Ilarion (Hilarion) of Kyiv

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Ilarion (birth place and date unknown – ca 1088) – Saint of the Orthodox Church, schema monk, first non-Greek Metropolitan of Kyiv, orator, writer, philosopher, church and political figure. Canonized.

Ilarion’s life and activities are mentioned in Old Rus chronicles under the year of 1051 (rarely under 1050).

Before the installation as Metropolitan he was a presbyter of a house church in the village of Berestove (near Kyiv), notable for his learning and piety. He was among the most trusted councillors of the Grand Prince of Kyiv Yaroslav the Wise. Ilarion led the austere life of an ascetic. He dug a cave on the Dnipro bank and often hid there for a privy praying. Later this cave was taken up by Saint Anthony of Pechersk, who tonsured Ilarion.

In 1051, the Synod of Rus bishops elected Ilarion the Metropolitan of Kyiv and all Rus. He went down in history of the Rus Church as the first Metropolitan appointed for the Kyiv cathedra on the initiative of Yaroslav the Wise, without sanction of the Constantinople Patriarch.

There is also a date of establishing Ilarion the Metropolitan of Kyiv, differing from that of chronicles. The detailed study of historical documents from that time suggests that Ilarion was installed as Metropolitan not in 1051 but in 1044. It is unlikely that the Patriarch of Constantinople could send a new Metropolitan of Greek origin to Rus during the military conflict between Rus and Byzantium in 1043–1046. Rus, however, could not remainwithout the head of the church and Ilarion was probably elected to the post. The restoration of peace between two countries forced Constantinople to acknowledge the legality of Ilarion’ election by the Synod in 1051.

Ilarion was highly educated eloquent preacher. He was active in the period of the establishing and consolidation of Christianity in Rus. Metropolitan Ilarion attached great importance to the development of literacy for achieving success in this vital issue. He wrote works that praised Christianity and showed its advantage over the old faith. Saint Ilarion was the author of The Sermon on Law and Grace written ca 1037. Besides, he also wrote The Sermon on Spiritual Benefit to All Christians, The Confession of Faith, A Word to the Brother Stylite, and some works so similar to The Sermon that they were considered its continuation. In general, the above-mentioned works make up a rather modest literary heritage but, against the background of the medieval literary process, its importance is enormous: during six centuries works of Ukrainian and other Slavic literatures bore numerous borrowings from The Sermon. Besides, Ilarion’s rhetorical devices were also widely used.

These odd bits of information about Ilarion become more understandable when they are compared with the annalistic accounts of the enlightenment activities of Prince Yaroslav the Wise. Thus, reigning in Novgorod, Yaroslav ordered to gather children of wardens and clergymen for teaching them reading and writing. Yaroslav himself was fond of reading and often read books day and night and “filled the hearts of devout flock with book words.” He also gathered numerous copyists and organized the transcription of Slavic and translated Greek books, thanks to which the first Rus library appeared in St. Sophia Cathedral.

Ilarion developed as writer and orator in the atmosphere of Rus’ familiarization with new European culture and his erudition and talent, as may be supposed, had not gone unnoticed by Yaroslav when he chose a candidate to the metropolitan see. The fact that a Rus man took the position of the Metropolitan can be considered the start of the struggle for the independence of the Kyiv Metropolitanate from the Greek one. Ilarion, whose activity was in line with Prince Yaroslav’s, turned to be his faithful assistant and associate. He was a co-author of Yaroslav in drawing up The Law Code. His annalistic and literary activities contributed to the development of Ukrainian spiritual culture. Ilarion did not serve an extended term as the chief priest of the Rus church.

In 1054, after the death of Yaroslav, he, probably, was removed from the office of the Metropolitan, as his name is not mentioned in chronicles among those present at the Prince’s burial. It looks as if he secluded himself in the Kyiv-Pechersk Monastery, and because of it was called the Hermit. Was canonized.

Ilarion is commemorated on August 28.

Iconographic portrait of St. Ilarion the Hermit. Anonymous artist, after 1066. Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra. Photocopy