A Vision and a Guiding Light in an Age of Disunity: A review of Theodosius’ contributions to Vladimir I’s vision

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“With a helper, many things are possible”
– Russian Proverb

‘Let us seek a prince who may rule over us, and judge us according to the Law’
said the warring tribes that constituted early Russia – Primary Chronicle (Cross, 1953)

Any student of history is well versed in the terms “defining moments” or “landmark events;” they are everywhere throughout history. A stroll through the historical athenaeum, if one should exist, would find the French Revolution, the freeing of Nelson Mandela, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the decision to bomb Hiroshima, Martin Luther’s decision to take on the Catholic church together with a few million other world-changing events. This is not intended to cheapen such events, as you cannot recognize the importance of something in any stronger terms than by calling it “world changing.”

It is perhaps unfair to thrust all of the credit for any of these events onto any one person, or any one group, because often throughout history we find that major events are the culmination of several smaller sacrifices, ideas, and actions. For instance, would Galileo have ended up in the annals of history if not for the work done by Aristotle, Aristarchus, Ptolemy, Copernicus, and Kepler; furthermore, would any of them be recognized today had the ancients not gazed at the stars and denoted planets using retrograde motion? [1] Would any of them have had the desire to probe further if the original thought had not been planted in their heads? Why does all of this matter? The answer is simple: your job as the reader of this paper requires you to accept some fundamental assumptions. Specifically, the actions of leaders shape the world, and the “defining moments” are the culminations of many smaller, yet important events.

As a result, the ambition of this paper is twofold. It sets out to demonstrate, first, the vision that Vladimir I (980 – 1015 AD) had for a unified Rus’, and second, how that vision was made possible by the life of St. Theodosius (in the 11th century). A chief member of the Monastery of the Caves in Kiev, Theodosius had a formative effect on early Russian history through his importation of the Studite rule from the Studion Monastery in Constantinople, and, along with St. Anthony, he is seen as the founder of monasticism in Russia. Primarily through his scholarship and stature within Christian Rus’, Theodosius was able to facilitate the unification of a religiously and politically splintered Rus’. Further, he aided in solidifying Rus’ historical role as an important center of Orthodox Christianity.

I.  Background

Official Rus’ history began in the ninth century AD, when the Varangians, pagan Vikings from Scandinavia, settled the Kievan region. The people were largely illiterate, but were also known as skilled traders with unique customs and a distinct culture. Rus’, before Vladimir I and his reforms, was a splintered nation of Grand Princes and Princes, much like feudal Europe, except that Rus’ paid tribute to the Turkish states in exchange for protection. (Hosking, 2001)

The Kievan Rus’ Empire [2] was formed in roughly 880 AD by East Slavic tribes and Scandinavian traders. The Empire’s seat was the city of Novgorod. [3] It eventually grew to encompass territories as far south as the Black Sea, as far east as the Volga River, and as far west as the Kingdom of Poland. (Figure 1, below)

Figure 1: Kievan Rus’ Territorial Expansion 1054-1132 AD (Wikimedia Commons, 2012)

The questions are intriguing, but difficult to answer for a culture that has so few primary sources. How did an empire considered “barbaric” by most of the civilized world come to rival the Byzantine Empire? How did a largely pagan society become one of the major centers of Christianity and, some say, the Third Rome? [4] The answers begin with Vladimir, but do not end with him. Vladimir’s reign started the “Golden Age” of Kievan Rus’ culture.

II.  Vladimir: Visions of Christian Russia

Vladimir left no direct testimony as to what his vision or goal for his state was; no hard evidence or written accounts for it exist. However, Vladimir’s actions throughout his life speak as strongly to his ambitions as any written source could. As a result, this paper will use far more implicit deduction than direct argumentation from sources.

Vladimir’s aims were not unique, as his predecessor Prince Oleg in the not-too-distant past had himself set out to fulfill three principle tasks. The first was to subjugate the independent tribes in Kievan Rus’ and unite them under the Rus’ Empire. The second was to expand the empire by warring against rivals to the East and West. The last was to commence campaigns against the Byzantine Empire to affirm the international position of Rus’ and enhance trade between Byzantium and Kievan Rus’. (Cross, 1953, pp. 56-73) These three principles seem largely similar to what Vladimir set out to accomplish, and thus provide us with the first evidence that there was already a vision among Rus’ elites to consolidate, legitimize, and expand their territory.

