sought to identify a 'political hesychasm', which had varying degrees of impact on Byzantine and Slavic society.36
The extent to which hesychasm influenced Russian piety is debated,37 as is its impact on Russian culture (specifically on the techniques of icon painting and 'word weaving').38 It seems clear that the fourteenth-century Byzantine hesy-chast revival promoted international monastic contacts within the Orthodox world, and the translation and recopying of many Byzantine monastic works and their transmission to Slavic lands, and was in part responsible for the spectacular flourishing of monasticism that we see in late fourteenth- and early fifteenth-century Russia. The library of the Trinity-St Sergii monastery, for example, then contained a number of what Meyendorff calls 'the classics of hesychastic spirituality', as did that of the St Kirill-Belozerskii monastery.39 Direct evidence of Byzantine hesychast influence in the shape of mystical visions and Palamite theology is hard to find in the hagiography of the period. However, in so far that it encouraged a more personal religion, which stressed the possibility of direct contact with the Divine and the supremacy of the spiritual over the secular, hesychasm appears to have impacted significantly upon the generations of monks who chose contemplative prayer in the forest 'deserts' of the Russian north and east over socially active life in the large urban or suburban cenobitic centres. As one might expect, the figurehead of these 'trans-Volgan elders', Nil Sorskii, makes clear references to hesychast practices in his monastic rule,40 but it should be recalled that even the practical Iosif of Volokolamsk, who epitomises socially and politically active cenobiticism, recommends periods of silence and tearful recollection to his monks.41
Monastic humility, and the fear of inadvertently committing a heresy to paper by misrepresenting the sacred original, was an incentive to reproduce any spiritual treatise as exactly as possible, including accrued mistakes, but by the sixteenth century a new critical spirit had reached the clerical hierarchy The
36 G. M. Prokhorov, 'Isikhazm i obshchestvennaia mysl' v Vostochnoi Evrope v XIV v.', in Literaturnye sviazi drevnikh slavian, ed. D. S. Likhachev [Trudy otdela devnerusskoi literatury 23] (Leningrad: Nauka, 1968), 86-108; P. Bushkovitch, 'Thelimits ofhesychasm: some notes on monastic spirituality in Russia 1350-1500', Forschungen zur Osteuropaischen Geschichte 38 (1986), 97-109, esp. 109.
37 See Bushkovitch, 'Limits ofhesychasm'.
38 See J. Meyendorff,'Is "hesychasm" the right word?' in Okeanos: essays presented to Ihor Sevcenko on his sixtieth birthday by his colleagues and students [Harvard Ukrainian Studies 7] (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983), 447-57. See above 38-41.
39 J. Meyendorff, Byzantium and the rise of Russia,, 124-5.
40 See G. A. Maloney, Russian hesychasm: the spirituality of Nil Sorskii (The Hague: Mouton, 1973) for the fullest English-language exposition of this.
41 D. M. Goldfrank, The monastic rule of Iosif Volotsky [Cistercian Studies Series 36] (Kalama-zoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1983), 105.
Was this article helpful?