St Clement of Ohrid in the Literature of Eastern Slavs

Written by Илиана Чекова
St Clement of Ohrid St Clement of Ohrid

Clement of Ohrid (c. 840–916), enlightener of medieval Bulgaria, founder of the Ohrid centre of learning, was one of the disciples and associates of the of the Slav apostles St. Constantine-Cyril and St. Methodius.


He was born in Moesia and participated the mission to Moravia. He was one of the group of seven saints canonized by the church (Cyril, Methodius, Clement, Nahum, Angelarius, Sava and Gorazd). The work of St. Clement left a brilliant trace in the culture of Christian Europe and Slavia Orthodoxa [Kлимент Охридски 2018; Kliment Ochridský 2017].

The works of St. Clement of Ohrid, written at the end of the 9th – the beginning of the 10th century, are part of the literary heritage of the Golden Age of medieval culture of the First Bulgarian Kingdom. There are a considerable number of copies of his works remaining Russian, Serbian, Bulgarian and Moldovan-Wallachian tradition. The works of St. Clement are included along with the those of authoritative Christian authors – Basil the Great, John the Apostle, Gregory Nazianzus, Athanasius of Alexandria, and others – and frequently resemble them in content, form and purpose, which reveals the connection of Clement’s work with Byzantine tradition [Džurova, Velinova 2011: 92].

In the 11th-12 century the works of St. Clement spread among Eastern Slavs. The question about the reception of these works in Kuevan Rus’ and the degree of its absorption has been discussed by researchers in the context of the First South Slavic (Bulgarian) influence on the culture and literature of Kievan Rus’ [Турилов 1995: Турилов 2000; Йовчева, Славова, Милтенова 2008: 311; Горина, Даскалова 2011; Иванова 2014: 668; Иванова 2018; Чекова 2017; Чекова 2019 with the bibliography].

Kuyo Kuev points out that the works of Clement of Ohrid had already become frequently usual in the 12th-13th century: “All this shows that in the 12th-13 century the sermons and homilies of Clement were well known in Russian territories and that Russian preachers frequently resorted to them. Considering that Grand Prince Vladimir the Great maintained close contacts with Ohrid and that the first Metropolitan of Kiev, Michael, was a Bulgarian from Ohrid (according to Мошин), then it is also easy to explain the early distribution of Clement’s workd in Russia" (Куев 1979: 25). According to Anatoly Turilov, this process does not necessarily presuppose the mandatory mediation of Ohrid, for the sermons, homilies and hymnographic works of Clement of Ohriid, known in Old Russian literature from the middle of the from the middle of the 11th century and copied in the 12th, became part of the corpus of Bulgarian literature even when they were written (Турилов 2000: 138–140). The question of the veneration of St. Clement of Ohrid in medieval Rus’ has been discussed by many scholars (Литвина, Успенский 2008; Турилов 2009; Иванова 2014: 665–666).

The influence of Clement’s heritage on Old Russian literature is most marked. Researchers have noted the extremely wide distribution of homilies and hymnographic works included in books of different genre – menaia, prologues, eulogia and others (Ангелов 1968: 68–71; Фет 1977; Федоскина 2000; Йовчева 2002; Панин 2011; Иванова 2014: 668–669; Иванова 2018: 68–94). The research of Maria Yovcheva has revealed a number of valuable observations in relation to the spread of the hymnographic work of the disciples of Cyril and Methodius in Rus’, particularly works of St. Clement. Klimentina Ivanova pointed out that part of the secondary versions or redactions of untitled sermons identified as coming from Clement, were made by Russian scribes at different times, as well as that the general sermons were adapted for other feasts. A number of sermons from the didactic part of the Russian version of the Prologue, typical of East Slavic tradition, are an emblematic example of emulation if Clement’s rhetoric.

The penetration of concrete Clement texts in Old Russian literature is subject to attention and the impact of his work on original Old Russian literary produce is quite sporadic. Researchers have pointed out the influence of Clement’s homilies on the rhetoric of Kirill of Turov, a 12th century Russian scribe (Ангелов 1977: 29–30; Николова 2000). In connection with this, they have come to the conclusion that “The works of Clement appeared in Russian manuscript tradition simultaneously with the emergence of Russian literature, not latter than the second half of the 11th century, simultaneously with the appearance of other Old Bulgarian works from the end of the 9th – the beginning of the 10th century“ (Николова 2000: 51). The influence of Clement is detected in the laudation of the Venerable Nicetas Stylites (Ангелов 1977: 29–30), and later in the rhetoric if Metropolitan Cyprian (1336–1406), the Old Bulgarian hesychast associate of Patriarch Euthymius of Turnovo who headed the Russian Church at the end of the 14th – the beginning of the 15th century snd was later canonized as its saint (Кенанов 1993: 145). The use of the general canon of the for enlightener in that of the holy right-believing Prince Theodore of Smolensk and Yaroslavl of the end of the 15th century has also been noted (Шаламанов 1987).

