Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Saint Sergius of Radonezh, His Trinity Monastery, and the Formation of the Russian Identity

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Saint Sergius of Radonezh, His Trinity Monastery, and the Formation of the Russian Identity

Article excerpt

Saint Sergius of Radonezh, His Trinity Monastery, and the Formation of the Russian Identity. By David B. Miller. (DeKaIb: Northern Illinois University Press. 2010. $38.00. Pp. x, 348. ISBN 978-0-875-80432-3.)

The Trinity Monastery north of Moscow, founded by St. Sergius of Radonezh in the fourteenth century, was and is the most important Russian monastic foundation. Until the eighteenth-century secularization of monastic lands, it was the richest of the Russian monasteries and for the whole of its history was one of the principal spiritual centers of the Orthodox Church. Like other Russian monasteries, it has come late to historians. There is a considerable literature on the life of St. Sergius and on the texts that inform us about it, and there have been studies of the estates. David Miller has put together their work and his own extensive studies of the manuscript evidence to draw a convincing portrait of the cult of St. Sergius and the monastery as a center of devotion from the saint's death in 1 392 to the end of the sixteenth century. For in spite of the title, the subject is not Russian identity but the veneration of St. Sergius and the institutional structure of the monastery.

Miller begins with a brief account of the life of St. Sergius, a thorny topic because the principal texts come from the fifteenth century and present many textual dilemmas. Miller has thought through the literature but judiciously avoids getting drawn into the intricate battles of the textologists and presents a spare picture uncluttered with speculation and patriotic ideology. The core of the book, however, consists of the chapters on the development of the cult, the donations to the monastery as acts of piety (he leaves the economics to others), female veneration, and the practice of burial at the monastery. He also provides us with a profile of the monks, their social and geographic origins, and the internal ordering of the monastery. …

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