The Reign of Alexis (1645-1676)
THE REIGN of the second Romanov, Alexis, who ascended the throne in 1645, witnessed important developments in both the foreign and the domestic affairs of Russia. In the realm of foreign affairs Russo-Polish relations remained the outstanding issue. Enough has been already said about internal developments in Russia during the preceding half-century which offered Poland favorable opportunities for expansion at the expense of her eastern neighbor. Large strategic areas settled by a population of predominantly Orthodox faith came under Polish rule. The Russo-Polish border became a heatedly contested question involving constant danger of war. On the other hand, within Poland it created a problem of a restless militant minority that tenaciously clung to its faith and native tongue and refused to be Romanized or Polonized. Together these constituted enough political and social explosive to keep eastern Europe in a continuous state of unrest. The revitalized policy of the Roman Church, which had seized the initiative in its effort to halt the tide of Protestantism, affected eastern Europe and sharpened already existing antagonisms until a spark might have set off a conflagration.
When the Counter-Reformation entered its campaign for the recovery of the sagging prestige of Rome in Poland, it came face to face with open revolt. The spear of Catholicism was the Jesuit Order, which aimed at eradicating Protestantism in eastern Europe. For a variety of reasons, not always motivated by religious sentiments, the Jesuit drive was supported by the Catholic elements of Poland. The crusade met with formidable resistance from the Orthodox communities which dominated the eastern portion of both Poland and Lithuania. The air, already charged with political and social tension was now further heated by religious antagonism, and matters reached a boiling point. In these circumstances the Orthodox population turned to Orthodox Moscow for aid. Since the fall of Constantinople, Moscow herself posed as the champion of Orthodoxy; those who even nominally owed allegiance to the patriach of Constantinople expected to receive aid from the mother church by way of its strongest member--Russia.
What followed in eastern Europe was a consequence of many centuries of church history. Moscow's aspirations for spiritual power had