The Fall of Old Russia


The Fall of Old Russia
Matthew Raphael Johnson

This brief essay seeks to hold to the position that the Russian monarchy fell after the death of Alexis and was never restored. While one can admire the legitimate achievements of the Russian crown after Alexis, the fact is that the policy of the monarchy was the creation of a global, secular empire, and not the Third Rome. The Old Russian idea of the tsar was that he was to be an icon of piety, not a “ruler” in the modern sense of the term. Hence, outside of the Orthodox life, there is no monarchy. Therefore, Peter I could not have been a monarch, since he was a Mason, nor could have Catherine I, the two Annas, Peter III or Alexander I, since these were either not Orthodox, or were Orthodox in name only. Peter III and Paul I were both Masons. The church was not part of the life of the monarchs in this era, and hence, the monarchy fell, by the very definition of Orthodox monarchy, it disappeared.

For a long time this writer has tried to figure out why the ROCOR over the last few generations has refused to come out with a defense of the monarchy. The fact is that, if the monarchy was defended, they would also be defending the purging of the clergy, the destruction of monasteries and the general control of he church by a secular state as well. Hence, they never came out with a major defense of the crown, with the exception of Nicholas II personally. Furthermore, since the ROCOR historically has been comprised of the remnants of the White armies and contain a large number of dispossessed nobles, the crown itself could be seen as that entity that repressed the nobles throughout its history, keeping them from their “rightful” share of power.

The fall of the monarchy into secularism and Freemasonry is a major argument of the Old Belief, one that, over the last five years or so, I’ve come to share. If the church had to swear to the crown, which it had to do, and the crown itself appointed bishops, then a secular crown could not be the real head of the church. Even worse, a Masonic crown. As the church was a department of the state after the repression of the patriarchate under Peter in 1701, it was automatically associated with the anti-monastic and Masonic ideas of the crown in general.

By the end of the 1700s, as I have written elsewhere, the number of monastics was halved by decree of the state, parishes were stripped of their autonomy and many small parishes and monasteries were simply closed. The remainder had their property confiscated. It was a dress rehearsal for Bolshevism, and itself helps to explain the fact that hy the death of Peter I, the Old Belief made up about 40% of the Russian population. Add to this the intensification of serfdom, endless warfare and high taxes, it is only because of government pressure that the entire country did not revert to the Old Faith. More than one state bishop held this opinion. It was not such much Nikon, but Alexis and Peter who enforced the reforms and recreated the church in their own image. In no way could the repression of the patriarchate and the creation of the secular synod be considered “canonical.”

This paper needs to stress that the introduction of the New Faith and the rise of Peter was a revolution. It was only three years after the Nikonian innovations that the Razin uprising began against the state and the official church. The bulk of the lower elements of the population were in favor of the revolt, which eventually took all of southern Russia. After this, major uprisings occured in 1682 and 1698, both of a military nature. Then, the Don rebellions of 1687 and 1698, in Saratov in 1693 and in the norther Caucuses in 1695 (cf. Shakhnazarov’s work on this). In the first 25 years of the 18th century, rebellions erupted everywhere: Astrakhan and Tarsk especially, then the rebellion of Bulavin, then, later, that of Pugachev. It took a hundred years for the Russian state to beat down its peasantry and purge the church to make it a docile creature of the state. The Old Rite then went into permanent hiding. When the Bolsheviki arrived, in reality, little had changed for the Old Faith: Lenin was just another Peter, another Catherine.

A shocking statistic was revealed for the first time in 2003 by Shakhnazarov in the pages of the Russian Social Sciences Review: that in 1917, the number of the Runners or Wanderers, the most extreme of the priestless Old Faith, had risen to over 15 million people (cf pg 9 of “Old Believerism and Bolshevism”). The fact is, that population growth in the Russian empire previous to World War I was far greater than the official church or state realized. But many of these babies were never registered officially since they were were forbidden to do so. The existence of the Old Believers in Russia never permitted the state to ever get an accurate count of its own population.

