Written by Vladimir Moss




     By the middle of the seventeenth century century, and in spite of its defeats at the hands of the Poles and Swedes, the prestige of the Muscovite monarchy among the Orthodox was reaching its height. Even the Greeks were looking to it to deliver them from the Turkish yoke and take over the throne of the Byzantine Emperors. Thus in 1645, during the coronation of Tsar Alexei, Patriarch Joseph for the first time read the “Prayer of Philaret” on the enthronement of the Russian Tsar over the whole oikoumene. And in 1649 Patriarch Paisius of Jerusalem wrote to the tsar: “May the All-Holy Trinity multiply you more than all the tsars, and count you worthy to grasp the most lofty throne of the great King Constantine, your forefather, and liberate the peoples of the pious and Orthodox Christians from impious hands. May you be a new Moses, may you liberate us from captivity just as he liberated the sons of Israel from the hands of Pharaoh.”

     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.” 

     Tragically, however, it was at precisely this time, when Russia seemed ready to take the place of the Christian Roman Empire in the eyes of all the Orthodox, that the Russian autocracy and Church suffered a simultaneous attack from two sides from which it never fully recovered. From the right came the attack of the “Old Ritualists” or “Old Believers”, as they came to be called, who expressed the schismatic and nationalist idea that the only true Orthodoxy was Russian Orthodoxy. From the left came the attack of the westernizing Russian aristocracy and the Greek pseudo-hierarchs of the council of 1666-67, who succeeded in removing the champion of the traditional Orthodox symphony of powers, Patriarch Nikon of Moscow.

     The fact that these attacks were able to cause such long-term damage proves that the Russian autocracy was not in such a flourishing condition as it appeared to many of its contemporaries…


1. The Monastyrskij Prikaz

     All of the first three Romanov tsars came to power when they were in their teens. This inevitably meant that the power of the tsars was weaker and that, in spite of the good influence of powerful patriarchs such as Philaret and Nikon, some of that power devolved to the boyars. This fact, combined with the continuing greed of the boyars and the general instability that continued to reverberate from the Time of Troubles, caused frequent uprisings among the people during the reign of the second Romanov tsar, Alexei Mikhailovich.       

     The most serious of these took place in June, 1648 in Moscow. “The June riots,” writes V.O. Kliuchevsky, “were a rebellion of the common people against the strong. ‘The rabble rose against the boyars,’ began plundering their houses and those of the gentry and government clerks, and attacked the most hated of the high officials.

     “The lesson had a considerable effect. The court was greatly alarmed. Steps were taken to mollify the Muscovite soldiery and the mob. At the Tsar’s command the streltsy [musketeers] were treated to drinks. For several days the Tsar’s father-in-law entertained delegates from the taxpaying population of the capital in his home. The Tsar himself, during a church procession, addressed the people with a speech that sounded like an apology, and with tears in his eyes ‘begged the rabble’ to spare his dear friend and relative Morozov. Promises were lavishly given. The rulers began to fear the community. Rumors went about that the Tsar had become gracious and was driving the strong men out of his realm, that they were being stoned and beaten. Under the old dynasty Moscow had never experienced such stormy manifestations of popular resentment against the ruling classes, had never seen such a rapid transition from contempt for the people to pandering to them or heard such unseemly speeches about the Tsar as spread through the city after the riots. ‘The Tsar is a fool. He does what the boyars Morozov and Miloslavsky tell him. They are the real masters, and the Tsar himself knows it, but he says nothing. The devil robbed him of his wits.’

     “It was not the Moscow riot of June 1648, soon reenacted in other towns, that prompted the idea of compiling the new law code – there were other reasons for this – but it caused the government to invite representatives of the people to take part in the work. The Zemsky Sobor, called for September 1 of the same year to hear and confirm the new code, was regarded by the government as a means of pacifying the people. We may well believe Patriarch Nikon, who wrote, as though it were a matter of common knowledge, that the Zemsky Sobor was summoned ‘out of fear of the common people and of civil strife, and not for the cause of truth’. There is no doubt that although the riots were not the original reason for undertaking the work of codification, they affected the course of it. The government’s alarm interfered with the work.”

     We may compare Tsar Alexei’s law code, or Ulozhenie, with the Emperor Justinian’s similar and much more famous work of codification, the Corpus juris civilis, also compiled during a period of civil unrest (the Nika riots). Just as Justinian’s code preceded the expansion of his empire to the West (the code was immediately introduced into reconquered Italy), so Alexei’s code preceded the expansion of his empire to the west and the south. The Ulozhenie was the first systematization of law in Russian history. It combined Church canons with laws of the Byzantine emperors, the laws of Russian tsars and great princes and completely new laws. An impressive and necessary work, it was published in 1649 with two print runs of 1200 copies each. 

     Now the Ulozhenie laid great emphasis on the defence of the Orthodox Faith, and on the rights of the Patriarch and the clergy. Thus in the very first article, strict punishments up to and including the death penalty were prescribed for heresy, and articles 27 to 89 of chapter 10 were devoted to various punishments for offending the clergy, while there were no special sanctions prescribed for offending the tsar. And yet by the end of the reign the Patriarch had been deposed, the Church humbled, and the power of the Tsar exalted, a development that was continued and greatly magnified, with enormous consequences for the whole history of Russia, by Tsar Alexei’s son, Peter the Great…

     This turn-round began with a controversial section of the Ulozhenie itself, the establishment of the so-called Monastyrskij Prikaz (chapter 13), a purely secular institution that administered disputes between clergy and laity, and also suits involving monasteries, monks and parish clergy. Patriarch Nikon tried hard to get it abolished, but failed. Eventually, in 1675, after Nikon’s fall, it was abolished, but, as Fr. Alexis Nikolin writes, “the interference of the state in church life steadily increased. The property privileges of church institutions and the clergy were gradually limited or completely removed. Gradually state obligations were extended to ecclesiastical estates…”

     Of particular significance in this respect was article 42 of chapter 17 of the Ulozhenie, which forbade the giving or sale of estates to the Church. This article “did not deprive the spiritual authorities and monasteries of the right to own property, but only stopped any increase in their possessions. Chapter 19 already contained norms that presupposed or even directly prescribed such deprivations. Article 1 of this chapter established the requisitioning of church estates in Moscow and near Moscow. On the face of it, this was a violation of the decrees of the Laws of St. Vladimir and Yaroslav, the 49th canon of the Sixth Ecumenical Council and the 12th canon of the Seventh Ecumenical Council.”


