The following item appeared in our newspaper last week:“On this date in 1547, Ivan IV of Russia, popularly known as ‘Ivan the Terrible,’ was crowned Czar.”
This got me wondering: Just how dreadful must the other candidates have been, if the man popularly known as ‘Ivan the Terrible’ was crowned Czar? Then I discovered a rare transcript of the Czar Search Committee from early 1547.
“Thank you all for coming. Let us get right to the point. Vlad the Horrendous, you have many qualities we were looking for in a leader. But I’m afraid the committee has decided to go in a different direction. With so many ruthless applicants, we hope you understand our dilemma. Sergei the Atrocious, you were under serious consideration, as were you, Igor the Malodorus. All in Russia have heard of your great exploits, and of the Cossack town, Slovitch the Serene, known since your visit as Slovitch the Smoldering; surely never again will any innkeeper be so imprudent as to suggest that you and your men should ‘sleep with the pigs.’ The decision we announce today should not be understood as disparaging your capacity for pillaging and plundering. Keep up the---ah, work. I must say, Pavel the Appalling, the committee was impressed with your collection of Polish toes, until one member pointed out that it is impossible to determine if, as you say, they were cut off the unfortunate peasants following your sacking of a defenseless town, or they simply reflect natural Siberian-winter toe-loss. Dimitri the Despicable, and Nicolai the Nefarious, we love the alliteration; but although we have no reason to doubt your claim to be scoundrels of the baser sort, we were unable to verify any truly heinous acts ascribed to you.”
“Our decision was not an easy one, but the committee has settled on Ivan the Terrible, who is even now being bathed and de-leeched in preparation for tonight’s formal announcement and Pole-tossing events. You are all welcome to stay for the festivities, as we have accumulated a large number of Poles of various sizes for the tossing, both male and female. We know the choice of Ivan may be a disappointment to all of you, but we trust you will accept it in a good spirit, out of love for Mother Russia, and not respond by---how shall I put this, bludgeoning, impaling or dismembering Ivan and taking the crown by force. The important thing to remember is that----Nikolai, is that a battle-ax? I think we were quite clear about not bringing weapons to this meeting. Put it back in your cloak now and there will be no repercussions. The important thing for you to remember is we’re going to hold on to your applications. As you know, the Czar business is rather unstable. You all remember the brief tenure of Boris the Debauched, now commonly known as Boris the Beheaded. Then there was Yuri the Fiendish, known to the peasants now as Yuri the Fertilizer. If it’s any comfort to those who were not chosen, we are confident that Ivan will suffer a similar fate.”
“But we would like your word as Russian gentle---as Russians that you will wait for the common people to become sufficiently disgusted with what we anticipate will be Ivan’s corrupt royal court, costly foreign entanglements and ruthless domestic policies before you help arrange the first attempted coup. If you are patient, you may each, in turn, get your chance to both wear and sully the Russian crown before it is unceremoniously yanked from your severed head. But this is Ivan’s day. So let us raise our glasses to ‘The Terrible.’”
At this point the account indicates that there were general shouts of, “to Ivan,” or “to the Terrible,” followed by the downing of several glasses of what’s believed to be the forerunner of Russian vodka. Soon however, according to the eyewitnesses, the toasting devolved to cursing, as one by one the would-be Czars grasped that their drinks had been poisoned. To this day, historians remain uncertain if the responsible party was indeed Ivan, or if someone on the Committee had simply grown tired of being summoned for Czar-duty, and thought this act might prolong Ivan’s reign.
Other historians (the kind who actually study history) attest that although Ivan the Terrible did become Czar in 1547, that is the only true fact in the above account. (Why we should pay any mind to historians, each of whom, in a few short years will be history himself, is beyond me.)But whether Vlad the Horrendous and Nikolai the Nefarious were historic personages, we have it on good authority that there was in fact an Ivan the Terrible, which brings us (mercifully) to my point. I think it would be helpful if our names carried such adjectives today. Bob Smith doesn’t tell you anything about Bob. Bob the belligerent (or even Bob the Builder) would be much more helpful. Suppose Mary Jones were to be called, instead, Mary the Mellifluous? Perhaps as many as 30% of all English majors (or .2% of our population) would immediately know that Mary is pleasant to hear. To pull another name out of the air, completely at random, you can’t tell much about a Tom by giving him a last name like Hubert or Humphrey. But if he were called Tom the Intolerable or Tom the Insufferable, innocent children, pets and pastors would know to keep their distance.
If the Lord were to give you a descriptive name, what would it be? If you are a follower of Christ, I trust it would not be anything like Nefarious or Despicable, but rather, something like Loving, or Gentle, or Valiant, or Determined. Even now, you might be called, among the angels assigned for your care, Cora the Kind, or Arlene the Honorable, or Peter the Patient, or David the Dedicated.Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)
You will certainly never be a Czar, and you will probably never be cited in a history text, but if others can see Christ in you, you may well accomplish more than any Czar, Tsar, or Tzar, whether Terrible, Horrendous or Atrocious. That’s something to celebrate!