Once Vladimir had assumed the throne,[5] his first order of business was to secure his state militarily, something the rulers prior to him had failed to do. George Vernadsky, a Russian-American historian and author of Kievan Rus (Yale Press, 1973), wrote that one of Vladimir’s first projects upon assuming the crown of Grand Prince of Rus’ was the construction of a series of forts along the northern banks of the rivers of the steppe. Vernadsky points out that “Vladimir had thus provided a model for generations of Russian rulers to come and ‘fortified lines’ as a protection against the nomads were still built by the Russians in the south and east Russia as late as the eighteenth century and in Turkestan even into the nineteenth century.” [6] (Vernadsky, 1973, pp. 73-4)

Security seemed paramount to Vladimir, and it is difficult to argue that military security would not be the first requirement for a strong, stable empire. Being able to claim land, people, and resources is only part of the equation; truly successful state building comes from being able to hold on to them and effectively utilize them. Vladimir was so intent on securing his lands that he relocated citizens – through forced colonization of immigrants, namely Slovenes, Krivichians, Chudians and Viatichians (Vernadsky, 1973, p. 74) — from his northern territories and placed them within the towns closest to the forts to serve as his first line of defense. To further stabilize these border towns, he sent his sons to govern the towns nearest the forts so that they would never be without a commander and could guarantee the security and loyalty of the border. (Vernadsky, 1973, pp. 77-79)

Once his nation was secure, Vladimir focused on the economic side of his state building. In his description of the early Russian economy, Vasilli Kliuchevskii, a respected Russian historian, wrote:

The history of our society would have been substantially different, if our economy had not been for eight or nine centuries at variance with the nature of the country. In the eleventh century, the bulk of the Russian population was concentrated in the Dnepr black-earth region, and by the mid-fifteenth it moved to the Upper Volga area. It would seem that in the former area, agriculture should have been the basis of the economy while in the latter, foreign trade, forestry and other activities should have gained the upper hand … External circumstances prevented this from happening … As a result, both leading economic forces, land-ownership by men-at-arms and urban trade took artificial turn and failed to develop where natural conditions were most prosperous.” [7]

While this paints a grim picture of the Kievan Rus’ economic structure, Boris Grekov argued against Kliuchevskii’s theory, saying that agriculture was the main occupation of Eastern Slavs as well as all other people in Kievan Rus’. Their agriculture-based economy continued to grow and flourish as the state evolved under Vladimir—providing the needed security for agricultural production and expanding trade with Byzantium to provide it with a growing market. Further proof of this is provided by archaeological evidence that shows the expansion of agriculture in the 11th and 12th centuries in the grassy steppes region. (Grekov, 1992, pp. 70-92; see also Riasanovsky, 1963, pp. 47-57) This seems to be clear evidence that Vladimir was putting in place not only a security framework for his state, but also a strong economic system. (Figure 2, below)

Figure 2: Economic Trade Routes of Kievan Rus’ (Riasanovsky, 1963, pp. 48)

Economic Trade Routes of Kievan Rus’

Vladimir’s focus then shifted to establishing cultural unity. Vladimir’s answer to this question seemed to be a state religion, which was the choice made by nearly every ruler during that time.[8] Before selecting Christianity, Vladimir had already attempted to establish a religion for all of Kievan Rus’. The Primary Chronicle states that one of Vladimir’s first orders of business was to unite his territory under a single pantheon of Slavic gods:

Vladimir then began to reign alone in Kiev, and he set up idols on the hills outside the castle with the hall: one of Perun, made of wood with a head of silver and a mustache of gold, and others of Khors, Dazh’bog, Stribog, Simar’gl, and Mokosh… Vladimir had appointed his uncle Dobrynya to rule over Novgorod. When Dobrynya came to Novgorod, he set up an idol beside the river Volkhov, and the people of Novgorod offered sacrifice to it as if to God himself. [9] (Cross, 1953, pp. 93-4)

There are myriad reasons why this first attempt at a state religion failed. Chief among them was the fact that Vladimir’s grandmother, Olga, had converted to Christianity in 957 AD.[10]This had led many in Rus’ to convert to Christianity as well, which had created an even more religiously fractured society that was harder to draw into conformity. Another key factor is the influence of Byzantium, which was geographically close to Rus’ and, through land and sea trade, had constant influence over Rus’. Vladimir was thus forced to reevaluate his choice of state religion.

