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Of Meat, Men and Property: The Troubled Career of a Convert Nun in Eighteenth-Century Kiev


The article is based on the case study of Sr Asklipiodata, a Jewish convert to Christianity, who became a member of the monastic community in one of Kiev's Orthodox convents in the second half of the eighteenth century. It explores the ways in which the non-communal way of life in Eastern Orthodox convents impacted both upon the praxis of monastic existence within the convent walls, and relations with the secular world without. Parallel to this consideration of a lasting centrality of property ownership in Orthodox female monasticism, the article addresses the largely neglected question of Jewish assimilation in the Russian Empire prior to the Partitions of Poland (1772–93), which brought the sizeable Jewish population of the Commonwealth's eastern borderlands into close contact with the Russian state.

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1 For earlier periods some excellent work has been produced by the historians of Byzantium: Patlagean, Évelyne, ‘L'Histoire de la femme déguisée en moine et l'evolution de la santeté feminine à Byzance’, Studi Medievali 3rd ser. xvii (1976), 597623; Talbot, Alice-Mary, ‘A comparison of the monastic experience of Byzantine men and women’, Greek Orthodox Theological Review xxx (1985), 120; Nicol, Donald M., The Byzantine lady: ten portraits, 1250–1500, Cambridge 1994, 3347, 59–70. More recently the historians of early modern Christianity in the Middle East have offered a number of contributions that discuss post-Tridentine Melkite and Maronite female monasticism, principally in Lebanon and Syria: Makhlouf, Avril M., ‘Hindiyyah ‘Ujaymî and the monastic life: the rule of life for the Congregation of the Sacred Heart’, Parole d'Orient xviii (1993), 293302; Heyberger, Bernard, Hindiyya, mystique et criminelle (1720–1798), Paris 2001, trans. into English by Champion, Renée as Hindiyya: mystic and criminal, 1720–1798: a political and social crisis in Lebanon, Cambridge 2013; Saliba, Sabine Mohasseb, Les Monastères maronites doubles du Liban: entre Rome et l'Empire ottoman (XVIIe–XIXe siècles), Paris 2008. A handful of works published over the last thirty years or so explore convents in early modern Muscovite and Imperial Russia: Thomas, Marie A., ‘Muscovite convents in the seventeenth century’, Russian History x (1983), 230–42; Meehan, Brenda, ‘Popular piety, local initiative, and the founding of women's religious communities in Russia, 1764–1907’, in Batalden, Stephen K. (ed.), Seeking God: the recovery of religious identity in Orthodox Russia, Ukraine, and Georgia, DeKalb 1993, 83105; E. B. Emchenko, ‘Женские монастыри в России’ [‘Women's monasteries in Russia’], in N. V. Sinitsyna (ed.), Монашество и монастыри в России, ХІ–ХХ века: исторические очерки [Monasticism and monasteries in Russia from the eleventh to the twentieth centuries: historical sketches], Moscow 2002, 245–84; Wagner, William, ‘Female Orthodox monasticism in eighteenth-century Imperial Russia: the experience of Nizhnii Novgorod’, in Marsh, Rosslyn and Tosi, Alessandra (eds), Women in eighteenth-century Russian culture and society, 1700–1825, Basingstoke 2007, 191218; Marlyn L. Miller, ‘Under the protection of the Virgin: the feminization of monasticism in Imperial Russia, 1700–1923’, unpubl. PhD diss. Brandeis 2009; Schmähling, Angelika, Hort der Frömmigkeit – Ort der Verwahrung: Russische Frauenklöster in 16.–18. Jahrhundert, Stuttgart 2009. Sophia Senyk's seminal monograph Women's monasteries in Ukraine and Belorussia to the period of suppression, Rome 1983, still remains the only work of this scale in English offering a summary of female monasticism in pre-modern Belarus and Ukraine. A small body of research, mostly in non-Western European languages, has been produced in the last decade by the historians of early modern Ukraine: Oleh Dukh, ‘Przywileje królewskie dla prawosławnych i unickich monasterów żeńskich w eparchiach lwowskiej i przemyskiej w xvii i xviii wieku’ [‘Royal privileges for Orthodox and Uniate female monasteries in the Lviv and Przemyśl dioceses in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries’], in M. Derwich and A. Pobóg-Lenartowicz (eds), Klasztor w państwie średniowiecznym i nowożytnym [The monastery in medieval and modern society], Wrocław 2005, 149–61; Svetlana V. Sokhan’, ‘Київські Богословський та Іорданський жіночі монастирі xvi – початку xviii ст.: сплетіння долі в історичному просторі’ [‘The Kiev St John the Baptist and Holy Jordan Monasteries from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries: an intertwining of historical destinies’], Рукописна та книжкова спадщина України [Manuscript and Book Heritage of Ukraine] xiii (2009), 79–98; Olha Krainia, Києво-Печерський жіночий монастир xvi – початку xviii ст. і доля його пам’яток [The Kiev Pechersk female monastery in the sixteenth and early eighteenth centuries, and the fate of its material heritage], Kiev 2012; Charipova, Liudmila V., ‘Spare ribs? Early modern female monasticism in the East Slavic lands’, History Compass xii (2014), 5161 at pp. 51–2.

