Boyarinya Morozova | Russian Oldbeliever Church

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Boyarinya Morozova

Boyarinya Feodosia was born in Moscow on May 21, 1632 into the family of the okolnichy (one of the highest ranks of boyars) Prokopy Fyodorovich Sokovnin, a relative of Maria Ilyinichna Miloslavskaya who was the first wife of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich. At the age of 17, Feodosia married boyar Gleb Ivanovich Morozov, the younger brother of the tsar’s tutor and brother-in-law, Boris Ivanovich Morozov. Boris very much loved his sister-in-law for her moral virtues and spiritual intelligence. He would often come to talk with her about various “unfeminine” religious topics and other serious subjects, saying that he enjoyed her wise speeches “more than honey and honeycomb”. In 1650, Feodosia gave birth to a son, Ivan. Boris Morozov died childless in 1652 and his youngest brother, Gleb Morozov, who was a sufficiently affluent man himself (according to the records from the year 1653, he held ownership of 2,110 households) inherited his richest estates. Gleb Ivanovich passed away almost at the same time as his brother Boris, and the only owner of this enormous status, perhaps second only to the status of the “distinguished people” Stroganovs, seemed to be the young Ivan Glebovich, but in fact, was his mother – Feodosia Prokopevna Morozova.

She was surrounded not only by wealth, but also by luxury. The familiar image of Surikov’s picture of Feodosia is not entirely true – the young thirty-year-old widow was very pretty, many Russian and European aristocrats sighed about her beauty, gentleness and countless riches. However, Feodosia loved to practice fasting and prayer, voluntarily giving up all the quick-passing earthly delights and pleasures.

Upon his return in 1664 from Siberian exile, the archpriest Avvakum found hospitable shelter in the house of Morozova, where other persecuted adherents of the old piety were also hiding. Tsar Aleksei knew about the irreconcilable attitude of Feodosia to church changes, but, while Maria Ilyinichna was still alive, he did not dare to seriously vex her. In 1665, at the urging of the archimandrite Joachim of the Chudov monastery, the tsar took away half her estate, but after the convincing requests of the tsarina, everything was returned back to the owner.

Close relatives, Feodor Mikhailovich and his sister Anna Mikhailovna Rtishchev, tried hard to persuade Feodosia to not resist the direction and will of the tsar, so as not to incur the wrath and punishment of the king, and to keep hold of their high position. As Avvakum attests, somehow, they did manage to shake her, but once having experienced first-hand the spiritually destructive consequences of their indulgences, Feodosia became even stronger in spirit, so that she could never repeat such mistakes again.

Hiding at that time in Morozova’s house were nuns persecuted for the Old-Rite faith. Among the nuns was the elderly nun Melanya, who prospered in spiritual deeds and who Morozova especially revered. Feodosia herself wanted to join the monastic order. Arriving from Don at the end of December 1670, the former abbot of St. Nicholas Bedesny monastery, Dosifei, at the request of nun Melanya, performed secret monastic vows over the boyarinya with the

name of Feodora. Shortly after, there was a final break with the royal house. The reason was Morozova’s refusal to attend the royal marriage. After the death of Maria Ilyinichna, the king decided to marry a young beauty, Natalia Naryshkina (the future mother of Peter I). Feodora, being a nun, did not want to be present at the feast, especially given that, as a relative of the tsar, she would have to occupy one of the first places and say the sovereign’s title, calling him “righteous” and approaching the Nikon-supporting bishops for blessings.

Her arrest followed on the night of November 16, 1671. The archimandrite Joachim of the Chudov monastery (later the patriarch of Moscow) and the Duma clerk Hilarion Ivanov with proceeded “great pride” to the chambers of Morozova, where she and her younger sister, Princess Evdokia Urusova, were found and they did not hesitate to put both sisters to interrogation. The confessors of the Old-Rite faith, who had long been preparing for such a turn of events, calmly and courageously answered, forming a two-fingered sign of the cross. Following the interrogation, they were put in chains and sent to the Chudov monastery for “synodical interrogation”.

Sent out to several monasteries, the sisters suffered all sorts of hardship and abuse. It was especially difficult for Feodora to hear about the premature death of her only son who had not yet had time to be married, but, strengthened by spiritual help from above, she was able to survive this grief in order to endure her feat resolutely and courageously.

After some time, another attempt was made to “exhort” the sisters. Patriarch Pitirim, then the head of the official church, decided to break the will of the confessors at all costs, first with flattery, then – with punishment and threats. When he set out to perform the anointing ceremony, Feodora determinedly pushed his hand away, which put Pitirim in an indescribable rage and ordered for her to be sent off in the most inhuman way.

The next ordeal was a soundproof torture chamber where whips, scourges and pincers hung in the room. There were also torturers in leather aprons and in the corner, a brazier and weights.

The first subjected to torture was the wife of a colonel, Maria Danilov, who was well acquainted with Morozova and also carried the feat of confessing the Old-Rite faith. She was stripped to the waist and raised to a rack. Following her, Evdokia Urusova was subjected to the same torture. It was ordered for Morozova to be kept on the rack for longer. She not only did not utter a single moan, which is natural when suffering such horrendous tortures, but she also denounced her tormentors as evil heretics and apostates.

The question of the fate of the distinguished prisoners led to complications for the king himself. The higher ecclesiastical hierarchs insisted on a quick execution and prepared a wooden framework for burning, but many boyars, pointing out the nobility of the clan, considered such measures unacceptable in this case. Feodora courageously rejected the new proposal to cooperate and have her former privileges and honors returned. Subsequently, by royal decree, she and her sister Evdokia were sent to the Borovsk monastery where they were jailed in a deep underground dungeon. This was at the beginning of winter of 1674.

At first, the prisoners resided in some degree of suitable conditions for existence, but soon, any last comfort was taken away. Books, icons, some change of clothes – even this they were deprived of and were hopelessly doomed to a slow and excruciating death from hunger.

The first to pass away was her sister Evdokia on September 11, 1675. Feodora, at her sister’s request, from memory read over her the prayers when souls are departing from earthly life. When she was exhausted, Evdokia herself read the prayers. Left alone, Feodora did not lose heart and again rejected the attempt to an exhortative agreement and bravely endured suffering from thirst, hunger, cold and utter loneliness. Just before her death, she asked the guardsman on duty to give her something to eat – some bread, an apple or a cucumber, but the guard only sorrowfully swayed his head. With the help of God, she once again regained strength and, according to the old Russian custom, gave him her shirt to wash and ordered for her to be buried with her sister.

On the night of November 1 to November 2, in memory of the holy martyrs Akindin and Pigasiy, the saint departed to the Lord. In her place was transferred Maria Danilovna, who until that time was imprisoned among notorious criminals, and no more than a month later, she also departed. The old nun Melanya and her fellow supporter, Iustina were burned at the stake.