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Spiritual Writings of St Cyril of Turau

Alexander Nadson
First published by Eastern Churches Review. Vol. 1, No. 4 (1967-68), pp. 347-358.

St Cyril of Turau (*) is chiefly known for his sermons which earned him the name of a second Chrysostom among the Eastern Slavs. They were not, however, his only literary works; not even his best. Apart from the sermons, the saintly bishop of Turau left us some writings on monastic life as well as many prayers and a few canons. It may be noted that, while in recent times his sermons have attracted the attention of the scholars, in the past it was his spiritual writings, and first of all his prayers, that enjoyed the greater popularity. In his native Belarus in the 16th-17th centuries the prayers of St Cyril were printed in several editions while his sermons continued to spread in manuscript form.

St Cyril lived in the middle of the 12th century (c. 1130-82). Little is known about him, because his only written life contained in the so-called Prologue (Lectionary) and composed probably at the end of the 13th or beginning of the 14th century, is very short and lacking in detail. (1) He was born in Turau and was the son of rich parents. The ancient city of Turau in south-eastern Belarus was at that time an important ecclesiastical and cultural centre. It was one of the earliest Belarusian episcopal sees. The vicinity of the powerful State of Kiev for a long time prevented Turau from attaining political importance, but in the middle of the 12th century it became the capital of an independent principality, comprising practically the whole of southern Belarus. Thus the life of the saint coincides with the ‘golden age’ in the history of his native city.

Cyril received an excellent education, probably having Greek teachers. As a young man he decided to dedicate his life to God and entered a monastery. There, according to his biographer, “he strove most of all to please God, tiring out his body with fasts and psalmody and making himself a pure dwelling of the Holy Spirit”. His way of life, piety and, no doubt, learning soon attracted the attention of others, who began to come to him for spiritual advice or instruction. As a spiritual director Cyril “became useful to many, teaching [the people] and instructing monks to be humble, and to obey the abbot as God himself, and to listen to him in everything. For a monk who does not obey, as he vowed to do, cannot be saved.” After a time, however, his personal inclination towards a solitary life prevailed. Cyril became a recluse, shutting himself off completely in a small cell. There “he remained for some time, praying and fasting still more and commenting much on the sacred scriptures”. It was most probably at that time that he wrote his prayers.

Cyril’s search for solitude produced the opposite effect. His fame spread, and when the bishop of Turau died, the prince and the people asked the metropolitan to appoint Cyril to the vacant see. This occurred about 1169.

As bishop, Cyril left the memory of a good and zealous pastor of the flock entrusted to him. Between his pastoral duties he found time to take part in affairs that concerned the whole of the metropolitan province of Kiev to which his see belonged. His famous sermons were also composed during this period.

St Cyril of Turau is considered the greatest ‘byzantinist’ among the early East Slavonic writers. On the whole there was a strong Byzantine influence among the East Slavs of that period. This was only to be expected. The East Slavs received the Christian faith at the end of the 10th century from Byzantium, and for a long time almost all their metropolitans and the majority of their bishops were Greeks. They had no literature of their own before the advent of Christianity, and the first written works that reached them, apart from the sacred scriptures and liturgical texts, were the writings of the Greek fathers and ecclesiastical authors. They came, it is true, not directly from Greece, but from Bulgaria in the already existing Slavonic translations. Thus it is not surprising that the first East Slavonic writers strove to imitate their Byzantine models. St Cyril differed from the majority in that he was a keen disciple, but never a slavish imitator. Possessing a remarkable literary talent, he tried, with considerable success, to adapt what he learnt to the needs of his native language. Thus his works, apart from their religious interest, are part of the Belarusian literary heritage and he is certainly the greatest early Belarusian writer and the first poet. This does not prevent his works from being very Byzantine in spirit and does not free his style from the common vices of that time, such as an excessive use of allegory.

The memory of St Cyril is celebrated on 28 April.


