Written by Vladimir Moss



     The imperialist and expansionist policies of V.V. Putin have been accompanied by the claim that modern neo-Soviet Russia is laying claim to the heritage of the pre-revolutionary Russian empire even in that highly religious form that early Muscovite elders and rulers understood under the term “The Third Rome”. Briefly defined, “Moscow the Third Rome” refers to the claim that the Russian Orthodox empire is the lawful successor of the Old Rome in Italy and the Second Rome of Constantinople, in the sense that, like its predecessors, it is destined by God to carry the cross of leading, championing and protecting the whole of the Orthodox Christian commonwealth throughout the world. Perhaps the most influential proponent of this view is the Moscow professor Alexander Dugin… This article aims to answer the following questions:- What are the origins of the idea of Moscow the Third Rome? Was the idea accepted by significant Orthodox authorities outside Russia – for example, the Ecumenical Patriarchate? How, if at all, did the idea change when the Muscovite autocracy was transformed into the St. Petersburg autocracy? Assuming that there was substance to the claim, to what extent did Moscow carry out her high calling? And finally: has the neo-Soviet regime of Putin any right at all to claim to be the Third Rome today?


1. Great Prince Ivan III and the Translatio Imperii

     The Byzantine empire, the Second or New Rome of Constantinople, fell in 1453. But Rome is eternal and invincible– and not only in the minds of pagan Romans. “It is interesting to note,” writes Alexander Dvorkin, “how long the peoples did not want to part with the myth of the Empire, to become the centre of which became the dream of practically every European state both in the East and in the West, from Bulgaria to Castile. In the course of the 13th-14th centuries the canonists of many countries independently of each other developed the principle of the translatio imperii (translation of the empire). The process touched Russia a little later – in the 15th century, in the form of the theory of the Third Rome, which Moscow became...”   

     The idea of the universal empire survived into the modern period because it was necessary. In the middle of the fifteenth century, as compared with a thousand years earlier, or even five hundred years earlier, Orthodoxy was in much greater danger of fragmentation from centrifugal forces of a quasi-nationalist kind. Moreover, the quasi-universal empires of Islam in the East and the Papacy in the West were preparing to divide up the Orthodox lands between them. The Orthodox as a whole had to learn the lesson that the Serbian Prince Lazar had taught his people: Samo Slogo Srbina Spasava, “Only Unity Saves the Serbs”. And while that unity had to be religious and spiritual first of all, it also needed the support of political unity.  

     It was not only the political outlook that was threatening in 1453: if the empire was no more, what would become of the Church? Did not the prophecies link the fall of Rome with the coming of the Antichrist? But perhaps the empire was not yet dead… There were two possibilities here. One was that the Ottoman empire could be construed as a continuation of Rome. After all, there had been pagans and heretics and persecutors of the Church on the throne, so why not a Muslim? Or was Rome to be translated elsewhere, as St. Constantine had once translated the capital of his empire from Old Rome to the New Rome of Constantinople.  

     Unlikely as it may sound, some Greeks embraced the idea of Istanbul being Rome, and the Sultan – the Roman emperor. Thus in 1466 the Cretan historian George Trapezuntios said to the conqueror of Constantinople, Mehmet II: "Nobody doubts that you are the Roman emperor. He who is the lawful ruler in the capital of the empire and in Constantinople is the emperor, while Constantinople is the capital of the Roman empire. And he who remains as emperor of the Romans is also the emperor of the whole world." 

     Certainly, the Ottoman sultans were powerful enough to claim the title. “Their empire did not have the great eastward sweep of the Abbasid Caliphate, but it had succeeded in spreading Islam into hitherto Christian territory – not only the old Byzantine realms on either side of the Black Sea Straits, but also Bulgaria, Serbia and Hungary. Belgrade had fallen to the Ottomans in 1521, Buda in 1541. Ottoman naval power had also brought Rhodes to its knees (1522). Vienna might have survived (as did Malta) but, having also extended Ottoman rule from Baghdad to Basra, from Van in the Caucasus to Aden at the mouth of the Red Sea, and along the Barbary coast from Algiers to Tripoli, Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-66) could… claim: ‘I am the Sultan of Sultans, the Sovereign of Sovereigns, the distributor of crowns to the monarchs of the globe, the shadow of God upon Earth…’… A law-maker and a gifted poet, Suleiman combined religious power, political power and economic power (including the setting of prices).” 

     However, it was precisely his combination of all political and religious power – the definition of despotism - that prevented the Sultan from being a true Autocrat or Basileus. As for the other vital criterion – Christianity - there could be no deception here: the Ottoman Sultans made no pretence at being Orthodox (which even the heretical Byzantine emperors did), and they had no genuine “symphony of powers” with the Orthodox Church (even if they treated it better than some of the emperors). Therefore at most they could be considered analogous in authority to the pagan emperors of Old Rome, legitimate authorities to whom obedience was due (as long as, and to the degree that, they did not compel Christians to commit impiety), but no more. 

     So had the clock been turned back? Had the Christian Roman Empire returned to its pre-Christian, pre-Constantinian origins? No, the clock of Christian history never goes back. The world could never be the same again after Constantine and the Christian empire of New Rome, which had so profoundly changed the consciousness of all the peoples of Europe. So if the Antichrist had not yet come, there was only one alternative: the one, true empire had indeed been translated somewhere - but not unlawfully, to some heretical capital such as Aachen or Old Rome, but lawfully, to some Orthodox nation capable of bringing forth the fruits of the Kingdom.

     What could that nation be? It had to be one that was independent of the Ottomans, or that could re-establish its independence. The last remaining Free Greeks showed little sign of being able to do this. The last Byzantine outpost of Morea in the Peloponnese fell in 1461, and in the same year the Comnenian “empire” of Trebizond on the south coast of the Black Sea also fell, after a siege of forty-two days.  Georgia, Serbia and Bulgaria were already under the Muslim yoke. 

     Another possibility was the land we now call Romania, but which then comprised the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia. Prince Vlad “the Impaler” of Wallachia conducted a courageous rearguard action against the Ottomans north of the Danube.  Stronger still was the resistance of the northern Romanian principality of Moldavia, under its great Prince Stephen (1457-1504). 

     But in spite of her name it was not Romania that was destined to be the Third Rome. In time the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia came under the power of the Turkish Sultans and Greek Phanariots. The honour and the cross of being the protector and restorer of the fortunes of the Orthodox Christian commonwealth  fell to a nation far to the north – Russia… 

     The idea that the Orthodox Empire could be translated to the forests of the north was a bold one. St. Constantine’s moving the capital of the empire from Old Rome to New Rome had also been bold - but that step, though radical and fraught with enormous consequences, had not involved going beyond the bounds of the existing empire, and had been undertaken by the legitimate emperor himself. The Serbs and Bulgarians had each in their time sought to capture New Rome and make it the capital of a Slavic-Greek kingdom – but this, again, had not involved moving the empire itself, as opposed to changing its dominant nation. The Frankish idea of the translatio imperii from New Rome to Aachen had involved both changing the dominant nation and taking the capital beyond the bounds of the existing empire – and had been rejected by the Greeks as heretical, largely on the grounds that it involved setting up a second, rival empire, where there could only be one true one.

     Let us remind ourselves of the eschatological idea on which the idea of the translatio imperii rested. According to this, Rome in its various successions and reincarnations will exist to the end of the world – or at least, to the time of the Antichrist. As Michael Nazarov writes: “This conviction is often reflected in the patristic tradition (it was shared by Saints: Hippolytus of Rome, John Chrysostom, Blessed Theodoret, Blessed Jerome, Cyril of Jerusalem and others). On this basis Elder Philotheus wrote: ‘the Roman [Romejskoe] kingdom is indestructible, for the Lord was enrolled into the Roman [Rimskuiu] power’ (that is, he was enrolled among the inhabitants at the census in the time of the Emperor Augustus). Here Philotheus distinguishes between the indestructible ‘Roman kingdom’, whose successor was now Rus’, and Roman power, which had gone into the past.”  

