The Time of Troubles
THE SOCIAL IMPACT of Ivan IV's reign was incalculable, while the end of his rule had truly calamitous consequences. His intended successor was his eldest son, but the heir met a premature death in a family episode at Ivan's own hand. This left the younger son, Theodore, as next in line to succeed to the throne. Theodore was not only a minor, but physically hardly capable of assuming the grave responsibilities of the tsardom. The minor's duties were discharged by his uncle Nikita Romanovich, and when Nikita died, by his brother-in-law Boris Godunov.
Godunov's military record was an outstanding one. He had been active in the annexation of the Siberian Khanate and in the expulsion of the Tartars in the raid of 1591. He demonstrated a keen interest in the Baltic question and sought Moscow's right of free access to that sea. He fully realized the political value of the Church, and it was partly due to the efforts of Boris that the metropolitan of Moscow was elevated to the rank of patriarch. Becoming increasingly disgruntled with her humble ecclesiastical role, Moscow now began to assert the same independence in church affairs as it enjoyed in the realm of politics.
Several factors intensified this aspiration. One was the act of the Council of Florence favoring unity between Rome and the Eastern Church; this displeased Moscow. Another was the successful claim of the Lithuanian Church to independence, followed in 1591 by the decision of the Council of Brest, as a result of which that Church was absorbed by Rome. This somewhat alarmed Moscow and the government sought means to counteract further aggression. At last, on the insistence of Moscow, a favorable decision brought the elevation of the Moscow metropolitanate to a patriarchate. Jeremiah, patriarch of Constantinople, with the consent of the other patriarchs, finally approved the plan. Thus the rising Muscovite state quickly assumed not only considerable political stature but religious stature as well. It could now claim to be the heir to the Byzantine legacy, the only logical successor to the empire of Constantine.
The peasant question assumed equal importance and marked a turning point in Russian history. During the reign of Boris legislation was introduced which curtailed the peasant's freedom; some historians consider this the definitive step that brought into being the institution of serfdom.