Patriarch Nikon

Patriarch Nikon

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Nikon born Nikita Minin (Никита Минин; 7 May 1605 Valmanovo, Tsardom of Russia
Tsardom of Russia
The Tsardom of Russia was the name of the centralized Russian state from Ivan IV's assumption of the title of Tsar in 1547 till Peter the Great's foundation of the Russian Empire in 1721.From 1550 to 1700, Russia grew 35,000 km2 a year...

—17 August 1681), was the seventh patriarch
Patriarch
Originally a patriarch was a man who exercised autocratic authority as a pater familias over an extended family. The system of such rule of families by senior males is called patriarchy. This is a Greek word, a compound of πατριά , "lineage, descent", esp...

 of the Russian Orthodox Church
Russian Orthodox Church
The Russian Orthodox Church or, alternatively, the Moscow Patriarchate The ROC is often said to be the largest of the Eastern Orthodox churches in the world; including all the autocephalous churches under its umbrella, its adherents number over 150 million worldwide—about half of the 300 million...

. This was one of the most important periods in the Church's history, as Nikon introduced many reforms which eventually led to a lasting schism
Schism (religion)
A schism , from Greek σχίσμα, skhísma , is a division between people, usually belonging to an organization or movement religious denomination. The word is most frequently applied to a break of communion between two sections of Christianity that were previously a single body, or to a division within...

 known as Raskol
Raskol
Raskol |schism]]') was the event of splitting of the Russian Orthodox Church into an official church and the Old Believers movement in mid-17th century, triggered by the reforms of Patriarch Nikon in 1653, aiming to establish uniformity between the Greek and Russian church practices.-The Raskol:...

in the Russian Orthodox Church.

Rise to power


Son of a Mordovian peasant
Peasant
A peasant is an agricultural worker who generally tend to be poor and homeless-Etymology:The word is derived from 15th century French païsant meaning one from the pays, or countryside, ultimately from the Latin pagus, or outlying administrative district.- Position in society :Peasants typically...

 farmer named Mina, he was born on 7 May 1605 in the village of Valmanovo, 90 verst
Verst
A verst or werst is an obsolete Russian unit of length. It is defined as being 500 sazhen long, which makes a verst equal to 1.0668 kilometres ....

s (96 km or 60 miles) from Nizhny Novgorod
Nizhny Novgorod
Nizhny Novgorod , colloquially shortened to Nizhny, is, with the population of 1,250,615, the fifth largest city in Russia, ranking after Moscow, St. Petersburg, Novosibirsk, and Yekaterinburg...

. Misery pursued the child from his cradle, and prematurely hardened a character not naturally soft; he ran away from home to save his life from an inhumane stepmother. But he gave promise betimes of the energy and thoroughness which were to distinguish him throughout life, and contrived to teach himself reading and writing. When he was but twenty his learning and talents obtained for him a cure of souls
Cure of souls
In some denominations of Christianity, the cure of souls , an archaic translation which is better rendered today as "care of souls," is the exercise by a priest of his office. This typically embraces instruction, by sermons and admonitions, and administration of sacraments, to the congregation...

.
His eloquence attracted attention, and, through the efforts of some Moscow
Moscow
Moscow is the capital, the most populous city, and the most populous federal subject of Russia. The city is a major political, economic, cultural, scientific, religious, financial, educational, and transportation centre of Russia and the continent...

 merchants, he was transferred to a populous parish in the capital. Shortly afterwards, seeing in the loss of his three little children a providential warning to seek the higher life, he first persuaded his wife to take the veil and then withdrew himself first to a desolate hermitage on the isle of Anzersky
Solovetsky Islands
The Solovetsky Islands , or Solovki , are an archipelago located in the Onega Bay of the White Sea, Russia. The islands are served by the Solovki Airport. Area: ....

 on the White Sea
White Sea
The White Sea is a southern inlet of the Barents Sea located on the northwest coast of Russia. It is surrounded by Karelia to the west, the Kola Peninsula to the north, and the Kanin Peninsula to the northeast. The whole of the White Sea is under Russian sovereignty and considered to be part of...

. Having quarreled with the father superior, he attempted to flee southward, but a tempest broke out and his boat was cast ashore on Kiy Island
Kiy Island
Kiy-Island is an island in the Onega Bay of the White Sea, 8 km off-shore and 15 km from the town of Onega. The island stretches for 2 kilometres from north-west to south-east, but its width does not exceed 800 meters.The island includes wide and sandy beaches, piny woods rich with...

, where he would later establish a great monastery. He eventually reached the Kozhezersky monastery, in the diocese of Novgorod, of which he became abbot in 1643.

