The Resignation of Metropolitan Afanasii in 1566

in Canadian-American Slavic Studies
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This article offers a new perspective on the relations between Ivan the Terrible and the Orthodox Church by examining the cultural and anthropological context of the resignation of Metropolitan Afanasii in 1566. Historians usually think that Afanasii, who headed the Orthodox Church from 1564 to 1566, resigned because of his disapproval of the Oprichnina terror. Correspondingly, most historians are skeptical about the official reason for Afanasii’s resignation, his illness. On the basis of a critical reassessment of existing sources from the perspective of Muscovite attitudes to illness, this paper argues that Afanasii’s illness was genuine. At the same time, his illness and resignation included a performative component because Afanasii faced a dilemma: to stay in the metropolitan’s office until his death as required by cultural conventions or to seek a spiritual cure for his illness through repentance and redemption. In his response to this cultural challenge, Afanasii evoked the themes of miraculous healing and glorifying God through creative work by resorting to the cults of his most venerated predecessors on the metropolitan’s see.



N.N. Pokrovskii, “Afanasii (v miru Andrei), mitropolit Moskovskii,” in Slovar’ knizhnikov i knizhnosti Drevnei Rusi (hereafter SKK): (accessed 19 July 2013). According to A.A. Zimin, B.N. Floria was of the same opinion. However, Zimin quotes no work of Floria, only the royal privileges granted to Afanasii on 20 June 1564 in Akty feodal’nogo zemlevladeniia i khoziaistva XIV–XVI vekov, 3 vols. (Moscow: Izdatel’stvo AN SSSR, 1951–1961), 3, no 11: 29–30. A.A. Zimin, “Mitropolit Filipp i Oprichnina,” in Voprosy religii i ateizma (Moscow: Izdatel’stvo AN SSSR, 1963), 11: 280; A.A. Zimin, Oprichnina Ivana Groznogo (Moscow: Izdatel’stvo sotsial’no-ekonomicheskoi literatury, 1964), p. 240; Zimin, Oprichnina, p. 157.


A.A. Turilov, “Aleksii,” in Pravoslavnaia entsiklopediia: (accessed 11 April 2013). On the cult of Aleksii in the sixteenth century, see also A.G. Mel’nik, “Praktika pochitaniia sviatogo Alekseia, mitropolita Moskovskogo, v XVI veke,” Trudy Otdela drevnerusskoi literatury 62 (St. Petersburg: Nauka, 2014): 53–69.


Odesskii, “Chelovek,” pp. 172–173.


Pouncy, The Domostroi, p. 70; Efrem: SK 1: 389; Iona: SK 2: 200–202.


Collins, “Early Russian Topoi,” p. 158.


Pouncy, The Domostroi, pp. 115–116.


On Levkii, see Lenhoff, “The Chudov Monastery,” pp. 113–114.


Kolobkov, Mitropolit, p. 109. A late sixteenth-century chronicle originating from Vologda reports that Afanasii left the metropolitan’s see for the Chudov monastery without mentioning his illness. M.N. Tikhomirov, Russkoe letopisanie (Moscow: Nauka, 1979), p. 229.


On Aleksii’s burial, see Lenhoff, “The Chudov Monastery,” p. 104.


  • Figure 1

    The Resignation of Metropolitan Afanasii. Miniature from the Illustrated Chronicle Compilation. 0801_0850.pdf

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  • Figure 2

    The 1566 Assembly of the Land. Miniature from the Illustrated Chronicle Compilation.

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  • Figure 3

    Afanasii renovating the icon of the Vladimir Mother of God. Miniature from the Illustrated Chronicle Compilation.

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