WHILE Poland had sunk beyond the possibility of recovery, Moscovy, slowly and circuitously, with many a serious hitch and many a ruinous relapse, was creeping forward along the path leading to prosperity and empire. Contemporaries could not be expected to see this. The victories of Sobieski had invested the Polish chivalry with a prestige which it was far from deserving, while Moscovy was generally regarded as a semi-barbarous country, negligible as a political factor, nay, as scarce within the European system at all. Even at the end of the seventeenth century no one could have imagined that, a century later, Poland would have disappeared from the map of Europe, and that Moscovy, under the name of Russia, would have become one of the world’s greatest empires. Morally and intellectually, the Moscovites were infinitely below the level of the Western nations ; while their invincible pride and perverted patriotism seemed to exclude the possibility of enlightenment.
An iron-bound conservatism, the consequence of a gross ignorance due again to centuries of isolation from the civilised West, fettered every movement, every thought of the national life. It has well been said that existence in old Moscovy, as compared with existence in Western Europe, was as the dull stagnant life of an agricultural district compared with the mobile, inquisitive, enterprising life of a great city.
The only teacher of the Moscovite people at this period was the Orthodox Church; and, unfortunately, the Orthodox Church, from similar causes, had fallen as far behind other Churches as the Moscovite nation had fallen behind other nations. The only remedy against existing evils which the Church could devise was the rigid application of Byzantine asceticism to every-day life. In 1551 the Synod of Moscow published its Stoglav, or ” Hundred Articles,” severely condemning, among other things, all popular amusements. About the same time, the monk Silvester, now generally identified with Silvester the good genius of Ivan the Terrible during his earlier years, published his Domostroi, or “Domestic Economy,” which aimed at making every household a monastery, with the father of the family as its prior, or director. Absolute obedience to him, “with slavish fear,” was the counsel of perfection enjoined upon his children; and the terni “children” included his wife and all who dwelt beneath his roof. The model household was conducted according to strict canonical rules. On every sort of diversion, except a moderate table, the Church looked askance. All music, profane songs, dances and games were banned as sheer idolatry. Draughts and chess were anathematised because they were supposed to be of Chaldean, cards because they were known to be of Latin origin. The position of the women under this régime was pitiable. In general, the Moscovite women were looked upon as permanently immature creatures, to be kept under perpetual tutelage. The wife was not the equal of her husband, but his pupil. As the first of the domestics, she was responsible, indeed, for the government of his household ; but, in case of disobedience, he was empowered to chastise her, even “unmercifully” in the case of obstinate disobedience. The Moscovite lady’s complete seclusion from the world dates from the end of the fifteenth century. By the beginning of the sixteenth century her domestic incarceration was an accomplished and peremptory fact. By this time, the terem, or women’s quarters, had become a prison as well as a monastery.
Perpetual tutelage and an absolute want of culture were almost invincible obstacles to anything like the development of a free and healthy social life in Moscovy, while the continual increase of public burdens, and the repression of all popular amusements, drove the people to seek relief from the grinding monotony of life in habitual drunkenness and the grossest sensuality.
Intellectually, also, this remorseless discipline proved very injurious. The mental horizon of the ordinary Moscovite of the seventeenth century was extraordinarily limited. For centuries he had lived in a world of phenomena, which he regarded as unchangeable because they had never changed. The secular immobility of his surroundings gave to them, in his eyes, a religious character, and therefore a religious inviolability. Any alteration of his ancient ancestral customs was to him a sinful surrender. In these circumstances the only conceivable chance of improvement lay in the gradual filtration of western ideas. But this was, necessarily, a very gradual process, de-pending almost entirely on the superior sagacity of individual Boyars or Prelates. The first of this little band of pioneers was the Boyar Boris Ivanovich Morozov, to whom Tsar Michael Romanov, on his death bed, committed the care of his sole surviving son Alexis, then a youth of 16, who succeeded him on July 13, 1645. A more suitable guardian could scarcely have been chosen. Shrewd and sensible, sufficiently enlightened to recognise the needs of his countrymen, and by no means inaccessible to foreign ideas, Morozov stood high above his fellows. His foreign policy was pacific, his domestic policy was severe but equitable. The economical condition of Moscovy at this period was anything but satisfactory. The native traders, overburdened ,with taxes, and hampered by all manner of disabilities, found it very difficult to compete with the highly privileged foreign merchants. In 1646 they petitioned the Tsar against the ” English Germans’,” who, being in the possession of unlimited capital, and having at their disposal a whole army of well-paid middlemen, were able absolutely to control the Moscovite market and undersell the native traders. Their worst grievances were redressed in 1648 ; and, in the following year, a beginning was made of the codification of the laws in order to make legal procedure more expeditious and inexpensive. The severity of Morozov’s government led, , however, to a popular rising against him, in May 1648, when the Tsar was compelled to banish him to the Kirillov-Byelozersky monastery till the storm blew over. But, within two months’ time, he was brought back secretly, and, to the day of his death (in 1661), continued to be one of the Tsar’s chief counsellors. As the brother-in-law of Alexis (in 1648 he married Anna Miloslayskaya, ten days after the Tsar had married her sister Maria) he was also the Boyar nearest to the throne.
Morozov, for all his sagacity and initiative, was still a Boyar of the old school. The first modern Moscovite statesman was Orduin-Nashchokin.
Athanasy Lavrentovich Orduin-Nashchokin was the son of a poor official of Pskov, of whom we only know that he was greatly in advance of his times, for he saw to it that his son was taught German, Latin, and mathematics, so many abominations to the ordinary Moscovite of the seventeenth century. Athanasy began his brilliant diplomatic and administrative career under Michael as one of the delineators of the new Russo-Swedish frontier after the Peace of Stolbowa in 1642. Even then he had a great reputation at Moscow as one who thoroughly understood ” German things and ways.” He was one of the first Moscovites who diligently collected foreign books ; and we hear of as many as sixty-nine Latin works being sent to him at one time from abroad. In the beginning of the reign of Alexis he attracted the young Tsar’s attention by his resourcefulness during the Pskov rebellion of 1650, which he succeeded in localising as much as possible by sheer personal influence.
