In this painting, by Klavdiy Lebedev (1852-1916), an aging Ivan the Terrible is trying to make amends for all the wrongs he has done in his life. He is asking the Father Superior, of Pskovo-Pechorsky Monastery, to permit him to take tonsure (shave the hair from his scalp in monkish fashion) at the monastery. Image online, courtesy Web Gallery of Art. PD
Near the end of his life, wanting to find forgiveness, Ivan - it is said - dramatically changed his attitude and behavior. He was obsessed with sorrow and guilt for all he had done, including killing his son.
Praying for those he had executed, he forgave them of whatever supposed crime they had committed. He also paid for prayers to be said for the souls of the murdered.
The Tsar was re-christened as a monk, taking the name of "Jonah," perhaps out of respect for the man (St. Jonah) who founded the Pskov-Caves Monastery (Russia's oldest-in-existence) which Ivan had visited.
Death for the fearsome ruler came at age 54. Setting up a chess board on his bed, for a match (it is said) with his friend Boris Godunov, he died quietly and naturally inside the Kremlin’s walls. He was interred (reportedly wearing the clothes of a monk instead of an emperor) in the Archangel Cathedral where other Russian royals, who lived before and after him, have also been laid to rest.
The aftermath of his death was catastrophic for the country. Many of his gains were lost during the fourteen-year rule (1584-98) of his son Fyodor I (who was married to Boris Godunov’s sister).
Fyodor had neither the skills nor the grooming of his older brother. During his rule (where power was essentially held by Godunov), serfdom was introduced. When Fyodor died, ending the Rurik dynasty, Boris Godunov (the link depicts the church on his estate near Moscow) was elected Tsar.
Four hundred years later, the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin commissioned the Russian film maker Sergei Eisenstein to make a movie about his hero, Ivan Grozny. (Follow the link to view a clip from that famous film.)
After Stalin died, Ivan’s remains were exhumed. Forensic studies revealed that arthritis had crippled him, and his bones showed syphilitic signs.
Such studies, of course, can not tell us whether Ivan the Terrible’s problems were emotional, physical - or both.