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Two Blessings for Ostromir the Posadnik

Alexander L. Lifshits


The article is devoted to a new interpretation of the well-known postscript in the so-called Ostromir Gospels—the earliest Russian manuscript, written in 1056/1057. In this afterword on fols. 294r and 294v, one of scribes (deacon Gregory by name) twice asked for a blessing for Ostromir the “Posadnik,” who had paid for the creation of this outstanding manuscript. The first blessing requested is the blessing of the Holy Evangelists. Although it is perfectly appropriate for someone who ordered such an expensive Gospel book to ask for blessings from the evangelists, the names of the evangelists were listed in an unusual sequence. The order of names corresponds to the order in which selected fragments of the Gospels (Pericopes) are read in “aprakos” Gospels: John, Matthew, Luke, Mark. The second blessing is quite uncommon. Gregory asks the three biblical patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—to bless Ostromir. The most reliable explanation of this request is the Christian name of Ostromir, which is mentioned in the scribe’s note—Joseph. In Old Rus’ people considered everyone named Joseph as a bearer of the name of Joseph the All-Comely (Genesis). So Gregory appears to flatter Ostromir implicitly by calling him the all-comely son of Jacob, grandson of Isaac, and great-grandson of Abraham. But to stress the desirable and hoped-for similarity, Deacon Gregory mentions Ostromir-Joseph twice as the first after the Great Duke of Kiev, just as the biblical Joseph was named the first after Pharaoh. This shows that in pre-Mongol Rus’ there was a thorough knowledge of the texts of the Old Testament and that there was a readiness to include these skills in a complicated intellectual game.


Christianity in Pre-Mongol Rus’; Ostromir Gospels; note of the scribe; hermeneutics; Aprakos Gospel; Joseph the All-Comely


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