Grozny, Ivan IV
Ivan IV, first Russian Czarby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
What happens when a child is orphaned, then raised with abuse and ill attention? When a wife dies, and leaves the husband distraught? When a country is led by a hypocrite in the name of God? And most crucially, what happens when the focus of all these events happens upon the same man? Basically, what we have here is a recipe for a monster. Since the resurrection of Christ, men have dealt with hardships and sorrow in two ways: theirs, or God’s. The latter is by far the best and most effective way to go about it, but the former often takes top priority. The Bible tells us Psalm 37:3 “Trust in the Lord and do good.” Ivan IV, first Czar of Russia, did not embody this verse at all. Looking at his life and times, one cannot imagine a more fitting description for him than the one his own soldiers coined: the Terrible. And that’s just about what Ivan was: a terrible ruler who delighted in spilling blood and harming others. Ironically, he was very much involved in religion, following orthodox rituals and church dealings. A larger irony than seeing such a man attending church regularly is virtually unthinkable. But that was the key element to Ivan’s legacy: unthinkable, yet possible.
To understand why Ivan was such a vicious ruler, take a look at his tragic childhood. Ivan Basiljevich was born to . His father, Basil III, had tried for years to have a child, but divorced his wife after no success. His second wife, Elena Glinskaya, bore him two sons four years after they were married in 1526. On August 25, 1530, Ivan IV was born into a world that held little joy for him. Two years later, his brother Fyodor was born. A year after this his father died. But in his last remaining moments on earth, Basil asked that Ivan become ruler over Russia once he grew up. After his father died, his mother Elena ruled Russia with a few faithful boyars (members of the Russian aristocracy) for four years until she was assisinated. Ivan was left with only his nurse, Agrafena, to care for him. However, she was taken away from him when his mother was killed. Traumatized by these proceedings, seven-year-old Ivan was left orphaned with no one who cared whether he lived or died, except the boyars. They intercepted his right to rule, abusing and abandoning him, reducing him to a beggar in his own home. The only time he received attention was when a ceremony occurred. He was cleaned and dressed exquisitely, to be presented to visitors. Afterwards, he was disrobed and isolated again. In the palace, Ivan witnessed a bloody feud for power through horrific murders and abuse in the palace. Frustrated at the indignities he was suffering, he took out his anger on vulnerable animals. Thus was the upbringing of the future Russian czar.
One cold day in December, after Ivan had reached his teens, he denounced the boyars of their conduct in ruling the country, doomed their neglect of him, and punished their leader by setting a pack of wild dogs on him. Not long after, the boyars renounced their claim to rule and gave Ivan full power. Ivan was complex, being both malicious as well as intelligent. In 1547, at the age of 17, Ivan was crowned czar of “all the Russia’s.” A month later, he married the lovely Anastasia Romanovna. Some months after the wedding, rampaging fires burned down half of Moscow. Ivan was moved deeply by the ruins left from the fires. He soon after took responsibility for governance, and put into action a new social code and system of justice that would make laws equal for lower people, and improved their lives. Russian government was becoming steady and contemporary with Ivan at the helm. His next move was to conquer Kazan, the capital of khanate. He succeeded with help from German engineers and artillery use. It was after this invasion that he earned the name “Grozny” from his own soldiers. Not long after, he conquered Astrakahn, the Caspian Sea and Ural Mountains as well as Livonia and Narva. Shortly afterwards, tragedy struck his life again. From that point on, he would live up to his title of Grozny.
In 1560, during the summer months, Ivan’s wife Anastasia died from a long-term illness. He married up to seven times after her death, but was never happy with any of his later wives Ivan became irate and miserable, going mad in the process. His old nature of careless brutality resurfaced, and never went away. Convinced that the boyars had poisoned Anastasia, he had them all killed or tortured. The Oprichnina, a Russian secret police, was formed soon afterwards. Oprichniki dressed in black, rode black horses and carried two symbols with them: a broom, which symbolized sweeping Ivan’s enemies out of Russia, and dog’s head, which symbolized how watchful Ivan was, which went to an extreme. Ivan was becoming more bloodthirsty and malicious. Massacres and public executions were becoming regular occurrences. Finally, his angry madness took its toll. In a furious temper one day, he struck and killed his eldest son. Stricken with guilt, he never rested correctly again. Miserable and angry at the world, he left it three years later on March 18, 1584.
Clearly, Ivan’s life was difficult and complex. Even though he went to church regularly, he never realized that the answer to his problems was giving his life and problems to Christ. In Psalm 94:17, the Bible states: “Unless the LORD had been my help, I would have died.” Ivan clearly didn’t believe in God, nor did he reign with a Godly standing. Ideal examples of a Godly leader would be men like Solomon or Moses, who were wise, and cared for their people. Ivan was neither wise nor compassionate. Brought up under nightmarish conditions, suffering tremendous loses, and not taking God seriously, Ivan became an insane monster with too much power. Forced to keep his anger within him for most of his youth, he took out on those around him in his adulthood, including his loved ones. At age 54, he died as he had lived: miserable and alone, with no one to care for him.
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