top of page
Check back soon
Once posts are published, you’ll see them here.

Apr 25 Ivan the Terrible's Monk

Today in 1549, Adrian of Ondrusov, an Orthodox monk died after being killed by robbers. Now venerated by the Orthodox church as a saint, Adrian was supported by Ivan Vasilyevich the grand prince of Moscow from and the first tsar of all Russia. Adrian founded a monastic community with an endowment from Ivan and agreed to become the godfather to his daughter.

This was a complicated association for a saint – as the Tsar was commonly known in English as Ivan the Terrible. Contemporary sources present disparate accounts of Ivan's complex personality. He was described as intelligent and devout but also prone to paranoia, rage, and episodic outbreaks of mental instability that increased with age. In one fit of anger, he murdered his eldest son and heir, and the latter's unborn child.

Ivan was first tsar of all Russia from 1547 to 1584 and was a ruthless tyrant. He oversaw Russia's transformation from a medieval state to an empire at a cost to its people and its broader, long-term economy.


Ivan was a follower of Christian Orthodoxy but with a very narrow interpretation of the Gospel. His emphasis was on defending the divine right of the ruler to unlimited power under God. It is this association with divine power that may explain the sadistic and brutal deeds of Ivan the Terrible which included drowning and roasting people alive or torturing victims with boiling or freezing water, corresponding to the torments of Hell. That was consistent with Ivan's view of being God's representative on Earth with a sacred right and duty to punish. However, the tyrant felt above the church and had at least six, possibly eight, wives, although only four of them were recognised by the Church. Three of them were apparently poisoned by his enemies or by aristocratic families, who wanted to promote their daughters to be his brides. Even while his seventh wife was alive, he was negotiating to marry Mary Hastings, a distant relative of Queen Elizabeth of England. Of course, polygamy was also prohibited by the Church, but Ivan planned to "put his wife away". Ivan freely interfered in church affairs by ousting Metropolitan Philip and ordering him to be killed and accusing of treason and deposing the second-oldest hierarch, Novgorod Archbishop Pimen. Many monks were tortured to death during the Massacre of Novgorod

Adrian of Ondrosuv, had been a nobleman and was the owner of a rich estate when he accidentally encountered a holy hermit Alexander during a stag hunt. This chance encounter changed his life and forsaking his estate, he took monastic tonsure at the Valaamo monastery with the name Adrian. Several years later, with the blessing of Alexander he settled in a solitary place on the peninsula of Lake Ladoga. There he built a church in honour of Saint Nicholas. This was in a deep forest, nearby was an island, where a gang of outlaws lived under the leadership of Ondrusa – a Cossack warlord (called an ataman) . Encountering the monks, the ataman demanded that they get off his land. Adrian, knowing that he did not have money to buy the place, promised the ataman to intercede for him before God and impressed by his humility he softened and said, “Live Here.” However, the warlord was soon taken captive by another gang, hidden not far from the stonyPs Cape of Storozhev. Knowing that after suffering, torture and death awaited him, he bitterly repented of his former life. Suddenly, he saw Adrian before him, hearing him say, “You are freed through the mercy of the Lord, for Whose sake you were asked to show mercy to the wilderness brethren,” and then Adrian vanished. The warlord was amazed to find himself without fetters at the shore. With no one around, astonished, he rushed to the Adrian’s monastery and found the monks chanting Psalms. It seemed that Adrian had not left the monastery. The robber fell at the knees of the saint and begged to be accepted as one of the monks. He finished his life in repentance at the monastery.

Adrians fame as a holy man spread around Russia and he was chosen to be godfather for Anna, daughter of Tsar Ivan the Terrible. When the saint was returning from Moscow to the monastery, robbers killed him near the village of Obzha, hoping to find money. Two years later his community found his incorrupt body in a swamp and committed it to burial in the wall of his church in honor of Saint Nicholas.


bottom of page