© Original content written by James R. Carlson
Reform in Russia
With the Bible translated into the Russian language, came the start of a Russian Reformation. As the Renaissance preceded the European Reformation, it also influenced a young monk from Mount Athos, Maximus the Greek. He would be responsible for carrying out the reform of Russian liturgy which led to the Ostrog Bible of 1581. Maximus the Greek, regarded as the most prominent spiritual figure of his century,13 worked to improve the earlier translation and translated many more works into the Slavic tongue.
As a young man, Maximus, or Michael, went to Italy to study and was introduced to several Italian humanists. But his interests soon took a new direction;
…strangely enough for a young humanist, the personality which impressed him the most and changed the current of his life was the ardent Dominican and reform minded preacher of Florence, Jeronymo Savanarola. Influenced by his passionate speeches Maximus gave up his scholarly ambitions and became a Dominican monk in the monastery of St. Mark in Florence. It seems, however, that the monastic life was not less disappointing for him than the environment of the humanists. Therefore, in 1505 or early 1506 he left Italy forever to retire in Mt. Athos and became once again a monk, but this time an Orthodox one in the ancient monastery of Vatopedi. He lived there for ten years, devoting his time to religious culture and to the study of the great Greek Fathers.14
Maximus’ studies of the Greek would lead him to become accepted as the foremost authority of his day when emissaries from Russia came in search of translators for their Greek books.15 Maximus left the monastery, arriving in Moscow in 1518, along with a company of others sent from the Patriarch of Constantinople. The Patriarch hoped that new ties could be established between the two Churches along with the request for translators.
Maximus began the work of translating the Greek into Latin as he knew nothing of the Slavic tongue. Others completed the work into the Russian tongue. Years later he developed a knowledge of Russian and could translate directly. As he translated the Greek for the Russian Orthodox Church, Maximus also criticized many aspects of the Church. This criticism eventually led to a mock trial and his imprisonment. But his literary work gained prominence;
His most significant product of this period was the translation of a copiously commented Psalter, a task for which he had been mainly invited to Moscow. It is pertinent to recall here that the Psalter was held in high esteem not only in the church but also in social and educational life in Russia. It was used as the basic reading book in primary schools, as a popular reading and even as a “magic” book. It is also worth noting that the heresy of the “Judaizers,” which shook the Russian Church at that time, based its dogmatic doctrine on the corrupted and misinterpreted text of the Psalter. The restoration of a genuine text, therefore, and the publication of an authoritative interpretation of this book was of manifold importance. Later on Maximus translated several patristic works, Byzantine collections of canonical texts, lives of Saints, etc. … So he soon became aware of the numerous mistakes contained in older Russian translations of the liturgical books and he emphasized the necessity of their correction. Therefore, he was charged with the revision of the commonest liturgical books in use, a task which gave him a chance to apply the methods of literary criticism that he had been taught in Italy and that led to his becoming a controversial figure. He used the same methods to prove the spuriousness of some apocryphal books widely spread in Russia at that time…
When he fell into disgrace, however, his literary and critical work was used by his adversaries to prove him guilty of corruption of the sacred texts. Nevertheless, his corrections were adopted later, and his philological talent became generally recognized. Indeed, thanks to his revising work Maximus stands out in the history of Russian letters as the introducer of the methods of literary criticism.16
The reform begun by Maximus grew as the Stoglav Council of 1551, (or the Council of the Hundred Chapters) followed some of his teachings. They worked to reform the Russian people, and to return the clergy to a purer monasticism.17 Incorporating the efforts of Maximus the Greek, many translations began to be published. In 1551, a Psalter and Psalm book, and among others, the Bible of Ostrog printed in 1581.18
While the Russian Orthodox Church separated from the Union of Rome and Constantinople, Constantinople formally recognized Moscow as a Patriarchate in 1589. However, in 1596, the Kingdom of Poland officially became Uniate (Union of Brest) and the Orthodox Church went underground. While they retained their Orthodox form, they were not formally recognized. Kiev was a part of Poland until 1686,19 and the enforced union between East and West only heightened the tensions between Kiev and Moscow.
Under Peter Mogila, who became the metropolitan for Kiev in 1632, the Church at Kiev was re-incorporated within the Moscow Patriarchate. Mogila also began a school at Kiev that eventually became the first college in Russia in 1635. As Kiev was strongly influenced by Poland, the school began using Latin as the official language for learning, borrowing the curriculum and books from Jesuit schools. Peter Mogila’s Orthodox Confession demonstrated the Roman Catholic influence.20 When books from Kiev were used in Moscow and elsewhere in the north, it fostered confusion and more division.
Separation of Church and State
The reform spirit that began with Maximus the Greek continued with the Russian Patriarch of Moscow–Nikon. Called, “Maximus’ most genuine spiritual descendant,”21 Nikon worked to bring the Russian liturgy closer in line with the Greek (1654). While the civil authority enforced many of his reforms,22 it led to the split of the ‘Old Believers’ who wanted to retain the traditional Russian forms. Millions of the ‘Old Believers’ were exiled or persecuted by the state.
While claiming full independence for the Church, Nikon was more than willing to use the state’s influence to further his Reform goals for the Church. The concept of church and state cooperation was built upon the Justinian concept of symphonia.23 Simply put, both church and state were independent yet acted in agreement. But his efforts and the later reaction of the state ended the traditional role of church and state;
The crisis came in the middle of the century, under Czar Alexis I (reigned 1645-1676) and Patriarch Nikon. It may be true that Nikon used to overstep his rights, but he was acting still within the traditional Byzantine scheme. Nikon’s deposition and condemnation in 1666, on the contrary, amounted to a departure from this scheme on the part of the state, not without some influence of the new Western conception of the supremacy of the state. Yet, in theory the old Byzantine conception was maintained.24
The Western concept of church and state noted above may have come from Poland as they struggled with the Reformation. Calvinist, Lutheran and other Renaissance and Reform movements made their way into Poland;25 and many began building reform minded schools. Although the Jesuits worked to end their presence, the Lutherian concepts of church and state may have filtered into Moscow. The contrast between the Catholic and the Lutherian views is quite sharp;
Presbyterian theorists maintained that their Reformed “two-kingdoms” concept differed from the Roman Catholic “two-kingdoms” theory, which they alleged had an implicit tendency for the church to assert control over the state. They also differed from the traditional Lutheran “two-kingdoms” idea, which the Reformed believed made too great a dichotomy between religion and state, with an implicit tendency for state to assert control over the church.26
Although the language of ‘a wall of separation between church and state’ is uniquely American, coming from Roger Williams who argued for the end of English state control over the Anglican Church, the concept of church/state separation is not unique to America alone. In Russia, the state began to dominate church affairs; which ended the Byzantine concept of the relationship between church and state.
The Reformation of Russia – Part 2
13. William E. Medlin & Christos G. Patrinells, Renaissance Influences and Religious Reforms in Russia, p. 20.
14. Ibid., p. 22.
16. Ibid., pp. 24-25.
17. Cross, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, p. 1190 & Medlin & Patrinells, Renaissance Influences and Religious Reforms in Russia, p. 25.
18. Medlin & Patrinells, Renaissance Influences and Religious Reforms in Russia, p. 108.
19. Encyclopedia Americana V 24, p. 27a.
21. Medlin & Patrinells, Renaissance Influences and Religious Reforms in Russia, p. 27.
22. Cross, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, p. 960.
23. Encyclopedia Americana V 24, p. 27b.
25. Medlin & Patrinells, Renaissance Influences and Religious Reforms in Russia, p. 76.
26. Kelly, The Emergence of Liberty in the Modern World, p. 75.