July 01, 2019

Filaret Rises



Filaret Rises
Portrait of Patriarch Filaret, by Nikanor L. Tyutryumov (1821-77).

Early in the summer of 1619, Theophanes II of Jerusalem ordained as Moscow Patriarch a man who had, in practical terms, already held that position for more than ten years: Filaret. This unusual circumstance is just one of the many details of this exceptional man’s biography that give his life a truth-can-be-stranger-than-fiction quality.

Long before Filaret became head of the church – and de facto head of state – he was the prominent boyar Fyodor Nikitich Romanov, nephew of Ivan the Terrible’s first wife, Anastasia, which made him first cousin of the Rurik Dynasty’s last tsar, Fyodor, son of Ivan IV (the Terrible) and Anastasia. When that dynasty was cut short by Fyodor Ivanovich’s death, the powerful Romanov clan viewed Fyodor Nikitich as having the best claim to the throne. In the end, however, it was Boris Godunov who became tsar, at least in part due to his being related to the late tsar by marriage (Tsar Fyodor was married to Boris’s sister).

What bore more weight in matters of succession: ties of blood or marriage? Rus had no precedent to guide it. But Godunov had one important advantage: throughout Fyodor Ivanovich’s rule, he had wielded the levers of power on behalf of the weak and sickly tsar, and he had wielded them forcefully and intelligently. Pushkin’s renowned play Boris Godunov planted in the imagination of generations of readers the idea that Godunov was chosen to rule as the result of some Machiavellian manipulations, and that he would resort to anything for the sake of power, even kill a child.


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