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Nil’s and Iosif’s Rhetoric of Starchestvo

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image of Russian History

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.


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