2. The Old Ritualist Schism

     A few years later, there began the rebellion of the Old Ritualists against both the State and the Orthodox Church, and more particularly against the Orthodox idea of the Universal Empire…

     The beginnings of the tragedy lay in the arrival in Moscow of some educated monks from the south of Russia, which at that time was under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and under the cultural and political influence of Catholic Poland. They (and Greek hierarchs visiting Moscow) pointed to the existence of several differences between the Muscovite service books and those employed in the Greek Church. These differences concerned such matters as how the word "Jesus" was to be spelt, whether two or three "alleluias" should be chanted at certain points in the Divine services, whether the sign of the Cross should be made with two or three fingers, etc.

     A group of leading Muscovite clergy led by Protopriests John Neronov and Avvakum rejected these criticisms. They said that the reforms contradicted the decrees of the famous Stoglav council of 1551, which had anathematized the three-fingered sign of the cross, and they suspected that the southerners were tainted with Latinism through their long subjection to Polish rule. Therefore they were unwilling to bow unquestioningly to their superior knowledge. However, the Stoglav council, while important, was never as authoritative as the Ecumenical Councils, and certain of its provisions have never been accepted in their full force by the Russian Church - for example, its 40th chapter, which decreed that anyone who shaved his beard, and died in such a state (i.e. without repenting), should be denied a Christian burial and numbered among the unbelievers. Another controversial canon of the council was the 55th, which declared that if any patriarch had a quarrel with a metropolitan or clergyman, no other patriarch could presume to interfere or judge the matter – except the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Needless to say, the ascription of such quasi-papist universal jurisdiction to the Ecumenical Patriarch was never accepted by the Orthodox Church.

     Moreover, in elevating ritual differences into an issue of dogmatic faith, the “zealots for piety” were undoubtedly displaying a Judaizing attachment to the letter of the law that quenches the Spirit. In the long run it led to their rejection of Greek Orthodoxy, and therefore of the need of any agreement with the Greeks whether on rites or anything else, a rejection that threatened the foundations of the Ecumenical Church.

     This was the situation in 1652 when the close friend of the tsar, Metropolitan Nikon of Novgorod, was elected patriarch. Knowing of the various inner divisions within Russian society caused by incipient westernism and Old Ritualism, the new patriarch demanded, and obtained a solemn oath from the tsar and all the people that they should obey him in all Church matters. The tsar was very willing to give such an oath because he regarded Nikon as his “special friend” and father, giving him the same title of “Great Sovereign” that Tsar Michael had given to his father, Patriarch Philaret.

     The “zealots of piety” were also happy to submit to Nikon because he had been a member of their circle and shared, as they thought, their views. However, in 1653 Nikon issued an order mandating the number of prostrations (four full-length and 12 to the waist) to be performed during the Prayer of St. Ephraim in Lent and the three-fingered cross. Since this was different from the current practice in Rus’ (all prostrations full-length and the two-fingered cross), the Protopriests protested against the “non-prostration heresy”. They were exiled, and the schism had begun…

     “Not immediately,” writes Archpriest Lev Lebedev, “but after many years of thought (since 1646), and conversations with the tsar, Fr. Stefan [Bonifatiev], the Greek and Kievan scholars and Patriarch Paisius of Jerusalem, [Nikon] had come to the conviction that the criterion of the rightness of the correction of Russian books and rites consisted in their correspondence with that which from ages past had been accepted by the Eastern Greek Church and handed down by it to Rus’ and, consequently, must be preserved also in the ancient Russian customs and books, and that therefore for the correction of the Russian books and rites it was necessary to take the advice of contemporary Eastern authorities, although their opinion had to be approached with great caution and in a critical spirit. It was with these convictions that Nikon completed the work begun before him of the correction of the Church rites and books, finishing it completely in 1656. At that time he did not know that the correctors of the books had placed at the foundation of their work, not the ancient, but the contemporary Greek books, which had been published in the West, mainly in Venice (although in the most important cases they had nevertheless used both ancient Greek and Slavonic texts). The volume of work in the correction and publishing of books was so great that the patriarch was simply unable to check its technical side and was convinced that they were correcting them according to the ancient texts.

     “However, the correction of the rites was carried out completely under his supervision and was accomplished in no other way than in consultation with the conciliar opinion in the Eastern Churches and with special councils of the Russian hierarchs and clergy. Instead of using two fingers in the sign of the cross, the doctrine of which had been introduced into a series of very important books under Patriarch Joseph under the influence of the party of Neronov and Avvakum, the three-fingered sign was confirmed, since it corresponded more to ancient Russian customs and the age-old practice of the Orthodox East. A series of other Church customs were changed, and all Divine service books published earlier with the help of the ‘zealots’ were re-published.

     “As was to be expected, J. Neronov, Avvakum, Longinus, Lazarus, Daniel and some of those who thought like them rose up against the corrections made by his Holiness. Thus was laid the doctrinal basis of the Church schism, but the schism itself, as a broad movement among the people, began much later, without Nikon and independently of him. Patriarch Nikon took all the necessary measures that this should not happen. In particular, on condition of their obedience to the Church, he permitted those who wished it (J. Neronov) to serve according to the old books and rites, in this way allowing a variety of opinions and practices in Church matters that did not touch the essence of the faith. [In this tolerance Nikon followed the wise advice of Patriarch Paisius of Constantinople.]This gave the Church historian Metropolitan Macarius (Bulgakov) a basis on which to assert, with justice, that ‘if Nikon had not left his see and his administration had continued, there would have been no schism in the Russian Church.’”

