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Religious Heresies in 14th-16th Century Russia: Prelude to the Inception of Russia’s Security Culture and Vigilance Norm

by Gordon M. Hahn


For many in the West, Russian is a wholly alien element. It is often described here as acting proactively, challenging and indeed threatening the Western way of life. In fact, Russian history from Kievan Rus and increasingly so after the Mongol horde’s yoke over most of the Russian principalities has been in good part a long drawn out struggle of aspiring to be one with Europe. Consequently, European culture has had a profound influence on Russian culture, beginning with Kiev’s interactions with Rome and Constantinople and Vladimir the Great’s ‘baptism of the Rus’ to Novgorod’s and Pskov’s association with the Hanseatic League to Peter the Great and the 18th century Russian Enlightenment to the 19th century ‘great ferment’ of new ideas, including the great influx of revolutionary communism and anarchism that brought Russia to the vanguard of European development, even as the West rejected the communist track for democracy, then fascism, then democracy again. Imperial Russia’s successor, communism’s USSR, in turn met its demise under the influence and pressure of Western democracies, leading to perestroika, the fall of the communist regme and Soviet state and a new Russia seemingly reunited with Europe.

But the West has imparted at least two other factors besides cultural influence that have shaped Russian history and culture. At crucial times in Russian history, often when Russia was on the precipice of ‘becoming Europe,’ the West intervened to divert the country on a different path either by intervening in Russia’s domestic politics or by invading Russia, often with the goal of transforming the eastern giant in her own image to quite the opposite effect. In these ways, the West has made Russia and become Russia’s ‘constitutive Other’ by which she measures herself and aspires to change and develop herself or against which she focuses her trepidations, resentments and revenge opposing herself to her Western ‘Other.’ The more antagonistic orientation of trepidation and opposition has produced a strain or strand in Russia’s political and strategic culture that can be called a security culture based on norms of vigilance against Western influence, meddling, and military threat and aggression. Thus, when the Russian traditional culture is stable their dominates a striving for unity on the part of most elements in state and/or society. Heresy, dissent, division, opposition are eschewed, as they weaken Russia’s ability to counter the always present foreign threats, especially those emanating from the West.

The strength of the vigilance norm and security value in Russian varies over time under the influence of internal and external events. In periods of reform and among opposition groups, the security culture and vigilance value are either absent or weak (recessive as cultural elements). A central feature of Russia’s security culture is that the internal threat of Western influence in the political culture and the external threat of military aggression from the West in the strategic culture are linked inextricably by the threat of European meddling that succeeds in finding allies or colluders among dissidents inside Russia.

In a series of articles I hope to demonstrate how the security culture and vigilance norm are evidenced by and reflected in: various symbols of Western influence, meddling and invasion threats; their treatment by the state and opposition forces; and changes in their dominant or recessive status in Russia’s political and strategic cultures over time. This first article examines the rise of the first dissidents, religious heretics, in post-Kievan Muscovite Rus’ at a time in the 14th-16th centuries when in the wake of the Mongol yoke the principality of Muscovy was rising to hegemony within appanage Russia and was attempting to expand its rule across scattered Rus’. The Muscovite state’s formative experience and developing national identity were greatly influenced by the interrelated threat of internal divisions created by religious heresies and the origins of those heresies in the Russian periphery in the neighboring Western-influenced and Western-tied principalities of Novgorod and Pskov.

Early Russian Heresies: The First Dissidents and their Ties to Moscow’s Competitors  

Post-Kievan Muscovite Rus experienced three important heretical movements: the 14th century strigolniki, the 15th century Judaizers, and the 16th century nestazhateli or ‘non-possessors’ (see below). Each originated or was associated with a non-Muscovite Russian principality (Novgorod and Pskov) to the west capable of challenging Moscow’s rise to supremacy among appanage Russia’s autonomous princedoms and under the influence of foreign European ‘infidel’ (non-Orthodox) element or state power. The strigolniki, led by a deacon named Karp, were influenced indirectly by several medieval European Catholic or “proto-Protestant” heresies and European-wide anti-clerical undercurrent: the flagellants, who inflicted pain upon themselves to pay for their sins, which were regarded as the cause of the great European plague; the West European Simonian heresy; and the 11th-13th century West European ‘purist’ heresy which regarded the material world as the manifestation of evil and the spiritual world as that of the good and holy. Like other medieval European reformationists, Karp and his followers rejected the sacraments, prayers for the dead, confession, monasticism and the entire institution of Church hierarchy and clergy. They proposed that believers could eschew the intercession of the clergy and their various ministrations, for which priests and higher clergy received payments, and communicate directly with God.

Importantly, Karp not only lived in Novgorod and hailed from Pskov, the westernmost Russian principalities. Pskov had become largely autonomous from Novgorod in the 14th century and was still wholly independent from the growing Russian power, Moscow, which would ‘gather in all the Russian lands’ under Ivan III and continue to expand across the ‘Russias’  and beyond under Ivan IV or Grozny (the Terrible or Awesome). Pskov and its quasi-republican veche regime was even “more democratic” than that in Novgorod.[1] Pskov’s church like the ‘republic’ itself became entirely independent of Novgorod and appointed its own bishop. Moreover, Pskov also had deep ties to Europe as a member of the powerful, German-led Hanseatic League trading confederation, which limited Muscovite power by creating a barrier to the White Sea. Thus, Pskov like Novgorod, was an emerging ‘Russian Other’ for more traditionalist Moscow.

Neighbor to both Pskov and Novgorod was the confederated and gradually unifying kingdom of Poland-Lithuania, rising to regional dominance in the 13th-15th centuries. Eyeing the Germans and Russians for territorial expansion, Poland-Lithuania repeatedly intervened in internecine political conflicts between competing Russian principalities, particularly in Pskov and Novgorod. ‘Western’ Poland-Lithuania was a considerably Russia-focused and largely Russian-Belorussian-populated state. So even in the 13th century the west-east dichotomy is more of a chimera, overstating the west-east cultural gradient. Catholic Poland-Lithuania certainly represented the ‘Russias’ emerging ‘Other’, and the growing cultural affinity between Pskov and Novgorod, on the one hand, and Poland-Lithuanian, on the other, provided potential elements of identity pluralism, cultural ‘dislocation,’ political division and dissent, and ultimately re-identification fostering collusion and perhaps Western invasion to more eastern Russian principalities, like Moscow.

Karp and several of his associates were assassinated in an uprising against them instigated by the Church leadership in 1375, thrown into the icy Volkhov River that separated Novgorod’s commercial and clerical halves.

