Third Rome refers to the doctrine that Russia or, specifically, Moscow succeeded Rome and Byzantium Rome as the ultimate center of true Christianity and of the Roman Empire. This is the most generally misunderstood and abused of the several expressions of Russia's new place in the world resulting from domestic and international events of the 1430s and 1520s. The monk Filofei of the Pskov-Eliazarov monastery formulated it in one or two epistles, written between 1523 and 1526, which were then reworked during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Neither epistle survives in its original form or a manuscript assuredly from Filofei's time. The first, probably written in 1523 to 1524 to the state-secretary administrator of Pskov, Mikhail Misiur-Munekhin, attacks astrology, the Roman Catholic Church, and the claims of the Holy Roman Empire, and in this connection asserts that Russia, with Moscow's Dormition Cathedral at its center, is the third and final Roman Empire according to the prophetic books. Filofei's unnamed opponent was Basil III's German physician Nicholas Bülew, who promoted astrology and Church union with Rome. The second epistle, addressed to an unnamed tsar—perhaps Basil III (1524–1526) or possibly Ivan IV (1533–1584)—and conceivably not by Filofei at all, calls upon the addressee to enforce the proper application of the sign of the cross by his subjects; protect church wealth; suppress homosexuality; be an ethical, just, and pious ruler; and, in oblique form, fill hierarchical vacancies.
Third Rome thinking served to elevate Russia's conception of its place within the Orthodox Christian world and the requirement to preserve the faith and its rituals in unadulterated form. If this potentially messianic doctrine played a role in the establishment of the Russian patriarchate in 1589, and may have helped Russians acquire a sense of responsibility toward the Orthodox and later Uniate subjects of Poland-Lithuania and the Ottoman Empire, at no time did it figure in aggressive policies toward non-Orthodox or non-Uniate peoples. Modern attempts to enshrine it as an essential element of Russian consciousness since the early 1500s have no basis.
The Christian notion of migrating sacrosanct goes back to the foundation of Constantinople as New Rome (still in the official title of the patriarch of Constantinople) and its subsequent claims to be a New Jerusalem, the center of a messianic kingdom. In the course of competing with Byzantium, even before the Eastern and Western Churches separated (over the course of the 860s to 1054), the German (Holy Roman) emperors also claimed to represent the true Rome. Similarly, while the Byzantine Empire still existed, among the Orthodox Slavs, Bulgarians claimed that their capital, in this case, Trnovo, was the New Imperial City (Constantinople) in the 1300s.
Russians did not seriously dispute Byzantium's pretenses until after the Council of Ferrera-Florence, from 1438 to 1439, when factions of the Greek and Russian Orthodox church accepted union with Rome. By defending Orthodoxy against Roman Catholicism, the Moscow metropolitans treated first Basil II and then Ivan III as new Constantine. With the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453, Muscovy/Russia became the Orthodox monarchy. As Ivan III discarded the legal and ceremonial remnants of subordination to the Qipchak (Golden Horde) khans during the period of 1476 to 1480, Archbishop Vassian Rylo of Rostov argued the absurdity of an inviolable oath from a genuine tsar to a false one of brigand descent. In presenting new Eastern tables for the years following the year 1492 c.e., which Orthodox calendars considered to be the millennial year 7000 since Creation, Metropolitan Zosima declared Moscow to be the new Constantinople, which itself was the New Rome in one early copy and New Jerusalem in several others. Ivan's diplomacy vis-à-vis Imperial German pretenses on the 1480s to 1490s and the coronation ceremony of his grandson Dmitry in 1498 emphasized the historic equality of Russia and Byzantium's rulers. In the 1510s Joseph of Volok, while claiming that the Orthodox Tsar is in power like unto God, asserted that any wavering from Orthodoxy would lead to the fall of Russia, as other Orthodox kingdoms had ended due to apostasy. Historical works produced in the 1520s by this school of thought (Russian Chronograph, Nikon Chronicle ) underscored the preeminence of Russia among Orthodox realms, while genealogical inventions used for state diplomacy asserted Roman dynastic origins of Russia's ruling house.
Filofei was not the only Russian churchman of his time to oppose Bülew's ideas; so did Metropolitan Daniel and Maksim Grek. Others also asserted a new world-historic claim for Russia.
See also: basil ii; basil iii; cathedral of the dormition; ivan iii; ivan iv; patriarchate; possessors and non-possessors
Poe, Marshall. (2001). "Moscow, the Third Rome: The Origins and Transformation of a 'Pivotal Moment.'" Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas 49:412-29.
David M. Goldfrank