The American YMCA and Russian Culture

The American YMCA and Russian Culture : The Preservation and Expansion of Orthodox Christianity, 1900-1940

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In The American YMCA and Russian Culture, Matthew Lee Miller explores the impact of the philanthropic activities of the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) on Russians during the late imperial and early Soviet periods. The YMCA, the largest American service organization, initiated its intense engagement with Russians in 1900. During the First World War, the Association organized assistance for prisoners of war, and after the emigration of many Russians to central and western Europe, founded the YMCA Press and supported the St. Sergius Theological Academy in Paris. Miller demonstrates that the YMCA contributed to the preservation, expansion, and enrichment of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. It therefore played a major role in preserving an important part of pre-revolutionary Russian culture in Western Europe during the Soviet period until the repatriation of this culture following the collapse of the USSR. The research is based on the YMCA's archival records, Moscow and Paris archives, and memoirs of both Russian and American participants. This is the first comprehensive discussion of an extraordinary period of interaction between American and Russian cultures. It also presents a rare example of fruitful interconfessional cooperation by Protestant and Orthodox Christians.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 300 pages
  • 154.94 x 231.14 x 27.94mm | 589.67g
  • Lexington Books
  • Lanham, MD, United States
  • English
  • New.
  • 0739177567
  • 9780739177563

