Sixteenth Century

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By: Fr. Thomas Hopko
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Sixteenth Century

Russia during the Reign of Ivan the Terrible

In Russia, in the sixteenth century, the “third Rome” theory became apolitical reality. The monk Philotheus of Pskov informed the Muscovite Tsar Basil III (1505-1533) of his vision based on the book of Daniel that the Russian tsardom was to be the final earthly reign of God’s People. The first Rome had fallen through heresy. The second Rome, Constantinople, had fallen through sin. The third Rome, Moscow, was standing. There was to be no fourth Rome.

Tsar Ivan III the Terrible (1533-1584) established his reign on this foundation. He was crowned tsar in 1547 as the successor to the Byzantine emperor. He ruthlessly persecuted his enemies as he subjected both church and state to his personal control. Among Ivan’s many victims was Metropolitan Philip of Moscow. He was strangled by the tsar’s henchmen in 1568 for his open opposition to the actions of the mad ruler. Philip has since been canonized by the Church as a saint.

In 1547-1549 the Church of Russia formally canonized many saints from different parts of the country, utilizing the national veneration of these holy people – who were previously honored only locally – as a means toward national unification. In 1551, the Council of a Hundred Chapters – the Stoglav Sobor – further asserted the supremacy of Russian Orthodoxy over the other Eastern Orthodox churches.

After the Russian defeat of the Turks in Kazan in 1551, Ivan built the famous Church of St. Basil in the Moscow kremlin in honor of St Basil, the Mosocw fool for Christ (d.1552). This church building is known for its combination of Christian and Oriental styles.

During the early part of Ivan’s reign his spiritual father was the priest Sylvester. Many of Ivan’s early reforms were guided by this simple pastor. Sylvester was the main contributor to a book called Domostroi or Home-builder which taught Russian Christian families how they should arrange their lives according to the ritual and ethical practices of the Orthodox Church. The Domostroi was a very popular book which influenced generations of Russian families. Ivan exiled Sylvester in 1559.

Also during Ivan the Terrible’s reign, Metropolitan Makarii of Moscow (1542-1563) wrote twelve volumes called Monthly Readings. It was a vast collection of commentaries on the Bible, the lives of the saints, sermons, and other material for spiritual reading. At this time, the “non-possessor” Saint Maxim the Greek (d.1556) was imprisoned and tortured for his attempts to revise and correct the liturgical books of the Russian Church. Saint Gury (d.1563), the bishop of Kazan, was carrying on his mission among the Siberian tribes.

Russia during the Reign of Theodore

During the reign of Ivan’s son, Theodore, the Patriarch of Constantinople, Jeremiah II, came to Moscow in quest of aid. The patriarchal church of Constantinople was under the power of the Turks. So, under the obvious pressures of that situation, the patriarch recognized the Muscovite bishop, Job, as the first Patriarch of All Russia in 1589. The installation document of the new patriarch was almost a repetition of the prophesy of Philotheus about Moscow as the third Rome. Thus the theory, which had become practice under Ivan III, was now officially affirmed by the highest prelate in the Orthodox Church. In 1593 the Russian Church received the approval of its status as a patriarchate from the bishops of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch. Thus, it was officially recognized as the fifth in honor among the Orthodox patriarchates.

The Union of Brest-Litovsk

The sixteenth century saw the development of the Polish-Lithuanian kingdom on the Western boundary of Russia. By 1569 Poland and Lithuania had become one under Sigismund. The kingdom had taken segments of the Russian lands as far east as Kiev – territory populated almost exclusively by Orthodox Christians. Jesuits had entered this territory earlier, bringing Latin learning and practices. The result was the Union of Brest-Litovsk in 1596 through which the Orthodox bishops of the area effected a union with the Roman Church on the foundations agreed to in Florence a century earlier. The rites and customs of the Church for the masses of Orthodox faithful taken into the “unia” remained the same. The ecclesiastical hierarchy, clerical, and academic leadership of the Church was totally subjected to the Latin discipline and doctrine of the Roman papacy. This union of 1596 remained in effect in the territories which have continued to be ruled by non-Orthodox governments such as Poland, Austro-Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. From its inception, the uniate movement was always confronted with substantial opposition. Opposers were mainly Orthodox laymen who were organized into brotherhoods and blessed by Patriarch Jeremiah of Constantinople to defend the Orthodox faith, as early as 1588. In the beginning the anti-uniate movement was helped by the use of the printing press of Ivan Fedorov. This man was expelled from Muscovy with his “diabolical invention” by Ivan III.

The East

In the second half of the sixteenth century, the Eastern patriarchs were in contact with the Protestant reformers in the West. Josaphat II (1551-1565) sent representatives to Wittenberg and Tubingen. They returned highly displeased with what they found. Jeremiah II, after a careful study of the Augsburg Confession – which was sent to him for his inspection – soundly declared the Lutheran teachings to be heretical.

During this same period, Saints George and John the New (1526) were added to the Church’s list of saints for their martyrdom under the Moslems. Other Greek saints at this time were Saint Vissarion, Bishop of Larissa (d.1541) and Saint Philotheas of Athens (d.1589).

The West and the Protestant Reformation

The West in the sixteenth century went through the Protestant reformation and the counter-reformation of the Roman Church. Martin Luther (d.1545), John Calvin (d.1564) and Ulrich Zwingli (d.1545) led the reformation movement on the European continent. They attacked the practical abuses of the Roman Church as well as its official teachings. King Henry VIII founded the Anglican Church by the Act of Supremacy in 1534 and John Knox (d.1572) brought the Calvinist faith to Scotland.

The Roman Church held the Council of Trent (1561-1563) which officially formulated the doctrines of purgatory, indulgences, transubstantiation of bread and wine in the eucharist and other positions attacked and denied by the Protestants. The Protestant position is based on the doctrine of justification by grace through faith alone. The Bible is the sole churchly authority, interpreted directly by each believer under the inspiration of God. The sacramental life of the Church is reduced to Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, which is understood primarily as a memorial meal, in no sense a sacrifice. The Council of Trent reinforced the doctrines of the supremacy of the pope of Rome and the authority of the church hierarchy. Both these doctrines were main targets of the Protestant attack.

The West and the Counter-reformation

The Roman counter-reformation was led by the Jesuits. The Society of Jesus was founded in 1534 by Ignatius of Loyola (d.1556) for the specific purpose of defending the Roman papacy. Francis Xavier (d.1552) was the famous Jesuit missionary who reached the Far East during this period. The Dutch Jesuit, Peter Canisius (d.1597) led the counter-reformation in Germany, writing his famous Catechism which became a standard text of post-reformation Catholicism.

In Spain the mystical writers, Teresa of Avila (d.1582) and John of the Cross (d.1591) were leading the reform of the religious life of the Roman Church. In Geneva, the Roman bishop of the city, Francis de Sales (d.1622) was writing his works about the spiritual life. During this same time the artist Titian (d.1576) was painting and the musician Palestrina (d.1594) was producing his grandiose musical compositions which were used in the Roman Church.