On Patriarch Nikon
by Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky
Part 1

Blessed Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) (+1936)


Lectures by His Eminence, Archbishop Anthony of Volhynia, on His Holiness Nikon, Patriarch of All Russia, recorded by Fr. P. L.


I. The Rehabilitation of the Truth

On 3 May 1910, the most Reverend Archbishop concluded the series of lectures he delivered to the Volhynia seminarians on the more important political and ecclesio-social questions. The final lecture was on His Holiness Nikon, Patriarch of All Russia. It was a historical lecture. There does not exist in literature any such formulation of the questions concerning His Holiness, Patriarch Nikon, as the most reverend lecturer presented. The Archbishop said of Patriarch Nikon what no one has ever said of him. Completely new horizons opened up before those who listened. To speak of the great man that His Holiness Patriarch Nikon was, to understand the full complexity of his richly-endowed nature, to bring into harmony and explain the diverse, apparently inexplicable and irreconcilable facts in the life and the feelings which existed within the soul of one and the same man, one also needs a great and all-embracing intellect and talent, a reverent respect for the memory of the Patriarch; and all of these gifts (were) present to an abundant degree in our dear and deeply-loved Archbishop.

II. The Historians on Nikon

His Holiness, Patriarch Nikon, is the greatest man in Russian history over the past two to three hundred years; and perhaps even in all of Russian history. It is not possible to speak of him passively, without either irritation or animation; and these feelings are revealed in all the works which deal with His Holiness, Patriarch Nikon. There is an extensive literature, both Russian and foreign, concerning him. Metropolitan Macarius (Bulgakov), the ecclesiastical historian and theologian, devoted an entire volume to him; the historian S. M. Soloviev, who authored twenty-nine volumes of Russian history, dedicated one volume to His Holiness, Patriarch Nikon, and also said nothing foolish about him, although it should be said that the historian Soloviev, as one who passed from the clerical estate (he was the son of a priest) to secular prominence, was quite capable of speaking foolishly about Patriarch Nikon, as all secular people of clerical background do; for the most part, such people hate the class from which they come, and speak of spiritual people and ecclesiastical personages more foolishly than well; for this reason they are the most dangerous and harmful enemies of the Church of Christ. Soloviev expounds for the most part on the external actions of Patriarch Nikon and concerns himself very little with his psychology; these aspects are also related in other volumes of his history. Mordovtsev, an author of fiction, wrote a historical novel entitled The Great Schism and in it availed himself of an opportunity to sling mud at this holy man. From the words of those who informed against the Patriarch in Moscow, he related how ---- he would have us believe --- when Patriarch Nikon, after leaving his cathedra and the judgment pronounced upon him, lived in seclusion in a monastery, many persons, most frequently women, turned to him for bodily healing (another writer, more understanding, has said they turned to the Patriarch more for spiritual healing; although, of course, one may also dispense various herbs to the sick, as His Holiness the Patriarch did); and, it is implied, this greatest of ascetics, an elder of seventy years, permitted himself various indecencies. Who can credit it? Philippov also wrote a novel, “Patriarch Nikon”, and shows himself to be a friend of the Patriarch. Later, Professor Kapterev of the Moscow Theological Academy, in many of his articles (“On the Ecclesiastical Reform of Patriarch Nikon”; “On Relations Between the Church of Russia and the Eastern Patriarchates in the 16th – 17th Centuries”; and in other studies and minor magazine articles) often touches upon the personality of Patriarch Nikon, and each time endeavors to besmirch the radiant countenance of the Patriarch. He cannot forgive the Patriarch for the words he once uttered: “Although I am Russian in body, yet am I Greek of soul.” Hereinafter, the reader will find an explanation of these words. In general, it is necessary to say that this professor is connected indirectly with the Old Believers, the enemies of Nikon, and he has never been a friend of the Holy Church. A true friend of the Patriarch is the layman, the comrade of Minister Giubbenet, who published two volumes on Patriarch Nikon, primarily from materials and acts of the judicial process against the holy Patriarch. Professor Subbotin, no stranger to defects and errors, in his materials on the history of the schism, contrary to the point of view entrenched in the academies, namely that Nikon is one of the figures principally responsible for the schism within the Church of Russia, and that if there were no Nikon, there would have been no schism, if you please (to this we respond that, if Patriarch Nikon had remained at the helm until the end of his life, we also believe there would have been no schism), Subbotin, we say, tried, as much as possible, to justify the Patriarch and the legitimacy of his actions, and laid all the blame on Avvakum and the other leaders of the schism. There are also multi-volume studies of Patriarch Nikon by non-Russians: that of Palmer, for example, in English, where the Patriarch is also depicted in a favorable light. But they are unknown to a wide public.

