Nikon of Russia

Nikon Of Russia, a prelate noted in ecclesiastical history as a most extraordinary character, and frequently denominated the Luther (though perhaps more accurately the Wolsey, or better still the Chrysostom) of the Russo-Greek Church, was born in May, 1605, in a village near Nishnei Novgorod, of parents in humble life, and received his education from a pious monk in 'the monastery of St. Macarius. He afterwards became a priest at Moscow; but the taste which he had acquired while in the convent of St. Macarius for monastic life and discipline was so strong that, although he was now married, having taken that step at the urgent solicitations of his friends, he determined to separate from his wife, who had proved a faithful companion for nearly ten years, and, persuading her to enter the convent of St. Alexis at Moscow, he himself set out for the hermitage of Anserche, on the island of Solowetz, in the White Sea, and was, in 1643, made hegumen of the Nischeoserschian hermitage. The desolation of the place and the severity of the discipline served rather to increase than to abate the ardor of the new recluse; but the zeal of the brethren led to dissensions, and Nikon was embroiled in bitter strife. Being desirous of replacing their wooden church by a stone edifice, Nikon and Elizar, the founder and head of the community, were dispatched to Moscow to collect contributions for the purpose; but on their return Elizar took the money into his own keeping, and manifested no intention of applying it to the intended -purpose., This led to remonstrances and altercations, and to such persecution on the part of Elizar that Nikon pushed off from the island in a small boat; and, after incurring great danger, was driven to the island Kj, at the mouth of the Onega, where he set up a wooden cross. At the same time he made a vow to erect a monastery on that spot, in fulfillment of which may now be seen the magnificent cloister of the Holy Cross. Associating himself with a community called the Kosheoser hermits, he so distinguished himself by his superior sanctity and severity of life that on the death of their abbot or principal he was elected in his place, about 1644. Having occasion some two years afterwards to take a journey to Moscow, to arrange some affairs of this community, he was there brought to the notice of the czar Alexis Mikailovich, who was so struck with the greatness of Nikon's intellectual strength, his rare ability in many other directions, his eloquence and understanding, and his strict and virtuous life, that he caused him to be appointed archimandrite of the Novospasky convent- at Moscow. A new career was thus suddenly opened to him: his influence with the sovereign increased daily, and he took advantage of it to become the intercessor for poor widows, orphans, and the persecuted and oppressed. In 1648 he acquired the dignity of metropolitan of Novgorod, and he attached the people of that city to him no less strongly than he had at Moscow. Thus in 1650 he appeased a violent popular insurrection at very imminent peril to his own person; and when he had successfully broken the uprising, he secured permission from the czar to go into the prisons, and to set at liberty not only those persons who had been unjustly confined, but also real criminals whom he found sincere in their repentance. Nikon was also a liberal distributor of alms to the poor; he gave them provisions during the time of the famine which took place, and ordered the erection of many almshouses. On feast-days he always preached, and his sermons were attended by crowds of people from distant parts, who were often moved to tears by his eloquence. It was about this time, too, that Nikon, perceiving the necessity of reformatory measures in the Church of Russia, opened his movement to that end with a revision of the liturgy. He introduced into the churches the psalmody of the Greek service and of Kief, and gave a more costly fashion to the holy utensils and other furniture of the churches. He was anxious to increase the respectability of the clerical profession, and caused divine service to be performed with more devotion. In 1652, after the death of the patriarch Joseph, Nikon's services received further recognition from the government by his elevation to the vacant patriarchate. He was thus enabled to carry on his philanthropical and reformatory works upon a still larger scale. He now took measures for the improvement of the Church 'books, and for making them more exact and faithful copies of the Greek originals. He called on that account the general assembly of the Church in 1654. and 1655. By this council the old Sclavonic versions, some of which were over five centuries old, were compared with the Septuagint. The council declared the original Sclavonic version correct, and that the differences observed in the copies then in general use resulted 'from the carelessness of the copyists. A new edition was made at Moscow, and signed by Nikon, so as to conform to the original. This, however, gave rise to a division in the Church; those who adhered to the old customs received the name of Raskolniki, and these schismatics remain to this day. SEE RASKOLNIKI; SEE RUSSIA. Nor were these the only measures. He set himself with stern severity and indomitable courage to root out all abuses of the Russian hierarchy, and even labored for the adoption of temperance principles. In his own person, as we have already seen, Nikon exhibited the doctrines he preached. He was noted for unbounded munificence, self-denial, and abstemious habits. In the furtherance of his object it is but natural to suppose that he broke through many practices of Church and State, to which long custom had probably given an almost religious consecration. Thus through his intervention the Oriental seclusion of the female sex was first infringed; at his injunction — still, it is true, feliced about by many precautions — the empress, who had before never entered a church except under cover of night, now appeared publicly by day. Sacred pictures to which, in his judgment, idolatrous veneration was paid, were taken away. The baptisms of the Western Church, of which the validity is to this day denied by the Church of Constantinople, were by his sanction first recognized in the Church of Russia. The advances in education, too, which were first introduced under Ivan the Terrible, and then interrupted by the wars of the pretenders, Nikon started anew with fresh vigor. The printing-press was again set to work. Greek and Latin were now first taught in the schools. In the Church service, however, his changes were most marked and far reaching. The "gross and harsh intonations of the Muscovites." as they are' called by Syrian travelers, now gave way to the sweet chants of the Cossack choristers, brought partly from Poland, partly from Greece, and constitute the first beginnings of that vocal music which has since been "the glory of the Russian worship" (Stanley). But chief of all ecclesiastical changes was the revival of preaching. From his lips was first heard, after many centuries, the sound of a living, practical sermon. Nikon was guilty, too, of many missteps, consequent perhaps on his zeal and anxiety for reform. Thus he spent much time and effort foolishly on unimportant questions of discipline and ritual. As one has said, "He was constantly asking questions from Oriental Christian strangers to set his own ceremonial straight" (Macarius, 2:173). "Benedictions with three fingers instead of two, a white altar-cloth instead of an embroidered one, pictures kissed only twice a year, the cross signed the wrong way, wrong inflections in pronouncing the creed — these were the points to which he devoted his gigantic energy, and on which, as we shall see, he encountered the most frantic opposition" (Stanley, East. Ch. p. 467). But though the Church was greatly agitated by Nikon's changes, the czar himself remained unchanged in his devotion to the patriarch, and honored him not only with a most agreeable and friendly correspondence, but evinced his confidence more clearly when he went to join the army in a campaign by entrusting to Nikon the care of the whole royal family; for whom the patriarch displayed the greatest attention and anxiety in the time of the plague which desolated Moscow in 1653 and 1654. In 1658, however, some of Nikon's enemies contrived to inspire into the mind of the czar a feeling of jealousy or dislike towards him. Nikon, who remarked this, was incensed at it, and retired to the monastery of the Resurrection of Christ, which he had himself built about forty versts from Moscow. The misunderstanding between the czar aid the patriarch increased continually. Nikon persisted in refusing to return to Moscow. In 1667 a council was therefore convened to deliberate on his case, under the presidency of the Eastern patriarch; and on December 12 of the same year Nikon was deprived of the patriarchal dignity, and banished as a common monk to the Bielvozersky Therapontic monastery. (For full details of this trial in an English version, see Stanley, p. 482 sq.) According to Kulczynki, the real cause of Nikon's disgrace was that he clandestinely embraced Romanism, but the evidence for this assertion has been generally questioned. The czar Feodor Alexievich allowed him to remove into the monastery of the Resurrection of Christ; but on his journey thither he died at Yaroslav, Aug. 17, 1681. His body was buried in the last-mentioned monastery in. the, presence of the monarch, and there, the deceased was again honored with the title of patriarch. His absolution was next obtained from the Eastern patriarch, and he was then properly enrolled among the list of Russian patriarchs. "Nikon," says Stanley, "rests all but canonized, in spite of his many faults, and in spite of his solemn condemnation and degradation by the nearest approach to a general council which the Eastern Church has witnessed since the second Council of Niceea. He rests far enough removed from the ideal of a saintly character, but yet having left behind him to his own Church the example, which it still so much needs, of a resolute, active, onward leader; to the world at large the example, never without a touching lesson, of a sincere reformer recognized and honored when honor and recognition are too late" (East. Ch. p. 490). Mr. Palmer, who has recently brought out two bulky volumes (Trubner & Co. London, 1873) containing documents illustrative of the history of Nikon (the first containing extracts from the travels of Macarius, the patriarch of Antioch, who attended Nikon's trial, and the second Paisius Ligurides's History of the Deposition of NAikon, from manuscripts in the synodal library- at Moscow), pays more glowing tributes to Nikon than any other writer had previously bestowed on him. Mr. Palmer makes out that the Russian state during Nikon's rule was erastian, its courtiers tyrannical, Greek patriarchs venal, and that Nikon had not a fair trial, and was in the right in the special points in dispute. Those who judge Nikon more critically question whether the patriarch should not have accepted the situation in which he found himself, and saved the Russian Church from a schism which has continued to this day, and that he lacked that wisdom and policy which men need in high places of trust, both in civil and ecclesiastic stations.