The second great dissent in post-Kievan Russian history, the so-called Judaizers, would be embedded within two conflicts; one between Moscow and its ‘Russian Other’ Novgorod and another between Moscow and its emerging Western ‘constituent Other’, Poland-Lithuania. Moscow’s struggle for sovereignty over Novgorod, as Billington notes, “was in many ways the first internal conflict between Eastward- and Westward-looking Russia.” Rising Muscovy prevailed in part because Novgorod—like Narva/Ivangorod, Riga, and other Baltic cities, including later St. Petersburg—was split between East and West.[2]

The ‘Judaizers’ heresy, an offshoot of the strigolniki, emerged in Novgorod, prompted a Novgorodian clerical heresy, and penetrated and challenged the Moscow state and ROC establishments in the late 15th-early 16th centuries. Arising in 1470-1, the year Novgorod moved to strengthen ties to Lithuania, fearing Moscow’s rising power, this heresy prompted two ROC sobors (assemblies) called to examine, condemn and mete out punishment to the Judaizers in 1490 and 1503-04. The Catholic west Slav-Orthodox east Slav encounter was creating both external geopolitical and internal cultural conflict. The Judaizers’ accusers blamed the heresy on the arrival of Jewish business interests to Novgorod in the wake of a visit by Kievan Prince Mikhail Aleksandrovich to the city-state. However, the heresy also was embedded within sociopolitical conflict over the secularization of the Church, its lands and financial holdings that would culminate in the Great Raskol in 1667. According to the Soviet historian Nikolai Nikolskii, the Judaizers were a mix of lower class Russians hoping for cheap bread under Muscovite rule and priests from Novgorod linked to competing circles in Moscow around both Ivan III and the boyars repressed by him for resisting centralization of authority in Moscow and seeking to preserve their power and property privileges. The latter connection added an element of political conflict to this mostly religious struggle, but the political aspect of such conflicts would intensify in coming decades. Of the first 23 Judaizer heretics punished, 15 were priests or sons of priests belonging to Novgorod’s pro-Muscovite party.[3]

The Judaizers’ political orientation derived from Ivan III’s preparations for a second march on Novgorod after subduing Pskov and winning concessions from Novgorod in the first march. Lithuania, Moscow, and Tver had designs on Novgorod since the 13th century. After Ivan III’s predecessor Vasilii the Dark defeated Novgorod in battle and took Pskov, Novgorod agreed under the February 1456 Yazhelbitsky Treaty to give up much of its sovereignty. It lost its right to an independent foreign policy and domestic legislation and had to replace its notary stamp with the Muscovite stamp. Crucially, it was to cease all contacts with Moscow’s enemies, the Poles and Lithuanians, and forbid them entry into the city. But whereas Pskov had aligned with the Hanseatic League alone,Novgorod would align with Catholic Lithuania by violating the treaty’s crucial latter clauses. At the behest of its pro-Lithuanian faction led by the Boretskii clan, Novgorod signed a treaty with Lithuania in 1471 that obligated the Lithuanian Great Prince and Polish King Cazimir IV Jagiellon to defend it from Muscovite invasion. Cazimir had recently defeated the Teutonic Order to reclaim Pomerania and Prussia and spearhead Roman Catholicism’s missionary imperialism.[4] This would be neither the last nor most aggressive and disruptive Catholic Polish involvement in inter-Russian politics. Little more than a century later Poland would lay siege to Pskov for months at the climax of the Livonian War. Decades later Poland would aggravate and utilize internal Russian conflicts in an attempt to turn Russia into a Catholic colony by placing a ‘Manchurian candidate’ on the Muscovite throne, sparking Russia’s apocalyptical Smuta.

Although the Judaizer heresy is sometimes called the ‘Novgorod heresy’, the real Novgorod heresy came from within the Church establishment, which sought to protect its power and monastic and princely holdings from the two-pronged threat of Moscow’s designs on the city-state and the Judaizers’ critique of the ROC’s monastic lands with which Ivan III also began to sympathize. Although this had immediate implications for Novgorod and its church’s growing hatred for Ivan III, it later would impact Moscow no less so. The Judaizers furthered the strigolniki critique of the ROC’s feudal relations, theology, and use of sacraments for profit-making. Novgorod’s pro-Polish boyar establishment and other opponents of the Judaizers used the latter’s alien ‘Other’ origins as part of the internal political struggle over property and whether to submit to Muscovite rule. According to the Novgorod resistance to Muscovy and their anti-Judaizer priestly theo-ideologists, Ivan III represented the anti-Christ, and Novgorod’s fall to Moscow would spark the end of the world. This apocalyptic element found support in the ROC’s paskhaliya – a collection of rules and tables for determining the calendar for the Easter holidays each year. The paskhaliya indicated a 7000-year cycle, beginning in 5508 BC and ending in 1492 AD. In some editions of the paskhaliya and historical chronicles, the year 1492 included a passage announcing that in summer of that year Christ would re-enter the world.[5]

The internal Russian Novgorod-Moscow conflict forged an alliance between the ‘Muscovite party’ of Ivan III and foreign-influenced actors – Novgorod’s Judaizing dissidents. The alliance somewhat protected the Judaizers from a more ‘grand inquisition’ of immolations, as called for by Novgorod’s archbishop Gennadii: “Our people are simple, they are unable to talk in the manner of books. Thus, it is better not to engage in debates about the books. A church council is needed not for debates about the faith but in order that heretics be judged, hanged and burned.”[6] The 1490 church assembly on the Judaizer heresy limited its reaction to condemnation, excommunication, and exile rather than extermination.[7] Nevertheless, the wholesale purge of the religious intellectual elite from the western Russian provinces to Muscovy and farther northeast to the Transvolga-Belozersk regions set a precedent of deportations east of dissidents and suspected traitors that would be utilized in later centuries to more devastating effect.[8]

Archbishop Gennadii and later Ivan the Great’s second wife, the niece of the last emperor of Byzantium, Sofia Paleologue, also referenced foreign ways in theo-ideological battle against foreign influence, ‘dangerous’ texts, and ‘Catholic judicial’ methods. Gennadii referred to some of the same Greek Byzantine, Jewish and Roman Catholic texts on which his Judaizer opponents based their dissent.[9] Thus, Gennadi was no less heretical than the Judaizers. For her part, Paleologue would lead the Moscow party’s turn to repression of the Judaizers in alliance with both leaders of the Novgorod hierarchy and Muscovite supporters of her son Vassilii’s bid to succeed Ivan the Great, including Joseph of Volokolamsk. Sofia was a Byzantine princess, the niece of the last Byzantine emperor, and a former personal ward of the Roman Pope.  The Vatican had sponsored her marriage to Ivan as an agent of influence for the reunification of the eastern and western churches towards the formation of an anti-Ottoman alliance. Paleologue, therefore, had witnessed Catholic methods for cauterizing dissent that would be institutionalized under the Spanish, Portuguese, and later Roman Inquisitions.[10]

Thus, we see two Novgorod heresies each allied with different elements in the West (the Judaizers’ foreign texts versus the Novgorod establishment’s European commerce) for power internal Russian power struggles in Novgorod and the larger Novgorod-Moscow conflict. Moreover, Judaizer opponents such as Paleologue were seeking to utilize ‘Western’ Catholic methods of persecution against Western-influenced heretics. This is Billington’s “faint beginnings of the psychologically disturbing pattern” in Russian history in which even the most xenophobic party to an internal conflict “is forced to rely on one ‘West’ in order to combat another” West imbibed by its opponents. The contradiction within, and compromise of Russian culture’s integrity would induce a “need to disguise from oneself the increasingly derivative and dependent nature of Russian culture” by way of an “ever more shrill and apocalyptical Muscovite insistence on the uniqueness and destiny of Russia.”[11] The pattern becomes a driver of Russian culture’s cyclical ‘dislocation’ vis-a vis Europe and the search and perception of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ ‘Europes’ or ‘Wests’ with which Russians can seek to make common cause in domestic power struggles.

