The Monk Nestor the Chronicler
Commemorated on October 27
Monk Nestor the Chronicler was born at Kiev in 1050. He came in his youth
to the Monk Theodosii (Feodosii, + 1074, Comm. 3 May) and became a novice. The
Monk Nestor took monastic vows under the successor to the Monk Theodosii, the
hegumen Stephen, and under him was ordained monk-deacon.
Concerning his lofty spiritual life it says that, amidst the number of other monastic fathers he participated in the casting out of a devil from Nikita the Hermit (afterwards a Novgorod Sainted-hierarch, Comm. 31 January), having become fascinated by the Hebrew wisdom of the Old Testament. The Monk Nestor deeply appreciated true knowledge, conjoined with humility and penitence. "Great is the benefit of book learning, – said he, – for books point out and teach us the way to repentance, since from the words of books we discover wisdom and temperance. This is the stream, watering the universe, from which springs wisdom. In books is a boundless depth, by them we are comforted in sorrows, and they are a bridle for moderation. If thou do enter diligently into the books of wisdom, thou then shalt discover great benefit for thy soul. Wherefore that one who readeth books, doth converse with God or the saints".
In the monastery the Monk Nestor had the obedience of being the chronicler. In the 1080's he wrote the "Account about the Life and Perishing of the Blessed PassionBearers Boris and Gleb" in connection with the transfer of the relics of the saints to Vyshgorod in the year 1072 (Comm. 2 May). In the 1080's the Monk Nestor also compiled the Life of the Monk Theodosii of Pechersk. And in 1091 on the eve of the altar-feast of the Pechersk monastery, he was entrusted by the hegumen John to dig up out of the ground, for transfer to the church, the holy relics of the Monk Theodosii (Uncovering Relics, Comm. 14 August).
The chief work in the life of the monk Nestor was the compiling in the years 1112‑1113 of the "Tale of Bygone Years" ("Povest' Vremmenykh Let"). "Here is the tale of years gone by, from whence the Russian land came to be, who at Kiev started first to be prince and from whither the Russian land is arrayed" – so with the very first line the Monk Nestor specifies his purpose. His is an extraordinarily wide circle of sources: of prior Russian chronicle accounts and sayings, monastery records, the Byzantine Chronicles of John Malalos and George Amartolos, various historical collections, the accounts of the boyar-elder Ian Vyshatich and of tradesmen and soldiers, of journeymen and of those who knew – all set together by him with an unified and strict Church point of view. This permitted the Monk Nestor to write his history of Russia as an inclusive part of world history – the history of the salvation of the human race.
The monk-patriot expounds the history of the Russian Church in the significant moments of its historical settings. He speaks about the first mentioning of the Russian nation in historical sources – in the year 866, during the time of the holy Patriarch of Constantinople Photios; he narrates about the creation of the Slavonic alphabet and writing by the holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Cyril and Methodius; and about the Baptism of holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Ol'ga at Constantinople. The chronicle of the Monk Nestor has preserved for us an account about the first Orthodox church in Kiev (under the year 945), about the confessors deed of the holy Varangian Martyrs (under the year 983), about the "testing of the faiths" by the holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Vladimir (year 986) and the "Baptism of Rus'" (the year 988). We are indebted to the first Russian Church historian for accounts about the first metropolitans of the Russian Church, about the emergence of the Pechersk monastery, and about its founders and ascetics. The times in which the Monk Nestor lived were not easy for the Russian land and the Russian Church. Rus' lay torn asunder by princely feuds; the steppe Polovetsian nomads laid waste both city and village with plundering raids, they snatched off Russian people into slavery, and burnt churches and monasteries. The Monk Nestor was an eyewitness to the devastation of the Pechersk monastery in the year 1096. In the chronicle is given a theologically thought out patriotic history. The spiritual depth, historical fidelity and patriotism of the "Tale of Bygone Years" [in English otherwise also known as "The Russian Primary Chronicle"] establish it among the ranks of significant creations of world literature.
The Monk Nestor died in about the year 1114, having left to the Pechersk monk-chroniclers the continuation of his great work. His successors in the writing of the chronicles were: the hegumen Syl'vestr, adding on contemporary accounts to the "Tale of Bygone Years"; the hegumen Moisei (Moses) Vydubitsky lengthened it to the year 1200; and finally, the hegumen Lavrentii, having written in the year 1377 the most ancient of our surviving copies that preserve the "Tale" of the Monk Nestor (this copy is known as the "Lavrentian Chronicle"). The hagiographic tradition of the Pechersk ascetics was continued by Sainted Simon, Bishop of Vladimir (+ 1226, Comm. 10 May), the compiler of the "Kievo-Pechersk Paterikon". Narrating the events connected with the lives of the holy saints of God, Saint Simon often quotes, from among other sources, the Chronicles of the Monk Nestor.
The Monk Nestor was buried in the Nearer Caves of the Monk Antonii of Pechersk. The Church also honours his memory together with the Sobor (Assemblage) of the holy Fathers of the Nearer Caves on 28 September and on the 2nd Sunday of Great Lent when is celebrated the Sobor of all the Kievo-Pechersk Fathers. His works have many times been published [in English also as "The Russian Primary Chronicle"].
© 1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos.