Written by Vladimir Moss



     The eighteenth century was an era of decline and humiliation for Orthodoxy throughout Europe. And this even in Russia, whose empire rapidly grew in strength. Peter the Great had persecuted the Church by imposing his German ideas of Church-State relations on the Church – but at least he had been Russian. But after his death not only German ideas but ethnic German people began to rule the empire. Thus the reign of Tsaritsa Anna was also known as Bironovschina, that is, the period in which her German favourite, Biron, was the de facto ruler, subjecting the Orthodox Church to a true persecution.

     No sooner had Peter the Great died than thoughts about the restoration of the Moscow patriarchate re-surfaced. “The very fact of his premature death,” writes M.V. Zyzykin, “was seen as the punishment of God for his assumption of ecclesiastical power. ‘There you are,’ said Archbishop Theodosius of Novgorod in the Synod, ‘he had only to touch spiritual matters and possessions and God took him.’ From the incautious words of Archbishop Theodosius, Theophan [Prokopovich] made a case for his having created a rebellion, and he was arrested on April 27 [1725], condemned on September 11, 1725 and died in 1726. Archbishop Theophylact of Tver was also imprisoned in 1736 on a charge of wanting to become Patriarch. On December 31, 1740 he again received the insignia of hierarchical rank and died on May 6, 1741. For propagandizing the idea of the patriarchate Archimandrite Marcellus Rodyshevsky was imprisoned in 1732, was later forgiven, and died as a Bishop in 1742.[1] Also among the opponents of Peter’s Church reform was Bishop George Dashkov of Rostov, who was put forward in the time of Peter I as a candidate for Patriarch… After the death of Peter, in 1726, he was made the third hierarch in the Synod by Catherine I. On July 21, 1730, by a decree of the Empress Anna, he, together with Theophylact, was removed from the Synod, and on November 19 of the same year, by an order of the Empress Anna he was imprisoned, and in February, 1731 took the schema. He was imprisoned in the Spasokamenny monastery on an island in Kubensk lake, and in 1734 was sent to Nerchinsk monastery – it was forbidden to receive any declaration whatsoever from him… Thus concerning the time of the Empress Anna a historian writes what is easy for us to imagine since Soviet power, but was difficult for a historian living in the 19th century: ‘Even from a distance of one and a half centuries, it is terrible to imagine that awful, black and heavy time with its interrogations and confrontations, with their iron chains and tortures. A man has committed no crime, but suddenly he is seized, shackled and taken to St. Petersburg or Moscow - he knows not where, or what for. A year or two before he had spoken with some suspicious person. What they were talking about – that was the reason for all those alarms, horrors and tortures. Without the least exaggeration we can say about that time that on lying down to sleep at night you could not vouch for yourself that by the morning that you would not be in chains, and that from the morning to the night you would not land up in a fortress, although you would not be conscious of any guilt. The guilt of all these clergy consisted only in their desire to restore the canonical form of administration of the Russian Church and their non-approval of Peter’s Church reform, which did not correspond to the views of the people brought up in Orthodoxy.’ 

     “But even under Anna the thought of the patriarchate did not go away, and its supporters put forward Archimandrite Barlaam, the empress’ spiritual father, for the position of Patriarch. We shall not name the many others who suffered from the lower ranks; we shall only say that the main persecutions dated to the time of the Empress Anna, when the impulse given by Peter to Church reform produced its natural result, the direct persecution of Orthodoxy. But after the death of Theophan in 1736 Bishop Ambrose Yushkevich of Vologda, a defender of the patriarchate and of the views of Marcellus Rodyshevsky, became the first member of the Synod. With the enthronement of Elizabeth he greeted Russia on her deliverance from her internal hidden enemies who were destroying Orthodoxy…”[2]

     "In Biron's time,” writes Andrei Bessmertny, “hundreds of clergy were tonsured, whipped and exiled, and they did the same with protesting bishops - and there were quite a few of those. 6557 priests were forced into military service, as a consequence of which in only four northern dioceses 182 churches remained without clergy or readers." [3]

     “This is what happened in Russia,” writes Zyzykin, “when the State secularisation which had begun under Alexis Mikhailovich led to the dominion of the State over the Church, while the authority in the State itself was in the hands of genuine Protestants, who did not occupy secondary posts, as under Peter, but were in leading posts, as under the Empress Anna. The ideology of royal power laid down under Peter remained throughout the period of the Emperors; the position of the Church in the State changed in various reigns, but always under the influence of those ideas which the secular power itself accepted; it was not defined by the always unchanging teaching of the Orthodox Church”[4] – the symphony of powers.

