Written by Vladimir Moss



     The recent emergence of a powerful monarchist movement in Russia[1], and the proposal that Vladimir Putin should become tsar, has raised two important questions: what is Orthodox autocracy, and could Putin qualify as an Orthodox Autocrat?

A. Three Conditions of Autocracy

     “Thy will be done”: that is the fervent prayer of every Christian, being the natural consequence of the previous petitions of the Lord’s Prayer. For God’s name will be hallowed, and His Kingdom will come, only if His will is done, both in every individual Christian and in society as a whole. But there’s the rub: if it is conceivable that God’s will can be done in the lives of individual Christians, that is, in the lives of those few whom we call saints, this goal seems utopian with regard to society as a whole. For not only is society not composed only of saints: the life of society as a whole is the domain of what we call politics. And politics, as we all know, is a dirty business, which is why we tacitly admit that politics cannot be ruled by the rules of morality, - or, at any rate, Christian morality - but by “reasons of state”, realpolitik, which is almost always very far from Christian morality, its “reasons of state” being in fact the reasons, very often, for some of the greatest crimes the world has ever seen.

     However, Orthodox Christianity is utopian in one sense – in the sense, namely, that it believes that the leaven of God’s grace can reach even into the most hardened and worldly sphere of human life – politics. However, grace can penetrate the sphere of politics only under certain, very precisely determined conditions, the conditions that define one, and one only kind of politics. This is the politics of the Orthodox autocracy, a special kind of monarchy. (Strictly speaking, as we shall see, there is no such thing as a non-Orthodox autocracy, so the qualification “Orthodox” is unnecessary. Nevertheless, in view of the fact that the word “autocracy” is commonly used to describe many non-Orthodox kinds of one-man-rule, we shall continue to speak of the Orthodox autocracy.)

     Now the superiority of autocracy, and its defining conditions, are set out very early in the Divine Revelation, in the book of Deuteronomy. Speaking to the people of Israel through Moses, the Lord lays down the following conditions that a ruler must satisfy if he is to be a true autocrat, and not a pagan-style despot:

When thou shalt come unto the land which the Lord thy God shall choose, and shalt possess it, and shalt dwell therein, and shalt say, ‘I will set a king over me, like as all the nations that are about me’, thou shalt surely set a king over thee whom the Lord thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother... And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests, the Levites. And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them: that his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left: to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he, and his children, in the midst of Israel” (Deuteronomy 17.14-15,18-20).

     Thus God blessed the institution of the monarchy, but stipulated three conditions if His blessing was to rest on it. First, the people must itself desire to have a king placed over it. Secondly, the king must be someone “whom the Lord thy God shall choose”; a true king is chosen by God, not by man. Such a man will always be a “brother”, that is a member of the People of God, of the Church: if he is not, then God has not chosen him. Thirdly, he will govern in accordance with the Law of God, which he will strive to fulfil in all its parts.

     The first Israelite leader  who fulfilled all three conditions was David, the first true autocrat. (Moses himself also fulfilled these conditions, but in his time the Israelites had not yet come into possession of the land that the Lord had chosen for them.) Every successive autocrat was of the line of David, until the Coming of Christ Himself, “to Whom,” As the Archangel Gabriel said to the Holy Virgin, “the Lord God will give the throne of His father David. And He will rule over the house of Jacob forever” (Luke 1.32-33). In this way another condition of autocracy was established: the hereditary principle, in accordance with the word: “I will establish his seed unto ages of ages, and his throne shall be as the days of heaven… Once have I sworn by My holiness  that to David  I will not lie; his seed forever shall abide. And his throne shall be as the sun before Me, and as the moon that is established forever” (Psalm 88.28, 34-35).

     Let us look more closely at these three conditions:-

I. The People Must be Monarchist.

     In today’s world the democratic mind-set has conquered almost everywhere. Even in those countries in which there is no real democracy, lip-service is made to democracy and the outer forms of democracy. But God makes it clear that He will give His people a king only if they really want a king. That is, they must be eager to obey the will of a king rather than their own will or “the will of the people”. In 1917 the Russian Autocracy was removed from the people because they no longer wanted a king. So the autocracy can be restored only if the monarchist mind-set is restored. 

