Novgorod, Archbishop of

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The archbishop was the highest ecclesiastical office and symbolic head of the cityLord Novgorod the Great. The chronicles refer to him as vladyka, a term meaning "lord," or "ruler," reflecting his duties as the representative of the city. He resided within the city's fortress (detinets ), met with Western ambassadors and Russian princes, mediated disputes in the city, and officiated in the city's main Cathedral of St. Sophia.

The Novgorodian office of bishop traditionally dates to the reign of Vladimir, who brought in Ioakim of Cherson in 989, but there is little firm evidence of its existence until the mid-1030s, when Luka Zhidyata served. The bishop received tithes from fines and wergild payments, but from the late 1130s onward a fixed income from the prince's treasury was set. Landholding, however, constituted the basis of the church's wealth, and by the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the Novgorodian Church was the largest landholder, employing religious and secular workers and even hiring soldiers.

Following Novgorod's independence from Kiev in 1136, the first election of the bishop occurred in 1156 when the "people of the entire town," perhaps in a meeting of an assembly (veche ), chose Arkady. However, the ability of Novgorod to select its own archbishop did not make the Church independent of the metropolitan, who still confirmed candidates. After Arkady's death in 1163, Ilya was appointed (not elected) first archbishop of Novgorod in 1165. The next election of an archbishop occurred in 1186 when townsmen, prince, hegumens, and priests selected Gavriil, Ilya's brother. After 1186 it became customary for the townspeople, prince, and clergy to elect their archbishops in a veche, but it is not clear whether all free Novgorodians participated. When there was no clear candidate the city utilized lots (for example, in 1229 and 1359): Three names were placed on the altar of St. Sophia and one would be chosen.

Sometime during the thirteenth century the archbishop came to preside over the Council of Lords (Sovet gospod ), the highest executive and judicial body. It consisted of some fifty to sixty members, including the sitting lord mayor and chiliarch (commander of troops), former lord mayors, and current mayors of the five boroughs. The meetings took place within the archbishop's quarters, and later in the archbishop's Palace of Facets, constructed in 1433. The Novgorodian Judicial Charter notes that referral hearings convened in the archbishop's quarters.

The archbishop did not directly control the city's monasteries, which fell under the jurisdiction of one of the five district hegumens (heads of monasteries). The monasteries were ultimately under the jurisdiction of the archimandrite, who also was chosen by the veche.

Moscow conquered Novgorod in 1478, and two years later Grand Prince Ivan III arrested and imprisoned Archbishop Theophilus. Ivan forced Theophilus to resign and replaced him with Gennadius in 1484, bringing the archbishopric more firmly under the metropolitan of Moscow. In 1489 Ivan confiscated most of the archbishop's estates and half the lands of the six wealthiest monasteries. These lands became the basis of Moscow's system of military service landholdings (pomeste ).

See also: birchbark charters; cathedral of st. sophia, novgorod; novgorod judicial charter; novgorod the great; posadnik; primary chronicle; russian orthodox church; veche.


Birnbaum, Henrik. (1981). Lord Novgorod the Great. Columbus, OH: Slavica.

Lawrence N. Langer