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Voices from the East
Documents on the Present State and Working of the Oriental Church

By the Rev. J. M. Neale, M.A.

London: Joseph Masters, 1859.

Chapter II. The Great Men of the Russian Church
Translated from the French.

YOU have requested me to give you some account of the great men of our Church, now citizens of Heaven, who bravely resisting the storms which beset the infancy of our country, were its guides and oracles in their lifetime, and having now arrived at the port, are there resplendent in the beauty of holiness, and serve as beacon lights to all posterity. The task would be immense, were I to unroll before your eyes our brilliant ecclesiastical annals. A numberless army of Bishops, Martyrs, anchorets, rise from their solitary cells, from their forests, from their caves; where, while labouring to reach the Heavenly country, they never forgot the interests of their earthly homes; in times of peace, they were the pattern of all virtues, gave hope to penitents, refuge to sinners; at the first outbreak of war, at the first threat of infidel invasion, they brandished the sword of the Spirit, reconciled hate, renewed courage, predicted victories. These were the men of Heaven, these Angels of the earth, as the grateful Church names them in her hymns; and it would be rash indeed were I to profess to number all. I will only speak of those, who having occupied the metropolitical throne of Kieff or Moscow, had the greatest influence over the destinies of our country,--or those who, without having been chiefs of the Church, edified and saved the State by their shining virtues. [The Metropolitans of All the Russias sat at Kieff from 1072 till 1240: at Vladimir, from 1250 till 1303: at Moscow from 1328 to 1582 as Metropolitans and, as Patriarchs till 1701. An excellent work on the Russian and Georgian Saints, to be completed in twelve volumes, is now appearing at S. Petersburgh, under the title of Jetiia Sviat'ich' Rossieskoe Tserkvi: takje Iberschech' e Slavianskech'.--ED. ]

From the first Metropolitan S. Michael, installed at Kieff by the Patriarch of Constantinople, under whose jurisdiction our Church then lay, till the times when, on account of political storms, our capital was transferred to Moscow, it was Byzantium that poured on us her floods of ecclesiastical light, through the medium of the great men whom she successively placed on the powerful see of our country. The two Metropolitans, Cyril and Maximus, righteous and enlightened prelates, rendered the most important services to Church and State, during the calamities occasioned by the invasion of the Mongols: for it was they who, reanimating prince and serf, rebuilt churches, assembled councils, reorganised the clergy, fortified the unity of the Russian Church amongst the multitude of little principalities of which the State was composed, and thereby contributed to the political oneness of the country. Their successor was worthy of them. The Church of Moscow, made metropolitical, was established, so to speak, on a Rock. S. Peter was her first Bishop; and his precious relics are laid as the cornerstone of the cathedral in which from that time till the present our Sovereigns have betaken themselves to be crowned: it was in the midst of the calamities of that tempestuous epoch, that he predicted their immense empire. He himself had accompanied our princes, when they went as suppliants to the Golden Horde, for the purpose of obtaining privileges and guarantees. The Church, in the person of her Metropolitan, was respected by the Khans, and hence the veneration which these ferocious Mongols ever felt to our spiritual chiefs, as long as their empire existed.

S. Peter had scarcely been laid in his tomb, when another great man took the reins of the Church, and--we might say,--those of the State also. The principality of Moscow, kernel of the future empire, was menaced by powerful neighbours, who were desirous of snatching from Prince Demetrius his hereditary sceptre. S. Alexis himself went to the Horde to plead the cause of the child, destined one day to be the vanquisher of the Tatars. He there healed the mother of the Khan, and returned, covered with glory, to impose, by his sacred character, a check on the turbulent vassals, and to strengthen the bands of ecclesiastical unity, base of the empire's future greatness. In his last hour, he, at the approach of death, named as his successor, the humble hermit of the woods, the poor Sergius; who founded, at no great distance from the capital, a little community destined to play a great part in the annals of our country, as well by the virtues of its religious, as by their patriotism, during the time of invasions, in the midst of troubles and invasions, during which it was the very soul of Russia. [Allusion is made to the Troitzko-Sergievsky Laura, near Moscow which played a part in the national defence, that gave it a political importance immeasurably superior to that attained by any other monastery in any national history.] The pious anchoret refused the pontifical throne; but his great soul animated the abbats, his successors, with the same patriotic spirit which had caused him to excite Prince Demetrius to the combat, by predicting his victory over the infidels, and causing him to be accompanied by two of his monks, true warriors under the monastic habit, and martyrs on the field of glory.