     This important point is confirmed by other authors, such as Archbishop Anthony (Khrapovitsky) and Paul Meyendorff. Again, Sergei Firsov writes: “At the end of his patriarchy Nikon said about the old and new (corrected) church-service books: ‘Both the ones and the others are good; it doesn’t matter, serve according to whichever books you want’. In citing these words, V.O. Klyuchevsky noted: ‘This means that the matter was not one of rites, but of resistance to ecclesiastical authority’. The Old Believers’ refusal to submit was taken by the church hierarchy and the state authorities as a rebellion, and at the Council of 1666-1667 the disobedient were excommunicated from the Church and cursed ‘for their resistance to the canonical authority of the pastors of the Church’.” 

     All this is true, but fails to take into account the long-term effect of the actions of the Greek hierarchs, especially Patriarch Macarius of Antioch, in anathematizing the old books and practices… 

     Early in 1656 this patriarch was asked by Patriarch Nikon to give his opinion on the question of the sign of the cross. On the Sunday of Orthodoxy, “during the anathemas, Macarius stood before the crowd, put the three large fingers of his hand together ‘in the image of the most holy and undivided Trinity, and said: ‘Every Orthodox Christian must make the sign of the Cross on his face with these three first fingers: and if anyone does it based on the writing of Theodoret and on false tradition, let him be anathema!’ The anathemas were then repeated by Gabriel and Gregory. Nikon further obtained written condemnations of the two-fingered sign of the Cross from all these foreign bishops. 

     “On April 23, a new council was called in Moscow. Its purpose was twofold: first, Nikon wanted to affirm the three-fingered sign of the Cross by conciliar decree; second, he wanted sanction for the publication of the Skrizhal’. Once again, the presence of foreign bishops in Moscow served his purpose. In his speech to the assembled council, Nikon explains the reasons for his request. The two-fingered sign of the Cross, he states, does not adequately express the mysteries of the Trinity and the Incarnation…

     “The significance of this council lies chiefly in its formal condemnation of those who rejected the three-fingered sign of the Cross – and, by extension, those who rejected the Greek model – as heretics. For those who make the sign of the Cross by folding their thumb together with their two small fingers ‘are demonstrating the inequality of the Holy Trinity, which is Arianism’, or ‘Nestorianism’. By branding his opponents as heretics, Nikon was making schism inevitable.”

     Whether it made schism inevitable or not, it was certainly a serious mistake. And, together with the Old Ritualists’ blasphemous rejection of the sacraments of the Orthodox Church, on the one hand, and the over-strict police measures of the State against them, on the other, it probably contributed to the hardening of the schism. Paradoxically, however, this mistake was the same mistake as that made by the Old Ritualists. That is, like the Old Ritualists, Nikon was asserting that differences in rite, and in particular in the making of the sign of the cross, reflected differences in faith. But this was not so, as had been pointed out to Nikon by Patriarch Paisius of Constantinople and his Synod the previous year. And while, as noted above, Nikon himself backed away from a practical implementation of the decisions of the 1656 council, the fact is that the decisions of that council remained on the statute books. Moreover, they were confirmed – again with the active connivance of Greek hierarchs – at the council of 1667. Only later, with the yedinoverie of 1801, was it permitted to be a member of the Russian Church and serve on the old books. 

     The process of removing the curses on the old rites began at the Preconciliar Convention in 1906. The section on the Old Ritual, presided over by Archbishop Anthony (Khrapovitsky), decreed: “Bearing in mind the benefit to the Holy Church, the pacification of those praying with the two-fingered cross and the lightening of the difficulties encountered by missionaries in explaining the curses on those praying with the two-fingered cross pronounced by Patriarch Macarius of Antioch and a Council of Russian hierarchs in 1656, - to petition the All-Russian Council to remove the indicated curses, as imposed out of ‘not good understanding’ (cf. Canon 12 of the Sixth Ecumenical Council) by Patriarch Macarius of the meaning of our two-fingered cross, which misunderstanding was caused in the patriarch by his getting to know an incorrect edition of the so-called ‘Theodorit’s Word’, which was printed in our books in the middle of the 17th century…, just as the Council of 1667 ‘destroyed’ the curse of the Stoglav Counil laid on those not baptised with the two-fingered cross.”

     The All-Russian Council did not get round to removing the curses in 1917-1918. But in 1974 the Russian Church Abroad did remove the anathemas on the Old Rite (as did the sergianist Moscow Patriarchate). 

     “However,” writes Lebedev, the differences between the Orthodox and the Old Ritualists were not only “with regard 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… 

     After consolidating itself in the first half of the seventeenth century, the Russian State was now ready to go on the offensive against Catholic Poland, and rescue the Orthodox Christians who were being persecuted by the Polish and uniate authorities. 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 Greek practices, which, as we have seen, differed somewhat from those in the Muscovite 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 Nikon, 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 Nikon (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 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 particularly by Archpriest Avvakum, who wrote from his prison cell to Tsar Alexis: "Say in good Russian 'Lord have mercy on me'. Leave all those Kyrie Eleisons to the Greeks: that's their language, spit on them! You are Russian, Alexei, not Greek. Speak your mother tongue and be not ashamed of it, either in church or at home!" And in the trial of 1667, Avvakum told the Greek bishops: “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 Mohammed. 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 Nikon 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 Nikon along with the devil introduced the tradition that one had to cross oneself with three fingers…” 


3. Patriarch Nikon and Moscow the Third Rome

      It was this attempt to force the Russian Church into schism from the Greeks that was the real sin of the Old Ritualists, making theirs the first nationalist schism in Russian history. And it was against this narrow, nationalistic and state-centred conception of “Moscow – the Third Rome”, that Patriarch Nikon 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 Nikon 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 Nikon 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 Nikon’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.”