     In fact the only real candidate for the role of leadership in the Orthodox world was Muscovite Russia. (There were other Russian principalities, but after its conquest of Novgorod in 1487 Moscow had no real rivals.) Only the Russians could be that “third God-chosen people” of the prophecy.  Only they were able to re-express the Christian ideal of the symphony of powers on a stronger, more popular base – as a symphony, in effect, of three powers – Church, State and People - rather than two. For the Russians had the advantage over the Romans and the Greeks that they were converted to the faith as a single people, with their existing social organisation intact, and not, as in Rome, as an amalgam of different peoples whose indigenous social structures had already been smashed by the pagan imperial power. Thus whereas in Rome, as Lev Tikhomirov writes, “the Christians did not constitute a social body”, and “their only organisation was the Church” , in the sense that it was not whole peoples or classes but individuals from many different peoples and classes that joined the Church, in Russia the whole of the richly layered and variegated, but at the same time socially and politically coherent society came to the Church at one time and was baptized together. Moreover, Russia remained a nation-state with a predominantly Russian or Russian-Ukrainian-Belorussian population throughout its extraordinary expansion from the core principality of Muscovy, whose territory in 1462 was 24,000 square kilometres, to the multi-national empire of Petersburg Russia, whose territory in 1914 was 13.5 million square kilometres… 

     Now the Russians retained their loyalty to the Byzantine Church and Empire until the very last moment – that is, until both emperor and patriarch betrayed the Orthodox faith at the Council of Florence in 1438-39. Even after this betrayal, the Russians did not immediately break their canonical dependence on the patriarch. And even after the election of St. Jonah to the metropolitanate of Kiev by a Council of Russian bishops without the blessing of the patriarch, Great Prince Basil III’s letter to the patriarch shows great restraint and humility, speaking only of a “disagreement” between the two Churches. He stressed that St. Jonah had received the metropolitanate without asking the blessing of the patriarch, but in accordance with the canons, only out of extreme necessity. The patriarch’s blessing would again be asked once they were assured that he adhered to “the ancient piety”. 

     Since the Russian Great Prince was now the only independent Orthodox ruler , and was supported by an independent Church (even if that independence, in Greek eyes, was not canonical), he had a better claim than any other to inherit the throne of the Roman Emperors and therefore call himself “Tsar” (from “Caesar”, the equivalent of the Greek “Basileus”).  The title had been floated already before the fall of Constantinople: in 1447-48 Simeon of Suzdal had called Great Prince Basil Vasilievich “faithful and Christ-loving and truly Orthodox… White Tsar”.  And St. Jonah wrote to Prince Alexander of Kiev that Basil was imitating his “ancestors” – the holy Emperor Constantine and the Great-Prince Vladimir.  

     The Russian Great Princes’ claim was further strengthened by the marriage of Ivan III to the last surviving heir of the Palaeologan line, Sophia, in 1472. It was on this basis that the Venetian Senate accorded Ivan the imperial title.  Ivan himself indicated that in marrying Sophia he had united Muscovite Russia with Byzantium by uniting two coats of arms – the two-headed eagle of Byzantium with the image of St. George piercing the dragon with his spear. From now on the two-headed eagle became the Russian coat of arms with the image of St. George in the centre of it, as it were in its breast.  

     In 1492 Metropolitan Zosimus of Moscow wrote: “The Emperor Constantine built a New Rome, Tsarigrad; but the sovereign and autocrat (samoderzhets) of All the Russias, Ivan Vassilievich, the new Constantine, has laid the foundation for a new city of Constantine, Moscow.”  Then, in 1498 Ivan had himself crowned by Metropolitan Simon as “Tsar, Grand Prince and Autocrat of All the Russias”. “In the coronation ceremony, which was a rough copy of the Byzantine, the metropolitan charged the Tsar ‘to care for all souls and for all Orthodox Christendom’. The title of Tsar had now become the official title and brought with it the implication that the Russian monarch was, before God, the head of the Orthodox, that is, of the true Christian world.” 

     However, there were problems associated with the assumption of this title at this time – that is, in the fifteenth century. First, there were other Russian princes with claims to be “the new Constantine”, “the saviour of Orthodoxy” – “for instance,” writes Fr. John Meyendorff, “the prince Boris of Tver, who had also sent a representative to the council [of Florence] and now, after rejecting the Latin faith, was said by one polemicist to deserve an imperial diadem. Furthermore, in Novgorod, under Archbishop Gennadius (1484-1509), there appeared a curious Russian variation on the Donation of Constantine, the Legend of the White Cowl. According to the Legend, the white cowl (klobuk; Gr. επικαλιμαυκον) was donated by Constantine the Great to pope Sylvester following his baptism; the last Orthodox pope, foreseeing Rome’s fall into heresy, sent the cowl for safe-keeping to patriarch Philotheus of Constantinople, who eventually (also foreseeing the betrayal of Florence), sent the precious relic to the archbishop of Novgorod. Thus, not only Moscow, but also Tver and Novgorod, were somehow claiming to be the heirs of ‘Rome’, the center of the true Christian faith…” 

     This problem would resolve itself as Moscow gradually absorbed the other Russian princedoms. More serious, however, was a second problem associated with the fact that the Muscovite Russian Church was now not the only Russian Church. In 1451 the uniate Patriarch Gregory Mammas of Constantinople had fled to Rome, where he consecrated Gregory Bolgarin as metropolitan of Kiev in opposition to St. Jonah. This was justified by the Latins not only on the grounds that there was no communion between themselves and the Orthodox of Muscovy, - the Pope had called St. Jonah “the schismatic monk Jonah, son of iniquity”, - but also because a large part of the Russian population was now living within the domain of King Casimir of Poland-Lithuania, who was a Roman Catholic. Thus the fall of the Greek Church into uniatism led directly to a schism in the Orthodox Russian Church, which had the consequence that the Russian Great Prince could not count on the obedience even of all the Russian people – hardly a strong position from which to be proclaimed emperor of all the Orthodox Christians! 

     Thirdly, and still more fundamentally, after the death of St. Jonah (who still retained the title of metropolitan of Kiev) in 1461, the Muscovite metropolia was officially declared schismatic by Constantinople. The Muscovites’ old excuse for not returning into obedience to Constantinople – the latter’s departure from “the ancient piety” of Orthodoxy into uniatism, - no longer held water since the enthronement of St. Gennadius Scholarius, a disciple to St. Mark of Ephesus, to the see of the former imperial City. Moreover, in 1466 Gregory Bolgarin also returned to Orthodoxy, whereupon he was recognized as the sole canonical Russian metropolitan by Constantinople. This created a major problem, because in the consciousness of the Russian people the blessing of the Ecumenical Patriarch was required for such a major step as the assumption of the role of Orthodox emperor by the Russian Great Prince – which was out of the question so long as the Russians were in schism from the Greeks… However, the Muscovites felt, with some reason, that it made no sense to subject their own free Russian Church living under a free, Orthodox and increasingly powerful sovereign to a metropolitan living under a hostile Roman Catholic king and a patriarch living under a hostile Muslim sultan! 

     The schism between Constantinople and Moscow, as we shall see, continued well into the sixteenth century…

     Lack of recognition by the Second Rome was not the only obstacle that the Russian Great Princes had to overcome before they could truly call themselves the rulers of the Third Rome. They had to reunite, first, all the Russian lands under their own dominion, and then, if possible, all the lands of the Orthodox East. This point can be better appreciated if it is remembered that when the Emperor Constantine transferred the capital of the empire from Old Rome to the New Rome of Constantinople, he was already the undisputed ruler of the whole of the Roman Empire, in which the great majority of Orthodox Christians lived. Ivan III, by contrast, ruled none of the traditional territories of the Roman empire, and not even “the mother of Russian cities”, Kiev.

     The gathering of all the Russian lands into a single national kingdom involved three major stages: (i) the uniting of the free Russian princedoms under Moscow, (ii) the final liberation of the Eastern and Southern Russian lands from the Tatar-Mongol-Turkish yoke, and (iii) the liberation of the Western Russian lands from the Catholic yoke of Poland-Lithuania. 


2. Tsar Ivan the Terrible and the Ecumenical Patriarchate

     Significant progress towards the gathering of the Russian lands was made in the reign of Ivan IV, “the Terrible”. Moreover, the schism between the Greek and Russian Churches was healed. As for the Ecumenical Patriarch recognizing Moscow’s claim to be the Third Rome, this came closer had to wait for fulfillment until the reign of Ivan’s son, Theodore Ivanovich.

     The theme of Moscow the Third Rome became steadily more important throughout the sixteenth century. Thus in the reign of Basil III, Ivan’s father, Elder Philotheus of Pskov expressed the idea in its full splendour: “I would like to say a few words about the existing Orthodox empire of our most illustrious, exalted ruler. He is the only emperor on all the earth over the Christians, the governor of the holy, divine throne of the holy, ecumenical, apostolic Church which in place of the Churches of Rome and Constantinople is in the city of Moscow, protected by God, in the holy and glorious Dormition church of the most pure Mother of God. It alone shines over the whole earth more radiantly than the sun. For know well, those who love Christ and those who love God, that all Christian empires will perish and give way to the one kingdom of our ruler, in accord with the books of the prophet [Daniel 7.14], which is the Russian empire. For two Romes have fallen, but the third stands, and there will never be a fourth…” 

     Again, in 1540 Elder Philotheus wrote to Tsar Ivan, who was not yet of age, that the “woman clothed with the sun” of Revelation chapter 12 was the Church, which fled from the Old Rome to the New Rome of Constantinople, and thence, after the fall of Constantinople, to the third Rome “in the new, great Russia”. And the master of the third Rome, in both its political and ecclesiastical spheres, was the tsar: “Alone on earth the Orthodox, great Russian tsar steers the Church of Christ as Noah in the ark was saved from the flood, and he establishes the Orthodox faith.”

