The Patriarchate of Moscow Establishment Fall and Reconstruction 15891633

Establishment of the Patriarchate of Moscow: the Third Rome without autonomy?

The period from 1585 to 1605 was a time of revival for the Muscovite Church, after its illegal autocephaly had been abolished through the act of establishing the Patriarchate of Moscow in 1589. Officially, as was said in the Charter of the Patriarch of Constantinople, Jeremias II (1572-95), given that same year in Moscow, the patriarchate was established in response to an address by the tsar to the Patriarch of Constantinople together with the three other Eastern Orthodox patriarchs. The previous anti-canonical autocephaly of Moscow was ignored as something that had no right to exist. The borders of the new patriarchate were drawn in such a way as to imply an official acknowledgement by Moscow of the Kievan Metropolitanate within the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

In addition, the Charter of Jeremias II contained a formula mentioning Moscow as the 'Third Rome'. For him this was merely a diplomatic concession: the two Constantinopolitan Councils of 1590 and 1593 did not repeat any such formula and allotted to the new patriarchate the fifth place of honour (the tsar had asked for the third), after the ancient pentarchy of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem.

Patriarch Jeremias II, in his concessions to the Muscovite side, went so far as to perform the rite of appointment of the first Muscovite patriarch, Job, according to the local Muscovite custom of appointing chief hierarchs, where the candidates, if they were already bishops, had to receive episcopal consecration a second time. Job, already a bishop, had to be consecrated Metropolitan of Moscow immediately before his election to the patriarchate, and then consecrated patriarch by Jeremias himself. Most probably the custom of double-consecration had become difficult since 1542 under Metropolitan Macarius. Hence, Job, the first Patriarch of Moscow, became a thrice-consecrated bishop in his elevation to the patriarchate in 1589.

In his canonical letter to Patriarch Nikon in 1656, the Patriarch of Constantinople, Paisius I, was to ask if such a violation of the canons was really a custom in Russia. Indeed, it was. It existed as a strict parallel to the Russian understanding of the tsar: the superiority of the tsar over the princes was considered analogous to that of the patriarch (at first, a de facto patriarch, Metropolitan of Moscow) over the bishops. This alleged sacramental (not only administrative) superiority of the patriarch over the bishops (and even metropolitans) was the only reason to consecrate Patriarch Job with a third and not just a second consecration. Elevation to the patriarchal throne, even for a metropolitan, was viewed as a sacrament in itself.

A specific Russian understanding of the dignity of patriarch, as it had matured during the epoch of the anti-canonical Muscovite autocephaly, was to think of it as a kind of a fourth degree of priesthood. This had been the main point of the Byzantine critique of the primacy of the Pope of Rome since the fourteenth century. This implicit papism had had no room to develop during the turbulent times and under the oppressive regime of Ivan IV, but it would become one of the main aspects of Russian church history in the seventeenth century.

From 1589 the Muscovite Church had been the canonical Church of the Third Rome, with a real emperor (the tsar) and a legal patriarch. With regard to the four Patriarchs of the East, their de facto leading position was obvious: all of them received material support from Moscow, not to say moral support, for their liberation from the Ottoman Turks.

Time of Distemper (Smuta): a simultaneous catastrophe of both 'kingdom' and 'priesthood'

The relatively short period from 1604 (and especially 1605) to 1613 was one of the crucial epochs in the history of Russia. Those who lived through it called it Smuta ('Distemper'). This was a catastrophe for Russian society as a whole, comparable with that of 1917. The history of this period was intensively rewritten in the 1620s, and this fact affected much subsequent Russian and Soviet historiography. Until recently many contemporary sources were not published or studied properly.

Between the death of the Tsar Boris Godunov in 1605 and the election of Michael Romanov as the first tsar of the last Russian tsarist dynasty in 1613, there was no indisputable tsar in Russia. Instead there were continuous civil wars aggravated by the participation of the Polish army (mostly Catholic), together with the Kazaks (Orthodox, but citizens of Poland). Patriarch Job had been forcibly deposed in 1605 for his loyalty to Tsar Boris and was to die in 1607. The Poles had been dominating Moscow for months, supported by an influential section of Russian society and churchmen. The majority of the Russian bishops agreed to consecrate one of their number who was loyal to the Poles, Bishop Ignatius of Ryazan', as the new patriarch. In the following year (1606) Ignatius was deposed after several victories by Russian patriots. The new patriarch was Hermogen (1606-11), who received the blessing of the then sick and elderly Job. Hermogen, the figurehead of the whole Russian nation without a tsar, had agreed to accept as the tsar a son of the King of Poland, but only with the indispensable condition of his baptism into Orthodoxy. But the Poles were planning to conquer the whole Muscovite kingdom and did not want to accept any conditions, and when Hermogen failed to reach a compromise with them they murdered him. So they returned Patriarch Ignatius (1611-12), who was once again acknowledged by an absolute majority of the Russian episcopate.

