Sainted Gennadii, Archbishop of Novgorod

Commemorated on December 4 and on the 3rd Sunday of Pentecost

      Sainted Gennadii, Archbishop of Novgorod, was descended from the lineage of the Gonzov's and was, in the testimony of contemporaries, "a man dignified, intelligent, virtuous and learned in the Holy Scripture". His monastic obedience was made at the Valaamo monastery, under the spiritual guidance of the Monk Savvatii of Solovetsk (Comm. 27 September). From the year 1472 – he was archimandrite of the Chudov monastery in Moscow. Zealous for a strict ustav/rule of Divine-services, during the years 1479-1481, together with Vassian, archbishop of Rostov, and later his successor Joasaph, he fearlessly rose up in defense of an ancient ustav during a dispute about going "like the sun" (east to west) during the consecration of a new temple. (The dispute had arisen in connection with the consecration of the Uspensky cathedral in Moscow.)
      In 1483 Saint Gennadii began construction at the Chudov monastery of a stone refectory church in honour of Sainted Alexei, Metropolitan of Moscow (+ 1378), the founder of the monastery. On 12 December 1484 Saint Gennadii was ordained archbishop of Novgorod. Already in Novgorod but still reverencing the memory of Saint Alexei, Gennadii did not cease to concern himself over the erection of the temple, "having sent silver voluntarily for the completion of this temple and refectory and chamber".
      The time of holy Archbishop Gennadii as hierarch at Novgorod coincided with a terrible period in the history of the Russian Church. Judaising preachers, having journeyed to Novgorod under the guise of merchants, already in the year 1470 had begun to plant the weeds of heresy and apostasy amongst the Orthodox. The false teaching spread secretly. The first report about the heresy reached Saint Gennadii in the year 1487: four members of a secret society, in a drunken intoxication opened up and disclosed before the Orthodox the existence of the impious heresy. As soon as it became known to him, the zealous archpastor immediately set about an inquiry and with deep sorrow became convinced, that the danger was a threat not only to local Novgorod piety, but also the very capital of Orthodoxy – Moscow, whence the leaders of the Judaisers had already journeyed in 1480. In September 1487 he dispatched to metropolitan Gerontii at Moscow all the inquiry material in the original, together with a list of the apostates discovered by him, and also their writings. The struggle with the Judaisers became the chief object of  the archpastoral activity of Saint Gennadii. In the words of the Monk Joseph of Volotsk (Comm. 9 September), "this archbishop, being wroth with the malevolent heretics, pounced upon them like a lion, from out of the thicket of the Holy Scriptures and the splendid heights of the prophets and the apostolic teachings". For twelve years the struggle of Saint Gennadii and the Monk Joseph against the most powerful attempts of the opponents of Orthodoxy to betray all the course of history of the Russian Church and the Russian state. By the their efforts the struggle was crowned with victory for Orthodoxy. The works of Gennadii in the study of the Bible contributed to this. The heretics in their impious cleverness resorted to the searching out of texts from the Old Testament books, but which were different from those accepted by the Orthodox. Archbishop Gennadii took upon himself an enormous task – to bring together into a single codex correct listings of Holy Scripture. Up until this time Biblical books had been copied in Russia, on the example of Byzantium, not in view of an entire codex, but by separate parts – the Pentateuch (first five books) or Octateuch (first eight books), Kings, Proverbs and other instructive books; the Psalter, the Prophets, the Gospels and the Epistles.
      The holy books of the Old Testament in particular often were subjected to both accidental and intentional defect. Saint Gennadii wrote about this with sorrow in a letter to archbishop Joasaph: "The Judaising heretical tradition doth adhere to – psalms of David or prophecies which they have altered". Gathering round himself learned and industrious Bible workers, the saint collected together all the books of the Holy Scripture into a single codex, and he gave blessing that there again be translated from the Latin language those of the Holy Books, which were not found by him in manuscripts of the traditional Slavonic Bible. In 1499 was published in Rus' the first complete codex of Holy Scripture in the Slavonic language – "the Gennadii Bible", as they respectfully call it after the name of its compiler. This work became an integral link in the succession of Slavonic translation of the Word of God. From the God-inspired translation of the Holy Scripture by the holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Cyril and Methodios (863-885), through the Bible of Saint Gennadii (1499), reproduced in the first-imprinted Ostrozh Bible (1581), the Church has maintained an unaltered Slavonic Biblical tradition right up through the so-called Elizabethan Bible (1751) and all successive printed editions.