     In Biron’s time, wrote Bishop Ambrose of Vologda, “they attacked our Orthodox piety and faith, but in such a way and under such a pretext that they seemed to be rooting out some unneeded and harmful superstition in Christianity. O how many clergymen and an even greater number of learned monks were defrocked, tortured and exterminated under that pretense! Why? No answer is heard except: he is a superstitious person, a bigot, a hypocrite, a person unfit for anything. These things were done cunningly and purposefully, so as to extirpate the Orthodox priesthood and replace it with a newly conceived priestlessness [bezpopovshchina]…

     “Our domestic enemies devised a stratagem to undermine the Orthodox faith; they consigned to oblivion religious books already prepared for publication; and they forbade others to be written under penalty of death. They seized not only the teachers, but also their lessons and books, fettered them, and locked them in prison. Things reached such a point that in this Orthodox state to open one’s mouth about religion was dangerous: one could depend on immediate trouble and persecution.”[5]

     Biron’s was a time, recalled Metropolitan Demetrius (Sechenov) of Novgorod, “when our enemies so raised their heads that they dared to defile the dogma of the holy faith, the Christian dogmas, on which eternal salvation depends. They did not call on the aid of the intercessor of our salvation, nor beseech her defense; they did not venerate the saints of God; they did not bow to the holy icons; they mocked the sign of the holy cross; they rejected the traditions of the apostles and holy fathers; they cast out good works, which attract eternal reward; they ate eat during the holy fasts, and did not want even to hear about mortifying the flesh; they laughed at the commemoration of the reposed; they did not believe in the existence of gehenna.”[6]


     Hardly coincidentally, the humiliation of the Russians was accompanied by the first real resurgence of Jewish influence since the heresy of the Judaizers in the fifteenth century.

     Thus Solzhenitsyn writes, citing Jewish sources: “In 1728, under Peter II, ‘the admission of Jews into Little Russia was permitted, as being people who were useful for trade in the region’, first as a ‘temporary visit’, but ‘of course, the temporary visit was turned into a constant presence’. Reasons were found. Under Anna this right was extended in 1731 to the Smolensk province, and in 1734 – to Slobodskaya Ukraine (to the north-east of Poltava). At the same time the Jews were allowed to rent property from landowners, and to take part in the wine trade. And in 1736 the Jews were permitted to transport vodka also to the state taverns of Great Russia.

     “Mention should be made of the figure of the financier Levi Lipmann from the Baltic area. When the future Empress Anna Ioannovna was still living in Courland, she had great need of money, ‘and it is possible that already at that time Lipman had occasion to be useful to her’. Already under Peter he had moved to Petersburg. Under Peter II he ‘became a financial agent or jeweller at the Russian court.’ During the reign of Anna Ioannovna he received ‘major connections at the court’ and the rank of Ober-Gofkommissar. ‘Having direct relations with the empress, Lipmann was in particularly close touch with her favourite, Biron… Contemporaries asserted that… Biron turned to him for advice on questions of Russian state life. One of the consuls at the Prussian court wrote… that “it is Lipmann who is ruling Russia”.’ Later, these estimates of contemporaries were subjected to a certain re-evaluation downwards. However, Biron ‘transferred to him [Lipmann] almost the whole administration of the finances and various trade monopolies’. (‘Lipmann continued to carry out his functions at the court even when Anna Leopoldovna… exiled Biron’.)”[7]


     By the mercy of God, the Empress Anna died, and although Biron was appointed regent the next day, the Germans fell out amongst themselves. So in 1741, after the brief reign of Ivan VI, Elizabeth, a daughter of Peter the Great, came to the throne. Known as “the Russian Venus” because of her great beauty, she was sensual, extravagant and vain, a true daughter of her father. Nevertheless, she restored Russianness and Orthodoxy to the State.

