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The Last Will of Metropolitan Constantine I of Kiev and the Kanon “At the Parting of the Soul from the Body”

Andrey Yu. Vinogradov, Mikhail S. Zheltov


The article puts forward the suggestion that the mysterious last will of Metropolitan Constantine I of Kiev, in which he ordered that after his death his body should be torn to pieces by dogs instead of receiving a proper burial, was inspired by a very specific literary text. This text is still used in the Orthodox Christian tradition; it is known as the hymnographical kanon “At the Parting of the Soul from the Body.” While nowadays this kanon is used in the course of an ordinary liturgical rite, in the 12th century, when it first appeared, it was used among some Byzantine intellectual and ascetic circles as a particular element of personal piety. The 12th century is exactly the epoch of Constantine's activities, and the description of а funeral procedure given by this kanon is very close to the last will of Constantine. The kanon “At the Parting of the Soul from the Body” has close ties to another hymn of roughly the same epoch—the “Penitential” kanon written after the 5th chapter of the “Ladder” of John Climacus. Both kanons conceal a didactic story under the structure of a hymnographic pattern. What is more important, both are from the very beginning intertwined with a distinct illustrative program: each monostrophe is accompanied by a specific picture, which discloses the contents of the text. These “comics-like” stories have no parallel among other Byzantine kanons. Finally, both kanons witness the growth of the influence of Palestinian and, more generally, Eastern ascetic traditions on the monastic practices of Constantinople and its surrounding regions. This influence was associated, most of all, with the Evergetian movement, with its strict disciplinary and fasting rules, etc. Metropolitan Constantine, who was an outstanding representative of the Byzantine intellectual elite of those times, should have been acquainted—at the very least!—with this movement. Moreover, the conflicts of the bishops in his circle with the Russian princes concerning the fasting discipline suggest that Constantine was trying to introduce the new Evergetian ascetic standards among the Russians. Thus, the literal adherence to the provisions of the kanon “At the Parting of the Soul from the Body” at the funeral of Metropolitan Constantine Ι should be interpreted as a sign of his full confidence in his ideals.


Metropolitan Constantine I of Kiev; Russian Church history; Byzantine hymnography; liturgical studies; funeral rite; Byzantine monasticism; asceticism; Byzantine manuscript illumination; private apocalyptism


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