Modern Orthodox Saints and Holy Fathers & Mothers: Ivan Vasilievich Kireyevsky (part 2 of 3)

by Matthew on April 11, 2013



     The religious climate which Ivan came into, beginning with his encounter with Fr. Filaret, is best understood by looking a generation earlier at the life of St. Paisius Velichkovsky. In so doing we will see the type of life that Ivan participated in and the significance of the role he played for future generations.

     Ivan Vasilievich Kireyevsky (1806-1856) belonged to the generation following St. Paisius Velichkovsky (1722-1794). St. Paisius’ reflection on his times can be seen in a letter he wrote later in life regarding the early years of his monasticism. To learn the monastic life, St. Paisius went to the Holy Mountain of Athos (from 1746-1763) seeking a spiritual father and an education in the works of the Holy Fathers of the Church. he describes what it was like in a letter to Archimandrite Theodosius, the Superior of the Sophroniev Hermitage in Russia:

     We bought… the above-mentioned books written in the Slavonic language and regarded them as a heavenly treasure given to us freely by God. But when I had read them for a number of years with diligence, I found in very many places in them an impenetrable obscurity, and in many places I did not find even any grammatical sense, even though I read them many times with extreme labor and testing. God alone knows with what sorrow my soul was filled; and being uncertain what to do, I thought that it might be possible to correct the Slavonic books of the Fathers at least a little by comparing them with other Slavonic books.

St Paisius

St. Paisius (Velichkovsky)

     And I began to copy out with my own hand the books of St. Hesychius, Presbyter of Jerusalem, and St. Philotheus the Sinaite, and St. Theodore of Edessa, from four copies, so that at least by bringing together something from each of the four copies I might be able to see in them the grammatical sense. But all this labor of mine was in vain; for not even in those books compiled from four copies was I able to see the complete sense of them. Then for six weeks day and night I corrected my book of St. Isaac the Syrian from another copy of it, believing the assertion of one person that the copy corresponded in all respects to the Greek text; but this labor of mine also was in vain, for in time I came to understand that I had ruined my better copy from a worse one.

     And after I had suffered many times in this way, I recognized that I was laboring in vain in a supposed correction of Slavonic books by means of Slavonic ones; and I began diligently to search out the reason for such obscurity and want of grammatical sense in the books. With my infirm mind I made the discovery that there are two reasons for this: first, the inexperience of the ancient translators from Greek into Slavonic; second, the inexperience and carelessness of inexperienced copyists.1

     Not only were few works available and in an incoherent state, but in many places people had never even heard of these authors.

     …I had all the more earnest intent to seek out, with pain of heart, the Greek patristic books, in hope of correcting the Slavonic books from them; and having searched many times in many places, I could not find them. Then I went to the Great skete of the Lavra, St. Anne’s, and to Kapsokalyvia, and to the skete of Vatopedi, St. Demetrius’, and to other lavras and monasteries, everywhere asking learned

     people, and the eldest and most experienced confessors and venerable monks, for the patristic books by name; nowhere, however was I able to obtain such books, but from everyone I received the same set answer, that “not only have we not known such books up to now, but we have never heard of the names of such Saints.” Having received such a reply God knows into what perplexity I fell, discerning that in such a holy place, chosen by God for the quiet and silent habitation of monks, where many great and perfect Saints had lived, I was unable not only to obtain these holy books which I so desired, but even to hear the names of those Saints from any one; and therefore I fell into not a little sorrow over this.2

     This is a sketch of the beginnings of St. Paisius’ monastic life. It would continue to be a life of meticulous translating, copying and laboring over a correct translation of the Greek and the formation of an ascetical terminology previously lacking in the Slavonic language.3 In 1905, in the Niamets Monastery, the monastery of his repose, was housed some 300 manuscripts that were from the time of St. Paisius and 44 of them were in his own handwriting.4 Not only did he become a diligent translator but also a great teacher of monastics. In one source we find that near the end of his life St. Paisius had seven hundred disciples gathered around him at the Niamets monastery. Another source indicates a thousand.5