     An important aspect of Elizabeth’s reign was the encouragement of Russian national feeling; Russian identity began to be seen more in ethnic than in religious or dynastic terms – a tendency, which, paradoxically, we must see as reflecting Western influence in spite of the anti-Western sentiments common in Elizabeth’s reign. Serhii Plokhy writes: “Anna’s rule produced a widespread sense of resentment and anti-Western feeling among the imperial elites. With Anna’s death and the accession to the Russian throne of Peter’s daughter Elizabeth in 1741, the anti-Western attitude became a sea change. Elizabeth was regarded and fashioned herself as a quintessentially Russian princess, and it was ‘the faithful sons of Russia’, the guards officers, who brought her to power as a true Russian princess. A clear indication of the change was the simple fact that while Elizabeth, like Anna, remained officially unmarried, her favourite and morganatic husband was not a ‘German’ but a ‘Russian’. The son of a Ukrainian Cossack and, in the appellation of the time, a Little Russian, Oleksii Rozum made his way to St. Petersburg as a talented singer and became Elizabeth’s favourite courtier before her ascension to the throne. Once she took the throne, the former Cossack became a count, and later field marshal under the name Alexei Razumovsky.[8] Having little interest in affairs of state, Razumovsky, unlike Biron, kept a low profile: court regulars referred to him as the ‘night emperor’.

      “The rule of Elizabeth also witnessed a backlash against foreigners in the Russian service. What had begun as a trickle under Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich became a flood during the reign of his son, Peter I, and continued under his successors. Resentment and distrust of foreigners in government were accompanied by an unprecedented growth of Russian national assertiveness. It was during Elizabeth’s rule that key discussions took place about the empire’s history and literary language – two major elements of all nation-building projects in early modern Europe. Peter’s all-Russian empire was about to acquire an all-Russian nation, all-Russian history and all-Russian language – all during the age of Elizabeth.

      “’Origines gentis et nominis Russorum’, or ‘The Origins of the Russian People and Name’, was the title of a talk given by Gerhard Friedrich Müller at a meeting of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences on August 23, 1749. Müller was an ethnic German who came to St. Petersburg in 1725, the year in which Tsar Peter I had founded the Imperial Academy of Sciences as a research and teaching institution. The presentation did not go well. Müller’s research pointed to the Scandinavian origins of the Rus’ name and dynasty. These conclusions would have been welcomed by many Muscovite rulers of previous centuries, including Ivan the Terrible, who traced his origins through the Rurikids to Emperor Augustus and considered himself a German. But in 1747, Müller’s arguments were found not only unpatriotic but also damaging to Russia’s prestige. The academy cancelled his scheduled longer presentation and appointed a commission to look into his research. Müller’s address set off the first academic debate in Russian historiography, and the outcome influenced its development for decades, if not centuries to come.

      “Patriotic fever was running high in St. Petersburg in the wake of another Russian war with Sweden (1741-1743). But the academy’s negative reaction to Müller’s conclusion was more than a reflection of a short-lived patriotic upswing. Imperial officials had been greatly concerned about patriotism in the academy since the beginning of Elizabeth’s rule. In the early 1740s, the academy was hit by defections – scholars, most of them Germans, were leaving the Russian service and going to Europe to publish research conducted in the Russian Empire. This was a blow to Russia’s prestige, to say nothing of its academic potential. In 1744, the authorities posted guards in the academy’s buildings, restricting access to its library, archives, and research materials. Foreigners were no longer to be trusted.

      “Two years later, the imperial court intervened in the affairs of the academy by appointing a new president. He was Kirill Razumovsky (Kyrylo Rozumovsky), the younger brother of the empress’s favourite, Aleksei Razumovsky. A recent graduate of the University of Göttingen, he was only eighteen at the time of the appointment. His age seemed less important than his closeness to Elizabeth and the fact that he was the first ‘Russian’ president of the academy, which had been chaired, controlled, and run largely by foreigners – four previous presidents had come from abroad.

      “It fell to Razumovsky and his close adviser Grigorii Teplov, a former disciple of Prokopovych and an adjunct at the academy, to deal with the ‘historiography crisis’. They appointed a commission to investigate and debate Müller’s findings. The debates in the academic commission took up twenty-meetings between the fall of 1749 and the spring of 1750. Müller’s main opponent in the historiographic debates was an ethnic Russia, Mikhail Lomonosov. The son of a fisherman from Russia’s north, Lomonosov was known largely for his accomplishments as a chemist. But then new age of national mobilization called for universality, and he branched out of the sciences into history and linguistics, becoming an amateurish but also forceful and influential supporter of the nativist approach to both. Lomonosov argued that Müller’s work glorified ‘the Scandinavians or Swedes’, while ‘doing almost nothing to illuminate our history’. Kirill Razumovsky took Lomonosov’s side in the historiographic debate on the origins of Rus’. The print run of Müller’s dissertation on that subject was destroyed.