The ascetic works of St Cyril of Turau consist of two writings on the monastic life.(2) The first is called The “Parable of the Carefree King”.(3) It seems to be one of Cyril’s early works and is characterized by a certain ‘youthful’ enthusiasm and one-sidedness, untempered by moderation which is the result of long experience. Reading it, one sometimes has an impression that for the author the only really Christian life is the life of the monastery. He even applies to the monks the words of Christ’s prayer: “Holy Father, I pray not for the world, but for them whom thou hast given me” (John 17:9). It begins thus: “In a city there was a very kind king, good and merciful, and thoughtful of the well being of his subjects. In one thing he was not wise; being unafraid of any disturbances, he neglected to provide for proper armed forces. He did not think that anybody would rebel against him. This king had many counsellors and a daughter of marriageable age. Among the counsellors there was a good and honest one who was very concerned at the king’s lack of foresight. He tried to find a propitious moment to talk to the king about the necessity of being prepared for the fight. Once in the middle of the night there was suddenly a great commotion in the city. The king said to his counsellors: Let us go out and see if we can find the ringleader, for I am in great fear. They went and walked around but could find no cause of the commotion. While all the other counsellors were sad and apprehensive, the good counsellor took the king and his daughter and led them to a great mountain where there were many weapons. They noticed a light shining from a small aperture. Looking through it they saw a cave dwelling, and there was a man, living in utter poverty, clothed in rags. By his side sat his wife, singing a sweet song. On the solid rock before him stood somebody tall and beautiful, giving him food and wine. And when the man accepted the chalice, he was joyfully crowned with praises. Having seen all this, the king called his friends and said to them: Look at this marvel, friends, and see how this poor and hidden life is more joyful than our mighty state, and the inner [virtues] shine more brightly than the outer things.”

Then comes the explanation of the parable: “The city … is the human body … The king is reason that governs the body … The great commotion in the city means an unexpected misfortune that befalls man: an illness, or flood, or an injury, or injustice suffered from the secular authorities … The mountain is a monastery and there are spiritual weapons: fasting, prayers, tears, continence, purity, charity, humility, patience, diligence … The man living in utter poverty is the whole monastic order … His wife that sits beside him is the constant thought of death … The beautiful man that stands before him is Christ himself … He feeds him and gives him wine; that is, he gives to all the faithful his pure Body for the remission of sins and his most precious Blood for eternal life.”

Finally there follows the praise of monastic life.

The whole work is a good example of Cyril’s allegorical style. The parable itself is probably inspired by one of the apologues from the Story of Barlaam and Joasaph. This famous work, attributed to St John of Damascus, enjoyed a great popularity throughout the Middle Ages both in the East and in the West and was known very early among the East Slavs.(4)

Cyril’s second work on the monastic life is called “A Discourse on the Monastic State from the Old and the New Testament, insofar as the Monk Bears the Image of the First and Performs the Works of the Second”. The title itself is sufficient explanation of the method used by the author. Al though the allegory makes certain passages somewhat difficult to understand, the whole discourse bears the signs of mature and balanced thought. It is therefore from this work that the study of Cyril’s ascetic teaching should begin.

Thus, according to this discourse, the monk offers himself as a sacrifice to God, just as the lambs of the Old Testament He must therefore be pure and without any blemish: “According to the image of the Old Testament, you offered yourself as a sacrifice to God, just as the lambs which were sacrificed in the desert: be not therefore scabrous, nor lame, nor blind, nor injured, for such, because of their blemishes, are thrown away as food for dogs and birds.” It goes without saying that all these blemishes are spiritual: scab means sins; lameness, attachment to worldly goods; and blindness, useless selfish living.

Every sacrifice, being free, must be complete: “According to the Old Testament every free offering, large or small, must be given from a pure heart. Let there be no false hesitations in your thoughts. You are like a candle: you possess your own will only as far as the church doors, and afterwards pay no regard to what they do with you. You are like a garment: know yourself till somebody takes you in his hand, and then pay no attention even if they tear you to shreds. In the same way your will is your own until you enter the monastery. After the monastic vows make yourself completely obedient, hiding nothing in your heart, that your soul may not die, like Ananias when he heard Peter saying: Why did you seek to tempt the Holy Spirit? You lied not to men but to God (Acts 5:3,4). Be not indifferent to your promise lest you see fulfilled in you the words of Scripture saying: It had been better not to have known truth than, having known it, to turn back from it (2 Pet. 2:21).” (5)

The motives inspiring human actions are of great importance: “God said to Moses: Lead out of Egypt my people Israel that they may go and inherit the land that I promised to Abraham. The people, hearing this from Aaron, made haste on the way: some, because they rejoiced in God’s promise; others, because they could not bear the hard labour of Pharaoh; others, again, because they had no strength to make bricks and build the city; and others still, because they were unable to endure the cruelty of the overseers.” (6)

