The Non Possessors Programme as the Political Opposition Prince Andrew Kurbskij

Seen through the eyes of the Non-Possessors, Russia under Ivan the Terrible was in a situation worse than under the Mongols. Then, at the time of the Battle of Kulikovo Field (1380), the Hesychast leaders put forward a programme called by one modern scholar (G. M. Prokhorov) 'political Hesychasm', which forced Grand Prince Dimitrij to start a war against the Tartars. The second half of the sixteenth century saw another 'political Hesychast' initiative, which was a plan of a war against Moscow for the sake of Orthodoxy. The leader of this Hesychast political opposition was the émigré Prince Kurbskij, who had once been a general close to Ivan the Terrible. Prince Kurbskij lived in the Kingdom of Poland under the spiritual guidance of the elder Artemius, a great Hesychast figure and a theologian comparable to Maxim the Greek.

The Orthodox faith and even Russian culture was still a great force in Lithuania and Poland. Different projects for unification of all three states, not only Poland and Lithuania, but also the Muscovite state, were always on the agenda. In fact the Russian Empire included all three of them from 1795 to 1917. Therefore, a move to support the King of Poland against the Tsar of Moscow contained nothing anti-Russian in itself. Indeed Ivan IV himself was invited in 15 72-5 to become King of Poland. The wars between Muscovite Russia and Poland were often similar to civil wars.

Up to his death in 1583 Prince Kurbskij acted as a general of the Polish king in his wars against Ivan IV. This would have been impossible without the blessing of Artemius and the moral support of the wide circle of Orthodox zealots. In Lithuania,

Prince Kurbskij was known as the principal protector of the Orthodox faith from both secular enemies and religious heretics. The whole tradition of West Russian Orthodox polemical literature goes back to the entourage of Kurbskij at his Lithuanian manor. In no way can Prince Kurbskij's activity be considered as something marginal with respect to 'mainstream' Orthodoxy. Kurbskij himself was continuing an international Hesychast policy already initiated in 1546-7 by the so-called Excerpt on the Second Marriage of Basil III, a pamphlet against both Basil III and Ivan IV. The core of this work was produced by Athonite monks and it was distributed through a very influential person and theologian, the Protos of Mount Athos, Gabriel, a Serb.

The main and new topic of the literary polemics between Kurbskij and Ivan IV in the 1560s-15 70s (including the open letters to each other) was the nature of imperial (tsarist) power. Prince Kurbskij condemned the Josephites because they were guilty by association of the tyranny of Ivan IV. Supported by the Josephites, Ivan the Terrible, the first Russian tsar, considered himself to be a sacred person led by a kind of divine inspiration. Kurbskij wrote to him that, on the contrary, he was a human being in need of the council of other human beings who may be wiser than himself. Ivan was interested in developing a doctrine of the 'sacred king', an idea which very much affected subsequent Russian history and which has never been accepted unequivocally. Kurbskij treated the tsar in line with the Byzantine tradition where the personality of the emperor was easily separated from his elevated status. So, in Kurbskij's mind, there was no need to look for justification for the war against an impious tsar.

Kurbskij's works became widespread and very much part of the ideological quest of the seventeenth century. As for Ivan IV, he contributed decisively to the development of two extremes in Russian attitudes towards the tsar: the tsar as the 'sacred king' and the tsar as the Antichrist. When a son of Ivan IV, Feodor, inherited the Moscow throne, the Muscovite Church organization seemed unable to rise from the ruins without help from outside. Such was the collapse of the first attempt by the Church at self-sufficiency.

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