The papists speak of His Holiness, Patriarch Nikon, with great sympathy. When they want to say anything pleasant to us, they begin to talk of His Holiness, Patriarch Nikon, and his struggle with the secular powers; but there was nothing papistical in the Patriarch’s action, of which you will be convinced later on.

How clear and powerful a personality Nikon’s was is evidenced by the fact that even his shadow, so to speak, would not leave Peter the Great in peace, which is why in the Regulation, when mention is made of papal influence on the life of the State, he permitted himself the expression: “Let us not recall similar threats which have taken place among us,” although in reality there have never been such “threats” among us.

To besmirch the memory of Nikon, Peter the Great ordered the Iveron Monastery, which Nikon had built in Valdai, to merge with the St. Alexander Nevsky Lavra which the Tsar had recently founded in Petersburg, and that the best bells and several priceless vessels be transferred to the latter from the holy Patriarch’s monastery.

III. The Life of Patriarch Nikon

Nikon was born in 1605, the son of a peasant of the Province of Novgorod; his secular name was Nikita. The 300th anniversary of his birth, which fell not long ago, passed unremarked among us. The extraordinarily talented boy mastered grammar easily, and the desire to read books of religious content prompted the twelve-year-old Nikita to enter a monastery, where he astounded the brethren with the strength of his will in observing all the rules of monastic life. At the request of his parents, however, Nikita left the monastery, married at the age of twenty, and became a village priest; but soon he was transferred to Moscow, summoned there by the Muscovite merchants because of his merits. After living as a priest for ten years, and having lost the children born of his marriage, he persuaded his wife to enter Moscow’s Alexeyevsky Convent, and he himself received the tonsure, with the new name Nikon, in the Anzersk Skete on the White Sea; from there he transferred to the Kozheozersk Monastery and soon became its superior. Nikon traveled to Moscow on monastery business, and there, as was customary, presented himself before the sovereign. He made a powerful impression upon Tsar Alexis Mikhailovich, and, in accordance with the Tsar’s desire, was appointed archimandrite of Moscow’s Novospassky Monastery.

Once a week, as the Tsar wished, Nikon would go to the palace for spiritual conversation with him, and showed himself to be an intercessor for the poor and oppressed. With each day, the Tsar became more and more attached to Nikon and placed complete confidence in him.

In 1648, the Tsar commanded that Nikon be consecrated Metropolitan of Novgorod, a position first among the clergy after the patriarch. During the suppression of the Novgorod rebellion, Nikon was subjected to a severe beating, and the steadfastness and self-denial shown by him at that time disposed the Tsar to favor him all the more; in his letters the sovereign called him a “firm-standing pastor beloved of me.”

When Metropolitan of Novgorod, Nikon directed his attention to various errors in the liturgical services in church; thus, for example, to shorten the liturgical services in church, they would perform the divine services with several voices chanting simultaneously (one would be reading, while another sang as a third intoned a litany, etc.); the ecclesiastical chanting was very disorderly. Nikon forbade this “polyphony” and introduced melodious chanting in the churches of Novgorod; and the Tsar wanted it introduced in all the churches of the Muscovite realm. These were the first ecclesiastical innovations of Nikon which elicited displeasure among defenders of the old ways.

While in Novgorod, Nikon tried to free the Church from submission to the civil authorities and received from the Tsar a gramota, according to which all clergymen of the Diocese of Novgorod were subject to him alone in both ecclesiastical and civil cases, and were independent of the Department of Monasteries, an uncanonical civil institution which conducted much of the Church’s business. Patriarch Nikon always, and with particular ardor, protested against the Department of Monasteries, which was staffed with noblemen and scribes.

In 1652, after the death of Patriarch Joseph, the Tsar offered Nikon the patriarchal throne, but Nikon repeatedly refused, and agreed to accept it only when the Tsar, the nobles and all the people present in the Cathedral of the Dormition swore an oath to honor him as their archpastor and father, to heed him in all things, and to permit him to set the Church in order. Having a presentiment, as it were, of his future misfortune, he persistently refused the patriarchate. He was already well aware that many people --- especially the noblemen --- did not want to see him on the patriarchal throne and even then looked upon him as one who held the old Russian ways in contempt because of his intimacy with the Eastern Church. But the sovereign adjured Nikon not to leave the Church orphaned and without a pastor, for, after the unexpected death of the Metropolitan of Rostov, who was locum tenens, the patriarchal cathedra remained unfilled; therefore, in the Cathedral of the Dormition, before the relics of St. Philip, with the whole Privy Council and Council of Nobles, the Tsar urged Nikon to accept the patriarchal staff; and when, at this entreaty, Nikon decided to accede to the Tsar’s will, the Tsar, addressing the nobles and people, asked: “Will ye honor him as archpastor and father, and allow him to set the Church in order?” And, when he heard their oath, he announced his consent to accept that lofty rank, to the common joy of Tsar, Council, and people.

