Sainted Ilarion, Metropolitan of Kiev and All Russia

Commemorated on October 21

      Sainted Ilarion, Metropolitan of Kiev and All Russia, lived during the era of the Great-prince Yaroslav the Wise (+ 1054), son of the holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Vladimir. In the history of the Russian Church he enters in as the first of its Russian representatives, installed as Metropolitan by a Sobor-Council of Russian bishops.
      The Russian Church up to that time had been a metropolitan see, under the Constantinople patriarchate. Russia's first metropolitans were Greeks, and their appointment was made at Tsar'grad. Saint Ilarion, priest of the prince's village of Berestovo, nigh to Kiev, was the spiritual father and a companion of prince Yaroslav. "God-loving prince Yaroslav loved Berestovo, and put there the church of the Holy Apostles and many priests he did honour and maintain, – relates the Monk Nestor the Chronicler. – Amongst them was the presbyter by name Ilarion, a man of virtue, and book-learned, and given to fasting. He made his way from Berestovo to the Dniepr, where is now the old Pechersk monastery, and here he made his prayer in the deep forest. Having dug out a shallow two-sashen (14 foot) cave, and having come from Berestovo, he intoned here the hours and did pray in solitude to God...".
      Saint Ilarion, as attest his works, was not simply a "man of books", but was endowed with great spiritual gifts, and profound theological knowledge. He devoted all is efforts to the service of the Russian Church. When metropolitan Theopemptos died, Rus' was in a state of war against Byzantium. By decision of a Sobor-Council of Russian hierarchs of the Russian Church, resolution was made to establish a metropolitan at Kiev, not subject to Tsar'grad. Saint Ilarion was famed amongst the Russian clergy for his heightened spiritual life and gift for preaching. A short while before this, he had uttered in the Desyatin-Tithe church an eulogy to holy Prince Vladimir with his acclaimed "Discourse concerning Law and Grace", in which he provided a theological explanation of the place of the Russian Church in the history of the Divine Economy of Salvation.
      The choice of the Sobor-Council hierarchs was dear to the heart of Yaroslav the Wise. The ascetic was installed as Metropolitan at Saint Sophia in the year 1051. Saint Ilarion was later affirmed by the Constantinople patriarch. But he was not the primate of the Russian Church for long. The chronicle does not mention the year of his death, but the saint was already not at the death of prince Yaroslav the Wise (+ 20 February 1054), and in the year 1055 a new metropolitan had arrived at Kiev. Evidently, Saint Ilarion had expired to the Lord in 1053.
      His spiritual legacy lives on in the Russian Church. And foremost, a fine work of old-Russian churchly literature – the "Discourse concerning Law and Grace". Its content is profound and many-sided. At the centre of the "Discourse" – is the teaching concerning salvation and grace. Great attention is devoted to the question about the superiority of Christianity over Judaism. This theme was essential at these times for Kievan Rus': the Jews had approached Saint Vladimir, hoping to convert him to their faith, and the Monk Theodosii of Pechersk (+ 1074) went also to the "Jewish Quarter" in Kiev with the preaching of Christ Crucified. It is known likewise, that the Jews had attempted to convert to Judaism Sainted-hierarch Nikita the Hermit, when he was still a monk of the Pechersk monastery (1088). Saint Simon relates about this in the "Kievo-Pechersk Paterikon". Hence therefore the attention, which Saint Ilarion devotes to the question "about the law, given to Moses, and about grace and truth, through the coming of Jesus Christ". And finally, the third theme, the occasion of the uttering of the "Discourse" – was to the glorification of the apostolic work of holy Prince Vladimir.
      The kingdom of nature, the kingdom of grace and the future Kingdom of Glory are perceived in the spiritual experience of the Church as coalesced inseparably. The law – is but the forerunner and servant of grace and truth. Truth and grace – are but servants of the future age and true life. Saint Ilarion teaches thus about the superiority of the Church: "Moses and the prophets did foretell the Coming of Christ, whereas Christ and His Apostles – did witness about the Resurrection and about the future age".
