On the Third Rome

Author: Alexander Dugin

Translator: Yulian Orlov

Chapter 46 of Metafizika Blagoi Vesti (The Metaphysics of the Gospel) in Absoliutnaia Rodina (Absolute Homeland) (Moscow: Arktogeia, 1999). 


The Russian Orthodox Church was originally a component part of the Orthodox world and, in a certain spiritual sense, a province [232] of the Byzantine Empire. The Russians received Christianity from the Greeks (either directly or via the Bulgarians, who had been Christianized earlier) and entered the bosom of the Eastern Church as a full-fledged component. The entire history of the Russians is the history of Orthodoxy, from which the history of the people and state are an indelible part. Along with Orthodox metaphysics, dogma, and ritual, Rus also received Orthodox eschatology, which is related to the hierarchy of “castes” [233]. Consequently, Constantinople, Tsargrad, was the highest symbol and exemplar for Russian Orthodoxy in both the dogmatic and spiritual senses. The Russian Tsars and metropolitans precisely reproduced the Christian symphony of powers in their local context up to the fall of Constantinople, dividing up the spheres of “spiritual dominion” and “temporal power” in accordance with the precisely specified teachings of providentially restored, chiliastic harmony. As a component part of the Orthodox world, Rus was under the protection of “katechon” and fully belonged to the Holy Kingdom.

In this aspect, the Russian Church immediately inherited a true understanding of the social problem in its mystical dimension, and therefore from the very beginning of Russian history, contacts with the West had a univocally negative character (for Rus and its tradition). No matter how the influence of the Latin world on Rus might have manifested itself, it always latently entailed deviation from the harmonious symphony of powers of either a “pagan” or “Judaic” character. In any case, the providential proportion of the Orthodox Kingdom of the end times was disrupted. Catholic theology, on the other hand, was a threat to the metaphysical fulness of Orthodox dogma, and the activities of the “agents of papism” had, over the entire span of Russian history, extraordinarily destructive consequences in the spiritual and social areas of life. 

But it was not just Western influence that harbored a threat to the Russian Orthodox Empire. Tendencies towards the setting the Kingdom [of Heaven] and the Empire against each other also existed among Russians themselves. This disturbing theme first manifested itself in the debates and clashes between the non-possessors (the successors of saint Nil Sorsky and tbe convinced hesychoasts) and the Josephites (the supporters of Saint Joseph of Volokolamsk). The non-possessors were a kind of radical contemplators who were immersed in the transcendent reality of the Heavenly Kingdom. The Josephites, on the other hand, saw the Church as almost a social institution, as an achievement of civil service. The Josephites were also called the “adherents.” It is clear that in such an especially harsh conflict between the successors of two saints (not between the saints themselves) a loss of clear proportions of the Orthodox Kingdom’s mystical structures manifested itself. As seen from the position of fully-fledged Orthodox doctrine, two complementary qualities (contemplation and action – the priesthood and warriors, who are here taken more narrowly in the field of ecclesiastical-monasterial house-building) are in this case juxtaposed one against the other, and consequently, both variants play host to a kind of incorrect broadening of the functions of one of the “caste” positions. The Josephites clearly manifested a tendency towards excessive socialization of the Church, to an overtly tight rapprochement with the state. The non-possessors, on the other hand, had a drive towards full abstraction of the actions of the Kingdom, which harbored the threat of the appearance of a special “clean” caste and a movement towards theocracy.

The fall of Constantinople was a turning point in the history of the Russian Church. This event had great meaning for the Russian Orthodox mind. The Turkish conquest of the New Rome could not have failed to impart a deep shock to the foundations of the eschatological worldview of the entire Orthodox world. This was practically the “removal of the withholder from the center”, the departure of “katechon.” Consequently, the matter of the coming of the antichrist became more relevant than ever before in the Orthodox community.

The Russian Church found itself in a difficult situation. On the one hand, Constantinople had fallen and, consequently, the “thousand-year kingdom” had ended. On the other hand, the Russian State continued to exist in a strong and powerful form, remained loyal to the Orthodox symphony of powers, and fully based itself on the teachings of the Church and the Orthodox tradition. This is how the theory of Moscow as the Third Rome emerged.

Initially, this concept was meant to lend a theological and deeply eschatological interpretation of the de-facto continuation of the symphonic Orthodox Kingdom after the fall of its traditional center of Tsargrad. In this perspective, Moscow was seen as a kind of temporary and pre-apocalyptic fortress of Orthodoxy fated to deter the coming of the “son of perdition” for some time. What is more, the theory of Moscow the Third Rome was first described in darkly apocalyptic tones as confirmation of a state of affairs that might last for a very short time, seeing as how the fall of the New Rome did not leave a large amount of temporal clearance for a second, additional cycle of Christian civilization. This logically follows from the identification of the Byzantine Empire with the “thousand-year kingdom.” When this “kingdom” reaches its end, the devil will once again be allowed to persecute humanity, this time up until the Second Coming itself [234]. This is the so-called “little time” (Revelations), i.e. the “short term” which separates the end of the “thousand-year kingdom” from the moment of the Last Judgement. In this interval, Moscow the Third Rome and all of Holy Rus were seen by the Russians as a providentially chosen “island of salvation”, as a special land that had been marked by the Holy Spirit and for which an exception was made among all-encompassing apostasy and which, for that reason, continued to safeguard the symphonic composition of the true and unique Orthodox Kingdom.

