ursusanglicanus (ursusanglicanus) wrote,
ursusanglicanus
ursusanglicanus

Attempting to understand Russian church history

Russian church history has always foxed me. Put at its simplest, as I learned it at seminary, it consists of a series of high points lasting each for about 50 years, connected with some great saint and one generation of disciples: there are Saints Antony and Theodosios in the 11th century, then Saint Serguei of Radonezh in the 14th, then Saint Nil Sorski in the 16th, and then nothing much, except perhaps St Tikhon of Zadonsk in the mid-18th, until Paisius Velichkovsky, St Serafim of Sarov and the first Optina fathers in the late 18th and early 19th century.

The question for me becomes one of joining up the dots, of working out if and how there is a continuum of Russian spirituality. What is there, if anything, that joins Antony to Serguei to Nil to Tikhon and so on? I note that of the saints I mentioned above, Antony, Nil and Paisius were essentially imports, having developed their mature spirituality outside Russia: only Serguei, Tikhon and Serafim being totally ‘made in Russia’.
Another way of putting the question is perhaps: what was happening in the monasteries during all this time? Can we talk of tradition, in the sense of handing down of Christian teaching, of a spiritual way of being, from one generation to another, within the monasteries? Hardly, one suspects, as the great spiritual men seem to arise pretty much out of nowhere, by the grace of God. They have a generation, or maximum two, of disciples, and then all momentum dies out until by the grace of God, a new such saint arises three or four generations later.

Where, if any, is the continuum? Or is it in fact provided essentially by the rite, the obrad, enacted carefully from one generation to another as something felt to be precious and valuable, even if not always fully understood?
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  • FOUR HERMITS

    If somehow I have managed to stay more or less on the Christian straight and narrow over the past few years, I suspect I owe it in good part to…

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