He proceeded to send emissaries to investigate all religions known to him: Judaism, Orthodox Christianity, German Catholicism, and Islam, among others. Vladimir turned down Islam and Judaism because of prohibitions on pork and alcohol, two things Vladimir said, “are joys of the Russes. We cannot exist without these pleasures.”[11] (Cross, 1953, pp. 96-7) Other religions were also discarded for various reasons until Vladimir’s choice was clear: he preferred Orthodox Christianity, which had no dietary restrictions (other than fasting) and permitted alcohol. It was also the expedient choice for Vladimir’s state-building vision since, as discussed above, Olga’s conversion had already helped create a group of Christian Russes, and the growing economic ties Rus’ had with Byzantium would be served by having a common religion with that state.

In September of 987 AD, Bardas Phokas the Younger proclaimed himself emperor of Asia Minor and began marching on Constantinople. Basil II, the legitimate emperor, sought outside help from Vladimir I of Kievan Rus’, despite the fact that the people of Rus’ were a barbaric group of mercenaries in the eyes of Constantinople. (Vernadsky, 1973, p.63) Vladimir marched to battle for Basil, who, in return, was to accept the Kievan Rus’ territory as part of the Orthodox Christian network, with Vladimir’s rule and his place within that network legitimized with baptism and with marriage to Basil’s sister, Anna. (Poppe, 1982, pp. 198-200)

However, after the war, Basil dragged his feet on the marriage because of a rule amongst the nobility in Byzantium: no one of royal blood was to marry a barbarian, which is how most in Byzantium viewed Vladimir and his people. (Vernadsky, 1973, pp.64) Vladimir eventually decided to strike militarily at the Byzantine emperor. After Vladimir captured Crimea and Kherson in April and July of 989 AD, Bardas Phokas returned as he saw the fracturing of the Basil/Vladimir alliance. Basil, faced with insurmountable pressure and the prospect of losing his entire kingdom, promptly sent his sister to Kherson, where the wedding between Vladimir and Anna took place. As a bridal present, Vladimir returned the captured city of Kherson to Basil. (Poppe, 1982, p. 198)

Baptism of Prince Vladimir – Painting by Viktor Vasnetsov

This string of events gave Vladimir the international respect he had sought and elevated him and his people from “barbarians” to equals on the world stage of civilized societies. The marriage partners of Vladimir’s descendants illustrate this fact. Three of his granddaughters (daughters of Yaroslav the Wise) became queens of three European states: France, Norway, and Hungary. Three of his grandsons married daughters of royal families as well: two married German princesses and one married a Byzantine princess. (Hingley, 1972, pp. 15-18) These kinds of royal marriage patterns would not be seen again in Russia until the Romanov dynasty.

Vladimir further expanded his territory toward Poland and the Black Sea through successful campaigns against the Poles, Bulgars, and Pechenegs. Thus, by 990 AD, Vladimir had accomplished four major steps towards building a strong state: he secured his land and provided security for his people; he established, expanded, and protected a larger network of commerce; he sought, secured, and established a religion to unite his state; and, finally, he expanded his territory and area of rule.

Near the end of his reign, Vladimir attempted to provide further stability to his state by dividing Kievan Rus’ into districts to help put in place a form of governmental bureaucracy with a centrally located government in Kiev. (Cross, 1953, pp. 119-24) With his sons controlling these districts, he found it much easier to manage Kievan Rus’ even if his government was missing one key tool to make the governance of Rus’ easier: writing.

After the conversion of Rus’, the disciples of the Byzantine apostle St. Cyril helped improve upon the Cyrillic alphabet. While there is evidence that some writing had existed in Rus’ prior to the baptism – by way of treaties with Byzantium which had been written in Slavonic – the conversion to Christianity permanently and significantly established writing in Rus’. (Riasanovsky, 1963, pp. 60-1) Vladimir saw the need for writing in Rus’ so he established schools for the purpose of educating Russian elites staffed by teachers from Bulgaria and Byzantium. This laid the foundation for future schools, established by Prince Roman of Smolensk, that would educate the people in the skills of reading and writing. (Vernadsky, 1973, pp. 279) This shows that Vladimir saw the merits of a literate society. Vladimir’s (or any other ruler’s) inability to be everywhere all of the time makes writing essential to any state building process. Being able to disseminate a message and codify laws and legal procedures prevents chaos and organizes society.

Vladimir began this project, but did not live long enough to see it finished. Writing and the spread of Christianity throughout Rus’ were greatly strengthened by Saint Theodosius beginning in the 11th century. However, it would be remiss not to mention the efforts of Vladimir to spread writing, education, and Christianity.