     This intrusion of the tsar into the ecclesiastical administration, leading to the deposition of Patriarch Nikon, was the decisive factor allowing the Old Ritualist movement to gain credibility and momentum… On becoming patriarch in 1652, as we have seen, Nikon secured from the Tsar, his boyars and the bishops a solemn oath to the effect that they would keep the sacred laws of the Church and State “and promise… to obey us as your chief pastor and supreme father in all things which I shall announce to you out of the divine commandments and laws.” There followed a short, but remarkable period in which “the undivided, although unconfused, union of state and ecclesiastical powers constituted the natural basis of public life of Russia. The spiritual leadership in this belonged, of course, to the Church, but this leadership was precisely spiritual and was never turned into political leadership. In his turn the tsar… never used his political autocracy for arbitrariness in relation to the Church, since the final meaning of life for the whole of Russian society consisted in acquiring temporal and eternal union with God in and through the Church…” 

     Although the patriarch had complete control of Church administration and services, and the appointment and judgement of clerics in ecclesiastical matters, “Church possessions and financial resources were considered a pan-national inheritance. In cases of special need (for example, war) the tsar could take as much of the resources of the Church as he needed without paying them back. The diocesan and monastic authorities could spend only strictly determined sums on their everyday needs. All unforeseen and major expenses were made only with the permission of the tsar. In all monastic and diocesan administrations state officials were constantly present; ecclesiastical properties and resources were under their watchful control. And they judged ecclesiastical peasants and other people in civil and criminal matters. A special Monastirskij Prikaz [or “Ministry of Monasticism”], established in Moscow in accordance with the Ulozhenie [legal code] of 1649, was in charge of the whole clergy, except the patriarch, in civil and criminal matters. Although in 1649 Nikon together with all the others had put his signature to the Ulozhenie, inwardly he was not in agreement with it, and on becoming patriarch declared this opinion openly. He was most of all disturbed by the fact that secular people – the boyars of the Monastirskij Prikaz – had the right to judge clergy in civil suits. He considered this situation radically unecclesiastical and unchristian. When Nikon had still been Metropolitan of Novgorod, the tsar, knowing his views, had given him a ‘document of exemption’ for the whole metropolia, in accordance with which all the affairs of people subject to the Church, except for affairs of ‘murder, robbery and theft’, were transferred from the administration of the Monastirskij Prikaz to the metropolitan’s court. On becoming patriarch, Nikon obtained a similar exemption from the Monastirskij Prikaz for his patriarchal diocese (at that time the patriarch, like all the ruling bishops, had his own special diocese consisting of Moscow and spacious lands adjacent to it). As if to counteract the Ulozhenie of 1649, Nikon published ‘The Rudder’, which contains the holy canons of the Church and various enactments concerning the Church of the ancient pious Greek emperors. As we shall see, until the end of his patriarchy Nikon did not cease to fight against the Monastirskij Prikaz. It should be pointed out that this was not a struggle for the complete ‘freedom’ of the Church from the State (which was impossible in Russia at that time), but only for the re-establishment of the canonical authority of the patriarch and the whole clergy in strictly spiritual matters, and also for such a broadening of the right of the ecclesiastical authorities over people subject to them in civil matters as was permitted by conditions in Russia.”

     From May, 1654 to January, 1657, while the tsar was away from the capital fighting the Poles, the patriarch acted as regent, a duty he carried out with great distinction. Some later saw in this evidence of the political ambitions of the patriarch. However, he undertook this duty only at the request of the tsar, and was very glad to return the reins of political administration when the tsar returned. Nevertheless, from 1656, the boyars succeeded in undermining the tsar’s confidence in the patriarch, falsely insinuating that the tsar’s authority was being undermined by Nikon’s ambition. And they began to apply the Ulozhenie in Church affairs, even increasing the rights given by the Ulozhenie to the Monastirskij Prikaz. Another bone of contention was the tsar’s desire to appoint Silvester Kossov as Metropolitan of Kiev, which Nikon considered uncanonical in that the Kievan Metropolitan was in the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Constantinople at that time. 

     Since the tsar was clearly determined to have his way, and was snubbing the patriarch in many ways, on July 10, 1658 Nikon withdrew to his monastery of New Jerusalem, near Moscow… He compared this move to the flight of the Woman clothed with the sun into the wilderness in Revelation 12, and quoted the 17th Canon of Sardica and the words of the Gospel: “If they persecute you in one city, depart to another, shaking off the dust from your feet”. “The whole state knows,” he said, “that in view of his anger against me the tsar does not go to the Holy Catholic Church, and I am leaving Moscow. I hope that the tsar will have more freedom without me.” 

     Some have regarded Nikon’s action as an elaborate bluff that failed. Whatever the truth about his personal motivation, which is known to God alone, there can be no doubt that the patriarch, unlike his opponents, correctly gauged the seriousness of the issue involved. For the quarrel between the tsar and the patriarch signified, in effect, the beginning of the schism of Church and State in Russia. In withdrawing from Moscow to New Jerusalem, the patriarch demonstrated that “in truth ‘the New Jerusalem’, ‘the Kingdom of God’, the beginning of the Heavenly Kingdom in Russia was the Church, its Orthodox spiritual piety, and not the material earthly capital, although it represented… ‘the Third Rome’.” 