     Such an attitude can be found today in Russia, which is one of the few genuine reasons for optimism in the world today. As Mikhail Suslovwrites,A recent poll conducted by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM) in March 2013 showed that 24 percent of Russians have nothing against the idea of the restoration of the monarchy; an analogous survey in 2006 numbered potential monarchists at 19 percent. In the same period the number of opponents of monarchy has also increased insignificantly: from 66 percent in 2006 to 67 percent in 2013. Thus, we can speak of the stabilization of the number of monarchist sympathizers at a level of approximately one-fifth of the population.”[2] This might not seem a large enough proportion of the population. Nevertheless, it is a beginning, and all the indications are that the proportion of the Russian population with a monarchist mind-set is growing. We must remember that when the first Christian autocrat, St. Constantine the Great, came to power, it is thought that no more than 5-10% of the population of the Roman empire was Christian.

     The danger is that this monarchist potential in the Russian population may be ambushed by pseudo-monarchists – that is, by the supporters of Vladimir Putin, who can in no way be seen as a potential autocrat in the true, Biblical sense…

II. The Autocrat must be Orthodox.

     He must be a member of the People of God, that is, the True Church, because only such a man can become a vessel of the Holy Spirit and understand the true spiritual needs of the people. A heretical Autocrat cannot defend the Orthodox people against heretics, but will rather introduce the tares of heresy among the people. The Byzantine autocracy was overthrown in the fifteenth century because the last three Byzantine emperors were in fact Roman Catholic, and had led Byzantium into the union with Rome at the council of Florence. Vladimir Putin is also a heretic; for he supports the ecumenist actions of the Moscow Patriarchate, and himself practices inter-Christian and inter-faith ecumenism. In the same way the false Tsar Dmitri at the Time of Troubles in the early seventeenth century, while pretending to be Orthodox,in fact belonged to a quite different religion. Moreover, Putin’s recent affirmation that the Gospel of Christ is close to Communist ideology leads us to suppose that he is not even an ecumenist Christian, but rather at best a “Communist Christian” and at worst a secret atheist.  

III. The Autocrat must recognize that he is bound by the Law of God.

     A common misapprehension concerning Orthodox Autocracy is that it is unlimited, absolutist, despotic. Although some Orthodox kings and emperors have behaved at times like despots, these were aberrations,  exceptions to the rule. Ivan the Terrible, for example, behaved like an exemplary Orthodox autocrat in the first half of his reign, and declined into absolutism in the second half. A true Orthodox autocrat feels bound by the Orthodox ideal that is preached by the Church, and defers in all spiritual matters to the Orthodox Church. This is what is meant by the “symphony” between the Church and the Autocracy that was first proclaimed by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, who in his Novella 131 decreed: “The Church canons have the same force in the State as the State laws: what is permitted or forbidden by the former is permitted or forbidden by the latter. Therefore crimes against the former cannot be tolerated in the State according to State legislation.”Even the less distinguished autocrats decreed laws supporting the dogmas and canons of the Church – for example, about attending church on Sundays and feasts. The autocrat is not limited by the people, by purely human norms and customs. But he bows before the Law of God, and orders his people to do the same. “The power of the tsar,” says St. John of Kronstadt, “is autocratic, for he does not receive it from the people, and for that reason it cannot be limited by the people and be responsible to it. Since the tsar’s power proceeds from God it is responsible only before Him and can be limited only by the will of God Himself and His holy laws, to which it must be strictly conformed, without deviating from them.”

     Does Putin feel himself bound by the Law of God? He will probably say that he is; but a close examination both of his personal behaviour and of the works of his regime shows that he is not. Orthodox Christianity is supported – but, as we have seen, the MP is in fact a heretical corruption of Orthodoxy. As regards moral values, Putin boasts that his Russia is morally superior to the West with its LGBT agenda. In this respect Russia may indeed be said to be superior to the West; but in many other respects the comparison with the West is not flattering to Russia… Worst of all, his loyalty to Sovietism, and his attempt to revive it in present-day Russia, rule him out as the successor of the Russian Tsars 

C. The Hereditary Principle

     To the three principles of autocracy described above must be added a fourth: the hereditary principle. Of course, the advantages of the hereditary principle have been known since ancient times, which is why we find it being applied in almost all the pagan kingdoms of antiquity. The most obvious and least commendable advantage of the principle is that it keeps wealth and power “within the family”. More commendable and important is that it provides continuity and a peaceful transition from father to son while avoiding the evils of civil war. As Ivan Solonevich writes: “Power passes without quarrel and pain: the king is dead, long live the king!”[3]

     Now from an Orthodox, spiritual point of view the great virtue of the hereditary principle is that it leaves the choice of who will be king to God, not man. As God the Prophet-King David says in Psalm 88:

I have made a covenant with My chosen ones, I have sworn unto David My servant: I will establish thy seed unto eternity: I will establish thy seed unto eternity, and build up thy throne unto generation and generation… I will make him My firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth.  For ever shall I keep for him My mercy, and My covenant shall be faithful unto him. And I will establish his seed unto ages of ages, and his throne shall be as the days of heaven. (vv. 3, 25-28).

