St. Alexis (died on Feb. 12, 1378, O.S.) was the Metropolitan of all Russia from 1354 to 1378. He took in active role in governing the Moscow Principality, was canonized and venerated as a Moscow wonderworker. In the 16th century he was venerated as the patron saint of the Moscow princes and tsars.
Russian chronicles have maintained numerous accounts of St. Alexis’ ministry but little is known about his life before 1354, with these stories being half-legendary. According to the Rogozhsky Chronicle, the Metropolitan was a son of Mary and Theodor Biakont, a boyar who came to serve Ivan Kalita. While the exact date of his birth is unknown, Alexis is believed to have been born between 1290 and 1300 but not later than in 1305. His name at birth is also unknown. According to some sources, his baptismal name was Simeon, while others assert that his name was Elephtherius (Olfer or Alfer in short). One may suggest that one name was given after the saint’s name, and the other on the day of baptism. According to legend, Alexis took monastic vows at the age of 20. In the 1340s, by the will of Prince Simeon the Proud, he was appointed a successor of Metropolitan Theognostus. After his death in 1353, Alexis traveled to Constantinople where he was consecrated as the Metropolitan of All Russia.
Alexis’ ministry fell on the years of confrontation between the Moscow and Lithuanian Principalities. The Grand Prince Olgerd of Lithuania, who conquered the Kiev, Chernigov and Volyn lands and made claims for the Pskovian, Novgorod and Tver lands, wanted to return the Metropolitan see to Kiev or appoint a separate Metropolitan on the lands under his control. The patriarchs of Constantinople who didn’t want a division of the Russian see supported Metropolitan Alexis. However, with the restoration of the Lithuanian Metropolinate, Alexis had to assert his authority on the disputed territories, explicitly or implicitly defending the interests of the Moscow princes. Metropolitan Alexis’ policies were targeted at reinforcing the Moscow Principality.
Metropolitan Alexis was the author of a number of sermons and epistles. In 1365, he founded the Chudov Monastery (in honor of the Miracle of the Archangel Michael at Chonae) in the Moscow Kremlin to which he bequeathed a number of villages.
St. Alexis died on February 12, 1378 (O.S.) and was buried in the Chapel of the Annunciation in the St. Michael Cathedral of the Chudov Monastery. Sixty years later, the saint’s incorruptible relics were uncovered during a renovation of the church. In 1596, three Moscow saints – Peter, Alexis and Jonah – came to be venerated in Russia.
On Russian icons Metropolitan Alexis is traditionally depicted wearing clerical clothes – a white klobuk and a sakkos embroidered with circled crosses and an omophorion. The most widespread are two versions of the icon. The fist version is represented by icons from the Deesis row depicting the saint in a turn and with hands lifted in prayer. The earliest icon of this kind survived on the chalice The Savior Not Made by Hands with the Interceding Saints (1389) embroidered by Princess Maria, the widow of Prince Simeon the Proud, now located at the State Historical Museum in Moscow. The second version is represented by the icons depicting Metropolitan Alexis in a frontal pose, with the right hand raised in blessing and a Gospel in the left hand, such as, for example, on the central panel of a late 15th century hagiographic icon by Dionysius from the Assumption Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin. In the 17th century, the saint was sometimes portrayed against the background of the Moscow Kremlin, such as, for example on a 1690 icon by the royal izographer G.T.Zinovyev from the Church of St. Alexis on Glinishchi in Moscow, now kept in the State Tretyakov Gallery.
St. Metropolitan Alexis is commemorated on February 25 (February 12, O.S.), June 2 (May 20, O.S.) and October 18 (October 5, O.S.).
Zhanna G. Belik,
Ph.D. in Art history, senior research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum, custodian of the tempera painting collection.
Olga E. Savchenko,
research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum.
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