The “Ideal Christian,” according to Feodosii

The Life of St. Theodosius teaches us that the Russian Orthodox Church had nearly impossible standards for the “Ideal Christian.” According to the Chronicles, St. Theodosius–also known as Feodosii–was a child whose love for God led him to withstand a life of social exclusion and horrible abuse from his mother. Feodosii’s mother continuously bought him nice clothes, but he always gave them away to the poor, preferring not to exhibit his own wealth in order to be closer to God. His mother also beat him over and over again as he tried to bake loaves for the church or run away to learn more about God, but Feodosii’s faith remained steadfast. Finally, his total devotion to God, exhibited by his lonely, pained life, led the monks to accept him into their monastery.

This story teaches that the “Ideal Christian” should retain his faith in God no matter the physical, mental, or emotional costs. But even more drastically, it teaches that these losses and pains lead to a better relationship with God than a happier, more balanced life might. Feodosii’s adamant refusal to wear nice clothes or to fight back against his abusive mother were signs of his complete devotion to God. Even once he enters the monastery, Feodosii’s life is still hapless: “Thus he humbled himself by self-denial in every way and tormented his body with labors and abstinence so that the venerable Antonji and great Nikon marveled at his meekness and submissiveness and at such virtue, steadfastness, and good cheer [] a youth” (“The Life of St. Theodosius”). Here, we see that the life of a monk–the life of one who is closest to God–is filled with physical pain, denial of all pleasures, and submissiveness of character.

If the Russian Orthodox Church venerated St. Theodosius lifestyle, then did it expect the same type of character from all its followers? In class today, we discussed how the law code worked both to enforce Christianity and to build up a strong, structured civilization. While the ideals of self-denial and submissiveness which St. Theodosius exhibited might also have helped create a civilization of loyal, submissive citizens, these characteristics might also inhibit cultural advancements because they stunt creative thinking and personal desires. I wonder if such a strict, painful lifestyle was really beneficial–let alone attainable–to Rus civilization at this time.

5 thoughts on “The “Ideal Christian,” according to Feodosii

  1. You bring up a really interesting point about what the expectations were for the actual inhabitants of the Rus civilization, I was wondering the same thing. My best guess is that similar to Christians today, these individuals serve as the idealistic person. The expectation that people were inherently sinful, but could strive to personify these ideals might have been the mentality prevalent during this time. As for your thoughts on how these ideals may have inhibited cultural advancements, I feel that it is possible that the religious and state leaders at this time were more concerned with maintaining order and a submissive, meek population rather than improving their own culture.

  2. During the Medieval Ages, the model for a true and good Christian is one who was willing to starve themselves or deprive themselves of any pleasure so as to gain a closer connection with God. People aspired to have this close connection with God and in doing those who had been martyred were celebrities, something people aspired to become. These kinds of actions were happening all across Europe, this means to me that this type of loyalty was as beneficial to society as the people wanted it to be. Those who fully and quickly submitted to these ideals seemed to have a greater connection to Christianity as shown in Rus’ society.

  3. It’s difficult because there is a lot of uncertainty about what the attitudes of Rus’ civilization were really like; however, after our readings and discussions in class about the Pravda Russkaia and society during the time period I’d say that families were undoubtedly overwhelming with Christian ideologies because the ideologies were so fiercely intertwined.. It does poke at my curiosity though as to how many members of Kievan Rus’ society actually followed through with these codes, or, in other words -how many grivnas did the Metropolitan rake in?

  4. I think the comparison between the “folklore” of Christianity and the law code is really interesting. I do think that it needs to be acknowledged that in the same way that the law code represented an idealized reality, so did the stories of the Russian saints. The law code was responsible for protecting hierarchy, and in a way the hagiography of St. Theodosius helped to promote social hierarchy through devotion to religion. Those willing to uphold the Christian standards are elevated to a status above the rest. It shows not only the expectation that church officials remain holier than the general population, but that they should be taken as models for the rest of that society. You also bring up some parts of the story which show the difficulty of the transition from “paganism” to Christianity and the reluctance of some Russians, such as the mother, to adhere to this new system of belief.

  5. You seem to have hit most of the points that this story is trying to get across. But i feel there is one thing that you may have implied that may not be true. I doubt that the life of the average monk was nearly as harsh as the boys was. I am guessing that he was far beyond extreme even to them. Also you are right that the idea of trying to force every citizen into becoming a saint would be very unproductive. The reason they may have pushed this could have been not that they wanted citizens like that, but instead that they were hoping to attain new levels of unity through any means necessary.

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