In a similar manner the monk must be sure of the reason which made him follow Christ: “And you, brother, if you wish to follow Christ who leads you to heaven, keep in mind why you escape from the spiritual Egypt which is this world: whether you desire the promised kingdom; or you do not want to do the sinful works of the devil; or perhaps you dislike the earthly cares from which there is no profit but only death of the soul; or perhaps you are burdened by a wife and children.” (7)

All these motives for entering the monastic life are good and valid, but the most important of them is simply the wish to follow Christ: “You, O monk, meditate on the commandments and on the life of the only Christ -how from his birth till death on the cross he suffered insults, slander, contempt and injuries for your sake - and make yourself ready to bear sufferings … Remember that in the tonsure of your head you bear the image of Christ’s crown of thorns.” In another passage Cyril returns to this idea, at the same time bringing into relief the social character of the monastic vocation: “By imitating the sufferings of Christ try to become the son of God, so that not only you yourself may be saved, but that you may help those who have fallen among spiritual robbers.”

The most perfect followers of Christ were the martyrs, and therefore the monastic life must be a continuation of martyrdom: Tight a good battle in patience, suffer all inconvenience bravely, imitating thus the martyrs who shed their blood for Christ.” (8)

Since the monk offers himself as a sacrifice to God, the monastic profession has a sacred, almost sacramental value. Cyril thus reminds the monk: “Remember the words you heard during your profession: Here Christ is present invisibly. Keep then in mind to whom you made the promise. (9) Consider: were you not surrounded by the fire of the fear of God more than mount Sinai? And were not the tables of your heart engraved by God more deeply than the Tables of the Law with the words of your vows? See that you do not break them with your bad faith. (10)

To follow Christ is not easy: man, left alone, may lose his way, like the Jews in the desert, when Moses left them alone for a short time and went himself to talk with God: “Moses, having ordered all to remain in purity, went up the mountain upon which God himself had descended, having encompassed the mountain with fire … And what happened in the meantime? All the miracles that they had witnessed did not save the weak-willed people from perdition: they came and forced Aaron to give them a god; and when their will was done, they sat down to eat and to drink until they were struck by fire and many of them perished because of the wrath of God. And all of them would have perished, had not Moses stood before him in humility, that he might turn away his wrath and destroy them not, before the ark of the Covenant was made” (cf. Exodus 32; also Ps. 105:23-4).

The monk must not remain alone lest a similar fate befalls him, but must find a spiritual leader - his Moses - whom he should obey completely: Brother, try to find a man who has the spirit of Christ in him, adorned with virtues, commanding general respect, and who with his whole life loves Christ more than anything else, is obedient to the superior, bears no malice to the other brethren and who also knows the Sacred Scriptures, by the help of which he can direct to God those who seek heaven. To such a person give yourself up, even like Caleb to Joshua, having cut off your will(11), so that you may be a spotless vessel, which preserves everything good that has been poured into it. Thus you become a pure dwelling of the Holy Spirit, according to the word of God: I and the Father will come and make our dwelling in you (John 14:23).”(12)

Cyril knew well all the aspects of monastic life, including the less edifying ones. He warns his disciples against the danger of falling into the company of monks “who love their body and like changing their garments and, under the pretext of a feast, make banquets with much drinking, hold rowdy gatherings till late hours, and try to have their own will against those in authority”. A similar warning is found also in The Parable of the Care-free King”. He also tells monks to be on their guard against the special kind of monastic pride which comes from belonging to a famous monastery: The tree is praised not for its height but for its fruit. In the same way it is not the monastery that makes the monks famous, but monks the monastery.”

In the “Parable” there are several passages in which Cyril gives us his idea of the more practical sides of monastic life.

First of all, monastic life is the unceasing praise of God. Thus in the parable the light shining out of the cave means the offering of divine praise, the unceasing singing of Alleluia. For it is said: “At night lift up your hands to the holy and praise the Lord” (Ps. 133); and also in another place: “I rose at midnight to praise thee” (Ps. 118:62).

In the monastery life is arranged “according to the apostolic tradition: nobody has his own will, but everything is in common.(13) All are under one superior, linked to him with spiritual tendons, like members of one body to its head.”

