02 September 2017

Venerable Fathers Antoniy and Feodosiy of Kiev


Our Fathers among the Saints Antoniy and Feodosiy of Kiev Pechersk Lavra

The great founders of the monastic rule in the Rus’ lands, Saints Antoniy and Feodosiy, are commemorated today in the Orthodox Church. The two men, master and pupil, who founded the famous Kiev Pechersk Lavra in that city, were both immensely holy and also close friends with each other. But, as Gyorgi Petrovich Fedotov describes them, they had ‘very dissimilar’ and even ‘antagonistic’ approaches to the spiritual life.
A great unlikeness between the two Fathers… is hinted at by the scanty evidence of our sources. Unlike were their modes of life; unlike the ways of their respective disciples; unlike even their political orientations in the feudal troubles of the time.

As soon as the novices began to gather round him, Anthony left them in the care of the new abbot whom he appointed, and secluded himself in an isolated cave, where he lived until his death. He was neither a spiritual father nor abbot of the community, except for the first few disciples, and his solitary ascetic feats did not attract much attention. Although he died only one or two years before [Theodosius], at that time the latter was already the unique ‘shepherd of the rational sheep’, an object of love and veneration, not only to members of his numerous flock, but of the whole of Kiev, if not all Russia. Some thirty years after his death he was solemnly canonised as the third saint of the Russian Church [after Boris and Gleb]. This was ten years after Nestor had written his biography, large and rich in content—the best work of the chronicler.

There is no reason to surmise that the preference shown to Theodosius over Anthony was accidental. In the person of the former, ancient Russia found the ideal of the monastic saint to which she remained faithful for many centuries. Saint Theodosius is the father of Russian monasticism. All Russian monks are his children bearing his family features… Who of the holy Russian abbots does not repeat on his deathbed the last words of Saint Theodosius?
But what, precisely, prompted this preference among the ancient Rus’ for the more ‘pastoral’, the more engaged, the more practical and the more communally- and politically-involved of the two great Fathers in the immediate term? The historian Fedotov provides an answer here. Father Feodosiy was, like Saints Boris and Gleb, a model of Russian holy kenoticism: a feature which would become particular and pronounced among the saintly hierarchs of Novgorod and, in a more extreme form, in the holy fools of Moscow. The Russian kenotic ideal, in turn, was inspired by the Palestinian style of monasticism. Fedotov again:
Palestinian monasticism was… that stem of Eastern monasticism from which the Russian branch sprouted. One may speak of the humanising of the ascetic ideal in Palestine and in Russia. The Palestinians neither invented nor practised any artificial exercises for mortification. Their asceticism consisted of abstinence, fasting and the restraint from sleep; and of manual work… Palestine created predominantly the Laura (half-cœnobitic) type of life along with the purely cœnobitic one. The Palestinians also found time to serve the world. Saint Euthymius converted to Christianity an entire Arabic tribe; Saint Sabbas [the Sanctified] built many xenodochia, hospitals and hospices for pilgrims. They both took part in the ecclesiastical struggles of their age, supporting the campaigns against heresies in cities as well as in the Emperor’s palace.

The influence of Palestinian monasticism was strongly enhanced by the spell of the Holy Land throughout the Christian world. This spell was overwhelming for Theodosius in his childhood. Seduced by the tales of pilgrims, the boy tried to flee to that land “where Our Lord Jesus Christ was walking in the flesh”. Later, if not at the time, the lives of the Palestinian saints were superimposed in his mind upon the inspiring stories of the Gospels.
In Fedotov’s reading, this Palestinian influence left a significant influence on Feodosiy’s later life and service as the abbot of Kiev Pechersk Lavra.
If the Abbot Barlaam built the first wooden chapel on the earth above the cave, Theodosius built the cells around it. The cave remained for Anthony and a few recluses… No sooner had he built the monastery above than he sent a brother to Constantinople to fetch the Studion rule. He limited silence and contemplation for the sake of the working and communal life. Faithful to the Palestinian spirit, he aspired after a certain harmony between the active and contemplative life.

