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Published: March 23rd 2020
My Great Uncle Cyril stowed on a ship as a lad...discovered and made cabin boy...arrived in Canada and spawned.
Met him on a visit to Australia where he enchanted me with the way he said "Hi"
...or was it his 17 year old granddaughter that caught my eye?
One of his daughters represented Canada in the Winter Olympics in Curling..."What's that?"
I remember asking.
He smoked a pipe so I made him a pottery ashtray.
Years later I heard he had become blind and was responsible for burning down his retirement home in Canada...some mishap with his pipe in bed...or was it 'cos of my ashtray?
As we cruise the Volga-Baltic Waterway in Vologda Oblast of northern Russia...crossing Beloye Lake (White Lake) where the Sheksna River joins the flow...another Cyril is about to enter my life...St Cyril of White Lake (St Kirill)...one of the most outstanding figures of the Russian church, Cyril Belozersky. Canonised in the XV century...not to be confused with St Cyril of Constantine who invented the Cyrillic alphabet in the IX Century that our Russian hosts speak and employ. Dwell a moment as Russians (including Putin) remember those who gave their
lives for them.
Then read on.
These Cyrils were not only connected by name and vocation but one sharing death on the other's feast day centuries apart. St Cyril of Constantine
Saint Cyril aka Kyrillos and Constantine the Philosopher, (827 - 869) was a Byzantine linguist, teacher, scholar and missionary who preached Christianity to the Slavs in Moravia with his brother Methodius (826 - 885) during the 9th century AD.
Thus known as the "Apostles of the Slavs"
...proselytising in turbulent times.
They were born in Thessalonica in Greece to a wealthy family but gave away all their worldly possessions to become monks in Constantinople.
In 860 they were chosen to minister to the Khazars NE of the Black Sea.
So successful were they that in 862 when Prince Rostislav of Great Moravia requested Emperor Michael III for missionaries to minister to the Moravians, Cyril and Methodius were sent.
The German clergy held sway over the area and insisted on religious teaching in Latin.
But the Moravians wanted to exercise Christianity in their native Slavonic tongue.
Cyril and Methodius were familiar with the Slavonic language.
As there were no Slavonic written texts...Cyril created an alphabet...the Glacolitic alphabet based on Greek characters that in its final Cyrillic form is used as the alphabet of modern Russia, Bulgaria and other Slavic languages.
With his Glacolitic alphabet, the Gospels and liturgical texts were transcribed into the Slavonic tongue.
And this made the Germans quite upset.
The Divine Liturgy in Slavonic not Latin...sacrilege for sure!
In 867 the brothers were summoned to Rome by Pope Nicholas I to answer their conflict with the German Archbishop of Salzburg and Bishop of Passau who claimed control over the same Slavic territory and wanted to enforce that Latin hold sway.
But by the time they arrived in Rome in 868, Nicholas I had died.
The new Pope Adrian II took the brothers' side, super impressed with their missionary work and ordained them as Bishops and formally sanctioned the use of the Slavonic liturgy.
The following year Cyril died in Rome in 869, whereupon Adrian II at the request of the Moravian princes commissioned the new Archdiocese of Moravia and Pannonia, as separate from the German church.
Adrian sent Methodius back to the Slavs as
John the Baptist
his legate and Archbishop, his ecclesiastical province including all of Moravia.
This action did not please the German King Louis and the German bishops (who had not conceived Martin Luther back then).
Another death another blindside.
Prince Rostilav of Moravia died and his nephew and successor Svatopluk had the Germans in his ear.
In 870 Methodius was invited to a Synod in Ratisbon where he was tried by the German clergy...imprisoned and brutally treated.
But as history teaches us...religious conflict has a habit of never going away.
In 873 a new Pope John VIII had succeeded Adrian II and forced the Germans to release Methodius and summoned him to Rome...whereupon he was reinstated as Archbishop of Moravia.
Yep...you guessed it...John VIII once more gave Papal approval for the use of the Slavic Liturgy vernacular.
But he insisted the Gospel be read first in Latin then Slavonic!
Methodius worked tirelessly to bring the gospel to the Poles and Bohemians.
But the Germans were still not finished. Their main objection was the use of Slavonic in the Liturgy.
Methodius's Bishop Wiching continued to make trouble by advocating use of the Latin.
his position Methodius visited Constantinople in 882 where he lived out his remaining days in ill health.
This was a time when there were two powers in the Catholic Church...the Pope in Rome and the Emperor in Constantinople.