     The works that St. Paisius was translating and disseminating contained “basic” teaching of the Fathers. At this time even the monks on the Holy Mountain were unfamiliar with these writings, and the saints who wrote them. One would agree with St. Macarius of Corinth (1731-1805) that, “Paisius had prepared the groundwork.”6 Concerning the need for such elementary education, it was also obvious to other contemporaries of St. Paisius. “St. Macarius, himself aware of the times and being a teacher and a pastor in the world, knew well that Orthodox people desperately needed their own basic Orthodox sources. We can clearly see this in the case of their contemporary, St. Cosmas of Aitolia [1714-1779], who abandoned everything and went to preach the basics of Christian faith.”7

     St. Paisius had a broad influence on Russian and Athonite writers but for the purposes of this present work we will focus only on a few of the Russian ones. In the Optina Edition of St. Paisius’ life we find that his influence and work was spread through: “Metropolitan Gabriel in Petersburg; Metropolitan Platon (who personally wrote to him) in Moscow; and Metropolitan Philaret in Kiev.”8 Metropolitan Gabriel in Petersburg received a translation of the Philokalia from Elder Paisius and brought it to Petersburg. This Metropolitan had a particular method to verify the translations. He brought the work to a group of scholars at the seminary of St. Alexander Nevsky:

     To them he entrusted the translation, because in this work was required not only a precise knowledge of the Greek language, but also a faithful and experienced understanding of spiritual life. Those who labored in the comparison of the translation of this book with the Greek original, according to the Metropolitan’s instructions, were obliged to constantly take counsel concerning all necessary corrections with spiritual elders who had actual experience in conducting their spiritual lives in accordance with this exalted teaching set forth in the Philokalia. These elders with whom they were to consult were: Elder Nazarius, Abbot of Valaam monastery; Hieromonk Philaret, who originally had been summoned by Metropolitan Gabriel from Sarov monastery to come to Petersburg (and later became the renowned elder of Spassky Monastery in Moscow and spiritual father of the philosopher Ivan V. Kireyevsky and his wife Natalia); and also Athanasius, who brought into Russia the Greek original of the Philokalia. The Metropolitan would say to the learned translators, “Although they do not know the Greek language as well as you, they know better than you from experience the spiritual truths which cannot be understood by book-learning alone. Therefore they can understand better than you the meaning of the instructions contained in this book.”9

     Ivan’s story begins again with his spiritual father being involved in the translation of the Philokalia. Ivan was not involved in any translation work with this venerable Elder but the previous information is intended to reveal the kind of spiritual father he was. Ivan’s translation work began later with another renowned Elder, Makary of Optina. After his marriage in 1834, Ivan spent the next twelve years at the homestead in Dolbino.  Kontzevitch notes that,

     After Kireyevsky’s wedding and during the next twelve years of his life in Dolbino… This quiet life in the village seemed to one ill-disposed “biographer” like some kind of sleep or inactivity. But these years were not lost for Kireyevsky – they passed in spiritual and mental self-deepening. If in his young years he believed in European progress and was a Westernizer (while being editor of The European), now he drastically changed his worldview. Ivan Vasilievich became himself: that “Kireyevsky” whose image is stamped on the history of our spiritual culture. The years spent in studying scientific books broadened his knowledge.10

     Fr. Georges Florovsky, in agreement, writes, “From one standpoint he might seem an unsuccessful, subdued and superfluous man, and in reality his social activity did not meet with success. Yet by passing through a period of inner construction he became self-contained, and through an ascetic effort, not through disillusionment.”11

     When Ivan came under the spiritual guidance of Elder Philaret of the Spassky Monastery after receiving the gift of Fr. Philaret’s pectoral cross, his position towards the Church changed from being disinterested to taking an active interest in becoming acquainted with the writings of the Fathers.12 Under Fr. Philaret’s influence Ivan began reading Sts. Isaac the Syrian and Maximus the Confessor and was taught by him as someone who had experienced these writings.13

Aleksey Khomiakov

Alexei Khomiakov

   Unable to find an outlet for his work following the repression of his journal, Ivan continued to meet with his closest friends discussing the West and Russia’s past, present and future. In 1839 we see a further development of Ivan’s ideas in his discussions with Alexei Khomiakov. He was acquainted with Alexei in the mid- 1820’s and became closer to him from 1833 on.