      From the moment, when the Saviour was come into he world, the Old (preliminary) Covenant of man with God ceased to be in effect. With the theological symbols of the Old and New Covenant-Testaments the saint employs images borrowed from the holy Apostle Paul relating to the two wives of Abraham: the freeborn Sarah and the maid-servant Agar. "Agar was cast out, a slave, together with her son Ishmael, and Isaac, the free son, was heir to Abraham. Thus also were the Jews cast out and dispersed through the lands, whereas the sons of grace, the Christians, are become heirs to God the Father. As the light of the moon doth fade amidst the shining forth of the sun, so also the law – doth fade amidst the shining forth of grace; the cold of night doth vanish from the warmth of the sun, heating the earth, – and mankind be no longer bent over under the burden of the law, but instead in grace walketh freely".
      The joy of Christ fills the holy preacher, when he speaks about the entry of his native Rus' into the host of Christian peoples. "The grace of Christ hath filled all the earth", and foremost, the youthfully alive peoples, to which also is regarded the Russian people. "It becometh grace and truth to shine forth in new peoples. They do not, in the words of the Lord, pour new wine – this being the teaching of grace – into old wine-skins, referring to the Jews, but the rather put the new teaching, into new wine-skins, into new peoples". Thus the graced faith "throughout all the earth hath spread and reached our Russian tongue. Here now we too with all Christians do glorify the Holy Trinity, and the Jews be silent; pagans be accepted, but Jews – art spurned".
      Russian Orthodox at present "be not termed idolators, but rather Christians, no longer do we build heathen temples, but rather the churches of Christ; no longer do we sacrifice others to the demons (vide Comm. Varangian Martyrs, 12 July), but Christ for us instead hath been slain in sacrifice to God and Father. The Blessed God hath had mercy on all lands – and us too hath not despised, for He did desire likewise to save us and bring us to our senses in truth". The great apostolic exploit of the enlightening of the Russian Land was made by holy Prince Vladimir (Comm. 15 July), "like to holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Constantine", who "did command throughout all his land that they be baptised in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and clearly and loudly in voice in all the cities to glorify the Holy Trinity and to all be Christians – the small and great, slave and free, young and old, rich and poor". Saint Ilarion speaks with pride about his native land: "Saint Vladimir did not exercise sovereignty in a bad or ignorant land, but the rather in Russia, which is known and heard of by all the ends of the earth".
      The "Discourse concerning Law and Grace" – is the first work of its time in the Russian Church in which the holy Baptiser of Rus' is acclaimed blessed amongst the rank of the equal-to-the-Apostles. "Rejoice thou midst sovereigns, O apostle, not in having dead bodies resurrected, but our deadened souls resurrecting: for by thee hath we been made alive in God and given to know life in Christ". Suchlike is the content of this remarkable memorial of ancient Russian theology. Among the other works of Saint Ilarion is known his archbishopal "Confession", having become the model for a bishop's vow in the Russian Church. And to the "Discourse concerning Law and Grace" in the manuscripts is usually appended the "Prayer of Saint Ilarion". This work of the saint likewise possesses a long history within the tradition of his native church. In the year 1555, upon his sending off to he newly-formed Kazan diocese, Saint Gurii ordered that there be read to him the prayer, "The Work of Metropolitan Ilarion the Russia", at Moscow and in the other cities, through which he was to travel.
      Saint Ilarion was buried in the Kiev caves. In the inscribed titles to his works, in the manuscripts of saintly literature and lists of sainted-hierarchs, Saint Ilarion is invariable termed a saint and predicated as a wonderworker. His assured literary veneration as a saint is evidenced in the services to the Kievo-Pechersk Monastics. Both in the service to the Sobor-Assembly of Fathers of the Nearer Caves (Comm. 28 September), and likewise in the service to all the Kievo-Pechersk Saints (2nd Sunday of Great Lent), Saint Ilarion is enumerated together with other saintly hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church.

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