The anonymous author of the chronicle laudations about the first Russian saintly rulers – Olga, Vladimir, Boris and Gleb – included them in the Old Russian Primary Chronicle was most probably familiar with the rhetorical works of St. Clement of Ohrid. Concrete textual analysis outlines linguistic, imagery and stylistic proximity between the Laudation to Olga of 969 and the Laudation of the Dormition of the Blessed Virgin by Clement: between the Laudation to Vladimir of 1015 and the Sermon on Apostle or Martyr, Between the Laudation of Yaroslav and Vladimir of 1037 and Laudation of St. Cyril and St. Methodius, the Laudation of Boris and Gleb of 1015 and the Laudation of Demetrios of Salonica, as well as Laudation of St. Cyril and St. Methodius, among others (Чекова 2013; Чекова 2018).

Research speaks convincingly about the oratorical style of Clement and reveals its parameters (Грашева 1966; Велинова 1985: 29–34; 1995: 67–73; Станчев, Попов 1988; 78–79; Христова 2008; Марти 2000). In terms of composition, the laudations of St. Clement are divided into five sections: introduction, a narrative part with events, laudation, transition and conclusion (Велинова 1985: 29–34; 1995: 67–73; Станчев, Попов 1988: 78–79). The linguistic, stylistic and compositional peculiarities of Clement’s works also include rhetorical passages with rhythmic organization based on syntactic parallelism frequently accompanied by anaphora (Станчев, Попов 1988: 9; Христова 2008а: 35) and the replacement of third person singular narrative for first person singular in the transition to the laudation (Станчев, Попов 1988: 78; Велинова 1995: 70). These specific features are also typical of the laudations about the first Russian saintly rulers in the chronicle.

We can speak of readdressing laudations of Clement to those about Old Russian rulers and their development in compliance with the historiosophical context of Kievan Rus’. The Primary Chronicle also reveals influence of other works by Clement. A work attributed to Sr. Clement, the Vita of St. Methodius, is included in the Story about the Beginning of Slav Letters in the Primary Chronicle about 898. The vita was well-known in Kievan Rus’, as can be seen from its copies (including in the 12th century Uspensky florilegium).

The coexistence of works by Clement with original Old Russian ones and commemorations of Russian saints are found in two of the oldest Old Russian miscellanies that were nearly contemporary to the Primary Chronicle – in the Uspensky florilegium and in Сodex Hankensteinianus. The 12th century Uspensky florilegium features the Extended Vita of Methodius (April 6), the Laudation of Cyril and Methodius, the Story about Boris and Gleb, the Story about Their Miracles and that of Theodosius of Pechdera in the same context, which presupposes a potential opportunity for influence of the Old Bulgarian texts. The 12th-13th Old Russian Codex Hankensteinianus, includes general services of Clement. The Synaxarion with commemorations and vitas features two notices about the transfer of the remains of Boris and Gleb, as well as about their commemoration.

The ways and methods in which Old Bulgarian works could be the following: (1)books taken as trophies at the Russian military action on the territory of Bulgaria and Byzantium (the wars of Prince Svyatoslav in the Balkans in 967 and 971); (2) reception of books at direct contacts of Russians with Bulgarian on the territory of Bulgaria (the water route from the Scandinavian North to Byzantium “from the Vikings to Greece” passed by Bulgaria’s territory); (3) reception of books at the participation of Bulgarian clerics in the Christianization of Kievan Rus’ (including Presbyter Gregory and Metropolitan Michael).

There is an assumption that the library of Bulgarian rulers Prince Boris, Tsar Symeon and Tsar Peter) also reached Kievan Rus’ by one if these routes, as spoils of war during the marches of Prince Svyatoslav (Куев 1979: 14), or else as dowry after the Christianization on the occasion of the marriage of the Russian Prince Vladimir and the Byzantine Princess Anna (Соболевский 1910: 136; Димитров 1989). Recently, the opinion that after Bulgaria fell under Byzantine rule, the royal library was probably exported in full (Ив. Добрев, И. Данилевски, Н. Гагова), initially to Byzantium and later to Kievan Rus’, where it was received as a present. Stepping on a report in the Izbornik of 1076, („избьрано из мъногъ книгъ княжихъ“, f. 275 v –276), a number of researchers assume that the so-called “princely books” mention there envisage the collection of books of Tsar Simeon.

The contents of the library are unknown, but those were doubtless impressive codices that served as samples. The earliest Old Russian books are direct copies from those – the Izbornik of 1073, the Izbornik of 1076, the Didactic Gospel by Constantine of Preslav, the Ostromir Gospels, the Commentary on the Prophet Daniel by Hippolytus of Rome and his Commentary on the Song of Songs, the Evangelical Psalter, the Psalter of Eugenius, and others (Щепкина 1979; Тот 1984; Тhоmson 1988–1989; Турилов 1995).

