Saint Rostislav-Michael, GreatPrince of Kiev

Commemorated on March 14

      Saint Rostislav-Michael, GreatPrince of Kiev, was the son of the Kiev GreatPrince Saint Mstislav the Great (+ 1132, Comm. 14 June), and the brother of holy Prince Vsevolod-Gabriel (+ 1138, Comm. 11 February, 22 April and 27 November). He was one of the civil and churchly figures of the mid-XII Century.
      With his name is connected the fortification and rise of Smolensk, and both the Smolensk principality and the Smolensk diocese.
      Up until the XII Century the Smolensk land comprised part of the single Kievan realm. The beginning of its political separateness ensued in the year 1125, when holy Prince Mstislav the Great, by way of an inheritance from his father the Kievan GreatPrince Vladimir Monomakh, gave off Smolensk into the holdings of his son Rostislav (in Baptism Michael). Thanks to the work and efforts of Saint Rostislav, the Smolensk principality, which he ruled for more than 40 years, expanded and was built up with cities and villages, adorned with churches and monasteries, and became influential in the all-Russian affairs.
      Founded by Saint Rostislav in the Smolensk lands were the cities of Rostislavl', Mstislavl', Krichev, Propoisk, and Vasil'ev among others. He was the first-ancestor of the Smolensk princely dynasty.
      In 1136 Saint Rostislav succeeded with the establishing of a separate Smolensk diocese. Its first bishop was Manuel, installed between March-May of 1136 by the Kiev metropolitan Michael, with the means necessary for his needs were assured by an edict of prince Rostislav, issued in the city of Smolensk. Besides this, on 30 September 1150 in a special decree Saint Rostislav ceded the transfer of Cathedral Hill at Smolensk to the Smolensk diocese, where there stood the Uspenie cathedral and other diocesan buildings.
      Contemporaries thought highly of the church construction of prince Rostislav. Even the sources that are inclined to report nothing moreso about it note, that "this prince built the Holy Mother of God church at Smolensk". These words need to be understood not only in the sense of the rebuilding and expansion under prince Rostislav of the Uspenie cathedral, – originally built by his grandfather, Vladimir Monomakh, in the year 1101 (the rebuilt cathedral was consecrated by bishop Manuel on the feast of  Uspenie (Dormition), 15 August 1150). Prince Rostislav was a "builder of the Church" in a far wider sense: he endowed the Smolensk Uspenie temple of the Mother of God materially, and transformed it from being a city cathedral into the ecclesiastical centre of the vast Smolensk diocese.
      Holy Prince Rostislav was the builder of the Smolensk Kremlin, and of the Saviour cathedral at the Smyadynsk Borisogleb monastery, founded on the place of the murder of holy Prince Gleb (+ 1015, Comm. 5 September). Later on his son David, possible fulfilling the wishes of his father, transferred from Kievan Vyshgorod to Smyadyn' the old wooden coffins of Saints Boris and Gleb, in which their relics reposed until transferred into stone crypts in the year 1115.
      In the decade of the fifties of the XIIth Century, Saint Rostislav was drawn into a prolonged struggle for Kiev, which involved representatives of the two strongest princely lines – the Ol'govichi and the Monomakhovichi.
      Although the major contender to be greatprince on the Monomakhovichi side was Rostislav's uncle, Yurii Dolgoruky, Rostislav as the Smolensk prince was one of the most powerful rulers of the Russian land and he had a decisive voice in the military and diplomatic wrangling. For everyone involved in the dispute, Rostislav was simultaneously a dangerous opponent and a desired ally, and moreover he was deliberately at the centre of events. This had a providential significance, since Saint Rostislav distinguished himself among his contemporaries by his wisdom regarding the civil realm, by his strict sense of justice and unconditional obedience to elders, and by his deep respect for the Church and its hierarchy. For some several generations he became personified as the bearer of the "Russkaya Pravda" ("Russian Righteous-Truth") and of Russian propriety.
      After the death of his brother Izyaslav (+ 13 November 1154), Saint Rostislav for a short while became greatprince of Kiev, but he ruled Kiev concurrently with his uncle Vyacheslav Vladimirovich. After the death of this latter figure (the end of the very same year) Rostislav returned to Smolensk, ceding the Kiev princedom to his other uncle – Yurii Dolgoruky, and he removed himself from active participation in the bloodshed of the inter-princely disputes. He occupied Kiev a second time on 12 April 1159 and he then remained greatprince until his death (+ 1167), having more than once to defend his paternal inheritance with sword in hand.
