Theodosius of Kiev

(c. 1002—1074)

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abbot. Born at Vasil'evo (near Kiev) of a wealthy family in the service of the prince, he passed most of his early life at Koursk. When still very young, he unsuccessfully attempted a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. His father died when he was thirteen, but his dominating mother ‘of muscular build with a voice like a man’ tried hard to retain him in lay life and made a scene with the abbot when he became a monk. Theodosius fled to Kiev, taking refuge with the hermit Antony in a cave above the Dnieper. Here he received the tonsure and was ordained priest.

In 1062 he founded a monastery and built a church. He became abbot of the Caves monastery in 1063 and adopted the rule of Theodore the Studite. His monasticism was marked neither by Palestinian excesses of mortification nor by Byzantine political activism, but resembled rather the ideals of Basil. He stressed the importance of community life and charity to all, first to other monks but also to guests, the sick, prisoners (to whom he sent a cartload of food each week), and anyone of whatever class who sought spiritual counsel. Each monk had to study Scripture and the Fathers assiduously as well as practising exemplary poverty. Always accessible to all, he would perform tasks distasteful to young monks such as the personal care for two years of an old monk almost completely paralysed.

He cultivated friendly relations with the secular rulers: they in their turn lavishly endowed his monastery. This did not prevent him from defending the poor and the oppressed. He saw his monastery as wholly integrated with the society of his time, a City of God towards which the earthly city should tend. Inside Russia it enjoyed a very high reputation, but it was sacked by Tartars in 1240, 1299, and 1316. Later it was fortified by Peter the Great and in the 20th century it has suffered both from Bolsheviks and Nazis (who destroyed Theodosius's church). It became a historical museum and a centre of scientific research, but recently it has been restored to its original purpose.

Theodosius, who was the archetypal staretz or spiritual father, dwelt in by God and so able to bring light and comfort to all, left several striking sayings, such as: ‘It is good for us to feed the hungry and the tramps with the fruits of our labour.’ Again: ‘Christ sought us out, found us, carried us on his shoulders and set us at the Father's right hand…It was not we who sought him, but he who sought us.’

He died at Eastertide and was buried in one of the original caves. In 1091 his body was translated to the principal church. In 1108 he was canonized by the bishops of the province of Kiev. His monastery is still a place of pilgrimage: among its attractions are incorrupt bodies of dead monks and skulls which (like Walburga's) exude oil used for anointing. His feast is widely celebrated among the Slavs, both Orthodox and Latin, on 3 May.


Subjects: Christianity.

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