Patriarch Nikon of Moscow

Nikon (Russian: Ни́кон, Old Russian: Нїконъ), born Nikita Minin (Никита Минин; 7 May 1605 – 17 August 1681) was the seventh Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus' of the Russian Orthodox Church, serving officially from 1652 to 1666. He was renowned for his eloquence, energy, piety and close ties to Tsar Alexis of Russia. Nikon introduced many reforms which eventually led to a lasting schism known as Raskol in the Russian Orthodox Church. For many years he was a dominant political figure, often equaling or even overshadowing the Tsar. His liturgical reforms were unpopular among conservatives. In December 1666, Nikon was tried by a synod of church officials, deprived of all his sacerdotal functions, and reduced to the status of a simple monk.

Portrait of Patriarx Nikon
Patriarch Nikon.

Early life

Son of a Mordovian peasant farmer named Mina, he was born on 7 May 1605 in the village of Valmanovo, 90 versts (96 km or 60 miles) from Nizhny Novgorod. His mother died soon after he was born, and his father remarried. His stepmother mistreated him. He learned reading and writing with the parish priest. At the age of 12 he ran away from home to Makaryev Monastery where he remained until 1624 as a novice.

Novoierusalimsky monastyr 1
Nikon's residence at the New Jerusalem Cloister is representative of his austere aesthetic views.

Then he returned home due to his parents' insistence, married, and became a parish priest in a nearby village.

His eloquence attracted attention of some Moscow merchants who were coming to the area because of a famous trade fair held on Makaryev Monastery grounds. Through their efforts he was invited to serve as a priest at a populous parish in the capital.

He served there about ten years. Meanwhile, by 1635, his three little children died. He saw that as a providential sign and decided to become a monk. First he persuaded his wife to take the veil and then withdrew himself to a desolate hermitage on the isle of Anzersky on the White Sea. On becoming a monk he took the name of Nikon.

In 1639, he had a quarrel with the father superior, and fled from the monastery by boat; a tempest broke out and his boat was cast ashore on Kiy Island, where he would later establish a great monastery. He eventually reached the Kozheozersky Monastery, in the diocese of Novgorod, of which he became abbot in 1643.

Meeting with the Tsar

In his official capacity, he visited Moscow in 1646, and paid homage to the young Tsar Alexei I, as was the custom at the time. Alexei, who was rather pious, was quite impressed with Nikon, and appointed him archimandrite, or prior, of the important Novospassky monastery in Moscow. This monastery was especially associated with the House of Romanovs.

Zealots of Piety

While serving at Novospassky Monastery, Nikon became a member of the circle of the Zealots of Piety. This was a group of ecclesiastical and secular individuals that started in the late 1630s, gathering around Stefan Vonifatiyev, the confessor of tsar Alexei.

In the wake of the Times of Trouble, the members believed the problems of the time were the manifestation of a wrathful God, angry with the Russian people's lack of religiosity. The group called for the rebirth of the Russian Orthodox faith, and a renewal of the religious piety of the masses. This group included Fyodor Rtishchev, Abbot Ivan Neronov of the Kazan Cathedral, Protopope Avvakum, and others.

In 1649, Nikon became metropolitan of Great Novgorod. He was given some special privileges there. During his tenure, a riot started in the city, and Nikon was severely beaten by the mobs. Nevertheless, he managed to resolve the matters peacefully, by leading a religious procession against the rioters.[1]

Elected as patriarch (1652)

On 1 August 1652 he was elected patriarch of Moscow. Nikon knew that he was rather unpopular with the nobility, and declined the offer several times.[2]

It was only with the utmost difficulty that Nikon could be persuaded to become the arch-pastor of the Russian Church. He gave in after the Tsar himself and the boyars fell on their knees, begging him to accept.[3] He only yielded after imposing upon the whole assembly a solemn oath of obedience to him in everything concerning the dogmas, canons and observances of the Orthodox Church.

Nikon's reforms

When Nikon was appointed, ecclesiastical reform was already in the air. A number of ecclesiastical dignitaries, known as the party of the protopopes (deans), had accepted the responsibility for the revision of the church service-books inaugurated by the late Patriarch Joasaph, and a few other minor rectifications of certain ancient observances. But they were far too timid to attempt anything really effectual.

