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The Resignation of Metropolitan Afanasii in 1566

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This article offers a new perspective on the relations between Ivan the Terrible and the Orthodox Church by examining the cultural and anthropological context of the resignation of Metropolitan Afanasii in 1566. Historians usually think that Afanasii, who headed the Orthodox Church from 1564 to 1566, resigned because of his disapproval of the Oprichnina terror. Correspondingly, most historians are skeptical about the official reason for Afanasii’s resignation, his illness. On the basis of a critical reassessment of existing sources from the perspective of Muscovite attitudes to illness, this paper argues that Afanasii’s illness was genuine. At the same time, his illness and resignation included a performative component because Afanasii faced a dilemma: to stay in the metropolitan’s office until his death as required by cultural conventions or to seek a spiritual cure for his illness through repentance and redemption. In his response to this cultural challenge, Afanasii evoked the themes of miraculous healing and glorifying God through creative work by resorting to the cults of his most venerated predecessors on the metropolitan’s see.

Affiliations: 1: School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London, UK


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