Review quote

Miller (history, Northwestern College) has written a valuable study of the YMCA's role in helping to keep Russian Orthodoxy alive and vital during the 20th century. Before WW I, the YMCA, the leading US Protestant movement that sought to teach the Christian faith through youth activities, cooperated with Orthodox clergy and believers to help Orthodoxy adjust to the modernizing winds pushing Russia toward industrialization and land reform. When the communists took power in 1917 and Russian believers fled to western Europe, it was the YMCA that provided financial support to maintain the Orthodox community and to build St. Sergius Theological Academy in Paris, which became the home for Orthodox intellectuals like Sergei Bulgakov, and St. Vladimir's Theological Seminary in New York. Throughout the decades of communist rule, the YMCA backed the isolated Russian Orthodox community and helped it to grow. Mining both Russian and YMCA archives, Miller shows the interdependence and cooperation between the two Christian communities and fittingly hails the YMCA's philanthropy and ecumenism in a time of need. Excellent index and bibliography. Summing Up: Highly recommended. CHOICE Dmitrii Likhachev affirmed in 1991 that one should judge countries and cultures by their best, not their worst. This represents the sensibility of Matthew Lee Miller's meticulously researched and engrossing study of the relationship between the American YMCA and Russians both inside Russia and in European emigration...Miller assembles an enormous amount of material into a coherent narrative, as each chapter traces the interactions of the Y men with a specific nationality or group during a designated period of activity...Miller's book is recommended. The Russian Review This book, drawing on archives in Moscow, Paris, and the United States, surveys the activities of the Young Men's Christian Association in Russia in the first half of the twentieth century...One of the book's particular strengths, and one of its central themes, focuses on the role of the YMCA in the Russian diaspora...In short, everyone interested in Protestant-Orthodox inter-confessional cooperation, in Russian-American relations, in Russian religious thought, in emigre history, and in interwar Europe, will benefit from reading this important book. East-West Church and Ministry Report The YMCA's involvement with Russia as explored by Matthew Miller in The American YMCA and Russian Culture is a fascinating chapter of Russian-American relations. Indeed, it is hard to imagine Russian emigre culture without the YMCA's support. Modern Greek Studies Yearbook Miller significantly expands our knowledge of the scope and impact of the YMCA in Russia and among Russians. He also expands, in interesting and provocative ways, our knowledge of an early effort at ecumenical understanding between Russian Orthodoxy and Protestantism. ... This is a fascinating and informative work that extends our understanding of an understudied arm of American philanthropy abroad, in a crucial revolutionary context. It also deepens our knowledge of the impact of Russian philosophy and Orthodox theology and culture both in Russia and in emigration. This book is essential reading for anyone interested in either field. American Historical Review Matthew Lee Miller is to be thanked for this very useful and important study of the really amazing dedication of the YMCA to emigre Russian fellow Christians. Their work was not only humanitarian, in the aftermath of the war and the revolution but it was also an almost clairvoyant vision of rapprochement between the long divided Eastern and Western churches. Miller documents this now forgotten work of lovingkindness, one that created much communication and exchange and solidarity among Christians for decades thereafter. Logos: Journal Of Eastern Christian Studies Miller's work will ultimately be the vanguard of the continuing unfolding of this story. The Russian emigration in general has been a long neglected field, but with the renewed interest in Russian religion comes a renewed interest in the emigration, and this trend will only escalate in the foreseeable future. The fact that the YMCA was, as Miller so thoroughly points out, vital not only to the preservation and growth of Orthodoxy in the emigration but also to the proliferation of the ideas of Russian philosophical luminaries such as Nikolai Berdiaev, Sergei Bulgakov, and Vasily Zenkovsky, not to mention towering literary figures like Alexander Solzhenitsyn, will undoubtedly garner it more attention in the near future...Ultimately, their willingness to engage rather than combat those of different beliefs ended up benefitting both the YMCA and Russian Orthodox culture. The message, underlying this very detailed and complex study, is that the relationship between these men of good will on both sides of the East-West divide ultimately provides a model for imitation in the cultural confrontations of religious Russians and Americans in this century, even as it did in the last. FIDES ET HISTORIA In his extensive, well-documented study, Matthew L. Miller scrupulously explores the YMCA's contribution to Russian culture as a significant aspect of the interaction between the American and Russian cultures in the twentieth century. Most scholars of Russian culture know of the publishing house YMCA Press and the YMCA's role in the creation of the St. Sergius Theological Academy in Paris. Miller's book significantly expands this general knowledge, providing the readers with detailed information on the YMCA's presence and activity in Russia in the changing historical time and political climate, as well as shifting American-Russian diplomatic relations between 1900 and 1940. Canadian Slavonic Papers Matthew Miller has written what should be considered the definitive treatment of American YMCA support for the Russian Orthodox Church (1900-1940). In particular, Miller illuminates the creative and critical assistance that an essentially Protestant YMCA contributed to Orthodox culture, first in tsarist Russia, and subsequently among exiles from Lenin's and Stalin's Russia. This welcome volume documents what may have been the most substantive Protestant-Orthodox collaboration ever. -- Mark R. Elliott, Asbury University This book makes a notable contribution on a surprisingly controversial subject. Through wide-ranging research in English and Russian sources, Matthew Miller shows how important the YMCA was for connecting East and West before the Russian Revolution and then for supporting a vigorous emigre community after that Revolution. Above all, the book argues convincingly that the most important contribution of the YMCA was to strengthening Russian Orthodoxy itself. -- Mark A. Noll, University of Notre Dame Through meticulous research in little known archives, Matthew Miller explores an important but neglected aspect of Russian-American relations in the early 20th century-the considerable impact of the American YMCA in Russian and Soviet life. He unveils the Y's surprising success in a country with a protective official religion, Orthodoxy, and in a virtually closed society after the Bolshevik revolution, as well as depicting the dedication of a number of Americans to the Christian cause in Russia while also exploring the broader Western interaction with the dilemmas of the Russian Orthodox Church through war, revolution, and Communist oppression. -- Norman E. Saulshow more

About Matthew Lee Miller

Matthew Lee Miller is assistant professor of history at Northwestern College.show more

Table of contents

Prologue Chapter I.The YMCA and Russia: A Profile of Good Works Chapter II.The YMCA and Russia: Wrestling with the Issues Chapter III.Confessional Confrontation: Perceptions, Images, and Correctives Chapter IV.Work among Working Russians Chapter V. "Service with Fighting Men": The Y among Soldiers Chapter VI.The Russian Student Christian Movement at Home Chapter VII.The Russian Student Christian Movement Abroad Chapter VIII."The Hunger for Books": Serving a Starving Readership Chapter IX.Teachers and Priests: The St. Sergius Theological Academy Chapter X.Sustaining an Orthodox Commonwealth Epilogue Bibliography Appendix: A Note on Archival Sourcesshow more