Nikon's most important literary labor was the improvement of the Sclavonic Church books, and setting them in accordance with the original Greek. In 1664 he dispatched the hieromonach, Arsmj Suchanoff, into the East, and purchased through him more than five hundred manuscripts of Greek books dating from the 11th to the 17th century. He also made provision for the translation of a number of historical and geographical works from foreign languages into the Russian. Some of these signed by his own hand are still preserved in the synodal library. He also drew up a collation of the Russian chronicles, the Stufen books, and the Greek chronologists, which reaches to the year 1630, and is well known by the name of The Chronicle of Nikon. Of this codex the Academy of Sciences of St. Petersburg published a fine edition in eight volumes, 1767-1792. He also wrote several dogmatical and theological pieces, which were printed in his lifetime. Among them we notice a Table (Skrijal) of Dogmatic Studies (Moscow, 1656, 4to): — Sermons (ibid. no date [1654]; reprinted in Novikoff in the "Ancient Russian Library," 2d ed. .vol. vi): — The Intellectual Paradise, which contains a description of the monasteries of Mount Athos and of Valdai (Valdai. 4to): — A Canon, or book of prayers to attract the Raskolniks to the Church (no name of place, no date, 4to). See Ivan Choucherin, Vie du tres-saint patriarche Nikon (St. Petersb. 1817); Backmeister, Beitrdge z. Lebensgesch. d. Patriarchen Nikon (Riga. 1788); 'Strahl, Beitrage z. russ. Kirchengesch. (Halle, 1827), p. 287; Apollos, Vie du Patriarche Nikon (1839); Palmer, The Patriarch and the Tsar (Lond. 1873), vols. ii and iii; Cox's Otto, Bist. Russian Lit. p. 308 sq.; Stanley, Hist. East. Ch. p. 457, 459-471, 489; Eckardt, Mfodern Russia (Lond. 1870, 8vo), p. 254 sq.; London Review, 1862, April, art. vii; Christ. Remembrancer, July, 1853, .p. 95 sq.

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