The monk lives in poverty: “Every beautiful garment and bodily adornment is foreign to the abbot and to the whole monastic order. For Christ says that those who are clothed in soft garments are in the houses of kings (Mt. 11:8). Monks on the other hand must be clothed with purity, girded with righteousness, and adorned with humility.”

The memory of death is the constant companion of the monk. It is his wife who “sings a sweet song: the voice of rejoicing and salvation in the dwellings of the just (Ps. 117:15). For the just will live for ever and their reward is from the Lord (Wis. 5:16). Death for the just is peace (Wis. 3:3). Riches fade away - set not your heart upon them (Ps. 65:11).”

On the whole the monastic life is constant effort: “There are some who, … having made their vows, wish to be sanctified without trying to overcome their weaknesses and, while they read the Scriptures, they think that they may be saved without any effort on their part. We forget what Paul said: No one is crowned without effort. Those who sleep cannot win and the idle cannot be saved.” A little further on Cyril enjoins the monks thus: “And so, O monks, having received such promises, fight the good battle … Imitate the efforts of the saints and try to outdo one another in tears, in vigils, in prayers, in serving … Let us lift up the wings of our minds and fly away from deadly sin. Let us take food from the sacred books and say together with David: How sweet are thy words to my palate: more than honey to my mouth (Ps. 118: 103).”

Surprisingly enough, Cyril considers the monastic life to be easy, meaning no doubt that the monk, having made the vow of obedience, is free from earthly cares: “Forget the things of earthly life and receive easy bread, like manna, from the cellarer’s hand for your nourishment.”

Having given repeated warnings against the sin of pride, Cyril, on the other hand, considers it natural that monks, faithful to their vows, should be treated by others with the respect due to men of God: “Those inner virtues in the lives of holy monks shine more brightly than worldly power, and for this reason the mighty of this world bend their heads before them and give them the respect due to those who have pleased God.”

Such are the main thoughts of St Cyril on monastic life. About one hundred years before, the great Ukrainian saint, Theodosius, was making short discourses on various virtues and certain points of order to his monks at the monastery of the Caves in Kiev. Some of those discourses have come down to us and they are touching in their simplicity and the truly evangelical spirit that permeates them. They, as well as their author, made a lasting impression on the monasticism among the East Slavs. In St Cyril we see something different: his are no longer short discourses on separate subjects, but an attempt to write a systematic treatise on monastic asceticism.

The ascetic writings of St Cyril of Turau bear witness to the deep spirituality of their author. They have not lost their value even today, although the modern mind may find Cyril’s whole approach a little too severe. The main idea that runs through all his ascetic works is an insistence on complete obedience, the ‘cutting off’ of one’s own will. It can also be said that Cyril appeals to the fear of God rather than to the love of God. In this, however, he was only following Byzantine tradition, as the comparison of his works with those of Byzantine spiritual writers shows. In particular Cyril owed much to St Theodore the Studite, whose rule was followed by the monasteries among the East Slavs at that time. The rule, written by this great reformer of Byzantine monastic institutions at the beginning of the 9th century for his monastery of Studios in Constantinople, was noted for its strictness and insistence on complete obedience. St Theodore, on the other hand, always protested that he was only following the teachings of St Basil the Great, whom he held in great veneration. His second favourite spiritual writer was St John of Sinai, also called Climacus. The book of this saint, The Ladder of Heavenly Ascent, has been the most widely read spiritual work among the East Slavs from the end of the 11th century till the present day. It is therefore hardly surprising that the works of these great spiritual teachers of the East had, directly or indirectly, a profound influence on St Cyril.

St Cyril himself made no claim to originality, as he admitted in all humility: This I said from the books and not from myself. If somebody explains matters differently, we shall not quarrel with them … We are uncouth servants and what we need most of all is your fatherly prayers in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory together with the Father and the Holy Spirit now and always and forever and ever. Amen.”

In spite of these humble protestations, however, the ascetic works of St Cyril, especially his Discourse on the Monastic State, are of sufficient interest to ensure the author a place among the Eastern spiritual writers.


In no other works is the private spirituality of St Cyril more evident than in his prayers, which are certainly the finest things he ever wrote. Among them the group of daily prayers deserve special attention. There are thirty of them in all, four or more for each day of the week. They were meant to be recited by monks privately in their cells between the church offices. In spite of their private character, the prayers follow the liturgical dedications of the days of the week, as observed in the Byzantine rite. Thus on Monday St Cyril would begin the day with the prayer to the angels, on Tuesday to St John the Baptist, on Thursday to the apostles and St Nicholas, on Saturday to all the saints. The prayers for Wednesday were dedicated specially to the Mother of God, while on Friday they commemorated the Passion of our Lord.

