Cyril of Turaw

Cyril of Turaw
Saint Cyril of Turaw

Cyril of Turaw
Born 1130
Died 1182
Honored in Roman Catholic Church
Eastern Orthodox church
Feast April 28[1][2]

Cyril of Turaŭ (usually known in English as Cyril of Turov) (Belarusian: Кіры́ла Ту́раўскі, Russian: Кири́лл Ту́ровский) (1130–1182) was a bishop and saint. He was one of the first and finest theologians of Kievan Rus'; he lived in Turaw, now Southern Belarus.[3] His feast day in the Orthodox Church is on April 28.[1][2]


Kirill of Turov

For centuries Kirill of Turaŭ enjoyed considerable prestige as a writer; his works were continuously copied and imitated. According to Zenkovsky’s assessment of Kirill’s heritage: “Cyril, Bishop of Turov, was probably the most accomplished master of Orthodox theology and the Byzantine style of writing. He had an excellent command of Greek and his literary achievements surpass those of any other Russian man of letters of that era ... Of all his works, Cyril’s sermon with the triumphant description of spring as the symbol of the Resurrection was the most popular.”[4] Indeed, this sermon is one of his best known works in which he creates some of his more compelling images like a simile comparing the melting of ice in the spring and Thomas’s dissolving doubts about Christ’s resurrection: “Ныне зима греховнаа покаянием престала есть и лед невериа богоразумием растаяся... лед же Фомина невериа показанием Христов ребр растаяся.” [Today the winter of sin has stopped in repentance, and the ice of unbelief is melted by wisdom spring appears...] It is often emphasized that Kirill was an accomplished author who exerted influence on subsequent generations of East Slavs (continuing through the 17th century). The question of Kyrill’s heritage is problematic to some degree. First of all, there is the problem with the historically verifiable existence of Kirill of Turov; the questions as to whether he ever existed and who he was have not been answered definitively.

Biographic details

Biographic details are scant and because none come from sources contemporary with Kirill, many are debated. All we have in terms of his biography is a short Synaxarion Life: Life of Kirill of Turov (28 April) which was written no earlier than the mid thirteenth century. This terse formulaic composition draws heavily on the hagiographic conventions and yields very few historical details. He was born in a thriving town of Turov, the son of wealthy parents. He was characterized by extreme piety at a young age and he entered a monastery still a young man. In the monastery he was respected for his asceticism and his learned interpretation of biblical texts. He is said to be the consecrated bishop of Turov in 1160s. With the support of the Metropolitan in 1169 he became involved in deposing Fedor, who occupied the bishopric of Rostov. Usually he is thought to have died in 1182. According to an alternative line of thought, he became a bishop after 1182, remaining a monk throughout the period of 1160s and 1170s. Even the dates of Kirill’s life and work are debated. The dates 1130-1182 had been commonly accepted but among notable scholars, Simon Franklin vigorously disputes them.[5] (See Simon Franklin’s Sermons and Rhetoric of Kievan Rus’). Kirill’s title the Bishop of Turov is usually agreed to be a later invention arising out of a desire to designate an appropriately high status to the author of extremely popular and influential words. Even though Kirill came to be known as the Bishop of Turov his works deal most extensively with a theme of monasticism. It is often emphasized that Kirill’s points of reference are located within the walls of the monastery. Monks are Kirill’s most frequent addressees.

Alternative names and attributions

Generally, Kirill’s autographs are not available and the manuscript sources are separated from the assumed time of composition by centuries. The medieval habit of anonymity and pseudonymity further complicates the process of attribution. Apart from the very rare “Kirill of Turov’ (even when this designation occurs, it tends to be just one of several variant readings), the headings in ‘his’ manuscripts include “Kirill the monk,” “Kirill the philosopher,” ‘Saint Kirill,” “The Blessed father Kirill,” “the blessed monk Kirill,” “Kirill the unworthy monk,” “the venerable Kirill.” Given this variety of labels, ‘Kirill’s’ texts invite several candidates for being their more likely authors (writers whose existence has been substantiated with historical facts). Hypothetically, each work can be allocated to one of several real Kirills and Cyrils: Cyril of Jerusalem (ca. 315-386); Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444); Cyril of Scythopolis (mid-sixth century); Constantine-Cyril, apostle of the Slavs(d. 869); Metropolitan Kirill I of Kiev (1223–1233); Metropolitan Kirill II of Kiev (1243–1290); Bishop Kirill of Rostov (1231–1262); Kirill of Turov. There are also numerous Kirills who may have been active but were not recorded by chroniclers and hagiographers. Matters are further complicated by the fact, that these labels appear to have been used interchangeably as Simon Franklin points out.[6]