     “For Lomonosov the main inspiration in his debates with Müller was the outdated and often inaccurate Kyivan Synopsis of 1674. But it was the ideas of the book rather than the facts that mattered most. This book on the origins of the Rus’ nation had finally found not only publishers but also readers in Russia who appreciated its focus on the origins of the nation, as opposed to the state and dynasty. Lomonosov wanted the academy to adopt the Synopsis as its standard history textbook. In accepting its historical explanation of the origins of the Rus’ people, Lomonosov embraced a historical myth that stressed the unity of the Great and Little Russian heirs to the medieval Kyiv state, separating them from the European West…”[9]

      Not only Russianness but also the Orthodox Church was restored under Elizabeth. “Chistovich writes: ‘The Synod remembered its sufferers under Elizabeth; a true resurrection from the dead took place. Hundreds, thousands of people who had disappeared without trace and had been taken for dead came to life again. After the death of the Empress Anna the released sufferers dragged themselves back to their homeland, or the places of their former service, from all the distant corners of Siberia – some with torn out nostrils, others with their tongue cut out, others with legs worn through by chains, others with broken spines or arms disfigured from tortures.’ The Church preachers under Elizabeth attributed this to the hatred for the Russian faith and the Russian people of Biron, Osterman, Minikh, Levenvold and other Lutheran Germans who tried to destroy the very root of eastern piety. They were of this opinion because most of all there suffered the clergy – hierarchs, priests and monks…”[10]

      Elizabeth also restored some of her former privileges to the Church. Thus in 1742, writes Vladimir Rusak, “the initial judgement on clergy was presented to the Synod, even with regard to political matters. The Synod was re-established in its former dignity, as the highest ecclesiastical institution with the title ‘Ruling’.

      “The members of the Synod (Archbishop Ambrose Yushkevich of Novgorod, Metropolitan Arsenius Matseyevich of Rostov, both Ukrainians) gave a report to the empress in which they wrote that if it was not pleasing to her to restore the patriarchate, then let her at least give the Synod a president and body composed only of hierarchs. In addition, they petitioned for the removal of the post of over-procurator. The empress did not go to the lengths of such serious reforms, but she did agree to return to the clergy its property and submit the College of Economics to the Synod.”[11]

      However, writes Fr. Alexei Nikolin, “there was a significant rise in the significance of the over-procurator, whose post was re-established (during the reign of Anna Ivanovna it had been suspended). Prince Ya.P. Shakhovskoj, who was appointed to the post, was given the right to give daily personal reports to the empress, who entrusted him personally with receiving from her all the ukazes and oral directives for the Synodal administration. Thereby, however, there arose a very ambiguous state of affairs. On the one hand, the Synod’s affairs were being reported directly to the supreme power, but on the other the idea of the State’s interest, and its priority over the ecclesiastical interest, was being constantly emphasized. The strengthening of the over-procurator’s power was aided by an ukaz of the empress introducing a new system of Church administration in the dioceses – the consistories. In these institutions a leading role was acquired by the secretaries, who were appointed by the over-procurator, controlled by him and accountable to him. However, the noticeable tendency evident in these years towards a strengthening of the over-procurator’s executive power in the Church was restrained by the personal goodwill of the empress towards the clergy.”[12] 

     Elizabeth “ordered crackdowns on Old Believers. There had been ineffective decrees to expel the Jews in 1727 and 1740. [She] ordered these decrees to be applied.”[13]

     In December, 1742, the tsaritsa forbade residence to Jews throughout the Empire, since “from such haters of the name of Christ the Saviour great harm for our subjects must be expected”. 140 Jews were expelled from Ukraine. But then the wax trade reported to the Senate that “banning the Jews from bringing in merchandise will bring with it a diminution of state income”. The Senate itself added its voice to this complaint, telling the empress that her decree had caused great harm to trade in Ukraine and the Baltic, with a corresponding loss in customs receipts. But the empress replied: “I do not want any profit from the enemies of Christ”… However, it seems likely that the empress’ decree, like similar earlier decrees, remained a dead letter…[14]

     “On Elizabeth’s accession to the throne,” writes Ivanov, “a popular movement appeared, directed against foreigners, which established itself in the two following reigns. The lower classes were waiting for the expulsion of the foreigners from Russia. But nothing, except some street brawls with foreigners, took place.