All the prayers are penitential in character. The leading idea that runs through them all is that of human nature, standing in all its sinful nakedness before God, and having no hope of salvation except the infinite Divine mercy. As if recognizing the fact that the ungrateful cannot feel sorrow for their own sins, Cyril would usually begin his prayer with the contemplation of God’s greatness and goodness: “Glory be to thee, O Christ my God, that thou didst make me worthy to see the day of thy glorious resurrection in which thou didst free the souls of the just bound in hell. I, too, O Lord, desire the same freedom: release me, who am bound with the chains of sin, so that the light of thy grace may shine on my darkened soul. For I know thy immense bounty and thy ineffable love of men: thou didst bring me from non-existence into being and didst adorn me with the likeness of thy image, having elevated me above all earthly creatures with the gift of speech and reason. Knowing all the days of my life, thou hast shown thy care for me from my youth till the present day, so that I may be saved and become companion of the most wondrous order of thy angels” (Sunday morning).

Here is another example: “What shall I give to thee, O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, for all the good things thou hast done to mankind? What reward shall I offer for thy mercy? Neither heaven nor earth can give thee a gift worthy of thee: for thou thyself didst deign to come down to save sinners. Thou didst take flesh, being without body, and, being rich, of thy free will didst become poor” (Friday, after Canonical Hours).

After the realization of God’s goodness, the iniquity and miserable state of a sinner stand out in all their appalling immensity: “But I, wretched one, with all my mind strove after bodily pleasures, and threw myself into the noisome slime of sins, making myself a stranger to thy grace. Being thy son through birth in the spiritual font, I made myself a slave of sin. Therefore I sigh from the depth of my heart and, lying helpless in the affliction of my soul, I grow sick when I remember the day of judgment. What shall I do then, what shall I say for my sins, and what answer will await me from the Judge? Where shall I hide the multitude of my iniquities? For I have no one who will help me or save me. What shall I do, O Lord, my Lord! Whom must I approach that my soul may be saved?” (Sunday morning).

There is deep sadness in the following pathetic, but highly lyrical, description of the sinner’s plight: “I deviated from the path of righteousness which leads to life and strayed into the wilderness of pleasures, sinking into the mire of my transgressions. I was hurt by the thorns of my evil deeds. The enemy, seeing my soul thus ailing, tries to drown me in still greater evils” (Wednesday evening).

But there is no cause for despair: God is merciful, he does not desire the death of a sinner, and he never rejects a man who comes to him with a contrite heart. The sinner therefore takes refuge in him. He even affirms, with a justifiable pride, that although his sins are without number, of two he is innocent: he has never raised his hands to a strange god and never despaired of God’s mercy: “Let me not perish in the end, o Jesus - the most sweet name - thou who didst make me from the dust of the earth and grant me life! Look down on my humility: although my sins are without number, yet I have not raised my hands to a strange god, nor did I despair, remembering the image of thy mercy which thou didst show towards sinners. I think of David: he, being king, fell into the abyss of passions and committed murder, but having repented before thee, he became worthy again of thy mercy” (Sunday morning).

Thus the memory of the saints of the Old Testament, who had their sins forgiven through repentance, gives heart to the sinner. At times Cyril breaks forth into a passionate hymn in praise of penance which opens the gate of Divine mercy: “To whom shall I fly asking for salvation, except to thee, my Maker? I know thy longsuffering and thy love of men without malice. Who will confess thy wonders from eternity and who will worthily praise thy loving kindness? For thou rejoicest not in the death of a sinner, and for that reason from the beginning thou hast shown us examples of repentance: thou didst show mercy on the people of Israel who repented after having angered thee in the desert; thou didst spare the people of Nineveh; thou didst make free Manasses and bring back to life Hezekiah. And what is greater than repentance, which is so pleasing to thy Spirit? For all human justice before thee is like a cobweb easily torn to pieces. Who can boast before thee that he is pure of heart and without sin? The self-righteous Pharisee was condemned for boasting. And I, miserable one, surrounded by the multitude of my evil deeds - what shall I do? Into what abyss shall I throw myself? O strength of tears, O sweet repentance! Because of it didst thou sanctify David and make him prophet, justify the publican, make clean the sinful woman, and come out to meet the prodigal son, making him partaker of the Divine banquet” (Friday morning).

