From the moment that Tsars as well as hierarchs realized that having their subjects go to confession could make them better citizens as well as better Christians, the sacrament of penance in the Russian empire became a political tool, a devotional exercise, a means of education, and a literary genre. It defined who was Orthodox, and who was 'other.' First encouraging Russian subjects to participate in confession to improve them and to integrate them into a reforming Church and State, authorities then turned to confession to integrate converts of other nationalities. But the sacrament was not only something that state and religious authorities sought to impose on an unwilling populace. Confession could provide an opportunity for carefully crafted complaint. What state and church authorities initially imagined as a way of controlling an unruly population could be used by the same population as a way of telling their own story, or simply getting time off to attend to their inner lives.
Good for the Souls brings Russia into the rich scholarly and popular literature on confession, penance, discipline, and gender in the modern world, and in doing so opens a key window onto church, state, and society. It draws on state laws, Synodal decrees, archives, manuscript repositories, clerical guides, sermons, saints' lives, works of literature, and visual depictions of the sacrament in those books and on church iconostases. Russia, Ukraine, and Orthodox Christianity emerge both as part of the European, transatlantic religious continuum-and, in crucial ways, distinct from it.
Contrary to the cliche, Nadieszda Kizenko shows that the History of Confession in the Russian Empire is not just the history of a state instrument of control, but a dynamic process that took different forms under different regents. At the same time, it is about an Orthodox practice that was also used by the population to create their own narratives (e.g. by elite women). Kizenko draws on an impressive wealth of textual sources that demonstrate the
diverse aspects of the subject matter * Regula Zwahlen, Religion & Society in East and West * This book represents a significant advance in our understanding of confession in the Russian Empire. It has no equivalent in either English or Russian and it opens up to the English-speaking world the hidden world of Russian confession, showing its peculiarities and its convergence with Western traditions. One of the many strengths of Kizenko's work is exposition of the level of interaction between the Western Churches and the Russian Orthodox Church, mediated
through Kyiv. Magisterial new book...based on an impressive array of archival sources belonging to both the Church and the State, supplemented by diaries, letters and memoirs. * Shane O'Rourke, The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, Cambridge University Press * Nadieszda Kizenko's Good for the Souls: A History of Confession in the Russian Empire is arguably the most important contribution to this historiographical development since its inception, a development which was partially initiated by Kizenko's groundbreaking study of Ioann of Kronstadt (2000) and which has been sustained and broadened by Kizenko in an array of probing articles and essays about liturgy, gender, and confession, the subject of her new book. * Patrick Lally Michelson, Indiana University, The Russian Review * This book offers a thorough, engagingly written history of confession in the Russian Empire. Drawing on impressively wide-ranging research in central and provincial Russian archives and engaging the historiography of Christianity beyond the Russian Empire, Kizenko traces the evolution of confession through the collapse of the empire in 1917. * M. A. Soderstrom, CHOICE * Good for the Souls represents a key intervention in our understanding of Orthodoxy in the Russian Empire and of the sacrament of forgiveness in the Orthodox Church. Based on Kizenko's detailed consideration of confession over three centuries, it will undoubtedly become the standard work on this question. * Paul W. Werth, University of Nevada, United States, Journal of Orthodox Christian Studies * Nadieszda Kizenko's masterful history of confession in Russia offers a pathway toward understanding the cultural ramifications of confession for that seventeenth-century divide and for the modern Russian Empire that followed. It is a must-read for students of cultural and religious studies, of early modern Europe, and of Russian history. * History: Review of New Books * This reviewer cannot recommend Kizenko's book enough: it is simply a must for all academics (even, or perhaps especially, for those who do not usually engage with religious history) and interested general readers. * J. M. White, Baltic Orthodoxy *