Monasticism and Economy: Rediscovering an Approach to Work and Poverty: Acts of the Fourth International Symposium, Rome, June 7-10, 2016
Preserved from the seventeenth century, a corpus of documents that relates to Muscovite monasticism is vast and embraces a range of manifold texts such as acts, literary works, formal and official records, correspondence and testaments. The latter bring to the foreground various issues of interest, both for a historian and a philologist. Above all, the very fact of an ascetic monk legally bequeathing money and possessions and documenting it in a will demonstrates a certain gap between formal monastic rules, which on a regular basis include the vow of poverty and non-possession and real monastic practices. On the one hand, as we see from archived sources, it was not uncommon for a monk to compose and get approved a testament, thus bringing his worldly life into order before death; on the other hand, these monastic testaments were obviously to come into a conflict with a holy order of testator and with existing monastic rules, either oral or written. My principal goal in this article is to enhance our understanding of practical and conceptual aspects of a monastic life of the seventeenth-century Muscovy through discussing real practices of observation, neglection, and re-interpretation of the vow of poverty and non-possession by individual monks, as represented in their testaments – acts of last will. The study focuses on a peculiar document – a testament of a monk Simeon of Polotsk (1629-1680), a court poet and preacher of the Tzars Aleksei Mikhailovich (1629-1676) and Fedor Alekseevich (1661-1682). Simeon’s testament illustrates one of the ways in which monks used to reconcile worldly riches with keeping the vow and gives a glimpse of the everyday life of a monk, highlighting the ways in which money was earned and spent in monasteries.
With the vow of non-possession being an essential concept in Russian monasticism, real monastic practices of the 17th-century Muscowy, as we can perceive relying on preserved documents, demonstrated certain negligence of the vow. Large monasteries acted as corporations that produced goods and traded them to cover living expenses. Although, in theory a monetary profit was not the goal, certain monasteries would often not only trade, but lend out money, sometimes even with interest. By the 2nd half of the 17th century in Muscowy, there existed not only monastic communities, but also independent monks only formally affiliated with some Moscow monastery. As a rule, they were natives of the South-Western regions of Russia (modern territories of Belorussia and Ukraine). In general, they were educated in Poland or in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, took their vows in home monasteries and then moved to Moscow in search of a better life or due Monks and money in the early modern Muscowy to war or social instability in homeland. They would enjoy greater mobility and freedom in their activities than a common monk would – they were employed at the Tzar’s court, interacted with boyars and church leaders. One of the most well-known monks of the type was the first Muscowy court poet and preacher Simeon Polotsky (1629-1680). His manifold background and experiences, as well as his preserved archives, inspired me to look into his financial situation: ways in which he earned and accumulated money, expenditures he may have faced during his life in a Moscow monastery and his service at Tzar’s court, currency of his savings. I will address in detail Simeon’s last will – a unique document, providing an extensive data on the financial sphere of Simeon’s life. The study is meant to be comparative, thus giving a general perspective on Simeon’s place in the economic structure of the Muscowy Tzar court and Moscow monastic and clerical communities.