Patriarch Nikon Revising Service-Books
Aleksey Kivshenko. Patriarch Nikon and Epifany Slavinetsky revising service-books.

Nikon launched bold reforms. He consulted the most learned of the Greek prelates abroad, invited them to a consultation at Moscow, and finally the scholars of Constantinople and Kiev convinced Nikon that the Muscovite service-books were heterodox, and that the icons actually in use had very widely departed from the ancient Constantinopolitan models, being for the most part imbued with the Frankish and Polish (West European) baroque influences.[4]

Nikon criticized severely the use of such new-fangled icons; he ordered a house-to-house search for them to be made. His soldiers and servants were charged first to gouge out the eyes of these heretical counterfeits and then carry them through the town in derision. He also issued an ukase threatening with the severest penalties all who dared to make or use such icons in future.

Later research was to determine that Muscovite service-books did belong to a different recension from that which was used by the Greeks at the time of Nikon, and the unrevised Muscovite books were actually older and more venerable than the Greek books, which had undergone several revisions over the centuries, were newer, and contained innovations.

In 1654, Nikon summoned a synod to re-examine the service-books revised by the Patriarch Joasaf, and the majority of the synod decided that "the Greeks should be followed rather than our own ancients." A second council, held at Moscow in 1656, sanctioned the revision of the service-books as suggested by the first council, and anathematized the dissenting minority, which included the party of the protopopes and Paul, bishop of Kolomna. The reforms coincided with a great plague in 1654.

Heavily weighted with the fullest ecumenical authority, Nikon's patriarchal staff descended with crushing force upon those with whom he disagreed.

Construction of tent-like churches (of which Saint Basil's Cathedral is a prime example) was strictly forbidden, and many old uncanonical churches were demolished to make way for new ones, designed in the "Old Byzantine" style. This ruthlessness goes far to explain the unappeasable hatred with which the Old Believers, as they now began to be called, ever afterwards regarded Nikon and all his works.

His building program

He enriched the numerous and splendid monasteries which he built with valuable libraries. His emissaries scoured Muscovy and the Orient for precious Greek and Slavonic manuscripts, both sacred and profane.

Among the great monasteries he founded were Valday Iversky Monastery, the New Jerusalem Monastery, and Kiy Island Monastery.

Political power

Nikon had Metropolitan Philip canonized and his relics transferred to the Moscow Kremlin as a reminder to the tsars about the crimes they had committed against the church (painting by Alexander Litovchenko).

From 1652 to 1658, Nikon was not so much the minister as the colleague of the tsar. Both in public documents and in private letters he was permitted to use the sovereign title. This was especially the case during the wars with the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1654—1667, when the tsar was away from Moscow with his armies. In 1654, while starting on his great military campaign, the tsar left Nikon at home as the chief ruler.[5] Needless to say, this created some considerable resentment among the high level boyars.

Nikon made it his mission to remove the Church from secular authority, and permanently separate the Church from the state. He believed that the Church and state should work in harmony, while remaining separate from each other. He also sought to organize the Church with a hierarchy similar to the state’s – with the Patriarch in complete control.[6]

Nikon especially protested Sobornoye Ulozheniye (Russian Legal Code) of 1649, which reduced the status of the clergy, and made the Church in effect subservient to the state. Also, according to this Code, the taxation of monastery lands was used for the benefit of the state.[7]

But his actions raised up a whole host of enemies against him, and by the summer of 1658 they had convinced Alexius that the sovereign patriarch was eclipsing the sovereign tsar. Alexius suddenly grew cold towards his own "bosom friend," as he called him.[8]

Nikon leaves Moscow (1658)

Almost as a test of wills and, perhaps, hoping to dramatize his own importance and indispensability, Nikon publicly stripped himself of his patriarchal vestments in 1658, and went to live at the New Jerusalem Monastery, that he, himself, founded in the town of Istra, 40 kilometers west of Moscow. But he actually did not officially resign from his position.