     However, Nikon had appointed a vicar-metropolitan in Moscow, and had said: “I am not leaving completely; if the tsar’s majesty bends, becomes more merciful and puts away his wrath, I will return”. In other words, while resigning the active administration of the patriarchy, he had not resigned his rank – a situation to which there were many precedents in Church history. And to show that he had not finally resigned from Church affairs, he protested against moves made by his deputy on the patriarchal throne, and continued to criticize the Tsar for interfering in the Church's affairs, especially in the reactivation of the Monastirskij Prikaz

     Not content with having forced his withdrawal from Moscow, the boyars resolved to have him defrocked, portraying him as a dangerous rebel – although the Patriarch interfered less in the affairs of the Tsar than St. Philip of Moscow had done in the affairs of Ivan the Terrible. And so, in 1660, they convened a council which appointed a patriarchal locum tenens, Metropolitan Pitirim, to administer the Church independently without seeking the advice of the patriarch and without commemorating his name. Nikon rejected this council, and cursed Pitirim…


4. The Council of 1666-67

     But the State that encroaches on the Church is itself subject to destruction. Thus in 1661 Patriarch Nikon had a vision in which he saw the Moscow Dormition cathedral full of fire: “The hierarchs who had previously died were standing there. Peter the metropolitan rose from his tomb, went up to the altar and laid his hand on the Gospel. All the hierarchs did the same, and so did I. And Peter began to speak: ‘Brother Nikon! Speak to the Tsar: why has he offended the Holy Church, and fearlessly taken possession of the immovable things collected by us. This will not be to his benefit. Tell him to return what he has taken, for the great wrath of God has fallen upon him because of this: twice there have been pestilences, and so many people have died, and now he has nobody with whom to stand against his enemies.’ I replied: ‘He will not listen to me; it would be good if one of you appeared to him.’ Peter continued: ‘The judgements of God have not decreed this. You tell him; if he does not listen to you, then if one of us appeared to him, he would not listen to him. And look! Here is a sign for him.’ Following the movement of his hand I turned towards the west towards the royal palace and I saw: there was no church wall, the palace was completely visible, and the fire which was in the church came together and went towards the royal court and burned it up. ‘If he will not come to his senses, punishments greater than the first will be added,’ said Peter. Then another grey-haired man said: ‘Now the Tsar wants to take the court you bought for the churchmen and turn it into a bazaar for mammon’s sake. But he will not rejoice over his acquisition.’”

     With Nikon’s departure, the tsar was left with the problem of replacing him at the head of the Church. S.A. Zenkovsky writes that he “was about to return Protopriest Avvakum, whom he personally respected and loved, from exile, but continued to keep the new typicon… In 1666-1667, in order to resolve the question of what to do with Nikon and to clarify the complications with the typicon, [the tsar] convened first a Russian council of bishops, and then almost an ecumenical one, with the participation of the patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch [who had been suspended by the Patriarch of Constantinople]. The patriarch of Constantinople (he wrote that small details in the typicon were not so important – what was important was the understanding of the commandments of Christ, the basic dogmas of the faith, and devotion to the Church) and the patriarch of Jerusalem did not come to this council, not wishing to get involved in Russian ecclesiastical quarrels.

     “The first part of the council sessions, with the participation only of Russian bishops, went quite smoothly and moderately. Before it, individual discussions of each bishop with the tsar had prepared almost all the decisions. The council did not condemn the old typicon, and was very conciliatory towards its defenders, who, with the exception of Avvakum, agreed to sign the decisions of the council and not break with the Church. The stubborn Avvakum refused, and was for that defrocked and excommunicated from the Church. The second part of the council sessions, with the eastern patriarchs, was completely under the influence of Metropolitan Paisius Ligarides of Gaza (in Palestine) [who had been defrocked by the Patriarch of Jerusalem and was in the pay of the Vatican]. He adopted the most radical position in relation to the old Russian ecclesiastical traditions. The old Russian rite was condemned and those who followed it were excommunicated from the Church (anathema). Also condemned at that time were such Russian writings as the Story of the White Klobuk (on Moscow as the Third Rome), the decrees of the Stoglav council, and other things.”

     The council then turned its attention to Patriarch Nikon. On December 12, 1666 he was reduced to the rank of a monk on the grounds that “he annoyed his great majesty [the tsar], interfering in matters which did not belong to the patriarchal rank and authority”. The truth was the exact opposite: that the tsar and his boyars had interfered in matters which did not belong to their rank and authority, breaking the oath they had made to the patriarch. Another charge against the patriarch was that in 1654 he had defrocked and exiled the most senior of the opponents to his reforms, Bishop Paul of Kolomna, on his own authority, without convening a council of bishops. But, as Lebedev writes, “Nikon refuted this accusation, referring to the conciliar decree on this bishop, which at that time was still in the patriarchal court. Entering then [in 1654] on the path of an authoritative review of everything connected with the correction of the rites, Nikon of course could not on his own condemn a bishop, when earlier even complaints against prominent protopriests were reviewed by him at a Council of the clergy.”

     The council also sinned in approving the Tomos sent by the Eastern Patriarchs to Moscow in 1663 to justify the supposed lawfulness of Nikon’s deposition. Under the name of Patriarchal Replies it expressed a caesaropapist doctrine, according to which the Patriarch was exhorted to obey the tsar and the tsar was permitted to remove the patriarch in case of conflict with him. Patriarch Dionysius of Constantinople expressed this doctrine as follows in a letter to the tsar: “You have the power to have a patriarch and all your councillors established by you, for in one autocratic state there must not be two principles, but one must be the senior.” 

     To which Lebedev justly replied: “It is only to be wondered at how the Greeks by the highest authority established and confirmed in the Russian kingdom that [caesaropapism] as a result of which they themselves had lost their monarchy! It was not Paisius Ligarides who undermined Alexis Mikhailovich: it was the ecumenical patriarchs who deliberately decided the matter in favour of the tsar.”

     However, opposition was voiced by Metropolitans Paul of Krutitsa and Hilarion of Ryazan, who feared “that the Patriarchal Replies would put the hierarchs into the complete control of the royal power, and thereby of a Tsar who would not be as pious as Alexis Mikhailovich and could turn out to be dangerous for the Church”. They particularly objected to the following sentence in the report on the affair of the patriarch: “It is recognized that his Majesty the Tsar alone should be in charge of spiritual matters, and that the Patriarch should be obedient to him”, which they considered to be humiliating for ecclesiastical power and to offer a broad scope for the interference of the secular power in Church affairs. 