The great consolation for a sinner is the fact that he is not alone but has powerful friends and protectors: angels, saints and, above all, the Mother of God. It is to her, “in whose power is all salvation”, that Cyril sings special praises: “Hope of all the corners of the earth, O Most Holy Virgin Mother of God, great wonder of angels, discourse of the prophets, praise of the apostles, strong support of martyrs, bright crown of the hierarchs, mighty strength of our princes, precious ornament of the churches, holy hope of monks, unconquerable might of the ascetics, solid bulwark of the faithful, swift relief of the afflicted, easy guide for those who have erred, speedy help for the needy, consolation of the despised, protector of widows and orphans, quiet joy of mothers, wisdom of the young, peaceful harbour of sailors, easy way of travellers, blessed rest of labourers, unbounded treasure of the poor, guardian and defender of the persecuted, joy of the sorrowful, reconciliation to God of sinners, sure protection of Christians, and manifest salvation of the world … Being always protected by thee, I salute thee with the words of the angel: Hail, Virgin Mother of God, full of grace, earthly paradise, throne of fire, spiritual church, spacious palace, dwelling of infinite God, bright candle, helper quicker than lightning, star ever shining, chalice containing the wine of salvation, font washing away sins, man’s upraising, table on which is the Bread of Life, Mother of Christ our God: implore him that, by thy prayers, he may save me from eternal pain, now and always, and for ever and ever. Amen” (Wednesday morning).

And he addresses St Peter thus: “Holy Peter, thou who sittest on the first throne, solid rock of faith, unshakeable foundation of the Church, shepherd of the rational flock of Christ, gatekeeper of the heavenly kingdom, fisher in the depths that surpass all understanding! I pray to thee, O holy one: vouchsafe that the Divine net may enclose me, and draw me out of the sinful abyss. I know that thou didst receive from God the power to bind and to loose: release me, I pray thee, from the chains of sin that bind me. Bring back to life my wretched soul, thou who didst raise Tabitha from the dead. Thou didst raise the lame man from his bed at the Beautiful Gate: set my feet on the path of righteousness. With thy shadow thou didst chase away infirmities: may the shadow of thy goodness fall upon me, healing my spiritual and bodily afflictions. Thou canst do all, o holy one, by the power of Christ, for whose sake thou didst abandon all and, having loved him, didst follow in his footsteps and for his Holy Name didst bear the chains. Pray now to him for me, a miserable sinner, that by thy prayers I may be preserved from all evil” (Thursday morning).

Thus there is nothing desolate in Cyril’s prayers, despite their penitential character. On the contrary, they are full of that Christian optimism which has its origin in an unshakeable belief in God’s infinite mercy and his love for men. The deep sadness for sins committed is therefore intermingled with a quiet spiritual joy, and it is this joy that makes the author burst forth in a hymn of praise to God, as in the following short but beautiful prayer, intended to be said on Saturday evening before going to sleep:

“Make me worthy, o Lord, to see the morning and the sun and be preserved, with thy help, from sin; and grant that I may praise thy unbounded greatness. Thou hast made all this beautiful world for the service of us sinners: make me also worthy of these thy gifts. I pray to thee, O merciful Lord, grant that one day I may see the inextinguishable, endless, incorruptible light of thy face. And now, with thy help, rejoicing in thy mercy, I cry to thee: Glory to thee, O consubstantial, undivided, life-giving and glorious Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and for ever and ever. Amen.”

If the value of a prayer is judged by its power to move a man’s heart and raise his thoughts towards God, then it must be said that the prayers of St Cyril have these qualities in the highest degree. They are remarkable for the intensity and sincerity of their religious feeling. Moreover their lyrical beauty indicates in their author a poet of no mean talent.