     “A reaction began against the domination of the foreigners who despised everything Russian, together with a weak turn towards a national regime…

     “During the 20 years of Elizabeth’s reign Russia relaxed after her former oppression, and the Russian Church came to know peaceful days…

     “The persecution of the Orthodox Church begun under Peter I and continued under Anna Ivanovna began to weaken somewhat, and the clergy raised their voices…

     “Under Elizabeth there began the elevation to the hierarchical rank of Great Russian monks, while earlier the hierarchs had been mainly appointed from the Little Russians…

     “Under Elizabeth the Protestants who remained at court did not begin to speak against Orthodoxy, whereas in the reign of Anna Ivanovna they had openly persecuted it. Nevertheless, Protestantism as a weapon of the Masons in their struggle with Orthodoxy had acquired a sufficiently strong position in the previous reigns. The soil had been prepared, the minds of society were inclined to accept the Freemasons.

     “’In the reign of Elizabeth German influence began to be replaced by French,’ an investigator of this question tells us. ‘At this time the West European intelligentsia was beginning to be interested in so-called French philosophy; even governments were beginning to be ruled by its ideas… In Russia, as in Western Europe, a fashion for this philosophy appeared. In the reign of Elizabeth Petrovna a whole generation of its venerators was already being reared. They included such highly placed people as Count M. Vorontsov and Shuvalov, Princess Dashkova and the wife of the heir to the throne, Catherine Alexeyevna. But neither Elizabeth nor Peter III sympathized with it. 

     “Individual Masons from Peter’s time were organizing themselves. Masonry was developing strongly…”[15]

     Nevertheless, “in society people began to be suspicious of Masonry. Masons in society acquired the reputation of being heretics and apostates… Most of Elizabethan society considered Masonry to be an atheistic and criminal matter…

     “The Orthodox clergy had also been hostile to Masonry for a long time already. Preachers at the court began to reprove ‘animal-like and godless atheists’ and people ‘of Epicurean and Freemasonic morals and mentality’ in their sermons. The sermons of Gideon Antonsky, Cyril Florinsky, Arsenius Matseyevich, Cyril Lyashevetsky, Gideon Krinovsky and others reflected the struggle that was taking place between the defenders of Orthodoxy and their enemies, the Masons.”[16 

     It was in Elizabeth’s reign that the Secret Chancellery made an inquiry into the nature and membership of the Masonic lodges. The inquiry found that Masonry was defined by its members as “nothing else than the key of friendship and eternal brotherhood”. It was found not to be dangerous and was allowed to continue, “although under police protection”.[17]

     Masonry was particularly strong in the university and among the cadets. “The cadet corps was the laboratory of the future revolution. From the cadet corps there came the representatives of Russian progressive literature, which was penetrated with Masonic ideals….

     “Towards the end of the reign of Elizabeth Petrovna Masonry openly revealed its real nature. At this time a bitter struggle was developing in the West between Austria and Prussia for the Austrian succession. In 1756 there began the Seven-Year war, in which Russia took an active part. 

     “The Mason Frederick II was again striving to subject Russia to his influence.

     “This aim was to be attained completely by means of the defeat of the Russian army and her capitulation before the ‘genius’ commander.

     “And one has to say that everything promised victory for Frederick II over the Russian army.

     “He had a very well trained, armed and provisioned army with talented officers.

     “Frederick was undoubtedly helped by the Masons – Germans who had taken high administrative and military posts in Russia.

     “The noted James Cate, the great provincial master for the whole of Russia, was a field-marshal of the Russian army, but in fact carried out the role of Frederick’s spy; in 1747 he fled [Russia] to serve him and was killed in battle for his adored and lofty brother.

     “In general the Russian army was teeming with Prussian spies and Russian Mason-traitors.

     “The Russian army was deliberately not prepared…

     “And at the head of the Russian army the Masons placed Apraxin, who gave no orders, displayed an unforgivable slowness and finally entered upon the path of open betrayal.

     “The victory at Gross-Egersford was won exclusively thanks to the courage and bravery of the Russian soldiers, and was not used as it should have been by the Russian commander-in-chief. Apraxin had every opportunity to cross conquered Prussia, extend a hand to the Swedes in Pomerania and appear before the walls of Berlin. But instead of moving forward he stopped at Tilsit and refused to use the position that was favourable for the Russian army… Apraxin was only fulfilling his duty of a Mason, which obliged him to deliver his lofty brother, Frederick II, from his woes… 

     “But this was not the only help extended to Prussia by the Russian Masons. In 1758, instead of Apraxin, who was placed on trial, Fermor was appointed as commander-in-chief. He was an active Mason and a supporter of Frederick II. Fermor acted just like Apraxin. He displayed stunning inactivity and slowness. At the battle of Tsorndof the commander-in-chief Fermor hid from the field of battle. Deserted and betrayed by their commander-in-chief the Russian army did not panic. 

