“How have we arrived,” asks Stanford University historian Victor David Hanson, “at the brink of a veritable civil war?” And a recent “Washington Post” headline reads: “In America, talk turns to something not spoken of for 150 years: Civil War.” Surely the political and cultural polarization of America has now reached levels comparable to that most terrible national conflict of the nineteenth century.
In this article from FOMA, Russia’s most influential Orthodox magazine and translated specially for “Another City”, 17th century Russian patriarch and martyr St Hermogenes offers an example of a right believing attitude and self-sacrifice for the faith in Russia’s “Time of Troubles.” He also offers us a prayer for repentance, enlightenment, and instruction, and an end to “division and discord” that is equally applicable to our own tumultuous times.
Originally published in FOMA. Translated by Thomas Hulbert.
By Igor Tsukanov
In the beginning of the seventeenth century, when the death of Boris Godunov marked the beginning of the Time of Troubles, Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia Hermogenes composed a penitential prayer supplicating God to put an end to divisions and disorder in the Russian land. He blessed this prayer to be read in all Russian churches. This prayer, alas, has remained pertinent in light of the unfortunate fact that brother going to war on brother remains an ongoing theme of fallen human nature.
W hen elected Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia by the Russian hierarchs of the Moscow Council, Hermogenes was already 76. He nevertheless managed to show himself a staunch opponent of Dmitry I, the so-called false Dmitry, who had entered Moscow with Polish-Lithuanian troops and joined forces with Russian rebels who opposed newly crowned Tsar Fyodor II. His Patriarchate would last less than six years, but during this time he stood out as an example of otherworldly impartiality in regards to politics but a defender of Orthodox values that were the only element that could stop the turmoil and ensure the survival of Russia as an Orthodox nation.
The youth of the future Hieromartyr was spent in Kazan, stormed and annexed to Russia in 1552 by Tsar Ivan the Terrible. At that time Ermogen was still Ermolai. According to different accounts, he was initially a novice at the Monastery of the Transfiguration in Kazan and subsequently a priest in the Kazan Church of St. Nicholas, where he placed the miraculous Kazan icon of the Mother of God that he himself had discovered in 1579. Ten years later, Ermogen was already the first Metropolitan of Kazan, where he preached among the Tatars, organized the construction of churches, and catechized the newly baptized in the Holy Scriptures.
Coming to Moscow, the pretender Dmitry aimed to flatter the Kazan Metropolitan and included him in the ranks of his Boyar Duma, but Hermogenes strongly resisted the impostor: he opposed the election to the Patriarchate of one Ignatius, a protégé of false Dmitry and who was inclined to the Uniate schism. He demanded the Orthodox baptism of Marina Mnishek, Dmitry’s betrothed and a Polish Catholic, who stood to be Tsarina with the success of Dmitry’s claim to the throne. If it had not been for the death of False Dmitry just 11 months into his reign, Hermogenes would have been troubled. But the pretender and his Boyars did not have time to deal with him and on July 3, 1606, the Saint was elevated to the rank of Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia.
Among his first acts as Patriarch, Hermogenes set to compiling and editing the lives of saints, liturgical canons, and considering an edict for the enforcement of proper Church singing. The Patriarch also revived publishing activity in Moscow, which had fallen into decline.
His main objective as Patriarch, however, was to tame the turmoil and intrigue which plagued Russia.
The fate of Patriarch Hermogenes was closely intertwined with that of Prince Vasily Ivanovich Shuisky, whose claim to the Russian throne in the conditions of the civil war was supported by the Church. Patriarch Hermogenes desired greatly to stem the chaos and personally supported Shuisky. Shuisky, however, was expelled in 1610 and the boyar government had the idea to give the Russian throne to the Polish Prince Vladislav. Patriarch Hermogenes, in an attempt to represent what was best for Orthodox Russia, laid down a strict condition for the cooperation of the Church: whoever was to be the ruler of Russia must be Orthodox. When the Polish king Sigismund III received the petition to become Russian Tsar, he did not want to hear about the rejection of Catholicism. The Patriarch in turn strictly forbade Muscovites to kiss Sigismund’s cross and began to send encyclicals to Russian cities calling on the Russian people to gather a militia and to come to Moscow to expel the Polish and Lithuanian invaders.
Soon after, the Patriarch was taken into custody and imprisoned in the Chudov Monastery. It was not even the Poles who arrested him, but Mikhail Saltykov, their chief accomplice in the boyar government. Thus Saint Hermogenes, like Christ, was betrayed by one of his own people. He remained in captivity and was allowed out of confinement only once – on March 17, 1611 year, on Palm Sunday. According to tradition, the Patriarch in Exile lead a procession around the Kremlin on a colt, in imitation Christ’s entrance into the Holy city of Jerusalem.
The boyars demanded that Ermogen sent out new letters calling on the militia gathered at his call to withdraw from Moscow, threatening a violent death should he refused. According to a retelling of the event in a chronicle of the time, this is how the Patriarch responded:
“What are your threats to me? I fear only God. If all our enemies leave Moscow, I shall bless the Russian militia to withdraw from Moscow; but if you remain here, I shall bless all to stand against you and to die for the Orthodox Faith.”
St. Hermogenes proceeded to send letters to the people, calling them to stand for Orthodoxy and to provide armed resistance to the invaders.
On February 17, 1612, Hermogenes died in prison from starvation, a punishment inflicted by the bitter Poles. In about eight months, a second popular militia would liberate Moscow from the foreign usurpers. It would be almost 300 years, on May 12, 1913, before the Righteous Patriarch Hermogenes would be glorified as a saint. Today, the relics of the Patriarch-Martyr rest in the Moscow Kremlin in the Cathedral of the Dormition of the Mother of God.
Here is the text of the prayer, according to tradition composed by Patriarch Hermogenes in this dark period of Russian history, known later as Time of Trouble. Perhaps this prayer was read in Moscow churches in October 1606, when the enemy approached the very walls of Moscow and the Patriarch blessed the people for three days in a row to fast and pray in repentance of hearts.
O Lord God Almighty, look upon us Thy sinful and unworthy children, who have transgressed before Thee, and have angered Your goodness and provoked Your righteous wrath, shed Your loving kindness on us, who have fallen deep into sin. See, O Lord, our infirmities and spiritual afflictions, know the corruption of our minds and hearts and the poverty of our faith, our falling away from Thy commandments, the multiplication of discord in our family, and the division and strife in the Church, You see our sorrow and grief proceeding from sickness, famine, floods, fires, and civil strife.
But, O Merciful and Man-Loving God, enlighten, instruct and have mercy on us, unworthy ones. Amend our sinful life, put an end to divisions and discord, gather the dispersed, unite the contentious, give peace and prosperity to our country, deliver it from discord and misfortune. O All Holy Lord, enlighten our minds with the light of the Holy Gospel, ignite our hearts with the flame of Your grace and direct them to the fulfillment of Your commandments, so that All-Holy and glorious name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit may be glorified in us, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Translated by Thomas Hulbert. Thomas Hulbert is a Russian Translator and Founder and Creative Director at Native Cool Media.
About the Author
- Igor Tsukanov writes for the Russian language magazine FOMA.