IV. The Genius of Nikon: Nikon the Builder

Nikon was a man of genius. His genius is perceived in his mingling with the people. Patriarch Nikon set as the principal goal of his life the weakening of Russian provincialism. This ideal of his was expressed in the building of the Iveron Monastery in Valdai (Diocese of Novgorod), the Monastery of the Resurrection (also known as the New Jerusalem Monastery, thirty miles from Moscow), and the Monastery of the Cross on the White Sea. In founding the Iveron Monastery, Patriarch Nikon imitated the disposition of the Great Lavra, and especially that of the Monastery of Iveron on Mount Athos. At the request of Nikon, who at the time was still Archimandrite of the Novospassky Monastery, a copy of the wonderworking Iveron icon of the Mother of God was sent from the Iveron Monastery to the newly-founded monastery, through Pachomius, Archimandrite of Iveron, who was then in Moscow.

The Monastery of the Resurrection is even more renowned and glorious than the Iveron Monastery. The occasion for its construction was the Patriarch’s frequently having to travel through that place on his way to the Iveron Monastery and to rest there from his journey. In erecting the new monastery, Patriarch Nikon had in mind to set up on the bank of the River Istra a faithful replica of the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem, with a model of the Tomb of the Lord within.

Having purchased land and the village of Voskresensk (since relegated to the status of trading post), the Patriarch leveled the whole mountainous site bordered by the river, excavated trenches on three sides, enclosed its surface with a wooden palisade with eight towers, and inside, at the first opportunity, erected a summer church of wood, dedicated to the Resurrection of the Lord, with a refectory and other outbuildings. In 1657 this church was consecrated by the Patriarch in the presence of the Tsar who, having inspected the site selected for the construction of the monastery, was himself so captivated by its beauty, that he said to the Patriarch: “God Himself hath appointed this place for a monastery from the beginning; it is as beautiful as Jerusalem!” And the Patriarch, consoled by so sweet a name, called the whole monastery New Jerusalem, to please the Tsar; the mountain from which the Tsar conducted his survey he called the Mount of Olives; likewise, other sites located in the vicinity received Palestinian names: for example, the neighboring villages were renamed Nazareth, Tabor, Hermon, and Rama; and the River Istra was called Jordan. Then the Tsar ordered a large church built of stone, similar in all particulars to the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem; this church exists to our times and is impressive in its magnificence and beauty. To the pilgrim to whom the experienced monastery guide shows and explains everything, it seems as though he has made a pilgrimage through the real Palestine. And the pilgrims who visited Jerusalem in Palestine and the New Jerusalem near Moscow bear witness to their striking resemblance.

The Monastery of the Cross was erected by the Patriarch in the place where he was miraculously saved from a storm at sea. Traveling by sea from the Anzerski Skete in a frail boat to select a more suitable site in which to lead the monastic life, he nearly perished in a mighty storm; and only by trusting in the power of the precious and life-creating Cross of the Lord was he saved from drowning at the mouth of the Onega, landing on Kii Island, on which, in memory of his salvation, he then set up a cross, with the intention that, in time, he would build a little church or monastery there.

Afterwards, when he had become Metropolitan of Novgorod, Nikon traveled to the Monastery of Solovki for the relics of St. Philip, Metropolitan of Moscow; on the return journey from the Monastery of Solovki with the relics of St. Philip, Nikon stopped at that place and saw the cross which he had set up before, intact.

Later, having become Patriarch, Nikon decided to establish a monastery on that site, of which he had long dreamed. Kii Island was completely deserted; no one owned property on it; there was no human habitation on it; the whole island was a barren rock. Meanwhile, many of the faithful, tempest-tossed by the waves, looked upon that precious cross and were saved from shipwreck. Therefore, in 1656, the Patriarch laid the foundation of the Monastery of the Cross, dedicated to the precious and life-creating Cross and to the holy hieromartyr Metropolitan Philip, the wonderworker.