     This rhetoric was all very fine, but in the minds of the highly religious Russians, not to mention the Greeks, it meant nothing if the Russian tsar not in communion with the first see of Orthodoxy, Constantinople. Nor was it only the simple people who felt this incongruity. St. Maximus the Greek and Metropolitan Joasaph of Moscow (1539-42), non-possessors both, tried unsuccessfully to bridge the gap between Moscow and Constantinople. For their pains they were cast into prison and then house arrest, dying in the same year (1555/56). However, the Ecumenical Patriarch thought up a cunning stratagem that after some years achieved the desired effect…  

     In June of that year, a Council of over 50 bishops enthroned the new patriarch, Dionysius II, and sent an epistle to the tsar announcing the fact. In the same epistle they did two things that were meant to be seen together. On the one hand, an appeal was made to release St. Maximus the Greek, who had been imprisoned, at least in part, because he accepted Constantinople’s ecclesial claims. And on the other, the tsar himself was addressed as “tsar and great prince”. And this even before Ivan was formally anointed and crowned with the Cap of Monomakh by Metropolitan Macarius of Moscow on January 16, 1547! In diplomatic language the Ecumenical Patriarch was saying: we are willing to recognize you as tsar, if you return the Muscovite Church into submission to us. And as a sign of your good intent, release St. Maximus… 

     Now the word “tsar” in Russian was roughly equivalent to the word “basileus” in Greek, but it was not equivalent to “emperor of the Romans”. It was a term that had been accorded, grudgingly, to both Charlemagne and the tsar of Bulgaria, as indicating that they were independent and lawful Christian sovereigns; but it fell short of according its bearer the dignity of the ruler and protector of all Orthodox Christians. But in his crowning by Metropolitan Macarius, the tsar’s genealogy had been read, going back (supposedly) to the Emperor Augustus, which implied that he was the successor of the Roman emperors. 

     The patriarch did not respond to this hint, however. Nor was it really plausible to do so insofar as the Ecumenical Patriarch was meant to be in “symphony” with the Roman emperor as his secular partner, whereas his real secular “partner” was not Ivan the Terrible, but the Ottoman Sultan! Nevertheless, the limited recognition that the tsar was being offered constituted an important step forward in the Russian tsars’ campaign for recognition in the Orthodox world, and would be something that the tsar would not want to reject out of hand.

     The next step in the tsarist campaign was the Stoglav council of 1551, whose decisions were framed in the form of 100 answers to questions posed to the Russian tsar. In general, the council was concerned with uprooting corruption in various aspects of church life. Its Russocentric, even nationalist character was emphasized by its decision to the effect that, in all cases where Russian Church ritual differed from Greek, the Russian version was correct. “This unilateral decision,” writes Sir Steven Runciman, “shocked many of the Orthodox. The monks of Athos protested and the Russian monks there regarded the decisions of the synod as invalid.”   

      It is in the context of this Russocentrism that we must understand the Council’s citation of Canon 9 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, which ascribed to the Ecumenical Patriarch the final instance in judging internal church quarrels, and of the Emperor Justinian’s Novella 6 on the “symphony” between Church and State. As Lourié has argued, these citations in no way implied that the Russian Church was not fully autocephalous. The implication was rather that while the Ecumenical Patriarch was accorded all the power granted him by the holy canons, his “partner”, with whom he should remain in harmony, was the Russian tsar… 

     The following few years (1552-1556) witnessed Ivan’s great victories over the Tatars of Kazan and Astrakhan, when the State began to spread from Europe into Asia, and change from a racially fairly homogeneous state into a multi-national empire, “the Third Rome”. The famous cathedral of St. Basil the Blessed – originally dedicated to the Protecting Veil of the Virgin – was built to celebrate the conquest of Kazan.

     In 1909, Archbishop Anthony (Khrapovitsky) pointed out that the conquest of Kazan “was great precisely because with it there began the gradual ascendancy of Christianity over Islam, which had already subjected the Eastern Churches and before that time had not yet been subdued by the Muscovite kingdom. Having now destroyed the wasps’ nest of the Tatar God-fighting tribe, our forefathers understood that this event defined with all clarity the great calling of the Russian land gradually to unite at the foot of the Cross of Christ all the eastern peoples and all the eastern cultures under the leadership of the White Tsar. The great ascetics of piety Gurias, Barsonuphius and Herman were immediately sent to Kazan together with church valuables. There they built churches and monasteries and by the light of their inspired teaching and angelic holiness drew crowds upon crowds of various foreigners to holy baptism. The Russians understood that now – not in separate rivulets, but in a single broad wave – the life and faith of the Trans-Volgan region and Siberia would pour into the sea of the Church, and that the work of St. Stephen of Perm and the preachers of God in the first centuries that were like him would continue without hindrance. And then our ancestors decided, on the one hand, to cast off from themselves every shadow of exaltation in the glorious victory and conquest, and to ascribe all this to Divine Providence, and on the other hand to seal their radiant hope that Moscow, which was then ready to proclaim itself the Third and last Rome, would have to become the mediator of the coming universal and free union of people in the glorification of the Divine Redeemer. The tsar and people carried out their decision by building a beautiful cathedral on Red square, which has justly been recognized as the eighth wonder of the world. The pious inspiration of the Russian masters exceeded all expectation and amazed the beholders. Before them stands a church building whose parts represent a complete diversity, from the ground to the higher crosses, but which as a whole constitutes a wonderful unity – a single elegant wreath – a wreath to the glory of Christ that shone forth in the victory of the Russians over the Hagarenes [Muslims]. Many cupolas crown this church: there is a Mauritanian cupola, an Indian cupola, there are Byzantine elements, there are Chinese elements, while in the middle above them all there rises a Russian cupola uniting the whole building.

     “The thought behind this work of genius is clear: Holy Rus’ must unite all the eastern peoples and be their leader to heaven. This thought is a task recognized by our ancestors and given by God to our people; it has long become a leading principle of their state administration, both inwardly and outwardly: the reigns of the last Ruriks and the first Romanovs were marked by the grace-filled enlightenment of the Muslims and pagans of the North and East, the support of the ancient Christians of the East and South and the defense of the Russian Christians of the West, oppressed by heretics. Rus’ expanded and became stronger and broader, like the wings of an eagle; in the eyes of her sons the Russian cross on [the cathedral of] Basil the Blessed shone ever more brightly; her impious enemies in the South and West trembled; the hands of the enslaved Christians – the Greeks, the Serbs and the Arabs - were raised imploringly to her; at various times Moscow saw within her walls all four eastern patriarchs and heard the liturgy in her churches in many languages…” 

     With his prestige greatly enhanced by his victories over the Muslims, in 1557 the tsar sent Archimandrite Theodorit to Constantinople with the purpose of receiving the patriarch’s blessing to crown him with the full ceremonial accorded to the Byzantine emperors. The reply was not everything that the tsar was hoping for: the patriarch’s blessing was obtained – but only on the tsar’s earlier crowning by Metropolitan Macarius. This constituted, however, only a de facto rather than a de jure recognition; it could not be otherwise, since Macarius was still formally a schismatic in the Greeks’ eyes.

     In 1561 the tsar finally received a fuller, less ambiguous response to his request in the form of an account of a conciliar decision of the Ecumenical Patriarchate dating to December, 1560. But the conciliar decision’s reasoning was unexpectedly roundabout, even devious. First, there was no mention of Ivan’s descent from Augustus, but only from Anna, the Byzantine princess who married St. Vladimir the Saint. In other words, Ivan’s pretensions to be “emperor of the Romans” were rejected: he was the lawful “God-crowned” ruler or emperor only of Russia…

     Secondly, Ivan is said to have sought to be crowned by the patriarch because his crowning by Macarius “has no validity, since not only does a Metropolitan not have the right to crown, but not even every Patriarch, but only the two Patriarchs: the Roman and Constantinopolitan”. In fact, Ivan had made no request for a repetition of the rite. But the patriarch then proposed a way out of the impasse: he said that he himself, in the conciliar decision of December, 1560, had joined his own hand to the crowning carried out by Macarius in 1547, thereby making it valid “in hindsight”, as it were. And that is why he called Ivan’s coronation “God-crowned” in spite of its invalidity!

     Another important feature of the conciliar decision was that Macarius was called “metropolitan of Moscow and the whole of Great Russia”, a much more precise designation than the previous “metropolitan of Russia”, implying that Macarius was a fully canonical metropolitan having a territorial jurisdiction distinct from that of the metropolitan of Kiev. 