At the beginning of the Swedish war, Orduin was appointed to a high command, in which he displayed striking ability, and, as Governor of Drui and Dmitriev, qualified himself for the office of minister and plenipotentiary, to which he was appointed in 1657. His letters to the Tsar during this period are illuminating and do equal honour to himself and his master. With perfect frankness, Orduin warns the Tsar that the atrocities of the Cossacks in Ingria and Livonia are driving even the orthodox inhabitants into the arms of the Swedes ; and he urges, repeatedly, that all such orthodox desperadoes should be summarily punished. When the negotiations with Sweden were seriously resumed on the river Narova in 1658, he was the only Moscovite statesman with sufficient foresight to grasp the fact that the Baltic seaboard was worth much more to Moscovy than ten times the same amount of territory in Lithuania ; and, despite the ignorant opposition of his jealous colleagues, he succeeded, at the end of December, in concluding a three years’ truce whereby the Moscovites were left in possession of all their conquests in Livonia. In 1660 he was again sent, as the chief Moscovite plenipotentiary, to another congress, to convert the truce of 1658 into a durable peace. By this time Sweden had composed her differences with Poland by the Peace of Oliva, an event which modified the political situation very much to the disadvantage of Moscovy ; and now the Tsar was nervously anxious to conclude peace with Sweden on any terms, hoping to compensate himself at the expense of Poland. Again Orduin deprecated the sacrifice of the Baltic Provinces. “If any towns be ceded,” he writes, “let them be Polish towns. I stand for Livonia.” In his opinion, the truce with Sweden should be prolonged, and Charles II of England invited to mediate a Northern Peace “which he would do the more willingly as we had no dealings with Cromwell.” Finally, he lays stress upon the immense importance of Livonia for the development of the trade of Novgorod and Pskov. When he was overruled, he retired from the negotiations altogether; and, in the beginning of 1661, other envoys were sent, in his place, to Kardis, a little town between Dorpat and Reval, where, on July 2, 1661, a treaty confirming the Peace of Stolbowa was signed whereby Moscovy ceded all her conquests. For more than half a century longer Sweden was to dominate the Baltic.
Orduin was next employed as the chief Moscovite plenipotentiary at the abortive Peace Congress of Duroticha, which met, early in 1664, to adjust the differences between Poland and Moscovy; and it was due in no small measure to his skill and tenacity that the subsequent treaty of Andrusovo (1667), so advantageous to Moscovy, was finally concluded. For this, his greatest diplomatic achievement, he was created a blizhnui boyarin1 and put at the head of the Posolsky Prikaz, or Foreign Office, with the extraordinary title of ” Guardian of the Great Tsarish Seal and Director of the Great Imperial Embassies.” The Russian Chancellor, for that is what the new dignity really amounted to, was now in his proper place. He was the first Moscovite statesman who gave due importance to foreign affairs, and thus helped to break down the barrier which for centuries had separated Russia from the rest of Europe.
His domestic reforms were also important. It was he who, as Governor of Pskov, first abolished the excessive system of tolls on exports and imports, established a combination of native merchants for promoting direct commercial relations between Sweden and Russia, and did his best to introduce free trade generally. He also set on foot a postal system between Moscovy, Courland and Poland, made the Moscow road safe for foreign merchants, and introduced bills of exchange and gazettes. With his name too is associated the building of ships on the upper Dwina and Volga. Despite the friendship and protection of the Tsar, Orduin’s whole official career was a constant struggle with the jealous enmity of the Boyars and Clerks of the Council who bitterly resented his indisputable superiority. But Orduin also had his defects. He rather presumed, sometimes, on his indispensability ; and, at last, the Tsar grew weary of his constant complaining, and was not always prepared to admit that the minister’s personal enemies were, necessarily, the enemies of the State. In February 1671 he was dismissed, and withdrew to the Kruipetsky Monastery, where he took the tonsure under the name of Antony, and occupied himself with good works till his death in 1680. Morally, as well as intellectually, he was far above the level of his age.
What Orduin was in the department of politics and economics, the Patriarch Nikon, another _protégé of the “good Tsar Alexis,” was in the spiritual and ecclesiastical department of old Moscovy.
In May 1605, in the village of Valmanovo, 90 yersts from Nizhny-Novgorod, was born Nikita, the son of the peasant-farmer Mina. Misery pursued the child from his very cradle and prematurely hardened a character not naturally prone to the softer virtues. Nikita’s stepmother treated him so inhumanly that the lad had to run away to save his life. And it was a life well worth saving. From a very early age, Nikita gave promise of the extraordinary energy and application which were to distinguish him throughout his career. In the most discouraging circumstances, he contrived to teach himself reading and writing, sure means of advancement in those days of general ignorance. All the books of the period were of a severely religious character. Their favourite theme was the exploits of old-time saints and hermits, and they enkindled in the heart of the young enthusiast an almost overpowering desire to tread in the footsteps of these heroes of the spirit. But the entreaties of his family, who began, at last, to be proud of their prodigy, summoned Nikita back to the world. He was persuaded to take orders and marry, when but twenty ; and the eloquence of the young priest soon attracted attention and he was transferred to a populous parish in the capital. For a time, all went well ; but, seeing in the almost simultaneous loss of his three little children a providential call to the higher life, he first persuaded his wife to take the veil and then withdrew himself to a desolate hermitage on the isle of Anzersk in the White Sea where he received the tonsure under the name of Nikon.