III. Theodosius – Contributions

“We must realize, however, that the learning of St. Sergius did not transcend mere skill in reading. His biographer does not credit him with grammatika (or scholarship). Real scholarship is attributed by Nestor to St. Theodosius in the twelfth century.” (Fedotov, 1966, p. 202)

The quotation above, from G.P. Fedotov’s The Russian Religious Mind Vol. 1, is a succinct account of St. Theodosius’s life. He was a man of deep moral convictions who shunned worldly possessions and promoted the spread of both Christianity and literacy. This portion of the paper will focus directly on Theodosius’ life [12] and how he helped to complete the final stages of Vladimir’s vision by spreading Christianity and literacy throughout Rus’.

Three key areas will be investigated: the Studite rule (along with its promotion of scholasticism and writing), Theodosius’s political backing of Prince Izjaslav, and the veneration of Theodosius that the first two areas helped to achieve. All of this expanded the influence, popularity, and reach of not only Theodosius but of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, which promoted the transition of Vladimir’s vision from dream to reality.

The impact of the Studite rule goes beyond the significance it possessed as the first written code in Kievan Rus’. The Studite rule runs about 13 pages long and has 27 individual rules. (Thomas, 2000, pp. 63-96) Importing this set of codes from Byzantium helped lay the groundwork for Russian literacy as it promoted scholasticism, grammar and writing. Through the Studite Rule—as will later be argued in more detail—Byzantine writing found its way into Russian churches, which later disseminated those same writings into society at large. Further, importing a set of laws established the first form of bureaucracy in Kievan Rus’. For that purpose, the portions of interest to this paper are those that deal specifically with scholasticism, writing, and the spread of Christianity.

Most of the rules concern shunning personal property and living a life unbound by worldly possessions. However, the sections in the latter half of the Studite rule deal with reading and writing. It seems that within the Monastery of the Caves, reading and manual labor coexisted, and writing was viewed as more important than physical work. While a copyist was writing, he was exempted from most other work, within reason.

It should be known that during the Holy and Great Lent after we have sung the first hour and the sun has already risen, each goes to his own task. While performing these, the entire psalter is recited, except in the case of the copyists. The brothers work until the ninth hour. (Thomas, 2000, pp. 110-112) [13]

Also, there was a sort of library system, and members were encouraged to check out books and read them during their mid-day breaks.

It should be known that on days when we rest from our corporal work, the keeper of the books sounds the wooden semantron once, and the brothers assemble at the book station; each takes a book and reads it until the evening. Before the signal for the office of lamp lighting, the man in charge of the books sounds the semantron again, and all the brothers come to return their books in accordance with the register. If anyone is late in returning his book, he should suffer some penalty. (Thomas, 2000, pp. 108-110)

The Monastery of the Caves was setup to be an almost exact carbon-copy of the Studion Monastery in Constantinople. We know this through Nestor, author of Life of Theodosius, who noted that Theodosius took great care to arrange everything in his monastery exactly the same as the Studion Monastery in Constantinople, even down to the work schedules. (Hollingsworth, 1992, p. 53) Due to the Studite rule being somewhat cryptic on the regulation of physical labor, we must instead look at the work of Nestor and further, the way the Studion Monastery operated. We know that the monks at the Monastery of the Caves worked hard as agriculturalist – primarily growing fruits and vegetables. (Vernadsky, 1973, p. 110) Further, every single testimony of the Great Catecheses for the Studion Monastery cited the importance of manual labor in the monastic lifestyle. (Leroy, 1958, p. 195) When looking at the Monastery of the Caves through that lens, it puts into perspective how important copyist work was seen by Theodosius. In “Life of Theodosius”, Nestor writes of a monk named Ilarion who had been instructed to copy books day and night. Even when Theodosius was informed by the monastic steward of the real possibility of not having enough food to feed the brethren the following day, Theodosius insisted that the work being done was of the highest importance and to continue. (Hollingsworth, 1993, p. 65-66) This strongly suggests that copying works was seen as one of the primary duties of at least a few monks at the Monastery of the Caves.

