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Cyril of Turov


A late Life of St Cyril says that he took vows early, became a hermit and during the period of his reclusion expounded much of the Holy Scriptures”. Later the prince and townspeople “begged” Cyril to become bishop of Turov (in the north-west of the principality of Kiev). Cyril died not later than 1182.

Cyril’s writings enjoyed exceptional authority not only inRussia, but also among the Southern Slavs. Moreover his fame did not fade with time: thus, in widely read miscellanies of ceremonial and homiletic writings that began to circulate at the end of the fifteenth century, the Chrysostom and the Festal Sermons, Cyril’s sermons gradually occupied more and more space, sometimes even ousting those of St John Chrysostom.

The authorship of a number of works bearing Cyril of Turov’s name is doubtful, but there are sufficient grounds for considering that of the extant writings bearing his name the following were written by him: The Parable of the Soul and the Body, The Tale of the White and Black Monkhood, The Tale of the Black Monkhood, eight sermons for church feasts, thirty prayers and two canons (a cycle of hymns in honour of a saint). 4 In addition several sermons often bearing Cyril’s name in a number of manuscript miscellanies are included in a thirteenth-century miscellany (in the State Public Library in Leningrad) which consists almost entirely of writings by the author. It is possible that they too (as Mikhail Sukhomlinov also considers) belong to the Turov bishop.

The Parable of the Soul and the Body, which Igor Eremin dates between 1160-1169, is a denunciatory pamphlet against Bishop Theodore of Rostov.75 The parable is based on the story of a blind man and a lame man. Briefly it is as follows. The owner of a vineyard hires two men to guard it—a blind man and a lame man. He thinks that the lame man will not be able to walk into the vineyard, and the blind man will get lost if he goes in. But a lame man can see a thief and a blind man can hear one. The watchmen decide to outwit their master: the lame man climbs onto the blind man’s back and tells him where to go. In this way they manage to rob the vineyard, but they pay for it dearly. In the parable the blind man is the allegory for the soul, and the lame man for the body. So it is the soul (the blind man) that tempts the body (the lame man) to commit evil. In his interpretation of the Parable, Cyril of Turov made it clear to the reader that the blind man was meant to represent Bishop Theodore, and the lame man Prince Andrew Bogolyubsky. The reason for writing the parable was Prince Andrew’s attempt to set up a bishopric in Vladimir that would be independent of the Metropolitan of Kiev, to which end Theodore went to Constantinople to be consecrated by the Patriarch, and tricked the latter by pretending that Kiev had no metropolitan because he had died. The deception was subsequent­ly revealed, the Metropolitan of Kiev excommunicated Theodore, and Andrew’s attempt to achieve ecclesiastical independence of Kiev was condemned.

It is Cyril’s sermons for church feasts that were best known. In them he amplifies and develops the New Testament stories on which they are based with new details and composes dialogues for the characters, thus fashioning a new subject which gives him more scope for an allegorical interpretation of the importance of this or that feast.

The main stylistic device in Cyril’s sermons is rhetorical amplification. “With him this or that theme,” writes Igor Eremin, “is always modified and enlarged until its content is completely exhausted.” Each theme was presented in the form of a rhetorical tirade of alternating sentences synonymous in meaning and identical in syntactical structure.76

Let us examine one of Cyril of Turov’s sermons, The Sermon for Easter Sunday.77

The Sermon begins with a kind of introduction explaining why it has been written: “The Church has need of a great mentor and wise interpreter to adorn this feast”, but we are “poor in words” and “short of mind”, Cyril continues, “we can say but little of the feast”.

The author goes on to extol the feast of Easter, when everything changes: the earth is cleansed of the filth of evil spirits and becomes the heavens, people are renewed, for they have turned from pagans to Christians… Easter Week is a time of renewal for those who have embraced the Christian faith. Cyril of Turov paints a picture of the spring awakening of nature: freed from dark clouds, the sun rises up high and warms the earth, gentle breezes blow, the earth gives birth to green grass, lambs and calves frisk about, delighting in the spring, the flowers blossom and the leaves come out on the trees… For each element of this description Cyril of Turov immediately quotes a parallel, and it becomes clear that this vivid picture is a series of metaphors and similes designed to extol and, most important, explain to believers some tenets of the Christian faith. Spring is faith in Christ, the lambs are “the meek”, the calves the “idol- worshippers” of pagan countries that have been or are being converted to Christianity, etc.

Each of Cyril’s sermons is a striking example of festive, ceremonial oratory. The author is a past master of the art of rhetoric: he first addresses the congregation, then turns to a story from the New Testament or some complex theological concept with the aid of allegories, as shown above, or poses a question and immediately answers it himself, disputing and arguing with himself.

Students of the writings of Cyril of Turov established long ago that in the allegories, the devices for interpreting them and the rhetorical figures themselves, the author is by no means always original: he makes use of Byzantine models, quoting or retelling extracts from the sermons of the great Byzantine preachers. But all in all Cyril of Turov’s works are not simply compilations of other writers’ images and quotations—they are a free reinterpreta­tion of traditional material which results in a new, formally perfect work that helps the hearer to appreciate the spoken word and enchants him with the harmony of its rhythmically constructed vocal periods.

The syntactical parallelism of forms, the extensive use of morphological rhymes (the use of a succession of similar grammat­ical forms) in Cyril of Turov’s sermons compensated, as it were, for the lack of bookish poetry, preparing the Russian reader for the ornamental style (“braiding of words”) of the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries. Let us quote but one example. In the tirade “<Christ> leads the souls of the Holy Prophets to the Kingdom of Heaven, confers abodes on his saints in the celestial city, opens up paradise to the righteous, crowns the martyrs who have suffered for his sake…” each of the three parts of the syntactical construction (predicate, direct and indirect object) are parallel. Then the rhythmic pattern becomes even more complex, for the direct object, which is expressed by a single word in the constructions of the extract quoted above, now turns into a phrase each of the components of which also has parallel constructions: “pardons all those who do his will and follow his behests, sends our loyal princes health for their bodies and salvation for their souls and victory over the enemy … blesses all Christians, great and small, rich and poor, freemen and slaves, young and old, wives and maids…”

The writing of Cyril of Turov shows that twelfth-century Old Russian writers attained the heights of literary perfection and freely mastered all the devices of Greek rhetoric and the classical rhetorical oratory of Byzantium. Cyril of Turov embodied in his work the principles of “parabolic interpretation” that were championed by Clement of Smolensk and followed him also in the widespread use of rhetorical amplification.