For nearly two years Tsar Alexius and Nikon remained estranged and their conflict unresolved. In February 1660 a synod was held at Moscow to elect a new Patriarch to the throne, vacant now for nearly two years. The synod decided not only that a new patriarch should be appointed, but that Nikon had forfeited both his archiepiscopal rank and his priests orders.

Against the second part of the synod's decision, however, the great ecclesiastical expert Epifany Slavinetsky protested energetically, and ultimately the whole inquiry collapsed. The tsar was unwilling to enforce the decrees of the synod being unsure of its ecclesiastical validity.

For six years longer the Russian Orthodoxy remained without a patriarch. Every year the question of Nikon's deposition became more complicated and confusing. Almost every contemporary Eastern Orthodox scholar was consulted on the subject, and no two authorities agreed. At last the matter was submitted to a pan-Orthodox synod.

Condemned by synod (1666)

In December 1666, Nikon was tried by a synod of church officials, known as the Great Moscow Synod. It was presided over by "two foreign Patriarchs ... [and consisting of] thirteen metropolitans, nine archbishops, five bishops and thirty-two archmandrites." The two foreign Patriarchs in question were Patriarch Paisius of Alexandria, and Macarios III Zaim. Symeon of Polotsk was one of the key theologians preparing the documents of the synod.

According to Robert Massie, during the proceedings, Nikon staunchly defended his belief that the church's authority and power were and ought to be supreme.[9] And yet Nikon was rather insisting that the church's authority and power ought to be supreme only in ecclesiastical matters.

On 12 December the synod, pronounced Nikon guilty of reviling the tsar and the whole Muscovite Church, of deposing Paul, bishop of Kolomna, contrary to the canons, and of beating and torturing his dependents. His sentence was deprivation of all his sacerdotal functions; henceforth he was to be known simply as the monk Nikon. The same day he was put into a sledge and sent as a prisoner to the far northern Ferapontov monastery. Yet the very council which had deposed him confirmed all his reforms and anathematized all who should refuse to accept them, like protopope Avvakum.

Nikon survived Tsar Alexis with whom something of the old intimacy had been resumed in 1671. In 1681 the new tsar Fedor (Alexius's son), on hearing that Nikon was dying, allowed him to return to Moscow and, under a partial pardon, take up residence in his former Moscow home, the New Jerusalem Monastery.[10] At Yaroslavl on his way there, after crossing the Kotorosl River, he died in Tropino on 17 August 1681. The monastery remained unfinished, however, but the royal family paid particular attention to ensuring its completion. Nikon's cleric later recorded that, for the church's consecration in 1685, Tserevna Tatyana prepared gold and silver, arranged for icons to be made, and personally embroidered veils to cover paraphernalia for the eucharist.[11]


  1. ^ Никон (Минов) // Nikon (Minov) (in Russian)
  2. ^ Prominent Russians: Patriarch Nikon
  3. ^ Prominent Russians: Patriarch Nikon
  4. ^ Запрещение патриархом Никоном фряжских икон // The banning by Patriarch Nikon of Western-style icons (in Russian)
  5. ^ Никон (Минов) // Nikon (Minov) (in Russian)
  6. ^ Prominent Russians: Patriarch Nikon
  7. ^ Ограничение привилегий церкви в Соборном Уложении 1649 года // The limiting of Church privileges in the Legal Code of 1649 Russian legal and educational site (in Russian)
  8. ^ Hosking, Geoffrey (2001). Russia and the Russians. From Earliest Times to 2001, p. 168. Penguin Books, ISBN 978-0-14-029788-1
  9. ^ Robert K. Massie, Peter the Great, His Life and World (1980), p 60.
  10. ^ Massie, p.60.
  11. ^ Ioann Shusherin (2007), From Peasant to Patriarch: Account of the Birth, Upbringing, and Life of His Holiness Nikon, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Written by His Cleric Ioann Shusherin, translated by Kevin Kain; Katia Lenintova, Lanham: Lexington Books, p. 104
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Nikon". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  • Parts of this article are translated from Russian Wikipedia.