This is why the Third Rome was associated with the third person of the Trinity, the total house-building revelation of which, according to Orthodox theology, should be fully discovered only at the very end of history. From this point of view, Holy Rus was identified with the Kingdom of the Holy Spirit, with an apocalyptic state that had been granted a paradoxical status and been marked by Divine election. However, the concept of the Third Rome itself did not carry any triumphant assurance with it (235). Moscow was seen as a kind of favored exception, as a chosen singularity in a total sea of apostasy, as a small pause. Although in a certain sense the mission of “katechon”, the “withholder” was transferred to Holy Rus and the Russian Tsar, no kind of stability or permanence was assumed. What is more, the signs of the coming manifestation of the “son of perdition” were clearly felt by the Orthodox in Rus itself.

The Russians directly linked the fall of Constantinople to the Union of Florence, which had been signed by the Greeks in their attempt to save themselves from the Turkish conquerors. But this did not help, and the capital of Byzantium fell in 1454. The Russians conceptualized this series of catastrophes into a single logical chain. The Greeks had turned their backs on the symphony and purity of Orthodoxy by entering into a union with the Catholics who embodied discordant social structure and heretical tendencies in faith. For this reason, they were subjected to Divine punishment at the hands of the Turks. The fortress of Orthodoxy, the Second Rome, had physically fallen as a result of its spiritual fall. This was seen as the end of the thousand-year kingdom.

Numerical symbolism played an enormous role in the eschatological question. Rome’s falling away from Orthodoxy happened at the turning point of the second millennium A.D. The fall of Constantinople took place roughly five hundred years later, and the year 1500 (to be more exact, 1498) marked the end of the sixth millennium from the Creation of the world and was thus treated as a highly likely date for the End of the World. The last boundary that separated the fallen world from this great event was, from the second half of the 16th century, the Tsardom of Muscovy.

But the Muscovite eschatological pause dragged on. On the edge of the seventh millennium since the Creation of the world, events took place that were of a far smaller scale than the End of the World, but these were also interpreted in an eschatological manner. Several Orthodox circles in Malorossia (Little Russia – trans.) started to move towards the Latin heresy the same way as Constantinople had done. In this period, the Uniate Church entered its prime in Western Rus. Those Christians who remained loyal to the Orthodox Church interpreted these changes as an offensive by the antichrist against Rus itself and as a repeat of the same scenario that had ruined the Greeks not long before. Thus appeared a wide range of Russo-Orthodox eschatological literature, in which Uniate tendencies were seen in an apocalyptic light (the famous “Book on the Faith” of Zacharius Kopystensky, the apocryphal “Orel” writing that is attributed to Ezra, “Cyril’s Book” among others).   

In the 16th century, the doctrine of Moscow the Third Rome was further developed and became more assertive. The Moscow synod of 1551 known as the Stoglav definitively confirmed the teaching of the superiority of Orthodox Rus and its ecclesiastical-social structure over other countries, directly linking the political independence of the Russian State with the observance of all norms of Orthodoxy. The true historical realization of  what Metropolitan Hilarion had conjectured in the 11th century was now taking place. “The last became the first.” Muscovite Rus became the Third Kingdom, the New Israel, the last empire in which the fulness of the faith was safeguarded.

In the same period, the Patriarchate was established in Rus, which marks the completion and self-sufficiency of the sacred Tsardom. Although there were other Patriarchs in the Eastern Church (the Patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, Jerusalem, and Antioch), nowhere else were there Orthodox Tsars; that is to say, the prerequisites for a true and complete symphony of powers, for the existence of “katechon”, the “withholder” were absent. Rus became the one and last “withholder.” Because of this, from this point onward it is called holy in the fullest sense of the word. Holy Rus.