But with the help of loyal priests, Methodius completed the translation of the whole Bible into Slavonic.
Methodius died in 885, 16 years after his brother Cyril.
After Methodius' death the new Pope Stephen V (or VI) forbade the use of the Slavonic Liturgy.
Bishop Wiching as Methodius' successor, forced the disciples of Cyril and Methodius into exile.
But the influence of the brothers like a sunrise or a sunset cast the sun's rays to faraway lands.
Their influence reached Kiev in distant Russia and among the Slavs of Croatia, Bohemia and Poland.
They were canonised by the Eastern Orthodox churches and later by the Roman Catholic Church.
Pope John Paul II honoured them in 1985 as "Slavorum Apotoli"
..."Apostles of the Slavs".
Thus...Rome had the last word.
They were honoured in Latin!!!
I draw breath and dwell a Cyril for a while...
I see Cyrillic everywhere but the only words I can decipher are:
нет (net) = No
стоп (stop) = Stop
идти (idti) = Go
ура (ura) = Cheers mate
правило блюза (pravilo blyuza) = the Blues Rule
for disappointing moments...Хватит плакать (Khvatit plakat) = Stop crying!!!
Cyril of White Lake
We cross Lake Beloye or White Lake docking at Goritsky and bus to the next Cyril on the way to Kuzino.
Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery (St. Cyril's Monastery), used to be the largest monastery and the strongest fortress in Northern Russia.
The monastery was founded in 1397 on the bank of Lake Siverskoye.
Born 1337 as Cosmas in Moscow, Russia into an aristocratic family...left an orphan in the care of his boyar in the court of Prince Dmitry Ivanovich Donskoy.
Bored with life of the court, Cosmas was admitted to the Simonov Monastery under Theodore of Rostov where he took vows under the name of Cyril.
Cyril fulfilled his monastic duties in the bakery, carrying water, chopping firewood, distributing bread...seeking spiritual fulfilment by the denial of physical or psychological desires.
When St. Sergius of Radonezh visited Simonov Monastery, he would first seek out Cyril in
the bakery to converse with him about spiritual matters before seeing anyone else.
Cyril was elevated to the kitchen where he worked for nine years...God granting him such tender emotion that he was unable to eat the bread he baked without tears while blessing the Lord.
In an attempt at further piety, Cyril began to act insane.
As punishment for transgressing against propriety, the Superior of the monastery placed him on bread and water for forty days...Cyril accepting this punishment with happiness...seen as spirituality by the experienced elders.
Against his objection the elders forced him to accept o
rdination to the priesthood.
When Theodore became Archbishop of Rostov in 1388, the brethren of Simonov Monastery chose Cyril as Abbot of the monastery.
As more and more people came to seek his guidance, his desire to maintain a humble, ascetically, spiritual life in solitude was disturbed.
In time he decided he would no longer remain an Abbot and secluded himself in his c
ell. But even remaining in his cell did not end the arrival of frequent visitors.
You all know the feeling..."stop hassling me...leave me alone"
..."give peace a chance"
One night in his
cell he heard a voice say, "Go to White Lake (Belozersk), where I have prepared a place for you."
Believing it was the Virgin Mary that had spoken to him, he departed Simonov with two companions Therapon and Mozhaisk, and set out to the isolated lake.
As you do...they raised a c
ross, dug a cell in the ground and lived in it in silence.
Therapon finding it much too noisy, departed and set up a monastery elsewhere.
Soon three other monks came to Cyril from Simonov monastery, followed by others.
Whether the hole in the ground was too crowded or t'was too hard to counsel so many in silence, after a year in his earthen cell, Cyril perceived that his time of silence was ended, and he began to expand his monastery.
In 1397, he began to build a wooden c
hurch dedicated to the Dormition of the Mother of God.
As the monastery expanded, Cyril established a community of silence for which by his own actions he provided an example for the brethren.
No one could talk in c
hurch, sat at their own place and remained silent during meals and then returned
to their own cells for reflection.
No one had any personal possessions and all money was kept in the monastery treasury.
Sounds dull but this Cyril was no squirrel.
Cyril was rewarded by the Lord with the gift of clairvoyance and healing.
One time when the priest told Cyril that there was no wine for the Divine Liturgy...Cyril asked a monk to bring him the empty wine vessel...whereupon on opening it proved to be full of wine.
Miracle or what?
During a period of famine Cyril distributed bread to all the needy. Normally the reserves were not sufficient for the brethren but the more that bread was distributed, the more it increased.
Another miracle or what?