     So, as Zyzykin writes, “the Patriarchs were forced to write an explanatory note, in which they gave another interpretation to the second chapter of the patriarchal replies… The Council came to a unanimous conclusion: ‘Let it be recognized that the Tsar has the pre-eminence in civil affairs, and the Patriarch in ecclesiastical affairs, so that in this way the harmony of the ecclesiastical institution may be preserved whole and unshaken.’ This was the principled triumph of the Nikonian idea, as was the resolution of the Council to close the Monastirskij Prikaz and the return to the Church of judgement over clergy in civil matters (the later remained in force until 1700).”

     And yet it had been a close-run thing. During the 1666 Council Ligarides had given voice to an essentially pagan view of tsarist power: “[The tsar] will be called the new Constantine. He will be both tsar and hierarch, just as the great Constantine, who was so devoted to the faith of Christ, is praised among us at Great Vespers as priest and tsar. Yes, and both among the Romans and the Egyptians the tsar united in himself the power of the priesthood and of the kingship.” If this doctrine had triumphed at the Council, then Russia would indeed have entered the era of the Antichrist, as the Old Ritualists believed. 

     And if the good sense of the Russian hierarchs finally averted a catastrophe, the unjust condemnation of Patriarch Nikon, the chief supporter of the Orthodox doctrine, cast a long shadow over the proceedings, and meant that within a generation the attempt to impose absolutism on Russia would begin again… 

     Indeed, it could be said to have begun well before that, for, as Robert Massie writes, “Nikon’s successor, the new Patriarch Joachim, well understood his designated role when he addressed the Tsar saying: ‘Sovereign, I know neither the old nor the new faith, but whatever the Sovereign orders, I am prepared to follow and obey in all respects.”  

     True, the tsar asked forgiveness of Nikon just before his death. But the reconciliation was not complete. For the patriarch replied to the tsar’s messenger: “Imitating my teacher Christ, who commanded us to remit the sins of our neighbours, I say: may God forgive the deceased, but a written forgiveness I will not give, because during his life he did not free us from imprisonment” 


5. Patriarch Nicon on Church-State Relations

     What should be the relationship of an Orthodox King to the Orthodox Church within his dominions? “There is no question,” writes Lebedev, “that the Orthodox Sovereign cares for the Orthodox Church, defends her, protects her, takes part in all her most important affairs. But not he in the first place; and not he mainly. The Church has her own head on earth – the Patriarch. Relations between the head of the state and the head of the Church in Russia, beginning from the holy equal-to-the-apostles Great Prince Vladimir and continuing with Tsar Alexis Mikhailovich and Patriarch Nikon, were always formed in a spirit of symphony.

     “Not without exceptions, but, as a rule, this symphony was not broken and constituted the basis of the inner spiritual strength of the whole of Rus’, the whole of the Russian state and society. The complexity of the symphony consisted in the fact that the Tsar and Patriarch were identically responsible for everything that took place in the people, in society, in the state. But at the same time the Tsar especially answered for worldly matters, matters of state, while the Patriarch especially answered for Church and spiritual affairs. In council they both decided literally everything. But in worldly affairs the last word lay with the Tsar; and in Church and spiritual affairs – with the Patriarch. The Patriarch unfailingly took part in the sessions of the State Duma, that is, of the government. The Tsar unfailingly took part in the Church Councils. In the State Duma the last word was with the Sovereign, and in the Church Councils – with the Patriarch. This common responsibility for everything and special responsibility for the state and the Church with the Tsar and the Patriarch was the principle of symphony or agreement.”

     That Tsar Alexis Mikhailovich sincerely believed this teaching is clear from his letter to the Patriarch of Jerusalem: “The most important task of the Orthodox Tsar is care for the faith, the Church, and all the affairs of the Church.” However, it was he who introduced the Ulozhenie, the first serious breach in Church-State symphony. And it was he who deposed Patriarch Nikon… 

     Therefore while it is customary to date the breakdown of Church-State symphony or agreement in Russia to the time of Peter the Great, the foundations of Holy Russia had been undermined already in the time of his father, Tsar Alexis Mikhailovich. As M.V. Zyzykin writes, “in Church-State questions, Nicon fought with the same corruption that had crept into Muscovite political ideas after the middle of the 15th century and emerged as political Old Ritualism, which defended the tendency towards caesaropapism that had established itself. The fact that the guardian of Orthodoxy, at the time of the falling away of the Constantinopolitan Emperor and Patriarch and Russian Metropolitan into the unia, turned out to be the Muscovite Great Prince had too great an influence on the exaltation of his significance in the Church. And if we remember that at that time, shortly after the unia, the Muscovite Great Prince took the place of the Byzantine Emperor, and that with the establishment of the de facto independence of the Russian Church from the Constantinopolitan Patriarch the Muscovite first-hierarchs lost a support for their ecclesiastical independence from the Great Princes, then it will become clear to us that the Muscovite Great Prince became de facto one of the chief factors in Church affairs, having the opportunity to impose his authority on the hierarchy.”

     Patriarch Nikon corrected the caesaropapist bias of the Russian Church as expressed especially by Ligarides in his famous work Razzorenie (“Destruction”), in which he defined the rights and duties of the tsar as follows: “The tsar undoubtedly has power to give rights and honours, but within the limits set by God; he cannot give spiritual power to Bishops and archimandrites and other spiritual persons: spiritual things belong to the decision of God, and earthly things to the king” (I, 555). 

     “The main duty of the tsar is to care for the Church, for the dominion of the tsar can never be firmly established and prosperous when his mother, the Church of God, is not strongly established, for the Church of God, most glorious tsar, is thy mother, and if thou art obliged to honour thy natural mother, who gave thee birth, then all the more art thou obliged to love thy spiritual mother, who gave birth to thee in Holy Baptism and anointed thee to the kingdom with the oil and chrism of gladness.” 

     Indeed, “none of the kings won victory without the prayers of the priests” (I, 187). For “Bishops are the successors of the Apostles and the servants of God, so that the honour accorded to them is given to God Himself.” “It was when the evangelical faith began to shine that the Episcopate was venerated; but when the spite of pride spread, the honour of the Episcopate was betrayed.” 