In 1643 he was elected igumen, or abbot, of the Kozhuzersky Monastery in the diocese of Novgorod. In his official capacity he frequently visited Moscow, whither his fame had preceded him ; and, in 1646; he made the acquaintance of the pious and impressionable young Tsar, who, at once and entirely, fell under the influence of the famous zealot, twenty-four years his senior. Alexis appointed Nikon archimandrite, or prior, of the wealthy and aristocratic Novospassky Monastery at Moscow, which, as an imperial foundation, was under the direct control of the Tsar. It was now a part of Nikon’s duty to be present at Mass at the principal church of the monastery every Friday, and to confer with the Tsar afterwards. Such conferences were by no means confined to things spiritual; and Alexis, more and more impressed by the gravity and judgment of the new archimandrite, made him, first, Presenter of Petitions, a post of great authority and influence, and, two years later, procured his election to the metropolitan see of Great Novgorod. In 1652 the Patriarchate became vacant; and Alexis determined that “his own familiar friend, the Great Shining Sun, the most holy Nikon ” should occupy that august position. But Nikon obstinately refused to occupy the patriarchal throne. This was not, as has so often been supposed, mere affectation, but the wise determination of a would-be reformer, conscious of the difficulty of the task before him, to secure a free hand by being elected on his own terms. Again and again the Tsar sent prelates and patricians to persuade Nikon, but he remained immovable. At last the Tsar ordered him to be brought to the Cathedral by force. Still he persisted in his refusal till the Tsar, and those who were present, fell at his feet and besought him with tears to yield to the prayers of the whole community. Nikon, deeply moved, himself began to weep, and, turning to the Tsar and the congregation uttered these memorable words : “…If it seem good to you that I should be your Patriarch, give me your word and swear to it in this Cathedral Church, before God our Saviour and His Most Pure Mother… that ye will keep the evangelic dogmas…and, if ye promise to obey me also as your chief arch-pastor…in everything which I shall teach you concerning the divine dogmas and the canons, then will. I, according to your wish and supplication, no longer reject this great arch-pastorate.” The Tsar, the Boyars, and all the members of the Synod, thereupon swore unanimously upon the Gospels that they would do all that Nikon commanded them, and “assist him to edify the Church.” On August 1, 1652, Nikon was elected ; and, on August 4, he was solemnly consecrated and enthroned as the sixth Patriarch of Moscow.
Even before Nikon had appeared upon the scene, the necessity of ecclesiastical reform had been admitted in the highest circles, and had found advocates in the immediate entourage of the young Tsar, who was keenly interested in all theological questions and very willing to learn. Chief among these would-be reformers were Stephen Vonafitov, the Tsar’s confessor, a relatively learned man, personally of an extremely austere life, but generally beloved for his gentle disposition ; Ivan Neronov, a bitter zealot, who regarded even Christmas festivities as ” devilish”; and Daniel of Kostroma and Login of Murom, both of them men of severe morality. The party of the Protopops, as this group was called, because most of the members of the group were protopops, or deans, of the numerous cathedrals within the Kreml, was presently reinforced and over-shadowed by the priest Avvakum. This perversely heroic creature, the proto-martyr of Russian dissent, and one of the most striking personalities of his age, was born at the village of Gregorovo, fifteen miles from the place where Nikon was born, a few years before. From 1643, when he succeeded his drunken father as parish priest, absolute fearlessness, sublime austerity, and a perfect fidelity to his religious convictions were to characterise him throughout life. Nothing in the world could make him condone wickedness, or truckle to the mighty. He possessed, moreover, a rare gift of speech. No other Moscovite ecclesiastic of the seventeenth century could compare with Avvakum as a preacher. He spoke to the people in the language of the people, straight from the heart, in a way which made the rudest feel and tremble. His style was always simple, lucid, vigorous, garnished with racy proverbs, full of quaint and vivid touches, and rising, at times, to flights of irresistible eloquence. His autobiography, one of the most engrossing and pathetic histories ever penned, is, in point of composition, not merely superior to, but centuries ahead of, what passed for style in those days, an unconscious master-piece as well as a historical document of the highest value. Unfortunately, this great and heroic nature was also one of the most narrow-minded of men. Still more unfortunately, his narrowness was so absolutely conscientious as to be quiet incurable.
With all their good intentions, the Protopops were not the sort of men to initiate even such modest ecclesiastical reforms as were possible in Moscovy in the seventeenth century. Their point of view was erroneous because they were not themselves sufficiently enlightened to be able to pierce to the root of matters, and, nevertheless, shrank from the assistance of their natural teachers, the clergy of Kiev and of Constantinople, because they suspected the former of being crypto-catholics, and knew many of the latter to be scoundrels and impostors. They were therefore thrown back upon Moscovite tradition as represented by the Stoglav of the Reforming Council of Moscow of 1551a Council unrecognised outside Moscovy, and of questionable authority, inasmuch as its members, while professing to follow Greek precedents, had been notoriously ignorant of the Greek language, the very key of orthodox interpretation. Thus the antiquity to which the Protopops were never tired of appealing was barely a century old; and the canonicity of their ultimate court of appeal was, at the best, highly problematical. Yet they had pinned their faith implicitly to this purely national Synod, and cut off all possibility of a dignified retreat by accepting the responsibility for the revision of the Church service-books inaugurated by the late Patriarch Joasaf. This was really no revision at all, but a clumsy attempt to apply the hitherto unexecuted canons of the Stoglav to the bettering of the liturgies, which resulted in the interpolation of various schismatical prescriptions into five or six of the thirty-eight books so revised, such, for instance, as the dvuperstia, or making the sign of the cross with two fingers, and the sugubaya alleluya, or two-fold alleluia, to which the Moscovite Church was consequently committed.
