Orthodox America

  St. Nestor the Chronicler

October 27


    The ancient Slavs had no written language, no literature. But when, in 988, Prince Vladimir accepted Christianity, he built a school in Kiev. There boys were taught to read and write using the Slavonic alphabet created for the Bulgarian Slavs by the brother-missionaries, Sts. Cyril and Methodius. One of the graduates of this school, a boy called Nestor, became Russia's first writer.

    Nestor was very humble. He wrote a lot about other people, praising their holy lives, but he wrote almost nothing about himself. We don't know who his parents were, but he must have been from a distinguished family since h e knew a lot about the political life of his time. He was well-read in the writings of the Church Fathers and ancient philosophers, which were found in the library of the church of St. Sophia in Kiev. Most of these books were in Greek, which tells us that Nestor must have known the Greek language.

    In 1073, at the ageof 17, Nestor came to live in the recently founded Caves Monastery near Kiev. He was made a monk by Abbot Stefan and later became a deacon. It was there at the monastery that he was asked to write the Life of St. Vladimir's two sons, the young princes Boris and Gleb, who were cruelly murdered by their older brother Yaropolk soon after their father died in 1015. Nestor's account of the lives of these two innocent Christian confessors was the first chapter in Russian hagiography (lives of saints), and was for hundreds of years a favorite reading of the Russian people. Nestor also wrote the Life of St. Theodosius, cofounder of the Caves Monastery, whom he had known personally.

     Both of these Lives formed chapters in Nestor's major work, the Chronicle. He called it "The Tale of Bygone Years." It describes the main events from the very beginnings of the Russian Land up to the year 1110. This work, to which Nestor devoted some 20 years of his life, remains to this day the most important source for our knowledge about the early history of Russia. The Chronicle is more than a diary of events"; it is penetrated by Nestor's love for his people, his concern for political unity and his Christian consciousness and love for God's saints.

    Nestor died in 1114 after a long life. He is commemorated by the Church on October 27.

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