Everyday Life of the Russian Nuns in the Holy Land at the Time of Changes in the Middle East, 1940s1950s  

Beliakova N.A.


Vestnik arheologii, antropologii i etnografii, 2021, 4 (55)




              page 190200




This study aims at providing an overview of the everyday life of Russian nuns in Palestine after World War II. This research encompassed the following tasks: to analyze the range of ego-documents available today, characterizing the everyday life and internal motivation of women in choosing the church jurisdiction; to identify, on the basis of written sources, the most active supporters of the Moscow Patriarchate to examine the nuns activity as information agents of the Russian Orthodox Church and Soviet government; to characterize the actors influencing the everyday life of the Russian nuns in the context of the creation of the state of Israel and new borders dividing the Holy Land; to present the motives and instruments of influence employed by the representatives of both secular and church diplomacies in respect to the women leading a monastic life; to describe consequences of inclu-ding the nuns into the sphere of interest of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the USSR; to show the specific role of Russian women in the context of the struggle for securing positions of the USSR and the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in the region. The sources for the study were prodused by the state (correspondence between the state authorities, meeting notes) and from the religious actors (letters of nuns to the church authorities, reports of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission, memoirs of the clergy). By combining the methods of micro-history and history of the everyday life with the political history of the Cold War, the study examines the agency of the nuns a category of women traditionally unnoticeable in the political history. Due to the specificity of the sources, the study focuses exclusively on a group of the nuns of the Holy Land who came under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate. The majority of the Russian-speaking population of Palestine in the mid-1940s were women in the status of monastic residents (nuns and novices) and pilgrims, and in the 1940s1950s, they were drawn into the geopolitical combinations of the Soviet Union. The Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem, staffed with representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church, becomes a key institution of influence in the region. This article shows how elderly nuns became an object of close attention and even funding by the Soviet state. The everyday life of the nuns became directly dependent on the activities of the Soviet agencies and Soviet-Israeli relations after the arrival of the Soviet state representatives. At the same time, the nuns became key participants in the inter-jurisdictional conflicts and began to act as agents of influence in the region. The study analyzes numerous ego-documents created by the nuns themselves from the collection of the Council on the Affairs of the Russian Orthodox Church under the USSR Council of Ministers. The study shows how nuns positioned themselves as leading a monastic life in the written correspondence with the ROC authorities and staff of the Soviet MFA. The instances of influence of different secular authorities on the development of the female monasticism presented here point to promising research avenues for future reconstruction of the history of women in the Holy Land based on archival materials from state departments, alternative sources should also be found. The study focused on the life of el-derly Russian nuns in the Holy Land and showed their activity in the context of the geopolitical transformations in the Near East in the 1940s1950s.

Key words: Palestine, Holy Land, female monasticism, church diplomacy, cold war agency, orthodox nuns, Gornensky monastery.


Funding. The research was supported by the Russian Foundation for Fundamental Research (N 20-09-41017).


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Accepted: 16.09.2020

Article is published: 23.12.2021


Beliakova N.A., Institute of World History, RAS, Leninskij prosp., 32A, Moscow, 117036, Russian Federation, National Research Nuclear University MEPhI (Moscow Engineering Physics Institute), Kashirskoe shosse, 31, Moscow, 115409, Russian Federation, E-mail: beliacovana@gmail.com, https://orcid.org/0000-0003-0470-4497