Novgorod, Moscow, and the Non-Possessors

After his termination of Novgorodian independence, Ivan the Great subordinated the Novgorod church to the Muscovite church, transferred some of Novgorod’s monasteries and landholdings to the Moscow metropolitan, and put the remainder of Novgorod Church holdings, including treasury funds, under Moscow’s control. Ivan’s patronage of the Judaizers and installation of Novgorodian fathers Denis and Andrei in the Kremlin’s churches brought the heresy to Moscow itself, where it would take new shape and bring the next great dissent in Russian history. The intensified controversy over Church property exacerbated tensions between the church and the centralizing state, giving rise to a new movement for change within the ROC that emanated from abroad in the 16th century. The ensuing power struggle would shake the ROC to its foundations and evolve over time into the Great Schism or Raskol of 1667.

On one side in the new conflict stood the ROC theologian Joseph Volotskii of Volokolamsk (from Volokolamsk in Novgorod) and his joseflyaniny (Josephites) or stazhateli (greedy ones or possessors). On the other side stood the nestazhateli (non-possessors, non-greedy ones, anti-possessors), successors to the strigolniki and Jadaizers. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Joseph’s Volotsk-Uspenskii Monastery, today called the Joseph Volokolamsk Monastery, was the most authoritative and wealthy monastery in Russia and rivaled the Moscow Metropolitan’s seat, the Trinity Monastery in Sergiev Posad. The Josephite stazhateli were staunch ‘traditional’ defenders of the Church’s property rights, despite property’s corrupting influence on the clergy. Joseph feared that Ivan the Great’s expropriation of ROC monastery holdings in Novgorod would be repeated in Moscow and that heresy would make alliance with Ivan in Moscow as they had in Novgorod. Aside from their desire to protect their property and status, the stazhateli-possessors were suspicious of the ‘Latin’ influences and argumentation of their opponents, the nestazhateli, who had traveled abroad and returned with a transformed religious vision that rejected the worldly corruption of much of the Church and clergy. They returned to Russian religious life among the former strigolniki and Judaizer heretics, who had fled north to avoid repression, establishing hermitages or skity to escape the Church, the state, and as much of the material world they possibly could.[12]

When the Judaizers succeeded not only in avoiding harsh punishment at the 1490 sobor but also winning and positioning allies at the top of the Church and state hierarchies, the ROC hierarchy’s position shifted. Moscow ROC Metropolitan Zosima sided with them by supporting the state secularization of Church property and used the Josephites’ failed predictions of an apocalypse surrounding the seizure of Novgorod to reinforce Ivan the Great’s authority. He published a new paskhaliya with an introduction declaring Moscow the ‘third Rome’ and Ivan the new Emperor Constantine. Ivan’s son Dmitrii, who would inherit the throne after the death of Ivan’s last wife Yelena, also supported the new position. The non-possessors then began maneuvering to convene a sobor to reform the Church in accordance with their reformationist vision. Joseph counterattacked first by publishing a theological work, ‘The Enlightener’ (Prosvetitel’), three-fourths of which ‘unmasked’ and exaggerated the extent of the heretics’ theological distortions infiltrating Ivan the Great’s circle and the Church hierarchy. He called Metropolitan Zosima’s moral credentials into question, accusing him of “piggish living,” “drunkenness,” and “finding the simplest people and imbibing them with Jewish poison.” The Josephites succeeded in 1495 in having Zosima replaced by Simon (Simeon), but he was a supporter of Zosima. Therefore, two years later Joseph and the possessors backed an intrigue of Paleologue to checkmate he non-possessors by killing Dmitrii and anointing his brother Vasilii as heir to the throne. The plot was discovered, and the plotters were imprisoned, including Sofia and Joseph’s prime patrons, the boyar Chelyadnin family. In 1499 another intrigue returned Sofia and Vasilii to reside in the Kremlin, and the nestazhateli, including boyar leaders from the powerful Prince Vasilii Patrikeev clan, were exiled to a monastery located near the settlements of exiled strigolniki and Judaizers. An unintended consequence of this measure was the strengthening of the nestazhateli party by merging it with the old boyars’ growing political opposition to Ivan the Great’s centralization of state power over the Church.[13] What had been a purely religious debate had evolved into a more politicized contests, with the nestazhateli turning against Ivan the Great.

The nestazhateli were led at the grassroots by two cosmopolitan monks with ties to the ‘Eastern’ West, Nil Sorskii (born Nikolai Maikov in 1433, died in 1508) and Maxim Grek (Maximus the Greek, 1470-1556). Both had traveled abroad and revised their theology in resistance to the Church’s property and worldly corruption. Sorskii, who began his religious vocation as copier of book texts and then entered the St. Cyril monastery near the White Lake (Belozersk) in the Russian north, became disenchanted with monastic life and so went abroad. He visited the Holy Land, Constantinople and Mount Athos in northern Greece, where he learned Greek and studied the Greek Orthodox monks’ practice of isolation and contemplation. He returned to Belozersk and founded the first skit in Russia on the Sora river near Beolzersk, proselytizing a strict ‘hermitism.’[14] In ways, Sorskii’s followers, who came to be called the ‘elders of the Transvolga’ (meaning ‘beyond the Volga,’ the river Russians regard as Russia’s mother), constituted a throwback to the popular cult in formative Muscovy of “humility and self-abnegation: the attempt to be ‘very like’ the Lord in the outpouring of love and the acceptance of suffering in the kenotic manner of Russia’s first saints: Boris and Gleb,” Kievan Grand Prince Vladimir the Great’s canonized sons.[15] Boris and Gleb had rejected violence and ultimately their very lives, assassinated during internecine Russian fighting in the 11th century.

Sorskii’s starting point was that the world was the source of all evil, and therefore monks must reject the external world and turn inside to the soul.[16] Based on his deeper understanding of Greek monastic hermitism than existed in the ROC and its missionary skits, Sorskii sought to turn away from the monastic focus on physical asceticism. Devotion was to be underpinned by a fundamentally more hesychastic or quietist mental and spiritual pursuit. His vision proposed a transcendental meditative life of silent prayer, more reminiscent of contemplative Buddhist philosophy, than the emerging Russian Orthodox ‘tradition.’ Rejecting the Church’s focus on external conduct, the struggle with flesh, various deprivations, fasts, supernatural feats of physical labor and discomfort, and constant manifestations of prayer, Sorski required that his hermits, monks, clergy, and simple believers should live solely in mental and spiritual dedication to God through work on the mind and soul, obviating the body and its senses. The emphasis was less on the negative – the avoidance of food, pleasure, violating teachings and the like – and more on the positive assertion of the soul, eliminating the thought that transgression is possible not simply transgression itself. Before his death, Sorskii sought ultimate abnegation, rejecting the world of assertion. He told his small group of students and followers at Belozersk to throw his body in a ditch and leave it without any honors or ceremonies, saying he had avoided honors in life and must do so in death.[17]

Sorskii’s vision naturally required a new model for the lifestyle and behavior of the clergy and the Church. Instead of clerical brimstone and fire, Sorskii sought to disempower the Church hierarchy. He instituted no rules, advising and guiding his students and followers rather than demanding and punishing. He proposed no less than the democratization of the Church; monks and believers were regarded capable of attaining other-worldly blessedness through individual reading and contemplation of holy books and meditative prayer directly with God, without the mediation of the Church and its clergy. Moreover, Sorskii’s teachings rejected the Church’s material presence in the world. He insisted that monks remove themselves from the world, that the Church divest itself of its monastery holdings, and that the feudal Church, princes and landlords end exploitation of peasant labor. His asceticism proscribed the embellishment of churches and monasteries as well as icon-painting. The money saved should be given to Russia’s poor.[18]

Just as European monastic hermitages like Mt. Athos in Greece that influenced Russia’s strigolniki, Judaizers, and nestazhateli were outside the mainstream of Western Christianity, so too they were on the fringes of Greek Orthodoxy. These first three Russian heresies were the first cases in which Russian dissidents borrowed and appropriated peripheral strains in Western thought and attempted to transplant them in less than fertile Russian soil. Their dissent was a call for dismantling the Church’s property holdings, hierarchical organization, and political power, just as they were being consolidated under the protection of a powerful state structure.