      The years of Saint Rostislav's rule occurred during one of the most complicated periods in the history of the Russian Church. The elder brother of Rostislav, Izyaslav Mstislavich, a proponent for the autocephaly of the Russian Church, chose for metropolitan the erudite Russian monk Kliment Smolyatich, and gave orders that he should be made metropolitan by a sobor (council) of Russian bishops, without previous recourse as formerly to the Constantinople patriarch. This occurred in the year 1147. The Russian hierarchy basically supported metropolitan Kliment and prince Izyaslav in their struggle for ecclesiastical independence from Byzantium, but several bishops headed by Sainted Nyphont of Novgorod (Comm. 8 April), did not recognise the autocephalous independence of the Russian metropolitanate and shunned communion with it, – having transformed their dioceses into a sort of unique "autocephalic" ecclesial districts, pending the examination of circumstances. The Smolensk bishop Manuel also followed this course. Saint Rostislav understood the danger, which lay hidden beneathe the idea of Russian autocephaly for these times, as aspects threatening the break-up of Rus'. The constant fighting for Kiev which occurred among the princes would tend towards a similar "fighting-over" the Kiev metropolitan cathedra-chair amongst numerous contenders, put forth by either one or another princely group.
      The premonitions of Saint Rostislav were fully justified. Yurii Dolgoruky, adhering in loyalty to the Byzantine orientation, occupied Kiev in the year 1154, and he immediately banished metropolitan Kliment and petitioned to Tsar'grad for a new metropolitan. This was to be Sainted Constantine (Comm. 5 June), but he arrived in Rus' only in the year 1156, a mere half-year before the death of Yurii Dolgoruky (+ 15 May 1157). And it was a mere six months later, when on 22 December 1157 Saint Rostislav's nephew Mstislav Izyaslavich entered the city, and Saint Constanine in turn was obliged to flee Kiev, while upon the metropolitan cathedra-seat returned the deposed Kliment Smolyatich. There began a time of Church disorder – in Rus' were two different metropolitans. All the hierarchy and the clergy came under interdict: the Greek-metropolitan suspended the Russians supporting Kliment, and Kliment suspended all the supporters of the Greek. To halt the scandal, Saint Rostislav and Mstislav decided to remove both metropolitans and petition the (Constantinople) Patriarch to install a new arch-hierarch upon the Russian metropolitan cathedra-seat.
      But this compromise did not end the matter. Arriving in Kiev in the autumn of 1161, metropolitan Theodore died in spring of the following year. Following the example of Saint Andrei Bogoliubsky (Comm. 4 July), – who was attempting at this time to propose for metropolitan his own fellow ascetic bishop Theodore, Saint Rostislav put forth his own candidate, who turned out anew to be the much-suffering Kliment Smolyatich.
      This fact, that the greatprince had changed his attitude to metropolitan Kliment, shows the influence of the Kievo-Pechersk monastery, and in particular of archimandrite Polykarp. Archimandrite Polykarp, an observer of the Pechersk traditions (in 1165 he became head of the monastery), was very close to Saint Rostislav personally.
      Saint Rostislav had the pious custom, on the Saturdays and Sundays of Great Lent, to invite the hegumen with twelve monks to his own table, and he himself served them. The prince more than once expressed the wish to be tonsured a monk at the monastery of Saints Antonii and Theodosii, and he even gave orders to build him there a cell. The Pechersk monks, being of tremendous spiritual influence in ancient Rus', encouraged in the prince thoughts about the independence of the Russian Church. Moreover, during these years in Rus', there was suspicion regarding the Orthodoxy of the bishops which came from among the Greeks, in connection with the notorious "Dispute about the Fasts" (the "Leontian Heresy"). But the pious intent of Saint Rostislav to have the blessing of the Constantinople patriarch for the Russian metropolitan Kliment came to naught. The Greeks reckoned correctly that this appointment of a metropolitan to the Kiev cathedra was their most important privilege, which served not only the ecclesiastical, but also the political interests of the Byzantine empire. In 1165 at Kiev arrived a new metropolitan – the Greek John IV, and Saint Rostislav out of humility and churchly obedience accepted him. The new metropolitan, like his predecessor, governed the Russian Church for less than a year (+ 1166). The Kiev cathedra-seat was again left vacant, and the greatprince was deprived of the fatherly counsel and spiritual nourishing in the guise of a metropolitan. His sole spiritual solace was in recourse to the hegumen Polykarp and the holy elders of the Kievo-Pchersk monastery and the Theodorov monastery at Kiev, which had been founded under his father.
      Returning from a campaign against Novgorod in the spring of 1167, Saint Rostislav fell ill. When he reached Smolensk, where his son Roman was prince, kinsmen urged him to remain at Smolensk. But the greatprince gave orders to convey him to Kiev: "If I die along the way, – he declared, – put me in my father's monastery of Saint Theodore. If God shouldst heal me, through the prayers of His All-Pure Mother and the Monk Theodosii, I shall take vows at the Pechersk monastery".
      God did not deign to be fulfilled the ultimate wish of Saint Rostislav – to end his life as a monk of the holy monastery. The holy prince died on the way to Kiev on 14 March 1167. (In other historical sources the year is indicated as 1168). His body, in accord with his last wishes, was conveyed to the Kiev Theodosiev monastery.

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

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Rostislav-Michael, GreatPrince of Kiev




















































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