Nikon was much more liberal. He shared the Protopops’ distrust of the Greek priests and prelates. He was well aware that the bishops without sees, and the archimandrites without monasteries, who appeared, from time to time, at Moscow, with forged letters of recommendation from the Eastern Patriarchs, were, at best, place-seekers and relic-mongers. But he also recognised the fact that, if the morals of these vagabond pastors were detestable, their scholarship was far superior to what passed for learning at Moscovy, and he did not see why he should not sift the gold from the dross. As soon as the Greeks had opened his eyes to the fact that the Moscovite service-books were heterodox in many particulars, he conducted, with the assistance of the learned Epifany Slavenitsky, whom he had specially summoned from Kiev, independent investigations of his own in the patriarchal archives, and arrived at the result that the sooner the Moscovite liturgies were rectified the better. With characteristic energy he summoned, in 1654, a properly qualified synod of experts to re-examine the service-books. The majority of the synod decided that ” the Greeks should be followed rather than our own ancients “; but the minority, and several of the old revisers, most of them members of the party of the Protopops, protested vehemently against the decision of the Council. Nikon thereupon addressed six-and-twenty interrogatories to Paisios, Patriarch of Constantinople, enquiring, at the same time, how he should deal with the dissentients. Paisios recommended excommunication, and authorised the holding of a second Council to settle matters, to which Makarios, Patriarch of Antioch, and the Metropolitans of Servia, Nicea and Moldavia, all of whom happened to be at Moscow, were invited. This Council, which assembled in the Uspensky Cathedral, at Moscow, in 1656, sanctioned the revision of the service-books as suggested by the first Council, and anathematised all who still persisted in crossing themselves with two fingers instead of with three. The revision of the service-books was then entrusted to the learned Kievlyan Slavenitsky and the Greek monk Arsenios, and carried out in accordance with the wishes of Nikon.
Nikon was so entirely in the right that it requires a mental effort to imagine how anyone could have seriously believed him to have been in the wrong. The Patriarch stood firm for a real antiquity pruned of all the parasitical excrescences, the outcome of ignorance and. misunderstanding, which had overgrown the Moscovite Church in the course of ages. His opponents, blinded by prejudice and suspicion, failed to see that his reforms were but a return to primitive antiquity, and denounced them as the inventions of Anti-Christ. Agreement was impossible. The question at issue had to be fought out to the bitter end. So long as there were men in Moscovy ready to be tortured to death rather than cross themselves with three fingers instead of two, or spell the name of our Lord, in Slavonic, with two iotas instead of with one iota, there could be no peace in the Church, especially as the martyrs of to-day might easily become the persecutors of to-morrow, toleration being accounted by both parties a mortal sin.
The Patriarch certainly shewed the schismatics no mercy. It was a rough age, when gentle methods did not recommend themselves even to the mildest of men. Nikon was hard, if not cruel, and, above all things, he was thorough. His scheme of reform included not only the service-books and the church ceremonies, but the ikons actually in use, which had widely departed from the ancient Byzantine models, being, for the most part, imitations of Polish and West-European models. The Patriarch ordered a search, from house to house, to be made for these new-fangled ikons ; and his soldiers and servants were charged first to gouge out the eyes of the “heretical counterfeits ” and then carry them through thé town in derision. He also issued an ukaz threatening with the severest penalties all who dared to make or use such ikons in the future. Hundreds of pious Moscovites, who had grown up to venerate these holy images, naturally regarded such acts of violence as sacrilege and iconoclasticism.
This ruthlessness goes far to explain the unappeasable hatred with which Avvakum and his followers, ever afterwards, regarded Nikon and all his works. The protopop was not the man to keep silence under the persecution of Anti-Christ ; and the virulence of his denunciations speedily led to his seizure and imprisonment. During his detention the party of the Protopops was broken up, the weaker members submitting to the Patriarch, while the stronger spirits were flogged, tortured, and exiled in every direction. On September 16, 1657, Avvakum was banished to Siberia, where, during the next eight years, he endured incredible hardships and persecutions with invincible fortitude.
From 1652 to 1658 Nikon was not so much the minister as the colleague of the Tsar. The whole internal administration, especially during the unlucky Swedish War, when Alexis was absent from the capital, remained in the strong hands of this spiritual Gosudar ; for both in public documents and private letters from the Tsar, Nikon was allowed this sovereign title. So vast was his power and such a free use did he make of it that some Russian historians have suspected him of the intention of establishing ” a particular national papacy.” Certainly, he himself always maintained that the spiritual was superior to the temporal power. It would be grossly unfair to Nikon not to admit that, in many respects, he was no unworthy predecessor of Peter the Great. He loved many branches of learning, especially archaeology and history ; and all those arts which minister to religion found in him an intelligent and munificent patron. He enriched with libraries of consider-able importance in those days the numerous and splendid monasteries he loved to build. His emissaries scoured Moscovy and the Orient, to search out and bring together precious Greek and Slavonic MSS. Nor did he confine his attention to ecclesiastical documents. Some of his hardly won treasures were the works of profane classical authors, Homer, Hesiod, Aeschylus, Plutarch and Demosthenes.