Two million souls was the official number of the Old Ritualists at the end of the 19th century, but that is only a fraction of the real number, since most of the Old Rite refused to be counted by the state, and many of the merchant communities bribed their way out of state service. By 1916, the estimated number of the Old Rite who was not in hiding was roughly 37 million. But again, this is a low estimate. But the Synod of the 100 Chapters (the Stoglavy Sobor) has received very little attention, and very little indeed in the Orthodox press. While it was a local synod, it only was enforced for Russians living in Russian territory. There was no good reason to reject it, and hence, is still in force.

Even local synods cannot be overthrown for no good reason. The Greeks who took over the Russian church under Nikon called this synod “ignorant” and the work of “country bumpkins.” Such was the Greek contempt for Russian customs. But there were many reasons that the Russian state wanted this synod revoked, and the main reason was that it protected monastic property, hence giving the Russian church independence over the state. In the language of the time, to hold church property sacrosanct, as the Stoglavy Sobor did, is a declaration of church independence. To revoke it was to say that the church is not a state tool.

There, unfortunately, was no third option. But this sobor had other ends in mind as well. But even more than this, the creation of church courts were another form of church independence. The centralizing movements of Peter and his successors abolished the church courts and made the state ruler over all. The Stoglavy synod made church courts sacrosanct, and hence, the state was pushed out of the picture: the church was not controlled by the state, and the financial and legal independence of the church as institutionalized by the Stoglavy Sobor made this a fact.

These questions alone prove the revolutionary nature of the Petrine reforms over the church. The rejection of the Stoglavy Sobor meant that the church was now an arm of the state, even before Peter purged the clergy and abolished the patriarchate. Further, the monasteries were placed under the Bishops, not under the state, as had occasionally been the case under previous rulers. In other words, the monasteries could not be plundered for troops, money or valuables. The church was independent and under its own financial and legal system. Hence, the “modern state” needed such “archaic” practices to go, and the Stoglav was rejected by the Greeks as the “mind of peasant idiots.”

The ban on shaving has been misinterpreted. It was not a ban on trimming the beard, but condemned the male practice of being clean shaven. At the time, and also earlier in European history, shaving was considered effeminate: wanting to look like a woman. Male homosexuals shaved their faces t be desirable to other men, and hence, having a beard was not merely a statement of Orthodoxy or a rejection of western European customs, or even supporting the prohibition of Leviticus, but it was also a rejection of homosexuality, since a shaved face for a man was a womanly face, and hence, an invitation to homosexual practices.

At the same time Tsar Ivan IV also wanted some older saints lives written and several of the liturgical books corrected. The Old Belief was a supporter of liturgical correction, but revolted at the idea of liturgical reform. Avvakum himself was a book corrector. The corrections done under Ivan IV and Patriarch Joseph did not lead to a Old Believer schism, hence, there must have been other issues.

The synod also rejected any mixing of Orthodox and non-Orthodox peoples: both socially and certainly in marriage. Given the westernization policies of the later Alexis and Peter, this synod had to go. Of course, none of these reasons are theological ones and hence, cannot be accepted as a good reason to reject the synod. The remainder of the Stoglav synod dealt with clerical marriages, keeping the limit of divorces permissible at 1, dealt with clerical appearance and dress, as well as icons and chant being standardized.

The double alleluia and the two fingered sign of the cross was unanimously accepted as the “apostolic practice.” Stoglav, in other words, was the very icon of ancient Russian piety, and for it to be rejected for non-theological reasons (reasons of state, in actually) was not only uncanonical, but an insult to all that was Russian. There was never any theological reason to reject this synod, and therefore, it is still in force. Hence, the Old Belief remains the canonical core of Russian Orthodoxy. In fact, because the Stoglav never had any power outside of Russia, it did not affect the practices of Greeks or Serbs. However, for Russia, it was the very summation of Old Russia and her practices. The Greeks et al were never under the Stoglavy Sobor and hence could change their practices if there was a good theological reason to do so. Russians do not have that luxury.