     Moreover, in another (non-conciliar) gramota, the patriarch suggested that while it might be rational to carry out a second crowning of Ivan by the patriarch insofar as the first one was invalid, it would be “useful and salutary” to consider this as already done, insofar as Metropolitan Macarius was the “catholic patriarchal exarch” able to carry out all hierarchical acts without hindrance, and the coronation he performed in 1547 was mystically carried out also by the patriarch… “And so,” concludes Lourié, “the abolition of the Muscovite autocephaly was achieved, while no recognition of the Moscow tsar as emperor of the Romans was given in exchange. The Moscow authorities could not dispute this, since the rejection of the autocephaly was now bound up with the recognition of the tsar’s coronation.” 

     The second half of Ivan’s reign was in complete contrast to the first: military success in the east was followed by military failure in the west; thousands of Russians were slaughtered with horrific cruelty by Ivan’s oprichnina; he killed even his own son and the head of the Russian Church, St. Philip. 

      However, the ideal of Moscow the Third Rome, though discredited (and future mockers would frequently cite the example of Ivan the Terrible), did not die…


3. Tsar Theodore Ivanovich and the Ecumenical Patriarchate

     “After the horrors of the reign of Ivan IV,” writes Archpriest Lev Lebedev, “a complete contrast is represented by the soft, kind rule of his son, Theodore Ivanovich. In Russia there suddenly came as it were complete silence… However, the silence of the reign of Theodore Ivanovich was external and deceptive; it could more accurately be called merely a lull before a new storm. For that which had taken place during the oprichnina could not simply disappear: it was bound to have the most terrible consequences.” 

     But this lull contained some very important events. One was the crowning of Theodore according to the full Byzantine rite, followed by his communion in both kinds in the altar. This further enhanced the status of the Russian State, which now, as in the reign of Ivan the Terrible, was closely linked to the status of the Moscow metropolia…

     As A.P. Dobroklonsky writes, “the Moscow metropolitan see stood very tall. Its riches and the riches of the Moscow State stimulated the Eastern Patriarchs – not excluding the Patriarch of Constantinople himself – to appeal to it for alms. The boundaries of the Moscow metropolitanate were broader than the restricted boundaries of any of the Eastern Patriarchates (if we exclude from the Constantinopolitan the Russian metropolitan see, which was part of it); the court of the Moscow metropolitan was just as great as that of the sovereign. The Moscow metropolitan was freer in the manifestation of his ecclesiastical rights than the Patriarchs of the East, who were restricted at every step. Under the protection of the Orthodox sovereigns the metropolitan see in Moscow stood more firmly and securely than the Constantinopolitan Patriarchate, which had become a plaything in the hands of the sultan or vizier. The power of the Moscow metropolitan was in reality not a whit less than that of the patriarchate: he ruled the bishops, called himself their ‘father, pastor, comforter and head, under the power and in the will of whom they are the Vladykas of the whole Russian land’. Already in the 15th century, with the agreement of the Constantinopolitan Patriarch, he had been elected in Rus’ without the knowledge or blessing of the Patriarch; the Russian metropolia had already ceased hierarchical relations with the patriarchal see. If there remained any dependence of the Moscow metropolitan on the patriarch, it was only nominal, since the Russian metropolia was still counted as belonging to the Constantinopolitan Patriarchate…” 

     Not only was the Moscow metropolia a de facto patriarchate already: its exaltation would simultaneously raise the status of the Russian Autocracy, whose prosperity was vital for the survival, not only of Russian Orthodoxy, but of Greek, Balkan, Middle Eastern and Georgian Orthodoxy, too. And so in 1586 talks began with Patriarch Joachim of Antioch, who had arrived in Moscow. He promised to discuss the question of the status of the Russian Church with his fellow patriarchs. In 1588, the Ecumenical Patriarch Jeremiah II (Trallas) came to Moscow on an alms-raising trip.  Then he went on an important tour of the beleagured Orthodox in the Western Russian lands, ordaining bishops and blessing the lay brotherhoods. 

     It was the desperate situation of the Orthodox in Western Russia that made the exaltation of the Muscovite see particularly timely. In 1582 the Pope had introduced the Gregorian calendar, whose aim was to divide the Orthodox liturgically; and in 1596 the Orthodox hierarchs in the region signed the unia of Brest-Litovsk with the Roman Catholics. It was now obvious that Divine Providence had singled out the Church and State in Muscovy, rather than that in Poland-Lithuania, as the centre and stronghold of Russian Orthodoxy as a whole, and this needed to be emphasised in the eyes of all the Orthodox. 

     Patriarch Jeremiah understood this; and in January, 1589 he and Tsar Ivan Fyodorovich presided over a “Holy Synod of the Great Russian Empire and of the Greek Empire” which sanctioned the creation of an autocephalous Russian patriarchate, a decision published in a gramota by the tsar in May of the same year. The act was confirmed in a highly unusual and even, strictly speaking, uncanonical manner: the new Russian patriarch, Job, was given a second (or even a third) consecration by Patriarch Jeremiah.  

     The decision was confirmed by two Pan-Orthodox Councils in Constantinople in 1590 and 1593. In the later Council the Russian Church was assigned the fifth place among the patriarchates, and the Pope’s introduction of the Gregorian calendar was anathematized.

     As Dan Mureşan has argued, these two last acts were closely linked. Up to this period, Rome, though in heresy, was considered still belong to the pentarchy of patriarchs, without whose combined presence no Ecumenical Council could be convened. But the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in 1582 had so appalled the Orthodox that the pretense of a pentarchy including Rome was finally abandoned. So the Council of 1590 was called “ecumenical”, although it was convened without Rome, and the Russian Church took the place of Rome, thereby recreating the pentarchy to reflect present realities. 

     In agreeing to the tsar’s request for a patriarchate of Moscow, Patriarch Jeremiah showed that he understood that in having a Patriarch at his side, the status of the Tsar, too, would be exalted: “In truth, pious tsar, the Holy Spirit dwells in you, and this thought is from God, and will be realised by you. For the Old Rome fell to the Apollinarian heresy, and the Second Rome, Constantinople, is in the possession of the grandsons of the Hagarenes, the godless Turks: but your great Russian kingdom, the Third Rome, has exceeded all in piety. And all the pious kingdoms have been gathered into your kingdom, and you alone under the heavens are named the Christian tsar throughout the inhabited earth for all Christians.” 

     The Patriarch’s language here is very reminiscent of that of the famous prophecy of Elder Philotheus of Pskov in 1511. In particular, the Patriarch follows the elder in ascribing the fall of Old Rome to “the Apollinarian heresy”. Now the Apollinarian heresy rarely, if ever, figures in lists of the western heresies. And yet the patriarch here indicates that it is the heresy as a result of which the First Rome fell. Some have understood it to mean the Latin practice of using unleavened bread in the Eucharist. In order to understand why the patriarch should have spoken of Apollinarianism as the heresy of the West, we need to look for some matching in form, if not in substance, between the Apollinarian and papist heresies. Now Apollinarius taught that in Christ only the body and the soul were human, but His mind was Divine. In other words, Christ did not have a human mind like ours, but this was replaced, according to the Apollinarian schema, by the Divine Logos. 

     A parallel with Papism immediately suggests itself: just as the Divine Logos replaces the human mind in the heretical Apollinarian Christology, so a quasi-Divine, infallible Pope replaces the fully human, and therefore at all times fallible episcopate in the heretical papist ecclesiology. The root heresy of the West therefore consists in the unlawful exaltation of the mind of the Pope over the other minds of the Church, both clerical and lay, and its quasi-deification to a level equal to that of Christ Himself. From this root heresy proceed all the heresies of the West. 

     Thus the Filioque with its implicit demotion of the Holy Spirit to a level below that of the Father and the Son becomes necessary insofar as the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of truth Who constantly leads the Church into all truth has now become unnecessary - the Divine Mind of the Pope is quite capable of fulfilling His function. Similarly, the epiclesis, the invocation of the Holy Spirit on the Holy Gifts, is also unnecessary - if Christ, the Great High Priest, sanctified the Holy Gifts by His word alone, then His Divine Vicar on earth is surely able to do the same without invoking any other Divinity, especially a merely subordinate one such as the Holy Spirit. 

     The exaltation of the Russian Church and State to patriarchal and “Third Rome” status respectively shows that, not only in her own eyes, but in the eyes of the whole Orthodox world, Russia was now the chief bastion of the Truth of Christ against the heresies of the West. Russia had been born as a Christian state just as the West was falling away from grace into papism in the eleventh century. Now, in the sixteenth century, as Western papism received a bastard child in the Protestant Reformation, and a second wind in the Counter-Reformation, Russia was ready to take up leadership of the struggle against both heresies as a fully mature Orthodox nation.