These lofty qualities of Cyril’s prayers have been recognized by all who have become acquainted with them. Even Golubinski, generally sparing in his praise, admits that “as regards the prayers of Cyril of Turau, they represent exceedingly good oratorical works which in all justice must be given a place beside the best prayers by Greek authors”. (14) Another scholar, Bishop Makary, who made a special study of St Cyril as a writer, is still more generous in his appreciation: Tor their style and contents the canon and the prayers should be placed among the best works of this kind existing in the Orthodox Church.”(15) In Belarus the prayers of St Cyril were so popular that at the end of the 16th century they were included in several printed editions of the selected prayers of the Greek Fathers.(16)

Although the prayers of St Cyril are (as we have said) penitential in character, the stress is laid everywhere on the idea of God’s infinite mercy and his love for men, which shines like a light of hope before the sinner and saves him from falling into despair. Indeed, Cyril may rightly be named ‘the singer of Divine mercy’.

In spite of the fact that Cyril occupied an important position in the Church of his time and left behind such a rich spiritual heritage, he remained all his life a true recluse. In all his activities he knew how to efface himself to such an extent that it is possible only with great difficulty to reconstruct the main outlines of his life. It seems that with his whole life, no less than with his works, he wanted to say: “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to thy name be given the glory” (Ps. 113: 9).(17)


(*) Usually known in England as Turov, from the Russian version of this Belarusian place-name.

(1) For a more detailed life of St Cyril and the text of the Prologue see: A. Nadson, The Writings of St. Cyril of Turau, The Journal of Byelorussian Studies, vol. 1, no. 1, London 1965, pp. 4-15.

(2) There are two more ascetic writings attributed by some scholars to St Cyril. They will not be considered here. On the question of the authenticity of St Cyril’s works on the monastic life see L. Goetz, ‘Die Echtheit der Monchreden des Kirill von Turov’, Archiv fur Slavische Philologie, vol. 27, Berlin 1905, pp. 181-95; also I. P. Yeremin, ‘Literaturnoye Nasledye Kirilla Turovskogo’ in Trudy Otdyela Drevnyerusskoy literatury AN. SSSR, Vol. 9, Moscow-Leningrad 1955, pp. 344-9.

(3) This work is also known as The letter to the Abbot Basil of Kiev about a layman and a monk’. The name of the Abbot Basil was, however, probably inserted by a later copyist. See Goetz, op. cit., pp. 190-1.

(4) For comparison here is the apologue of the king and the good counsellor from the life of Barlaam and Joasaph: Once upon a time there was a king who governed his kingdom well, and dealt kindly with his subjects, only failing in this point: that he was not rich in the knowledge of God but held fast to the errors of idolatry. Now he had a counselor, who was a good man and endued with righteousness towards God. . . . This man sought a convenient season to draw his sovereign towards that which was good. One night the king said to him, Come now, let us go forth and walk about the city, perhaps we shall see something to edify us. Now while they were walking about the city, they saw a ray of light shining through an aperture. Fixing their eyes thereon, they descried an underground cavernous chamber, in the forefront of which there was a man, plunged in poverty, and clad in rags and tatters. Beside him stood his wife, mixing wine. When the man took the cup in his hands, she sang a clear sweet melody, and delighted him with her dancing and flatteries The king said to his chief counsellor: Friend, how marvelous a thing it is that our life, though bright with so much honour and luxury, has never pleased us so well as this poor and miserable life rejoices these fools; and the life which appears to us cruel and abominable is to them sweet and alluring. . . . When in the end the king asked who these people were, the counsellor answered that they were all who prefer the eternal to the temporal (St John Damascene, Barlaam and Joasaph, transl. by G. R. Woodward and H. Mattingly, London 1953, pp. 229-32)
The first to draw attention to the similarity between Cyril’s parable and the above apologue was M. I. Sukhomlinov in 1858 (cf. 2nd ed. of his work “O sochinyenyakh Kirilla Turovskago” in Sbornik Otd. Russkago Yazuika i Slovesnosty AN, vol. 85, St Petersburg 1908, pp. 327-30). The Ukrainian scholar Franko thinks on the other hand that Cyril obtained the idea for his parable not from the story of Barlaam and Joasaph, but from some Jewish source (cf. his article “Pritcha pro sliptsa i khromtsa” in Stat’y po Slavyanovyedyenyu, edited by V. I. Lamansky, part ii, St Petersburg 1906, pp. 137-9).

(5) The language of Cyril is very scriptural: often, however, he does not give exact quotations, but uses biblical phrases to express his thoughts, changing and adapting them to obtain the necessary meaning.