The rise of the Patriarchate under St. Job was yet another sign of the independence of the Russian church. Prior to Peter, rule in Russia was divided between the tsar, who was in control of defense and taxes, and the patriarch, who controlled everything else. He has his own income, his own legal system, and in fact, was a state within a state. Hence, no Russian monarch prior to Peter could be considered absolute, since power was divided into the secular and the religious. Hence when Peter destroyed the patriarchate, he took all those moneys, lands and courts and subjected them all to himself. It was pure greed and Masonic trickery that led to the destruction of the Russian church and the monarchy under Peter. Russia became a monster: a hybrid creature ruled by a tiny layer of Europeanized aristocrats and foreigners, while the bulk of the country languished in debt and was ground down by wars. Two Russias existed then, and two Russias exist now.

The patriarchate since St. Job (+1607) was a paragon of virtue and learning, contrary to the mythology of her enemies. St. Job himself was a man who knew the entire psalter by heart, and the entire library of church services without opening a book. He rejected foreign control over Russia and made education and literacy his primary concern, demanding that all large parishes have a school attached, a cellular system of literacy destroyed only by Peter. Over all, Job was a believer in the Third Rome idea, that Russia was not just another empire, but a new holy land, a new Jerusalem.

St. Job, like tsar Boris who promoted him, was a man close to the heart of the common people, his poor relief services were substantial and he made certain that the Stoglav’s insistence on clerical preaching and moral rectitude were made to stand fast. During the Troubles, St. Job refused to bless Ignatii the Jesuit, or the “patriarch” brought to Moscow by the Pretender. But under Alexis and Peter, the seminary system of Russia would be erected on Jesuit models and, from then on, the clerical language of Russian was Latin, not Slavonic in the seminaries. Job had called the sobor that eventually elected Boris Tsar, and St. Job was his second in command. He consecrated Russia to Our lady of Vladimir in thanksgiving for the victory over the Poles.

The Patriarchate of Joasaph (+1640) is only rarely dealt with in the literature, but he was an extraordinary man. A man of the north and northern trading interests, his Russian nationalism came from defending Russian commercial interests against German trade competition. As head of the Monastery of the Pskov Caves, he used his substantial power to make certain that the economy of the northern parts of Russia was brisk, honest and profitable. His meekness was legendary, but he had no difficulty in standing and fighting for his people when it seemed necessary. He viewed German merchants as backed by the Jews and global banking interests, and, as a result, fought hard for the interests of Novgorod and Pskov merchants. Under his rule, new, corrected service books were published and gladly accepted by the faithful. Again, the service books had been corrected again and again without any schism. It was not the book correction that was the problem, but liturgical reform and the destruction of the church into an appendage of the state that led to the schism. Under St. Joasaph, the patriarchate grew in power, and could equal the state in terms of property and legal sophistication. Under Joasaph, a flurry of liturgical and homiletical publications came off the official presses in Moscow, bringing the teaching of the church closer and closer to the people.

The last Patriarch before the schism of the late Alexis was St. Joseph, the fifth patriarch of Moscow (+1652), for him, the war against unbelief, materialism, Catholicism and the Unia were of central importance. He made sure that education and apologetics were at the center of church life, and himself was involved in correcting the service books as well as disseminating them far and wide so that the ancient piety could be fully understood throughout the empire. His were the last service books published before Nikon’s reform, and this product (both the prayer book and the Horologion) has been translated into English and is for sale at the Nativity of Christ bookstore in Erie, PA.

+Joseph issued many apologetic tracts against the Protestants, which would become important years later when the fallen Bishop Theophan Prokopovitch, an avowed Lutheran, would write the Petrine “church statute” in 1701 that officially abolished the patriarchate and took all its money and property. He also referenced the Stoglavy Sobor by repeating its injunctions against mixed marriages and relationships with non-Russians and non-Orthodox. It was Joseph that helped the young Alexis, saving him from boyar control once his father the Venerable Tsar Michael died. St Joseph the patriarch must have known something was coming, since he commissioned a collection of all Russian canons, including the Stoglavy Sobor, to be collected into one Russian work, this work became the “second bible” to the Old Believers after the reforms of Nikon/Alexis/Peter. But this was not all, this connection of canons gave Alexis the idea of himself reforming the law code, bringing both civil law and church canon law into symphony. The law code of Alexis was basically a compendia of earlier codes, as the canon book was a compendia of earlier local and ecumenical synods.