Although Sorskii’s teachings were apolitical, they had political implications in touching on the issues of Church decentralization and property. Moscow’s initial patronage of Sorskii and other Transvolga elders was another instrument, like the Judaizer heresy, that could be wielded against Ivan the Great’s Novgorodian and Muscovite possessors resisting the state’s seizure of Church property. Thus, Sorskii was drawn into the ongoing political struggles of the day. Ivan invited him to secret meetings at which the right of churches and monasteries to own property was discussed. Concerned, Joseph and other pro-possessors threw every argument the holy books offered against those of Sorskii and his non-possessors.

One of Sorskii’s few powerful followers came to his defense. Unlike his mentor, Vassian Kosoi, born Prince Vasilii Patrikeev (circa 1475-1545), was overtly political. A descendant of Lithuanian princes, he was also a relation of Moscow princes, including Grand Prince Ivan, who were supporting Joseph’s push to crown Ivan the caesaro-papist autocrat or ‘tsar of all Rus’ to whom the church would be subordinated but remain propertied. Until 1499 Patrikeev served Ivan the Great loyally but then fell in a court intrigue that brought Paleologue back to the Kremlin. Exiled to the Belozersk monastery, he made Sorskii’s acquaintance and became a devoted follower focused on spirituality and divesting the church of land and peasant labor.[19] Patrikeev issued three monographs condemning now pro-possessor Metropolitan Simeon as a “teacher of lawlessness,” “outlaw,” and the “anti-Christ.”[20] Politically, Patrikeev opposed establishing an all-powerful autocrat, preferring the tsar to rule in consultation with advisors to control but preserve Church autonomy from the state, despite his opposition to monastic land holdings. In this way, in Patrikeev’s view, the ROC would be left to focus on its proper religious and spiritual role.[21]

Like Sorskii’s theology, Patrikeev’s politics collided head on with those of Joseph and the possessors, who wielded the now exceedingly powerful voice of Joseph of Volokolomsk, who had emerged as the major figure in late 15th century Russian religious and political life as chief theo-ideologist of a rising Muscovite ideology and its idea of Moscow as the ‘Third Rome’ and center of Christian civilization. In 1503 prior to a planned sobor, the Church had issued at Joseph’s behest an edict announcing that anyone in Novgorod, including local leaders, who takes Church property “is condemned.” A similar edict was issued against Rostov.[22] Joseph’s power was evidenced further during the 1503 Church sobor convened supposedly to discuss the issue of widowed priests. Near its closing, Ivan the Great suddenly raised the issue of Church property. Joseph, who had left the assembly, hurried back, quashed the move, and then prevailed over the aged, ailing and increasingly feeble-minded Ivan to move against the heretics and ‘save his own soul.’ The sobor approved a condemnation of the heretics. Arguing that the Church has the right to expose heretics through various means, including forced confessions, which the state sanctions and used to determine punishment, Ivan the Great sentenced three to burn at the stake, including the Novgorod Yurev Monastery’s archimandrite. Many others, including Patrikeev, were imprisoned or exiled. With the heretics cowed, the possessors convinced Ivan the Great to abandon plans to dispossess the Church by inducing fear of God’s revenge for such a step. Joseph and his possessors compensated Ivan by compromising on the issue of symphonia – church-state synergy and balance of power – that shaped the new Muscovite ideology by not posing principled opposition to creation of an all-powerful autocrat with supremacy over the ROC, as long as the Tsar defended the Church’s right to monastic properties against the non-possessors.[23] The tide had turned clearly in favor of the stazhateli.

An opportunity for the possessors to press the campaign against the non-possessors arose when Ivan died in 1505. His son and successor, Vasilii III, released Patrikeev from exile and returned him to his side in Moscow as a top advisor. Joseph decided to seek the protection of Vasilii through a demonstration of support for his autocracy envisioned under the Muscovite ideology. He declared his loyalty to Moscow without the approval of Serapion, the ruling prince of Novgorod, the bishopric of which Joseph’s Volokolamsk monastery belonged to. Serapion forbid Joseph’s transfer of jurisdiction, to which Joseph responded with his formulation of church-state relations in his ‘Enlightener.’ In it, he referred to the Moscow grand prince as ‘tsar’ and attributed to him divine status above that of a Metropolitan or Patriarch: “The Tsar in his nature is similar to Man, in his authority he is similar to God.” Joseph accused Serapion of rising against the Moscow grand prince – “Autocrat and Ruler of All Russia” – and thereby revolting against heavenly authority of God who “sat him on the throne in His place.” The tsar was said to have full authority over the Church, since God “gave to him all justice and mercy and all belonging to the churches and monasteries and authority and subjugation over the entire Orthodox state and the entire Russian lands.” Tsar Vasilii sided with Joseph, and Serapion was recalled to Moscow and imprisoned in a monastery. Now Joseph was able to issue a general circular against seizing Church property, enumerating a list of “merciless punishments” extracted from biographies (zhitie) of various saints. Although the Transvolga elders criticized these religious documents, and the grand prince was lax in executing them, the tide had turned permanently against the nestazhateli.[24]

Maxim Grek: Russia’s First Westernized Humanist

Nevertheless, a new leader of the nestazhateli, Maxim Grek, rose to prominence during Vasilii’s reign and continued to promote non-possession. Most historians regard Maxim as “the finest representative of Renaissance culture in early 16th century Russia.”[25] Maxim’s foreign orientation is self-evident, the nomenclature derived from his Greek roots, born as Michael Trivolis in Corfu. He was brought up in Albania and studied extensively in Renaissance Europe. Maxim was an erudite, well-educated Westerner, having imbibed humanist learning in Florence, Venice and other university cities in the period 1492-1505 in Italy, where he finished his education and began his theological and philosophical writing.[26] At one time during this period he served in the Dominican order before returning to the Orthodox fold in reclusion at the monastery on Mt. Athos. Thus, Pipes regards Grek as holding to the Catholic “Carthusian, Franciscan, and Dominican” orders’ asceticism, rejecting property and supporting themselves through labor or begging. Some regard him as a Dominican.[27] However, as Ivanov points out, humanist trends were not monolithic in Renaissance Europe or Italy, and strains of the old paganism and religious asceticism coexisted with the new reformationism and secularist humanism.[28] Catholic orders, including the Dominicans, adhered to vital strains of the old. These European contradictions would play a key role in Maxim’s intellectual formation.

