- Power, Sainthood, and the Art of Myth
During the Soviet era, publications covering the religious life of medieval and early modern Rus′ tended to emphasize land issues and the condition of the peasantry. The scope of this area of scholarship has broadened considerably in recent years to encompass the cultural and spiritual aspects of Muscovite church history. This expansion has been aided significantly by the publication of documents supplementing fundamental collections of source materials created in the 20th century. Rich collections in Russian museums and art restorers’ revelations are becoming increasingly accessible through the bountiful production of high-quality albums and exhibit catalogues as well as the development of websites devoted to art and architecture. The two excellent monographs reviewed here will further expand our understanding of the formative period of the Muscovite polity because they underscore the crucial interconnections that permitted church leaders and Moscow’s princes to construct the symbiotic relationships that promoted their mutual success.
Both books reveal the importance of sainthood as the social and political “glue” holding together the rising status of rulers and church hierarchs, while simultaneously laying out the widely divergent itineraries for future [End Page 992] saints to follow during their earthly lives. The saints who figure in Élisabeth Teiro’s examination of the Russian metropolitanate during the 14th to 16th centuries are cut from very different cloth from the legendarily humble monk Sergius of Radonezh—adviser of princes, conciliator, counterpart of St. Francis in giving away worldly possessions, and source of inspiration for unity against the Tatars and rebuilding Russian spirituality. In contrast, the saintly metropolitans contribute to the building of church and state as political activists who move to Moscow and thereafter link the destiny of their church to that of the local rulers. Sergius and the metropolitans alike were then posthumously claimed as wonder-working intercessors for Moscow, an image fostered both by church hierarchs and by Moscow’s rulers.
Teiro’s study begins with Peter’s relocation of the seat of the metropolitan to Moscow, his initiation of the construction of the Dormition Cathedral, and his burial in 1326 in his unfinished church. His relatively rapid recognition as the first saint associated with the principality of Moscow was initiated by his successor, Theognost, backed by Ivan Kalita of Moscow; and the Byzantine patriarch agreed to canonization. Metropolitans before Peter had not been the focus of special veneration, but thereafter his successors came to be given serious consideration for this status. Analyzing the grounds for sainthood, Teiro concludes that after Peter “admission to the ranks of the saints” (199) rather than canonization, with its connotation of the procedure used in the Roman Catholic Church, better describes the process at work in Muscovy, especially before Metropolitan Makarii’s councils of 1547–49 made glorification a more formal process. Incorrupt relics served as an indication of worthiness for sainthood, but the indispensable requirement was that the potential saint perform miracles, in life or after death (and a candidate’s record in this regard might be “improved” to strengthen his claim). After the Russian church became autocephalous in 1448, candidates native to the Russian lands were more likely to be canonized. Like Peter, the other leading thaumaturgic saints of Moscow, Aleksii and Iona, were native Russians: Aleksii (d. 1378) had been the last Russian to hold the position before Iona, the former bishop of Riazan′, was elevated in 1448 as the first metropolitan of the autocephalous Russian church. Successive metropolitans generally played an active role in promoting the “case for canonization” of their predecessors, and they received the backing of the grand princes of Moscow in this endeavor...