MOSCOW – THE THIRD ROME?

A talk by Mark Jenkins on Wednesday 27th June at 8pm in St Wilfrid's Hall

In 1453 Constantinople had been captured by the Turks. Across the world there was panic. News began to spread that the Emperor and the Patriarch had both perished during the defence of a city many believed to be the greatest to have ever been built. People felt the end of the world must be imminent. Gradually a different view began to emerge. A view that the Roman Empire had not been destroyed, but rather that its centre had moved north to Moscow. The sixteenth-century monk Philotheus told the Tsar:

The Church of old Rome fell for its heresy; the gates of the second Rome, Constantinople were hewn down by the axes of the infidel Turks; but the Church of Moscow, the Church of the new Rome, shines brighter than the sun in the whole Universe. Know, then, pious Prince, that all the realms which hold fast to the Orthodox Christian faith are now gathered together in thy dominion. Thou art the one universal Sovereign of all Christian folk: thou shouldest hold the reins in awe of God; fear Him who hath committed them to thee. Two Romes have fallen, but the third stands fast; a fourth there cannot be. Thy Christian kingdom shall not be given to another.

Theological justification for belief in the special calling of Moscow was found in the Book of Daniel, which referred to how God raised up kingdoms, and then cast them down. The texts were interpreted to mean that the two most decisive events in world history – the First and the Second Coming of Christ – would take place during the reign of the fourth great Empire: Rome. Russian Churchmen argued that the sacred centre of that Empire had initially moved from Rome to Constantinople, and now to Moscow, the Third Rome. This interpretation of history linked Russia with the ancient kingdoms and empires of Babylon, Persia, Alexandria, Rome and Constantinople. The Russia Tsar was declared to be the successor of the Roman Emperors, the protector of all true Christians – an Ecumenical Emperor.

The idea of Moscow as the Third Rome is central to Russian belief that it has a messianic role to play in world history - a belief that permeates Dostoevsky’s writing, for example. The German historian, Oswald Spengler, author of The Decline of the West also believed that Russia had a key role to play in the building of a new, post-Western European civilisation. Spengler said “The next thousand years will belong to Dostoevsky’s Christianity.”

Mark Jenkins first came across the idea of Moscow as the Third Rome when reading Fitzroy Maclean’s book “Holy Russia” as a schoolboy. After he left the Army he travelled from Mount Athos to Moscow in an effort to learn more about what the idea meant. He became convinced that Russian belief that it has a unique, divinely inspired role to play in the evolution of world history is fundamental to a proper understanding of current Russian state policy. Russia’s refusal to conform to the rules set by liberal, democratic Europe are best understood in the light of Dostoevsky’s remarkably prescient predictions about the direction in which nineteenth-century Western Europe was heading – the chaos of two world wars and post-Christian, secular society. After returning from Russia and Mount Athos Mark Jenkins continued his researches in Egypt and Ethiopia. He is currently an advisor to a gold mining company with operations across Africa, but has also studied and taught ethics and philosophy at secondary level.