     However, as we have seen, the Eastern Patriarchs, while confirming the establishment of the Moscow Patriarchate, made it only the fifth in seniority, after the four Greek patriarchates. This meant that the relationship between Church and State in the Third Rome still did not quite correspond to that between Church and State in the Second Rome. For whereas in the latter the Emperor’s partner was the first see in Orthodoxy (at least after the fall of the papacy), the Emperor’s partner in the Third Rome was only number five in the list of patriarchs. Nevertheless, this was probably in accordance with Divine Providence; for in the decades that immediately followed the prestige of the “Third Rome” was severely dented when the Poles briefly conquered Moscow during the “Time of Troubles”, necessitating the continued supervision of the Western and Southern Russian Orthodox by Constantinople. And by the beginning of the eighteenth century, the Russian patriarchate was abolished by Peter the Great and replaced by a “Holy Governing Synod”… On the other hand, the elevation of the head of the Russian Church to the rank of patriarch was to prove beneficial now, in the early seventeenth century, when the Autocracy in Russia had been shaken to its foundations and the patriarchs had taken the place of the tsars as the leaders of the Russian nation. We witness a similar phenomenon in 1917, when the restoration of the Russian patriarchate to some degree compensated for the fall of the tsardom. In both cases, the patriarchate both filled the gap left by the fall of the state (up to a point), and kept alive the ideals of true Orthodox statehood, waiting for the time when it could restore political power into the hands of the anointed tsars.


4. Tsar Alexis Mikhailovich and Patriarch Nicon

     As the power of the Russian State recovered towards the middle of the seventeenth century, hopes were raised that Moscow could fulfill her destiny as the Third Rome and reconquer Constantinople for the Orthodox. Tsar Alexis Mikhailovich listened with sympathy to the pleas of Greek merchants in Moscow that he launch a war of Orthodox liberation in the south. 

     However, a major internal problem of an ideological nature now presented itself before him. The problem consisted in the fact that a large section of the population of his kingdom, who later came to be called the Old Ritualists, had a quite different conception of Moscow the Third Rome, a more nationalist and Russian-centred conception. Now the schism of the Old Ritualists is usually considered to centre on arguments over books and rites, over such matters as whether the sign of the Cross should be made with two fingers or with three, or whether during processions “Alleluia” should be sung walking clockwise or anti-clockwise.  But the differences between the Orthodox and the Old Ritualists, writes Lebedev, related “not only to the correction of books and rites. The point was the deep differences in perception of the ideas forming the basis of the conception of ‘the third Rome’, and in the contradictions of the Russian Church’s self-consciousness at the time.”  

     The differences over the concept of the Third Rome, on the one hand, and over books and rites, on the other hand, were linked in the following way… By the middle of the century the Russian State was ready to go on the offensive against Catholic Poland, and rescue the Orthodox Christians who were being persecuted there. In 1654 Eastern Ukraine was wrested from Poland and came within the bounds of Russia again. But the Orthodox Church in the Ukraine had been under the jurisdiction of Constantinople and employed some Greek liturgical practices that differed somewhat from those in the Great Russian Church. So if Moscow was to be the Third Rome in the sense of the protector of all Orthodox Christians, it was necessary that the faith and practice of the Moscow Patriarchate should be in harmony with the faith and practice of the Orthodox Church as a whole. That is why Patriarch Nicon, supported by the Grecophile Tsar Alexis, encouraged the reform of the service-books to bring them into line with the practices of the Greek Church. 

     In pursuing this policy the Tsar and the Patriarch were continuing the work of St. Maximus the Greek, who had been invited to Russia to carry out translations from Greek into Russian and correct the Russian service books against the Greek originals. For this he was persecuted by Metropolitan Daniel. And yet “the mistakes in the Russian Divine service books were so great,” writes Professor N.N. Pokrovsky, “that the Russian Church finally had to agree with Maximus’ corrections – true, some 120 years after his trial, under Patriarch Nicon (for example, in the Symbol of the faith).” 

     Paradoxically, the Old Ritualists cited St. Maximus the Greek in their support because he made no objection to the two-fingered sign. However, Professor Pokrovsky has shown that he probably passed over this as being of secondary importance by comparison with his main task, which was to broaden the horizons of the Russian Church and State, making it more ecumenical in spirit – and more sympathetic to the pleas for help of the Orthodox Christians of the Balkans. On more important issues – for example, the text of the Symbol of faith, the canonical subjection of the Russian metropolitan to the Ecumenical Patriarch, and a more balanced relationship between Church and State – he had made no concessions.

     The Old Ritualists represented a serious threat to the achievement of the ideal of Ecumenical Orthodoxy. Like their opponents, they believed in the ideology of the Third Rome, but understood it differently. First, they resented the lead that the patriarch was taking in this affair. In their opinion, the initiative in such matters should come from the tsar insofar as it was the tsar, rather than the hierarchs, who defended the Church from heresies. Here they were thinking of the Russian Church’s struggle against the false council of Florence and the Judaizing heresy, when the great prince did indeed take a leading role in the defence of Orthodoxy while some of the hierarchs fell away from the truth. However, they ignored the no less frequent cases – most recently, in the Time of Troubles – when it had been the Orthodox hierarchs who had defended the Church against apostate tsars.

     Secondly, whereas for the Grecophiles of the “Greco-Russian Church” Moscow the Third Rome was the continuation of Christian Rome, which in no wise implied any break with Greek Orthodoxy, for the Old Ritualists the influence of the Greeks, who had betrayed Orthodoxy at the council of Florence, could only be harmful. They believed that the Russian Church did not need help from, or agreement with, the Greeks; she was self-sufficient. Moreover, the Greeks could not be Orthodox, according to the Old Ritualists, not only because they had apostasized at the council of Florence, but also because they were “powerless”, that is, without an emperor. And when Russia, too, in their view, became “powerless” through the tsar’s “apostasy”, they prepared for the end of the world. For, as V.M. Lourié writes, “the Niconite reforms were perceived by Old Ritualism as apostasy from Orthodoxy, and consequently… as the end of the last (Roman) Empire, which was to come immediately before the end of the world.”  

     This anti-Greek attitude was exemplified by Archpriest Avvakum, who told the Greek bishops at his trial of 1667: “You, ecumenical teachers! Rome has long since fallen, and lies on the ground, and the Poles have gone under with her, for to the present day they have been enemies of the Christians. But with you, too, Orthodoxy became a varied mixture under the violence of the Turkish Muhammed. Nor is that surprising: you have become powerless. From now on you must come to us to learn: through God’s grace we have the autocracy. Before the apostate Nicon the whole of Orthodoxy was pure and spotless in our Russia under the pious rulers and tsars, and the Church knew no rebellion. But the wolf Nicon along with the devil introduced the tradition that one had to cross oneself with three fingers…”  

     It was this attempt to force the Russians into schism from the Greeks that was the real sin of the Old Ritualists. Their schism was not essentially about rites, but about national pride; it was the first nationalist schism in modern Orthodox history. And it was against this narrow, nationalistic and state-centred conception of Moscow the Third Rome that Patriarch Nicon erected a more universalistic, Church-centred conception which stressed the unity of the Russian Church with the Churches of the East. 

     “In the idea of ‘the Third Rome’,” writes Lebedev, “his Holiness saw first of all its ecclesiastical, spiritual content, which was also expressed in the still more ancient idea of ‘the Russian land – the New Jerusalem’. This idea was to a large degree synonymous with ‘the Third Rome’. To a large extent, but not completely! It placed the accent on the Christian striving of Holy Rus’ for the world on high 

     “In calling Rus’ to this great idea, Patriarch Nicon successively created a series of architectural complexes in which was laid the idea of the pan-human, universal significance of Holy Rus’. These were the Valdai Iveron church, and the Kii Cross monastery, but especially the Resurrection New-Jerusalem monastery, which was deliberately populated with an Orthodox, but multi-racial brotherhood (Russians, Ukrainians, Belorussians, Lithuanians, Germans, Jews, Poles and Greeks) 

     “This monastery, together with the complex of ‘Greater Muscovite Palestine’, was in the process of creation from 1656 to 1666, and was then completed after the death of the patriarch towards the end of the 17th century. As has been clarified only comparatively recently, this whole complex, including in itself Jordan, Nazareth, Bethlehem, Capernaum, Ramah, Bethany, Tabor, Hermon, the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane, etc., was basically a monastery, and in it the Resurrection cathedral, built in the likeness of the church of the Sepulchre of the Lord in Jerusalem with Golgotha and the Sepulchre of the Saviour, was a double image – an icon of the historical ‘promised land’ of Palestine and at the same time an icon of the promised land of the Heavenly Kingdom, ‘the New Jerusalem’.

     “In this way it turned out that the true union of the representatives of all the peoples (pan-human unity) in Christ on earth and in heaven can be realised only on the basis of Orthodoxy, and, moreover, by the will of God, in its Russian expression. This was a clear, almost demonstrative opposition of the union of mankind in the Church of Christ to its unity in the anti-church of ‘the great architect of nature’ with its aim of constructing the tower of Babylon. But it also turned out that ‘Greater Muscovite Palestine’ with its centre in the New Jerusalem became the spiritual focus of the whole of World Orthodoxy. At the same time that the tsar was only just beginning to dream of becoming the master of the East, Patriarch Nicon as the archimandrite of New Jerusalem had already become the central figure of the Universal Church.

