Augustine Sokolovski

The saint was the archbishop of Veliky Novgorod when the Moscow State had not yet managed to subjugate the ancient city. Jonah is one of those great Novgorod saints with whom this episcopal see rightfully adorns.

He was Archbishop of Novgorod from 1458 to 1470. Let us recall that in the ancient Church the title of “archbishop” was usually assigned to the heads of independent local Churches. Novgorod was subordinated to Moscow as a result of the Moscow-Novgorod War of 1477–78, that is, 8 years after the death of Jonah.

The Life of Jonah is an exemplary medieval episcopal biography. Therefore, beyond the features of the iconographic hagiographic narrative, it is not easy to grasp the unique features of his biography and personality.

The saint was popularly elected Archbishop of Novgorod in 1458. Before that, he was abbot in a monastery far from the city, where he proved himself to be a successful builder and confessor. He was elected hegumen of the monastery by the brethren.

An orphan since childhood, John, as Jonah was called before becoming a monk, once stood up to his peers for a wanderer passing by. He turned out to be the great Novgorod holy fool for Christ, the future famous saint, Michael of Klopsk (+1453). As a token of gratitude, Michael blessed Jonah, which the latter remembered for the rest of his life. Jonah perceived his election to the episcopal ministry as a gift through the prayers of the saint.

Jonah was a real bishop for his flock, he tried to protect the weak, and encouraged the strong to carry out righteous justice.

He was accessible to everyone, helping those who turned to him in word and deed. It is important to remember that, according to ancient tradition, the bishop had the right of trial in certain cases and could exempt from seemingly inevitable punishment by the verdict of a secular court.

The saint understood the value of Novgorod's independence. So, one day he did not take part in one of the church councils in Moscow. However, Jonah foresaw that submission to the new Capital was inevitable. Once he kept the Novgorodians from reprisals against the envoys of the Moscow prince, and subsequently he himself went as an envoy to Moscow.

On the way to the “Third Rome”, and Moscow was already beginning to consider itself as such, Jonah bowed to the relics of St. Sergius. Having returned, he built a church dedicated to Sergius in Novgorod. In the language of medieval sacred semantics, this was an undoubted prophecy that the time was coming to unite the Orthodox Christians of the northern lands into a single whole.