Morozova, Boiarynia (1632–1675)

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MOROZOVA, BOIARYNIA (16321675). Feodosiia Prokof'evna Morozova, born Sokovnina and known later as the nun Feodora, was one of Muscovy's leading aristocratic women associated with the Old Believers. After Morozova's death as a martyr in defense of the old forms of worship, she was venerated as the movement's principal female saint.

In 1662 Morozova obtained control over one of Muscovy's largest estates following the death of her husband, the Kremlin politician Gleb Ivanovich Morozov. Ruling in the name of her only son, she proved an effective administrator. However, she soon adopted an ascetic way of life and used her wealth for almsgiving. After the 1667 church council that condemned numerous male Old Believers to exile in the Russian north, Morozova's patronage became essential for the movement's long-term survival. Old Believers flocked to her Moscow palace in order to escape church persecution. She allowed priests to say mass according to the old rites in her palace chapel, and opened her doors to fugitive monks and nuns. One of these nuns, Sister Melaniia, became Morozova's mentor and convinced her to take the veil in late 1670. Morozova also protected persecuted Old Believer intellectuals such as the monk Avraamii. Her messengers maintained regular contact with exiled Old Believers and smuggled their writings to Moscow, where she had them copied by her scribes, thus promoting the dissemination of Old Believer literary culture.

Although Morozova's behavior greatly annoyed the Kremlin, she evaded arrest due to the tacit support of Tsaritsa Mariia Il'ichnina Miloslavskaia, the first wife of Tsar Alexis Mikhailovich (ruled 16451676). After her death and the tsar's remarriage in 1671, Morozova was arrested by agents of the Secret Chancellery, put in chains, tortured, and threatened with execution. Staunchly refusing to betray her Old Believer loyalties, she was confined to a monastic dungeon, where she finally died of starvation in 1675.

Morozova's vita was compiled shortly after her death, probably on the initiative of her older brother. Revised at least twice by early-eighteenth-century authors, this enormously popular vita made Morozova a larger-than-life figure and inspired subsequent generations of Old Believer women. But while the story of Morozova's resistance against the Orthodox Church entered the Old Believer canon, stories of other boyar women who engaged in similar resistance were not widely transmitted. Particularly noteworthy among the omissions is Morozova's sister, Evdokiia Urusova, whose correspondence with her children provides moving insights into the spiritual struggles that led her and other elite women to sacrifice their lives for their religious convictions. Another omission is Princess Elena Khrushcheva, who led the Moscow Old Believer community after Morozova's death and became so influential that the exiled archpriest Avvakum Petrovich considered her a major challenge to his spiritual authority. Other boyar women whose activities left substantial traces in church archival records include Anna Khilkova, Evdokiia Naryshkina, and Evdokiia Leont'eva. These and other largely forgotten elite women significantly contributed to the survival of the Old Believer movement during the late-seventeenth century.

See also Avvakum Petrovich ; Nikon, patriarch ; Old Believers ; Orthodoxy, Russian .


Mazunina, A. I., ed. Povest' o boiaryne Morozovoi. Leningrad, 1979.

Michels, Georg. "Muscovite Elite Women and Old Belief." Harvard Ukrainian Studies 19 (1995): 428450.

Schmücker-Breloer, M., ed. Die Briefe der Fürstin E. P. Urusova: Faksimile der Handschrift. Einleitung, Text, Glossar. Hamburg, 1990.

Georg Michels