     “This also laid a beginning to the disharmony between the tsar and the patriarch, between the ecclesiastical and state authorities in Russia. Alexis Mikhailovich, at first inwardly, but then also outwardly, was against Nicon’s plans for the New Jerusalem. He insisted that only his capital, Moscow, was the image of the heavenly city, and that the Russian tsar (and not the patriarch) was the head of the whole Orthodox world. From 1657 there began the quarrels between the tsar and the patriarch, in which the tsar revealed a clear striving to take into his hands the administration of Church affairs, for he made himself the chief person responsible for them.” 

     In 1666-67, at a “Great Council” of Greek and Russian hierarchs, Tsar Alexis Mikhailovich secured the unjust deposition of Patriarch Nicon… 


5. The Eighteenth-Century Tsars and the Loss of Symphony

     The Russian Church never fully recovered from this massive blow to the “symphony of powers”; and within two generations, by the just judgement of God, the Church had become subject to despotism of Tsar Peter the Great. As a direct result, the whole country was subjected, by force at times, to the cultural, scientific and educational influence of the West. This transformation was symbolized especially by the building, at great cost in human lives, of a new capital at St. Petersburg. Situated at the extreme western end of the vast empire as Peter's “window to the West”, this extraordinary city was largely built by Italian architects on the model of Amsterdam, peopled by shaven and pomaded courtiers who spoke more French than Russian, and ruled, from the middle of the eighteenth century onwards, by monarchs of German origin. In building St. Petersburg, Peter was also trying to replace the traditional idea of Russia as the Third Rome by the western idea of the secular empire on the model of the First Rome, the Rome of the pagan Caesars and Augusti. 

     As Wil van den Bercken writes: “Rome remains an ideological point of reference in the notion of the Russian state. However, it is no longer the second Rome but the first Rome to which reference is made, or ancient Rome takes the place of Orthodox Constantinople. Peter takes over Latin symbols: he replaces the title tsar by the Latin imperator, designates his state imperia, calls his advisory council senate, and makes the Latin Rossija the official name of his land in place of the Slavic Rus’…

     “Although the primary orientation is on imperial Rome, there are also all kinds of references to the Christian Rome. The name of the city, St. Petersburg, was not just chosen because Peter was the patron saint of the tsar, but also to associate the apostle Peter with the new Russian capital. That was both a diminution of the religious significance of Moscow and a religious claim over papal Rome. The adoption of the religious significance of Rome is also evident from the cult of the second apostle of Rome, Paul, which is expressed in the name for the cathedral of the new capital, the St. Peter and Paul Cathedral. This name was a break with the pious Russian tradition, which does not regard the two Roman apostles but Andrew as the patron of Russian Christianity. Thus St. Petersburg is meant to be the new Rome, directly following on the old Rome, and passing over the second and third Romes…” 

     And yet the ideal of Russia as precisely the Third Rome, not a reincarnation of the First, was preserved. “It was preserved because neither the people nor the Church renounced the very ideal of the Orthodox kingdom, and, as even V. Klyuchevsky noted, continued to consider as law that which corresponded to this ideal, and not Peter’s decrees.” 

     But if Russia was still the Third Rome, it was highly doubtful, in the people’s view, that Peter was her true Autocrat. For how could one who undermined the foundations of the Third Rome be her true ruler? The real Autocrat of Russia, the rumour went, was sealed up in a column in Stockholm, and Peter was a German who had been substituted for him…

     However, if the Russians were beginning to doubt, the Greeks were beginning to take to the idea, especially as Peter was now extending his power to the south… Thus in 1709 he defeated the Swedes and began to build a navy for the Black Sea - a threat to Constantinople itself that translated into real influence with the Sultan. In fact, it is with Peter the Great and his eighteenth-century successors that we can first talk realistically about Russia fulfilling her role as the protector of the non-Russian Orthodox…

     As V.M. Lourié writes: “At that time hopes in Greece for a miraculous re-establishment of Constantinople before the end of the world [based on the prophecies of Leo the Wise and others], were somewhat strengthened, if not squeezed out, by hopes on Russia. Anastasius Gordius (1654-1729), the author of what later became an authoritative historical-eschatological interpretation of the Apocalypse (1717-23) called the Russian Empire the guardian of the faith to the very coming of the Messiah. The hopes of the Greeks for liberation from the Turks that were linked with Russia, which had become traditional already from the time of St. Maximus the Greek (1470-1555), also found their place in the interpretations of the Apocalypse. Until the middle of the 19th century itself – until the Greeks, on a wave of pan-European nationalism thought up their ‘Great Idea’ – Russia would take the place of Byzantium in their eschatological hopes, as being the last Christian Empire. They considered the Russian Empire to be their own, and the Russian Tsar Nicholas (not their Lutheran King Otto) as their own, to the great astonishment and annoyance of European travellers.” 

     Less in the tradition of the Orthodox Emperor was Peter’s abolition of the Russian patriarchate and its replacement by a Synod that was formally a department of the State. In 1721 Peter petitioned the Ecumenical Patriarch to recognize this  “governmental” (pravitel’stvennij) Synod as having “equal to patriarchal power”. In 1723 the reply came in the form of “two nearly identical letters, one from Patriarch Jeremiah of Constantinople, written on behalf of himself and the patriarchs of Jerusalem and Alexandria, and the other from Patriarch Athanasius of Antioch. Both letters ‘confirmed, ratified, and declared’ that the Synod established by Peter ‘is, and shall be called, our holy brother in Christ’; and the patriarchs enjoined all Orthodox clergy and people to submit to the Synod ‘as to the four Apostolic thrones’.” 

     The Eastern Patriarchs’ agreement to the abolition of the patriarchate they themselves had established needs some explanation. Undoubtedly influential in their decision was the assurance they received from Peter that he had instructed the Synod to rule the Russian Church “in accordance with the unalterable dogmas of the faith of the Holy Orthodox Catholic Greek Church”. Of course, if they had known all the Protestantizing tendencies of Peter’s rule, and in particular his reduction of the Church to a department of the State, they might not have felt so assured…

     Also relevant was the fact that the Russian tsar was the last independent Orthodox ruler and the main financial support of the Churches of the East. This made it difficult for the Patriarchs to resist the Tsar in this, as in other requests. Thus in 1716 Patriarch Jeremiah III acceded to Peter’s request to allow his soldiers to eat meat during all fasts while they were on campaign ; and a little later he permitted the request of the Russian consul in Constantinople that Lutherans and Calvinists should not be baptized on joining the Orthodox Church. 

     But a still more likely explanation is the fact that the Eastern Patriarchs were themselves in an uncanonical (simoniac) situation in relation to their secular ruler, the Sultan, which would have made any protest against a similar uncanonicity in Russia seem hypocritical. In fact, in the 18th century we have the tragic spectacle of the Orthodox Church almost everywhere in an uncanonical position vis-à-vis the secular powers: in Russia, deprived of its lawful head and ruled by a secular, albeit formally Orthodox ruler; in the Greek lands, under a lawful head, the Ecumenical Patriarch, who nevertheless unlawfully combined political and religious roles and was chosen, at least in part, by a Muslim ruler; in the Balkans, deprived of their lawful heads (the Serbian and Bulgarian patriarchs) and ruled in both political and religious matters by the Ecumenical Patriarch while being under the supreme dominion of the same Muslim ruler, or, as in Montenegro, ruled (from 1782) by prince-bishops of the Petrovic-Njegos family. 

     Only little Georgia retained something like the traditional symphony of powers. But even the Georgians were forced, towards the end of the eighteenth century, to seek the suzerainty of Orthodox Russia in the face of the Muslim threat. The idea was: better submit to the absolutist but Orthodox ruler of the Third Rome than the similarly absolutist but infidel ruler of the Second Rome.

     The problem for the smaller Orthodox nations was that there was no clear way out of this situation. Rebellion on a mass scale was out of the question. So it was natural to look in hope to the north, where Peter, in spite of his “state heresy” (Glubokovsky’s phrase), was an anointed sovereign who greatly strengthened Russia militarily and signed all the confessions of the faith of the Orthodox Church. All these factors persuaded the Eastern Patriarchs to employ “economy” (leniency, condescension to weakness) and bless the uncanonical replacement of the patriarchate with State-dominated Synod… 

     Under Catherine the Great the empire continued to expand to the west and the south. “New Russia” and the Crimea was conquered from the Turks, and Russia’s age-old enemy, Catholic Poland, was divided between Russia, Austria and Prussia. And Catherine called her grandson Constantine in the hope that he might become the ruler of Constantinople…

     But Catherine went even further than Peter in subjecting the Church to the State.  Under Peter, the election of bishops had been as follows: the Synod presented two candidates for the episcopacy of a vacant see to the monarch, and he chose one of them. (In late Byzantium, the emperor had chosen from three proposed candidates.) The newly elected bishop then had to swear an oath that included recognizing the monarch as “supreme Judge” of the Church. Catherine did not change this arrangement; and she restricted the power of the bishops still further, in that out of fear of “fanaticism”, as Vladimir Rusak writes, “cases dealing with religious blasphemies, the violation of order in Divine services, and magic and superstition were removed from the competence of the spiritual court…” 

     Paradoxically, therefore, at the same time that Russia was departing further and further from the spiritual ideals of the Third and Second Romes, her external, political mission to liberate the Orthodox peoples and unite them under her aegis was proceeding apace.