The recensions of Patriarch Nikon were a catastrophe for the Third Rome. Nikon himself drifted towards a circle of God-pleasers together with his future opponent, Protopope Avvakum, and like all God-pleasers, he fully supported the eschatological theory about the universal mission of the Russian Church and Russian Tsardom [1]. However, upon becoming Patriarch, Nikon preferred to translate this difficult historiosophical doctrine into a worldly optimistic variant, thereby totally dropping the alarming apocalyptic subtext that it contained; after all, “katechon” Rus was but a temporary barrier to the arrival of the “son of perdition.” Driven by entirely patriotic motives, the Patriarch conceived the idea of uniting all Orthodox lands and peoples that were repressed either by the Muslims or the “papists” around the Third Rome and the Russian Tsar, in order to spread the salvational light of Russian Orthodoxy everywhere and turn Rus into a sotereological Empire. This eschatological project also envisaged the creation of a New Jerusalem near Moscow, a characteristic sign of all eschatological and apocalyptic movements in Christianity from Montanus [2] to the Anabaptists. But Nikon did not choose a means by which to realize his project, and in order to wittingly easy friction between the other Orthodox Churches, in order to integrate them under the aegis of the Moscow Patriarchate and Russian Tsar, he began to adjust the ritual-symbolic aspects of Russian Orthodox liturgical practice to New Greek standards, which had generally been entirely accepted by the majority of Orthodox Churches outside Rus. In so doing, he neglected a most important point: the very fact of the power and the independence of the Tsardom of Muscovy was linked by the Russian people precisely to loyalty to uncorrupted faith, and stubborn resistance against all innovations from the West, which had caused Constantinople to fall (with the Union of Florence). In other words, Nikon decided to pay for the universalization of the Third Rome by sacrificing what formed one of its religious and liturgical traits. This became the point of departure for his book corrections. And Nikon’s explanations of an apparent deviation from Ancient Greek liturgical norms by the Orthodox Church and the “corruption of books” and “liturgical rites” seem totally sloppy. Actually, after Constantinople fell, Rus weakened contacts with it and froze the liturgical situation in the condition in which it had been in in Greece itself. At that moment, Byzantium was the scene of a gradual shift from Studite rule to Jerusalem rule [236]. This switch had not been completed in Rus, although both rules were considered fully Orthodox and had been in use since antiquity. But during the two centuries of Rus’ relative isolation and the incompleteness of the liturgical shift, several differences compared to the Greek example had appeared. It is these which Nikon rashly began to fix without taking good stock of the matter and hurrying to realize his own version of the Third Rome.

His opponents (who formed the core of the Old Believers) saw in his book corrections only the confirmation of the apocalyptic worries that had been forced onto Rus since the beginning of the 15th century. From their point of view, the divine election of the Third Rome was based on none other than strong loyalty to the existing Church tradition and the literal execution of all norms of this tradition on both a small and large scale. The price that Nikon was prepared to pay for the universalization of the Third Rome seemed to them to be exorbitant and contradict the essence of the whole undertaking. The supporters of Avvakum reasoned that the correction was a disruptive, anti-christic initiative analogous to those which had earlier ruined Constantinople and drawn the Orthodox of Little Russia into the Uniate Church. In the view of the Moscow traditionalists, the modern, post-Byzantine Greeks could not be seen as a criterium for the purity of the faith, as the loss of their political identity was linked to their apostasy in the direction of the Latins. Therefore, if it was necessary to correct the Orthodox rite and liturgical books, then it was the other Orthodox peoples who had to do so on the basis of the Russian model, and not the other way around. If Rus was “katechon”, the Old Believers thought, then the Orthodox faith had been safeguarded within her best of all, as an example to all other peoples. But seeing as Nikon began his reforms and book corrections bluntly and highhandedly, difference in method developed into a very deep, ideological and spiritual conflict. After some time, the reforms began to be interpreted by the traditionalists exclusively in a negative, anti-christic sense.

The harder that Patriarch Nikon insisted on the rightness of his position, the more radical the opposition against him became.

Along with the dubious (although idealistically justified) “correction”, Nikon disturbed another important condition for the stability of the salvational Kingdom, “katechon”: the symphony of powers and the providential and unique combination of worldly rule and spiritual domination. He started to move increasingly in the direction of a theocratic, almost caesar-papist direction, mistaking himself for the autocrat of Rus and the entire future Orthodox Empire, which was furiously being established by the (then) loyal Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich. But seeing as the disruption of the symphony by one side is always fraught with reciprocal action from the other, the usurpation of worldly functions by a representative of the priestly class wasted no time in summoning a “revolution of the Kshatriya.” Eventually, the Tsar rose against the Patriarch, after which Nikon was removed from Moscow and later deposed.

As a result of these fluctuations, a true spiritual catastrophe began in Rus. The Third Rome was undermined structurally, ideologically, and mystically. It is precisely in the year which was predicted by the “Book on the Faith” as the year of “apostasy” (1666) that Moscow became the scene of an unprecedentedly ruinous Synod that lasted until 1667 in which Nikon himself was deposed, his innovations approved, the power of the Tsar made absolute, the New Greek liturgy accepted as an infallible model (including the introduction of the three-fingered sign of the cross, the four-point Latin cross, baptism by aspersion and affusion, withershins processions, the dropping the word “True” from the Creed, writing the name of Jesus with two “и’s” etc.), and the entire history of Muscovite Rus, the Stoglav Synod, and the theological concept of Moscow the Third Rome were condemned and anathematized. The main judges in this process were representatives of the foreign Eastern Patriarchs, who had long been under the secular power of heterodox rulers. The Tsar himself practically acted as the main authority, worried as he was about strengthening the throne and trusting theological questions to the foreign bishops. It is possible that he was also moved by the desire to realize Nikon’s external imperial plans, but in a worldly variant.

