September 16, 2019

Saint Cyprian, Metropolitan of Kiev and All Russia (+ 1406)

St. Cyprian the Metropolitan of Kiev and All Russia (Feast Day - September 16)

Saint Cyprian was a Serbian born around 1330 in the city of Tarnovo, the capital of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom. The year of Cyprian's tonsure is unknown. It is believed that he began his monastic path at the Kilifarevo Monastery. Apparently, Cyprian left Bulgaria quite early and went first to Constantinople, and then to Mount Athos, where he worked in one of the Athos monasteries.

In line with its unification policy, Emperor John Kantakouzenos and Patriarch Philotheos of Constantinople sought to preserve a single Russian metropolis. The main danger threatening the unity of the metropolis was the rivalry of two Russian states, Lithuania and Moscow, for the right to unite under their supremacy all the Russian lands, some of which also belonged to Poland, Hungary, and Moldova. This confrontation was directly reflected in the state of the vast Kiev metropolis, which turned out to be practically divided along the border of these states. The situation was aggravated by the fact that Metropolitan Alexis of All Russia was essentially the head of the Moscow state. As a result, he lost the opportunity to visit his western dioceses, and the Grand Duke of Lithuania Olgerd demanded the placement of Alexis in the titular city of the Metropolitanate of Kiev, which was under the control of Olgerd. Another option acceptable to Lithuania was the creation of a separate Lithuanian metropolis. In Moscow, they also thought about “their” metropolis. Constantinople initially consistently pursued pro-Moscow politics, but this led to the discontent of Olgerd, who wrote complaints about the Metropolitan and threatened to transfer to the Latin Church under the Pope of Rome. This idea was supported by the allies of Olgerd, the Tver princes. On this path, it was very difficult to maintain the unity of the Russian metropolis and the entire Russian Orthodox world. A correction of the pro-Moscow politics was required. And to begin with, Patriarch Philotheos sent to Lithuania a trusted person who could reconcile Olgerd and Metropolitan Alexis. Cyprian became that person, and was appointed the patriarchal ambassador.

Around 1373, Cyprian was sent to Lithuania and Russia to reconcile the Lithuanian, Smolensk and Tver princes with the Metropolitan of All Russia Alexis. During a trip through Lithuanian lands, he met with the princes of Lithuanian Russia and found support from them. In the future he will be blamed in Moscow precisely for “Lithuanianism,” but Cyprian’s tasks were clearly broader than playing along with one of the warring parties.

During a trip with Metropolitan Alexis to Pereslavl-Zalessky, Cyprian met Saint Sergius of Radonezh. He also became acquainted with northern Russian monasticism, which was close to him in spirit and political views. From the Moscow principality he returned to Lithuania. He contributed to the development of the veneration of the Vilnius martyrs in Lithuania and the delivery of particles of their relics to Constantinople.

As the situation in Lithuania and Moscow became more complicated, under "extreme economy" Patriarch Philotheos consecrated Cyprian as Metropolitan of Kiev and Lithuania in 1375, and the Patriarchal Synod decided that after the death of Metropolitan Alexis, Cyprian should be “one Metropolitan of All Russia”.

On June 9, 1376, Cyprian arrived in Kiev, which was under the rule of the Lithuanian Prince Vladimir Olgerdovich. However, attempts through ambassadors to achieve recognition of their authority from the Novgorodians and the Prince of Moscow were unsuccessful. He was also not welcomed in Moscow.

Both the Genoese and the Golden Horde and the influential Moscow nobility supported by the young Grand Duke were opposed to the unification policy of Constantinople pursued by Patriarch Philotheos. At the same time, a coup took place in Constantinople itself (in 1376), and Emperor Andronikos IV came to power with the support of the Genoese. Patriarch Philotheos was deposed, and Patriarch Makarios was put in his place by the will of the new emperor.

In 1376–1377, Cyprian dealt with the affairs of “his” part of the metropolis, which were quite neglected during the years of conflict. In particular, he successfully sought the return of church estates, which were plundered by the boyars.

On February 12, 1378, Metropolitan Alexis died, and Cyprian's authority extended throughout the Metropolis. Cyprian went to Constantinople and on October 6, 1379, he was recognized by the Holy Synod of Constantinople as the Metropolitan of All Russia, though he was still not welcomed in Moscow by the Great Prince Dimitri. For this reason, at first he lived either in Lithuania or at Constantinople. Only in the year 1390, in the time of Great Prince Basil Dimitrievich, was he accepted as primate at Moscow.

In 1385, Metropolitan Cyprian was called by the Patriarch to Constantinople for the canonical investigation of his activities. In Constantinople, the Metropolitan settled in the Studios Monastery, known for its library, and was engaged in translating texts from Greek to Slavonic. In particular, he translated the works of Dionysius the Areopagite. Cyprian compiled the Euchologion, which later led to a reform in the liturgical practice of the Russian Church. There are preserved autographed manuscripts of certain Slavonic translations by the Saint, witnessing to his great scientific work. And by his pastoral epistles he encouraged the faith of the Church. His activity in the translation of liturgical literature is widely known. On April 27, he finished the Ladder of Divine Ascent by Saint John of Sinai. During this time, Cyprian repeatedly participated as a Russian metropolitan in meetings of the Holy Synod.

On October 1, 1389, Cyprian left Constantinople as Metropolitan of Kiev and All Russia and through Kiev on March 6, 1390 arrived in Moscow. The unity of the Metropolis was finally restored. For many years after this, Metropolitan Cyprian was concerned with keeping the unity of the Russian Church in the midst of many threats, not only internal and from the Horde, but also from the Latin Church and the Ottomans. Meanwhile, he continued his writing activities.

Four days before his death, Cyprian dictated a spiritual letter, which he ordered to be read at his burial. He died on September 16, 1406. His body was transferred from Golenishchev to Moscow and buried in the Dormition Cathedral of the Kremlin.

Saint Cyprian promoted the spread of the Hesychast tradition in Russia, carried out liturgical reform, and introduced the Jerusalem Typikon. At this time, the influence of Studite monasticism was giving way to the influence of Athonite monasticism, especially intensified in connection with the Hesychast movement. However, the reform was slow, gradually crowding out the old Studite rule. It was Cyprian who introduced the reading on the First Sunday of Great Lent, the Synodikon of Orthodoxy, in which the theology of Saint Gregory Palamas is glorified.

He was engaged in translating from Greek and rewriting Slavic books, and under him Russian book writing began to grow rapidly. There was also a reform of Russian ecclesiastical singing and musical notation under Cyprian, and the monastic colonization of the northern reaches of Russia, church building, and decoration of churches intensified. Cyprian persistently sought the introduction of the commemoration of the name of the Roman emperor in the liturgy. He also established the Spaso-Andronikov Monastery, which became a spiritual center. And with the liturgical reform of Cyprian, it is believed that the icon of the Holy Trinity depicted by Andrei Rublev was influenced by Cyprian's reform as having come from the influence of Mount Athos prevalent at this time.