June 6, 2017
My first novel The Song of the Sirin imagines a strange scenario: what if the early Russians were the chosen people of God? What would that look like?
That may seem like my own brand of Russian triumphalism, but it’s more complicated than that. Russia, throughout its history, has gone through different phases of the “Russian idea.” Sometimes Russians isolated themselves, sometimes they tried to fit in with everyone else. But always, Russians have seen themselves as the bearers of a special historical calling, whatever that may be.
This is especially obvious in the doctrine of Moscow as the Third Rome.
The expression “Moscow is the Third Rome” is well known, even to children in Russian elementary schools. It’s said that Ivan III gathered all the princedoms into Moscow’s sphere of influence using this slogan. His successors then widened and strengthened their rule thanks to the “Third Rome” ideology. However, it turns out that the history of this idea is complicated and very fascinating.
In 2001, an American historian named Marshall Poe wrote an article called “Moscow, the Third Rome: the Origins and Transformations of a ‘Pivotal Moment.’” In this article, he explored the development of the “Third Rome” idea from its first mention in the letters of a 16th century monk to its current use in a newly-patriotic Russia. Arzamas academy (the original Russian article is here) has summarized the main points of this article to demonstrate how a phrase from the personal letter of a monk from Pskov became a national myth. The following is my translation of the original Russian.