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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Alexander Schmemann

6. Russian Orthodoxy (41 pages)













From Schmemann's A History of the Orthodox Church
Page 3

Quality of Kievan Christianity.

For a long time the Kievan period was considered no more than a prologue to the history of the real flowering of the Russian Church, which was linked in Russian thinking with the Muscovite kingdom. Any spiritual or cultural achievements were denied it; it was dismissed as possessing only an elementary piety and moral casuistry and the schoolboy repetition of Byzantine models. In recent years these old evaluations have been increasingly shown to be invalid, and the Kievan period is more and more acknowledged to have been perhaps the purest and most versatile of all periods of Russian religion. “Kievan Russia, like the golden days of childhood,” writes Professor Fedotov, “has never gone out of the memory of the Russian people. Any who wish may quench their spiritual thirst at the pure spring of its writings; they may find among its writers guides through the difficulties of the modern world. Kievan Christianity has the same significance for Russia’s religious way of thinking as Pushkin has for Russia’s artistic consciousness: the significance of a model, a golden mean, a royal road.”[46]

The unquestioned success of Christianity in Kiev — that is to say, the “Russia” of that period — as soon as it was imposed cannot be denied, whatever barriers there may have been. It is apparent, first of all, in the saints of the period, who reveal how profoundly and purely the evangelical ideal was accepted and the whole rich experience of Orthodox sanctity adopted there. Among them were Princes Boris and Gleb, who were venerated as bearers of voluntary suffering; St. Theodosius of the Monastery of the Crypt (or caves) and his disciples, whose lives have been preserved in the Book of the Crypt Fathers; St.
Abraham of Smolensk and St. Cyril of Turov, the sainted bishops who fought paganism and struggled for the moral transformation of their flock. Such souls bear witness to the rapid sprouting of evangelical seed; they also demonstrate the versatility of early Russian sainthood and its unique interpretation of Byzantine classical traditions.

Basically it was of course the same Eastern Christian way to the kingdom of heaven, a sanctity primarily monastic. Its sources lay in the Byzantine literature of saints’ lives, partly translated in Bulgaria in the Menologion, and partly in Kiev itself in the Prologue or the Books of the Fathers (Pateriks)one of which had been translated by the Apostle to the Slavs, Constantine (Cyril) himself — and in the examples of the great holy men (podvizhniki), in the regulations of St. Theodore the Studite, and elsewhere. But there were new features in it as well: the veneration of the voluntary suffering of Boris and Gleb and the uniquely luminous asceticism of Theodosius of the Caves, which was addressed to the world and particularly devoted to the “humiliated Christ” — that mood or striving which Professor Fedotov has perhaps overemphasized in calling it Russian “kenoticism.”


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