The seed of David was the line of Jewish kings descending from him and culminating in Christ, Who was born as the King of Israel by right of inheritance, being “the Son of David”: as the Archangel Gabriel says to the Holy Virgin Mary: “the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the House of Jacob forever, and of His Kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1.32-33).

      Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow sees the hereditary principle as made in the image of God’s rule from age to age: “God established a tsar on earth in the image of His own heavenly single rule, an autocratic tsar in the image of His own autocracy, and a hereditary tsar in the image of His unfailing Kingdom, which continues from age to age.” [4]

     There has been criticism of the hereditary principle in contemporary Russia, as Suslov writes, “on the grounds that a person unfit for the role may cometo the throne. Referring to current political events in Russia in 2009,Archpriest Dimitry Smirnov, then deputy chair and director of the administrativestaff of the Patriarchal Commission on Family Mattersand the Protection of Motherhood and Childhood, asserted that strongpresidential rule with the transfer of power to a designated “successor” was better than monarchy, which offers no guarantee against accidents of birth. Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeev) has spoken similarly: in his view monarchy is not the best form of government,for in history there have been various monarchs, some worthyand some not, and various presidents, but monarchy intrinsicallydoes not preclude the transfer of power to an unworthy successor.”[5]

     Indeed: but “an unworthy successor” may be precisely what God wants (or, more accurately: allows). For there is no such thing as “accidents of birth”; there is no such thing as chance in general; what is “chance” to the human eye conceals the purposeful Providence of God. Again we turn to Psalm 88: 

If My statutes they profane, and keep not My commandments, I will visit their iniquities with a rod, and their injustices with scourges. But My mercy will I no disperse away from them, nor will I wrong them in My truth. Nor will I profane My covenant, nor the things that proceed from My lips will I make void. Once have I sworn by My holiness that to David I will not lie; his seed for ever shall abide. (vv. 29-33) 

Here the Lord is talking about the successors of David, the kings of Israel and Judah from Solomon and Rehoboah onwards. As we know from the Holy Scriptures, several of them were unworthy men. But God allowed them to reign; he did not interrupt the hereditary succession. They were placed on the throne by Him either because the people were not worthy of better kings, or because their patience and faithfulness to God were to be tested and strengthened by their endurance of bad kings. For since they are chosen by God, even the bad kings must be obeyed – except in the case that they demand the violation of God’s law.

      The hereditary principle is deemed irrational by people of a democratic mentality (which means almost all people in today’s world) because they have no control over it. In a democratic election, the ruler is chosen – theoretically, at any rate - for his personal qualities and experience that makes him capable, in the judgement of the people, of wielding executive power. Thus democracy is based – again, theoretically – on meritocracy, on the eminently rational basis that this man is the best qualified for the job. But a religious people thinks quite differently. They think and feel that they are not capable of choosing who is best for the job. They believe that only God can know that. And so they try as hard as they can to take the choice out of their own, merely human hands and into the hands of God alone. They welcome the supposedly “chance” nature of hereditary election; for it places the election out of their control and therefore in the control of God alone.

     Of course, the hereditary principle cannot be applied to the very first member of a dynasty, or when a dynasty has come to an end. In that case, God’s choice is manifested in a different way.  The question then arises: in what way?

     In the case of David, the model for all subsequent autocrats and dynastic founders, God’s choice was revealed through the Prophet Samuel, who anointed David to the kingdom many years before he actually ascended the throne. The equivalent to the Old Testament prophet and priest Samuel in New Testament times is the Church of Christ, which possesses the prophetic, priestly and kingly charismas within itself. And so the founders of New Testament dynasties are called directly by God or indirectly by the leaders of the Church; they are not elected by men. Thus St. Constantine, the first Christian autocrat, was called by the sign of the Cross appearing to him in the heavens accompanied by the Divine voice saying: “By this sign conquer”. King Alfred, the founder of the Anglo-Saxon dynasty of Orthodox kings, was called by Pope Leo IV, who anointed him and gave him the rank of Roman consul.