Not surprisingly, the monks then realised that God would provide for their needs, through the prayers of Cyril.
Cyril served his last Divine Liturgy on the day of Pentecost. After giving final instructions to the brethren to preserve love among themselves, Cyril died in 1427 aged 90 years...on the Feast day of his namesake Cyril of Constantinople.
Cyril's legacy lived on.
In 1635, there were more than two thousand books in the monastery library, including sixteen "of the Wonderworker
Three of his letters to Russian princes have survived...testament to his spiritual instruction and guidance of love, peace and consolation. Cyril's Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery
Cyril was canonised in the 15th century.
In the early 16th Century Duke Vasiliy III of Moscow and his wife Elena Glinskaya seeking the protection of St Cyril...came here to pray for the birth of a son.
Their wish was fulfilled and their son became the first Tsar of Russia...Ivan the Terrible
who ruled from 1547 until his abdication in 1584.
It is said he showed great affection for the monastery and served his last days as a monk there.
A century after Cyril's death, the monastery started to grow rapidly undergoing a major overhaul at the end of the 16th century. Many of the wooden buildings were replaced with new stone structures and the small churches were transformed.
It kept growing and by the middle of the 17th century it was one of the richest landowners in Russia...showered with gifts from princes and other nobles...gifts such as books, money, and cattle. A great number of medieval books and texts were produced in the monastery, as
well as icons and religious songs....its treasury ever increasing.
The whole complex was enclosed with mighty walls.
Part of the monastery was used as a prison...a place of exile for out of favour political prisoners.
During the Polish–Lithuanian War, it took on the role of a fortress because such walled structures in the northern parts of Russia were rare.
At the turn of the 17th century, Russia was in a state of unrest when in 1604, a pretender to the throne claimed to be Ivan the Terrible's son Dmitry who actually had died as a child. This "False Dmitry" seized power from Boris Godunov, only to be deposed the following year.
The chaotic political situation invited both popular rebellion and Polish invasion.
The Polish invaders were aware of the countless riches and jewels kept in the sacristy of the monastery.
The heads of the monastery decided to buy weaponry and fortify the walls.
When the liberating forces of Pozharsky rid the capital of Moscow of the Polish invaders, army units of Poles, Lithuanians and Swedes headed North ravaging cities and towns on their way.
The Russian army suffered defeat on the
approaches to Vologda, Belozersk, Tot'ma and Sol'vychegodsk.
On August 20, 1612 the hostile units approached the walls of the Kirillo-Belozersky monastery, but seized only food supplies and livestock.
The monastery repulsed all the attacks and proved to be one of the few north-eastern Russian fortresses able to resist the foe.
For years, the monastery resisted attempts by Polish invaders to lay their hands on the treasure it was protecting.
After the war, renovations and expansions were carried out.
The wars made the Tsar raise it as a strong fortress in the North of the country.
Over the course of 200 years, the small wooden monastery that St. Cyril founded became a full-size town and a powerful cultural centre. By 1643, the complex had tripled in size.
Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich decreed construction of a new town which lasted for 30 years. During this period, the walls were strengthened with 165 feet (50 metre) high towers at the corners of the enormous structure. The monastery at White Lake was said to be the biggest in Rus'.
Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich's reign was a favoured time for the monastery. The Tsar and his Tsarina visited the
monastery on several occasions and made generous donations.
Their son, Peter the Great let it decline...falling into decay.
Some reconstruction work was carried out in late 19th century, when the monastery marked its 500th anniversary.
Then came the Russian Revolution of 1917. The fortress to which no other Russian monastery could compare was closed by the Bolsheviks in 1924 and turned into the State Museum Reserve of History, Architecture and Art.
We were told the Soviets used it as an army barracks during the Second World War.
It wasn’t until 1998 that monks were allowed to return and use part of the complex. It remains in use by monks to this day. Cyril & me
The Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery astounds with many churches...varied domes...the enormous size of its fortified walls and towers.
I marvel at the faded murals...the Cathedral of the Assumption (1497) and the Church of the Archangel Gabriel with an attached bell-tower and the refectory.
A chill wind brushes my neck...I shiver as if an icy hand has brushed my hair.
I turn...a splash hitting my nose...the sun flashing through stormy clouds winking at me. I
I hear a voice
Do I dare enter?????
see a door cut in a green wall. I hear a voice from behind the door, "Come thither David...where I have prepared a place for you." "Is that you, Cyril?''
...a cry involuntarily spilling from my lips.
Relax & Enjoy,
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