(6) The Exodus of the Jews from Egypt as an image of embracing the monastic life - the exodus from the world - is not unknown to the eastern spiritual writers, as is shown by the following passage from The Ladder of Heavenly Ascent by John Climacus (d. 649): “If we want to get away from Egypt and escape from Pharaoh, we must have a Moses, a mediator before God, who, standing between action and contemplation, lifts up his arms, so that we, led by him, may cross the sea of sins and put to flight the Amalek of our passions” (Migne, P.G., vol. 88, 635).

(7) Apparently it was not unusual for a man to leave his wife and children in order to embrace the monastic life. St Theodore the Studite (759-826) writes in one of his discourses: “And you too . . . have not some of you abandoned parents, others brothers, others their wives and children, others houses, others fields, while the rest - that which is most difficult of all - have abandoned their wills?” (Migne, P.G., vol. 99, 673).

(8) St Athanasius tells of St Antony that during the last great persecution of Christians in 311 he wanted to suffer martyrdom and for that reason even left the desert and came to Alexandria. When his desire was not granted, “he went back to his cell; and there he was daily martyr to his conscience, ever fighting the battles of the faith” (St Athanasius, Life of St Antony, transl. R. T. Meyer, London 1950, p. 60). Thus the idea of the monastic life as the continuation of martyrdom is an old one.

(9) There is a similar passage about the monastic profession in St Theodosius of Kiev (d. 1074): “Let us remember our entry … Did we not then, standing before the Holy Door, give the word of our promise before visible and invisible witnesses, as if on the day of judgment, calling upon God himself, saying: Here Christ is present invisibly? Consider to whom you made your promise! Nobody forced you to do this” (cf. I. A. Yevseyev, “Prepodobny Foedosy Pyechersky i yego Pouchenya”, in: Ponomarev, Pamyatniki drevnerusskoy tserkovnoouchityelnoy literatury, part 1, St Petersburg 1894, pp. 36-7).

(10) For St Theodore the Studite the monastic profession was a second baptism: “We washed away the guilt of the sin of our painful birth first of all in the baptism of water and the Spirit; and then again, by God’s great love for men, in the second baptism of penance and renunciation of the world” (Great Catechism, sermon 92; cf. N. Grossu, Prepodobny Feodor Studit i yego vremya, Kiev 1905, p. 83).

(11) The idea of ‘cutting off of one’s will’ (or breaking one’s will) is found in St Theodore the Studite: see, for example, his Little Catechism, sermon 128 (Migne, P.G., vol. 99, 673, 674).

(12) St Basil the Great (330-79) describes the choice of a spiritual director thus: “With great care and circumspection try to find a man who would be for you a sure guide in this way of life, and who knows how to direct those who walk towards God. He must be a person adorned with virtues, and who by his own works has given proof of love of God and who also knows the Sacred Scriptures. He must love retirement and hate riches, be stranger to all quarrels, quiet, dear to God, lover of poverty, peaceful, forgetful of injuries and giving great edification to those around him. He must not be vain, nor proud; he must be unmoved by flatteries, of firm character and put God above all. If you ever find such a man, give yourself up to him completely; repress and eliminate in yourself every trace of free will, that you may become a pure vessel, preserving all the good things deposited in you for your greater praise and glory” (Instit, Ascet., Migne, P.G., vol. 31, 631-2).

(13) Here probably Cyril makes allusion to Acts 4:32.

(14) E. E. Golubinsky, Istorya Russkoy Tserkvi, vol. 1, part 1, Moscow 1901, p. 841.

(15) Makary, Sv. Kirill ep. T. Turovsky kak pisatyel, in: Istoricheskiya Chteniya po Yazyku i Slovyesnosti Imp. Akad. Nauk, St Petersburg 1857, p. 165.

(16) They were printed in a book called Molitvy Povsyednyevnyya (Daily Prayers), which was published in several editions in Vilna between 1596 and 1635. A copy of the book, published in 1601 in Vilna, is now in the Bodleian Library.

(17) The translation of the ascetic texts was made from the most recent edition by Yeremin, op. cit., in Trudy … vol. 12, 1956, pp. 348-61. The original texts of Cyril’s prayers, from which the translations were made, are published in: Evgeny, Tvorenya Ottsa Nashego Kirilla ep. Turovskago, Kiev 1880; also, partially, in Makary, Istorya Russkoy Tserkvi, vol. 3, St Petersburg 1857, pp. 96, 149, 310-61.

Fr Alexander Nadson, 1967

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