     An especially striking example of Divine calling to the kingdom is found in the life of St. Gregory, archbishop of the South Arabian kingdom of Homer (or Omir or Himyar):: “Raising his eyes and mind and hands to heaven, [Gregory]  prayed fervently and for a long time that God, Who knows the life and thoughts of every man, should indicate to him the man who was worthy of the kingdom. During the prayer of the archbishop, the invisible power of the Lord suddenly raised a certain man by the name of Abraham into the air and placed him in front of King Elesbaan. Everyone cried out in awe for a long time: ‘Lord, have mercy!’ The archbishop said: ‘Here is the man whom you demanded should be anointed to the kingdom. Leave him here as king, we shall be of one mind with him, and God will help us in everything.’ Great joy filled everyone on beholding the providence of God. Then King Elesbaan [king of Ethiopia] took the man Abraham, who had been revealed by God, led him to the temple of the All-Holy Trinity which was in the royal city of Afar, put the royal purple on him and laid the diadem on his head. Then St. Gregory anointed him and the bloodless Sacrifice was offered for the kings and all the people, and both kings communicated in the Divine Mysteries from the hands of the archbishop…”[6]

      No Orthodox nation adhered more strongly to the hereditary principle than Russia. In 1613, when the Rurikid dynasty had already come to an end, a “Council of the Land” (Zemsky Sobor) elected Michael Romanov as the first autocrat of a new dynasty on the model of the Israelites’ election of Jephtha (Judges 11.11). Moreover, the members of the Council bound themselves and their descendants by a terrible oath and anathema to be loyal both to Tsar Michael and to all his descendants forever.

      However, while it is commonly asserted that Michael Romanov was elected to the throne of Russia, as if he were not God’s choice, but the people’s, this is not how the people saw it. They did not see themselves as having elected and therefore created the Tsar, but rather as having recognized his election by God. They did not regard the tsar as democratically accountable to themselves, but saw themselves as bound to obey him and his successors in all things. For, as Fr. Lev Lebedev writes: “Tsars are not elected! And a Council, even a Zemsky Sobor, cannot be the source of his power. The kingdom is a calling of God, the Council can determine who is the lawful Tsar and summon him.”[7] Ivan Solonevich confirms this thought: “When, after the Time of Troubles, the question was raised concerning the restoration of the monarchy, there was no hint of an ‘election to the kingdom’. There was a ‘search’ for people who had the greatest hereditary right to the throne. And not an ‘election’ of the more worthy. There were not, and could not be, any ‘merits’ in the young Michael Fyodorovich. But since only the hereditary principle affords the advantage of absolutely indisputability, it was on this that the ‘election’ was based.”[8]

      For, as St. John Maximovich explains, Michael Romanov was not elected because of any special personal qualities or experience, but only because he was “the closest heir to the now defunct royal line”: “What drew the hearts of all to Michael Romanov? He had neither experience of statecraft, nor had he done any service to the state. He was not distinguished by the state wisdom of Boris Godunov or by the eminence of his race, as was Basil Shuisky. He was sixteen years old, and ‘Misha Romanov’, as he was generally known, had not yet managed to show his worth in anything. But why did the Russian people rest on him, and why with his crowning did all the quarrels and disturbances regarding the royal throne come to an end? The Russian people longed for a lawful, ‘native’ Sovereign, and was convinced that without him there could be no order or peace in Russia. When Boris Godunov and Prince Basil Shuisky were elected, although they had, to a certain degree, rights to the throne through their kinship with the previous tsars, they were not elected by reason of their exclusive rights, but their personalities were taken into account. There was no strict lawful succession in their case. This explained the success of the pretenders. However, it was almost impossible to elect someone as tsar for his qualities. Everyone evaluated the candidates from their point of view. However, the absence of a definite law which would have provided an heir in the case of the cutting off of the line of the Great Princes and Tsars of Moscow made it necessary for the people itself to indicate who they wanted as tsar. The descendants of the appanage princes, although they came from the same race as that of the Moscow Tsars (and never forgot that), were in the eyes of the people simple noblemen, ‘serfs’ of the Moscow sovereigns; their distant kinship with the royal line had already lost its significance. Moreover, it was difficult to establish precisely which of the descendants of St. Vladimir on the male side had the most grounds for being recognized as the closest heir to the defunct royal line. In such circumstances all united in the suggestion that the extinct Royal branch should be continued by the closest relative of the last ‘native’, lawful Tsar. The closest relatives of Tsar Theodore Ioannovich [the son of Ivan the Terrible] were his cousins on his mother’s side: Theodore, in monasticism Philaret, and Ivan Nikitich Romanov, both of whom had sons. In that case the throne had to pass to Theodore, as the eldest, but his monasticism and the rank of Metropolitan of Rostov was an obstacle to this. His heir was his only son Michael. Thus the question was no longer about the election of a Tsar, but about the recognition that a definite person had the rights to the throne. The Russian people, tormented by the time of troubles and the lawlessness, welcomed this decision, since it saw that order could be restored only by a lawful ‘native’ Tsar. The people remembered the services of the Romanovs to their homeland, their sufferings for it, the meek Tsaritsa Anastasia Romanova, the firmness of Philaret Nikitich. All this still more strongly attracted the hearts of the people to the announced tsar. But these qualities were possessed also by some other statesmen and sorrowers for Rus’. And this was not the reason for the election of Tsar Michael Romanov, but the fact that in him Rus’ saw their most lawful and native Sovereign.

