"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Trinity-Sergius Lavra and the Heart of Russia

I earlier noted several recent books all treating broadly the question of the relationship between monasticism and the formation of Russian identity. One of those is Scott Kenworthy, The Heart of Russia: Trinity-Sergius, Monasticism, and Society after 1825 (A Woodrow Wilson Center Book) (Oxford University Press, 2010), xv+528pp.

I have finally had a chance to read it at the behest of Reviews in Religion and Theology, for which I have written a justly laudatory review. I cannot reproduce here my review of this deeply impressive book, but let me simply say that anyone who knows anything about Russian Orthodoxy and monasticism, and Russian cultural history more widely, knows the importance of the Trinity-Sergius Lavra--the heart of Russia indeed--and such an important institution has now found the important book it deserves. This, in my estimation, is church history at its best: a lucid, lavishly detailed examination of one institution (or, rather, set of institutions) through which one can clearly see and understand wider developments in Russian history, including not least the 1917 Revolution--a microcosmic view, in other words, that helpfully opens to the macrocosmic, the former helping us to more deeply understand the latter.

In addition, the second factor making this such an achievement is that Kenworthy manages something many historians do not: to be both objective in telling his story but theologically literate and sympathetic at the same time. Anyone interested in Russian history generally in this time-period, and Russian Orthodox history, as well as Russian monasticism in particular, cannot afford to overlook this superlative work of scholarship, which has already won the Frank S. and Elizabeth D. Brewer prize of the American Society for Church History. 

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