Further reading

  • Lobachev, Sergei V. "Patriarch Nikon's Rise to Power." Slavonic and East European Review (2001): 290-307. in JSTOR
  • Meyendorff, Paul. Russia, ritual, and reform: the liturgical reforms of Nikon in the 17th century (RSM Press, 1991)
  • Shusherin, Ioann. From Peasant to Patriarch: Account of the Birth, Uprising, and Life of His Holiness Nikon, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia (2008)
  • Spinka, Matthew."Patriarch Nikon and the Subjection of the Russian Church to the State." Church History 10#4 (1941): 347-366. in JSTOR
Eastern Orthodox Church titles
Preceded by
Patriarch of Moscow
Succeeded by
Joasaphus II

1605 (MDCV)

was a common year starting on Saturday of the Gregorian calendar and a common year starting on Tuesday of the Julian calendar, the 1605th year of the Common Era (CE) and Anno Domini (AD) designations, the 605th year of the 2nd millennium, the 5th year of the 17th century, and the 6th year of the 1600s decade. As of the start of 1605, the Gregorian calendar was

10 days ahead of the Julian calendar, which remained in localized use until 1923.


The 1660s decade ran from January 1, 1660, to December 31, 1669.


1666 (MDCLXVI)

was a common year starting on Friday of the Gregorian calendar and a common year starting on Monday of the Julian calendar, the 1666th year of the Common Era (CE) and Anno Domini (AD) designations, the 666th year of the 2nd millennium, the 66th year of the 17th century, and the 7th year of the 1660s decade. As of the start of 1666, the Gregorian calendar was

10 days ahead of the Julian calendar, which remained in localized use until 1923. This is the first year to be designated as an Annus mirabilis, in John Dryden's 1667 poem so titled, celebrating England's failure to be beaten either by the Dutch or by fire. It is the only year to contain each Roman numeral once in descending order (1000(M)+500(D)+100(C)+50(L)+10(X)+5(V)+1(I) = 1666).



was a common year starting on Wednesday of the Gregorian calendar and a common year starting on Saturday of the Julian calendar, the 1681st year of the Common Era (CE) and Anno Domini (AD) designations, the 681st year of the 2nd millennium, the 81st year of the 17th century, and the 2nd year of the 1680s decade. As of the start of 1681, the Gregorian calendar was

10 days ahead of the Julian calendar, which remained in localized use until 1923.

Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church

The Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church (Estonian: Eesti Apostlik-Õigeusu Kirik; EAOC) is an autonomous Orthodox church whose primate is confirmed by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. Under Estonian law it is the legal successor to the pre–World War II Estonian Orthodox Church, which in 1940 had had over 210,000 faithful, three bishops, 156 parishes, 131 priests, 19 deacons, two monasteries, and a theological seminary; the majority of the faithful were ethnic Estonians. Its official name is Orthodox Church of Estonia.

The current primate of the church is Stephanos, Metropolitan of Tallinn and all Estonia, elected in 1999.

Feodor Abramovich Lopukhin

Hilarion (Fedor) Abramovich Lopukhin (Russian - Илларион (Фёдор) Аврамович Лопухин; 1638 - 21 March 1713) was a Russian lawyer, nobleman, colonel, courtier and Boyar.

Great Moscow Synod

The Great Moscow Synod (Большой Московский собор) was a Pan-Orthodox synod convened by Tsar Alexis of Russia in Moscow in April 1666 in order to depose Patriarch Nikon of Moscow.It was led by Patriarch Païsius of Alexandria, and attended by Patriarchs Macarios of Antioch and Nikon of Moscow, the Metropolitan of Iconium Athanasius (representing the Ecumenical Patriarch), and Ananias of Sinai (representing the Patriarch of Jerusalem), among many other bishops and fathers.

The council condemned the famous Stoglav of 1551 as heretical, because it had dogmatized the native Russian church rituals and usage at the expense of those accepted in Greece and other Orthodox countries. This decision precipitated a great schism of the Russian Orthodox Church known as the Raskol. Avvakum and other leading Old Believers were brought to the synod from their prisons. Since they refused to revise their views, the Old Believer priests were defrocked, anathemized and sentenced to life imprisonment in distant monasteries.On 12 December 1666 the council pronounced Nikon guilty of reviling the tsar and the whole Muscovite Church, of deposing Paul, bishop of Kolomna, contrary to the canons, and of beating and torturing his dependents. His sentence was deprivation of all his sacerdotal functions; henceforth he was to be known simply as the monk Nikon.

