Peter the Great as Antichrist: The Secular Sources of an Old Believer Compilation from Holy Scripture
Keywords:Peter the Great, Antichrist, Old Believers, Evfimii, beguny, V. I. Kel’siev, sacralisation of the monarch
This article is devoted to an Old Believer work about Peter the Great, known as A Compilation from Holy Scripture about the Antichrist, which was first published in 1861. Some scholars have suggested that the work dates back to Peter’s reign, when many traditionally minded Orthodox Christians regarded the tsar as the Antichrist. The author of this article argues, however, that the work dates from the early nineteenth century, and that the case it makes for Peter’s identity as Antichrist is based primarily on tales about the tsar which were published in the late eighteenth century. On the basis of anecdotes about Peter’s conception, for example, the author of the Compilation drew a comparison with the Annunciation, the Epiphany, and the Feast of the Circumcision, to demonstrate a sacrilegious parallel between Peter’s biography and that of Christ, which “proved” that Peter was the Antichrist. The Compilation also cites works which seem to blasphemously suggest that Peter was God incarnate, in order to argue that the tsar was the embodiment not of God, but of Satan. Finally, when one work praised Catherine the Great for representing “the spirit of Peter the Great”, the compiler concluded that the spirit of all subsequent Russian rulers was also the spirit of Peter, that is, the spirit of the Antichrist. This is an idiosyncratic version of the argument made in the late eighteenth century by Evfimii, the founder of the Old Believer sect of the beguny, that Peter had founded a dynasty of Antichrists, and that all “true Christians” should flee from his realm. The distinguished Russian scholars Viktor Zhivov and Boris Uspenskii have argued that the metaphorical sacralisation of the monarch, in secular eighteenth-century panegyrics, was interpreted literally by some Old Believers and contributed to their identification of Peter as the Antichrist. The author of this article suggests that a similar role was played by more popular works such as the collections of anecdotes which presented the tsar as a God-like figure.
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