     “With the greatest equanimity the soldiers did not think of fleeing or surrendering…

     “Frederick II had everything on his side: complete gun crews, discipline, superior weapons, the treachery of the Russian commander-in-chief. But he did not have enough faith and honour, which constituted the strength and glory of the Christ-loving Russian Army. 

     “The help of the dark powers was again required: and the Russian Masons for the third time gave help to Frederick II. 

     “At first it was suggested that Fermor be replaced by Buturlin, whom Esterhazy quite justly called ‘an idiot’, but when this did not happen, they appointed Peter Saltykov to the post of commander-in-chief. The soldiers called him ‘moor-hen’ and openly accused him of treachery. At Könersdorf the Russian commanders displayed complete incompetence. The left wing of the Russian army under the command of Golitsyn was crushed. At two o’clock Frederick was the master of Mulberg, one of the three heights where Saltykov had dug in. By three o’clock the victory was Frederick’s. And once again the situation was saved by the Russian soldiers. The king led his army onto the attack three times, and three times he retreated, ravaged by the Russian batteries. ‘Scoundrels’, ‘swine’, ‘rascals’ was what Frederick called his soldiers, unable to conquer the Russian soldiers who died kissing their weapons.

      “’One can overcome all of them (the Russian soldiers) to the last man, but not conquer them,’ Frederick II had to admit after his defeat.

     “The victory remained with the Russian soldiers, strong in the Orthodox faith and devotion to the autocracy….”[18]

     Frederick was saved because Elizabeth died unexpectedly in 1761 – this was the so-called “Great Miracle of the House of Brandenburg”. She was succeeded by Peter III, a grandson of Peter the Great who nevertheless preferred the Germany he had been brought up in to Russia. So he stopped the war against Prussia, and planned to join Prussia in attacking Denmark.

     This alienated many senior officers, and prepared the way for the coup against him by another German – Catherine the Great. But the days when Germans could walk over Russianness and Orthodoxy were over. Whatever judgement one makes of the personal piety of Catherine, and her occasional lapses into caesaropapist oppression, she stood up for both…


      In 1697 the Austrians under Prince Eugene Sobieski defeated the Ottomans at the Battle of Zenta, killing thirty thousand Turks. The balance of power in the region now changed sharply: at the Treaty of Karlowitz (or Karlovtsy) in 1699 the Habsburgs acquired Hungary and Slavonia. However, as Simon Winder writes, “the end of Ottoman rule in Central Europe raised immediately difficult questions about whether or not these new conquests were a reintegration of lost lands that had in the past been undoubtedly part of ‘the West’ or whether these were lands irredeemably tainted by ‘Easterners’. The old Habsburg core, running from Lake Constance in the west to the Military Frontier in the east, was some three hundred miles across. The addition in a generation of the old Ottoman territories more than doubled the monarchy’s width, taking it to only a hundred and fifty miles from the Black Sea. The monarchy which had once been unmistakably Alpine, German and Italianate was now very different. Most ‘eastern’ of all was that the new territories were religiously pluralistic and in that sense liberal, with Lutheran Saxons, Jewish Jews, Calvinist Hungarians and Orthodox Serbs and Romanians. This picture would have been even more complicated if so many Muslims had not fled the advance of the ‘Holy League’, seeking safety in Bosnia and Thrace.

   “The triumph of the West therefore perversely released a huge wave of Catholic intolerance on these religiously patchwork territories. This renewed religious intolerance had begun even before the Siege of Vienna with increasing discrimination against Protestants in Royal Hungary.”[19] Now it extended also to Orthodox Serbs and Romanians in the newly conquered territories…

      It was hard to know which was the more difficult master – the Turks or the Austrians. The Turks kept their Christian subjects in poverty and ignorance, but did not, in general, compel them to renounce their religion. The Austrians were more “enlightened”, but at the same time a greater threat to the faith of the Orthodox. Thus the Corfiot Eugene Voulgaris preached as far as the court of the Russian Empress Catherine II on the dangers of Austro-Hungarian Catholicism to the Orthodox of the Balkans.