     Khomiakov was part of the “Literary Aristocracy” as was Kireyevsky and also contributed articles to The European. A frequent patron of the Elagin Salon, Khomiakov is described by some as one of the first Slavophiles. “‘I knew Khomiakov for thirty-seven years,’ Koshelev wrote late in life, ‘and his fundamental convictions of 1823 had not altered in 1860’.”14 Gleason describes Khomiakov as haing an “extraordinary consistent character,” and as one who seemed “to have sprung from the earth.”15

      Koshelev describes the conversations between the two men which began before Kireyevsky was married, writing, “There took place endless conversations and arguments beginning in the evening and ending at three, four or even five or six in the morning. There was hammered out and developed that Orthodox-Russian way of thinking, whose soul and prime mover was Khomiakov.”16 Here too were also many discussions of Church Fathers.17

     In 1839, an article written by Kireyevsky was an essay entitled, “In Answer to Khomiakov.” “It was subsequently circulated in manuscript and created considerable stir in Moscow literary and social circles.”18 This essay regarding the development of European society, including its causes reveals that his views had matured since his writing The Nineteenth Century.

     The Nineteenth Century was the core of the first issue of his journal, The European. Twelve years after The Nineteenth Century first appeared; Herzen reread the article and noted in his diary, “Ivan Kireyevsky’s article is remarkable. He anticipated the contemporary direction of Europe itself; what a healthy, powerful intelligence, what talent, style…”19 Gleason further noted that at the time of the release of this first issue, “with the exception of poetry, the content of the journal – Heine, Börne, Menzel, Villemain, et al. -  flowed from Kireyevsky’s central idea of the ‘new era’ in Europe and European literature. They – and he with them – were in fact the new era itself.”20

     Gleason compares In Answer to Khomiakov, with Ivan’s earlier work, The Nineteenth Century, saying that in both works, Kireyevsky believed the bases of European culture to be i) the pagan classical world, ii) the barbarian tribes which destroyed it and iii) Christianity. In The Nineteenth Century he describes the third element as the “the Christian religion”; in Answer it became “Roman religion.”21 Kireyevsky says,

     This classical world of ancient paganism, which is not part of Russia’s heritage… is essentially the triumph of man’s formal reason over everything inside and outside of it – pure, naked reason, based upon itself, recognizing nothing higher than or beyond itself, and manifesting itself in two particular aspects – that of formal abstractness and that of abstract sensuality. The effect of classicism upon European culture had to be of this same character.22

     Developing this thought, Ivan wrote to Khomiakov the following year explaining himself further, saying,

     The development of “abstract reason” in men and nations had been accompanied by a decline in will and feeling. “My thought is this,” he wrote, “that logical sense (soznanie), which translates the deed into the word, life into a formula, does not grasp the object fully, and annihilates its action on the soul.” We mistake the blueprint of the house for the structure itself, he went on; living as we do under the yoke of logic, we ought at least to recognize that it is not the “summit of knowledge.”23

     We may note here that in the time between these two articles being written (1836 and 1839) Ivan’s view of the differing “Christianities” is becoming apparent. He begins to describe more the deviation from traditional Christianity in the West that followed the Schism. He will further elaborate on this point later in life.

