Nil’s and Iosif’s Rhetoric of Starchestvo

in Russian History
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The ideal master-disciple relationship or starchestvo associated with Paisii Velichkovskii (1722-92) and his epigones rests on a complex monastic legacy stretching back to Christian Antiquity and includes early Russia’s two greatest native writing elders, Nil Sorskii (1433/4-1508) and Iosif Volotskii (1439/40-1515). Pedagogical networks, circulation of texts, structural continuities, and workings of the hierarchy’s nomenklatura system in the 16th century contributed to the solidification of Nil’s and Iosif’s literary and institutional legacy in which this rhetoric was embedded and expressed. Their genres and sub-genres combine testament, regulation, sermon, systematic exposition, polemic, hagiography, and epistle, all freely utilizing maxims, enthymemes (rhetorical syllogisms, sometimes as questions), emotional appeals, scare stories, and insults, as well as poetic imagery. Both recognize the disciples’ active role in master’s success, as they address a variety of audiences. Nil’s spiritual treatise discusses the need for the “reliable” teacher, while his epistles place each recipient in his proper relationship to authority. Iosif directly speaks in turn to the pastor and the senior elders and officials of their responsibilities; he shows the multiplicity of authority lines within the large cenobium; and he polemically defends formal structures and discipline. His hagiography depicts the ideal elder as advising hesychast-hermit, community disciplinarian, and politically indispensible supplicant to God. Crucial for our overall sense of starchestvo, Iosif’s applies the New Testament maxims concerning “binding” and “loosing” to the teacher as teacher, while Nil’s Tradition/Instruction, specifying that only those qualified to listen and speak guide others, bridges to the modern era.

Nil’s and Iosif’s Rhetoric of Starchestvo

in Russian History




Irina PaertSpiritual Elders: Charisma and Tradition in Russian Orthodoxy (De Kalb: Northern Illinois Univ. Press1990).


Gelian M. Prokhorov“Keleinaia isikhastskaia literatura (Ioann Lestvichnik, Avva Dorofei, Isaak Sirin, Simeon Novyi Bogoslov, Grigorii Sinait) v biblioteke Troitse-Sergievoi lavry s XIV po XVII v.,” Trudy Otdela drevnerusskoi literatury (hereafter TODRL) 28 (1974): 317-24; and “Keleinaia isikhastskaia literatura (Ioann Lestvichnik Avva Dorofei Isaak Sirin Simeon Novyi Bogoslov Grigorii Sinait) v biblioteke Kirillo-Belozerskogo monastyria s XIV po XVII v.” in E. D. Vodolazkin ed. Monastyrskaia kul’tura: Vostok i Zapad (St Petersburg: Institut russkoi literatury RAN 1999) 44-48.


Goldfrank“Nil Sorskii’s Following” 214.


David MillerSt. Sergius of Radonezh His Trinity Monastery and the Formation of the Russian Identity 1322-1605 (DeKalb: Northern Illinois Univ. Press2010) 162-63; see also Jennifer Spock’s contribution to this volume on the fusion of the economic/administrative and spiritual leadership at Solovki and the types supervision there.


Ibid. 56-57; I. P. Eremin“Literaturnoe nasledie Feodosiia Pecherskogo,” TODRL5 (1947) 173-83; Rossiiskaia national’naia biblioteka f. Biblioteka Kirillo-Belozerskogo monastyria d. 85/210 (c. 1521 one of Gurii Tushin’s codices – containing Theodore the Studite’s brief oglasheniia.)


HollingsworthHagiography45; Matt 19:24 Mark 10:25 Luke 18:25: It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven: – “kingdom of God” in the original.


HollingsworthHagiography46; Luke 9:62: “kingdom of God” in the original.




Nikol’skiiK-BMU2: 157; NSAW 39-41.


David Goldfrank“Essential Glue: Muscovy’s Republic of Sacred Letters,” in Forschungen zur osteuropäischen Geschichte 76 (2010): 333-60.


P. M. StroevSpiski ierarkhov i nastoiatelei monastyri rossiiskiia tserkvi (St Petersburg: V. S. Balashev1877) 287 291-92; A. A. Zimin Krupnaia feodal'naia votchina i sotsial'no-politicheskaia bor'ba v Rossii (konets XV-XVI v.) (Moscow: Nauka 1977) 305-07 309 317 and especially n. 138 152: the third of these Varsonofii first archimandrite of Kazan’s Preobrazhenskii Monastery (1555-67) had been a prisoner in the Crimea for three years before becoming an archdeacon under the Iosifov-trained Bishop Akakii of Tver (1522-67) and so maybe knew a thing or two about the Tatar language and Muslim religion of the leading conquered subjects of Kazan. Zimin shows that a straight line of such Kazan-linked discipleship leads to Patriarch Germogen and hence to some of the major inspiration of Russia’s successful patriotic resistance to foreign occupation during the Time of Troubles.


Goldfrank“Nil Sorskii’s Following” 219-20.


Pseudo-BasilConstitutiones18; PG 31: 1385 C.


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