Questions of authorship notwithstanding, a remarkable corpus of works in different genres has been attributed to Kirill of Turov: festal homilies, monastic commentaries, some letters, and a cycle of prayers, other hymnological texts, several versions of a penitential Prayer Kanon, a Kanon of Ol’ga and an abecedarian prayer. These works constitute what came to be known as Corpus Cyrillianium (which at its core has only eleven works which are agreed by the majority to be by Kirill of Turov.) This is a nineteenth-century consensus which is generally assumed but continuously questioned. In manuscript sources, there are 23 prayers attributed to Kirill, as well as an additional 9 unattributed prayers that are regularly copied together as a group. The prayers form a seven-day liturgical cycle. His homilies are also a cycle based on the ecclesiastical calendar from Palm Sunday to the Sunday before Pentecost. His allegorical commentaries are directed at a monastic audience. As a scholar of Kyrill, C.M. MacRobert summarizes the state of scholarship: “Even if further early copies of the texts attributed to Kirill of Turov come to light, it may well not be possible to reconstruct his kanon in the form in which he wrote it—supposing that he did write it—or to determine the original wording of his prayers. The attempt to establish a canon of his liturgical works may ultimately be vain: what we have to deal with is not necessarily the recognizable oeuvre of one man, but rather a devotional tradition, a profoundly penitential spirituality which was cultivated among the East Slavs during the medieval period and taken up by other Orthodox Slavs under the pressure of social and political vicissitudes.”.[7] Another problem that complicates any precise attribution is the traditionalism of the Corpus Cyrillianum and the genre itself. The Kirillic genres themselves are deliberately constructed so as to give an impression of timelessness and universality. Details of contemporary “relevance” yielding specific clues as to time, place, and people (like Kirill’s admonition of Feodorek – Bishop Fedor of Rostov called so in depreciation) are rare and skillfully disguised.[8] Kirill-the author identifies himself as a humble monk (following the tradition of humility topos) who fades before the ultimate author and authority of God. Here is an example of Kyrill’s humility topos taken from "A Tale of a layman, and on monasticism, and on the soul, and on repentance"; by the most sinful monk Kirill, for Vasilij, abbot of the Caves: “(52) And me: I beg you, do not spurn me like a dog, but remember me even here in your prayers, and there throw me scraps from that holy table, and may all Christians be judged worthy of that life, through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom glory with the Father and with the Holy Spirit, now and ever.”[9] And another one from: A Sermon for Low Sunday by the unworthy monk Kirill in praise of the resurrection, and concerning the paschal bread, and concerning Thomas’s resting of the Lord’s ribs: “(1) The Church requires a great teacher and a wise interpreter to adorn the feast. But we are poor in word and dim in mind, and we lack the fire of the Holy Spirit to compose words to benefit the soul. Yet, for the love of the brethren that are with me, I shall say a few words concerning the renewal of the resurrection of Christ.”.[10]