But the idea that Patriarch Joseph knew a storm was brewing was in his open rejection of Nikon when the latter was still metropolitan of Novgorod. Joseph condemned the brash arrogance of this gifted young man, and sought to keep him from the patriarchal throne, believing that meekness and simplicity, not arrogance and brass, was necessary to be a good and strong patriarch. Nikon did all in his power to blot out the memory of the wise old man after his death and his own elevation to the Patriarchate.

Contrary to the myth makers of establishment history, Old Russia was a land of literacy and holiness–after Peter, it was a wasteland of serfdom and slavery. While this distinction can be overdrawn, there can be no doubt that taxes and the weight of serfdom doubled and redoubled once Peter took the throne. It was the strength of his personality and his military victories that kept him from being overthrown. But Russia was never the same. Prior to Nikon and Peter, the books had been corrected substantially and literacy was fostered in the autonomous parish schools. Serfdom existed, but was nothing compared to the institution of open slavery that developed in the Petrine and post-Petrine era. The height of serfdom was the Petrine 18th century, which, and this is no coincidence, was the worst era for the church, where parishes and monasteries were destroyed and their wealth confiscated. The Petrine church lost its hold on the Russian mind, and the Old Belief was too far repressed to be a proper antidote to its statism. The Old Belief and the Ukrainian Cossack Church were harshly repressed in the 18th and 19th centuries, proving that it was not Orthodoxy that was to be preserved, but the kept, statist church of the Petrine era. The church lost its hold on the popular mind precisely because of Peter’s reforms and its connection to the crown.

While taxes skyrocketed under Peter and his hapless successors, the example of the Venerable Patriarch Filaret was rejected, this holy man had reassessed taxes on church lands, lowering them and yet increasing revenues, and he did this by increasing taxes on the military servitors of the new Romanov crown, hence equalizing the tax burden to some extent. He started the patriarchal library, and like the holy patriarch Joseph, demanded that all parishes have schools attached, and that all dioceses in the country have a seminary: it was a pure, rational and defensible Orthodoxy that Filaret wanted. But his policies were what endeared him to the population, even as he sought to keep peasant labor from fleeing to the steppes. This patriarch, highly underrated as an eccleastic, collected ancient manuscripts from all over the Orthodox world, and it was this collection that began the substantial patriarchal library.

Following the Stoglavy Sobor, Filaret was interested in standardizing the liturgy as was mandated in the Stoglavy Sobor. This is why the constant printing of books and their proper correction was so important prior to the liturgical reform of Nikon/Alexis. But it should be noted that this patriarch too sought to limit the flow of books into Russia from Poland/Ukraine, due to their western slant. He realized that many of these liturgical books contained many Romanizations and the unfortunate fall of liturgical scholarship in the Balkans under the Turkokratia. He realized that the Greeks were engaging in some large scale liturgical reform under the hesychast patriarchs of the late Byzantine era, and he sought to limit their infusion into Russia, hence foreseeing the problems that will arise at Nikon’s time and the rule of the Greeks over that unfortunate patriarch.

The Time of Troubles forced Russia to fall behind the learning of the west. This meant, according to people like Daniel Shubin, that what had filled this void in learning were uniat books based on Jesuit and Polish models. Filaret was opposed to this trend, and therefore, this is what lay behind the great apologetic movement of the patriarchs this paper has dealt with, albeit briefly. Hence, the “reformation” of Nikon was not only opposed to the Stoglavy Sobor, but also opposed to the express wishes of the Patriarchate prior to Nikon’s reign.

But in conclusion, let us merely say that the Old Believers schism, or the “reformation of Nikon,” had at its root the belief that Old Russia was ignorant and unworthy of respect. But the patriarchs dealt with here were the opposite of this, and were enlightened and true believers in rationality and literacy within an Orthodox context. Since there was no pressing reason to rewrite the liturgy or to reject the views of the Venerable Filaret, then one can say that the reform movement of Nikon was null and void, ultimately upheld not by the soon to be deposed Nikon, but by the power of the state, and institutionalized finally by the obliteration of the patriarchal throne altogether in 1701 by Peter I. The Old Ritualists then, maintain the ancient canonical and patriarchal mind of Old Russia, and, at the very least, the Nikonian rite introduced confusion and flew in the face of the canonical tradition of old Russia