     “A true hierarch of Christ is everything. For when kingdom falls on kingdom, the kingdom and house that is divided in itself will not stand.” “The tsar is entrusted with the bodies, but the priests with the souls of men. The tsar remits money debts, but the priests – sins. The one compels, the other comforts. The one wars with enemies, the other with the princes and rulers of the darkness of this world. Therefore the priesthood is much higher than the kingdom.”

     The superiority of the priesthood is proved by the fact that the tsar is anointed by the patriarch and not vice-versa. “The highest authority of the priesthood was not received from the tsars, but the tsars are anointed to the kingdom through the priesthood… We know no other lawgiver than Christ, Who gave the power to bind and to loose. What power did the tsar give me? This one? No, but he himself seized it for himself… Know that even he who is distinguished by the diadem is subject to the power of the priest, and he who is bound by him will be bound also in the heavens.” 

     The patriarch explains why, on the one hand, the priesthood is higher than the kingdom, and on the other, the kingdom cannot be abolished by the priesthood: “The kingdom is given by God to the world, but in wrath, and it is given through anointing from the priests with a material oil, but the priesthood is a direct anointing from the Holy Spirit, as also our Lord Jesus Christ was raised to the high-priesthood directly by the Holy Spirit, as were the Apostles. Therefore, at the consecration to the episcopate, the consecrator holds an open Gospel over the head of him who is being consecrated” (I, 234, 235)… There is no human judgement over the tsar, but there is a warning from the pastors of the Church and the judgement of God.” However, the fact that the tsar cannot be judged by man shows that the kingdom is given him directly by God, and not by man. “For even if he was not crowned, he would still be king.” But he can only be called an Orthodox, anointed king if he is crowned by the Bishop. Thus “he receives and retains his royal power by the sword de facto. But the name of king (that is, the name of a consecrated and Christian or Orthodox king) he receives from the Episcopal consecration, for which the Bishop is the accomplisher and source.” (I, 254).

     We see here how far Nikon is from the papocaesarism of a Pope Gregory VII, who claimed to be able to depose kings precisely “as kings”. And yet he received a reputation for papocaesarism (which prevented his recognition at least until the Russian Council of 1917-18) because of his fearless exposure of the caesaropapism of the Russian tsar: “Everyone should know his measure. Saul offered the sacrifice, but lost his kingdom; Uzziah, who burned incense in the temple, became a leper. Although thou art tsar, remain within thy limits. Wilt thou say that the heart of the king is in the hand of God? Yes, but the heart of the king is in the hand of God [only] when the king remains within the boundaries set for him by God.”

     In another passage Nikon combines the metaphor of the two swords with that of the sun and moon. The latter metaphor had been used by Pope Innocent III; but Nikon’s development of it is Orthodox and does not exalt the power of the priesthood any more than did the Fathers of the fourth century: “The all-powerful God, in creating the heaven and the earth, order the two great luminaries – the sun and the moon – to shine upon the earth in their course; by one of them – the sun - He prefigured the episcopal power, while by the other – the moon – He prefigured the tsarist power. For the sun is the greater luminary, it shines by day, like the Bishop who enlightens the soul. But the lesser luminary shines by night, by which we must understand the body. As the moon borrows its light from the sun, and in proportion to its distance from it receives a fuller radiance, so the tsar derives his consecration, anointing and coronation (but not power) from the Bishop, and, having received it, has his own light, that it, his consecrated power and authority. The similarity between these two persons in every Christian society is exactly the same as that between the sun and the moon in the material world. For the episcopal power shines by day, that is, over souls; while the tsarist power shines in the things of this world. And this power, which is the tsarist sword, must be ready to act against the enemies of the Orthodox faith. The episcopate and all the clergy need this defence from all unrighteousness and violence. This is what the secular power is obliged to do. For secular people are in need of freedom for their souls, while spiritual people are in need of secular people for the defence of their bodies. And so in this neither of them is higher than the other, but each has power from God.” 

     But Nikon insists that when the tsar encroaches on the Church he loses his power. For “there is in fact no man more powerless than he who attacks the Divine laws, and there is nothing more powerful than a man who fights for them. For he who commits sin is the slave of sin, even if he bears a thousand crowns on his head, but he who does righteous deeds is greater than the tsar himself, even if he is the last of all.” So a tsar who himself chooses patriarchs and metropolitans, breaking his oath to the patriarch “is unworthy even to enter the church, but he must spend his whole life in repentance, and only at the hour of death can he be admitted to communion… Chrysostom forbade every one who breaks his oath … from crossing the threshold of the church, even in he were the tsar himself.”

