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The Lament on the Capture and Final Destruction of the State of Muscovy


One of the first attempts to establish the causes of the Time of Troubles was made in another work written at the same time as the New Tale. This work was written in the genre of the lament. As well as laments for the dead and fallen, Old Russian literature also has laments for realms and cities. These were composed in times of hardship and tribulation. The unknown author of The Lament on the Capture and Final Destruction of the State of Muscovy was writing at the time when Minin and Pozharsky were already forming a national levies, but Moscow was still in the hands of the Poles (i.e., before the autumn of 1612). No one could yet predict the outcome of the struggle against the invaders, and therefore the main themes of the Lament are sorrow, mourning and grief at the former might and greatness of Russia, and calls to repentance and prayer, “that God … might spare what remains of the Christian family”.

“What precious royal chambers there were,” the author exclaims, “adorned with gold inside! How many wondrous treasures, royal diadems and fine royal mantles and robes of purple!” After beginning with the appearance of the first pretender, “the forerunner of the Anti-Christ” and “the son of darkness”, the author touches upon the many sad events of the later years. He condemns the invaders and their Russian accomplices, but does not place the blame for Russia’s sufferings entirely on them. In his opinion, it was internal strife, “brother hating brother”, and the domestic crisis caused by general moral decline, that produced the Time of Troubles. “Truth had grown scarce in people,” the author of the Lament writes sadly, “untruth reigned … evil bared itself, and we were covered in falsehood”.

This discourse on the causes of the Time of Troubles suffers from religious-moral abstraction, of course. The author himself is aware of that. “Alas, woe is me! How has such a tower of piety fallen, how has the God-planted garden been laid waste?” the author asks rhetorically and cannot provide a clear answer. The traditional collection of authoritative sources for the Orthodox scribe do not help either. “Such punishment and wrath were let loose, that it is worthy of no little amazement and many tears. And not a single theological work, no vitae, philosophical books, writings on different reigns, chronographs, histories, or other works tell of such punishment of any monarchy, tsardom or principality as that which befell most exalted Russia.” So one had to rely on one’s own powers of reasoning. The author of the Lament seems to be inviting the reader to reflect on the causes of the Time of Troubles.