And all these foundations, the personal undertakings of Patriarch Nikon, became great national shrines of Russia. The Iveron Monastery stands out in its whiteness in the midst of a lake, with blue domes and a magnificent iconostasis forming a whole wall; the Iveron Icon of the Mother of God in Moscow; the New Jerusalem descended, as it were, from heaven; the Cross towering over a granite rock, with the relics of two hundred and fifty saints --- all of these are subjects of the greatest devotion for the Russian people. There are many miraculous icons of the Mother of God in Russia; the Vladimir Icon, painted, according to tradition, by the holy Evangelist Luke; the Kazan Icon, and others; yet the Iveron Icon of the Mother of God in Moscow enjoys far greater veneration.

It is also necessary to speak of the New Jerusalem. The Lavra of the Holy Trinity and St. Sergius is the greatest shrine for all Great Russians, and every year tens of thousands of pilgrims make their way to that monastery to receive help from heaven and the strength to continue this earthly life; but if one compares the number of pilgrims to the New Jerusalem, it will be seen that, though there may not be more there than at the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra, that religious center of the Great Russians, in any event there are no fewer. One may say the same of the Iveron and Cross Monasteries, though to a lesser degree.

See how dear, how close to the heart of the Russians, are the foundations of Patriarch Nikon. See how profoundly he penetrated the soul of the people, their innermost hidden mysteries. See how long his works have survived, how the destructive power of time has not touched them. The centuries pass, but the Russian people are still moved, gazing upon the Iveron Icon of the Mother of God, the New Jerusalem, the Valdai and the Cross Monasteries. Was not the most holy Patriarch Nikon a national genius, whose shrines have eclipsed more ancient ones?

V. Patriarch Nikon’s Breadth of Spirit

Nikon was a cosmopolitan Christian. He deeply and sincerely believed in the universality (sobornost) of the Church, and anxiously sensed within his soul the need for the communion and unity of the local Church of Russia with the entire universal Church of Christ, since only in this did he see any hope of the Church’s prosperity. Only the Church universal, guided by the Holy Spirit, is holy and immaculate. Therefore, there should be no national isolation in the Church of Christ, but the fraternal unity of all Orthodox peoples; everyone should glorify and hymn the One Triune God with one mouth and one heart. National differences and traditions should give way before the one, universal, pan-ecclesial Tradition, and not --- God deliver us! --- oppose it. As soon as individual local traditions are placed higher than the universal Tradition, as soon as a stubborn opposition to the voice of the Church universal is manifested, a church schism results, as we have now. As it happened with the Western Church of Rome, so did it happen in the Church of Russia under Patriarch Nikon, when he wished, by his ecclesiastical reorganizations and corrections, to diminish Russian ecclesiastical provincialism, which was opposed by certain persons who from that time became schismatics. Patriarch Nikon wished to abolish the differences which existed between the Church of Russia and the universal Church of the East; his motto was the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. This is the reason why, when he became Patriarch, he undertook to correct our liturgical books and rites so zealously. The Patriarch himself, a simple (one may say) Russian peasant (and let no one who reads these words take offense; even the apostles were Galilean fishermen, yet they caught the whole world in their nets, and put to shame the knowledge of the learned and the wisdom of the wise), learned Greek, served the liturgy in Greek perfectly, and introduced Greek chanting on the kleros.

During his tenure as Patriarch, Moscow became an Orthodox pantheon. In it, Greeks, Arabs, Serbs, Bulgarians and others dwelt continually in great numbers: bishops, archimandrites, priests, monastics and layfolk; and in the churches of Moscow the name of God was glorified in every language: Greek, Arabic and many others. (In the Cathedral of the Dormition, the Gospel was read in Greek.) This is what the most holy Patriarch meant when he said: “I am a Russian in body, but a Greek in soul.” Here there was no preference given to one nation over another, but universality was preferred over nationalism. Nikon respected the Greeks because they had preserved universal Orthodoxy inviolate, and he placed no credence in the naive fables spread about at that time in Russian society, namely that, after the (unsuccessful) unia, the Greeks had lost the Orthodox Faith, or, as several Russians expressed it, “there has not been a trace of Orthodoxy among the Greeks, but with us in Russia all is pure and unadulterated, and the Holy Orthodox Faith shineth forth like the light of the sun; by this Faith were our fathers saved, the multitudes of Russian saints and wonderworkers; there is nothing to correct, for everything is correct without it --- further corrections are perversions, injuries to the Holy Orthodox Faith; two Romes have fallen into apostasy from the Faith; Moscow is the third Rome, the sole Orthodox kingdom on earth, and it will prosper and adorn itself with piety; there will not be a fourth Rome.” Nikon did not share such naive opinions and, rejecting national self-love, began humbly to learn from the Greeks.

