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Metropolitan Dimitry of Rostov - the First Saint of the Russian Empire

Saint Dimitry of Rostov, Enlightener of the Faithful

Saint Dimitry of Rostov

I came with love and with a mission
To bring the evil to their senses,
To reassure the meek,
To advocate for the defenceless
and be all-suffering in all things.
I came with the obligation to love virtue,
punish the evil with mercy
and look after the common good,
I came to seek salvation for all with diligence,
and pray for everybody.
From the first sermon of Metropolitan Dimitry in Rostov

Dimitry of Rostov was the first saint of the Russian Empire. In his life, he witnessed multiple events that changed the course of history. A great part of his life coincided with the reforms of Peter the Great and his key war campaigns. He witnessed the establishment of Russia's new capital Saint Petersburg on the banks of the Neva River. He knew Peter the Great and members of his large family personally and welcomed Many of them as his guests in Rostov. According to tradition, while the bishop was serving festive liturgies at the church in Izmailovo, then a Royal Dominion, the young Peter the Great was reading from the church's pulpit.

Church of the Protection of the Mother of God in Izmailovo

Church of the Protection of the Mother of God in Izmailovo I.V. Razzhivin

He was a talented student of the Kiev-Mohyla Academy, and a renowned public speaker, pamphleteer, historian, philosopher, poet and playwright. His public, political and literary activity drew the attention of Peter the Great. Aware of Dimitry's high educational attainment, academic talent and literary talent, the Russian Tsar invited him to Moscow in the winter of 1701.

Dimitry was also a direct man who did not stop before criticising the country's rulers and Peter himself for personal faults and missteps in the church policy. Yet he was also a supporter of the reforms and wished them to succeed. The Tsar valued Dimitry's eloquence and academic achievements. Both were men of character who listened and respected one another. Peter the Great was busy reforming Russia's secular life while Dimitry was working hard to preserve the purity of the Church and the Orthodox Faith. He tirelessly reminded everyone of a spiritual world that existed along with the visible one. With his homilies, he drew people to churches without standing in the way of the Tsar's reforms. Acknowledging Dimitry as an outstanding servant of the Church, Peter the Great appointed him the Bishop of Rostov. There, he created his best works, including his homilies and teachings, school theatre dramas, his renowned lives of the saints, which took him almost two decades to complete, the Investigation on the Bryansk old Believers' faith, and the Chronicler of the Cell.

Izmailovo, a line engraving

Izmailovo Village. Reprint of an 18th-century line engraving

In this time of upheaval, Bishop Dimitry was the image of an ideal shepherd charitable towards the needy and destitute and used the power of the living word to instruct and reassure his flock. His writings reaffirm the dignity of every person regardless of birth and underline that every person is independent of their ancestry or position in society, but according to their talent and merits. He advocates the moral principles that lead people to do good for their country and society. Work for the sake of others, help the destitute and vulnerable overcome their want, do your utmost to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, accommodate a traveller, visit prisoners and the sick, give the dead a decent burial and perform other acts of charity.

Bishop Dimitry came from little Russia or present-day Ukraine. He was born in December 1651 in Makarovo Village in the Kiev governorship. In baptism, he received the name Daniel. His father, Savva Tuptalo, was a commander in the Cossack army. At age 17, the young Daniel took monastic tonsure in 1668 with the name Dimitry at the Monastery of St. Cyril in Kiev. His three sisters also became nuns.

“Like the ascetics of ancient times, you dedicated your life to the service of God in your eighteenth year. From that time onwards, you were a great monk, priest, teacher and bishop, and now also a renowned Wonderworker and advocate for our souls.”

(Sedalen, tone 8)

e-book-about-St-Elisabeth

Dimitry received his education at the Kiev-Mohyla Academy, one of the best religious schools of his time. Their alumni were renowned for their exceptional depth and breadth of knowledge. Dimitry of Rostov was rightfully famed across the Church as the Russian Chrysostom, in acknowledgement of his excellent command of the Russian, Greek, Latin, Polish and Ukrainian languages and his extraordinary gift of eloquence. By age 25, he was preaching sermons at the Metropolitan Church of Chernigov, had served as an abbot of several monasteries in Ukraine, and made a name for himself as a preacher, and a man of deep learning and piety.

The Kiev Caves Lavra

The Kiev Caves Lavra. An 18th-century line engraving

The last seven and a half years of his life were spent in Rostov, where Saint Dimitry established and funded a school. He is remembered as a saintly man for his tireless activity in education, his charitable assistance for the needy and destitute and his writings.

The Rostov Kremlin

The Rostov Kremlin. A 1891 line engraving

The monastery of Saint Iakov of Rostov was the first community he visited after he arrived in Rostov on 2 March 1702. As soon as he entered the monastery, Dimitry pointed to its South-Western wing, saying: Here I will find my rest for ages unto ages, thus selecting his final resting place. At the discovery of his relics in the mid-eighteenth century, Metropolitan Dimitry became the first saint glorified by the Church in the Russian Empire, making the city, his seat and the monastery shine across the Russian land.

Saint Iakov Saviour Monastery

Saint Iakov Saviour Monastery. An early 20th-century postcard

The Lives of the Saints was his most prominent work. It is a collection of original and translated iconographer and rhetorical texts of religious, instructive and historical character, arranged by date according to the liturgical cycle of the Church.

To complete this twelve-volume fundamental iconographer source, he collected, supplemented and edited multiple texts and writings. His work on the lives of the saints began in 1694, with the blessing of the elders of the Kiev Caves Lavra, and completed it in 1705 in Rostov. This 24-year project became one of his greatest accomplishments known throughout the Church and among the Russian people.

Lives of the Saints. December. By Saint Dimitry of Rostov.