Other levels of Russian society than the higher echelons turned out to be less servile and more fervent for Orthodoxy. A peasant, Minin, and a prince, Pozharskij, led a peoples' army that liberated Moscow. Ignatius was deposed definitively. The next patriarch to be appointed was Philaret Romanov, the father of the young Tsar Michael. He would be consecrated in 1619, after returning home from Polish captivity.

The victory over the pro-Polish forces has been gained under the standard of Orthodoxy, with symbolic leaders such as the confessors Job and Hermogen, but against the majority of the Russian episcopate. The latter turned out to be, in the eyes of their contemporaries, nothing less than enemies of Orthodoxy, at least, potentially. All of the bishops who survived were stained by their communion with Patriarch Ignatius, and so, together with him they were culpable in certifying a false 'orthodoxy' for the pretenders of the tsarist throne. After the Smuta, the Muscovite state was without a patriarch and without authoritative bishops.

The only safe way out of such a difficulty was to elect some confessing person as the next patriarch. No such candidate, however, was forthcoming. So the choice fell on a man whose authority was grounded in the secular power of the corresponding boyar party, the father of Tsar Michael.

Patriarch Philaret: second attempt at Muscovite autonomy

Patriarch Philaret Romanov (1619-33) attained the throne of the patriarch as a substitute for the throne of the tsar. By the 1590s boyar Feodor Romanov was already a potential candidate for the tsarist throne and because of this he had been forcibly tonsured as a monk by Boris Godunov. With the beginning of the Distemper Philaret immediately supported the elevation of Ignatius as patriarch, and was consecrated Metropolitan of Rostov by him, one of the highest positions in the Russian hierarchy. Subsequently he managed to stay at the top of the church administration by his readiness to serve every secular power and every patriarch, either Hermogen or Ignatius. At the same time he was a gifted secular politician whose family benefited from the civil war. This is how his son Michael became tsar (1613-45). Until the death of his father, Michael was merely a decorative figure, and even in that role, was often sidelined. In fact, Philaret resolved the problem of union between the 'kingdom' and the 'priesthood' by unifying them both in his own person. This unity was to be shortlived, however.

The 1620s and 1630s were to become a time of acute ideological struggle. In the official Russian historiography under Philaret, the history of the Smuta had been rewritten in such a way that it presented Patriarch Ignatius as an evil genius of the Russian Church, while those who supported Philaret had been righteous from the beginning.

The basic element of Philaret's ecclesiastical platform was to re-establish the Muscovite autocephaly, but this time on the canonical grounds of the Patriarchate of Moscow and with a more critical distrust of the Orthodoxy of the Kievan Metropo-litanate. This was because of the Union of Brest of 1596, which saw the Orthodox of the Metropolitanate of Kiev join in union with the Roman Catholics; Kiev at the time was under Polish-Lithuanian rule.

Under Philaret the Moscow Council of 1620 prescribed obligatory baptism for those Catholics and Uniates who wished to be adopted into the Orthodox Church. In the rest of the Orthodox world, and also in Russia until then, adoption through chrismation had been the norm, but this was now condemned as a crime. This was an unprecedented measure which was later abrogated by the Moscow Council of 1656, but then endorsed by the Constantinopolitan Synod of 1756.

The practice became even stricter: there is evidence in some cases of rebaptism being prescribed for Orthodox Greeks. Moreover, Orthodox Greeks could only come into communion with the Russian Church through penitence. The reason for this was simple: their faith has been compromised under Ottoman Turkish rule, because it was impossible to preserve the Orthodox faith without an Orthodox emperor or tsar. Such an idea was familiar in Moscow on the eve of the development of the Third Rome theory, although it had been refuted by Maxim the Greek. Nevertheless, before Philaret nobody in Russia had come to such a canonical conclusion in their evaluation of Greek Orthodoxy.

Philaret went further. In The Rite of Consecration of a Bishop, first published in Moscow about 1630, the text of the bishop's oath repeated a previous one issued by the Metropolitan of Moscow, Simeon, sometime between 1505 and 1511. In this oath the candidate swears to avoid any communion with a chief hierarch consecrated either by the Catholics or by the Patriarch of Constantinople. It is worth noting, however, that Philaret himself was consecrated by the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophanes IV, who was acting with the blessing of Constantinople, not to mention the fact that the first Patriarch of Moscow had been consecrated personally by the Patriarch of Constantinople.

So we have to define the church programme of Philaret as a reform whose main thrust was the autonomy of the Muscovite Church. This time, however, unlike in 1441, the need for autonomy was justified by the alleged impossibility of finding a pure Orthodoxy outside the frontiers of the tsarist regime of Russia. From such a perspective, the religious value of the Orthodox 'kingdom' became exaggerated to the same extent as that of the 'priesthood', that is, the patriarchate became something like a fourth degree of priesthood. The Muscovite Church and state left by Philaret was an isolated ideological system with increasing tension between the hypertrophied 'kingdom' and 'priesthood'.

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