     Already at the very beginning of her reign, between 1762 and 1764, Catherine reduced the number of monasteries from 1072 to 452, and of monastics – from 12,444 to 5105! It goes without saying, therefore, that Catherine was no supporter of the traditionally Orthodox “symphonic” model of Church-State relations.  “[The Archbishop of Novgorod],” she wrote to Voltaire, “is neither a persecutor nor a fanatic. He abhors the idea of the two powers”. And in her correspondence with the Austrian Emperor Joseph II she called herself head of the Greek Church.

      Nevertheless, the eighteenth-century sovereigns of Russia, while being despotic in their administration and non-Russian in their culture, never formally renounced the Orthodox faith, and even defended it at times. 

     Thus “Peter I,” writes Dobroklonsky, “who allowed himself a relaxed attitude towards the institutions of the Church, and even clowning parodies of sacred actions, nevertheless considered it necessary to restrain others. There was a case when he beat Tatischev with a rod for having permitted himself some liberty in relation to church traditions, adding: ‘Don’t lead believing souls astray, don’t introduce free-thinking, which is harmful for the public well-being; I did not teach you to be an enemy of society and the Church.’ On another occasion he subjected Prince Khovansky and some young princes and courtiers to cruel physical punishments for having performed a blasphemous rite of burial on a guest who was drunk to the point of unconsciousness and mocked church vessels. While breaking the fast himself, Peter I, so as not to lead others astray, asked for a dispensation for himself from the patriarch. Anna Ioannovna, the former duchess of Courland, who was surrounded by Germans, nevertheless paid her dues of veneration for the institutions of the Orthodox Church; every day she attended Divine services, zealously built and adorned churches, and even went on pilgrimages. Elizabeth Petrovna was a model of sincere piety: she gave generous alms for the upkeep of churches, the adornment of icons and shrines both with money and with the work of her own hand: in her beloved Alexandrovsk sloboda she was present at Divine services every day, rode or went on foot on pilgrimages to monasteries, observed the fast in strict abstinence and withdrawal, even renouncing official audiences. There is a tradition that before her death she had the intention of becoming tonsured as a nun. Even Catherine II, in spite of the fact that she was a fan of the fashionable French philosophy, considered it necessary to carry out the demands of piety: on feastdays she was without fail present at Divine services; she venerated the clergy and kissed the hands of priests…” Moreover, the eighteenth-century sovereigns patronized important missionary work. Thus it was with the active support of Peter I that the Russian Spiritual Mission in Beijing was established.  Again, it was towards the end of the century that the Russian mission to Alaska began…

     The eighteenth-century rulers of Russia can be seen both as forerunners of the Antichrist, insofar as they undermined the traditional Orthodox way of life in Russia, and as restrainers of the Antichrist, one of the chief functions of the Roman emperor in Orthodox eschatological thought, in that they built up a mighty state that was able to defend what was left of the Orthodox way of life in the next century. Thus they made possible both the glorious victory of 1812 over the French Antichrist, and the catastrophic surrender of 1917 to the Soviet Antichrist. And so it was in the eighteenth century that Russia finally emerged on the world stage as the universalist empire of the Third Rome, the heir of the Second, New Rome of Byzantium – only to fall, in the twentieth century, to the pagan spirit of the First Rome that these same eighteenth-century rulers had re-implanted in her...


6. The Nineteenth-Century Tsars and the Recovery of Symphony

     Tsar Paul I, who ascended the throne on the death of his mother in 1797, had been educated by Metropolitan Platon of Moscow, and shared his teacher’s devotion to pre-Petrine Russia. And so at his coronation, before putting on the purple, he was vested in the dalmatic, one of the royal vestments of the Byzantine emperors. Thus the rite moved a significant step away from the symbolism of the First Rome, which had been the model of Peter, and back to the symbolism of the New Rome of Constantinople, the Mother-State of Holy Rus’. Moreover, through his attention to the needs of the Church and the poor, and his resistance to the claims of the pampered nobility, Tsar Paul showed himself to be in reality, and not only in symbolism, a truly Orthodox autocrat. Sensing this, the westernising nobility spread the rumour – accepted to the present day by western historians – that Paul was mad, and finally succeeded in murdering him in 1801…

     His son and successor, Alexander I, did not at first follow the blessed example of his father (in whose murder he is said to have a part); but he redeemed himself in the second half of his reign by two great feats. First, of course, he defeated Napoleon in 1812 and planted the standards of the Orthodox autocracy in the heart of the western revolution, Paris. Secondly, he banned Freemasonry, the religion and organizational focus of the revolution… In this way, the scene was set for the long struggle between Russia and the revolution which straddled the whole of the “long” nineteenth century from 1812 to 1914. After wavering between Orthodoxy and the West during the eighteenth century, the Russian autocracy now set its face firmly against westernism, taking up the banner of the Third Rome in earnest.

     It was especially during the reigns of Tsars Nicholas I and Alexander II, with their wars to protect the Orthodox Christians of the Balkans, that the idea of Moscow the Third Rome began to be revived, and Orthodox Christians again began to see this as the role that Divine Providence had entrusted to Russia.  The wars waged by Russia for the liberation of Greece in 1829-31, of the Holy Places in 1854-56, of Bulgaria in 1877-78 and of Serbia in 1914-17, and in the suppression of revolution in Poland in 1830 and 1863, and in Hungary in 1848, can all be seen as carrying out the mission of the Third Rome to protect Orthodox Christianity – indeed, the whole of Christian civilization – against the atheist revolution. The climax of this external mission of Moscow the Third Rome was seen as the reconquest of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople and the placing of the Cross instead of the crescent on its roof. As the saying went, “Constantinople will be ours”… And indeed, but for the external threat of a military intervention by the British in 1878, and the internal revolution of the Freemasons of the Duma and the Army in 1917, this goal might well have been achieved… 

     Not only externally, but also internally, the nineteenth-century tsars were well on the way to realizing the ideal of Moscow the Third Rome. Particular progress in this respect was made by Tsar Nicholas II, who in 1901 removed the phrase “Supreme Judge” from the Basic Laws, and was actively considering convening a Church Council, the first since 1682, that would re-establish the patriarchate abolished by Peter. Tsar Nicholas, like Tsar Paul, was consciously striving to cleanse the Russian State of the absolutist legacy of Petrine westernism and return it to the symphonic model of seventeenth-century Muscovy. As he once said: “Of course, I recognize that my famous ancestor had many merits, but I must admit that I would be insincere if I repeated your raptures. This is the ancestor whom I love less than others because of his obsession with western culture and his trampling on all purely Russian customs. One must not impose foreign things immediately, without reworking them. Perhaps this time it was necessary as a transitional period, but I do not sympathize with it.”

     However, there were major problems, both external and internal. On the international scene, the mission of Moscow the Third Rome was not recognized – even by other Orthodox states. For the Balkan Orthodox did not see themselves, either actually or potentially, as part of any greater Orthodox empire. Or rather, the Greeks had become enamoured of what they called “the great idea” – that is, the idea of a resurrected Second Rome of Constantinople, while the Serbs and the Bulgarians were striving for a Great Serbia and a Greater Bulgaria respectively.

     What had changed since the seventeenth century to make the Greeks and other Orthodox lose faith in the idea of Moscow the Third Rome? The answer is: the French revolution, and the consequent release of the virus of nationalist passion into the bloodstream of both Eastern and Western Europeans. Orthodox Christianity and the ideal of the Orthodox Empire – Christian Rome – are internationalist ideas in essence. While not necessarily opposed to nationalist aspirations in certain circumstances, their ideal is Christ, in Whom there is “neither Greek nor Jew”. The Christian Roman empire is Orthodox first and foremost; and since all Orthodox Christians are brothers and in essence equal, there can be no exalting of one race over the others, even if one race – Roman, Greek or Russian – takes the lead in governing the others.

     And so, as Fr. George Metallinos writes, in the Second Rome whose capital was Constantinople, "a great number of peoples made up the autocracy but without any 'ethnic' differentiation between them. The whole racial amalgam lived and moved in a single civilization (apart from some particularities) - the Greek , and it had a single cohesive spiritual power – Orthodoxy, which was at the same time the ideology of the oikoumene - autocracy. The citizens of the autocracy were Romans politically, Greeks culturally and Orthodox Christians spiritually. Through Orthodoxy the old relationship of rulers and ruled was replaced by the sovereign bond of brotherhood. Thus the 'holy race' of the New Testament (I Peter 2.9) became a reality as the 'race of the Romans', that is, of the Orthodox citizens of the autocracy of the New Rome."  

