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Saint Sergius of Radonezh, His Trinity Monastery, and the Formation of the Russian Identity

David B. Miller

Publication Year: 2010

When Sergius of Radonezh founded a monastery near Moscow, his example spawned a movement of monastic foundations throughout Russia. Within three decades of his death in 1392, Sergius was recognized as a saint, and by 1450 many considered him the intercessor for the Russian land who freed its people from Mongol rule. Over the next century and a half, thousands sought St. Sergius’s intercession with gifts to the monastery. Moscow’s rulers made Sergius patron saint of their dynasty and of the Russian tsardom. By 1605, the Trinity-Sergius monastery was the biggest house in Russia. Miller presents Trinity’s dramatic history from the 14th century to the beginning of the Time of Troubles. Using extensive archival materials, he traces the evolution of Trinity’s relationship to Sergius’s venerators and its traditions, governance, social composition, and the lifestyle of its members. In lucid prose, Miller argues that St. Sergius’s cult and monastery became integrating forces on a national scale and vital elements in the forging of a Russian identity, economy, and cohesive society. The power of religion to shape national identity is a lively topic today, and Miller’s study will interest both medievalists and modern historians, as well as readers of Orthodox Church history.

Published by: Northern Illinois University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 1-6


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

I take great pleasure in thanking the people and institutions that assisted me in writing this book. First and foremost, I thank Gregory and Marilyn Shesko, who gave me photocopies and transcriptions of the Trinity-Sergius Monastery’s copybooks, land documents of the State’s Kollegiia ekonomiki, and a photocopy of Trinity’s sinodik. ...

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pp. 3-11

About the year 1339, a youth named Varfolomei, having carried out his last obligation to his parents by burying them, set out to fulfill his destiny. He renounced his inheritance and, with his older brother Stefan, left the little town of Radonezh to dedicate his life to God. ...

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Chapter One—The Historical Sergius

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pp. 12-41

About 1418, some 26 years after the death of his hero in 1392, the Trinity monk Epifanii the Wise began his great work, saying, “I am astounded that so many years have passed without a life of Sergius being written.”1 Epifanii might well have been astonished. Sergius had died a famous man, respected throughout Rus’. ...

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Chapter Two—Sergius the Saint

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pp. 42-75

How does respect and love for a person become a cult? How is it that a community, such as that which during Sergei’s life thought him exceedingly pious and his deeds occasionally wondrous, after his death attributed to him supernatural qualities and considered some of his deeds miraculous? ...

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Chapter Three—Sergius, a Russian Icon

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pp. 76-104

On 21 September in 1504, in the penultimate year of his reign, “Grand Prince Ivan Vasilevich and his son Grand Prince Vasilii Ivanovich and [his other] children departed Moscow and were that fall at the life-giving Trinity Sergius monastery.”1 Their pilgrimage was timed to celebrate St. Sergius’s feast day, 25 September. ...

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Chapter Four—Trinity’s Patrons

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pp. 105-137

Sometime between 1398 and 1427 a landowner named Ivan Svatko, who lived in Pereiaslavl’ near the Trinity Monastery, had a scribe write a charter addressed to “my lord, the Abbot Nikon.” Ivan said he owed Nikon ten rubles. But in lieu of cash he was giving the monastery three uncultivated settlements (pustoshi) and a forest that he owned and paid taxes on (potiaglo). ...

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Chapter Five—Trinity’s Monks

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pp. 138-168

In 1572/73 Timofei Ivanovich Chashnikov, a landowner in Tver’, prepared a charter giving the Trinity-Sergius Monastery the hamlet of Riabinino in exchange “for eternal peace”; that is, to assure him memorial prayers. To this he added, “And tonsure and succor me, Timofei, at the Lifegiving Trinity.”1 ...

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Chapter Six—Trinity’s Female Venerators

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pp. 169-202

In 1570/71 Boiarina Matrena Zabolotskaia dictated to her scribe a testament that began, “I Matrena, the wife of Grigor Ivanovich Zabolotskii, during my lifetime by the will and testament of my husband . . . give the village of Novoe to the House of the Life-giving Trinity.”1 The village was a substantial property in Pereiaslavl’. ...

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Chapter Seven—Interment at Trinity

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pp. 203-217

In a donation charter of 1523/24, having requested prayers for his soul and those of his ancestors, and that he be tonsured, Gorianin Mordvinov, a landowner in Rostov, added, “And [when] God sends for [my] soul, for me Gorianin . . . , then bury me at the house of the Life-giving Trinity.”1 ...

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pp. 218-244

Father Florenskii wrote this paean, equating Sergius’s Trinity Monastery with what it meant to be Russian, in 1919. It came at a time when it seemed that the Bolsheviks were about to eradicate the monastery in order to give new meaning to being Russian. ...

Appendix: Tables

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pp. 245-250


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pp. 251-302


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pp. 303-330


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pp. 331-348

E-ISBN-13: 9781609090111
Print-ISBN-13: 9780875804323

Page Count: 374
Illustrations: 12 halftones
Publication Year: 2010