Domostroi (Chapters 1-18)

The Domostroi represents the many facets of life for the “fortunate few” in Muscovy’s social hierarchy.  Those living under this social system were subjected to strict and detailed standards of behavior and expectations.  We have determined that at the crux of this system was a “culture of fear” that was responsible for ensuring proper social conduct.  This means that this group of people followed the Domostroi‘s guidelines not because it was necessarily beneficial but because they were motivated by fear of consequences.  These consequences were social, political, and most strikingly, religious.  There is a heavy emphasis on how one should appear to God and to his peers, as he represented his family’s name and place within the religious and social hierarchy.  It seems then, that the household was not restricted to its physical space, but extended into the city, society, and religion of Moscow.

There were many expectations for Christians at this time. Specifically, the head of the household was expected to “Do God’s will faithfully and keep His commandments” (65).  If one did not, he would “…answer for [himself] on Judgement Day” (65). In turn, he was expected to teach these values not only to his wife and children, but also to his servants. However, these values were not to be taught through abuse or violence, but rather through love and by example. Throughout the document there was an emphasis on maintaining the social hierarchy already imbedded within the culture, especially with the emphasis on the importance of both priests and the Tsar. The Domostroi notes to “Always approach bishops eagerly and offer them the honor that is due… Fall at their feet and obey them in everything, as God commanded” (69). Regarding the Tsar, one was expected to “Fear the Tsar and serve him faithfully… Do not say anything false to him, but tell the truth, deferentially, as though you [speak] to God Himself” (71). Throughout the document, explicitly stated within each section were the expectations for Christian individuals and then subsequently the rewards and punishments for adhering to or disobeying these mandates. In addition, another way this order was maintained was through the emphasis on helping others less fortunate than oneself. By encouraging people to donate what they could to the poor, there was no emphasis on rising socially, but rather on staying where you were, and helping those poorer than you. By applying this mentality to the social hierarchy, this document allowed the nobility to maintain order. The culture of fear emphasized not only applied to God and His wrath, but also to the clergy and Tsar.

Another part of the Domostroi lays the rules of savoir vivre attached to hosting events. This section possessed two main parts. The first described the manner in which a priest should be received on holy days. The host was the master of his home and in charge of preparing, inviting, and offering food, while the guests had to show humility and respect. The priests invited were supposed to perform the ritual appropriate for the occasion. The priest had to pray for the Tsar and the Tsaritsa, the members of the clergy and finally “all that is profitable to the man of the house, his wife, children, and servants” hinting the role genders played in the society. It is also interesting to point out that the host had to invite as many priests as possible; it might suggest that such actions were also used to show one’s wealth as well as nobility. The second section regarded the behavior to possess should one invite guests. It demonstrated that not only the host was in charge of the preparation, and conducting the gathering, but that it was also his role to respect God through the evening’s interactions. It was the host’s responsibility that guest behaved appropriately, eat and drink enough to honor God, but not too much. This chapter also used fear as the method of choice to convince its reader. Shall you guest misbehave or utter blasphemy and food will turn into dung in their mouths, angels will report your actions to the Devil as opposed to God and “such deeds will stand on Judgment Day.”

Similarly latter passages of The Domostroi bring that culture of fear to the daily religious lives of the people. Men were told that they should attend church services daily. And women should go as they are able and have their husbands permission. Church goers were instructed to stand like pillars while praying “with fear and trembling, with sighs and tears, {turning the eyes of your body towards the abyss}”(13). Fortunately there were ways to make amends, unceasing prays for long periods of time was said to allow the holy spirit to enter your body. A good priest was also considered an acceptable remedy. A priest was to be held in fear when you come to him in love to confess your sins. This fear was doubtlessly preached throughout Russia and was a significant part of every true christian’s life. The father was taught by the church and he taught his family what they said. That adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, drunkards, swindlers and slanderers will not possess the kingdom of God.

The discussion of daily life and family relationships shows the importance of children in families and society.  Parents were expected to care for and protect their children or be ridiculed by their neighbors.  These relationships were also highly gendered, as mothers were responsible for their daughter’s instruction in female crafts and fathers were responsible for teaching their son a specific trade.  Education was considered important because it made the daughter or son more marriageable, thus enabling families to improve their social position through their children.  The same concept applies for the establishment of a dowry, which was considered a father’s responsibility.  The culture of fear began early in children’s education, even before the children started learning themselves.  Parents that failed to instruct their children away from sin would pay the price on Judgment Day and be publicly shamed, possibly having their house dishonored and paying a fine to the government.  As part of their education, children were taught to fear God, but they were also taught to fear their parents.  The Domostroi references biblical passages that advised fathers beating their sons so that they might behave properly, and there is little mention of affection between parents and children (96).  Even the discussion of caring for parents in old age is framed in terms of cleansing sins instead of familial love.  It is clear from these chapters that the level of respect between family members was a means of establishing social position and proving one’s religiosity and merit to the community.