Feodossi’s Enduring Faith and Literacy in Ancient Rus

Christianity’s arrival to Rus was a major event that shaped Russia’s history as we know it today. Its heavy influence is explicitly stated in the Primary Chronicle and had an immense impact on Rus’ society. When Prince Vladimir brought Christianity to Rus, the way people lived their day to day lives changed dramatically. One story that served as a portrayal of an ideal Christian life was the Life of St. Theodosius.

Named Feodosii as a child, Theodosius’s life was devoted to modeling the behavior of Jesus Christ. Born into a family of wealth, Feodosii was a servant of Christ from a very young age. He would wear patched, ragged clothing to humble himself despite his mother insisting on him wearing fine clothes that were available to him. He would not listen to his mother when she said that by being like the poor, he was bringing dishonor to his family name. He would go to church daily and pray as much as possible. Despite being severely abused by his mother when he would do things such as selling bread that he made himself and then giving his profits to the poor, his faith was steadfast. He saw his suffering as something necessary, just as Christ had suffered. 

Despite how extreme and seemingly irrational St. Theodosius’s faith was, it served as an example for society. I don’t think the church expected anyone to completely adhere to this type of lifestyle but was something that it wanted its members to constantly to keep in mind. During times of hardship and tribulation I think this tale could be something to keep in mind and express the idea that suffering is a necessary part of life.

The uncovering of things such as birchbark writings and cathedral grafitti shows that literacy was to some extent prevalent in ancient Rus. The fact that there are writings on things as simple as birchbark leads me to believe that literacy was somewhat prevalent. I don’t think that people with high status would choose to write messages on things so easily accessible. Also, the types of messages seen on some of the barks are very simple further explaining that it could have been a prevalent practice. If literacy was so rare, I feel that more complex and sophisticated messages would have been left behind.

4 thoughts on “Feodossi’s Enduring Faith and Literacy in Ancient Rus

  1. I completely agree with your notion that Thedosius’ life was used as a example to the Rus’ population, especially through hardship. Although I also personally believe that his story is too “perfect” to be entirely true. While the primary chronicles tended to depict the creation of Rus’ in a heavily biblical manner, it would seem that Boris, Gleb and Theodisius play the role of Jesus. Don’t you think that the story of Theodosius could also have been used by the church to set an example for the population to follow, hinting that maybe nearly 200 years after the conversion of Christianity some people were still having difficulties following the rule of the Church?

  2. Literacy is an interesting concept to consider historically. On the one hand, it was a necessary facet for the spread of Christianity throughout Russia, but on the other hand stories like those of Theodosius were probably told orally and written down a century later. Also, birch bark texts had to have been primarily concentrated in the north because of the dense forests, which leaves the question of literacy in the southern Kievan state unanswered. Does it mean that the north had more contact with the Byzantines, and thus had a greater necessity to begin writing? Or does literacy mean anything different for religion in the south versus the north?

  3. In regards to saint Theodosius i very much agree with you on that he was a extreme example of how suffering must be endured. Though as i wright this the thought occurs to me that the mother could be a metaphor for the state. On your second point about the writings being found on bark it does seem like the fact that they used bark and for very common writings would imply that they had heir levels of writing. For example did they have any stone tablets or carvings that would also have lasted until now? I know meany cities would put state announcements and plaques everywhere.

    • I think you raise an important point by saying that the mother could be a metaphor, except that since Christianity was a the State religion, I don’t believe she could represent the state. I do however believe she could represent the people that chose not to convert (as I am sure there were many) and her abuse could represent the pressure they put on the people that did chose to convert since mockery and abuse were probably common for them. In another words, the moral of Feodosii’s story would be: If you’re a Christian and being abused for it, do not fear since both Jesus and Feodosii were before you, and just like Feodosii learned to live with it through the life of Jesus, so can you through the life of Feodosii.

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