Byzantium fell soon after she had bestowed on us a last metropolitan in the person of the learned Photius. The Russian Bishops, thenceforth no longer able to seek investiture at Constantinople, assembled and consecrated S. Jonas, who during the civil battles of the State, had filled the sublime character of mediator, and has since his death been illustrious for more than one miracle; for, as says Holy Scripture, "Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called the children of GOD."

Here appears the grand but ghastly figure of Ivan the Terrible, shadowing the half of a century. In the two portions of his reign, one brilliant with virtues and victories, the other blotted with crimes, rise at his side the majestic figures of two Bishops. The Metropolitan Macarius, guide and witness of the virtues of his Sovereign, a man of learning and study, seeks to revive civilization, drooping under the yoke of Tatar oppressors and S. Philip, martyr in the latter years of the Tsar, to whom he speaks the Word of GOD with authority, in the midst of the tyrant's massacres, and at length perishes the victim of his love to his flock.

Under Feodore Ivanovitch the Patriarchs of Constantinople and Antioch came to Moscow, to raise its Metropolitan to the Patriarchate, legally enfranchising it from the yoke of Constantinople. This is the cause of the safety of our empire during the long troubles, which speedily thereafter broke out.

The extinction of the ancient dynasty of Rurick opened a free career to the ambition of princes and boyars: one Tsar rapidly succeeded another,--plots abounded,--subjects lost confidence in so rapid a succession of royal phantoms: a complete dissolution of the empire seemed inevitable; but the nation, not to be shaken in its faith, rallied round the chiefs of the Church in their character of political guides. The first three patriarchs are confessors or martyrs. Job is hunted from the patriarchal throne for his attachment to the family of the Godounoff. Hermogenes, flung by the rebels into a dungeon, dies there of hunger, rather than betray his country and his church in favour of Sigismund; and Philaret, Metropolitan of Rostoff, remains ten years a prisoner at Warsaw, whither he had been sent on a mission. He returned from his embassy covered with glory, and was consecrated Patriarch in the reign of his son Michael, first Tsar of the family of the Romanoff. The Pontiff-Father and King-Son, examples unparalleled in history, contributed most powerfully to the union of Church and State.

But what was it that delivered the empire from the oppression of the Poles? Who inspired a dynastic choice, so happy in its result? The Abbey of S. Sergius, a rock unshaken in a howling tempest, still standing, though in view of the smoking ruins of the capital. The eloquent voice of its Abbat, S. Dionysius, worthy representative of the canonized founder, and the zeal of Abraham Palitsin, excited all the country to stand to the defence,--they flew to arms,--placed at their head those magnanimous chiefs, Prince Pojarsky and the citizen Minini, appeased intestine discords, and presided at the election, an election unanimous, popular, and manifestly miraculous, of the young Michael. Further, it was these heroic cnobites who crowned their work, by persuading the young Prince to accept the sceptre, and to occupy a throne shaken by so many tempests.

I should perhaps end at this culminating part of our ecclesiastical history, at this epoch unique in its character, were it not that I would fain introduce you to three other great personages; one, a Patriarch; the other two, holy Bishops. Nicon, the Patriarch, so celebrated for his misfortunes, employed all his energies in spreading the light of knowledge among his clergy and his people, in bringing books at great expense from Mount Athos and the Holy Land, in inducing the Patriarchs of the East to attend his Councils, in order to reorganize the Church, shaken, by the recent troubles. The great character of Nicon shone forth in all its splendour when, Metropolitan of Novgorod he appeased a popular sedition in that city at the cost of his own blood; and when, seated on the patriarchal throne, he became the intimate councilor of the Tsar Alexis. The Tsar intrusted him with the reins of the State, and with the government of his own family, when called abroad by war. Nicon died holy and in peace, after fifteen years of exile, regretted deeply by the reigning Tsar Theodore, whose Godfather he had been. [This character of Nicon does infinitely less than justice to one of the most remarkable ecclesiastics that ever lived. Endued with the same gifts, and participating in the same spirit as Laud, S. Thomas of Canterbury, S. Cyril of Alexandria, he was not popular in his own times, nor has posterity yet appreciated him. The Church of Russia will not do herself justice till she reinserts his name in the diptychs.--ED.]

Under Peter the Great flourished two holy Bishops, ornaments of our Church: S. Demetrius, Metropolitan of Rostoff, celebrated for the great number of his writings, and for the zeal which he displayed, daring the whole course of his life, in combating the schismatics; and S. Metrophanes, first Bishop of Voronej, a friend of the great reformer, whom he assisted to the utmost of his power in his gigantic efforts. With this new patron of our Church, who so worthily terminates the list of our Saints, I end, penetrated with deep gratitude to our LORD who ceases not, to edify, by faith, on great Russia, amidst the troubles and misbelief of Europe.

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