During the reign of Ivan IV, the Domostroi was written. The book is a guide on the rituals of mundane life of the time period followed by those in the upper strata of society. It details the proper way of living as a Christian, as a good citizen, and as a human being. Throughout the first few chapters, we noticed reoccurring themes.
Being a household manual, it would make sense that the Domostroi would mention God, as the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church was ubiquitous in this time period. These chapters show that religion is not just a part of society but the guiding force in the lives of 16th century Muscovites. The first chapters discuss everything from family relationships to entertaining guests and the importance of religion in all of these acts. The importance of God also appears regularly in the preparation and importance of food in the family home. According to the Domostroi, God can make bad or rotten food taste sweet again. It also explores ideas such as the love each person should have for God, the Tsar, other important figures in society, the less fortunate, and loved ones. It is very clear in the text that, specifically for God and the Tsar, this love should be accompanied by the acknowledgement that reverence is essential and the fear of these figures is just as important as the love. The prevalence of God in Muscovy is clear through these first few chapters.
The Domostroi mentions food many times throughout the first eleven chapters. Food plays an important role that relates to God. Communion bread must be chewed with the lips and not the teeth: biting sharply and harshly into the flesh of Jesus was wrong. With the bread, a Christian may only drink certain liquids, and must do so carefully, sipping the divine water or consecrated wine. When feasting with neighbors, friends, and family, the highest ranking person in attendance is to start eating first; to eat out of place is disrespectful. When someone dies in a man’s family, food is set out so that the neighbors and friends can feast in celebration in the memory of the person and in God. Food is God’s gift to the people and so the Domostroi demands that Christians “eat, then, and drink in praise of God” (ch.11 p.77) One cannot praise God while eating slovenly, sloppily, or rudely. Food is meant to be shared among all in attendance. The more honor a person has does not entitle him to eat more food than the rest. Sharing and compassion for all of God’s creations — whether elder, equal, or poor — is what the Domostroi promotes.
The Domostroi also placed a lot of emphasis on reverence for all—reverence for God, reverence for superiors, and even reverence for inferiors. Reverence for all of these beings, natural or supernatural, is supposed to be accomplished through both love and fear. By showing reverence through both love and fear, the reader hears quotes from the Bible about love for the Lord (Chapter 4), and at the same time he also hears the quote that one should “fear the tsar and serve him faithfully” (Chapter 7). All of this demonstrates that, while there were different ways of showing reverence to others, one of the central themes of the Domostroi was in showing reverence.
Leah, Leah, and Brendan.
Pouncy, Carolyn Johnston. The Domostroi. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1994.