Although it is unlikely that the Monastery of the Caves was ever equal to the scriptoriums of the West in terms of volume and importance of transcription, nevertheless writing was a key part of monastic life after Theodosius. This is made evident by the explosion in monastic texts after Theodosius. Richard Bosley, a historian and professor, noted this explosion and listed over 200 monastic texts written in Rus’ within a decade or two after the death of Theodosius and many prior to Theodosius’s death. (Bosley, 1981, pp. 171-196) Simon Franklin, a professor of Slavonic Studies at the University of Cambridge and author of six books on Medieval Russia with a focus on writing, suggests that one of the main causes for this explosion was “the most influential and prestigious community in Rus’ was the Monastery of the Caves and its central episode was Theodosius introducing the Studite rule.”[14] (Franklin, 2002, p. 144) Franklin further states that, by the 12th century, there was also ample evidence that many important texts [15] had found their way into the Rus’ culture via translation and writing.  (Franklin, 2002, p. 137) At the forefront of this literary boom was the Monastery of the Caves. Franklin argued that it was the catalyst that set the writing boom into motion and it is where Franklin traced monasticism and writing back to in Rus’. (Franklin, 2002, p. 144) We further know that the Kievan Chronicle, the first written history of Russia, was produced in the Monastery of the Caves. (Vernadsky, 1973, p. 206) Many monks at the monastery spent days and nights copying books – Ilarion was mentioned by name in “The Life of Theodosius” as having done this at the behest of St. Theodosius. (Hollingsworth, 1992, p. 65)

What did this mean for a culture that had gone for so long without any formally written law codes? First and foremost, it opened the door to government administration and bureaucracy. Russkaya Pravda was adopted in 1050 AD as the first set of written laws governing the land of Rus’. (Franklin, 2002, pp. ebook – amazon Kindle (LOC 1549)) Writing also gives government more control and the ability to guide the people toward the objectives the authority wishes to achieve by allowing it to disseminate its chosen messages and narratives; thus the state itself can be seen as strengthened. This change from an illiterate to a literate society was a radical transformation for Kieven Rus’ that opened up doors that were previously closed. The objective that Vladimir set out to achieve when he created his elite schools to teach reading and writing to the future leaders of Rus’ had now been propelled forward by Theodosius’s introduction of the Studite rule and its promotion of scholasticism and literacy. (Hamilton, 1983, p. 19) As mentioned previously, this was a key plank of Vladimir’s state building process, which he had started to work on himself.

Theodosius was apolitical for most of his life, but his political backing of Prince Izjaslav had a major effect on the political trajectory of Rus’. Theodosius wanted the monastery to be, if not above, then separate from state law. Although Theodosius’s defense of Izjaslav can be seen as a political move, it was much more than that. Izjaslav was a “God loving prince” [16]according to Nestor, and in addition, the Russes at this time had a very well-defined rule that younger brothers were to obey elder brothers, and Izjaslav was the elder.[17]

In March of 1073, Svjatoslav and Vsevolod (the younger brothers) joined forces to remove their elder brother Izjaslav from the throne of Rus’. After Izjaslav had been exiled to Rome, the two brothers sent for Theodosius and asked him to come and dine with them. Theodosius, however, spurned the invitation by saying: “We shall not come to Beelzebub’s table and partake of the food full of blood and murder.” (Hollingsworth, 1992, pp. 82-3) When the two brothers failed to change their course of action, Theodosius campaigned further against Svjatoslav, the brother who had assumed the throne of Izjaslav.

Theodosius accused Svjatoslav of disrespecting his father, Yaroslav, and of being an unjust man. He even wrote a letter to Svjatoslav, stating that “the voice of your brother’s blood cries out against you to God, just as Abel’s did against Cain.” (Hollingsworth, 1992, p. 83) After this incident, rumors began to spread that Theodosius would be imprisoned; to the surprise of many, Theodosius welcomed imprisonment for his cause. Theodosius was never imprisoned, and Svjatoslav, in fact, still sought his approval. This is likely due to Theodosius’s social standing. Nestor wrote specifically that:

Hearing of his virtuous life, the princes and boyars would come to see the great Theodosius and confess their sins to him, and they would depart having received great profit from him… The Christ-loving prince Izjaslav, who was then holding his father’s throne, especially loved the blessed one and would often invite Theodosius to his court.(Hollingsworth, 1992, p. 58)

Theodosius seems to have acted as an advisor to Izjaslav, which makes his rebuke of Svjatoslav even more important. Furthermore, he had the clout to be able to decline the offer of a Grand Prince and not be punished, while simultaneously being revered by Rus’ ruling classes. A man of the cloth who has devoted his life to monasticism and has not only the courage to say what he believes but the conviction to stand behind it even when threatened by prison is a powerful messenger in any era.

This string of events brings up two issues for Svjatoslav which made Theodosius a key figure in Rus’ and posed large problems for Svjatoslav’s claims to legitimacy: Theodosius was defending the Rota system and biblical text. The Rota system was a ladder of succession in Rus’, in which the throne passed linearly from father to oldest son and then laterally from oldest son to youngest.[18] When the Grand Prince died, the next senior prince moved to Kiev and all others moved up the ladder. Furthermore, when the father died, the oldest son took the place of the father and was supposed to be honored just as if he were the father.[19]Thus, Theodosius was defending legal tradition in criticizing Svjatoslav. Legal traditions are set forth, in part, to create more stable states. In breaking this code, Svjatoslav can be seen as not only threatening his brother’s rule, but the very existence of the state that was to be ruled and the stability which had allowed Rus’ to grow in economic and international power.

