Gennadius of Novgorod

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Our father among the saints Gennadius of Novgorod, (Russian: Геннадий), was the Archbishop of Novgorod the Great and Pskov from 1484 to 1504. He was instrumental in fighting the heresy of the Judaizers and is famous for compiling in 1499 the first complete codex of the Bible in Slavonic known as the Gennadius Bible. He is commemorated on December 4 as well as on the third Sunday of Pentecost with all the Saints of Novgorod.


Gennadius was from the Gonzov boyar family of Moscow. Contemporaries described him as "dignified, intelligent, virtuous and learned in the Holy Scripture." He became a monk at the Valaam Monastery, under the spiritual guidance of St. Sabbatius of Solovki. In 1472, he was archimandrite of the Chudov (Miracle of the Archangel Michael at Chonae) Monastery in Moscow. In 1483, Gennadius initiated construction of a stone church at the Chudov Monastery in honor of St. Alexis who the founder of the monastery and a Metropolitan of Moscow.

On December 12, 1484, Gennadius was consecrated Archbishop of Novgorod, succeeding Abp. Sergius who served less than a year and was recalled and confined to the Chudov Monastery apparently due to mental illness. While serving in Novgorod, Gennadius still honored the memory of St. Alexis, and did not cease to concern himself with the construction of the church at Chudov Monastery and even contributed funds for the completion of the temple.

Gennadius was the first bishop of Novgorod not chosen by lots since 1359.[1] He arrived in Novgorod in January 1485 with the task, as it had been under Sergius, of bringing the newly-conquered church more in line with Muscovite ecclesiastical practices. Novgorod had been brought under direct control of Moscow only in 1478 and the last locally-elected archbishop, Theophlius, had been removed only in 1480. In this, Gennandius faced the opposition from the local clergy by his commemoration of several Muscovite saints, but dealt with this opposition by including several local saints in his commemoration.

The time of Abp. Gennadius as archbishop at Novgorod coincided with a terrible period in the history of the Russian Church. In 1470, Judaizing preachers, who traveled to Novgorod in the guise of merchants had begun to plant the weeds of heresy and apostasy among the Orthodox. Rooting out the Judaizer heresy from Novgorod, and also Moscow where it had spread when several clergymen from Novgorod were transferred to the capital, was the main task for Gennadius during his archepiscopate.

The first reports about the heresy reached Abp. Gennadius in 1487 when four members of a secret society, in a state of intoxication, revealed to the Orthodox of the existence of the heresy. As soon as it became known to him, Abp. Gennadius immediately began an inquiry and with deep sorrow became convinced that the danger was a threat not only to local Novgorod piety, but also in Moscow where the leaders of the Judaizers had journeyed in 1480.

In September 1487, Abp. Gennadius sent to Metropolitan Gerontius at Moscow all the material from his inquiry, together with a list of the apostates he had discovered and their writings. The struggle with the Judaizers became the main focus of the activities of Abp. Gennadius. In the words of St. Joseph of Volokolamsk, "this archbishop, angered by the malevolent heretics, pounced upon them like a lion from out of the thicket of the Holy Scriptures and the splendid heights of the prophets and the apostolic teachings."

Abp. Gennadius and St. Joseph struggled for twelve years against the powerful attempts of the opponents of Orthodoxy to alter the course of history of the Russian Church and the Russian state. By their efforts the Orthodox were victorious. During the course of their efforts they were said to have borrowed methods from the Spanish Inquisition, admiring how the King of Spain had dealt with heterodoxy in his kingdom, and several heretics were burned with the support of the Grand Prince and Metropolitan.[2]

The efforts of Abp. Gennadius in producing a complete codex of the Bible in Slavonic contributed greatly to the victory over the Judaizers. The heretics in their cleverness used texts from the Old Testament, but which were different from the texts accepted by the Orthodox Church. Abp. Gennadius undertook an enormous task of bringing the correct listings of Holy Scripture together in a single codex. Up until this time the Biblical books had been copied in Russia, following the example of Byzantium, not in their entirety, but in separate parts - the Pentateuch (first five books) or Octateuch (first eight books), Kings, Proverbs, the Psalter, the Prophets, the Gospels, the Epistles, and other instructive books were individual produced.

