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Friday, July 6, 2007

Symeon of Polotsk

A native of Polotsk, Symeon studied at the Kiev Ecclesiastical Academy and probably continued on to the Jesuit college of Wilno: the influence of Jesuit theology and school dramas was very pronounced in his mature work. He became an Orthodox monk in 1656. His name became known later that year, when he presented to Tsar Alexis, then visiting his native Polotsk, several panegyrics in verse. The monarch was pleased to discover what looked like propaganda of the Third Rome doctrine in the modern Western style that would appeal to Ruthenian and Polish intellectuals alike. Symeon was recognized as an invaluable asset to Moscow's campaign to cast the Tsar as a champion of Orthodoxy in the region. The Tsar invited Symeon to relocate to the Russian capital, where he founded the first Latin school in 1664. Apart from Latin, Symeon was the first to teach grammar, poetics, and rhetoric to the Russians. He revived the long-forgotten art of preaching, and his sermons proved quite popular with the Muscovite courtiers, such as Fyodor Rtishchev and Bogdan Khitrovo. His erudition made him famous in other Orthodox countries. At the request of the Oriental patriarchs, he delivered an address urging the promotion of Greek learning in the country. Unsurprisingly, given his background, Symeon of Polotsk took a profound stand against clerical and literary conservatives, or the Old Believers. At the outset of the Great Schism of the Russian Orthodox Church, he was called upon to elaborate refutation of their tenets. It was he who drafted decisions of the church council that deposed Patriarch Nikon and anathemized his opponents. In recognition of his wisdom and erudition, Symeon was charged with the task of educating the Tsar's children: the future Fyodor III, Regent Sophia, and Peter I. He died at the age of 50, while preparing the charter of the Slavic Greek Latin Academy, and was buried in the Zaikonospassky Monastery, where the Academy would be opened two years later.

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