Theodosius also argued using biblical texts.  Theodosius referred specifically to the story of Cain, who killed his brother Abel and was cast out of paradise and forced to wander the earth without a home.[20] This also relates to the purpose of legal traditions—violating law and disposing of one’s brother can leave one without a home, state, or throne at all. We know from the story of Boris and Gleb—a tale of the two favored sons of Vladimir who were killed by their siblings out of jealousy—that the tale of Cain and Abel was a vital part of Church teachings during the Rus’ era. Further, when Izjaslav returned to Kiev in 1069, he made use of the symbolism of Boris and Gleb—citing the blood spilled in the Boris and Gleb story, invoking images of petty jealousy to emphasize his right to rule; Theodosius had previously used this symbolism in his support of Izjaslav. Theodosius brought Svjatoslav to the Monastery of the Caves and lectured him about the importance of obeying one’s brother: “the blood of your brother cries out; do my will and return your brother to the throne.” (Bosley, 1981, pp. 69-74) This evidence suggests that Theodosius not only referenced the Rota system, but biblical teachings as well; Svjatoslav had not only violated man’s law but also God’s, so any claims to legitimacy on his part were invalid. To take this one step further, Theodosius could be seen as enforcing his own rule of law—the previously discussed Studite rule, which declares:

You shall not place the person of any other man, even if eminent and powerful according to the present age, ahead of that which benefits the community. Nor shall you shrink from laying down your life even to the point of bloodshed in guarding these godly laws and commands. (Thomas, 2000, p. 79)

Further, the Bible is full of teachings that it is sinful, immoral behavior to go against one’s brother. [21] While Nestor never mentioned any of the following passages specifically, it seems likely that Theodosius, a monk with access to books, would have known about them and their teachings would have entered his thoughts, even if only subconsciously.

Theodosius’ participation in the feud between these royal brothers is vitally important for three main reasons. First, it shows Theodosius’ social importance and his ability to affect the political landscape of Rus’. Second, it establishes Theodosius’ convictions regarding not only the Holy Scripture, but also law—both the Studite rule and the Rota system. The most important point to be taken from this is that Theodosius attempted to bring political stability to Rus’ and thus contributed to the Vladimir’s vision. The peaceful transition of power is the hallmark of any successful empire, and Theodosius helped preserve the Rota system—a system established in 970 when Svjatoslav had divided the trust of Kievan Rus’ up amongst his three sons, using a ladder of succession. (Dukes, 1990, pp. 10-11; Marin, 1995, pp. 21-26) Richard Bosley argues that Theodosius’ ardent defense of Izjaslav promoted his posthumous veneration more than anything else. (Bosley, 1981, p. 67)

In fact, there is no evidence in the Primary Chronicle that the church had ever gone against the throne before this episode. Thus, this was also a key event in establishing the church as a political heavyweight in Rus’. This confrontation further solidified the ties between Christianity, government, and subject. Bosley argues a similar point:

After the events of 1068-1073 the church as a whole and the Monastery of the Caves in particular became increasingly cast in the role of guardian of the unity of Rus’ and of legitimate royal authority as unified political power disintegrated. The significance and symbolic nature of Theodosius’s actions increased as this trend continued. (Bosley, 1981, p. 75)

While the exact date when Nestor wrote The Life of Theodosius is unknown, Mikhail Priselkov, a Russian historian and professor at Leningrad University, as well as A.G. Kuzmin, also a Russian historian, argue that it was before 1088, which means it was written shortly after the death of Theodosius. If this conclusion is accepted, the opening paragraph clearly indicates that Theodosius was celebrated shortly after his death. Nestor writes:

“Thinking thus and fortified with the faith and hope that all things are possible with Thee, I began the narration of the life of our venerable father Feodosij, [22]mwho formerly was the superior of this monastery of our holy Mistress the Theotokos, and whose day of repose we now celebrate and remember.” (Hollingsworth, 1992, p. 33)

We further know from the Russian Primary Chronicle that in 1091, the remains of Theodosius were exhumed and reburied inside the main cathedral of The Monastery of the Caves, where they are still venerated every May 3, his main feast day. (Cross, 1953, pp. 170-173) Further, after Theodosius’s remains were moved to the Church of the Dormition, it became the preferred burial spot for Rus’ aristocrats. Richard Bosley composed a chart listing the important people buried at churches in Kiev and found that more were buried at the Church of the Dormition after Theodosius’s death than at any other church at any other time in Kiev. (Bosley, 1981, pp. 92-96) The fact that more aristocrats wished to be buried next to Theodosius than Vladimir (who is buried at the Church of the Virgin in Kiev) speaks volumes about his importance in Kiev.