      Together with the preparation of the Bible, the circle of church scholars under Archbishop Gennadii undertook also a great literary task: the compiling of the "Fourth Novgorod Chronicle"; they brought this up to the year 1496, and numerous hand-written books were translated, corrected and transcribed. The hegumen of the Solovetsk monastery, Dosiphei, being at Novgorod on monastery matters, worked for several years (1491-1494) with Saint Gennadii to compile a library for the Solovetsk monastery. It was at the request of Saint Gennadii that Dosiphei wrote the Lives of the Monks Zosima (Comm. 17 April) and Savvatii (Comm. 27 September). A majority of the books, transcribed with the blessing of the Novgorod hierarch (more than 20), were preserved in the collection of the Solovetsk collected manuscripts. Ever a zealous advocate for spiritual enlightenment, Saint Gennadii founded at Novgorod a school for the preparation of worthy clergy.
      The memory of Saint Gennadii is preserved also in other of his work for the welfare of the Orthodox Church.
      At the end of the XV Century a menacing concern weighed upon Russian minds about the impending of the world, which they anticipated would be at the expiration of seven thousand years from the creation of the world. Way back in 1408 with the completion of the world-creation cycle, they had not ventured in Rus' to compute the Paschal dates further than the year 1491. Thus in September 1491, the Archbishops' Sobor-Council of the Russian Church at Moscow, with the participation of Saint Gennadii, decreed that: "the Paschalion for the eight thousandth year be written". Metropolitan Zosima at Moscow on 27 November 1492 "set forth a cathedral Paschalion for 20 years," and entrusted to bishop Philothei of Perm and archbishop Gennadii of Novgorod to each compile their own Paschalion for conciliar witness and affirmation on 21 December 1492. Saint Gennadii finished the compiling of his Paschalion, which in contrast to that of the Metropolitan, extended for 70 years. It was distributed through the dioceses by approval of the Sobor as the accepted Paschalion for the next 20 years, incorporating it as its own with explanation upon it in a Circular Letter under a general heading, "Source for the Paschalion transposed to the Eight Thousandth Year". In the theological explanation of the Paschalion, grounded upon the Word of God and the holy fathers, the saint wrote: "It is proper not to fear the end of the world, but rather to await the coming of Christ at every moment. For just as God might deign to end the world, so also might He deign to prolong the course of time". The time set by the Creator is not for Himself but for man: "Let man realise the requital of the times, that he esteem the end of his life". About the time of the finish of the creation by God, "no one knoweth however, not the Angels, nor again the Son, but only the Father". And therefore the holy fathers, inspired of the Holy Spirit, explained the world-creation cycle namely as a "cycle": "This doth occur in a circular motion, not having an end". To the heretical allures of calculating out the times, the saint contrasts the way hallowed by the Church, – of a constant spiritual sobriety. Saint Gennadii expounded on the theological fundamentals of the Paschalion, he explains, how amidst the Alpha of the world-creation cycle it is possible to derive a Paschalion for the future, such as may be required. The Paschalion of Saint Gennadii, by his own testimony, was not compiled by him anew, but rather was obtained on the basis of a former tradition – in part, on the basis of the Paschalion, written for 1360-1492 under Sainted Vasilii Kalika, Archbishop of Novgorod (+ 3 July 1352). By the operative principles at work in the Paschalion set forth by Saint Gennadii, later on, in the year 1539, under the archbishop of Novgorod Makarii, there was compiled a Paschalion also for all the eight thousand years.
      A prayer to the Most Holy Mother of God composed by him in 1497 evidences also his deep spiritual life and prayerful inspiration. Besides his known letters to Metropolitans Zosima and Simon, to Archbishop Joasaph, to Bishops Nyphontii and Prokhor, and a missive to the 1490 Sobor, Archbishop Gennadii wrote also a church "Small Ustav/Rule" and the "Tradition for Monks", such as lived in accord to the ustav of monastic skete life. Leaving his archpastoral service, from 1504 the saint lived thereafter in retirement at the Chudov monastery, where he peacefully expired to the Lord on 4 December 1505. In the Stepen'-Ranks book we read: "Archbishop Gennadii dwelt as archbishop for nineteen years, much improving the display of church adornment and clergy decorum, and amidst heretics affirming the Orthodox faith, and then at Moscow, dwelling a year and an half at the monastery of the miracle of the Archangel Michael and Saint Alexei the metropolitan and wonderworker, wherein first he was archimandrite, and reposed then also to God". The holy remains of Saint Gennadii were put into the temple of the Miracle at Khona of the holy Archangel Michael, in that place particularly venerated by him, wherein rested the relics of Sainted Alexei, Metropolitan of Moscow. The commemoration of Sainted Gennadii is also done on the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, on the day, when Holy Church remembers all the Saints illumined at Novgorod.

ฉ 1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos.

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Sainted Gennadii,
Archbishop of Novgorod

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