This painting rounds out the cycle of military-themed works in honour of Veterans Day. It portrays the two leaders of the Russian national resistance to the Polish invasion of the early seventeenth century. Kuzma Minin (on the right) was a butcher of Novgorod (some sources say he was a blacksmith), whilst Dmitri Pozharsky (on the left) was a boyar. This happened in the context of a period of Russian history known as the Smuta (“Troubles”, in English, the era is known as “The Time of Troubles“). The Rurikid dynasty died out, causing great instability in Russia. The Polish Rzeczpospolita (not only present-day Poland, but also Lithuania, Byelorussia, the Ukraine west of the Dnepr, and parts of western Russia near Smolensk) saw these disturbances as a chance to gain territory at Russia’s expense and to impose Catholicism in place of Orthodoxy. The “Counter-Reformation” in the Rzeczpospolita was particularly virulent (especially in the reign of King Sigismund III), and it destroyed the religious tolerance that was once widespread in Poland. On 9 October 1596, the notorious “Union of Brest” was forced upon Metropolitan Vasyl Terlecky. The unrest over this in Kiev was so fierce and vehement that the Uniate metropolitan was forced to flee to Vilna. This religious aggrandisement was part of a complicated series of wars and manoeuvres between the Polish and Russian states.
There were Polish invasions in 1605 and 1607, but the main conflict erupted in 1609. Polish forces entered Russia and marched into Moscow in August 1610, placing Władysław, the son of King Sigismund, on the throne. However, they could not take the St Sergius-Holy Trinity Lavra, which put up a heroic resistance from September 1609 to January 1611. The monks took an active role in the fighting, and the monastery didn’t fall to the Catholic invader. The Poles seized Patriarch Germogen, and when he refused to embrace Catholicism, they starved him to death. At this time, Minin and Pozharsky were called to lead the opolchenie, which was the host raised to drive the Poles out of Moscow and restore the throne to Orthodox hands. The Russian host besieged Moscow, whilst the Cossacks drove off Polish relief forces. On 1 November 1612, the Russian host forced the surrender of the Polish garrison in Moscow, after a long siege that lasted over a year. On 21 February 1613, the Zemsky Sobor (Assembly of the Land) elected the 17-year-old Mikhail Fyodorovich Romanov tsar at the Ipatiev Monastery in Kostroma (it’s interesting to note that the last ruling Romanovswere murdered in the Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg in 1918). The Romanov dynasty ruled Russia until its fall in the Revolution of 1917.
A contemporary parade on the Day of National Unity
The epic movie 1612 in five parts, with English subtitles… good stuff…
A new national holiday, the Day of National Unity, was first celebrated in Russia on 4 November 2005 to commemorate how all classes of society combined to defend faith and motherland. Actually, it was a revival of an old Tsarist holiday abolished by the Sovs. An epic movie, 1612, was released on the theme of the war to defend Orthodoxy and Russia. You can’t underestimate this episode, for it, along with the Battle of Kulikovo in the fourteenth century laid the foundations for the Russian national identity. Besides this, the courage of Minin and Pozharsky ensured that we would have an Orthodox faith to practise. If it weren’t for the defeat of the Poles, we wouldn’t be Orthodox today. We’d be Uniates on the Ukrainian model, at best. At worst, the Poles would’ve destroyed our ritual as well. This was shown by their brutal imposition of the Unia in all their territories. Look at the Ukrainian Uniates today! Mostly, they can’t have married clergy; they must follow the Roman line in everything. The brave leadership of Minin and Pozharsky saved us from that. I must note that the Rzeczpospolita declined after it started to oppress its Orthodox inhabitants. In the eighteenth century, it was so weak that Austria, Prussia, and Russia partitioned its territory amongst themselves. Poland did not arise again until 1918, in a much shrunken form, centred on the Polish ethnographic territory.
These men saved our faith, and we owe their memory an inestimable debt of gratitude. If they had been pacifists, our faith would’ve been trampled into the mud. The martyrdom of Patriarch St Germogen shows that abundantly (nevertheless, one should never be disagreeable or nasty to current Uniates. They aren’t responsible for the past, nor are they responsible for the kowtowing of their hierarchies to Rome). Be wary of all single-cause groups in the church, but be especially wary of those who parrot fashionable shibboleths (both rightwing and leftist) to curry favour with the heterodox. We deserve better.