One of the decisions in the synod was a specific ban on a number of depictions of God the Father and the Holy Spirit, which then also resulted in a whole range of other icons being placed on the forbidden list. See God the Father in Western art for details.

Hail Mary

The Hail Mary, also commonly called the Ave Maria (Latin), is a traditional Catholic prayer asking for the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus. In Roman Catholicism, the prayer forms the basis of the Rosary and the Angelus prayers. In the Oriental Orthodox Churches, Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches, a similar prayer is used in formal liturgies, both in Greek and in translations. It is also used by many other groups within the catholic tradition of Christianity including Anglicans, Independent Catholics, and Old Catholics.

Largely based on two phrases in the Gospel of Luke, the prayer takes different forms in various traditions. It has often been set to music.

May 7

May 7 is the 127th day of the year (128th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 238 days remaining until the end of the year.

Nectarius of Jerusalem

Nectarius of Jerusalem, born Nektarios Pelopidis (Greek: Νεκτάριος Πελοπίδης, 1602–1676) was the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem from 1661 to 1669.

Old Believers

In Eastern Orthodox church history especially within Russian Orthodox Church, the Old Believers or Old Ritualists (Russian: старове́ры or старообря́дцы, starovéry or staroobryádtsy) are Eastern Orthodox Christians who maintain the liturgical and ritual practices of the Eastern Orthodox Church as they existed prior to the reforms of Patriarch Nikon of Moscow between 1652 and 1666. Resisting the accommodation of Russian piety to the contemporary forms of Greek Orthodox worship, these Christians were anathematized, together with their ritual, in a Synod of 1666–1667, producing a division in Eastern Europe between the Old Believers and those who followed the state church in its condemnation of the Old Rite.

Russian speakers refer to the schism itself as raskol (Russian: раскол), etymologically indicating a "cleaving-apart".

Paisios Ligarides

Paisios Ligarides (Παΐσιος Λιγαρίδης), born Pantaleon Ligarides (Παντολέων Λιγαρίδης; latinized Ligaridus; c.1610 – 1678) was Greek Orthodox scholar and Metropolitan bishop, from 1657 until his death Patriarch of Alexandria and as such also known as Paisius of Alexandria.

Born in Chios, he taught literature and theology in the Greek college in Rome established in 1577 by Pope Gregory XIII. He was at first supportive of reconciliation of Orthodox with Catholic theology, but later returned to

Greek Orthodoxy and wrote against both Catholicism and Calvinism.

Leaving Rome, he went to Constantinople, and later (1646) to Târgoviște in Wallachia where he established (or revived) a Greek school.

In 1651 he travelled to Palestine in the company of patriarch Paisius of Jerusalem, taking monastic vows and adopting the monastic name of Paisius. In 1652, he received the titular office of Metropolitan of Gaza from Paisius.

In 1655, he wrote a very long Chrismology [Chrismologion] of Constantinople, the New Rome, the first comprehensive collection of the mass of Greek oracular and prophetic produced in reference to the Fall of Constantinople .He became patriarch of Alexandria in 1657, and was appointed as head of the Great Moscow Synod of 1666 by the Tsar.

After 1666, he wrote an account of the Synod's condemnation of Patriarch Nikon of Moscow in the form of a polemical essay in support of the absolute authority of the Russian Tsar in theological matters.

