Lives of Saints - Saint Philip, Metropolitan of Moscow Christianity - Books
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Saint Philip, Metropolitan of Moscow

The victorious period in the history of our motherland (conquest of Kazan and Astrakhan kingdoms in the middle of the 16th century) was followed by hard times for the Russian people. After the death of his gentle and humble wife Anastasia, tsar Ivan Vasilievich lapsed into gloomy cruelty. Suspicious of treason, he surrounded himself with bodyguards called "oprichniks." He made several towns and some Moscow streets his personal fiefdom and elite stronghold (these were called "oprichnina" as opposed to other towns and streets called "zemshchina"). The tsar's bodyguards shamelessly inflicted all kinds of plunder and offences on the peaceful citizens without any reprimand. It was during these hard times for Russia, that Prelate Philip performed his feat of self-sacrifice.

Saint Philip (Feodor before joining the church) came from a noble family of the Klychevs. His father, Stepan Ivanovich Klychev, was a boyarin (nobleman) favored by the tsar. His wife Varvara was a god-fearing woman, and Feodor was their first-born child. Since early childhood Feodor, according to his biographer, "studied sacred theological books with devoted ardor in his heart;" he was humble and staid, and shunned entertainment. Due to his noble origin he often visited the palace of tsar Ivan, who was of the same age as Feodor. The tsar was much impressed by Feodor's gentleness and piety.

Following his father's example, Feodor became a military man with a prospect of a brilliant career, but his heart was turning away from the pleasures of life. Contrary to the customs of that time he delayed getting married until the age of 30. During one Sunday church service, Feodor was deeply impressed by the Savior's words, "No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon" (Math.6:24). He heard his calling for a monastic life in those words and secretly, dressed in the clothes of a commoner he left Moscow for the Solovetskaya cloister. For 9 years Feodor was doing the hard work of an obedient novice and was toiling without complaint. He worked as a layman in the vegetable garden, in the smithy and in the bakery. Finally, by the unanimous will of the monastic community he was ordained presbyter and Father Superior.

In this capacity, he was managing zealously the well-being of the cloister and taking special care of the spiritual life. Lakes were connected with canals, marshes were drained and turned into hayfields, roads were cut through impassable places, stock farming was set up, and salt works were improved all under his capacity. He built two grand cathedrals, the Uspenskij (Dormition of the Most-Holy Theotokos) and the Preobrazhenskij (Transfiguration of the Lord), as well as other churches; a hospital was set up, places were allocated for monasteries and hermitages for those seeking peace and solitude. Sometimes he would retire himself to one of these secluded places, which was known as Philip's desert in pre-revolutionary times. He wrote a new code for the monastery community setting up the industrious mode of life and forbidding idleness.

Philip, the Father Superior, was summoned to Moscow for spiritual counseling where, upon his first meeting with the tsar, he learned that he was to be appointed a Metropolitan. With tears he implored Ivan, "Suffer me not to be severed from my monastery, do not load a small boat with an unbearable burden!" Ivan was inexorable and told clerical dignitaries and boyars to persuade Philip to be ordained Metropolitan. Philip agreed on the condition of Ivan's abolishing "oprichnina." The clergy and boyars asked Philip not to insist on that condition out of respect to the tsar's autocracy, and to accept the ordaining with humbleness. Philip conceded, seeing God's will in the tsar's inexorable insistence.

In the beginning of Philip's Holy Patriarchy (1567-1568) the horrors of "oprichnina" subsided, but before long oprichniki again started robbing and murdering the citizens. On several occasions talking privately to the tsar, Philip tried to reason with him, but seeing that there was no way he could convince the tsar, he decided to act openly.

