Nikon of Moscow

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Nikon of Moscow was patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church from 1652 to 1658, during which years he oversaw and enforced extensive revision of the church service books and practices in Russia to bring them inline with the books and practices of the Churches of Constantinople, Jerusalem, and Alexandria. His policies for enforcing the reforms caused a backlash from the defenders of the old practices and resulted in a long standing schism in the church that has been referred to as the Raskol with the defenders called Old Believers.


The future Patriarch Nikon was born Nikita Minin on May 7, 1605 into a peasant family in the village Valmanovo, near Nizhny Novgorod. His father, a farmer, was named Mina. Nikita’s childhood was troubled and at one time he ran away from home to escape an inhumane stepmother. He was educated in a monastery and married before being ordained a priest. Through the efforts of Moscow merchants, impressed by Fr. Nikita's eloquence, he was transferred to a large Moscow parish. But, after losing his three small children during ten years of married life, he decided to enter a monastic life. Persuading his wife to become a nun, he entered the Solovetsky monastery on the White Sea, receiving the name Nikon upon taking his monastic vows.

Entering the monastery, he established himself as a hermit on the nearby Anzersky island that was a dependency of Solovetsky. He later joined the Kozhuzersky monastery, in the Novogorod diocese, after breaking with the Solovetsky monks over allegations of misuse of alms. In 1643, Hieromonk Nikon was named hegumen. In his duties as hegumen he often visited Moscow, where in 1646 he met the pious Tsar Alexis. Impressed by Nikon, Alexis, who had become tsar in 1645, soon included Nikon among his close advisors.

In rapid succession Alexis raised Nikon to the dignity of archimandrite and assigned him to head the Novospassky monastery in Moscow in 1646. Then in 1648 the tsar appointed him metropolitan of Novgorod. In Novgorod, Nikon was active founding almshouses and pursuing good works and even was responsible for suppressing a revolt in 1650. Then, after yielding to strong persuasion, Nikon was elected Patriarch of Moscow on August 1, 1652, succeeding Patr. Joseph who had died earlier in the year.

Nikon became patriarch in the midst of the opening of Russia to the ideas and culture of western Europe after centuries of isolation due to the Tatar yoke and the Times of Trouble. With the opening of Russia the service books and customs of the Orthodox church in Russia came under question from the Orthodox patriarchs of the ancient world. But the initial reforms that were considered by the church in Russia were minor and were enforced weakly by Patr. Joseph. Patr. Nikon, however, approached the reforms more vigorously. He embarked on a more thorough reform after having consulted with the Patriarchates of Jerusalem, Constantinople, and Alexandria. In a country that had been ingrown, insular, and backward for centuries the reaction was great. As the resistance to the reforms mounted among primarily the “white