Into this classical harmony of Eastern monasticism Theodosius brings a note of his own. Nearly on every page, Nestor emphasises Theodosius’ ‘humble mind and obedience’, ‘humility and meekness’. In spite of all the spiritual wisdom of Theodosius, Nestor points to a certain ‘simplicity’ of his mind. The ‘uncouth garb’ which he did not relinquish even as abbot, drew the raillery of the ignorant… Social humiliation or degradation, approaching the ‘holy foolishness’, remained from his childhood the most personal, and at the same time, the most national of his characteristics.

Elected head of the monastery, Theodosius did not change his temper. ‘He was never fretful or irascible or of wrathful glance, but always merciful and mild.’ With all this mildness and self-humiliation, he did not decline the duty of teaching. Nestor cites some fragments of his sermons. Several of Theodosius’ short homilies are also preserved in ancient manuscripts. They manifest great similarity of form and content, together with a sincere warmth of emotions…

Abbot Theodosius not only did not isolate the cloister from the world but he brought it into close relationship with the lay society. This was his testament to Russian monasticism. The very situation of the cloister in the neighbouring outskirts of Kiev predestined it to be of social service.

Living on the alms of the world, the cloister gave back to the world out of its own abundance. Close to the monastery Theodosius built the house ‘for the beggars, the blind, the lame and the sick’, and connected with it the church of Saint Stephen; one-tenth of all monastic incomes was spent for running this hospice. Every Saturday Theodosius sent a cart of bread for the prisoners in the city gaols. One of his sermons ‘On Patience and Love’, was written as an admonition to the grumblers who were discontented with his immoderate charity: ‘
It would be good for us to feed the poor and the wanderers with the fruit of our labours, and not to dwell in idleness strolling from cell to cell.

But Theodosius not only meets the world at the gates of his cloister; he himself goes into the world. One sees him in Kiev, at the prince’s banquets, as guest of the
boyars. He knew how to combine some mild warning with his visits. Everybody in Russia remembered his reproachful sigh upon listening to the music of jongleurs in the palace: ‘Will it go, prince, the same way in the future life?’

Serving justice involved the saint in conflict not only with judges but also with princes… Iaroslav’s sons, Sviatoslav and Vsevolod, had driven away their senior brother, Iziaslav, from the Kievan throne. Taking possession of Kiev, they sent for Theodosius to come to dinner. The saint answered sternly: ‘I will not go to the banquet of Jezebel nor communicate in viands full of blood and murder.’ From that day Theodosius did not cease to accuse Sviatoslav, who had usurped Kiev, that ‘he has done it against justice and sat on the throne against law’… At last, [Theodosius] offended the prince and it was rumoured Theodosius was doomed to exile. He was glad to suffer for justice and redoubled his incriminations: for ‘he was very eager to go into exile’. But Sviatoslav dared not raise his hand against the saintly man… and [Theodosius], seeing the uselessness of words, changed his tactics: now he did not reproach the prince, but entreated him to return the throne to his brother.

Obviously the saint did not consider sæcular and political affairs beyond his spiritual competence. In striving for justice he was ready to go into exile or to death. Yet he was no rigorist and, eventually, he subordinated the law of justice to the law of charity and to practical expediency. He believed his duty was to teach princes and theirs to listen to his admonitions. But he acted towards them not as one having authority but as the agent of the meek power of Christ.
This summarises Father Feodosiy in Gyorgi Fedotov’s telling, and it’s clear from this treatment which of the two Fathers he himself prefers. But thankfully, he’s too responsible a historian to entirely neglect to speak about Saint Feodosiy’s teacher, Father Antoniy, either!
Two currents of spiritual life are disclosed in the monastery of Saints Anthony and Theodosius: one subterranean, ascetico-heroic, connected with cave-reclusion; the other ‘superterranean’—humble, obedient, charitable. The Anthony type dominates in the [Kievan] Patericon. The separation of the two kinds of life is not always possible, as many of the cited portraits show; the contrast, however, remains.

