The Orthodox Church by Timothy Ware -- I have questions for you at the end of this post! :)
The beginning of chapter 6 speaks of the rise of the Third Rome. You may recall that Byzantium had just fallen to the Turks, the Muslim Sultan was the new "protector of Orthodoxy" and the Hagia Sophia had been converted into a mosque. Russia thought Rome had fallen to barbarians and heresy; Byzantium too - by allowing the Florentine Union - had fallen into heresy and was punished by the Turks. Now it was Russia's turn to champion the cause, to become the true protector of Orthodoxy. And they believed they were the Third Rome. And a fourth would never be needed.
At a church council in 1503, the social and mystical sides St.Sergius brought together in his teachings, became a source of division among his followers. Two groups arose and came to be known as
The Possessors lead by St. Joseph, Abbot of Volokalamsk
The Non-Possessors lead by St. Nilus of Sora
The main issue was possession of land. You may recall St. Sergius had founded monasteries by blazing paths through the forests. When people followed and settlements built up, he would soon move further into the forest to find another spiritual retreat. At the point of this conflict, monasteries owned about one third of the land.
The Possessors argued that monks were supposed to take care of the poor and sick; to teach and do good works. The land would be used to further these causes and were not in possession for the monks' personal prosperity. "'The riches of the Church are the riches of the poor,'" they said. (pg.105)
The Non-Possessors argued that the laity could provide for the poor. Monks were needed to help others by praying for them. They did not need any connection to land and the burdens this would inevitably bring. Monks needed be detached from the world and vow themselves to "complete poverty."
A second issue between the groups: the use of torture for heretics. Remember the close tie between Church and State in Byzantium? This had carried over to Russia, therefore, for many heresy against the Church equaled treason against the State. (Sounds like what I've learned about early Islam and why they had harsh penalties for apostates.) So Joseph found the use of prison and torture acceptable, whereas Nilus condemned all forms of it. He thought of heresy as a spiritual matter in which the Church alone should involve.
Joseph's group was very patriotic and nationalistic, whereas the followers of Nilus thought of the Church with universality in mind. They "saw that the Church on earth must always be a Church in pilgrimage." It was not the kingdom of God on earth!
Even the two sides differed on their ideas of Christian piety with Joseph emphasizing rules and disciplines and the "place of beauty in worship" whereas Nilus stressed "the inner and personal relation between God and soul" and "feared beauty might become an idol." Joseph liked liturgy and corporate worship. Nilus, mystical prayer.
The Russian Church liked both men and felt they both had aspects worth implementing, however, the Russian Church became "one-sided and unbalanced" and their nationalism and close alignment of Church and State lead to trouble in the next century.
The author then talks of the period of reconstruction and reform in the 1600s. Unfortunately for some, the reforms went too far. In their effort to curb drunkenness and other things of which they disapproved, additions of prayers, fasts and lengthy services were introduced in an effort to return to more righteous behavior. The author told of seven-hour services where even little children were forced to stand and take part! It seemed the Church was losing its joy by this forced pious living. The author says the reforms made "few concessions to human weakness, and [were] too ambitious ever to be completely realized."
A new Patriarch, Nikon, admired the Greek ways of doing things so much that he wanted to change the sign-of-the-cross ritual from being performed with two fingers to three fingers such as the Greeks were now doing. For the very ritualistic Russians this was tantamount to changing the faith! This dispute gradually lead to a schism with the Raskolniki ("sectarians") or "Old Believers" splitting. The reforms had gone too far for them!
Nikon also tried putting the Church over the State with the Church having power to meddle in secular affairs. Remember from a past post that the two had interdependent powers. The Church did its thing while the State enforced it and protected it. But Nikon tried to take more power which eventually backfired. Tsar Alexis began to resent Nikon's involvement and soon Nikon found his Greek policies, his reforms accepted,but himself rejected. He was deposed and another took his place.
One last thing in this section that I found of great interest is:
The Role of the Fool
"Particularly prominent in medieval Russia: the 'Fool' carries the ideal of self-stripping and humiliation to its furthest extent, by renouncing all intellectual gifts, all forms of earthly wisdom, and by voluntarily taking upon himself the Cross of madness. These Fools often performed a valuable social role: simply because they were fools, they could criticize those in power with a frankness which no one else dared to employ. So it was with Basil, the 'living conscience' of the Tsar. Ivan listened to the shrewd censure of the Fool, and so far from punishing him,treated him with marked honour." (pg.108)
QUESTIONS FOR YOU: Do you tend to agree with the Non Possessors or Possessors or segments of both? Why? What is your favorite parts of each? Least favorites? How could the Russian Church have been more balanced in your view? Do you think Nikon's reforms went too far? What do you think of the reforms towards more outward piety and those seven-hour church services? Do you think they would backfire or help the people get into shape spiritually? What do you think of the role of the Fool in Russian society? Why would someone considered "mad" and stripped of all wisdom be taken seriously by a tsar? What does this say about the Fool? About the Tsar? Any other thoughts or observations?