Nikon was not only a great ecclesiastical figure, but a great political figure as well; and at the desire of the Tsar, he was called the Great Sovereign. The Tsar and the Patriarch were great friends; moreover, since the Patriarch’s was the stronger character, the Tsar submitted to Nikon’s influence in all things.

Nikon, following the Tsar’s desire, took a most active part in the government of the realm; this significance intensified particularly during the Tsar’s absences, when the Patriarch governed the realm in his own right. Hence, Nikon became the initiator of all the great works accomplished during the reign of Alexis Mikhailovich. Thanks to him, Little Russia (the Ukraine) was re-united with Russia, and wars were waged successfully against the Swedes and the Poles. During the plague, which struck in 1653 and 1654, the Patriarch zealously protected the royal family, moving it from one place to another, for which the Tsar, when he arrived after the contagion had died down following the Polish campaign, expressed his most fervent gratitude and granted him the title Great Sovereign, a style used by the grandfather of the Tsar, Patriarch Philaret; and, despite the opposition of Nikon, he commanded that this title be inscribed in all the acts; yet Nikon would not permit it to be intoned in the churches. (Yet there are still people to be found who maintain that the Patriarch was power-hungry and ambitious!) If Nikon had remained patriarch until the end of his life, then, perhaps, Poland might have been partitioned a hundred years earlier than happened (under Empress Catherine II, at the end of the 18th century), the ancient Russian provinces of the south-western and north-western regions might have been brought back under the rule of the Russian sovereigns, and the Orthodox Faith might not have had to endure such long persecution in those regions.

The fate of Little Russia in regard to the Church is noteworthy. Despite the fact that Little Russia was united to Moscow in 1654, Patriarch Nikon let Kiev remain under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, even though he had the canonical right to subject it to himself; only after the death of Nikon did Patriarch Joachim (Savelev) bring it into subjection to the Patriarchate of Moscow. As you see, he did not aspire to personal authority, of which nearly all researchers accuse him. In everything he pursued an exalted goal: to fuse, to unite under Christ the Head, that God may be all in all. For example, he invited Belorussian Christians, who had been baptized by pouring, to the Iveron Monastery and treated them with indulgent love, while the Russian bishops who preceded him had re-baptized bishops who had been baptized by pouring, immersing them in the water in their vestments.

VI. Nikon and Papism

Nikon’s clash with the nobles had a greater influence on his fate than his quarrel with the Tsar, since the court nobles were constantly involved in intrigue and caused the gentle Tsar to fall out with the Patriarch. Nikon had always protested against the Department of Monasteries, that uncanonical institution in which laymen --- nobles and scribes --- passed judgment even upon clergymen and in general decided many ecclesiastical cases, and even abrogated decisions of bishops, in which, according to the canons of the Church, they should not have dared to involve themselves with their worldly minds and defiled hands. Hence, the Patriarch’s zeal is understandable, which was ever loosed, angrily protesting against the Department of Monasteries and often not stinting in strong words. The Patriarch wanted Russian life to be governed by the Rudder alone. In this book, as also in all the works of Nikon in general, there is nothing papistical. There was no dispute over primacy of authority such as certain researchers desire to see (e.g., Vladimir Soloviev, who maintains that this was the first dispute over authority in Russia, an echo of the temporal Western European conflict between pope and emperor). There was no such thing in Russia. Nikon never dreamed of the principle goal of Catholicism --- the subjugation of the temporal authority to the spiritual. Nikon never spoke or dreamt of this. In reality, he spoke quite often of the superiority of the priestly authority (not the patriarchal or episcopal) over that of kings, but he understood this superiority in the moral sense, e.g., that a priest may absolve a man of his sins and open the door to the kingdom of heaven to the penitent; that only a bishop may make a layman a priest and do many other things which a king cannot do. Yet St. John Chrysostom says exactly the same things concerning the priesthood, and for Orthodox people (especially in the good old days, when they still used to read the word of God and Chrysostom primarily) Chrysostom was the same as the Gospel. Everyone understood perfectly that, for example, Nikon was only repeating the words of St. John Chrysostom, and they had nothing against his words; only modern-day ignorance can imagine otherwise. And the Tsar and the nobles had nothing against the Patriarch for these words. The conflict was on other grounds, although the nobles also slandered the Patriarch, alleging that he was degrading and offending the royal authority, and sometimes they were able to engender distrust toward the Patriarch in the Tsar’s soul, and thus cooled the Tsar’s love for the Patriarch. Now, when there is talk of restoring the Patriarchate, certain honourable and sincere governmental functionaries are saying that the Patriarch will eclipse the personage of the Tsar, that the people, if you please, would rather listen to a Patriarch than the Tsar. But they must be told that they have nothing to fear from the influence of one man (the Patriarch); in Russia there has never been, nor will there be, a dispute over primacy of authority. It is not this that our Westernizers fear; they are afraid, in general, of the ascetic style of the people’s life (because the Russian village is, to a certain degree, a monastery).

