1584), and in English The Russian Church since the Revolution, in which he compared St. Phillips resistance with Patriarch Tikhons (born Vasily Ivanovich Bellavin, 1865-1925) protests against Bolshevik persecution of the Church. Fedotovsbook, The Saints of Old Rus (Sviatie drevnei Rusi, 1931), outlined the distinct characteristics and cultural innovations of Russian saintliness, themes he developed more fully in later books written in the US.

During his years in Paris Fedotov published numerous journal articles in Russian, some of which were collected as Is and Will Be (I est i budet, 1932). Posthumous collections, startingwith New City (Novy grad, 1952), have appeared over the years. A collection of Spiritual Poems (Stikhi dukhovnye), published in 1935, promoted faith while preserving Russian culture. Nearly all of Fedotovs Paris monographs were published by the YMCA Press, which especially supported the Russian diaspora community and encouraged the perpetuation of its cultural heritage.

Fedotov was active within the Russian exile community of Paris and contributed frequently to migr journals, including the most widely-read intellectual journal Contemporary Notes (Sovremenniia zapiski), as well as The Messenger of the Russian Christian Student Movement (Vestnik russkogo khristianskogo studencheskogo dvizheniia), The Way (Put) sponsored by the YMCA press, Aleksander Fedorovich Kerenskys (1881-1970) New Russia (Novaia Rossiia), and the Eurasianist journal Versts (Versty). In 1931 he and several colleagues launched the journal The New City (Novy Grad), which he co-edited until 1939 and contributed to frequently. Also published by the YMCA press, it was an often left-leaning Christian forum for overtly political, social, and economic advocacy addressed to the crises of the 1930s in Europe, the USSR, and the world.

In 1935, together with such eminent migrs as Nikolai Berdiaev (1874- 1948), Father Sergei Bulgakov, Konstantin Mochulsky (1892-1948), Ilia Fondaminsky (1881-1942), and Mother (now Saint) Maria Skobtsova (born Elizaveta Pilenko, 1891-1945), Fedotov helped launch the philanthropic organization Orthodox Action, to serve poor Russian emigrants. Although no longer Marxist, Fedotov retained social activist convictions and a moderate- or Christian-socialist political orientation. He blamed the tsarist regime for bringing revolution upon itself, retained hope for the Christianization of socialist Russia after Bolshevism ran its course, and supported the leftists in the Spanish Civil War. Such views produced feuds with right-wing migrs and controversy for the staff of St. Sergius.

The arrival of World War II confronted migrs with the choice of emigrating again, or remaining in France to face the uncertainties of war and hostility from rising French xenophobia.

Prominent migrs who stayed in Paris under German occupation were targeted as potential Soviet agents, and much of the leadership of Orthodox Action died in Nazi hands. Fedotov chose to move to America in 1940, delayed on the way by Nazi detention and an eight-month ocean crossing. He spent the final decade of his life in New York, gaining citizenship shortly before his death.

The center of the Russian exile community shifted from war-torn Paris to New York City. St. Vladimirs Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York, formed just before the war and housed in quarters leased from Union Theological Seminary, took on the galvanizing role for Russian migrs played in Paris by St. Sergius Theological Institute. Fedotov became a visiting fellow at Yale Divinity School for his first three years in the US, then became professor of church history at the St. Vladimirs in 1943. Jointly with Professor Peter Zouboff (1893-1964) he proposed reorganizing the seminary into a graduate school of theology to the Seventh All-American Church Sobor in 1946, which approved the change.

At St. Vladimirs Fedotov produced the works he is best known for in the US, The Russian Religious Mind, Volume I in 1946, and A Treasury of Russian Spirituality in 1948. The Treasury is a hagiographic compendium of nine representative saints lives from Kievan and Muscovite times to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. [The chapter, "The Pilgrim: On Mental Prayer included the well-known classic "The Way of a Pilgrim."]

The second volume of The Russian Religious Mind remained unfinished at his death, but Father John Meyendorff (1926-1992) edited the volume, drawing upon Fedotovs earlier writings to fill in some missing parts, for publication in 1966. Reviewers praised the scope and findings of the study, while challenging occasional matters of fact and Fedotovs judgments. Exceedingly hostile toward the authoritarian Muscovite state and overweening in praise of the feudal collective in Novgorod and Pskov, Fedotovs analysis bore the imprint of twentieth-century migr debates over Stalin and socialism in which he was constantly engaged. In New York Fedotov frequented the libraries at Columbia University and the Slavic Division of the New York Public Library and remained active within the New York migr community. He died 1 September 1951 of coronary thrombosis in Beacon, N.Y.

Stephen M. Woodburn

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