IV. Conclusion

In many ways, a continuation of Vladimir’s vision for Rus’ can be seen in the works of Theodosius. Vladimir’s record shows that he held a clear vision for Rus’, even if it was never explicitly recorded. His passionate pursuit of a state religion, coupled with his strategic military changes to ensure stability in the steppe region, were obviously steps toward unifying Rus’. Also, this paper has emphasized “defining moments” and the way that small occurrences may intersect to result in world-changing events. This is certainly true of the baptism and consolidation of Rus’, as the achievements of both Vladimir and Theodosius enabled one another. In fact, Vladimir founded the school in Kursk that Theodosius attended and where he chose his path in life as a monk. (Vernadsky, 1973, pp. 71-2) Thus, it could be argued that Vladimir’s reforms directly created the leaders his vision needed, while also indirectly concluding the final stages of his vision: bringing writing and bureaucracy to Rus’ by educating men like Theodosius.

Theodosius was instrumental in finalizing Vladimir’s vision. While Vladimir achieved economic stability via sophisticated trade routes, internal stability in the form of religious unity, and military reforms that provided outward security along the southern borders of Rus’, he failed to solidify Rus’ as a Christian nation and did not codify the law; it was his son, Yaroslav the Wise, who provided a written law code for Rus’. The Rus’ government was limited in what it could accomplish regarding the dissemination of ideas during the reign of Vladimir as writing and education, two reforms Vladimir started, had yet to bear fruit.

Theodosius used his position as a revered monk to do more than just spread God’s word. He was essential in the promotion of education and literacy and was the first politically active churchman in Rus’. His contributions to the Rus’ culture transcended both politics and religion as they had a formative effect on Rus’ history; while Vladimir had a vision, it could not be completed until the written framework of a society (laws, regulations, and bureaucracy) could be fully implemented. For that to happen, Rus’ needed men like Theodosius who saw the importance of writing and promoted it within society.

This paper began with an old Russian proverb meaning “with a helper, many things are possible.” In the story surrounding the conversion of Rus’ and the laying of the foundation for Rus’ politics, culture, society, and empire, this is readily apparent. Vladimir’s vision was incomplete without the contributions of Theodosius; and likewise, Vladimir created the framework which enabled Theodosius to be the man Vladimir’s vision sorely needed: a guiding light in an age of disunity.

A country crystallizes its saints
as a mountain its diamonds.
–  Archbishop John of Francisco

Works Cited

Bosley, R. D. (1981). Dissertation: The Veneration of St. Theodosij and St. Antonisij. Yale University.

Cross, S. H. (1953). The Russian Primary Chronicle. Cambridge, MA: Crimson Printing Company.

Dukes, P. (1990). A History of Russia. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Encyclopedia Britannica. (2011). Vladimir I. Danbury, CT: Encyclopedia Britannica.

Fedotov, G. (1966). The Russian Religious Mind. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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[1] The ancients noticed the planets very early on, but called them “wanderers.” If ancient Greeks had not discovered these wandering “stars”, it might have changed the entire course of astronomy.

[2] This paper will loosely refer to Kievan Rus’ as an empire, which is how Vladimir ultimately wished to see it. However, the author concedes that Kievan Rus’ was not an empire in the sense of the Roman, Ottoman or Mongolian empires, although many of the same elements later surfaced in Kievan Rus’ after its founding (expansion, unification, and writing, which can all be found in the previously mentioned empires).

[3] Novgorod played an important part in Russian history well past the fall of the Kievan Rus’ Empire. In fact, it was the location selected by Pavel Pestel as the site of the new Russian capital if his Decembrist revolt had been successful. (Raeff, 1966, pp. 138-39)

[4] Third Rome is a topic written about extensively by Nicolas Zernov, Matthew Johnson and several others. The idea of Moscow being the “Third Rome” became popular during the time of the early Russian Tsars. Within decades after the Fall of Constantinople to Mehmed II of the Ottoman Empire on May 29, 1453, some were nominating Moscow as the “Third Rome”, or “New Rome”.  (Rowland, 1996)

[5] This took place after his two brothers had met a violent death, a common occurrence among siblings seeking the throne of Grand Prince during this time.