     The Third Rome of Moscow differed from the Second Rome in that it never had political control over all the territories whose religion was Orthodoxy.  Nevertheless, as we have seen, in 1589 the Ecumenical Patriarch Jeremiah II proclaimed Moscow to be the Third Rome and the protector of Orthodox Christians everywhere; and until at least the end of the eighteenth century the Orthodox living under Ottoman rule certainly looked towards Moscow as their protector and defender. Moreover, both the territorial expansion of the Russian empire, and the high birth-rate of its population, meant that by 1914 almost eight out of every nine Orthodox Christians in the world lived within the empire, while many millions more looked to it as their chief protector, making the Third Rome far greater in territory, population and power than its predecessors...

     But from the Greek revolution of 1821 the Balkan Orthodox began wars of national liberation from the Ottoman yoke without consulting with the Russian Tsar – until they got into difficulties, and were compelled to call on the tsar to rescue them. The indiscipline and nationalist fervour of the Balkan Orthodox were such that after 1878 Greeks, Serbs and Bulgars were fighting not only the Turks but also each other for the prize of Macedonia. And from the beginning of the twentieth century, further territorial expansion by the Balkan Orthodox, especially the Serbs and Montenegrins, carried the threat of igniting a pan-European and even a World War. This very nearly happened during the First Balkan War in 1912, and Tsar Nicholas only restrained his “allies” with the greatest difficulty. As we all know, he was not able to control the situation in 1914, as a result of which the Empire itself fell in 1917, bringing catastrophe to all the Orthodox peoples…

     Internally, Tsar Nicholas had no less serious problems. The nationalist malaise had infected some of the constituent nationalities of his empire, especially the Poles, while the pseudo-internationalism of the Second Internationale infected others, especially the Jews. Most of the educated classes had lost their Orthodox faith, as a result of which monarchism, and the whole concept of Moscow the Third Rome became incomprehensible to them (except for those who interpreted it in a perverted, nationalist sense). The cry went up from many quarters: Roma delenda est. And as no kingdom divided against itself can stand, Moscow the Third Rome was destroyed…


7. Putin the Red Tsar?

     Historians like to look for continuities between pre- and post-revolutionary Russia; and if we look for some kind of continuation of the idea of Moscow the Third Rome, then we can find it in the Comintern, the international confederation of communist parties – although this “continuation” should more accurately be called a grotesque parody of its pre-revolutionary counterpart. True, the uniting power of the new “Rome” was still a Russian-speaking empire covering roughly the same territory as the former empire. But though Russian-speaking, this new empire so despised everything that the old empire stood for that it chose to change its name to “the Soviet Union” in 1922, and subjected the Russian people to the greatest persecution any people has known in the history of the world. True, the new empire and its Comintern allies or satellites were united, like the old, by a kind of religious faith, Marxism-Leninism. But Marxism-Leninism is about as different from Orthodox Christianity as any two religions can be, while the moralities of the two religions are also polar opposites…

     The truth is that from 1917 until the “enthronement” of Vladimir Putin in 2000, the idea of Moscow the Third Rome went into eclipse. However, in the new millennium a new, hardly less grotesque parody has been in the process of construction. The chief ideologist of this process has been a Moscow professor of geopolitics, the son of a Soviet army colonel and since 1999 an Old Ritualist, Alexander Dugin.  

     That Dugin should be an Old Ritualist provides us with an important clue to the essence of this new version of the idea. For paradoxically, while rejecting both the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian empire, the Old Ritualists remained enamoured of the idea of Moscow the Third Rome  - but rejected its international mission in favour of a more inward-looking and nationalist concept. Thus V.I. Kel’siev, an investigator of the Old Rite in the 1860s, declared that “the people continue to believe today that Moscow is the Third Rome and that there will be no fourth. So Russia is the new Israel, a chosen people, a prophetic land, in which shall be fulfilled all the prophecies of the Old and New Testaments, and in which even the Antichrist will appear, as Christ appeared in the previous Holy Land. The representative of Orthodoxy, the Russian Tsar, is the most legitimate emperor on earth, for he occupies the throne of Constantinople…” 

    Dugin’s reworking of the idea adopts this Old Ritualist nationalism, together with a certain suicidal apocalypticism reminiscent of the mass self-immolations of the Old Ritualists in the late seventeenth century. And into this heady potion he pours pagan elements, a strong dose of Nazism, “Eurasianism” (the Putinist version of the Comintern) and a modernized version of Sovietism. 

     With regard to the Soviet regime itself, Dugin admits that “it overthrew the monarchy and put the Church practically outside the law. But here again there appeared that providential idea that is complex and often inaccessible to humble human reasoning – that the Bolsheviks on the secular level and with the use of slogans profoundly foreign to the people established in an extreme form a sharply anti-western order, and the contradiction between the Eastern Roman Empire and the West burst out with renewed force in the confrontation between socialism and capitalism. On the one hand, the Bolsheviks were even worse than the Romanovs, since atheism, mechanism, materialism and Darwinism are much further from the truth than an albeit mutilated Orthodoxy. On the other hand, even through the Bolsheviks there worked a strange power that was amazingly reminiscent in some aspects of the reign of Ivan the Terrible, the oprichnina and the return to archaic popular-religious elements.”   

     Is Dugin here approving of Ivan the Terrible and his oprichnina, and even of the KGB as the oprichnina’s modern-day successor? It is not clear - but it would not be entirely unexpected in this most fanatical of modern Russian nationalist ideologists. After all, Dugin’s idol, Putin, is KGB. What is clear is that Dugin has a positive attitude towards the “strange power” that worked through the Bolsheviks. He even appears to see in it the unifying theme of Russian history… 

     Here we come to the nub of Dugin’s understanding of Russian history: that in spite of its ideological fall in the mid-seventeenth century (from the Old Ritualist point of view), the “Eastern Roman Empire” in its Russian incarnation not only did not come to an end in 1917, but in some mysterious way continued to exist under Soviet power, and continues even now to serve God and the True Church by opposing the real Antichrist – American power – in the regime of Vladimir Putin.

     Unlike Dugin the ideologue, Putin is an opportunist who only uses these ideas for propaganda purposes, to bolster his personal power. But this does not make them any the less dangerous, especially when they are supported not only by the country’s religious leader, Patriarch Cyril of Moscow, but even by conservative foreign religious and political leaders, such as Pat Buchanan. Thus according to Ryan Gorman, Buchanan claims “that Moscow is ‘the third Rome,’ a claim that goes back to the 12th century and the Byzantines, and the West is the source from which evils such as gay marriage tolerance, abortion acceptance and devil worshiping emanate.

     “‘Many Euro-Atlantic countries have moved away from their roots, including Christian values,’ he writes Putin said in a recent speech…

     “‘Western leaders who compare Putin’s annexation of Crimea to Hitler’s Anschluss with Austria… believe Putin’s claim to stand on higher moral ground is beyond blasphemous,’ writes Buchanan.

      “‘But Vladimir Putin knows exactly what he is doing…’” 

     As for Patriarch Cyril, Putin’s colleague in the KGB, he promotes the idea of “the Russian world”, which is “a special civilization that comprises people who now call themselves different names: Russians, Ukrainians, and Belorussians. This world may also include people who do not belong to the Slavic world at all, but who have taken the cultural and spiritual component of this world [i.e. Orthodoxy] as their own."  In other words, he is talking about an Orthodox commonwealth of nations led by Russia whose superficial similarity to the concept of Moscow the Third Rome is obvious. 

     The future of this latest, Putinist version of the “Moscow the Third Rome” idea will depend on how it is received by the people to whom it is aimed – the Orthodox peoples of Russia and Eastern Europe. If they compare it with its supposed predecessors – the Second Rome of Constantinople, and the Third Rome of pre-revolutionary Russia, - then they will quickly see that it is a fake, being based on a heretical “Orthodoxy” and a pseudo-internationalism that is indeed very similar (contrary to Pat Buchanan’s assertion) to Hitler’s Nazism. And if they look closely at the reality of modern-day neo-Soviet Russia, then they will see, that whatever the sins of the West (which cannot be denied), Russia has no right to denounce them without incurring the charge of extreme hypocrisy. The problem is that hypocrisy and deception have always been the business of the KGB, at which it continues to excel; and, as KGB man Putin declared long ago: “Once a chekist [KGB man], always a chekist”. In the last analysis, Putin’s Russia, by trying to appropriate the legacy and glory of the Orthodox Christian Empire in order to regenerate its fading power, is only witnessing to the fact that the revolution that destroyed it is in its last throes… 

     And who knows? Perhaps on the ruins of Putin’s fake, the genuine article will be resurrected for the support of the last generation of truly believing Christians. For “Moscow is the Third Rome, and a fourth there will not be…”


January 1/14, 2015.

St. Basil the Great.






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