I. N. Danilevsky also supported the opinion that the books of Bulgarian rulers were used by the Old Russian scribes. In his opinion, the entire library went to Rus’: “a direct basis of the emerging public thought in Old Rus’ was undoubtedly Old Bulgarian literature (mainly translated from Greek). It was that literature that acquainted the local elite with the achievements of European (above all Byzantine and the Bulgarian one that derived from it), at which the same thing that had happened in Bulgaria a century earlier had happened in Bulgaria”. (Данилевский 2020: 6–10).

It is assumed that the library was lost in the fire after the Tartars attacked Kiev in 1240. Others say that the books were not entirely, but found their way to various centres in Kievan Rus and were preserved mostly in Northeastern Russia and the Rostove literary centre (Гагова 2005: 170, 174). “The Preslav books were not kept as a collection, and most probably remained as smaller collections and separate books owned by the princes, the episcopal churches and individual bishops” (Гагова 2005: 170). The researcher explains the fact that the largest number of copies of Old Bulgarian books were preserved in the Rostov literary with that the city was the oldest episcopal Zaleski area (from the end of the 1070s), which subordinated Suzdal, Vladimir, Yaroslavl, Moscow, Pereyaslav-Zaleski and others, and which was the only large and rich city that was not burnt by the Tartars in the first quarter of the 13th c century.“ (Гагова 2005: 174).

Taking into account the enormous importance of the church, educational and literary activity of Clement in Bulgaria at the time of Boris and Symeon, it is logical to assume that the works of the Old Bulgarian writer – homilies,sermons, vitas of the first Slav educators – were part of the royal library. In Kievan Rus’ they were copied repeatedly and were taken to different local literary centres.

The homilies of St. Clement of Ohrid were particularly widespread, Russian they gave an impetus to the creation of local Old Russian works after their model. It is known that Clement compiled sample homilies which were later used elsewhere too. A text compiled after the model is defined as a “Clementoid text” (Станчев, Попов 1988: 104), i.e. influenced by the “Clement’s school of rhetoric” (Станчев, Попов 1988: 105). “Clement’s tradition” resulted in the works redactions of his works, homilies written after his model) nearing the same features but originating at a much later time, mainly in Kievan Rus’. The major Russian writer and preacher , as well as a number of anonymous scribes are associated with this tradition. The tradition is the product of the borrowing and use of the models and samples created by both Clement and his disciples. These models and samples spread to and were best preserved in medieval Russia after 988, precisely in the period (11th-12th century) when Byzantine rule in Bulgaria ceased the creative development of Clement’s traditions and of the partial destruction of 9th-10th century Bulgarian literary heritage and many of Clement’s works were not preserved in Bulgarian literary tradition" (Станчев, Попов 1988: 105).

In the publication „Свети Климент Охридски. Слова и служби“[Saint Clement of Ohrid. Homilies and Services” Iskra Hristova recalls the adopted opinion that “St. Clement trained his disciples of the art of rhetoric and that they wrote homilies after the model given by their teacher”. She also made the following important assumption that “Later, homilies emulating St. Clement were probably also written, and that not only in Bulgaria but also across the entire Slav world” (Христова 2008: 32; see also Ангелов 1968: 74). Klimentina Ivanova speaks about a “Clementine school of rhetoric” and underscores that “there is doubtless not a single Old Bulgarian author whose works had such an influence on the predicatory prose of Slavia Orthdoxa” (Иванова 2018: 69–70, 71).

Following Byzantine tradition the oratoric works of CT. Clement of Ohrid and spreding to Kievan Rus’as a result of the First South Slavic influence, had the role of a literary model and paradigm for Old Russian scribes. They correspond to the definition of Ricardo Picchio in respect to the Old Russian one (Пикио 1993). In turn, Old Bulgarian literature adopted and relayed Byzantine models among Slavdom. Old Russian literature absorbed them both by the mediation of Old Bulgarian literature and directly from Byzantium. East Slavs made their own contribution to Orhodox Slavdom. Works of St. Clement of Ohrid that did not survive in Bulgaria itself thanks to the literary activity of East Slavs, while his oratorial style was given a new life in the iriginal Old Russian texts from Kievan and Moscovite Rus’.


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SESDiva ERA.Net RUS Plus Call 2017 – S&T

SESDiva. Project № 156

SESDiva aims at creating a virtual museum of written culture in relation to the social, religious, cultural, and ideological environment and relations between the South and East Slavs throughout the centuries from the 11th to the beginning of the 20th century.

Duration: 2018-2020
Program: ERA.Net RUS Plus Call 2017 ‐ S&T Projects