Saint of the Day: St. Philip of Moscow

(Welcome to our Saint of the Day series! Each weekday, we present you with an excerpt from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints series, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press.Today's saint, St. Philip of Moscow, comes from Volume 1 of the series.)
Saint Philip of Moscow

Like the Savior for whom he gave his life, Philip of Moscow was thirty years old when he appeared on the Christian scene, unlike most men of God who are by then several years down the road, but he nevertheless rose to the pinnacle of the Church in spite of a late start. An heroic figure in every respect, this bold Russian was endowed with all the attributes that marked him for greatness, but the single strand of his fiber that made him stand out was his absolute courage. He would have ascended to the top of any vocation he chose, and, fortunately for Russia in particular and the world in general, he chose to follow Jesus Christ. 

Born in the early sixteenth century and baptized Theodore, Philip of Moscow was of aristocratic lineage in the house of the boyar Kolytchov. His father was guardian and tutor to the Grand Duke Yuri, brother of Ivan the Terrible, and his mother was heiress to vast estates. In accordance with the family tradition, he entered the military service and served honorably as an officer in campaigns against the Lithuanians and the Tartars of the Crimea.

In the course of a church service, he heard the priest cite a passage from the Scriptures that read, “No man can serve two masters,” and it was that statement that led him to resign his commission at the age of thirty and to enlist in the service of the Savior. He exchanged his ornate uniform for the garb of a peasant and the luxury of his family’s estates for the bleakness of a monastery, in this instance a remote monastery on the island of Solovky in the White Sea, a cloister which had been founded by two monks named Sabbatios and Germanos in 1429. Making no reference to his aristocratic and military background, he accepted an assignment as gardener and woodcutter for the period of his novitiate.

By the time he had fulfilled the requirements for monkhood, he had earned the great respect of the Abbot Alexis, who took pride in tonsuring the very bright and very noble novice, who then assumed the name of Philip. When the abbot left office he was succeeded by Philip, who was ordained priest by the archbishop of Novgorod, after which the new abbot donated his share of the family estates to the monastery, which he proceeded to direct to a position of prominence in the religious affairs of Russia.

Under his astute administration, the cloister grew into a complex of monasteries that was the pride of the land and one of the greatest spiritual forces in Russian ecclesiastical history.

Philip drew the attention and respect of the Tsar Ivan IV, who prevailed upon him to assume the duties of metropolitan of Moscow, the most prestigious post of the realm. For a time peace reigned as Ivan heeded Philip’s peace-seeking advice.Soon, however, Ivan began to live up to the reputation that gave him his name and in vengeance filled the jails with those who he feared would dethrone him, many of whom were executed unjustly. It became evident that Ivan’s fears stemmed from a deranged mind. His secret police, known as the “Opritchniki,” roamed the streets in search of real and imagined enemies of the Tsar.

The demented Ivan attended church as usual, satisfied that his punishments, harsh though they were, were in the interest of justice. No one dared to suggest otherwise – no one but Philip, that is, who in the course of a service pointed an accusing finger at the royal pew and called for an end to the senseless killings. The infuriated Tsar stormed out of the church, humiliated before his subjects by the courageous prelate, and immediately called for a hearing during which Philip was forbidden to sermonize further on the subject.

The gallant Philip, remembering he served only one Master, refused to comply and denounced the ruthless Tsar for his barbaric acts. For this he was banished to a monastery, where he was smothered to death. To this day no one has accepted Ivan’s plea that he had nothing to do with it. Twenty-one years after Philip’s death, his body was disinterred and found intact. His relics remain in the Cathedral of the Assumption in Moscow, a reminder to one and all that Christianity still lives in Russia. He was canonized in 1652.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from Pixabay.

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