[Saint Anthony] obviously considered himself a disciple of the Greek anchorites of Mount Athos. In fact he spent some years of his life there, and one of our sources (the
Chronicle) ties the history of the Kievan cloister with the ‘Holy Mountain’. ‘The Blessing of the Holy Mountain’ is mentioned many times by Anthony. Now the Russian Anthony school has very little in common with the classical Greek tradition as represented by Studion. Athos always held an exceptional place in Greek monasticism: a place of the severest ascetic exploits and lonely contemplative life. Unfortunately, the conditions of life on the mountain during the sojourn of Anthony in the first half of the eleventh century are little-known.

The nearest literary pattern for Anthony’s school is found not in Greece but in ancient Syria of the fifth century, reflected in the hagiographic work of Theodoret, the
Historia Religiosa. The Syrian ascetic saints were well-known in Russia because all the chapters of Theodoret’s book had entered into the Slavonic Prolog (Lectionary). Whether through literary channels or through the mediation of Athos, the Syrian pattern of life is easily recognisable in Kiev. It is a cruel, almost superhuman bodily asceticism with the spirit of perpetual repentance: a visible sign is the gift of tears.

The destiny of these two spiritual schools [the Athonite-Syriac and the Palestinian] on Russian soil was not identical… Anthony left some personal disciples, devoted to the recluse life, whose extraordinary exploits strike our imagination as they struck the authors of the thirteenth century. But the
Patericon itself gives evidence of their limited influence. Anthony’s disciples were outnumbered and sometimes even neglected by the school of Theodosius… Among the hundreds of Russian saints of later times, no one can be considered a follower of the Kievan Cave tradition… even though they venerated the bodies of ancient recluses and read of their terrifying achievements, people were not allured to imitate them.

One can consider the Anthonian school as the first, unsuccessful attempt of the newly-born Russian monasticism to imitate the Oriental patterns in their most severe expression. It bears evidence of the radicalism, or thoroughness, of the Russian approach to religion. Certainly the Anthonian tradition did not expire without leaving any traces. At all times one will find the severe, ascetic type of religion side-by-side with the kenotic or caritative one. Yet, its forms and even religious background will be found different.
Orthodox believers should not take this ‘great unlikeness’ between the two monastic giants we are celebrating today as any kind of discouragement or contradiction, or even necessarily prefer one over the other as Fedotov clearly does (and, to tell truth, I do as well); holiness comes in infinite varieties. Certainly Father Antoniy with his Athonite-Syriac spirituality and Father Feodosiy with his Palestinian spirituality, have left very different impressions on subsequent generations of Russian monastic life. And Feodosiy’s influence, as Fedotov notes, made its presence particularly felt in Novgorod and Moscow, among the saints who best emulated his humility and extremity, not of severe forms of asceticism, but of social self-abasement. For the great and variegated legacy of Russian monasticism, as well as for the lived praxis of social Christianity which Father Feodosiy in particular left Russian Christendom as his own legacy, we give thanks to these two mighty Venerables in Christ!
Having departed from worldly tumults,
In leaving the world you followed Christ according to the Gospel.
You reached the quiet refuge of the Holy Mount Athos,
Living there a life equal to the angels.
Therefore, with the blessing of the Fathers,
You came to the Kievan hills.
There having fulfilled a life loving of labors,
You illumined your homeland.
And having shown a multitude of monastics
The pathway leading to the heavenly kingdom,
You led them to Christ.
Beseech Him, O Venerable Antoniy,
That He may save our souls!
Having been raised on virtue, you loved the monastic life from your youth,
And having valiantly attained your desire, you lived in a cave;
You adorned your life with the radiance of fasting,
Persevering in prayer as though bodiless.
Like a bright lamp you illumined the Russian lands, Father Feodosiy.
Entreat Christ God that our souls may be saved.

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