As an administrator Nikon was indefatigable in purging the church of abuses. His standard of excellence was high. Sloth, immorality, slackness of any kind, found little mercy with him. Unfortunately he never knew when to stop. As the highest interpreter of the Divine Law in Moscovy, he judged all things to be lawful to him ; he never paused to consider whether they were also expedient. Hence the charges of cruelty brought against him, exaggerated, no doubt, by his enemies, but true enough in substance. His magnificence and exclusiveness were equally offensive to those and they were many who simply envied him because ” he held his head high and walked spaciously.” Finally, there was the multitude of conscientious adversaries who detested him as a troubler of the Church, and the criminous clerks whose misdeeds he had punished. Against this rising flood of hatred there was but one efficacious barrier, the favour of the Tsar ; nor was it an easy task to shake the belief of the most pious of princes in the impeccability of the bosom friend whom he generally addressed as ” Great Shining Sun,” and before whom he figuratively abased himself in the dust. But there are limits to everything. No sooner was Alexis made to understand that the Sovereign Patriarch was eclipsing the Sovereign Tsar, than he suddenly awoke to a sense of his personal dignity, and began to think less of the shining virtues of his ” own familiar friend.” How the change was brought about is not quite clear, but it was first made manifest to Nikon in the summer of 1658 when he received no invitation to a state banquet. On July 19 the same year, the Tsar, contrary to the practice of years, absented himself from Mass at the Feast of Our Lady of Kazan. The same day Nikon informed the people from the Cathedral pulpit that he was no longer Patriarch, and whosoever henceforth called him by that name was anathema. He then shut himself up in the Voskresensky Monastery near Moscow, and there he remained for two years, absolutely refusing to resume his functions. In February 166o a Synod, held at Moscow “to terminate the widowhood” of the Moscovite Church, decided that Nikon had forfeited both his patriarchal rank and his priestly orders ; and this sentence, though much criticised at the time, was confirmed, on December 12 (O.S.), 1666, by an Ecumenical Council or the nearest approach to it attainable in the circumstances which was attended by Paisios, Patriarch of Alexandria, and Makarios, Patriarch of Antioch. The Patriarchs of Constantinople and Jerusalem were represented by proxy. This Council pronounced Nikon guilty of reviling the Tsar, of deserting the Orthodox Church, of deposing Paul, Bishop of Kolomna, contrary to the canons, and of beating and torturing his dependants. His sentence was deprivation of all his sacerdotal functions ; henceforth he was to be known simply as ” the monk Nikon.”
Far,from being cowed by his sentence, Nikon, who had abated not a jot of his pretensions, and alienated all but a very few personal friends by his outrageous violence and invective, was defiant to the last. He questioned the jurisdiction of the Council, overwhelmed the Greek prelates with abuse, some of which they certainly deserved, and refused to make the slightest submission.. The same day, he was put in a sledge and sent away to a distant monastery. He survived his old friend Alexis, with whom h was subsequently reconciled, by five years, expiring on August 17 1681, in his seventy-sixth year.
The Council, while deposing Nikon, had, at the same time, confirmed all the Nikonian reforms, and anathematised all who should refuse to accept the revised liturgies, the troeperstie 1 etc. Avvakum was among the first to suffer under this decree. He had returned to Moscow in 1662, when Nikon, though not yet dethroned, was in disgrace and powerless. Every one who had any reason to hate the Patriarch hailed the fiery arch-enemy of ” Nikonism ” as ” an angel of God.” Even at Court he was received with effusion ; and the Tsar frequently begged for his blessing. But, little more than a twelvemonth after his return from exile, the protopop’s fanatical violence resulted in his second banishment to Mezen, a little town near the White Sea. In 1665, by order of the Tsar, all the principal schismatics in exile, were summoned to Moscow to make their peace with the Church. Every conceivable effort was made by the Ecumenical Council to win over its most formidable opponent ; for, by this time, Avvakum was regarded by the majority of his countrymen as “a Confessor for Christ’s sake. ” For ten weeks deputations passed between the Council and the protopop, but he answered all their arguments with ridicule and invective. When brought before the Council itself he refused to recognise its authority, and, finally, May 13, r666, was pronounced a heretic and deprived of his orders. His further sentence was postponed until all the Greek Patriarchs had arrived. Then, for six weeks longer, all the resources of argument and persuasion were employed to convince Avvakum of the reasonableness of the Nikonian reforms. Never was ignorance so proudly invincible. When asked why he held out so obstinately against the whole Orthodox world, he could only taunt the Eastern Patriarchs with their political subjection to ” the Turkish Mahomet.” Then Avvakum and his three For 14 years the great protopop remained at Pustozersk. At first his imprisonment was light and he was allowed to communicate with the outer world. But, when he abused this privilege by threatening the Tsar with the pains of hell unless he repented and restored the exiled schismatics, he was treated with a savage rigour only intelligible on the assumption of a deliberate intention of shortening his life. But the unconquerable spirit of the man sustained him. He added self-inflicted torments to the cruelties of his persecutors. He fasted till power of speech forsook him. He discarded his clothing and lay for hours in ecstatic trances. At last, his very gaolers became his disciples, and assisted in the propagation of his doctrines. The starved and naked anchorite became, in the clay dungeon at Pustozersk, the leader of a vast popular movement, and devoted the whole of his ample leisure to polemical literature. From 1673 to his martyrdom in 16811 he composed his autobiography, nine dogmatic treatises, and forty-three epistles. All these works were jotted down on odd pieces of rag which were then secretly conveyed out of the prison, carefully transcribed by the pilgrims who came to him for advice and comfort, circulated in hundreds of copies bound in costly velvet, kept in the schismatical churches close to the holy ikons, and revered like so many divine revelations.
Avvakum’s success as a controversialist is not surprising. Although his name will be found in very few histories of Russian literature, he was, undoubtedly, the first Russian who knew how to write his own language. While his literary contemporaries are still struggling in the meshes of an obscure and pedantic jargon, Avvakum’s diction is a model of lucidity, abounding, moreover, with bold and original metaphors, and expressing every mood and feeling with a simple directness which was bound to catch and hold the popular taste.
But, when we pass from the form to the substance of the heroic schismatic’s teaching, we are amazed to find that, literally, there is nothing in it. The whole question turns on the minutiae of ceremonial, the veriest mint and cummin of ecclesiastical observance, the true history and bearing of which Avvakum, obviously, is either too ignorant to understand, or too obstinate to wish to understand. There is no question of dogma, no question even of discipline. On all essentials the Avvakumites or ” Old Believers,” as they now began to style themselves, were really at one with the ” Nikonians,” or Orthodox.