     In 1844, Ivan would emerge back in the public sphere through a new journal called The Muscovite. He took over its editorship and had been friends for some time with those who had previously managed it. Ivan expressed his thoughts regarding the acceptance of this editorial position saying,

     The time has now come when the expression of my deepest convictions will be possible and not without value. It seems to me probable that in our time, when Western literature does not present anything in particular to dominate the intelligence, no particular principle which does not contain contradictions, no sort of conviction in which even its advocates believe – now, that is to say, the hour has come when our Orthodox principle of spiritual and intellectual life can find sympathy with our so-called educated public, which has hitherto lived in the belief in Western systems.24

Portrait of Elder Makary of Optina

Portrait of Elder Makary of Optina

   While Ivan was the editor of The Muscovite it included many poems, translations, tales and contributions by him but also a homily by Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow25 and a piece by Elder Makary in 1845. It was suggested to Elder Makary that he publish an article for the journal, and, as Fr. Sergius Chetverikov notes, “The Elder accepted this suggestion with gratitude and answered that if it would be possible and convenient, he wished to submit the biography of Elder Paisius [Velichkovsky].” Fr. Sergius continues, saying,

     Since Ivan Vasiliviech shared Fr. Makary’s opinion about the services rendered by the Blessed Elder Paisius to all Orthodox monastics and to Slavonic literature in general (by confirming its use of ascetical terminology) he agreed with pleasure to the proposal to enhance the pages of the journal with this article. It was published in the twelfth issue of The Muscovite for 1845 and was adorned with a portrait of Elder Paisius.26

     There were to be only three issues of The Muscovite under Ivan’s guidance after which he retired back to Dolbino due to ill health.

     Late 1845 to late 1846 proved to be one of the most difficult and blessed years of Ivan’s life. It was filled with deaths but also with a close relationship to Elder Makary. In late November, 1845 a close friend of the family died from tuberculosis, Dimitri Valuev who was then twenty-five years old. He had lived for a time with the Kireyevsky-Elagin’s in the house at the Red Gates in Moscow (which housed the Elagin Salon). On December 3, Alexander Turgenev died, who was Ivan’s Paris correspondent and a close friend of his uncle. Early in 1846, Ivan’s stepfather, Aleksei Elagin died of a stroke. A few months later Ivan buried his young daughter, Ekaterina. Near the end of the year, Ivan’s close friend, the poet, Nikolai Mikhailovitch Iazykov also died. “This year,” he wrote to his brother Peter, “I have been through the most agonizing time, coupled with the most uninterrupted misfortunes, to the point that when I bore my poor Katiusha into the church it was in fact almost easy, by comparison with other feelings.”27

     In 1842, eight years after their marriage, Fr. Filaret reposed. During his final days, while Fr. Filaret was dying, Ivan would sit up with him through the entire night.28 After Fr. Filaret’s death, Ivan and Natalia both would start to spend more time at Optina Monastery.29

19th century photo of Optina Monastery

19th century photo of Optina Monastery

Since 1833, Natalia had been visiting Optina Monastery and had been acquainted with Elders Leonid and Makary. Later she became the spiritual daughter of Elder Makary.30 After Fr. Filaret’s death, both the Kireyevsky’s became very close to Elder Makary. At their request, the Elder often visited them on their Dolbino estate and they also even built a cell for him on their estate in the orchard.31 Natalia says that it was in 1846 that Ivan became closer to Elder Makary as described through the following events:

     Ivan Vasilievich knew little of [Elder Makary] until 1846. In March of that year the Elder was with us in Dolbino and Ivan Vasilievich first confessed to him. He wrote Father for the first time from Moscow at the end of October, 1846, telling me: “I have written to Father, asking him many questions which are important to me; I purposely didn’t tell you about this because I feared that out of love for him you would somehow or another write to him. I am anxiously awaiting his reply. I am aware that it will be difficult for him to answer me.”

     I thanked Ivan Vasilievich for having told me that he had decided to write to the Elder, and I was convinced that Ivan Vasilievich would get a stunning response from the Elder. An hour had not passed when two letters were brought from the post office in the Elder’s handwriting – one addressed to me, the other to Ivan Vasilievich. Without opening it, he asked me: “What does this mean? [Fr. Makary] has never written to me before!” After he read the letter, his face changed and he said: “Amazing! Stunning! How can this be? In this letter are the answers to all my questions which I had only just now sent.”32

To be continued..