     Nicon comes very close to identifying the caesaropapist tsar with the Antichrist. For, as Zyzykin points out, “Nikon looked on the apostasy of the State law from Church norms (i.e. their destruction) as the worship by the State of the Antichrist, ‘This antichrist is not satan, but a man, who will receive from satan the whole power of his energy. A man will be revealed who will be raised above God, and he will be the opponent of God and will destroy all gods and will order that people worship him instead of God, and he will sit, not in the temple of Jerusalem, but in the Churches, giving himself out as God. As the Median empire was destroyed by Babylon, and the Babylonian by the Persian, and the Persian by the Macedonian, and the Macedonian by the Roman, thus must the Roman empire be destroyed by the antichrist, and he – by Christ. This is revealed to us by the Prophet Daniel. The divine Apostle warned us about things to come, and they have come for us through you and your evil deeds (he is speaking to the author of the Ulozhenie, Prince Odoyevsky) Has not the apostasy from the Holy Gospel and the traditions of the Holy Apostles and holy fathers appeared? (Nicon has in mind the invasion by the secular authorities into the administration of the Church through the Ulozhenie). Has not the man of sin been discovered - the son of destruction, who will exalt himself about everything that is called God, or that is worshipped? And what can be more destructive than abandoning God and His commandments, as they have preferred the traditions of men, that is, their codex full of spite and cunning? But who is this? Satan? No. This is a man, who has received the work of Satan, who has united to himself many others like you, composer of lies, and your comrades. Sitting in the temple of God does not mean in the temple of Jerusalem, but everywhere in the Churches. And sitting not literally in all the Churches, but as exerting power over all the Churches. The Church is not stone walls, but the ecclesiastical laws and the pastors, against whom thou, apostate, hast arisen, in accordance with the work of satan, and in the Ulozhenie thou hast presented secular people with jurisdiction over the Patriarch, the Metropolitans, the Archbishops, the Bishops, and over all the clergy, without thinking about the work of God. As the Lord said on one occasion: ‘Depart from Me, satan, for thou thinkest not about what is pleasing to God, but about what is pleasing to men.’ ‘Ye are of your father the devil and you carry out his lusts.’ Concerning such Churches Christ said: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer, but you will make it a den of thieves’; as Jeremiah says (7.4): ‘Do not rely on deceiving words of those who say to you: here is the temple of the Lord.’ How can it be the temple of God if it is under the power of the tsar and his subjects, and they order whatever they want in it? Such a Church is no longer the temple of God, but the house of those who have power over it, for, if it were the temple of God, nobody, out of fear of God, would be capable of usurping power over it or taking anything away from it. But as far as the persecution of the Church is concerned, God has revealed about this to His beloved disciple and best theologian John (I, 403-408),… [who] witnesses, saying that the Antichrist is already in the world. But nobody has seen or heard him perceptibly, that is, the secular authorities will begin to rule over the Churches of God in transgression of the commandments of God.’ For the word ‘throne’ signifies having ecclesiastical authority, and not simply sitting… And he will command people to bow down to him not externally or perceptibly, but in the same way as now the Bishops, abandoning their priestly dignity and honour, bow down to the tsars as to their masters. And they ask them for everything and seek honours from them” (I, 193).” For “there is apostasy also in the fact that the Bishops, abandoning their dignity, bow down before the tsar as their master in spiritual matters, and seek honours from him.”

     The power of the Roman emperors, of which the Russian tsardom is the lawful successor, is “that which restraineth” the coming of the Antichrist. And yet “the mystery of iniquity is already being accomplished” in the shape of those kings, such as Nero, who ascribed to themselves divine worship. 

     The warning was clear: that which restrains the antichrist can be swiftly transformed into the antichrist himself. Even the present tsar could suffer such a transformation; for “what is more iniquitous than for a tsar to judge bishops, taking to himself a power which has not been given him by God?… This is apostasy from God.”



     It was not only the Russian State that had sinned in Nikon’s deposition: both the Russian hierarchs and the Eastern Patriarchs had submitted to the pressure of tsar and boyars. (In 1676 Patriarch Joachim convened a council which hurled yet more accusations against him…) But judgement was deferred for a generation or two, while the Russian autocracy restored the Ukraine, “Little Russia”, to the Great Russian kingdom. With the weakening of Poland and the increase in strength of the generally pro-Muscovite Cossacks under Hetman Bogdan Khmelnitsky, large areas of Belorussia and the Ukraine, including Kiev, were freed from Latin control, which could only be joyful news for the native Orthodox population who had suffered so much from the Polish-Jesuit yoke. Moreover, the liberated areas were returned to the jurisdiction of the Russian Church in 1686. This meant that most of the Russian lands were now, for the first time for centuries, united under a single, independent Russian State and Church. The Russian national Church had been restored to almost its original dimensions. The final step would be accomplished by Tsar Nicholas II in 1915, just before the fall of the empire…

     However, Constantinople’s agreement to the transfer of the Ukraine to the jurisdiction of the Russian Church was extracted only under heavy pressure from the Sultan, who wanted to ensure Moscow’s neutrality in his war with the Sacred League in Europe. Ironically, the fact that he succumbed to this pressure tends to give strength to the argument that it was better for Kiev to be under the free Church of Russia rather than the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which was in captivity to the godless Turks… In any case, in 1687 Dionysius was removed for this act, and the transfer of Kiev to Moscow denounced as anti-canonical by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Things were made worse when, in 1688, Moscow reneged on its promise to give Kiev the status of an autonomous metropolia and turned it into an ordinary diocese. This had consequences in the twentieth century, when Constantinople granted the Polish Church autocephaly in 1924, and then, from the beginning of the 1990s, began to lay claims to the Ukraine.

     At the coronation of Tsar Theodore Alexeyevich certain additions were made to the rite that showed that the Russian Church now looked on the tsardom as a quasi-priestly rank. “These additions were: 1) the proclamation of the symbol of faith by the tsar before his crowning, as was always the case with ordinations, 2) the vesting of the tsar in royal garments signifying his putting on his rank, and 3) communion in the altar of the Body and Blood separately in accordance with the priestly order, which was permitted only for persons of the three hierarchical sacred ranks. These additions greatly exalted the royal rank, and Professor Pokrovsky explained their introduction by the fact that at the correction of the liturgical books in Moscow in the second half of the 17th century, the attention of people was drawn to the difference in the rites of the Byzantine and Muscovite coronation and the additions were introduced under the influence of the Council of 1667, which wanted to exalt the royal rank.” 

     The pious tsar did not use his exalted position to humiliate the Church. On the contrary, he tried, as far as it was in his power, to correct the great wrong that had been done to the Church in his father’s reign. Thus when Patriarch Nicon died it was the tsar who ordered “that the body should be conveyed to New Jerusalem. The patriarch did not want to give the reposed hierarchical honours. [So] his Majesty persuaded Metropolitan Cornelius of Novgorod to carry out the burial. He himself carried the coffin with the remains.” 

     Again, it was the tsar rather than the patriarch who obtained a gramota from the Eastern Patriarchs in 1682 restoring Nikon to patriarchal status and “declaring that he could be forgiven in view of his redemption of his guilt by his humble patience in prison”. This was hardly an adequate summary of the situation. But it did go some of the way to helping the Greeks redeem their guilt in the deposition of the most Grecophile of Russian patriarchs…



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