In Florence, Maxim became a follower of the ascetic, puritan Florentine Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498), whose destiny would become Maxim’s own. Savonarola was a radical ascetic. He condemned all frivolity and pleasure—games, especially gambling, secular music, dancing, sex, financiers, and business. In 1492 he organized the ‘bonfire of the vanities’ in which gaming tables, packs of playing cards, mirrors, ornaments, and ‘indecent’ books, pictures and statues were burned in the street. Savonarola adhered to his own teachings sleeping on a hard bed under a coarse blanket and assigned himself the duty of cleaning the latrine wholes. His anti-materialism also fueled his rejection of church aesthetics, opposing voluptuous frescoes and all but the most limited monastic properties and possessions. Savonarola’s harsh teachings were not in contradistinction to humanism. They were a reaction to what he saw as the Catholic hierarchy’s enrichment, corruption and disdain for the poor, which contradicted the teachings of Christ. Savonarola was also political—a harsh critic of tyranny and draconian taxes supported by the Church. Maxim’s more broad education led him to eschew some of the hellfire and brimstone puritanism of his Florentine mentor and embrace elements of classical antiquity and the Renaissance’s rationalistic humanism. Savonarola was part of one trend in a larger Catholic reformation movement and pushed corresponding reforms at institutions he ran such as the Priory at the Tuscany Monastery and Florence’s Monastery of St. Mark. He instituted a strict order of asceticism and poverty, selling off all the monastery’s valuables and giving the proceeds to the local poor. Other monasteries in Tuscany began adopting his method. In 1494 Savonarola’s condemnations of tyrrany contributed to the revolt against the Medici, whose library he purchased for St. Mark’s. He called on the new rulers of the Republic of Florence to make its first law one that forbade tyrannical rule.[29]

Not surprisingly, Savonarola soon ran afoul of church authorities and Pope Alexander IV, who among other transgressions, admitted to fathering several children with mistresses. Arrested on Palm Sunday in 1498 with two friars who were among his most ardent followers, Savonarola and his colleagues were condemned as heretics, cruelly tortured and sentenced to death by hanging and burning. On May 23rd Florentines gathered on the Piazza della Signoria and watched friar Salvestro and Domenico hanged slowly before Savonarola climbed the scaffold to the jeers and taunts of the crowd to meet the same fate; then all three bodies were burned. It is unknown whether or not Maxim witnessed the event. After Savonarola’s harsh end, Maxim joined the service of an Italian prince devoted to Savonarola. In 1502 he entered the Dominican Monastery of St. Mark, where Savonarola had once been Prior. But Grek had neither ‘gone Latin,’ nor was he inclined to convert from Orthodoxy to Catholicism. Rather, as an adherent of Savonarola’s ideas, he was gaining access to St. Mark’s Latin and Greek manuscripts. However, the ensuing reaction against Savonarola — mention of him was banned in monasteries and churches – limited Grek’s ability to work with the manuscripts. In April 1504 he rejected Dominican monastic life and entered the Vatoped Monastery at Mt. Athos the next year. There he was invested with renewed zeal in the form of ‘apostolic’ or missionary work and may have visited several Slavic countries from his perch. He became greatly interested in ancient Greek history and Greek Orthodox moral teachings, which included another dose of humanism, if more limited than his Platonic and other studies in Italy had provided.[30]

In 1518 Maxim took his apostolicism to Russia, where he was the first to bring the news of Columbus’s discovery of America, on the invitation of Vasilii III, who commissioned him with helping Russian clergy translate and correct religious texts. Arriving in Moscow as persecution and isolation of the nestazhateli continued, Maxim made the acquaintance of Patrikeev, who revealed to him the level of economic and moral corruption among the Orthodox clergy. Taking up Sorskii’s mantle, Maxim preached Savonarola’s ascetic teachings against the corrupting influence of monastic holdings, attracting many monastic and lay students. Writing more than 150 of his own works, he called monks who lived off peasant labor “blood-sucking beasts” and predicted Russia would perish in lieu of a cleansing of the church. Maxim introduced to Moscow the Platonic criticism of Aristotle, taught in an academy in Renaissance Florence but little known in Russia. In his long argument with the new pro-stazhateli Moscow Metropolitan, Danil, he denounced the church’s growing reliance on “devious rules” (krivila) rather than “just rules” (pravila). He criticized the three evil vices: “love of sweets, praise and silver,” the latter of which plagued the church’s spiritual mission. Maxim made the analogy between the church’s claim that monastic property was a common trust with the people with a group of men justifying their relations with a prostitute since she belongs in common to all those with access to her.[31]

Perhaps under Patrikeev’s influence, he gradually turned to politics, condemning Vasilii III’s divorce and endeavoring to temper Ivan the Terrible with a political philosophy of moral conservatism. He warned Ivan that Byzantium’s fall was an omen for the ‘third Rome’, Moscow—Persia’s Cyrus held God’s blessing, because he ruled with “justice, humility, and compassion.” In a failed effort to soften ‘the Muscovite ideology’, with its potentially anti-Western xenophobia and ‘Third Rome’ geopolitical implications, Maxim cautioned the tsar from involvement in spiritual matters and to rule in civil affairs by the highest moral law with justice and mercy. He envisioned “a faithful Tsar grieving for the protection and peaceful well-being of his beloved subjects,” thereby justifying God’s anointment of Moscow as Christianity’s refuge in the east. Here, in Maxim’s vision, Billington finds the source of the image of ‘Holy Rus’ – “a widow sitting by a desolate road in a cursed age”, ignored by prophets, and left unprotected by the saints, defiled by tyrants “unworthy of the title of Tsar” driven by worldly material pursuits, and thus “humiliated, suffering yet always compassionate.” This vision was often coupled with the sense of Russia’s victimization by the cold and calculating Catholics, Jesuits and Latins—the West in general.[32]

The Demise of the Nestazhateli

As in Sorskii’s case with Ivan III, Vasilii III initially tolerated but then rejected Maxim’s teachings. The son’s tolerance followed the instrumentalism of his father’s, Maxim’s teachings furthered the cause of divesting and thus weakening the church in relation to the crown.[33]  As with his Florentine mentor, Maxim’s condemnation of his chief patron would bring his demise at the hands of the authorities. In 1525 Maxim and Patrikeev were arrested and tried by new Josephite metropolitan Danil, promoted from his position as archimandrite of Joseph’s Volokolamsk monastery in 1522 by Vasilii III. While Danil may have been motivated by Maxim’s critique of the church, Tsar Vasilii seems to have acquiesced in the trial because of the nestazhateli tandem’s condemnation of the prince’s 1524 divorce from his wife, Solomoniya, in favor of Lithuanian princess Yelena Glinskaya. Patrikeev was condemned for his revisions of holy books and opposition to monastic property and imprisoned in the Volokolamsk monastery where he soon died. Maxim, charged with heresy and interrogated by inquisitional methods, was convicted and banished in irons to a dungeon in the Volokolamsk monastery, forbidden to read and write. He was tried again in 1531 for reasserting his views in writing after transfer to another monastery under a looser regime. Returned to a Volokolamsk dungeon, he spent twenty years there until freed in the early years of the reign of Ivan IV or the Terrible, where he died with acclamation in 1556 in the ROC’s main St. Sergius Monastery as a revered if forgotten figure.[34] But even as he was freed, associates were being hunted down and chased from Russia. For example, his patron and a follower of Sorskii, Archemandrite Astemius of the monastery at St. Sergius, was banished to Solovetsk for heresy by the 1553-54 church council and later fled to Russia’s Catholic antagonist, Poland-Lithuania.[35] A series of other heretical dissident movements appeared in 16th century Russia, including a second wave of judaizer- and non-possessor-tied reformationist movements. The leader of the last such revival, Feodosii Kosoi, was caught up in an investigation of another latter-wave nestazhatel group. Tried, condemned, and imprisoned, he also was able to flee to Poland-Lithuania.[36] The historical pattern of Russian dissidents fleeing West was being set.