     “In the acts on the election to the kingdom of Michael Fyodorovich, the idea that he was ascending the throne by virtue of his election by the people was carefully avoided, and it was pointed out that the new Tsar was the elect of God, the direct descendant of the last lawful Sovereign.”[9]

      After “electing” the first Romanov tsar, the people retained no right to depose him or any of his successors. On the contrary, they elected a hereditary dynasty, and specifically bound themselves by an oath to be loyal to that dynasty forever. Hence the peculiar horror and accursedness of their rejection of Tsar Nicholas II in 1917, when not only was the hereditary succession of the Romanov dynasty interrupted, but the very concept of sacred. God-crowned kingship was abolished in favour of the pagan principle of democracy, rule by the people.…


D. The Future Tsar.

     In a conversation with Tsar Paul I (+1801), after correctly prophesying the destinies of all the Tsars from Paul I to Nicholas II, the Prophet Abel the Monk (+1831) said about the last tsar  “What is impossible for man is possible for God. God delays with His help, but it is said that he will give it soon and will raise the horn of Russian salvation. And there will arise a great prince from your race in exile, who stands for the sons of his people. He will be a chosen one of God, and on his head will be blessing. He will be the only one comprehensible to all, the very heart of Russia will sense him. His appearance will be sovereign and radiant, and nobody will say: ‘The Tsar is here or there’, but all will say: ‘That’s him’. The will of the people will submit to the mercy of God, and he himself will confirm his calling… His name has occurred three times in Russian history. Two of the same name have already been on the throne, but not on the Tsar’s throne. But he will sit on the Tsar’s throne as the third. In him will be the salvation and happiness of the Russian realm.”  

     So the future Tsar will not be elected by the people, like Putin or his like. He will be called by God, not elected by men, and the people will recognize his calling, “submitting to the mercy of God”. And they will be counted worthy of that mercy when they will have submitted to the will of God, not their own will, in the “election” of an autocrat to rule over them.

     As for the hereditary principle, it will be present, although the hereditary link with the old dynasty will be still more indirect than it was in 1613. Thus Archbishop Theophan of Poltava (+1940) passed on the words of the sayings of the Valaam elders: “Before the coming of the Antichrist Russia must yet be restored - to be sure, for a short time. And in Russia there must be a Tsar forechosen by the Lord Himself. He will be a man of burning faith, great mind and iron will. This much has been revealed about him. He will not be a Romanov, but he will be of the Romanovs according to the maternal line....

     And again: “He will be of the family of the Romanovs according to the female line.[10] Russia will be a powerful state, but only for 'a short time'... And then the Antichrist will come into the world, with all the horrors of the end as described in the Apocalypse."

     But, said St. John of Kronstadt, “the Church will remain unshaken to the end of the age, and a Monarch of Russia, if he remains faithful to the Orthodox Church, will be established on the Throne of Russia until the end of the age…”


November 14/27, 2018.

St. Justinian, Emperor of New Rome.







[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZHNBl-JJLPw&feature=youtu.be.

[2] Suslov, “The Genealogy of the Idea of Monarchy in the Post-Soviet Political Discourse of the Russian Orthodox Church”, State, Religion and Church, vol. 3 (1), 2016, p. 30.

[3]Solonevich, Narodnaia Monarkhia (The People’s Monarchy), Minsk, 1998, p. 87.

[4]Gosudarstvennoe Uchenie Filareta Mitropolita Moskovskogo, Jordanville. N.Y.: Holy Trinity Monastery, 1997, p. 8.

[5]Suslov, op. cit., p. 45.

[6] “The Life of the Holy Hierarch Gregory, Bishop of Homer”, Living Orthodoxy, vol. XVII, N 6, November-December, 1996, pp. 5-6.

[7]Lebedev, Velikorossia (Great Russia), St. Petersburg, 1999, p. 126.

[8]Solonevich, op. cit., pp. 82-83.

[9]St. John Maximovich, Proiskhozhdenie zakona o prestolonasledii v Rossii (The Origin of the Law of Succession in Russia), Podolsk, 1994, pp. 13, 43-45.

[10] And again: “He [the future Tsar] will not be a Romanov, but he will be from the Romanovs on the maternal line, he will re-establish the fertility of Siberia.”


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