The books of the Old Testament, in particular, often were subjected to both accidental and intentional errors. Abp. Gennadius wrote about this in a letter to Abp. Joasaph: "The Judaizing heretical tradition adheres to the Psalms of David, or prophecies which they have altered." Gathering around himself learned and industrious Biblical scholars, the Abp. Gennadius collected all the books of the Holy Scripture into a single codex. He also gave his blessing for the Holy Books which were not found in manuscripts of the traditional Slavonic Bible to be retranslated from the Latin language.

In 1499, the first complete codex of Holy Scripture in Slavonic ("the Gennadius Bible," as it called after its compiler) was published in Russia. This work became an integral link in the succession of Slavonic translations of the Word of God. From the God-inspired translation of the Holy Scripture by Ss. Cyril and Methodius, through the Bible of St. Gennadius, reproduced in the first printed Bible of Ostrozh in 1581.

In addition to the new Slavonic Bible, the group of church scholars under Abp. Gennadius also undertook the great literary task of compiling the "Fourth Novgorod Chronicle." Numerous hand-written books were translated, corrected, and transcribed, bringing the Chronicle up to the year 1496. The Fourth Novgorod Chronicle notes that Abp. Gennadius also helped pay for one third of the reconstruction of the Detinets or Kremlin walls between 1484 and 1490,[3]

At the end of the fifteenth century many Russians were concerned about the impending end of the world, which they believed would take place at the end of the seventh millennium from the creation of the world, that is in 1492 A.D. Therefore, in 1408, it was decided not to compute the Paschal dates beyond the year 1491. In September 1491, however, a Council of Archbishops of the Russian Church at Moscow including the participation of Abp. Gennadius, decreed that the Paschalion be calculated for the eighth millennium.

As a result, Paschalions were calculated for the next twenty years by Metr. Zosimas of Moscow and Bp. Philotheus of Perm and seventy years by Abp. Gennadius that were reviewed and confirmed by the council on December 21, 1492. The Paschalion was approved for the next twenty years and was distributed to the dioceses with the commentary by Abp. Gennadius as an encyclical entitled, "Source for the Paschalion Transposed to the Eight Thousandth Year." In 1539, under Abp. Macarius of Novgorod, a Paschalion was compiled for the eighth millennium, based on the principles of the Paschalion of St. Gennadius.

Abp. Gennady took part in the Moscow Council of 1503, but in 1504, he was accused of simony and retired to the Chudov monastery in Moscow. On December 4, 1505 he reposed in the Chudov Monastery and was buried near Metr. Alexis of Moscow in the main church of the monastery, the Church of the Miracle of the Archangel Michael at Chonae. His relics were lost during the destruction of the monastery by the Bolsheviks in 1929, as were those of more than a hundred other people buried in there.[4]


  1. Michael C. Paul, “Episcopal Election in Novgorod, Russia 1156-1478,” Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture 72, № 2 (June 2003): 275.
  2. David M Goldfrank, "Burn, Baby, Burn: Popular Culture and Heresy in Late Medieval Russia," The Journal of Popular Culture 31, no. 4 (1998): 17–32; Andrei Pliguzov, "Archbishop Gennadii and the Heresy of the 'Judaizers'" Harvard Ukrainian Studies 16(3/4) December 1992: 269-288; George Vernadsky, "The Heresy of the Judaizers and the Policies of Ivan III of Moscow," Speculum, Vol. 8, No. 4 (Oct., 1933): 436-454.
  3. Michael C. Paul, “The Military Revolution in Russia, 1550-1682,” The Journal of Military History 68, No. 1 (January 2004) 34, fn. 122; William Craft Brumfield, A History of Russian Architecture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 71.
  4. T. D. Panov, Nekropoli Moskovskogo Kremlia (Moscow: Muzei Zapovednik Moskovksii Kreml', 2003).
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Gennadius of Novgorod
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