We know by what
dubious means Moscow achieved its hegemony in Russia. The blood of Michael of
Tver, tortured by the Horde in 1319 after being slandered by Yuri of Moscow,
was shed at almost the same time as Metropolitan Peter of Moscow was blessing
the beginning of that city’s historic rise to power. In addition, the transfer
of the metropolitan to Moscow caused dissatisfaction in southwest Russia, and the Church’s obvious alliance with Moscow resulted in a large number of disputes,
bribery from Constantinople, and competition between metropolitans, which
gradually weakened the moral authority of the metropolitan who had stood so
high in Kiev. While St. Peter, Theognost, and St. Alexei — the first
metropolitans of Moscow — still maintained this authority, after them we see
its gradual effacement as compared to that of the Grand Prince.
Dimitri Donskoi, who
was the first to defeat the Tatars and to weaken their grip on Russia, simply selected persons acceptable to himself for positions of Church authority. A
characteristic example was his support of Archimandrite Mityai, imprisoning
Bishop Dionisi for refusing to ask the blessing of that priest, who had not yet
been consecrated bishop. When Metropolitan Cyprian arrived in Moscow from Kiev on the instructions of the patriarch of Constantinople, who wished to restore
ecclesiastical unity in Russia, Dimitri simply drove him out, as he drove out
Pimen after him, who had managed by bribery to be consecrated in Constantinople.
In the Kievan period
and at the beginning of the north Russian period the Church had been
independent of the state.
Therefore it could
demand of those bearing the princely authority submission to certain principles
of idealism in their personal as well as their political lives: faithfulness to
their agreements, peacefulness, and justice. St. Theodosius had fearlessly
called the prince a usurper, and Metropolitan Nikifor could declare to the
princes: “We are installed by God to keep you from bloodshed.” This freedom of
the Church was possible primarily because the Russian Church was not yet
national or “autocephalous,” but acknowledged that it was part of the Greek
Church. Its supreme hierarch lived in Constantinople, which was inaccessible to
the encroachments of the local princes. Even Andrew Bogoliubsky submitted to
the ecumenical patriarch.