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Holy Folly: Explorations of Humility in the Kievan Caves Monastery

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Although he does not in important respects fit the traditional paradigm of a Byzantine salos or later Russian iurodivyi, certain aspects of holy foolishness, or perhaps better holy folly, provide insight, in both their presence or absence, for interpreting the tale of the Kievan Caves Monastery monk, Prince Sviatoslav Davidovich (Sviatosha) of Chernigov. The tale is part of a collection of stories about early Caves monks, purported to be a correspondence between its author, Bishop Simon of Suzdal, and the monk Polikarp, which form the core of what later came to be called the Kievan Caves Patericon. Sviatosha’s commitment to self-abasement, simplicity, poverty, and denial of high worldly status, takes place within the context of the strictest obedience to the superior, the Caves brethren, and the Studite Rule. The high degree of Christocentricity, self-denial and submission evident in the monastic practice of Sviatosha, as well as that of Feodosii, stands out in two respects. First, though traditionally the sources of Kievan spirituality and monastic practice have been sought in Constantinople or Mount Athos, it is becoming clear, especially when considering Sviatosha and Feodosii, that the spirituality of the Caves Monastery owes much to both Byzantium and contemporary Western monastic practice, such as that of the Cistercians. Secondly, the extraordinary account of the prince-monk, Sviatosha, and the obedience and humility he demonstrates stands out among the Rurikids in a manner that resonates even to the reign of Ivan IV in the sixteenth century.

Affiliations: 1: Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan


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