On the week of the Veneration of the Precious Cross, March 21, 1568, before the beginning of the Liturgy, the Metropolitan was standing on the cathedra (the raised place in the middle of the church). Unexpectedly, the tsar entered the church accompanied by a drove of oprichniks. All of them, the tsar including, were dressed up in tall black hats, black cassocks, with daggers and swords glistening from under the clothes. Tsar Ivan approached the Prelate from the side and three times bowed his head for a blessing. The Metropolitan was standing still, looking at the icon of Christ the Savior. At last the boyars said, "Metropolitan, the tsar demands your blessing." Philip turned to the tsar as if not recognizing him and said, "This strange attire makes our Orthodox tsar look unfamiliar to me, nor do I recognize him in what he is doing as our tsar. Oh, pious one, what pursuit led you to losing your grandeur? Since the beginning of times it was unheard of that a tsar would bring trouble to his own people. Tatars and heathens have order and fairness while we do not. We offer bloodless sacrifices even to our God, but beyond these walls the innocent blood of our Christians is shed. I lament not of the innocent murdered as martyrs and saints; it is your soul that I mourn over. Although a monarch blessed from above, you are still a mortal one, and you will have to account for all of your deeds before the Lord."

Ivan could hardly suppress his fury, he was whispering threats and knocking his staff against the tiles of the cathedra. Finally he exclaimed, "Philip! Is it that you dare oppose my autocracy? We shall see how powerful you are." The prelate replied, "Good tsar, in vain you try to scare me. I am a visitor on the earth, it is truth that I care about and no threats will make me silent." Enraged beyond description, tsar Ivan left the church, concealing his vindictive malice for the time being.

During the service on July 28 devoted to the veneration of the Smolensk icon of the Theotokos, called Odigitriya, the prelate Philip was going around the walls of the Novodevichii monastery in a procession. The tsar was also there surrounded by his oprichniks. During the readings of the Gospel the prelate noticed an oprichnik who was standing behind the tsar wearing a Tatar's hat on, and drew Ivan's attention to him. But the culprit hastened to take off and hide the hat. Then the oprichniks accused the Metropolitan of deceit and the desire to disgrace the tsar in public. Ivan ordered the prosecution of Philip. Slanderers were used to falsely defame the prelate who had no chance to expose the perjurers, and he was demoted.

On November 8, the feast of Archangel Michael, the prelate was serving at the Uspenski cathedral and as on the day when he accused the tsar, he was standing on the cathedra. All of a sudden the doors opened, a boyar named Basmanov entered the church accompanied by a crowd of oprichniks and told for an order to be proclaimed according to which the astonished parishioners were informed of the defrocking of the Metropolitan. Immediately the oprichniks tore the prelate's garments and having clad him in a ragged monk's dress took him out of the cathedral, put him in a cart and drove him to one of the Moscow monasteries, insulting him and showing scorn all the way. There were rumors that the tsar was planning to execute the Christ's confessor by fire, but upon appeal of the clergy he replaced his sentence with life imprisonment. At the same time he had many of Philip's relatives executed. Ivan the Terrible sent Philip the head of Ivan Borisovich Klychev, Philip's nephew, whom he loved dearly. The prelate Philip accepted it with awe, put it down, bowed to it, kissed it and having said - "Blessed is he whom Thou have chosen and accepted, Oh, Lord!" - returned it to be taken back to the tsar. Day and night there was a crowd of people around the monastery hoping to catch a glimpse of the great prelate, people were telling legends about him. When Ivan learned about this, he ordered the transfer of Philip to the Tverj Otroch monastery.

A year later the tsar and his army started conquest of Novgorod and Pskov. He sent his oprichnik Maliuta Skuratov ahead to the Otroch monastery. Saint Philip predicted his own death three days prior and had been preparing to depart by receiving the Holy Mysteries. Maliuta came up to the prelate with fake humility and asked Philip to give the tsar a blessing. Philip said, "Do not blaspheme, fulfill the purpose of your visit." Maliuta flung himself at Philip and strangled him. A grave was dug immediately, and they buried the body of the Holy Martyr with Maliuta watching (December 23, 1569). His bones were brought to the Moscow Uspenskij cathedral - the witness of his great feat.

A successor of the forefathers, a pillar of Orthodoxy, a champion of truth, a new confessor, prelate Philip, who gave up his soul for his flock, daring to turn to our Lord, pray for the Orthodox people, who honor and keep Thine sacred memory.


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