On December 4, 1505, in the Moscow Kremlin’s Chudov Monastery, Archbishop Gennady of Novgorod breathed his last. One would think that the death of an aged monk would be of little significance, yet the actions of this man had serious repercussions on Russian history. Approximately 20 years before Gennady’s death, unusual priests came on the scene in Veliky [Great] Novgorod. They began to harshly attack the Orthodox Church, accusing its priests of acquiring too much wealth and of making appointments to church positions in exchange for money – a sin condemned by Holy Scripture.
Following this line of thinking, the rebel priests concluded that the priests who had attained their office by sinful means could not administer the sacraments, and that therefore the entire church service had no meaning. On top of that, these wandering preachers denied the sanctity of icons and cast doubt on the Holy Trinity – a central article of Christian faith.
We do not know whether or not the Novgorod heretics actually said the things their opponents accused them of. All we have are denunciatory speeches, primarily those of Archbishop Gennady himself. Given the duration and zeal of his efforts to expose the heretics, it can be presumed that his enemies enjoyed broad support among Novgorodians. And this is not surprising. The birthplace of the heresy was a major commercial city. Throughout Europe, it was enterprising and tightfisted merchants who first refused to meekly submit to ecclesiastical prescriptions. They were also the first to be bothered by ecclesiastical opulence. They had no desire to give up their hard-earned money to the Church.
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