Russian history 53. The autocracy of the rulers of Muscovy and Moscow as the third Rome

As we have seen, the state of Muscovy was formed from the principality of Moscow by annexation of other appanages of the Northern Rus, lands of Novgorod and some Russian principalities of Lithuania. The knyazes of Moscow called their lands their patrimony. When they annexed other principalities, they proclaimed the new lands their patrimony, too. And when they demanded that Lithuania should cede Russian towns, they insisted that the whole Rus was the patrimony of their forefathers. So, the patrimonial system was spreading from Moscow to all Rus and the knyazes thought of themselves as the owners of the country. This view was also adopted by the citizens of Rus, who knew that they live on the land of the great knyaz and only use it due to his generosity. For this reason, the authority of the knyazes was almost unlimited — not only did they rule the country, but they were the owners of the country. Later, when the knyazes of Muscovy headed the Russian liberation movement, they became the national leaders, suppported by the popular masses. Ivan III refused to accept the king's title from the emperor of the Holy Empire, because he needed no permission to rule on his own land. Foreign ambassadors wrote that Vasily III had the authority no other monarch had. The autocracy of the rulers of Muscovy had the patrimonial origin and the national essence.

It happened when other Orthodox countries were in decline or about to fall. The Turks occupied the Asian provinces of the Greek empire and entered Europe. In the end of XIV-early XV centuries they subjugated the Slavs of the Balkans and encircled Constantinople. The Greeks sought for help even in Rome (see chapter 45), but nothing helped and in 1453 Constantinople fell. Not a single orthodox country remained in the East. Only Muscovy had an orthodox ruler and their own metropolitan. It was growing and getting stronger, united all Russians under one ruler and liberated itself from the Mongolian occupation. Since the earliest times, when Rus converted into Christianity, Russians took it for granted that all Orthodox Christians have a single leader — the Greek emperor (called caesar or tsar) and the single church. Constantinople, the capital of the Greek empire, was called Tsargrad (tsar town) in Russia and seen as the capital of the Orthodoxy. Now that Constantinople was seized by the Turks, the only large capital in the Orthodox countries was Moscow. Ivan III and Vasily III adopted the role of the successors of the Greek rulers. Ivan III married a Greek princess, adopted a Greek coat-of-arms and proclaimed his son Dimitri the tsar. Both Ivan and Vasily sometimes called themselves tsars. On the other hand, for the Greeks and Balkan Slavs, who visited Rus, the knyazes of Muscovy were the last protectors of the Orthodoxy and the heirs of the Greek emperors. Russian literature of that period often discussed the idea of the continuity between the Byzantine empire and Muscovy. So, a monk from Pskov, Philotheus wrote a letter to Vasily III, arguing that the old Rome was the first centre of the world, Constantinople was Roma nova (the new Rome), and now Moscow became the third Rome. "Two Romes have fallen, the third still stands and the fourth will never be," wrote Philotheus. Other writers called the grand knyaz the tsar of Orthodoxy, Moscow — the new Tsargrad and the Russian people — "the new Israel", the people chosen by god to head the Orthodox Christianity. The writers attempted to provide grounds for this idea, using the legends about when sacred objects miraculously moved from Greece to Rus (like the Tikhvin icon of St. Mary. Another legend told that the apostle Andrew visited Rus, blessed Kiev and prophecyed that the true religion will find the home in Rus. It was also told that the imperial insignia were given by the Greek emperor Constantine Monomakh to knyaze Vladimir Monomakh. Indeed, the so called hat of Monomakh is still stored in Moscow. Finally, one more legend told that the Russian dynasty originated from the first Romans and Roerik (Ryurik) was a descendant of a brother of emperor Augustus. The conclusion was that Muscovy has the priority among all Orthodox countries and that the Russian church was the only Orthodox church that retained the purity and independence.

The grand knyazes who believed they were the saviours of the Orthodox Christianity, supported unanimously by the whole nation, now wished to become the tsars of Orthodox world. Their authority became the autocracy. However, in the end of the XV century the boyars begin to oppose the autocracy

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