All Avvakum’s writings breathe the fiercest intolerance and exaggeration. “‘Twere better for a man never to be born than to cross himself with three fingers instead of two “is their constant refrain. He rejoices that the ” land of Russia is sanctified by martyr-blood “; nay, he approves of wholesale suicide if there be no other way of avoiding conformity with ” Nikonian practices.”
Yet, after all, to come to the root of the matter, Avvakum’s objections to the Nikonian reforms are political rather than theological. He objects to them not so much because they are anti-christian as because they are anti-Russian. They are heterodox because they run counter to the national tradition ; and the national tradition is orthodox because it is the historical development of the belief of the independent Russian people. Thus the whole argument springs from a bigoted patriotism.
The dominant counsellor of Tsar Alexis in his later years was Artamon Sergyeevich Matvyeev.
The early career of this remarkable man is wrapped in impenetrable mystery. His very parentage and the year of his birth are uncertain. But, when the obscure figure of young Artamon first emerges into the light of history, we find him equipped at all points with the newest ideas, absolutely free from the worst prejudices of his age, a ripe scholar, and even an author of some distinction, though nothing but the titles of his works has come down to us. How ” little Sergy ” became the close personal friend of the Tsar is equally unknown. We can only say that, in 1671, they were already on the most intimate terms, and that, on the retirement of Orduin-Nashchokin, Matvyeev was entrusted with the conduct of foreign affairs. In striking contrast to Nashchokin, he was not in too great a hurry to get on ; and, though courageous enough to sacrifice his life for his principles, he tactfully avoided riding rough-shod over other people’s prejudices, especially when those other people were both powerful and stupid. Matvyeev’s house was a source of never failing delight to the receptive and inquisitive Tsar. It was like a bit of western civilisation transferred bodily into another age and another continent. Within its walls could be seen all the wondrous, half-forbidden, novelties of the West, painted ceilings, rich pile carpets, ingenious clocks, pictures by French and German artists. Matvyeev’s wife, who is said to have been a Scotchwoman, moved freely among her male guests on equal terms, and drove out boldly in a carriage and pair instead of in a close-curtained litter. It was here that Alexis first encountered Natalia Naruishkina, Matvyeev’s favourite pupil, whom the Tsar wedded on January 21, 167 2, three years after the death of his first consort Maria. At the end of 1672, on the occasion of the birth of the Tsarevich Peter, Matvyeev was raised to the rank of okolnichy 1. On September 1, 1674, he obtained the still higher rank of Boyar.
The influence of Matvyeev remained paramount to the end of the reign. Tsar Alexis, stimulated by his handsome young wife and her wise mentor, advanced along the path of progress at an accelerated pace which amazed himself. He who had sternly banished even jugglers from his court while still but a youth now, in his old age, gave himself up to such heterodox diversions as stage plays. Yet Alexis had his scruples. His first consort Maria had been a stern rigourist. Gardens and palaces, in her opinion, might be all very well, but spectacles were damnable. But the Tsaritsa Natalia was of a joyous disposition ; and the good Tsar did his utmost to gratify his young consort especially as his own inclinations ran in the same direction. So, under the direction of Matvyeev, a Komidyeinnaya Khoromna, or ” Hall of Comedy,” was built at the Tsar’s summer residence at the village of Preobrazhensk ; and, as Preobrazhensk was difficult of access in the winter, another such Hall was, in 1673, actually constructed in the sacred precincts of the Kreml’ itself. Here plays of a biblical character’ were acted by a troupe of German actors directed by Timothy Hasenkrug. A ballet of sixty children and instrumental music were also introduced. The erection of these playhouses was a very important step forward on the path of progress. A Russian historian has even gone so far as to call them ” the foundation stones of the regeneration of our social life.” Certainly it was an immense advance when the very men who had shrunk from altering a single letter of the old Slavonic Bible were content to look on, complacently, while foreigners and heretics put the Bible itself on the stage before their very eyes.
Tsar Alexis died on January 30, 1676. He was indubitably the most amiable and attractive of all the Moscovite princes. Even foreigners found it difficult to resist the charm of his gentle, humane, and essentially courteous disposition. No man was ever a kinder master, or a more affectionate friend. As a ruler, he was equally remarkable for his conscientiousness and his diligence. His education was necessarily narrow ; yet he was learned in his way, read everything written in the Slavonic language, wrote verses himself, and even began a history of his own times. Finally, Alexis possessed, in an eminent degree, the truly royal gift of recognising and selecting great men. The best of the statesmen who may be called the precursors of Peter the Great were discovered and employed by Peter’s father.
Tsar Alexis had thirteen children by his first consort, Maria Miloslayskaya five sickly sons, three of whom pre-deceased him, and eight healthy daughters, all of them women of intelligence and character. Theodore III, his designated successor, a lad of fourteen, was greatly to be pitied. He possessed a fine intellect, and a noble disposition ; he had received an excellent education, knew Polish as well as his mother-tongue, and even had some Latin. But horribly disfigured, and half paralysed, by a mysterious disease, supposed to be scurvy, he had been a hopeless invalid from the day of his birth.
The deplorable condition of this unhappy prince suggested to Matvyeev the desirability of elevating to the throne the sturdy little Tsarevich Peter, the son of Alexis, by Natalia Naruishkina, then in his fourth year. But the reactionary Boyars, among whom were the Stryeshnevs and the Miloslayskies, the uncles and cousins of Theodore, all of them, more or less, hostile to the upstart Naruishkins, proclaimed Theodore Tsar (his right to the throne was certainly indisputable) ; and Matvyeev was banished to Pustozersk on an easily established charge of witchcraft. Natalia Naruishkina, with her children Peter and Natalia, were at the same time banished from court.