      The danger was particularly acute in Transylvania, which came under Hungarian dominion… For there were many Romanians living in Transylvania, where, as Barbara Jelavich writes, “the Romanian Orthodox majority of the population was effectively blocked from political influence. The control of the province lay in the hands of the Hungarians; of the Szeklers, who were related to the Hungarians and spoke the same language; and of the Germans, called Saxons, descendants of twelfth-century immigrants. The Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinist, and Unitarian churches were recognized, but not the Orthodox. In the eighteenth century a Uniate church [Orthodox in rite, but papist in obedience] was established, which attracted some Romanians and played an important cultural role. The Orthodox church and its leaders, in particular Bishop Andreiu Şaguna, were an even greater influence on the Romanian movement in the province.”[20]

      During the reign of Empress Maria Theresa (1741-1780), the Romanian Orthodox of Transylvania and the Banat suffered great persecution from the Hungarian Catholics. Among those martyred for the faith then were SS. Bessarion, Sophronius and Oprea, and the Priests Moses and John.[21] Others took avoiding action.

      That is why the Russian monastic founder living in Moldavia, St. Paisius Velichkovsky, went to such extreme lengths to see that his monks did not remain under the yoke of the Austrians. Thus we read in a life of the saint that when the Russians and Turks concluded peace after a six-year war in 1774, “the Roman Catholic Empress (Austrian Empress Maria Theresa) began to demand of the Turkish Sultan those parts of the Moldavian land which he had promised her (for her help in the war). And so the Germans took the monastery of Dragomirna under their rule. Then our Father shed many tears: he wept bitterly over the devastation of the souls of the brethren and, on the other hand, he was crushed that the monastery should remain under the rule of the Papists, with whom the Eastern Church can never have spiritual peace. Likewise, the brethren also greatly grieved and bitterly wept…

      “’The Elder was so apprehensive about heresies and schism that… he left his monastery with all its possessions, movable and immovable, and went to Moldavia, saying to his brethren: “Fathers and brothers, whoever wishes to obey and follow his Elder, the sinful Paisius, let him come with me; but I give no one a blessing to stay in Dragomirna. For it is impossible to escape heresies while living in the court of the heretics. The Pope of Rome roars like a lion in other kingdoms also and seeks whom he may devour; he gives no peace even in the Turkish kingdom and constantly disturbs and offends the Holy Eastern Church, and how much more in the Austrian realm does he devour the living.”’”[22]

      This persecution in Romania coincided with a Catholic onslaught in other parts of the Orthodox world. Thus Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia writes: “In 1724 a large part of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch submitted to Rome; after this the Orthodox authorities, fearing that the same thing might happen elsewhere in the Turkish Empire, were far stricter in their dealings with Roman Catholics. The climax in anti-Roman feeling came in 1755, when the Patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, and Jerusalem declared Latin baptism to be entirely invalid and demanded that all converts to Orthodoxy be baptized anew. ‘The baptisms of heretics are to be rejected and abhorred,’ the decree stated; they are ‘waters which cannot profit… nor give any sanctification to such as receive them, nor avail at all to the washing away of sins’.”[23]

      Towards the end of the century the Austrian Emperor Joseph II introduced a certain measure of religious freedom in his empire, including for the Orthodox Christians. However, other measures introduced by him caused great harm to the Orthodox. Thus in the life of the Serbian Martyr Theodore Sladich we read: “In the late eighteenth century, many confused Serbs who had grown weary under the Turkish yoke and who wanted nothing of the Roman heresy, decided to turn to the ‘new’ ideas of the Enlightenment which came first to Voyvodina from Western Europe via Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest, and other European university centers. One of these ideas was the reduction of the number of holy days celebrated, in order to facilitate new economic plans and conditions. Some one hundred holy days were to be erased from the liturgical calendar. Also, under the Turkish system, Serbian clerical education was rather limited. Emperor Joseph II (1780-1790), ‘the enlightened despot’ in Vienna, with the blessing of Metropolitan Moses Putnik (1781-1790) in Srenski Karlovci (Lower Karlovac), advocated the closing of a number of monasteries in order to generate revenue to build various educational institutions. One supporter of this idea was the famous Serbian man of the Age of Reason, Dositheus Obradovich (1739-1811). Beginning as a monk in the Monastery of New Hopovo, he then left for Western Europe, returning to Vojvodina and later to Serbia as a humanist philosopher, a fierce critic of Church practices, and as Serbia’s first Minister of Education! In the end, this opting for the rationalism of the so-called Western European Enlightenment created within the pious Serbian peasantry a tremendous distrust of Church leadership, an abiding disdain for Church life and practices, and a many-faceted regression which was to last well into the nineteenth century.

