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The Tale of the Vision to a Certain Holy Man of Archpriest Terentius


It tells how a certain man in the capital dreamed that the Virgin, John the Baptist and the Holy Saints were praying to Christ in the Cathedral of the Assumption to spare the Orthodox people who had fallen into sin and therefore been made to suffer the horrors of the Time of Troubles. In the end Christ is moved by His Mother’s tears and says in a quiet voice: “For your sake, Mother, I shall spare them if they repent. But if they do not repent, I shall show them no mercy.” After this a saint bids the hero: “Go, you who have found favour with Christ, and tell what you have seen and heard!” The hero tells his vision to Archpriest Terentius of the Kremlin Cathedral of the Annunciation, who then writes a tale about it “and gave it to the Patriarch, and told it to the tsar”.

The same compositional stereotype provides the basis for visions described in Nizhny Novgorod, Vladimir, Veliky Ustyug and other towns. The local details and characters vary considera­bly in works of this genre: in the vision Christ may appear, or the Virgin, or a “wondrous woman” in shining robes with an icon in her hands (the Vladimir vision). Grigory Klementyev of Ustyug heard the voices of the patron saints Procopius and John (the tale about this vision was appended to The Life of St Procopius of Ustyug as another miracle). The conditions of salvation also vary and may be of a general nature (“let them fast and pray with tears”) or more concrete. In the Nizhny Novgorod vision as well as three days of fasting the Lord orders that a church be built and adds: “Let them place an unlit candle and blank paper on the altar.” If all these conditions are fulfilled to the letter, “the candle will be lit by fire from Heaven, the bells will peal out on their own, and on the paper will be written the name of him who is to rule the Russian state”.

For all the variations in these visions they have a lot in common, and not only in their composition. Use is often made of everyday detail creating an illusion of authenticity. Here are the opening lines of one of the Moscow visions: “In the year 115 (1607), on the twenty-seventh day of February, on Friday night, the head watchman Istoma Mylnik, son of Artemy, was told to spend the night in the porch of the Cathedral of the Archangel Michael; but in his place his son Kozma did spend the night there, and with him six watchmen from the Vegetable Row: Obramko Ivanov, Vaska Matfeyev, Andriushka Nikitin, Pervushka Dmitriyev, Pervushka Matfeyev, and Grishka Ivanov.” Of particular interest here is the reference to the fact that the head watchman’s place was taken by someone else (“but in his place his son Kozma did spend the night there”). This simple detail enhances the impression of the authenticity of the vision itself. There can be no doubt that all the watchmen listed were real traders “from the Vegetable Row”.

In The Tale of the Vision to a Certain Holy Man we are told that the hero hears not the pealing of bells in general, but the strokes from one particular bell “the big bell … which was made in the reign of Tsar Boris”. When the hero goes to the Kremlin, he notices that the streets are dry and smooth, although it is October, the month of autumn rains. The hero observes Christ and the Virgin from a definite vantage point—through the “West doors, from the Patriarch’s Court”.

In times of war and unrest “visions” and “heavenly signs” are always observed and recorded with care by the people of the day. Five years after the election of Michael Romanov the Thirty Years War broke out in Europe. A comet was commonly thought to have presaged the war. Visions and prophesies enthralled Catholic and Protestant countries alike. They were believed by kings, generals and monks, simple folk and learned scholars.

In this respect the literature of the Time of Troubles is no exception. Prince Ivan Chvorostinin, a favourite of Pseudo- Dmitry I and a theologian, historian and poet, recalling the sudden death of Boris Godunov and the six-week reign of his ill-fated son Theodore, remarked in Tales of the Days and Tsars and Prelates of Moscow: “There were many signs through comets: sometimes in the shape of a spear, sometimes two moons, one conquering the other.”

The visions of the Time of Troubles played an important part in the political struggle. At the bidding of Tsar Vasily Shuisky The Tale of the Vision to a Certain Holy Man of Archpriest Terentius was read on 16 October, 1606 in Russia’s main church, the Kremlin Cathedral of the Assumption “out loud to all the people, and there was a great gathering”.3 At the same time a special week of fasting was declared, “and prayers were sung in all the churches … that the Lord God might turn his righteous anger from us and still the internecine strife and bring peace and harmony to all the towns and lands of the Moscow state”. In 1611 the Nizhny Novgorod and Vladimir tales of visions spread to other Russian towns. The people of Ustyug heard of the Nizhny Novgorod vision from the townsfolk of Yaroslavl and passed it on to Vychegodsk, from whence it went appended to a special letter to Perm.

The “vision” is a very old genre, adopted in Russia together with Christianity. In the period of the Time of Troubles, however, it acquired new functions and came to the fore, ousting other genres. Similar changes took place in other genres also: the Time of Troubles breathed new life into such traditional form of official writing as the gramota.4

During this period agitation by means of gramotas was unusually intensive. The gramotas combine an official style with rhetoric. They not only contain calls for unity, but also pictures of the devastation of the Moscow state, the despoiling of national relics by the Polish invaders, and so on.

All this prepared the way for the appearance of so-called false gramotas, strange literary hoaxes. For example, there is a Gramota of 1611 purporting to be written by Smolensk “captives” who had “surrendered to the Lithuanians without any resistance” and were living in a camp behind the lines of King Sigismund III of Poland who had laid siege to Smolensk.5 “All of us,” says the text, “have perished without exception and without mercy and have not found favour or mercy.” This literary hoax betrays ignorance of the details of the siege of Smolensk and a remarkably detailed knowledge of Moscow affairs, which one would hardly expect from a captive far from the capital. The Gramota appears to have been written in the Trinity Monastery of St Sergius, which led the patriotic movement during the Time of Troubles. Its aim is clear from the following appeal in the text: “Cast off your fear! What favour and mercy do you hope to find? If you do not unite with the rest of the land now, you will perforce weep bitter tears and sob in eternal, inconsolable lament.” The authors of the hoax thought that an appeal for unity would be more effective if it were put in the mouths of people who had drunk the cup of the enemy’s “favour” to the full.

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