The last lover of the Empress – Іван Корсак

Ivan Korsak

The last lover of the Empress

The main character of a new book written by Ivan Korsak, a famous Ukrainian litterateur from Volyn, Arceniy Matsievich (1697-1772 is the representative of the second wave of Ukrainian enlightener’s generation in Russia. The son of priest from Volynian nobility. The member of saint Synod. Rostov metropolitan for 20 years (it’s the “lightest period in the history of Rosrov”). The Great preacher: he wrote 217 gospels. He passionaly defended the rights of the Church from government interference.

The lasting fight ended in defrocking and life imprisonment.

The metropolitan had been judged “for perverse and repellent interpretation of Holy Writ and for ruffling of the lieges” for seven days. After the first court Catherine II sent him as a simple monk to the monastery situated near Arkhangelsk. Then he was brought to justice as a political criminal (“who should be excruciated and killed”) and the czarina ordered to immure him in the casemates of Revel fortress.


Each word even said quietly, deliberately and insinuatingly, sounded very distinctly under a sonant ancient arch. Those words of severe judges, whose faces were stiff and immobilized with paroxysmal fear because of the presence of Empress, the honorable dignitaries, Orlov, Glebov and Sheshkovskiy, those words soared with surprising ease, but fell down like heavy stones on metropolitan’s shoulders.

Rostov metropolitan Rostov Arceniy Matsievich was being judged.

Yellowish light from numerous candles made the faces of great hierarches older and thinner: Timophey of Moscow, Amvrosiy Krutitskiy, Dimitriy of Novgorod, Athanasius of Tver, Gavriil of Saint-Petersburg, sitting in a row, and even the face of the youngest, thirty six-year old frisky fidget bishop Gedeon of Pskov seemed to be cut from an old dried lime.

The Empress Catherine II was sitting silently at a distance, with her people, and only flame of candles was flashing on some jewels of her finery, then on the others, as if it were moving from diamond to diamond from a turn of her head.

The chair wasn’t given to the metropolitan, he was standing in full canonical according to his dignity, he was standing and praying for patience and humility, for judgement as he was passionate and vivid.

Arceniy Matsievich couldn’t take offence at world judges in his years, rustling quietly behind, they weren’t judges for him, he knew too much about them. There were many legends about Glebov, a former clerk, who was then a public prosecutor, about his ability to give and take bribes, the legends were spreading not only in Petersburg and Moscow but in the most removed provinces. Sophiya Frederica Augusta Angelt-Tserbtskaya benefited by turning from Lutheran into Orthodox Catherine II… Sheshkovskiy, a factual leader of Secret expedition, who personally beat the most honourable noblemen’s teeth out with a stick, amusing himself and smiling friendly… Crack, as if the dry branch were being broken over the knee, white enamel on the floor, bloody mouth…

No, they aren’t judges for him. And bishops?

The metropolitan didn’t take offence at them. As a member of Synod he taught some of them, catechized, ordained, divided bread from one table with the others. He didn’t take offence for betrayal – “and forgive us our sins, just as we have forgiven those who sinned against us”… Arceniy didn’t reproach them with fear in his heart, because he knew consuetudes of throne very well. He felt the only disquiet, such strong heartache as if somebody sticked a needle in his heart and didn’t take it out but was twisting it and ripping up that fresh wound.

If lands and estates are taken away from abbeys and churches (officers are now prowling in the churches attaching church property as prisoner’s property, even candlesticks and altars), the Church will not belong to Christ any more but to Glebov and Sheshkovskiy.

The metropolitan Dimitriy of Novgorod stood up, stood up slowly, reluctantly, started speaking in the same way, but he became strict immediately and the ring of his voice was strong when he glanced at Glebov.

“Didn’t you, Lord, write that the Saint Church was in trouble and destruction at present… That It couldn’t be saved from beasts of prey who perished and crushed the church property as godless and criminal czar Julian did. And if you did, can the answer of Economy College to Senate be fair? There are terrible and keen things in the answer, terrible style, why they tell about Julian apostate if Economy College has been existed only since 1701 and has been executing all Majesty’s orders. What’s your choice, Lord? Enemies of the throne?”

The metropolitan Arceniy breathed on a complete breast slowly and hard as if he were going to raise break-breaking burden: he caught a cold on his way, the prisoner was taken to Moscow in a hurry, tantivy, exhausted and foamy horses were changed only from time to time.

On that Palm Sunday in 1763 snows did not yet get off, only on the hills fancy strips of unthawing arable appeared and blackened somewhere in unshaded places, such an exciting and crafty spring air, unthinkable blue sky, pure and sonant, even moving, where sad nostalgic bevies quietly floated; blue rivers were bringing the last clinking sky-blue ice. Arceniy looked around with a deep feeling and surprising peace – awakening of life, time of light hopes, expectance of exciting Easter night, even cloudy, but to which stars ran through darkness and obscurity… But Maundy Thursday was ahead, how to live up to see it.

The metropolitan coughed before answering Dimitriy. He thought, “Nice man, he hid simple prompt in angry question: find your letter wrong, agree with Economy College – facilitate your fate…”

“Dimitriy, God created a man free. But God gave a man the right to choose the way himself” – and the metropolitan looked in bishop’s eyes without blinking.

Only candles were crackling in an established quiet as if they were talking, and Dimitriy lowered his eyes.

“Eh, how cunning the metropolitan is” – Sheshkovskiy whispered to Glebov, but whispered so that the empress could hear it – “if I took him, he would speak otherwise.” The empress maybe didn’t hear, but the corner of her mouth twitched involuntarily.

“Lord, who let you change wilfully the text of anathema, which had been the same for ages?” – Novgorod metropolitan started at last.

“Dimitriy, for the sake of Christ Lord, don’t choose this way… For pity’s sake, Dimitriy,” the metropolitan didn’t say but groaned.

Earlier Dimitriy had a strange dream. He saw hierarch who was like metropolitan Arceniy and judged in Latin, “As our fathers, even saint ones, cursed the thieves of a property which they gave to the church, so do I, sinful and reproachful servant of the Church, not from my lips but from my fathers’ lips I pronounce you an anathema and sudden death…”


The metropolitan Arceniy worried about something else. Since that field-day in the yard of Kiev academy (many years passed, much water ran away in the Dnieper and his native river Luga on which banks he grew up in a prince town Vladimir-Volynskiy), since that day he had fated to carry hard burden. He, young boy, almost a child, even without moustache, was sitting then on simple wooden bench in a cosy yard of academy. He must have nodded under the gentle sun (he had been studying Lukreciy overnight so hard that varicoloured circles were floating in his eyes intead of letters), as suddenly an unknown man appeared on the road. He was tall, slim, with long hair falling on his shoulders – he must have obstructed the sun, because his silhouette gleamed an easy refulgency.

That man said, “Arceniy, you are a prescient. You will know the future even in many years.”

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