Home » 16th century » Philotheus the Monk’s Theory of “Moscow as the Third Rome”


Philotheus the Monk’s Theory of “Moscow as the Third Rome”


Around 1524 Philotheus, a monk in the Pskov Crypt Monastery, wrote an Epistle Against the Astrologers addressed to the Secretary Misiur Munekhin attacking the German physician and philosopher Nikolai Bulev (Biilow), a Catholic who served at the court of Basil III and circulated a German almanach with astronomical and astrological predictions in Russia. Protesting against this, Philotheus expressed the view, quite common in Russian publicistics, that the whole Latin (Catholic) world was sinful and that the “first Rome” and the “second Rome” (Constantinople) had lapsed into heresy and ceased to be the centres of the Christian world. They would be replaced by Russia, the “third Rome”: “For two Romes have fallen, a third stands, and a fourth there will not be.”2

The same idea is expressed in two more epistles connected in the manuscript tradition with the name of Philotheus and addressed to Grand Prince Basil III and Grand Prince Ivan IV. The names of these princes are mentioned only in later copies, however (not before the seventeenth century), and we do not know what these copies were: other epistles by Philotheus or later revisions of his Epistle Against the Astrologers.

No matter how many epistles Philotheus may have written, the theory of “Moscow as the third Rome” belongs to him. This theory was based on ideas expressed as early as the fifteenth century. Shortly before the capture of Constantinople by the Turks the Byzantine Emperor and Patriarch, wishing to obtain help from the West, agreed to a union of the Greek Orthodox Church with the Latin Catholic Church. This union did not save Constantinople, and in 1453 it was captured by the Turks. The union was not recognised in Russia, and the fall of Constantinople was seen as Divine punishment of the Greeks for renouncing Orthodoxy. In 1492 Metropolitan Zosimus proclaimed that the place of the “first”, the Greeks, was being taken by the “last”, the Russians, and called Moscow “the new city of Constantine”. Unlike Zosimus Philotheus was opposed to heretical movements and would not entertain the idea of any reform of the ecclesiastical system, but he expanded the idea of “Moscow as the new city of Constantine”, proclaiming Moscow to be the spiritual centre of the whole of Christendom.

All these works shared the idea, which was gradually becoming a fundamental principle of official ideology, that Russia had a special role as the only Orthodox country in a world that had lost true Christianity.

In 1551 a Church Council was held in Moscow and its decisions published in a special book consisting of the tsar’s questions and the council’s answers to these questions. The book had one hundred chapters, hence the name of the book and of the council that published it. The Council of the Hundred Chapters reaffirmed the ecclesiastical cult established in Russia as inviolable and final (its decisions, as we shall see, later played an important part in the religious schism of the seventeenth century). At the same time the council’s decisions were aimed against all reformatory heretical doctrines. In his epistle to the “fathers” of the council Ivan the Terrible called upon them to defend the Christian faith “from murderous wolves and all manner of enemy snares”. The council condemned the reading and dissemination of “impious” and “heretical proscribed books” and spoke out against skomorokhs, (i.e., minstrels and buffoons), and icon-painters who paint not “from the ancient models” and ignore the accepted canons.

A number of literary undertakings of a generalising nature in the sixteenth century were connected with the official ideological policy of Ivan the Terrible in the period of the Council of the Hundred Chapters. These include the compilation of The Hundred Chapters and such outstanding literary works as The Great Menology and the Household Management