Thus, when the pastors of God begin to elevate the culture, and a wave of purely popular enthusiasm arises, it can really wash away all the mould, the ungodliness, the depravity, etc., encrusting it, the seeds of which were sown as early as the reign of Peter I, and which have grown up so abundantly in the field of Russia in the 20th century.

Patriarch Nikon was a most zealous pastor of the church; he served every day, received simple people, listened to reports, delved carefully into every case, even minor ones, uprooted prejudice and superstition among the people, drafted spiritual regulations and introduced grandeur into the churches of Moscow. Loving various church chants, primarily the Greek and Kievan, he hired excellent singers and conducted chanting in the Church of Russia in the Greek tongue. Although many such an innovation seemed inappropriate and even became an occasion to revile the Patriarch, the Tsar, despite all this, approved of the Greek chant, and it was introduced into the palace church. Striving to place the priestly rank in a position of respect, the most holy Patriarch inspired the married clergy, by the example of his own strict life, to exercise careful watch over their morality; with the negligent he was severe, and every violation of ecclesiastical order he restrained by the power of his authority.

An incident involving Patriarch Nikon, which took place in Novgorod, bears witness to his zeal. The Nobleman Morozov, the brother of the Tsarina, two years previously, in 1650, had been the cause of a revolt in Moscow; and he also became involved in sedition in Novgorod. One of the governor’s men stirred up a mob against the German merchants, since they were friends and spies of Morozov. The mob assailed and robbed them. Prince Khilkov, the military commander of Novgorod, strove desperately to pacify the rioters; they not only refused to listen, but even tried to kill him as a traitor. The terrified commander fled along the city wall to the metropolitan’s residence. “Let’s go there! We’ll kill the traitor there!” the rebels cried. Armed with stones and cudgels, they made for the bishop’s palace. Having hidden the commander in the inner chambers of his quarters, Nikon ordered the doors of his residence shut tight. But the rioters sounded the alarm and surrounded the building. They broke down the doors, demanded that the servants tell them where the commander was, and ordered them to turn him over to them. The undaunted Nikon left his palace and approached the rebels; and with angelic meekness he said to them: “Beloved children, why have ye come to me bearing arms? I have been ever with you and am not now hiding myself. I am your pastor and am ready to lay down my life for you.” But the frenzied mob cried with one voice: “He is a traitor! He is protecting the traitors!” And, launching themselves at the magnanimous hierarch with bestial savagery, they struck him down mercilessly with staves and rocks. Nikon would probably have lost his life during this unfortunate incident, had not the murderers, taking him for dead, become horrified and dispersed to their homes with tormented consciences. The palace servants carried Nikon to his cell barely alive. Despite his extreme weakness, when he regained consciousness he thought of nothing else but how to pacify the rebellious people, how to restore the rule of law, and how to deliver the innocent from wrongful destruction. Assembling the clergy, he made his confession and, thus prepared for death, ordered himself borne on a sled to the customs sheds in which the rebels had taken refuge. Blood oozed from his mouth and ears. Ordering himself raised up and mustering his strength, Nikon cried out: “Children, I have ever preached the truth without fear; and now I will proclaim it with yet greater boldness. Nothing on earth frighteneth me. I have been strengthened by the Holy Mysteries and am prepared to die. I have come, as a pastor, to save you from the spirit of malice and discord; ye may calmly deprive me of life if ye know of any guilt I may have or any injustice I may have committed against the Tsar and the realm! I am prepared to die joyfully; but do ye return to faith and submission!” Wounded by these words, the seditious ones dispersed; the audacious ones were unable to raise their eyes to the hierarch out of fear and shame. Nikon then went to the cathedral, and there, in the presence of a multitude of the people, anathematized the leaders of the revolt.

