Maximus the Greek

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Saint Maximus the Greek
Saint Maximus the Greek.jpg
Hagiography, fresco, of Saint Maximus the Greek (Graikos) in Greek Orthodox Church.
Bornc. 1475
Arta, Greece
Diedc. 1556
Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra, Sergiyev Posad
Venerated inEastern Orthodox Church, Eastern Catholic Churches
FeastJanuary 21

Maximus the Greek, also known as Maximos the Greek or Maksim Grek (Greek: Μάξιμος ὁ Γραικός, Russian: Максим Грек, c. 1475-1556), was a Greek monk, publicist, writer, scholar, and translator active in Russia.[1] He is also called Maximos the Hagiorite (Greek: Μάξιμος ὁ Ἁγιορίτης),[2] as well as Maximus the Philosopher.[3]

Early years[edit]

Maximus was born Michael Trivolis (Greek: Μιχαήλ Τρίβολης, Russian: Михаил Триволис) circa 1475 in Arta, Greece.[3][4][5] Maximus studied at Corfu under the supervision of John Moschos and John Lascaris and later went with Lascaris to Florence (probably in 1493[5]) and continued his studies in Bologna, Florence, Ferrara, Milan, Padua, and Venice.[6] While in Italy, he studied ancient languages, as well as ecclesiastic and philosophic works. He knew prominent figures of the Renaissance era such as the Venetian printer Aldus Manutius and made the acquaintance of scholars Angelo Poliziano, Marsilio Ficino, Pico della Mirandola, Scipio Callerges, and Fonteguerri.[5][7] Maximus was also greatly influenced by the preachings of the fiery Dominican priest and reformer Girolamo Savonarola whose ashes were gathered by Maximus in 1498.[8]


In 1504 (according to other accounts, 1505 or early 1506[9]), Maximus left the Dominican monastery of St. Mark and went to Mount Athos where he took monastic vows at the Monastery of Vatopedi in 1507.[10]

In 1515, Grand Prince Vasili III asked the abbot of the monastery to send him a certain monk by the name of Savva to translate a number of religious texts. Savva was so old that the abbot decided to send the energetic Maximus instead, though he had no knowledge of the Church Slavonic language. Nevertheless, the monks vouched for him, and he went to Moscow, where he was met with great honor.[11] Upon arriving in Moscow in 1518, Maximus headed the movement of religious reform.[12] In 1518, Maximus met Prince Kurbskii who later wrote about Maximus and his time in Moscow in Skazanie o Maxsime Filosofe (The Tale of Maxim the Philosopher).[3] In this work, Kurbskii describes a meeting between Maximus and Vasili III whereupon Maximus was astonished at the countless multitudes of Greek books displayed at Vasili III's court.[3] Maximus assured the Prince that he had never seen so many Greek works in Greece itself.[3] This testimony is the earliest known reference of a collection of ancient manuscripts belonging to the Russian Tsars which has never been found, also referred to as The Lost Library of the Moscow Tsars.[3] This lost library later became a favorite research topic of early twentieth century Russian archaeologist Ignatius Stelletskii.

Assignment to Moscow[edit]

Maximus's first major work in Russia was a translation of the Psalter together with the Russian translators (including the scholar Dmitry Gerasimov) and scriveners, which would be solemnly approved by the Russian clergy and the grand prince himself. After Vasili III rejected his request to go home, Maximus continued to work on translations and correcting the books for divine service. Observing the "defects" and injustices of Muscovite life, which seemed to him in direct opposition to his Christian ideals, Maximus began to expose them and criticize the authorities, attracting different people with similar views, such as Ivan Bersen-Beklemishev, Vassian Patrikeyev, and others. With regards to the question of monastic estates, which had already divided the Russian clergy into two antagonistic camps (the Possessors and the Non-Possessors), Maximus took sides with Nilus of Sors and his startsy, who headed the Non-Possessors camp.[13] This would make him one of the worst enemies of the Josephites, who stood for the right of the monasteries to own land. Maximus and his followers discussed freely the shortcomings of Russia's internal and foreign policies, criticized the lifestyle of the Russian clergy, exploitation of peasants, and the system of supporting local authorities by "milking" the peasants (the so-called кормление, or kormleniye).


Maximus the Greek has been held in the greatest repute by Old Believers, and his images are normally featured in every Old Believer church.