In 1679 Theodore married his first cousin Agatha, and assumed the sceptre. His native energy, though crippled, was not crushed by his terrible disabilities, and he soon shewed that he was as thorough and devoted a reformer as a man incompetent to lead armies or direct councils, and obliged to issue his orders from his litter or his bedchamber, can possibly be. The atmosphere of the Court ceased to be oppressive ; the light of a new liberalism shone forth in the highest places ; petitioners were forbidden to address the Gosudar with the old servility ; and the severity of the penal laws was considerably mitigated. Theodore also founded an Academy of Sciences in the Zaikonnospasky Monastery, where everything not expressly forbidden by the Orthodox Church, including Greek, Polish and Latin, were to be taught by competent professors.
But the most notable reform of Theodore III was the abolition of the system known as Myestnichestvo, which had paralysed the whole civil and military administration of Moscovy for generations.
In old Moscovy the family was everything, the individual nothing. The elders of every family were responsible for the behaviour of all the younger members of the same family, and bound to punish their misconduct, even after they had reached man’s estate. If one member of a family were condemned to pay a fine, all the other members contributed to pay it off; and the elevation or degradation of one member of a family was the elevation or degradation of all the other members. This principle of family solidarity was carried out to its last consequences. Ivan Ivanovich, for instance, would refuse to serve under Semen Semenovich if any single member of Ivan’s family had ever held a higher position than any single member of Semen’s family ; otherwise Ivan was held to have dishonoured his whole family, and the honour of the family had to be upheld at whatever cost of suffering to the individuals composing it. Thus it came about that the Boyar, slavishly obsequious as he might be to the Gosudar in all other things, would rather quit the Tsar’s table than sit below any other Boyar of inferior family ; rather endure imprisonment, or the terrible knout itself, than put himself bez myest’ye, ” out of place,” as the phrase went. To such a point was this principle of priority at last carried, that the members of one family would resort to the most desperate expedients rather than yield precedence to another family, even when that family was obviously entitled thereto. Thus, to give but a single instance, the great national hero, Demetrius Pozharsky, refused, on one occasion, to admit the pre-eminence of the newly boyared Michael Saltuikov. Out of deference to Pozharsky, the claim was thoroughly examined, when it was discovered that Saltuikov’s ancestors were undoubtedly superior to Pozharsky’s. Pozharsky had nothing to say for himself, so he took to his bed and feigned serious illness. It is obvious how prejudicial to the public service this Myestnichestvo was bound to be ; during warfare, in particular, it frequently paralysed all military operations. It was no uncommon thing for subordinate officers to refuse to conduct troops to the nearest general because of the inferiority of his family, and petition that they might be sent instead to some other general of loftier origin. For the same reason one general often refused to serve under another general, even though the Tsar had appointed that other general generalissimo. The only remedy devisable against this claim for privileged insubordination was for the Tsar to proclaim beforehand that, so long as the war lasted, and so long only, all the officers without exception were to be bez myest’ye, “out of place “in other words, family rank was not to count during hostilities.
It was Prince Vasily Vasilevich Golitsuin, sometimes called ” the Great Golitsuin,” especially by foreigners, whom he warmly protected, who first urged the necessity of abolishing Myestnichestvo. Golitsuin was unusually well educated. He understood German and Greek as well as his mother-tongue, and could express himself fluently in Latin. Born in 1643, he entered the service of Alexis at an early age, and in 1676, was created a Boyar. Sent to the Ukraine to provide for its defence against the incursions of the Turks and Tatars, he returned to Moscow with the conviction that Myestnichestvo was at the root of Moscovy’s deplorable military inefficiency.
The young Tsar was easily convinced by his arguments ; and a special ukaz removed, at one stroke, an abuse which had so long appeared unassailable. Henceforth all appointments were to be determined by merit and the will of the Gosudar. The fact that the dying Theodore could so readily remove so deep-lying and far reaching an abuse is a striking testimony to the steady, if silent, advance of liberal ideas in Moscovite society even since the death of Alexis. It is often too much taken for granted that Peter the Great created modern Russia. The foundations of modern Russia were laid while he was still in his nursery.
On April 27, 1682, Theodore III died suddenly without issue, and without appointing his- successor, so that the throne was left vacant. By the advice of the Patriarch and with the consent of the people assembled in the Red Square, the Tsarevich Peter was elected Tsar, in preference to his semi-idiotic half-brother Ivan ; and Matvyeev was hastily summoned to return to the capital and occupy the post of chief counsellor to the Tsaritsa Natalia, who had been appointed Regent during the minority of her infant son. But the elder branch of Tsar Alexis’s family, the Miloslayskies, were by no means disposed to submit to the upstart Naruishkins, the younger branch of the same family. Fear also played a large part in the calculations of the Miloslayskies. Under Theodore, in their hour of triumph, they had mercilessly persecuted the Naruishkins ; but now the Naruishkins were in the ascendant and might persecute the Miloslavskies in the name of Peter but by the hand of Matvyeev.
It was a portentous sign of the times that the malcontents unhesitatingly looked for guidance neither to Prince Vasily Golitsuin, nor to Prince Ivan Khovansky, the two leading generals of the day, but to a woman of five-and-twenty, who had been educated in the seclusion of the terem, and, a generation earlier, would not have dared to leave it. This product of the new enlightenment was the Tsarevna Sophia, the third daughter of Tsar Alexis. Both Natalia and Sophia had had a relatively superior education. But while, as the pupil of Matvyeev, Natalia belonged to the practical school of the West, Sophia’s training, under the guidance of the learned monk, Polotsky, had been on more ecclesiastical lines. But her orthodoxy sat pretty lightly upon her. In emancipating herself from the restrictions of the terem, she had, at the same time, emancipated herself from its austere morality ; and her overwhelming passion for Prince Vasily Golitsuin was already notorious.