VII. Nikon’s Friendship and Falling-out with the Tsar

His Holiness, Patriarch Nikon, had but one desire --- to plant the kingdom of God on earth. It is the commonly accepted view (let us add, however, that it is accepted only by very naive and ignorant people who have no knowledge of either civil or ecclesiastical history at all) that the mid-17th century was a time of intellectual stagnation, torpor, and instability. But open any textbook of civil or ecclesiastical history, and you will be convinced that it was quite the opposite. It was a brilliant period in Russian history. In Moscow, there was a most remarkable group of men (primarily clergymen, although the Tsar also was included among them) who were aflame with the high ideals of reformers; the most renowned people of the time were part of this group: Nikon (then still archimandrite of the Novospassky Monastery), Stephen Vonifatiev (the Tsar’s confessor), John (Gregory) Neronov (the well-known rector of Moscow’s Cathedral of the Annunciation), Archpriest Avvakum, and other zealous pastors.

In the minds of these men shone the most comprehensive plans of ecclesiastical, social, and one may even say, universal reorganization and reformation. All of these men were daring visionaries who dreamed of converting all the non-Russians in Russia to Christianity, freeing the Greeks from the Turks, and organizing the Church on strictly canonical principles, so that it would be guided only by the canons of the holy apostles, the ecumenical and local councils, and the holy fathers, and that the State would be guided by the Rudder . . . . You see what a golden era this was; it was a time of an exalted uplifting of the spirit.

On the grounds of such idealistic undertakings as the joint reorganization of ecclesiastical life and the moral renascence of the people, the friendship which was born between two such pure, spiritually virginal men as Patriarch Nikon and Tsar Alexis was fanned into a lofty flame. An understanding of the extent of this love and mystical significance which both friends attached to it, is possible only through reading the enthusiastically affectionate correspondence of the Tsar and the Patriarch, which is preserved in several historical editions. Our life provides such examples of such ardent friendship only in the earliest youth; but when it arises, it is bound up in the minds of idealists with all of life’s plans, with all its importance, and if the friendship is broken, life and all its plans are viewed as crushed. Herein lies the logic behind Nikon’s repudiation of authority when he perceived the disregard of this friendship on the part of the Tsar. Only idealistic dreamers can understand such logic, through whom, however, according to the accurate observation of Dostoyevsky, life makes positive progress and social rebirth is accomplished. The friendship of the Tsar and the Patriarch restored the good order of community prayer, corrected the sacred books, reunited Little Russia, attracted the Eastern patriarchs and Eastern scholars to Moscow, vanquished the Poles and Swedes, and truly elevated Moscovy to a degree of greatness appropriate to a third Rome in the kingdom of God.

Let us now pass on to the most important moment in the life of the most holy Patriarch --- his falling-out with the Tsar, which had such lamentable consequences for the Patriarch himself, the Tsar, the Church of Russia, the realm, and, we will even say, for the whole world. This is the most difficult and complicated question in the life of the Patriarch, and it has still not been resolved or explained psychologically by a single scholar to this day. Usually, scholars attack either the Patriarch (far more frequently) or the Tsar, or both simultaneously --- the most worthy and sympathetic men of their time; or they simple relate the circumstances of the falling-out, but are unable to explain them psychologically, because they do not have sufficient intelligence (my own opinion). “It is not for you (particularly intelligent slanderers (also my own opinion) to follow the flight of an eagle with the eyes of a chicken,” we say, using the words of Ivan the Terrible. We have already described earlier how long Nikon refused to accept the patriarchal throne and how he accepted it only after the Tsar, the nobles and the people swore to him that they would not hinder the ordering of the Church of God. This was not personal egotism, as we have already said, but zeal for the Church of God. The Tsar and the Patriarch were two men who loved one another deeply and affectionately, and even more, were in love, if it is not out of place to use such an expression. The insulting of this friendship by the Tsar was the reason for the discord. It is precisely in this that the words of Jesus, Son of Sirach, were fulfilled: “Upbraiding, or pride, or disclosing of secrets, or a treacherous wound” can cause every friend to depart (Ecclesiasticus 22:22); “For as a man hath destroyed his enemy, so hast thou lost the love of thy neighbour. And as one letteth a bird go out of his hand, so hast thou let thy neighbour go, and shalt not get him again. Follow after him no more, for he is too far off; he is as a roe escaped out of the snare” (27:18-20). The nobles played a great role in the falling-out between the Patriarch and the Tsar; by their intrigues and slanders they were able to bring the sincere, gentle Tsar, who was good by nature, to begin to avoid meetings with and explanations to the Patriarch, during which the two former friends who still preserved mutual affection in their hearts, would have been able to clear up the misunderstanding which existed between them and become even great friends than before. But the nobles took every step, spared no effort, to prevent this; and they achieved their goal. Under the influence of the calumnies of the nobles, who twisted the words and ideas of the Patriarch around, the kind-hearted Tsar discontinued his daily friendly conversations with the Patriarch, cancelled his entry into the cathedral on solemn feastdays, ceased even to take part in processions in which Nikon was serving, which hitherto he had always done, and simply sent word to the Patriarch “not to wait for him.”