Panagia Portaitissa

The Panagia Portaitissa (Greek: Παναγία Πορταΐτισσα; Georgian: ივერიის ღვთისმშობლის ხატი) or the Iviron Theotokos is an Eastern Orthodox icon of the Virgin Mary which was painted by Luke the Evangelist, according to the Sacred Tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The icon is referred to as "Wonderworking" meaning that numerous miracles have been attributed to the intercession of the Theotokos (Mother of God) by persons praying before it. The original of this image is found in the Georgian Iviron monastery on Mount Athos in Greece, where it is believed to have been since the year 999. The synaxis (feast day) for this icon is on February 12, as well as on Bright Tuesday, and also on October 13 for the translation to Moscow of the Iveron icon.The icon belongs to a family of images of the Theotokos known as Hodegetria (Greek: Όδηγήτρια, "she who leads the way") after the prototype from Constantinople. In these icons, the Christ Child sits on his mother's left arm and she is depicted pointing to Christ with her right hand. Another famous icon based upon Hodegetria is Our Lady of Częstochowa.

A unique characteristic of this icon is what appears to be a scar on the Virgin Mary's right cheek or her chin. A number of different traditions exist to explain this, but the one most commonly held by Orthodox Christians is that the icon was stabbed by a soldier in Nicaea during the period of Byzantine iconoclasm under the Emperor Theophilus (829–842). According to tradition, when the icon was stabbed, blood miraculously flowed out of the wound.

The original in Iveron is encased in a chased riza of silver and gold covering almost all the image except the face, as is common with the most venerated icons.


Raskol (Russian: раскол, pronounced [rɐˈskoɫ], meaning "split" or "schism") was the splitting of the Russian Orthodox Church into an official church and the Old Believers movement in the mid-17th century. It was triggered by the reforms of Patriarch Nikon in 1653, which aimed to establish uniformity between Greek and Russian church practices.

Russian Greek Catholic Church

The Russian Greek Catholic Church (Russian: Российская греко-католическая церковь, Rossiyskaya greko-katolicheskaya tserkov), or Russian Catholic Church, is a sui iuris Byzantine Rite Eastern Catholic Church. Historically, it represents the first reunion of members of the Russian Orthodox Church with the Roman Catholic Church. It is now in full communion with and subject to the authority of the Pope as defined by Eastern canon law.

Russian Catholics historically had their own episcopal hierarchy in the Russian Catholic Apostolic Exarchate of Russia and the Russian Catholic Apostolic Exarchate of Harbin, China. However, these offices are currently vacant. Their few parishes are served by priests ordained in other Eastern Catholic Churches, former Orthodox priests, and Roman Catholic priests with bi-ritual faculties.

Russian cross (religion)

Russian cross is a variation of the Christian cross with two crossbeams, of which the higher one is horizontal and longer, and the lower one is diagonal.At the Moscow church council in 1654 the patriarch Nikon of Moscow promoted the decision to replace the eight-pointed Orthodox cross (☦) with the six-pointed Russian cross, but that move combined with some other changes resulted in the raskol (schism) of the Russian Orthodox Church. In the 19th century the Russian cross was used on the coat of arms of the Kherson Governorate in the Russian empire, where it was named the "Russian cross". In the Russian Orthodox Church, the inclination of the lower crossbar of the Russian Orthodox cross is viewed as the crossbar of the balance, one point of which is raised as a sign of the penitent thief. The other crucified thief, who blasphemed at Jesus Christ, is indicated by the lower point of the crossbar, tilted downward.

Sub tuum praesidium

"Beneath Thy Protection" (Greek: Ὑπὸ τὴν σὴν εὐσπλαγχνίαν; Latin: Sub tuum praesidium) is a Christian hymn. It is the oldest preserved extant hymn to the Blessed Virgin Mary as Theotokos. The hymn is well known in many Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox countries, and is often a favourite song used along with Salve Regina.

Tatyana Mikhailovna of Russia

Tatyana Mikhailovna of Russia (Russian: Татьяна Михайловна; 5 January 1636 – 23 August 1706) was a Russian Tsarevna. She was heavily involved with the politics of the Romanov court during the reigns of her brother Alexis and the regency of her niece Sophia.

True Orthodoxy

True Orthodoxy, or Genuine Orthodoxy (Greek: Γνησίων Ὀρθοδόξων Χριστιανῶν, "True Orthodox Christians", Russian: Истинно-Православная Церковь, "True Orthodox Church"), often pejoratively referred to as "Zealotry", is a movement within Orthodox Christianity that separated from the mainstream Eastern Orthodox Church over issues of ecumenism and Calendar reform since the 1920s.

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