      “With all this in mind, it can now be easily ascertained why pious Serbs everywhere especially venerate St. Theodore Sladich. Quite often in his lifetime he was approached by both propagandists of the Latin Unia and by Serbian converts to Western rationalism who wanted him to leave the Church and embrace ‘modernistic’ ways of thought and living. Theodore was an ardent Orthodox and, due to his love for liturgical ritual and the vision of the doctrines of the Church, he became an outspoken proponent against the Latin Unia and the rationalistic innovations of Western Europe… In regard to rationalism and so-called ‘modern’ education, Theodore responded by explaining that the source of every true knowledge flowed from the Church – that all worldly knowledge can never replace that which a true Christian receives in church, God Himself educates the believer wholly: by acting upon his sight, hearing, smelling, feeling, taste, imagination, mind, and will, by the splendor of the images and of the building in general, by the fragrance of the incense, by the veneration of the Gospels, Cross and icons, by the singing and by the reading of the Scriptures. And most importantly, as Theodore once said: ‘In no way can secular education bring about the greatest mystery offered by the Church: the cleansing from sins’.”[24]

      St. Theodore and 150 followers were burned to death by the Turks in 1788. However, the French revolution of 1789 marked the end of Germanic oppression in the Orthodox lands (the Austrians were henceforth more tolerant than before). Now another Western nation appeared to persecute the long-suffering Orthodox: the French under Napoleon. For the True Faith never ceases to be persecuted…


October 11/24, 2017.


[1]He tried to explain that “the patriarchate is not only the oldest but also the only lawful form of government (understanding by the patriarchate the leadership of the Church by one of her bishops)” (Zyzykin, Patriarkh Nikon, Warsaw, 1931, part III, p. 263). (V.M.)

[2] Zyzykin, op. cit., part III, p. 261.

[3]Bessmertny, “Natsionalizm i Universalizm v russkom religioznom soznanii” (“Nationalism and Universalism in the Russian Religious Consciousness”), in Na puti k svobode sovesti (On the Path to Freedom of Conscience), Moscow: Progress, 1989, p. 136.

[4]Zyzykin, op. cit., part III, p. 263.

[5] Bishop Ambrose, in Fr. Georges Florovsky, The Ways of Russian Theology, Belmont, Mass.: Nordland, 1979, pp. 128-129.

[6]Metropolitan Demetrius, in V.F. Ivanov, Russkaia Intelligentsia i Masonstvo: ot Petra I do nashikh dnej (The Russian Intelligentsia and Masonry: from Peter I to our Days), Harbin, 1934, Moscow, 1997, p. 155.

[7]Solzhenitsyn, Dvesti Let Vmeste (Two Hundred Years Together), Moscow, 2001, pp. 26-27.

[8] Alexei’s nephew, Andrei Kirillovich Razumovsky (1752-1836), was the Russian Ambassador to the Congress of Vienna in 1815. He commissioned the famous “Razumovsky” quartets (opus 59, nos. 1, 2 and 3) of Ludwig van Beethoven, and Beethoven dedicated his fifth and sixth symphonies to him. (V.M.)

[9]Plokhy, Lost Kingdom, London: Allen Lane, 2017, pp. 46-48.

[10]Zyzykin, op. cit., part III, p. 262.

[11]Rusak, Istoria Russkoj Tserkvi, 1993, p. 273.

[12]Nikolin, Tserkov’ i Gosudarstvo (Church and State), Moscow, 1997, p. 96.

[13]Montefiore, The Romanovs, p. 183, note.

[14]Solzhenitsyn, op. cit., pp. 28, 29.

[15]Ivanov, op. cit., pp. 160, 161, 162-163.

[16] Ivanov, op. cit., pp. 165, 166.

[17] Richard I. Rhoda, “Russian Freemasonry: A New Dawn”, paper delivered at Orient Lodge no. 15 on June 29, 1996,

[18] Ivanov, op. cit., pp. 169, 170, 171-172.

[19]Winder, Danubia, London: Picador, 2013, p. 192.

[20] Jelavich, History of the Balkans: vol. 2, Twentieth Century, Cambridge University Press, 1983, p. 6.

[21]Hieromonk Makarios, The Synaxarion, Ormylia (Chalkidike), 1998, October 21, pp. 450-454.

[22] Schema-Monk Metrophanes, Blessed Paisius Velichkovsky, Platina, Ca.: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1976, p. 158.

[23]Metropolitan Kallistos (Timothy Ware), The Orthodox Church, London: Penguin, 1964, p. 98.

[24] Fr. Daniel Rogich, Serbian Patericon, vol. I, Forestville, CA: St. Paisius Abbey Press, 1994, pp. 150-152.

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