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Founders of Russian Monastacism

As editor, Constance Tarasar's booklet "Founders of Russian Monasticism" is 46 pages long with one cover illustration, eight internal illustrations, and a brief introduction. It tells the biographies of six Russian monks who helped shape the face of monasticism in that nation, as well as the nation itself. Their stories cover a span of about 850 years.

St. Anthony of the Caves in Kiev (b.983 AD) first introduced the concept of personal asceticism to Russia, which had only become formally Christian five years after his birth.

St. Theodosius of the Caves in Kiev (b.1008 AD) was an early disciple of St. Anthony's and was mainly responsible for launching communal monasticism in Russia.

St. Sergius of Radonezh (b.1314 AD) stopped four civil wars, influenced the poor and wealthy, and organized a monastic settlement whose members over the next 200 years started a movement by founding 150 monasteries in the forests and 100 in the cities.

St. Nilus of Sora (b.1433-d.1508) and St. Joseph of Volotsk (b.1439-d.1515) established two complementary schools of monastic thought which eventually came into conflict. St. Nilus emphasized monastic poverty, freedom for each individual monk to develop their own spiritual disciplines, and non-violent opposition to heresy, thereby founding the "non-possessors." St. Joseph emphasized the use of possessions to help the poor and needy, a common rule and practise for all monks in the same monastery, and aggressive suppression of heresy, thereby founding the "possessors."

St. Seraphim of Sarov (b.1759) largely spent his monastic life alone in the forest, was known for being a man of "light" and "joy" because of his experience and emphasis on being filled with the Holy Spirit, and eventually became a spiritual mentor to the thousands of pilgrims that came to his door in search of guidance.

The book is beautifully illustrated by etchings/engravings that almost have the feel of classic iconography. It would be a nice gift to friends and family. It is written in simple plain language and is probably geared for young people, but it can easily serve as a fun and moving introduction to the topic for adults. It covers key figures which emerged over about an 850 year period, thus giving a good snapshot overview of that time. At times it skipped over important events and seasons in each of the lives and, as a result, felt somewhat "choppy" in places. It could easily have been expanded to double the length by providing more information and illustrations for each of the lives, or by simply adding more lives, especially in the overlooked periods of 1350-1450 AD and 1600-1750 AD.

Overall, this was a fun and sometimes moving read. There are practical lessons from this book that I hope to carry over into my own current role in helping to catalyze, coach, and connect the modern-day house church movement which, it could be said, is an international network of back-to-basics "monasteries" and "friaries."


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