[6] Turkestan was largely incorporated into Southern Russia and the USSR.

[7] As quoted by Boris Grekov in his book, The Culture of Kiev Rus’.

[8] Constantine, Charlemagne, Anglo-Saxon and French kings, Charles V and even Napoleon all used religion to establish, expand, and strengthen their states.

[9] This is the Russian Primary Chronicle’s (Cross, 1953, Cambridge, MA) account of Vladimir’s first attempt at setting up a state religion, Paganism. It would fail, however, as later accounts in the Primary Chronicle show that people protested and were upset at sacrifices that had to be made to the gods. One father in particular protested extensively after Vladimir sacrificed his son to a “wooden doll that is here today but would be gone tomorrow as it rots away” after a big victory for Vladimir’s army. This entire exchange can be read on page 95 of the Russian Primary Chronicle.

[10] This is described in the Russian Primary Chronicle on pages 84-7: “Olga was the precursor of the Christian land, even as the day-spring precedes the sun and as the dawn precedes the day … she herself was cleansed by this sacred purification. She put off the sinful garments of the old Adam, and was clad in the new Adam, which is Christ.”

[11] While Vladimir liked the ability to have many wives under the Islamic faith, he reportedly strongly disagreed with the abstinence from drinking.

[12] When referencing the life of Theodosius, this paper is drawing from the account of his life written by Nestor in his medieval Russian text, “The Life of Theodosius”as it appears in ‘The Hagiography of Kievan Rus’, Paul Hollingsworth, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA. This is the case except when the author explicitly states otherwise.

[13] Both rules cited in this paper come from the updated Stoudious Rule on which the Kievan Monastery Studite rule was based. Theodosius brought the Studite rule to Rus’ in 1061 and made only slight modifications to it. An English version of the rule does exist, but the author was unable to procure a copy. Both Hollingsworth and Thomas make mention of the English version of the rule in their footnotes, and it can be found in the following book: The Typicon of the Patriarch Alexis the Studite: Novgorod – St. Sophia 1136 by David M. Petras. Star Printing, 1991.

[14] Richard Bosley, Nestor and the Primary Chronicle also agree, to varying extents, with this position. Nestor states that Theodosius ordered a copy of the Studite rule and ordered everyone in his monastery to follow it. The Primary Chronicle goes into greater detail under the entry 1051.

[15] For example: The Book of Annals, The Kievan Chronicle, The Novgorodian Chronicle, work from Byzantine historians like The Greek and Roman Annals, History of the Judaic War, Physiologus, The Science of Knowing all numbers of all years, etc.

[16] This is mentioned several times in the Life of Feodosij in Paul Hollingsworth’s translation. Most notably, this occurs on pages 82-3.

[17] There will be more on this system of rules (the Rota system) later in the paper.

[18] This was typically taken out to the third son. Then the throne would pass linearly again to the oldest son of the oldest brother and repeat.

[19] It should be noted that the Rota system was tried in several different cultures. Most well-known to the author is Numidia during the Jugurthine War. The famed Roman historian Sallust wrote of the unstable qualities this system had in ancient Numidia. It stands to reason that nearly all “line of succession” systems throughout history have been unstable, as monarchy is not immune from successional conflicts. Theodosius was acting to stabilize the Rota system. This is important because the peaceful transition of power is the hallmark of any stable nation and Theodosius was attempting to finish another plank of Vladimir’s state building.

[20] Genesis 4:14-16

[21] See: Matthew 5:23-24, 1 Corinthians 8:13, and Matthew 5:22.

[22] St. Theodisus is often translated St. Feodosij; St. Feodosius; and St. Theodosij. These all refer to the same individual that is the principle character of this paper.

About the Author

Jason Howard

Jason Howard holds a degree in Secondary Education from the University of Kentucky. He is currently pursuing an MA at that same institution in Curriculum and Instruction and plans to later pursue a degree in Educational Leadership. He hopes to become a principal or administrator.

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Andrei Nesterov

Andrei Nesterov leads SRAS' Research Services, performing remote archive research and consultations for researchers around the globe. Andrei graduated from Ural State University (journalism) and Irkutsk State Linguistic University (English). He also studied public policy and journalism at Duke University on a Muskie Fellowship and taught Russian at West Virginia University. As a journalist, he has reported in both Russian and English language outlets and has years of archival research experience. He has travelled Russia extensively and penned many stories on the “real Russia” which lies beyond the capital and major cities. Andrei also contributes news, feature stories, and language resources to the SRAS Family of Sites.

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