This was the true ending of “katechon”, Holy Rus, and the Third Rome. From this moment on, the Russian State cannot be said to have been fully Orthodox and traditional. The raskol affected all sides of its religious and social existence.

The Old Believers definitively turned away from the “Nikonians” and insisted on the literal observation of the Old Faith, for which they were made anathema and subject to terrible persecution by the government. Many were tortured, executed, or burnt alive. All of these catastrophic events were interpreted by them as the beginning of the end times and the last fortress of salvation’s (Moscow’s) falling away from its soteriological mission. The spirit of apostasy that had first ruined the West, followed by Byzantium itself and those Little Russians who had entered into the Union, had finally reached the Holiest of Holies. According to the Old Believers, the sanctity of the official Church was destroyed, grace had abandoned it, and it had turned into the abomination of desolation.

From this point onward, the Third Rome itself went on the run, and Holy Rus was broken up into secular Russia. However good the initial intentions of Nikon may have been, the result of his reforms was catastrophic and apocalyptic in every way.

As a full confirmation of the tragic rightness of the Old Believers, the rule of Peter the Great began. The Tsar began to realize the final secularization of Russia on an unprecedented scale. The Catholic-Protestant West was now openly seen as an example and model to be imitated, the Patriarchy was abolished, and the official Church was placed under the harsh control of the secular government in the same way that the English monarchy had done. What is more, it is highly symbolic that Peter the Great moved the Russian capital to the West away from Moscow [237], thereby putting a symbolic end to the Third Rome, which was now taken off the agenda. Its place was taken by the New Babylon.



[232] We must add that already at the dawn of Russian Orthodoxy, we encounter an intuition of the special mission that has been entrusted to Rus and the Russian people along with their conversion to Orthodoxy. The first ethnically Russian Metropolitan of Kiev, Hilarion (11th c.), in his “Sermon on the Law and Grace” applied the evangelical utterance “the last shall be the first” to the Russian people, which had been the last to accept Christianity (in comparison to the Greeks, Latins, and Bulgars), but was to become the first in the apocalyptic future when it came to the question of ancient piety and the true Faith of Christ. This epiphany of Russian national messianism later formed the basis of the official government doctrine of the universal, world-wide importance of Muscovite Rus.

[233] When speaking about “castes”, we mean not the institution of castes that is somewhat analogous to Hinduism and which never existed in Orthodoxy, but the fundamental relationship between the clergy and military, or the Dominion and Power which we have written about above.

[234] “And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season” – Revelations 20: 1-3 [KJV – transl.]. Further, we find: “And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog, and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea.” – Revelations 20: 7-8.   

[235] This has been understood very well by all serious historians of Russian Orthodoxy who have pointed out the dark and apocalyptic-catastrophic character of starets Filofei’s teachings; only a significant amount of time later did this tone disappear amidst the optimistic tones of the sovereign affirmation of Russia’s political independence. What is more, along with the change in tone from dark to light, the theological meaning of the “thousand-year kingdom” in Orthodox dogma disappeared and the Orthodox symphony of powers was destroyed. See Florovsky G., Puti Russkogo Bogoslovia, Vilnius 1991 [translated in English as Ways of Russian Theology, Nordland pub. 1979 – transl.].

[236] See S. Zenkovsky, Russkoe Staroobryadchestvo, Moscow, 1995.

[237] The name of the new capital itself hinted that Peter was a “saint” which, along with the geographical location of the city and its cultural-political raison d’etre, testifies to a Western orientation.

Translator’s notes:

[1]: The God-pleasers (боголюбцы) were a group of young Orthodox clergy of the early 17th century. They distinguished themselves by their good conduct and made attempts to better the Church hierarchy and laymen through liturgical reform and a return to strict observance of the Orthodox faith. Apart from Nikon and Avvakum, the other most famous God-pleaser was Gregorius (Neronov), archimandrite and later an Old Believer; all three men used to gather together in Moscow to discuss their ideas for renewal of the Church. 

[2]: Montanus was a second century pagan convert to Christianity. He claimed to be inspired by the Holy Spirit and called upon his fellow Christians to join him and construct a New Jerusalem in Phrygia. The mainstream Church’s opinion was somewhat ambiguous, but the movement was later condemned and, as a result, lost the vast majority of its support and dwindled to a few scattered groups.

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