–Subdeacon Matthew


     1 Blessed Paisius Velichkovsky: The Life and Ascetic Labors of Our Father, Elder Paisius, Archimandrite of the Holy Moldavian Monasteries of Niamets and Sekoul. Optina Version. By Schema-monk Metrophanes, trans. Saint Herman of Alaska Brotherhood. (Platina: Saint Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1976), 78-81. Twenty years after Paisius’ repose his biography was written, though not finished, by monk Mytrofan. In this biography, he too details “these wretched and terrible times when monasticism had degenerated to the last and was visible only in outward from.” He further describes how Paisius was alone in his endeavors with no human instructor, only the grace of God. see “The Life of Paisij Velyckovs’kyj,” trans. by J.M.E. Featherstone in Harvard Library of Early Ukranian Literature. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989), 4:146-147.

     2 Ibid., 81.

     3 Fr. Sergius Chetverikov. Elder Ambrose of Optina. (Platina: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1997), 126. See also, Bishop Seraphim Joanta, Romania: Its Hesychast Tradition and Culture. (Wildwood: St. Xenia Skete, 1992), 143-151.

     4 Ibid., 196.

     5 “The Life of Paisij Velyckovs’kyj,” 4: xiii, note 1.

     6 Blessed Paisius Velichkovsky, 92.

     7 Ibid.

     8 Blessed Paisius Velichkovsky, 96.

     9 Ibid., 237.

     10 Ivan Kontzevitch, “The Life of Elder Macarius’ Disciple, Ivan Kireyevsky,” in Elder Macarius of Optina. (Platina: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1995), 295.

     11 Georges Florovsky, Ways of Russian Theology: Part II. (Belmont: Buchervertriebsanstalt, 1987), 26.

     12 Kontzevitch says that Ivan was never an “unbeliever” noting that Ivan wrote to his sister in the 1880’s encouraging her to read the Gospels. The Life of Elder Macarius’ Disciple, Ivan V. Kireyevsky, 294.

     13 Masaryk and Lazareva both date this reading of the Fathers at 1936; see, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, The Spirit of Russia: Studies in History, Literature and Philosophy, 2 vols., Eden and Cedar Paul, trans. (London: Allen & Unwin, 1919), 241 and Lazareva, “Zhizneopisanie” [“Biography”], introduction to I.V. Kireyevsky, Razum na puti k Istine [Reason on the Path to Truth].( Moscow: “Pravilo very,” 2002), XXXVI.

     14 Abbott Gleason, European and Muscovite: Ivan Kireevsky and the Origins of Slavophilism. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1972), 144.

     15 Ibid., 143.

     16 Ibid.

     17 “[Khomiakov] was said to have discussed the works of St. Athanasius the Great, St. John Chrysostom, and St. Cyril of Jerusalem for hours with Kireevsky,” Archimandrite Luke (Murianka), “Aleksei Khomiakov: A Study of the Interplay of Piety and Theology”: 32, at, accessed on February 25, 2013.

     18 European and Muscovite, 156.

     19 Ibid., 104.

     20 Ibid.

     21 Ibid., 162.

     22 Ibid, quoted from Kireyevsky’s Collected Works.

     23 Ibid, endnote #19.

     24 European and Muscovite, 189.

     25 Ibid., 190.

     26 Elder Ambrose of Optina, 126-127.

     27 From Barsukov’s, Zhizn’ Pogodina, VIII, 487, as noted in European and Muscovite, 223.

     28 Ibid. 237.

     29 “The Life of Elder Macarius’ Disciple, Ivan Kireyevsky,” 297.

     30 Ibid., 305.

     31 Elder Ambrose of Optina, 125.

     32 Ibid., 305-306.

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