Ironically, the Josephite triumph over the non-possessors marked the beginning of the end of symfomiya and state-Church power-sharing, climaxing in the Church’s full subordination to the state under Peter the Great in the early 18th century. In exchange for the Church’s support of greater power for the state autocrat over both society and the Church, Ivan the Great had refrained from moving against monastic holdings, and the state made only incremental progress under Vasilii III.  However, under Ivan the Great’s grandson, Ivan IV or Grozny (the Terrible or Awesome), full state oversight of Church income and acquisitions gradually was be established. In 1580, a zemskii sobor placed strict limits on the Church’s ability to acquire new properties, forbidding purchase from the service boyars and increases in the number of ‘souls’ working on its lands. Moreover, the Tsar was empowered to take any previous monastic holdings gained before 1580 without compensation.[37] In sum, the Josephite possessors’ victory over the non-possessors was soon negated by the ROC’s defeat at the hands of the autocratic state with the same century and ultimately leaving Russia with no major institution autonomous of the state.

More importantly for our purposes, the non-possessors’ demise in the struggle with Church elders marked the demise of the third major heretical movement in medieval Russia, with each closely tied to threats from the foreign powers of the day, most notably Lithuania and the Polish-Lithuania Commonwealth.[38] Equally important, with Maxim’s passing in St. Sergius, the first of many Western-educated figures who ironically would plead the case for a Russian special mission, “the last influential advocate of a tolerant Christian humanism vanished from the Muscovite scene.” Western influence now came under a “many-sided assault,” reinforcing the trend of security vigilance against external and internal Western-related threats.[39] The mostly religious Judaizer and non-possessor conflicts began to overlap a political one that would consume the Muscovite state in the reign of Ivan the Terrible and the boyars.

Maxim the Greek and the Semiotics of Heresy Dissent in Russian History and Culture

 Neither the 14th century strigolniki leader Karp nor Grek’s co-nestazhatel’ was ever embedded as an important symbol of dissent (or tradition) in either Russian culture or its sub-cultures. Nestazhately or the non-possessors were, but only Maxim the Greek entered the overall culture in any significant way. Even Maxim is only present in Russian historiography. Absent from the arts, he is, of course, extolled among the religious. Outside religious circles Maxim received little attention until the era of Russian ideological ferment in the 1860s, when the collected works of Maxim in three volumes were published for the first time in 1859-1862 (and again in three volumes in 1910-1911), and for the first time a biography of Maxim was published. Prior to the revolution, historians assessed his historical role as having been that of a Renaissance humanist messenger expressing aspects of the public’s critical mood.[40] Tsarist-era historians and literature scholars, including Ye. Golubinskii, V. Zhmakin, and F. Kalugin – regarded Grek as as a Western humanist influenced by Greek philosophy and a European education, who sought to bring Renaissance thought to Russia. Although 20th century historians agreed that Maxim was initially guided by Renaissance humanism, some, such as Russo-French historian I. Denisov, argued that Grek later was transformed into a religious and social reactionary as a result of Savonarola’s influence but neverthess acted as a humanist in the less civilized Russian context.[41]

Soviet historiography initially showed a reluctant preference for Maxim and his opposition to a corrupt, propertied and politically powerful Church over the Josephite stazhateli and their monastic land and peasant holdings. However, in the 1940s St. Maxim was relegated to the “camp of reactionary feudalism” for opposing progress in the form of the creation of a centralized Russian state and as an alleged “agent of the Turkish sultan,” parallelling the dark spirit of high Stalinism at the time.[42] This line was supported in 1958 by Soviet historian A. I. Klibanov. He and other post-Stalin Soviet scholars, such as A. I. Soblevskii, A. S. Lure’e, D. S. Likhachev, and M. P. Alekseev averred that ‘due to inter-class antagonisms,’ humanist ideas had already penetrated Russia before Grek’s arrival, undermining the uniqueness of Grek’s thought in 16th century Russia and his mission of ‘bringing civilization’ to unwashed Russia.[43]

However, later Post-Stalin historiography uncovered a wealth of new writings, bringing the number of Maxim’s works to 365, of which 164 had never been published at the time. The newly discovered manuscripts have laid the foundation for many Russian scholars to conclude that Maxim the Greek was one if not the most influential figure in Russian culture in the 16th century and could arguably be said to have played the leading role in establishing the first great cultural monuments in Russian literature and philosophy.[44]

Under the cover of Politburo protection for Russian nationalist ideas in the 1970s and 1980s, some Orthodox Christian figures were ‘reactivated’ from deep in the sediment by interested scholars, even among leaders of the liberal intelligentsia. This led to a revived and more objective interest in St. Maxim as a ‘progressive’ figure. Brezhnev-era Soviet historian A. I. Ivanov demonstrated that none of these views provides a complete picture of Grek’s intellectual complexity, because each is based on research examining only part of Grek’s writings and therefore infuences: his published writings and then only portions of them. Looking at Grek’s published as well as 170 unpublished works, most of them previously unknown, Ivanov’s more nuanced, late Soviet approach led him to conclude that Grek’s thinking was of a “multifacted,” “ambivalent,” “self-contradictory” nature. He brought three, often opposing traditions with him to Russia: reformationist-humanist ideas of the Enlightenment, religious asceticism, and educated Byzantism.[45] He displayed: knowledge of Greek Orthodox theology and methods of proselytist polemics imbibed at Athos; a deep understanding of Byzantine history and law, which awakened in him patriotism and influenced his views on inter-confessional relations and autocratic governance; and Athon’s monasterial asceticism, which strengthened that which he took from Savonarola.[46] The father of the late Soviet intelligentsia, historian and culturoligist Dmitrii Likhachev designated St. Maxim Russian history’s “first intelligent” (member of the intelligentsia or critically thinking intellectual ‘class’).[47] According to Soviet historian Alexei Ivanov (1890-1976), Maxim Grek was “an outstanding Russian writer” who had enormous cultural and “sociopolitical” significance in ancient Rus.[48] Soviet/Russian historian of medieval philosophy at the Russian Academy of Science’s Institute of Philosophy, Mikhail Gromov, regarded St. Maxim to be a writer of the stature of Fyodor Dostoevskii and Lev Tolstoy in that like them he exerted far greater influence on Russian and European civilization than almost all of his contemporaries.[49]