The nobles began to offend the Patriarch and his servants, and he could not obtain satisfaction for the insults to which he was subjected. The Patriarch saw in this the end of the affectionate friendship which had bound him to the Tsar, and no longer considered it possible for himself to remain in authority, especially after he was rudely insulted over the reception for King Teymuraz of Georgia. According to accepted custom, the Patriarch was always invited to solemn meals at the Tsar’s palace. On July 4, 1657, King Teymuraz of Georgia was feted at the palace; but Nikon was not invited to the meal. He sent his household officer, Prince Dimitri, to ascertain the reason for this. The petty noble Khitrovo, who was master of the Tsar’s table, seeing him in the palace and hearing from him that he had been dispatched by the Patriarch, drove him out with his staff. Nikon wrote demanding satisfaction. The Tsar wrote to him personally in reply that he would look into the matter himself and discuss it with him. Nikon, however, remained unsatisfied. On July 8, the solemn feast of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God, he waited for the Tsar to enter the Church, but the Tsar, contrary to his custom, did not arrive, but sent word not to wait for him.

The Patriarch sought an occasion to have a talk with the Tsar. An apparently opportune moment arrived in the feast of the Deposition of the Robe of the Lord, on which day the Tsar was always present in the Cathedral of the Dormition; yet, contrary to custom, he also failed to come, and Prince Romodanovsky, who arrived at the Cathedral, announced to the Patriarch that the Tsar would not be coming and began arrogantly to upbraid the Patriarch for the title “Great Sovereign”. The Patriarch, insulted by all that had taken place, on July 10, after the celebration of the liturgy in the Cathedral of the Dormition, loudly proclaimed that he was then “no longer Patriarch of Moscow, but one of the flock, as a sinful and unworthy man.” Leaving the staff of St. Peter by the Vladimir Icon, he removed his hierarchal vestments, despite the entreaties of the clergy and people, and, having cloaked himself in a simple monk’s mantle, went to the vestry and wrote a letter to the Tsar concerning his departure, and, sitting down on the step of the church’s ambo, waited for an answer. The troubled Tsar sent Prince Troubetskoy to reason with him, but that envoy was an enemy of the Patriarch. The people wept, but the offended and inexorable Patriarch Nikon did not go to the patriarchal quarters, but left the Kremlin on foot and went to the metochion of the Iveron Monastery; from there, without waiting for the Tsar’s permission, he went to the Monastery of the Resurrection, and even refused to ride in the carriage sent for his use. Prince Troubetskoy went again, this time to the Monastery of the Resurrection, to ask him, in the Tsar’s name, why he had left the patriarchate. Nikon answered: “For the sake of my soul’s salvation, I am seeking quietude, am resigning from the patriarchate, and am asking only to be permitted to administer the monasteries of the Resurrection, of the Cross, and the Iveron Icon; I bless Metropolitan Pitirim of Krutitsa to administer the affairs of the Church.” In his letter he humbly asked the Tsar’s forgiveness for his precipitous departure from Moscow. This was the tragedy which was played out in the Cathedral of the Dormition and had such grievous consequences.

The Patriarch, who held all of Russia in his heart, and even all Christians --- Greeks, Arabs, Bulgarians, Serbs, and others (he was a great and righteous man, an ascetic) ---- was incapable of guile. And Nikon, who had come thus to grief was not alone; there are still holy hierarchs and venerable monks in the Church of God who have in like manner found themselves in grievous earthly circumstances when God has sent them temptations, sorrows and restrictions; and with joy and without complaint they have borne their cross, if only to avoid disturbing their inner harmony, which was acquired through a labor of difficult struggle. Such a one, for example, was St. Gregory the Theologian, who voluntarily gave up the see of Constantinople when the useless question as to whether he was right in occupying it was raised. He, as it were, spat and left. Another such one was St. Sergius of Radonezh, who left the famous monastery he had founded when the brethren began to complain about him and work against him; and who returned again to the Monastery of the Holy Trinity when the brethren came to their senses, realized their grievous sin and, weeping, begged the saint to come back. Such also was St. Isaac the Syrian; so were many others. This is a higher nobility of soul. The ascetic does not set any store by his exalted position; for him it is more important not to fall away from God, not to disturb his inner harmony, the equilibrium of his soul.

(to be continued)


Taken from Orthodox Life, Volume 36, No. 4, July-August 1986, Published by Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, New York.


Archbishop Gregory
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