Style: Kirill's Traditionalism

Most of Kievan literature is based on the Eastern Christian tradition which came to Rus’ form Byzantium via Slavonic translations originating mainly in Bulgaria. “The homiletic and exegetic genres are among the ‘purest’ versions of the rhetorical tradition inherited from Byzantium, relatively uncontaminated in language and structure,” as Franklin affirms. ).[11] These genres within the tradition of Christian rhetoric became Kievan elite culture, eagerly imitated by Rus’ medieval authors who “played the game according to received rules.”.[12] The Byzantines also valued the stability of form and expression-the impression of timelessness. Consequently, in creating their native tradition, Kievan writers drew on the “tradition one of whose higher aesthetic virtues was traditionalism itself.”.[12] As Franklin sees it, Kirill’s “self-imposed task was to perpetuate a tradition, not to change or modernize it; to become authoritative by following authority rather than by challenging it.”.[13] Kirill’s works are not original in form because they closely follow the Byzantine style. In content it relies heavily on quotes from the Holy Texts. Kirill’s texts are characterized by their extreme citationality. Simon Franklin in his most current English translation of the sermons numbers about 370 biblical quotation and allusions.[14] Further textual sources for almost all of Kirill’s works are also identified. They are works by early Christian and Byzantine churchmen that would have been available to Kirill in Slavonic translations: John Chrysostom, Epiphanius of Salamis, Ephrem of Syrus, Gregory of Nazianzus, Eusebius of Caesarea, and the scholia of Nicetas of Heraclea, Titus of Bostra, Theophylact of Ohrid, and the chronicler George the monk (George Hamartolus).[13] As Ingunn Lunde points out, Kirill’s technique of quotations is based on the convention of the epideictic discourse where the establishment of verbal correspondences and parallels through emphasis and amplification serve to invocation of the authority of the sacred texts. “What is essential is the recognition of certain layer of sacred texts or voice in the orators’ discourse.”.[15] If we accept the conventional attributions of works to Kyrill of Turov, he can be justly named the most prolific extant writer of Kievan Rus’.


  1. ^ a b (Greek) Ὁ Ἅγιος Κύριλλος Ἐπίσκοπος Τούρωφ. 28 Απριλίου. ΜΕΓΑΣ ΣΥΝΑΞΑΡΙΣΤΗΣ.
  2. ^ a b April 28/May 11. Orthodox Calendar (PRAVOSLAVIE.RU).
  3. ^ Nadson, Alexander (1967–1968). "Spiritual Writings of St Cyril of Turaŭ". Eastern Churches Review 1 (4): 347–358. Retrieved 2006-04-20. 
  4. ^ Serge A. Zenkovsky, Medieval Russia's Epics, Chronicles, and Tales, Rev. and enl. ed. (New York,: Dutton, 1974). 90.
  5. ^ See Simon Franklin, Sermons and Rhetoric of Kievan Rus', Harvard Library of Early Ukrainian Literature. English Translations; Vol. V. ([Cambridge, Mass.]: Distributed by Harvard University Press for the Ukrainian Research Institute of Harvard University, 1991).
  6. ^ Ibid. 1xxxiii.
  7. ^ C. M. MacRobert, “In Search of a Canon” in Ingunn Lunde, Kirill of Turov; Bishop, Preacher, Hymnographer, ed. Ingunn Lunde, Slavica Bergensia 2 (Bergen: Department of Russian Studies, IKRR University of Bergen, 2000). 195.
  8. ^ See Franklin, Sermons and Rhetoric of Kievan Rus'. 167 and 1xxvii-1xxviii.
  9. ^ Ibid. 81.
  10. ^ Ibid. 108.
  11. ^ Ibid. civi.
  12. ^ a b Ibid. xvciii.
  13. ^ a b Ibid. xcii
  14. ^ Ibid.96-157.
  15. ^ Ingunn Lunde, “Kirill of Turov’s Rhetoric of Quotation” in Lunde, Kirill of Turov; Bishop, Preacher, Hymnographer. 128.Ingunn Lunde, “Kirill of Turov’s Rhetoric of Quotation” in Lunde, Kirill of Turov; Bishop, Preacher, Hymnographer. 128.
  • Franklin, Simon. Sermons and Rhetoric of Kievan Rus'. Harvard Library of Early Ukrainian Literature. English Translations; Vol. V. [Cambridge, Mass.]: Distributed by Harvard University Press for the Ukrainian Research Institute of Harvard University, 1991.
  • Lunde, Ingunn. Kirill of Turov; Bishop, Preacher, Hymnographer. Edited by Ingunn Lunde, Slavica Bergensia 2. Bergen: Department of Russian Studies, IKRR University of Bergen, 2000.
  • Zenkovsky, Serge A. Medieval Russia's Epics, Chronicles, and Tales. Rev. and enl. ed. New York,: Dutton, 1974.

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