On the basis of the new Soviet findings and especially the new openness in the late Soviet and post-Soviet periods, Russia is experiencing not just a significant religious revival but renewed and growing interest in St. Maxim’s life, philosophy and politics within both the confines of the traditional official Church and the Old Believer community. The renewed interest in Maxim began with his canonization by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1988 just as the glasnost’ (openness) and ‘perestroika’ (restructuring) reforms of Mikhail Gorbachev were beginning to thaw Soviet culture and politics. The ROC has continued to focus on St. Maxim’s legacy, searching and in July 1996 finding his remains disturbed by the Bolsheviks. His collected works are being re-published for the first time since the 1910-1911 edition, with the first volume published in 2008.[50] Although Maxim’s legacy has little resonance in the broader culture or Russian political and strategic cultures at present time, such a future development cannot be excluded. Maxim’s growing authority among reformist intellectual circles outside the Church is reflected in Likhachev’s praise of St. Maxim as Russia’s first intelligent. Some Orthodox intellectuals argue for a ROC reformation that would move it farther from the state and closer to society, and no other figure among the ancient Russian religious and cultural figures could provide the intellectual and spiritual foundation for this better than Maxim. For now, however, the somewhat limited attention towards St. Maxim, reflected in a deafening silence in the Russian arts, speaks to a relative lack of resonance he has in today’s far more secular Russian culture; his resonance confined to a small universe of elite religious and historiographical circles.

Because of his mostly religious significance and indirect relationship with the ‘Other’, the West, after his arrival in Russia, from which he never was allowed to leave, St. Maxim’s legacy is less resonant in general Russian culture. However, he remains the best symbol of the embryonic Russian dilemma rooted in Western influence, the internal divisions caused by that influence, and the threat that those internal divisions could be leveraged by Moscow’s western Russian and eastern European competitors and foes.

Given his purely religious philosophical dissent, Maxim Grek was not and today can not be framed as a colluding traitor. This is a striking difference from the cultural fate his protégé, Prince Andrei Kurbskii, who would cross over from religious heresy to political dissent. As discussed in the next installment of this series on the making of Russia’s security culture and vigilance value, the dissident prince would become an enduring symbol of political treason and foreign collusion in Russian culture.


[1] Sergei F. Platonov, Lektsii po russkoi istorii (Moscow: Vyshyaya shkola, 1993), p. 154.

[2] James H. Billington, The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture (New York: Vintage, 1970), p. 80.

[3] N. M. Nikolskii, Istorii Russkoi Tserkvoi (Moscow: Politizdat, 1988), pp. 87-9 and Pipes, Russian Conservatism and Its Critics: A Study in Political Culture (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2005), p. 31.

[4] Platonov, Lektsii po russkoi istorii, p. 182.

[5] Nikolskii, Istorii Russkoi Tserkvoi, pp. 87-90.

[6] Billington, The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture, p. 83.

[7] Nikolskii, Istorii Russkoi Tserkvoi, pp. 92-93 and Pipes, Russian Conservatism and Its Critics: A Study in Political Culture, pp. 31-2.

[8] Billington, The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture, p. 83.

[9] Lukin and Lukin, Umom Rossiyu ponimat’ (Moscow: Ves mir, 2015), pp. 99-101.

[10] Billington, The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture, pp. 84-7.

[11] Billington, The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture, p. 79.

[12] A skit was comprised of а small commune-like group of semi-reclusive monastic assignees or genuine hermits living in a single residence usually autonomous from a monastery and sharing communal property, labor, ascetic practices. They were typically established in isolated areas to reduce contacts and the temptations of worldly existence by religious mavericks and heretics. Composed of 12 members, including a semi-authoritative elder Klyuchevskii, Kurs russkoi istorii (Moscow: Synodalnaya typografiya, 1904) republished under the editorship of V.I Buganov as V.O. Klyuchevskii, O russkoi istorii (Moscow: Prosveshchenie, 1993) [cited from here on as Klyuchevskii, Kurs russkoi istorii], p. 228 and Billington, The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture, p. 61.

[13] Nikolskii, Istorii Russkoi Tserkvoi, pp. 89, 95-7 and Pipes, Russian Conservatism and Its Critics: A Study in Political Culture, pp. 31-2.

[14] Nikolskii, Istorii Russkoi Tserkvoi, pp. 97-104; Klyuchevskii, Kurs russkoi istorii, pp. 228-9; and Pipes, Russian Conservatism and Its Critics: A Study in Political Culture, pp. 30-2.

[15] Billington, The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture, pp. 61 and 65.

[16] Pipes characterizes Sorskii’s ideas with those of 14th century English Protestant reformer John Wyclyffe. Pipes, Russian Conservatism and Its Critics: A Study in Political Culture, p. 30.

[17] Klyuchevskii, Kurs russkoi istorii, p. 228 and Nikolskii, Istorii Russkoi Tserkvi, p. 99. Sorskii believed a fully ascetic religious life leads one to “ineffable happiness.” Silent prayer fully encompassing the mind and soul would allow “another force” to replace feelings the sensual needs and desires of the world: “Prayers will not be those prayed by the mind, but will be of a higher kind.” Inner prayer would induce an exalted state that opened a window on eternal blessedness in which the meditator loses himself and the awareness of being in the world. Klyuchevskii, Kurs russkoi istorii, p. 228 and Nikolskii, Istorii Russkoi Tserkvi, p. 99. According to Billington: “Spiritual prayer was in Nil’s metaphorical language the running wind that could lead man across the turbulent seas of sin to the haven of salvation.” Billington, The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture, p. 61.

[18] Nikolskii, Istorii Russkoi Tserkvoi, pp. 97-104; Klyuchevskii, Kurs russkoi istorii, pp. 228-9; and Pipes, Russian Conservatism and Its Critics: A Study in Political Culture, pp. 30-2.

[19] Pipes, Russian Conservatism and Its Critics: A Study in Political Culture, p. 32 and Klyuchevskii, Kurs russkoi istorii, p. 231.

[20] Nikolskii, Istorii Russkoi Tserkvi, pp. 99-100.

[21] Pipes, Russian Conservatism and Its Critics: A Study in Political Culture, p. 36.

[22] Nikolskii, Istorii Russkoi Tserkvi, pp. 101.

[23] Nikolskii, Istorii Russkoi Tserkvi, pp. 99-100 and Pipes, Russian Conservatism and Its Critics: A Study in Political Culture, pp. 38-9.

[24] Nikolskii, Istorii Russkoi Tserkvi, pp. 100-2.

[25] Billington, The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture, p. 91.

[26] In his first Italian residence, Florence, where he remained continuously from 1492-96, Grek became a student of Ioann Laskaris, who taught the Florence Academy of Greek Language and Literature and prepared Greek texts for publication and inventoried the library of the Medici family. Grek-Trivolis became closely acquainted with other outstanding Florentine humanists during this period, including Angelo Poliziano, Dmitrii Halkokondil, Marcilio Fichino, and very likely Lorenzo Medici. Fichino influenced Grek in the direction of Platonism. In 1496 Maxim departed for Bologna and began studying under the famous Hellenist Urcheo Kodro. He studied and assisted other leading Italian Hellenists during stays in Padua, Ferrara, Milan, Verchelli and Venice. In Padua, he studied the ancient Greek literature and in Milan – astrology. During two periods in Venice, 1496 and 1497-98, he worked with Aldo Manuzio and perhaps assisted in the preparation of his manuscripts. A. I. Ivanov, “Maksim Grek i Italyanskoe vosrozhdenie,” Vizantiiskii vremennik, Volume 33, 1972, pp. 140-56,, at pp. 140 and 146, last accessed on 8 April 2018.