Maximus's relations with Vassian Patrikeyev, Ivan Bersen-Beklemishev, and Turkish ambassador Skinder, Metropolitan Daniel's hostility towards him, and Greeks' own negative attitude towards Vasili III's intention to divorce Solomonia Saburova decided his fate. A sobor in 1525 accused Maximus of nonconformism and heresy based on his views and translations of ecclesiastic books, disregarding his incomplete knowledge of Russian and obvious mistakes on the part of the Russian scriveners (his improper use of the imperfect tense was used to imply that he no longer believed the Holy Spirit was the Third Person of the Trinity but only had been temporarily). He was then exiled to the Joseph-Volokolamsk Monastery and placed in a dungeon without the right to take communion or correspond. Maximus's "irritating" behavior at the monastery, newly discovered mistakes in his translations, and old suspicions of his unscrupulous relations with the now dead Turkish ambassador were all used against him once again at a new sobor in 1531. Worn out by the harsh conditions of his imprisonment, Maximus acknowledged some minor mistakes in his translations and excessive wine drinking. Finally, the sobor banned him from receiving communion and exiled him to the Otroch Monastery in Tver, where he would spend his next twenty years. The Patriarch of Antioch, Patriarch of Constantinople, and Patriarch of Jerusalem all attempted to negotiate Maximus's release with the Russian authorities, but to no avail. He himself pleaded with Ivan the Terrible (r. 1547–1584) and Metropolitan Macarius for his freedom. Moscow was afraid of Maximus's ability to expose wrongdoings and criticize the powers that be and, therefore, was reluctant to let him go. In 1551 (according to other accounts, 1553), Maximus was transferred to the Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra at the solicitation of some boyars and Hegumen Artemiy of the lavra. That same year, according to some accounts, the tsar is said to have visited Maximus during his pilgrimage to Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery; Maximus is described as having advised the ruler to take care of the families of soldiers who died in the conquest of Kazan instead of merely praying for the dead. In 1554, Maximus was invited to join a sobor, which would deal with the heresy of Matvei Bashkin, but he refused, being wary of getting entangled in this case.


Maximus died in 1556 in Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra, Sergiyev Posad. He is buried in the Saint Spirit Church in the Lavra.


Maximus left a voluminous body of original writings and translations into Russian Church Slavonic. He devoted a great deal of energy and ink to the attempt to prove his innocence and orthodoxy. He interpreted and explained for his Muscovite readers a large number of points of ancient and Biblical history, Orthodox Church practice and teachings, and features of the contemporary world outside of Muscovy. For example, he was the first to bring the discovery of the New World to the attention of Muscovite readers.

He is considered a saint by the Eastern Orthodox Church, which commemorates him on January 21.



  1. ^ Arans 1983, p. 304; Wieczynski 1976, p. 26; Kovalevsky 1976, p. 142.
  2. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. 2002, p. 967,
  3. ^ a b c d e f Arans 1983, p. 304.
  4. ^ Golubinskii 1900, pp. 666–667.
  5. ^ a b c Medlin & Patrinelis 1971, p. 20.
  6. ^ Kovalevsky 1976, p. 142; Medlin & Patrinelis 1971, p. 20.
  7. ^ Golubinskii 1900, p. 670; Kovalevsky 1976, pp. 142–143.
  8. ^ Golubinskii 1900, pp. 672–673; Medlin & Patrinelis 1971, p. 22; Kovalevsky 1976, p. 143.
  9. ^ Medlin & Patrinelis 1971, p. 22
  10. ^ Golubinskii 1900, p. 674; Kovalevsky 1976, p. 143; Medlin & Patrinelis 1971, p. 22.
  11. ^ Golubinskii 1900, pp. 675–676.
  12. ^ Kovalevsky 1976, p. 143.
  13. ^ Golubinskii 1900, pp. 650ff.


  • Arans, David (1983). "A Note on the Lost Library of the Moscow Tsars". The Journal of Library History. The University of Texas Press. 18 (3): 304–316. JSTOR 25541406.
  • Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. (2002). The New Encyclopædia Britannica (Volume 7) (15th ed.). Chicago, Illinois: Encyclopædia Britannica. ISBN 0-85229-787-4.
  • Golubinskii, E. E. (1900). Istoriia Russkoi Tserkvi (Volume 2, Part 1) Tserkvi. Moscow, Russia: Universitetskaia Tipografiia.
  • Kovalevsky, Pierre (1976). Saint Sergius and Russian Spirituality. Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press. ISBN 0-91383-624-9.
  • Wieczynski, Joseph L. (1976). The Modern Encyclopedia of Russian and Soviet History (Volume 21). Gulf Breeze, Florida: Academic International Press. ISBN 0-87569-064-5.
  • Medlin, William K.; Patrinelis, Christos G. (1971). Renaissance Influences and Religious Reforms in Russia. Genève, Switzerland: Librairie Droz. ISBN 2-600-03894-9.
  • Haney, Jack V. (1973). From Italy to Muscovy, The Life and Works of Maxim the Greek. Munich, Germany: Wilhelm Fink.