Lives of the Saints. December. By Saint Dimitry of Rostov. - Late 17th century - (Russian National Library F. I. 651. V.19)

Lives of the Saints. Synodal Edition.

Lives of the Saints by Saint Dimitry of Rostov. - Synodal edition, 1902 - 1916

For Archbishop Dimitry, the Lives were his way of preaching the word of God, An individual of my rank (of which I am not worthy) must preach the word of God by word of mouth, and also by the written word. It is my business, my duty, and my calling wrote the saint.

Handwritten notes by Dimitry of Rostov

Handwritten notes by Dimitry of Rostov

In addition to iconographer writings, the Holy Hierarch Dimitry penned theological and historical texts, spiritual and moral essays and poetic dramas. He also left two chronicles, titled On the Slavic People and the Appointment of Archbishops His other known and widely read works include: The Spiritual Alphabet (published at the Kiev Caves Lavra after his repose), Dew-wetted Fleece (on the veneration of the Theotokos and Her icons); Apology (A Conversation of the Comforter with the Mournful), and the Brief Catechism (Questions and Answers on the Faith for the Benefit of the Faithful). He also wrote some moving spiritual poetry which have been chanted at church to this day.

Saint Dimitry. A portrait

A portrait of Saint Dimitry of Rostov, from the Biography of Russias Historical Figures by Bantysh-Kamensky, 1884.

Psalm 4
Beautiful Jesus
Clothe me
In Your mercy,
Beautiful Jesus,
As in the radiant attire
Of the Heavenly Father
Give joy to the Sorrowful
And a staff to the old
Grant me reassurance
And success in my accomplishments
Beautiful Jesus!
Do not abandon me,
My Creator, seek me out!
Most gracious Shepherd,
Most Merciful Lord
Beautiful Jesus!
Do not judge me by my deeds,
But by Your bounties,
O Lord,
Commander of the Heavenly Host
Beautiful Jesus!
Accept this humble
Prayer of Mine,
Be fast to hear
And be moved by it,
Beautiful Jesus!
My final petition
Do I offer you
With a humble heart
Do I call on you
Beautiful Jesus!

Archbishops house in Rostov

Archbishop house in Rostov, where Saint Dimitry resided. A view from Lake Nero

Here is an account of the blessed repose of Saint Dimitry from one of his contemporaries. On the eve of his death, he called together his choir and listened as they sang his composition I place my hope in God, You are my God, Jesus, You are my joy. He dismissed all but one of the chanters, Savva Yakovlev, who had assisted him in transcribing his compositions. Escorting him to the door, St. Dimitry thanked him for his service and said, It is time for you also to go back to your home, St. Dimitry bowed low before him and repeated, I thank you. Savva Yakovlev left, and he was the last person who saw the Holy Hierarch alive. Saint Dimitry went back to his cell where he knelt in prayer. His dead body was found on the morning of 8 November 1708. He had died as he was praying on his knees. His friend Metropolitan Stephan Yarovsky served his funeral service, as he had promised Dimitry during his lifetime.

The saint was laid to rest in the St. Iakov Saviour Monastery. The relics of the Holy Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church have been revered to this day. They were found incorrupt in 1752, and Archbishop Dimitry was canonised shortly by the Russian Orthodox Church.

In 1760 - 1761, a fort began to be built to protect Russia's southern border. It was shaped as a nine-ended star with a circumference of 3.5 kilometres. By an order of the Empress Catherine II, the fort was given the name of the Holy Hierarch Dimitry of Rostov. Eventually, the fort was renamed several times. Initially called the Fort of Rostov, it finally received the name Rostov on Don.

Map of the fort in honour of St. Dimitry of Rostov

Map of the fort in honour of St. Dimitry of Rostov

The Holy Hierarch Dimitry was the first saint canonised after the church reforms of Peter the Great Saint Dimitry of Rostov was the only saint canonised in all of Russia throughout the 18th century.

A reliquary with the relics of Saint Dimitry

The reliquary with the relics of Saint Dimitry in Saint Iakov Saviour Monastery in Rostov

Commenting on the role of the outstanding hierarch of Rostov, the Russian church writer E.N. Prigozhev remarked: In the age of the reforms of Peter the Great, that were at times deeply anti-Russian and anti-Church, this exceptional individual projected an example of an enlightened and forward-looking leader, who remained loyal to his peoples past and unreservedly dedicated to the spirit of the Russian Orthodoxy.

May the prayers of the Holy Hierarch Saint Dimitry of Rostov help us remain steadfast in our faith and loyal to the Truth.

Kontakion, tone 8:

Let us bless Dimitry, the golden-worded teacher, the radiant star of Russia who shone forth from Kiev, / and reached Rostov by way of Novgorod and Seversk, illuminating the entire land with his teachings and miracles, / for he wrote down all those things which are for our edification / so that, like Paul, he might win all for Christ and save our souls through the Orthodox Faith.

Written by the obitel-minsk.ru team

Photos: the Internet

Material for this article was drawn from the following sources:

1. E. Poselyanin. The Russian Church and Russian ascetics of the 18th century. - Saint Petersburg, 1905.

2. Life of the Holy Father Dimitry, Metropolitan of Rostov, Wonderworker, in Saint Dimitry, Metropolitan of Rostov, Selected writings. V.1. 1839.

3. Saint Dimitry of Rostov: live, writings and his time - a project of Saint Iakov and Saint Dimitry in Rostov (dimitryrostovsky.ru).

4. Philaret (Gumilevsky), Archbishop of Chernigov The Repose of the Holy Hierarch Dimitry, Metropolitan of Rostov A chapter from the book Russian Saints venerated church-wide or locally. An Essay in Hagiography, 1865.

October 03, 2023
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