18 February 2009

'Adorned With the Virtues'—St Theodosius of Chernigov

On this day, 5 February on the Church’s calendar, we celebrate the memory of our Venerable Father Theodosius of Uglich, Archbishop of Chernigov (c. 1630-1696). St Theodosius was born in Podolsk Governance in western Ukraine into a priest’s family. Educated at the Kiev collegium founded by Peter Mogila, he advanced in knowledge and piety. According to Bulgakov’s Handbook:

Here, under the influence of pious trainers, practicing in the reading of the word of God and the writings of the holy fathers and arranging his life according to them, the future hierarch Theodosius matured and was perfected in the spirit, became stronger in the knowledge of the truths of the Orthodox faith and in the asceticism of piety and diligence, humility and morality and attracted the attention of the school authorities.

When his studies came to an end, St Theodosius was tonsured at the Kiev Caves monastery. After some years spent serving as archdeacon in the Cathedral of the Holy Wisdom in Kiev and training in the monastic life, St Theodosius was ordained a priest and eventually made abbot of a series of monasteries, where he expended tremendous effort in building both the physical structures and the spiritual life. According to Bulgakov, ‘Zealously fulfilling the role of Hegumen, he exemplified the strict ascetic life for the monks. For those who searched for complete solitude, he built sketes and in every possible way caring for the spiritual perfection of his subordinates.’

But the holy hierarch St Theodosius had, unfortunately, to endure the trial of slander and false accusations, for which he was forced to defend himself. Thanks to God, he was ultimately vindicated, and the terrible trial he had undergone only brought further recognition of his sanctity. According to this Life, the former rector of the Kiev collegium, Archbishop Lazar (Baranovich) ‘recognized St Theodosius’ great spiritual qualities, and established close ties with him. Calling him “a lamb of Christ’s flock, learned in obedience”, he expressed the prophetic wish that St Theodosius’ name would be written in the Heavens.’

Some years after this ordeal, St Theodosius restored yet another monastery, this time in Archbishop Lazar’s diocese. During his abbacy there, St Theodosius acted at various times as an assistant to or representative of the Archbishop, including accompanying St Demetrius of Rostov to present a letter to Patriarch Joachim in Moscow in 1689.

In 1692, St Theodosius, as ‘a good man, adorned with the virtues of monastic life from his young years, skilled in the management of monasteries, filled with the awe of God, enlightened and quite fervent for church majesty’ (qtd. in Bulgakov), was solemnly consecrated to the archiepiscopate and became Archbishop Lazar’s successor. This account tells us:

The holy hierarch focused special attention on awakening and maintaining in his flock a spirit of true Christian piety. . . . Among St Theodosius’ remarkable qualities were his rigorous fairness in dealing with clergy and flock, his profound sympathy, his tolerance, and his Christian peaceable disposition. Not only Orthodox people, but also people of other faiths turned to him for help and counsel.

But he was not long for this world. St Theodosius soon made St John (Maximovich) of Tobolsk his assistant, and began preparing St John to be his successor. He fell asleep in the Lord on 6 February 1696, and St John himself became the first of many to receive a miraculous cure through the relics of the holy hierarch. In gratitude his successor built a crypt for the tomb of St Theodosius as well as the Troparion and Kontakion in his honour (the translations are those of Reader Isaac E. Lambertsen; btw, while Rdr Lambertsen has 'most honoured', another translation has 'most cultivated among hierarchs' in the first line of the Troparion—I prefer the second but don't know which is more accurate):

Тропарь, глас 4-й: Преудобрен во архиереех, святителю Феодосие, был еси светило своему стаду, таже преставился еси в вечныя oбители. Умоли у Престола Царя cлавы избавитися нам от находящих на ны зол и спастися душам нашим, святе, молитвами твоими.

Troparion, Tone 4: O holy hierarch Theodosius, most honoured among hierarchs, thou wast a beacon to thy flock; then thou didst pass on to the mansions of heaven. Pray thou at the throne of the King of glory, that He deliver us from the evils which assail us and save our souls, O holy one, by thine intercessions.

Кондак, глас 4-й: Пастырей Начальнику Христу трудился еси, святителю Феодосие, на пажити духовней питая словесныя твоя овцы, и приял еси от Христа Спаса целебен дар целити от немощи душевныя и телесныя всякого с верою к тебе приходящаго к целебным твоим мощем. Моли, святе, о призывающих имя твое, от наветов вражиих спастися душам нашим.

Kontakion, Tone 4: O holy hierarch Theodosius, thou didst labour for Christ the Chief Shepherd, nurturing thy rational sheep in the spiritual pasture; and from Christ God thou didst receive the gift of healing to cure the spiritual and bodily infirmities of all who with faith have recourse to thy healing relics. Wherefore, pray thou now, O holy one, that all who call upon thy name may be saved from the assaults of the enemy, and that our souls find mercy.

Although I haven’t seen his name in Fr Georges Florovsky’s magisterial Ways of Russian Theology, there is a seven-page treatment of St Theodosius’s theological school, the Kiev collegium (Ways of Russian Theology, Part I, trans. Robert L. Nichols [Belmont, MA: Nordland, 1979], pp. 78-85). Interestingly, the accounts in the various online Lives I’ve referred to above are rather enthusiastic about the collegium in the mid-17th century, but Fr Florovsky has little good to say about it. The Kiev collegium is the epitome, for him, of what he has called the ‘pseudomorphosis’ of Orthodox thought (p. 85). Fr Florovsky’s most damning statement is perhaps, ‘Though it does seem that the school furnished an adequate preparation for life in Poland, its students were hardly initiated into the heritage of the Orthodox East’ (p. 78).

But this is precisely where it is important that, while we may share Fr Florovsky’s views on the curriculum of the school, we must be sure to take note of the fact that such a training still managed to produce a Saint like the one we commemorate today. At the least, we must say that the purely scholastic spirit that Fr Florovsky describes did not stifle St Theodosius’s developing sanctity. Even amid the Jesuit curriculum, the teaching in Latin, the reading of Aquinas, and ‘the very spirit of scholasticism’, or, worse still, ‘the neo-scholasticism or pseudo-scholasticism of the Council of Trent’, amid all this the simple reading of the Lives of Saints, the services of the Church and her Mysteries, the practice of asceticism and obedience, the pious study of the Scriptures, and the turning to God in prayer was enough to make a man holy such that his relics became a source of healing for centuries to come.

No comments: