Csar Ivan IV of Russia was so noted for his cruelty he became known as "Ivan the Terrible." Among the many monstrous actions of this sixteenth-century monarch was the murder of Philip of Moscow.
Philip was born into a good Russian family in 1510 and named Fyodor Kolychev. The Kolychevs were active in government service, and Fyodor spent his youth at the court of the czar. One day while at church, Fyodor was convicted by Christ's warning that a man cannot serve two masters. Fearing that the court was keeping him from Christ, Fyodor fled the Russian capital and went north to the Solovetsky Monastery, just within the Arctic Circle on an island in the White Sea. It was a primitive place compared to the glitter of the capital.
The monks accepted Fyodor and gave him the name Philip. He won a reputation for piety, intelligence, and a sense of duty in following monastic rules. In 1547, the same year that Ivan the Terrible was crowned czar, Philip became abbot of the monastery. Demonstrating exceptional administrative abilities, he transformed the monastery into one of the great industrial complexes of the empire. Under Philip's administration, the monks cleared fields for cultivation; established a dairy farm, a mill, and a workshop for leather and fur clothes; built storage bins for the monastery's grain; developed a system of dams, reservoirs and canals to drain the swampland and bring water to the monastery; built a hospital for pilgrims; and new dormitories. In addition to all this, they erected a new cathedral. They consecrated all of their agricultural and industrial labor to God.
The czar was so impressed with these accomplishments that he appointed Philip to be metropolitan--head of the Russian church. Philip. however, was not a yes-man. On religious grounds, he opposed many of Ivan's policies and his mass executions. Ivan tried to intimidate him, but Philip asked himself, "Where is my faith if I am silent?" He continued to speak against the czar. Once he warned the czar, "Your earthly rank has no control over death, which sinks its invincible teeth into everything. And remember that each person must answer for his own life." Ivan would try to reform, but then lapse back into brutality.
At last he beheaded Philip's cousin and sent the head to Philip sewn up in a leather bag. The next day, the czar sent one of his brutal underlings to arrest Philip in the middle of service. Ripping the metropolitan's church clothes off him, they dressed him in sackcloth. They threw him onto a sled and hauled him to prison. After that they moved him again and again until he was far from Moscow.
On this day, December 23, 1569, one of Ivan's henchmen, Skuratov, rode to the monastery where Philip was held. He demanded Philip's blessing on a particularly horrible massacre that Ivan had begun at Novgorod. When Philip refused to give it, Skuratov smothered him.
- Based on an earlier Christian History Institute story.
- Bobrick, Benson. Ivan the Terrible. Edinburgh: Canongate, 1987.
- Various encyclopedia and internet articles.
Last updated July, 2007