On becoming a monk he took the name of Nikon. In his official capacity he had frequently to visit Moscow, and in 1646 made the acquaintance of the pious and impressionable Tsar Alexei I, who fell entirely under his influence. Alexius appointed Nikon archimandrite, or prior, of the wealthy Novospassky monastery
Novospassky Monastery
Novospassky Monastery is one of the fortified monasteries surrounding Moscow from south-east.It was the first monastery to be founded in Moscow in the early 14th century. The Saviour Church was its original katholikon...

 at Moscow, and in 1648 metropolitan
Metropolitan bishop
In Christian churches with episcopal polity, the rank of metropolitan bishop, or simply metropolitan, pertains to the diocesan bishop or archbishop of a metropolis; that is, the chief city of a historical Roman province, ecclesiastical province, or regional capital.Before the establishment of...

 of Great Novgorod. Finally (1 August 1652) he was elected patriarch of Moscow. It was only with the utmost difficulty that Nikon could be persuaded to become the arch-pastor of the Russian Church, and he only yielded after imposing upon the whole assembly a solemn oath of obedience to him in everything concerning the dogmas, canons and observances of the Orthodox Church.

Nikon's reforms


Nikon's attitude on this occasion was not affectation, but the wise determination of a would-be reformer to secure a free hand. Ecclesiastical reform was already in the air. A number of ecclesiastical dignitaries, known as the party of the protopopes (deans), had accepted the responsibility for the revision of the church service-books inaugurated by the late Patriarch Joasaph, and a few other very trivial rectifications of certain ancient observances. But they were far too timid to attempt anything really effectual.
Nikon was much bolder and also much more liberal. He consulted the most learned of the Greek prelates abroad; invited them to a consultation at Moscow; and finally the scholars of Constantinople
Constantinople
Constantinople was the capital of the Roman, Eastern Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city.-Names:...

 and Kiev
Kiev
Kiev or Kyiv is the capital and the largest city of Ukraine, located in the north central part of the country on the Dnieper River. The population as of the 2001 census was 2,611,300. However, higher numbers have been cited in the press....

 convinced the eyes of Nikon that the Muscovite service-books were heterodox, and that the icon
Icon
An icon is a religious work of art, most commonly a painting, from Eastern Christianity and in certain Eastern Catholic churches...

s actually in use had very widely departed from the ancient Constantinopolitan models, being for the most part imbued with the Polish baroque influences. Later research was to vindicate the Muscovite service-books as belonging to a different recension
Recension
Recension is the practice of editing or revising a text based on critical analysis. When referring to manuscripts, this may be a revision by another author...

 from that which was used by the Greeks at the time of Nikon, and the unrevised Muscovite books were actually older and more venerable than the Greek books, which had undergone several revisions over the centuries and ironically, were newer and contained innovations.

Nikon at once (1654) summoned a synod
Synod
A synod historically is a council of a church, usually convened to decide an issue of doctrine, administration or application. In modern usage, the word often refers to the governing body of a particular church, whether its members are meeting or not...

 to re-examine the service-books revised by the Patriarch Joasaf, and the majority of the synod decided that "the Greeks should be followed rather than our own ancients." A second council, held at Moscow in 1656, sanctioned the revision of the service-books as suggested by the first council, and anathema
Anathema
Anathema originally meant something lifted up as an offering to the gods; it later evolved to mean:...

tized the dissentient minority, which included the party of the protopopes and Paul
Paul of Kolomna
Paul of Kolomna was a 17th century Russian prelate and martyr in the view of the Old Believers.The son of a rural clergyman, he was born in the town of Kolychevo, Nizhny Novgorod Oblast. He entered monastic orders at Makaryev Monastery, and became treasurer there...

, bishop of Kolomna
Kolomna
Kolomna is an ancient city and the administrative center of Kolomensky District of Moscow Oblast, Russia, situated at the confluence of the Moskva and Oka Rivers, southeast of Moscow. The area of the city is about . The city was founded in 1177...

. The reforms coincided with a great plague
Pandemic
A pandemic is an epidemic of infectious disease that is spreading through human populations across a large region; for instance multiple continents, or even worldwide. A widespread endemic disease that is stable in terms of how many people are getting sick from it is not a pandemic...

 in 1654 and Russians were also greatly concerned about the upcoming year 1666 which many considered the year of the apocalypse
Apocalypse
An Apocalypse is a disclosure of something hidden from the majority of mankind in an era dominated by falsehood and misconception, i.e. the veil to be lifted. The Apocalypse of John is the Book of Revelation, the last book of the New Testament...

.

Heavily weighted with the fullest ecumenical authority, Nikon's patriarchal staff descended with crushing force upon those with whom he disagreed. His scheme of reform included not only service-books and ceremonies but the use of the new-fangled icons, for which he ordered a house-to-house search to be made. His soldiers and servants were charged first to gouge out the eyes of these heretical counterfeits and then carry them through the town in derision. He also issued an ukase
Ukase
A ukase , in Imperial Russia, was a proclamation of the tsar, government, or a religious leader that had the force of law...

 threatening with the severest penalties all who dared to make or use such icons in future. Construction of tent-like churches (of which Saint Basil's Cathedral
Saint Basil's Cathedral
The Cathedral of the Protection of Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat , popularly known as Saint Basil's Cathedral , is a Russian Orthodox church erected on the Red Square in Moscow in 1555–61. Built on the order of Ivan the Terrible to commemorate the capture of Kazan and Astrakhan, it marks the...

 is a prime example) was strictly forbidden, and many old uncanonical churches were demolished to make way for new ones, designed in the "Old Byzantine" style. This ruthlessness goes far to explain the unappeasable hatred with which the Old Believers
Old Believers
In the context of Russian Orthodox church history, the Old Believers separated after 1666 from the official Russian Orthodox Church as a protest against church reforms introduced by Patriarch Nikon between 1652–66...

