On the Patriarchate in Moscow

The first Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, Iov (Job) (1589-1605)

Nicholas Zernov 1898-1980

In 1588, the Patriarch of Constantinople, Jeremiah, came to Moscow in quest of alms. It was the first time that a senior hierarch of the Eastern Church had visited Russia. He was greeted with pomp and many festivities. He was greatly impressed with the splendor of the Church services and the devotion of the people. The Russians took the opportunity of his stay to re-open negotiations about the patriarchate and, in order to overcome the usual methods of Oriental diplomacy, with its non-committal promises and indefinite pronouncements, made a drastic proposal. They invited Jeremiah himself to become the Patriarch of the Russian Church. It was a tempting offer for a man who led a precarious existence as the head of Christians under the Turks. Here is Russia, he was treated as a beloved father in God; honor and popular devotion were offered to him. In Turkey, he was held responsible for every act committed by the Christians and lived in constant danger of martyrdom. After prolonged discussions, Jeremiah gave his consent. By so doing, he recognized at last the right of Russia to have her own Patriarchs. This was immediately recorded and retreat from that position was made impossible. But, once this was achieved, the Russians began to limit the scope of their original proposal by adding new conditions which made it much less attractive. They explained that they were unable to dismiss the present occupant of the metropolitan seat of Moscow, Job, from his post, and they offered the Greek prelate a seat in the provincial city of Vladimir. Other difficulties, such as those of language and differences in custom and tradition, were raised. The Greek prelate discovered meanwhile many inconveniences in Russian life which he had not noticed at first. The climate was cold, the food heavy and unusual, the services extremely long and exhausting, and the Patriarch was expected to set an example of endurance and piety.

So, after further protracted negotiations, Jeremiah himself suggested that a Russian might, after all, be a more suitable candidate for the patriarchal seat. This was exactly what the Russian government wanted, and, thus on January 26th, 1589, eighteen months after Jeremiah had arrived in the Russian capital, he himself elevated Job, the Metropolitan of Moscow, to the dignity of the Patriarch of All Russia. In the installation charter, signed by Jeremiah, the following was inserted:

“Because the Old Rome has collapsed on account of the heresy of Apollinarius [1], and because the second Rome, which is Constantinople, is now in possession of the godless Turks, thy great kingdom, O pious Tsar, is the Third Rome. It surpasses in devotion every other, and all Christian kingdoms are now merged in thy realm. Thou art the only Christian sovereign in the world, the master of all faithful Christians.”

This last sentence was an almost verbatim reproduction of Philotheus’ epistle to Basil III. A century earlier it was the daring prophecy of a devout monk; now it was the solemn declaration made by the highest authority of the Eastern Church.

It is open to question whether Jeremiah himself fully understood the Russian text and shared the interpretation given by the Russians to the act committed by him. The events of the next century revealed that the Greeks and the Russians differed considerably in their attitude to Moscow’s claims. But, in the sixteenth century, there was nothing as yet to disturb the peace between them. Jeremiah returned to Constantinople carrying with him generous alms and promising to secure the recognition of his action by the remaining three Patriarchs of the East.

This was not a very easy matter, but after four years of persistent effort, during which gifts were literally distributed among the Eastern prelates, the Russians at last won the desired approval. It was granted in 1593, when all four Patriarchs met in Constantinople and offered their new brother in Moscow fifth and last place in the hierarchy of honor. Such a decision conflicted with the charter signed by Jeremiah in Moscow four years earlier. The Russians were discontented, they wanted to secure at least the third place for their Patriarch, but they had to be satisfied with the major concession which had given them a patriarchal seat without causing a breach in relations with the conservative heads of the Eastern Church. (The Russians and Their Church, pp. 68-70)

[1] The use of unleavened bread in the Eucharist by the Latins was interpreted by the Russians as a sign of a defective conception of the Incarnation, leavened bread representing for them the fullness of manhood in Christ.