[27] Pipes, Russian Conservatism and Its Critics: A Study in Political Culture, pp. 36-7; Klyuchevskii, Kurs russkoi istorii, p. 232; Billington, The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture, pp. 87-8 and 91.

[28] Ivanov, “Maksim Grek i Italyanskoe vosrozhdenie,” p. 147.

[29] Ivanov, “Maksim Grek i Italyanskoe vosrozhdenie,” pp. 148-52. For more on Grek and Savonarola, see A. I. Ivanov, “Grek i Savonarola,” Vizantiiskii vremennik, Volume 33, 1972, pp. 217-26,*=muQuwCi%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%3D&page=10&lang=ru, last accessed 8 April 2018.

[30] Ivanov, “Maksim Grek i Italyanskoe vosrozhdenie,” pp. 152-6.

[31] Pipes, Russian Conservatism and Its Critics: A Study in Political Culture, p. 37 and Billington, The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture, pp. 91-3.

[32] Billington, The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture, pp. 93-4.

[33] Pipes, Russian Conservatism and Its Critics: A Study in Political Culture, pp. 37-8; Klyuchevskii, Kurs russkoi istorii, p. 232; Nikolskii, Istorii Russkoi Tserkvi, pp. 97-104; and Billington, The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture, pp. 91-5, 202, and 591.

[34] Pipes, Russian Conservatism and Its Critics: A Study in Political Culture, pp. 37-8.

[35] Billington, The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture, p. 94.

[36] Billington, The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture, p. 89. For detail on all the heretical movements, see also A. I. Klibanov, Reformatsionnyie dvizheniya v Rossii v XIV-pervoi polovine XVI vv. (Moscow, 1960).

[37] Klyuchevskii, Kurs russkoi istorii, p. 232.

[38] Nikolskii, Istorii Russkoi Tserkvi, pp. 100-3.

[39] Billington, The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture, p. 94.

[40] N. A. Kazakova, “Maksim Grek v Sovetskoi istoriografii,” Voprosy istorii, 1973, No. 5, pp. 149-57, Kiev: Library of Ukraine),МАКСИМ-ГРЕК-В-СОВЕТСКОЙ-ИСТОРИОГРАФИИ, (, at pp. 149-50, last accessed on 25 March 2018.

[41] Ivanov, “Maksim Grek i Italyanskoe vosrozhdenie,” pp. 140-2.

[42] Kazakova, “Maksim Grek v Sovetskoi istoriografii,” pp. 150-1.

[43] Ivanov, “Maksim Grek i Italyanskoe vosrozhdenie,” pp. 140-2.

[44] D. S. Likhachev, “O Russkoi intelligentsii,” in D. S. Likhachev, Razdum’ya o Rossii (St. Petersburg: Logos, 1999), pp. 615-30, at p. 622.

[45] Ivanov, “Maksim Grek i Italyanskoe vosrozhdenie,” p. 144.

[46] Ivanov, “Maksim Grek i Italyanskoe vosrozhdenie,” p. 157.

[47] Likhachev, “O Russkoi intelligentsii,” p. 622.

[48] Ivanov, “Maksim Grek i Italyanskoe vosrozhdenie,” p. 140.

[49] M.N. Gromov, Maksim Grek (Moscow: Mysl’, 1983), p. 57.

[50] Maxim Grek, prepodobnyi, Sochinenii, Volume 1 (Moscow: Indrik, 2008).


About the Author – Gordon M. Hahn, Ph.D., is an Expert Analyst at Corr Analytics, and a Senior Researcher at the Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group, Dr. Hahn is the author of the forthcoming book: The Russian Dilemma: Aspiration, Trepidation, and the West in the Making of Russia’s Security Culture (McFarland, 2021). Previously, he has authored four well-received books: Ukraine Over the Edge: Russia, the West, and the “New Cold War” (McFarland, 2018); The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland, 2014), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), and Russia’s Revolution From Above: Reform, Transition and Revolution in the Fall of the Soviet Communist Regime, 1985-2000 (Transaction, 2002). He also has published numerous think tank reports, academic articles, analyses, and commentaries in both English and Russian language media.

Dr. Hahn also has taught at Boston, American, Stanford, San Jose State, and San Francisco State Universities and as a Fulbright Scholar at Saint Petersburg State University, Russia and has been a senior associate and visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Kennan Institute in Washington DC, and the Hoover Institution.


  1. How could Sophia Palaiologina have witnessed the Spanish Inquisition, if she left for Moscovy in the early 1470s, but the Spanish Inquisition wasn’t established until the the end of the 1478?

    The following statement is anachronistic at best. “After his termination of Novgorodian independence, Ivan the Great subordinated the Novgorod church to the Muscovite patriarchate.” Ivan died before the Metropolitan of Moscuvy was elevated to a Patriarchate. That only occured in 1589, and the canonical of that act was highly dubious as only Jeremiah, Patriarch of Jerusalem, approved the elevation, and only after having been imprisoned for months. Furthermore, Jeremiah’s act didn’t have the approval of the other 3 patriarchs.

    How can you call Sorskii’s teachings a borrowing from Western Christianity? Hesychasm was an Eastern Christian phenomenon. Perhaps alien to Muscovy, but not a Western import.

    I have to wonder if the Judaizers were actually local descendants of Jewish Khazars who came to live within Muscovy’s growing borders. Keven Alan Brook mentions in one of his appendixes that toward the end of the 1400s there was active Jewish proselytizing. And I’ve seen articles that discuss the existence of Judaizers within the Grand Duchy, but I don’t remember if the author argued that they were visitors to Lithuania from the East or not.

    I laughed at this line: “Decades later Poland would aggravate and utilize internal Russian conflicts in an attempt to turn Russia into a Catholic colony by placing a ‘Manchurian candidate’ on the Muscovite throne, sparking Russia’s apocalyptical Smuta.” Remember the people in the city of Moscow invited Zolkiewski and his soldiers into the city, to protect them from both the false-dimitri (I lost count which one), and the local boyars. Platonov has some very good insights into the Civil War, but his marxist framework does limit his reading of the sources.
    The proposed dynastic union floundered only the competing provisions that that Wladyslaw be either Latin-Catholic or Greek-Orthodox. Perhaps if he had become Uniate history would have turned out very differently.

    1. On Paleologue: I was referring to the methods used both before and during the Inquisition period. Patriarchate should read Metropoltan. I never stated Sorskii’s Hesychasm was from “Western Christianity” – a phrase does not appear in the article. It can be considered a Western phenomenon, since Christianity is essentially a Christian one outside of its early origins. Your laughter is out of place not least of all because I was obviously referring (read the entire sentence carefully) to the first False Dmitrii (Otrepev), who was not invited into Russia, and none of the false Dmitriis had broad backing and or would have received any significant backing if not for the Poles’ interference, interventions, and invasions.

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