, as they now began to be called, ever afterwards regarded Nikon and all his works.

Fall from Power


From 1652 to 1658, Nikon was not so much the minister as the colleague of the tsar. Both in public documents and in private letters he was permitted to use the sovereign
Sovereignty
Sovereignty is the quality of having supreme, independent authority over a geographic area, such as a territory. It can be found in a power to rule and make law that rests on a political fact for which no purely legal explanation can be provided...

 title. Such a free use did he make of his vast power, that some Russian historians have suspected him of the design of establishing a particular national papacy; and he himself certainly maintained that the spiritual was superior to the temporal power. He enriched the numerous and splendid monasteries which he built with valuable libraries. His emissaries scoured Muscovy and the Orient for precious Greek and Slavonic manuscripts, both sacred and profane.

But his actions raised up a whole host of enemies against him, and by the summer of 1658 they had convinced Alexius that the sovereign patriarch was eclipsing the sovereign tsar. Alexius suddenly grew cold towards his own bosom friend (as he called him). Nikon thereupon publicly divested himself of the patriarchal vestments and shut himself up in the Ascension Convent
Ascension Convent
Ascension Convent, known as the Starodevichy Convent or Old Maiden's until 1817 , was a female cloister in the Moscow Kremlin which contained the burials of grand princesses, tsarinas, and other noble ladies from the Muscovite royal court.It is believed that Ascension Convent was founded in 1389...

 (19 July 1658). In February 1660 a synod was held at Moscow to elect a new Patriarch to the throne, vacant now for nearly two years. The synod decided not only that a new patriarch should be appointed, but that Nikon had forfeited both his archiepiscopal rank and his priests orders.

Against the second part of this decision, however, the great ecclesiastical expert Epifany Slavinetsky
Epifany Slavinetsky
Epifany Slavinetsky was an ecclesiastical expert of the Russian Orthodox Church who helped Patriarch Nikon to revise the ancient service-books, thus precipitating the Great Schism of the national church....

 protested energetically, and ultimately the whole inquiry collapsed, the scrupulous tsar shrinking from the enforcement of the decrees of the synod for fear of committing mortal sin. For six years longer the Russian Orthodoxy
Russian Orthodox Church
The Russian Orthodox Church or, alternatively, the Moscow Patriarchate The ROC is often said to be the largest of the Eastern Orthodox churches in the world; including all the autocephalous churches under its umbrella, its adherents number over 150 million worldwide—about half of the 300 million...

 remained without a patriarch. Every year the question of Nikon's deposition became more complicated and confusing. Almost every contemporary Eastern Orthodox
Eastern Orthodox Church
The Orthodox Church, officially called the Orthodox Catholic Church and commonly referred to as the Eastern Orthodox Church, is the second largest Christian denomination in the world, with an estimated 300 million adherents mainly in the countries of Belarus, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece,...

 scholar was consulted on the subject, and no two authorities agreed. At last the matter was submitted to a local council, which opened its sessions on 18 November 1666 in the presence of the tsar.

On 12 December the council pronounced Nikon guilty of reviling the tsar and the whole Muscovite Church, of deposing Paul, bishop of Kolomna
Kolomna
Kolomna is an ancient city and the administrative center of Kolomensky District of Moscow Oblast, Russia, situated at the confluence of the Moskva and Oka Rivers, southeast of Moscow. The area of the city is about . The city was founded in 1177...

, contrary to the canons, and of beating and torturing his dependents. His sentence was deprivation of all his sacerdotal functions; henceforth he was to be known simply as the monk Nikon. The same day he was put into a sledge and sent as a prisoner to the far northern Ferapontov monastery
Ferapontov Monastery
The Ferapontov convent , in the Vologda region of Russia, is considered one of the purest examples of Russian medieval art, a reason given by UNESCO for its inscription on the World Heritage List....

. Yet the very council which had deposed him confirmed all his reforms and anathematized all who should refuse to accept them, like protopope Avvakum
Avvakum
Avvakum Petrov was a Russian protopope of Kazan Cathedral on Red Square who led the opposition to Patriarch Nikon's reforms of the Russian Orthodox Church...

. Nikon survived the tsar (with whom something of the old intimacy was resumed in 1671) five years and was allowed to return to Moscow, expiring on his way there, after crossing the Kotorosl River in Tropino
Church of St. Nicholas in Tropino
The Church of St. Nicholas in Tropino is a ruined 17th-century church on the right bank of the Kotorosl River in Yaroslavl. It has been expanded and renovated on several occasions in the 18th and 19th centuries. The site used to be prone to seasonal flooding. A memorial cross near the church...

on 17 August 1681.