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Constantine Petrovich Pobedonostsev

Constantine Petrovich Pobedonostsev

Constantine Petrovich Pobedonostsev (Russian: Константин Петрович Победоносцев) was a Russian jurist, statesman, adviser to three Tsars and Ober-Procurator of the Holy Synod for twenty seven years, the highest position of supervision of the Church of Russia by the state. [1] He was usually regarded as a prime representative of reactionary views in the late nineteenth century[2].


Constantine Pobedonostsev was born on May 21, 1827 in Moscow, Russia. His father, Peter Vasilyevich Pobedonostsev, was a professor of literature at the Moscow State University and ‘home schooled’ Constantine until he entered, in preparation for a career in civil service, the St. Petersburg School of Jurisprudence in 1841 at the age of fourteen. His father taught him Old Church Slavonic, French, Latin, and German, as well as directed his studies in the Bible, writings of the Russian Orthodox Church Fathers, Greek and Roman classics, Russian history, and Russian literature. At the school of jurisprudence he studied Western judicial institutions, laws, and literature.

He began his career in the civil service in 1846 when he was assigned to the eighth department of the Senate in Moscow. He became secretary of the seventh department in 1853. In 1859, Constantine was requested to lecture in Russian civil law at Moscow State University in addition to his employment at the Senate. In 1866, he moved his residence to St. Petersburg as he was employed by Emperor Alexander II to tutor the future Alexander III, with whom he enjoyed a close relationship until Alexander’s death in 1894.

In succession, Constantine became a senator in St. Petersburg in 1868, a member of the Council of the Empire in 1874, and Ober-procurator of the Holy Synod of the Church of Russia in 1880. In this position he used the Church to advance his policies.

Pobedonostsev was an uncompromising conservative, indeed a reactionary. He favored the absolute power of the tsar in Russia, opposed any ideas of a representative body in the empire, and boldly expressed his opinions. In his conservatism, Pobedonostsev refused to come to terms with the modern age. After the death of Alexander III, Constantine lost much of his influence under Tsar Nicholas II. Nearing the age of eighty as Russia enter the tumultuous times following Russia’s defeat in the 1904 war with Japan, Constantine retired from public life in 1905. He died on March 23, 1907.


His reactionary conservatism carried over in his actions as the Ober-procurator of the Church. Peter I’s reforms of the governance of the Church had already diminished the power of the hierarchs. These reforms abolished the position of Patriarch and placed the administration of the Russian Church into an Apostolic Governing Synod with a layman as overseer, the Ober-procurator. The influence of the hierarchy had been further reduced under the Ober-procurator Nicholas A. Protasov during his term from 1836 to 1855 and reached a culmination under Pobedonostsev as the interests of the Church were subordinated to that of the State.

Under his administration, he improved the welfare of the Church and of the clergy, as well as enlivened missionary and educational activities. In his educational policies the parish school became useful as the provider of the lowest level education in the nation, supplanting secular public schools.

While parish schools taught at a more elementary level than had been commoner earlier during the nineteenth century, under the policies of Pobedonostsev the number of parish schools was increased greatly to provide rudimentary education for the masses while his policies made attendance and advancement through the higher level schools more restrictive. [3]

Pobedonostsev also raised the educational standards of the theological seminaries and academies, a policy that unintentionally led to strengthening the reform movement in the Russian Orthodox Church. During the later years of his life, he spent his efforts attempting to contain and stifle the movement that eventually led to the local council of 1917-1918, by confronting among other reform leaders, Metr. Anthony (Vadovsky), Metropolitan of St. Petersburg, Sergei Witte, prime minister, and Anthony (Karpovitsky), Archbishop of Volhynia.


  1. Thompson, Ronald. The Government of the Soviet Union, 2nd edition. D. Van Nostrand, 1949
  3. George T. Kosar, Russian Orthodoxy in Crisis and Revolution: The Church Council of 1917-1918, ProQuest Information and Learning Company, 2003, UMI MicroForm 3116620, p3-p4.

Succession box:
Constantine Petrovich Pobedonostsev
Preceded by:
Dmitry Andreyevich Tolstoy
Succeeded by:
Alexander Dmitriyevich Obolensky
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