A revolt of sixteen regiments of the Stryeltsui, or Musketeers, who proceeded to the Kreml’ to demand arrears of pay, three days after the proclamation of Peter, laid bare the essential weakness of the new Government. The death of Matvyeev, who reached Moscow on May 15th and was torn to pieces, the same day, by the Stryeltsui, during a second revolt obviously inspired by Sophia and her friends, put an end to Natalia’s regency altogether. On May 23, Ivan V was associated with his brother Peter as co-Tsar. On the 29th he was declared the Senior, and Peter the Junior Tsar, while the Tsarevna Sophia was proclaimed Regent during their minority. As Ivan was hopelessly infirm, half blind, and more than half idiotic, it is plain that this duumvirate aimed solely at the depression and humiliation of the Tsaritsa Natalia. Thus Sophia became the actual ruler of Moscovy. The Stryeltsui were not only pardoned for their atrocities but petted. A general amnesty was granted to them ; and, at their special request, a triumphal column was erected in the Red Square to commemorate their cowardly massacre of Matvyeev and the Naruishkins on May 15-17.
When, however, the still dissatisfied Stryeltsui, in alliance with the more fanatical of the Old Believers, and prompted by the arch-conservative Voevode, Prince Ivan Khovansky, openly rebelled against Sophia, she shewed herself their mistress.. After openly confronting them, on July 5, in the “Tesselated Chamber,” the great reception hall of the palace of the Kreml’ when she rejected their petitions and confuted their arguments, she removed for safety’s sake, in August, to the village of Kolmenskoe, where the Court remained till September 1st, the Russian New Year. By this time Sophia and Khovansky were at open war ; and the latter was, most probably, aiming at the crown for himself. In the middle of September, the Regent felt strong enough to strike the first blow, and she struck fiercely. The Khovanskies, father and son, were suddenly seized and summarily executed ; and, when Prince Vasily Golitsuin prepared to march against rebellious Moscow, the Stryeltsui sent a deputation to Sophia, begging for forgiveness, and the rebellion collapsed. On Nov. 6, the Court, satisfied with the fulness of its triumph, returned to the capital.
During the seven years of her regency, Sophia left the con-duct of affairs in the hands of her lover and omnipotent minister Vasily Golitsuin. For a time all went well. Golitsuin was a dexterous diplomatist and a wise administrator ; but, as the paramour of the Regent, he held, from the first, an extremely difficult position ; and her extravagant favours gradually raised up a whole host of enemies against him and made her extremely unpopular. The crisis came after his disastrous Crimean campaigns in 1687-881. Most of the malcontents rested their hopes for the future on the young Tsar Peter, who was the first to benefit by the growing unpopularity of his half-sister. Twice already they had corne into actual collision. On the first occasion, Peter had objected to his sister’s participation in a solemn procession to the Kazan Cathedral, which was, indeed, an unheard-of breach of ancient usage. On the second occasion, he had openly protested against the ridiculous rewards she had bestowed upon Golitsuin after a retreat which had only just stopped short of disaster, and absolutely refused to receive the Prince in audience when he came to thank Peter for his undeserved promotion. Sophia was quite alive to the insecurity of her position. To use Solovev’s quaint but apt analogy, like those who have sold themselves to the Devil, she might, for a time, enjoy all the good things of this world; but Hell, in the shape of a monastery, awaited her at the end of her pleasant course. She had crowned her brothers in order that she might reign in their names. She had added her name to theirs in state documents, boldly subscribing herself Sovereign Princess of all Russia.” She had officially informed the Doge of Venice that she was the co-Regent of the Tsars. And meanwhile the terrible term of her usurped authority was approaching. Peter was growing up ; and Peter’s mother, the long despised Tsaritsa Natalia, was beginning to criticise and even censure the doings of the Regent. Nay, she had protested openly against Sophia’s assumption of the title of Sovereign. Something had to be done speedily ; and, by the advice of her chief ministers, Golitsuin and the clerk of the Council, Shaklovity, she resolved to employ the Stryeltsui to dethrone Peter and place herself on the throne. But the Stryeltsui were deeply divided in opinion. Many of them regarded Peter as the rightful Tsar ; and it was by some of these friendly Stryeltsui that warning of the conspiracy against him was brought to Preobrazhensk, where he usually resided. (August 121 1689.) He at once took refuge in the fortress-monastery of Troitsa, where he was speedily joined by his mother and sister. Presently he was fortified by the arrival of the Stryeltsui of the Sakharev regiment and other auxiliaries, and placed the supreme command in the hands of Prince Boris Golitsuin, the cousin of Vasily, a man of superior intelligence and great force of character.
So great was the consternation of the Regent in the Kreml, on hearing that Peter had taken refuge in the famous bulwark of Mos covite orthodoxy and patriotism, that she sent the Patriarch Joachim to Troitsa to mediate. This was a false step, for, by so doing, she converted a valuable hostage into a formidable opponent. The Patriarch had long desired to escape from the treasonable atmosphere of the Kreml’, and his presence at the Troitsa Monastery immensely strengthened the position of Peter. From mid-August to September 4, Sophia attempted to inspire her drooping followers with some-thing of her own spirit. It was all in vain. On August 27 the bulk of the Stryeltsui deserted her. On September 4, the foreign legion in the German Settlement followed their example. On September 6, her own entourage compelled her to deliver up Shaklovity, the prime mover of the whole rebellion. Then all the Boyars of her party went over to Peter; and Vasily Golitsuin hid himself at the Regent’s country-house at Medvyedkovo. On the night of September 7, a full confession was extorted from Shaklovity, who was publicly executed, with his chief accomplices, on the i 11th. Vasily Golitsuin was spared, owing to the intercession of his cousin Boris, but was banished to Kiropol. Sophia was compelled to retire within the Novodyevechy monastery, but without taking the veil.