2 Kohut, Zenon, ‘The problem of Ukrainian Orthodox Church autonomy in the Hetmanate (1654–1780s)’, Harvard Ukrainian Studies xiv (1990), 364–76 at pp. 366–7.

3 Charipova, Liudmila V., ‘Virgins and widows: imperial legislation and practices of admission to the novitiate and profession in Ukrainian women's monasteries (1722–1786)’, Slavonic and East European Review xc (2012), 262–87 at pp. 286–7.

4 Senyk, Sophia, ‘Introduction’, Manjava Skete: Ukrainian monastic writings of the seventeenth century, trans. eadem, Kalamazoo, Mi 2001, 965 at p. 41.

5 CSHAUK, fonds 915, op. 1, no. 6, fo. 11; fonds 127, op. 136, no. 35, fo. 1. The nineteenth-century Russian historian Nikolai Suvorov cites numerous examples from seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Muscovite convents when secular men who bought or inherited nuns’ cells lived there permanently, going out to work and returning ‘home’ on a daily basis: ‘Заметки о мужеско-женских монастырях в древней России’ [‘Notes on the mixed monasteries for men and women in ancient Russia’], Архив исторических и практических сведений, относящихся до России [Archive of Historical and Practical Knowledge related to Russia] iv (1860-1), 38–46.

6 Underkuffler, Laura S., The idea of property: its meaning and power, Oxford 2003, 16.

7 Senyk, ‘Introduction’, 40.

8 See Delehaye, Hyppolète, ‘Byzantine monasticism’, in Baynes, Norman H. and Moss, H. St L. B. (eds), Byzantium: an introduction to East Roman civilization, Oxford 1948, 136–65 at p. 157.

9 V. Klymov, ‘Петро Могила і українське чернецтво’ [‘Peter Mohyla and the Ukrainian monasticism’], in A. Kolodnyi and V. Klymov (eds), Феномен Петра Могили: біографія, діяльність, позиція [The phenomenon of Peter Mohyla: biography, actions, world view], Kiev 1996, 181–211 at p. 190.

10 The Pale of Settlement, instituted in 1791, demarcated the western areas of the Russian Empire, where free Jewish residency was permitted.

11 The size and vibrancy of the Jewish population that the Partitions brought to the Russian Empire resulted in the shift of the historiographical focus toward the post-Partitions period and the inequities of the Pale of Settlement. Against a sizeable body of research in Jewish assimilation in the Russian Empire including Ukraine after 1791, the historiography of pre-modern Jewish settlement in the Ukrainian lands is comparatively small: B. R. Ts., ‘Материалы для истории водворения евреев на жительство в городе Киеве’ [‘Materials for the history of Jewish settlement in the city of Kiev’], День: орган русских евреев [Day: a Jewish Organ in Russia] xxi (1870), 345–7; xxii (1870), 360–2; M. Sh-r, ‘Право жительства евреев в Киеве (историко-юридический этюд)’ [‘The right of Jewish residency in Kiev (a historico-juridical sketch)’], Разсвет: орган русских евреев [Dawn: a Jewish Organ in Russia] xxvii (1881), 1044–8; M. Kulisher, ‘Польша с евреями и Русь без евреев на рубеже xvii и xviii века’ [‘Poland with Jews and Russia without Jews at the turn of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries’], Еврейская старина: трехмесячник Еврейского историко-этнографического общества [Jewish Antiquities: a Quarterly of the Jewish Historico-Ethnographical Society] iii (1910), 214–34; S. M. Dubnow, History of the Jews in Russia and Poland from the earliest times until the present day, trans. I. Friedlaender, i, Philadelphia 1916; A. Kaustov, ‘Євреї під владою Литви та Польщі (xivxviii ст.)’ [‘Jews under Lithuanian and Polish rule (the fourteenth to the eighteenth centuries)’], in Leonid Finberg and Volodymyr Liubchenko (eds), Нариси з історії та культури євреїв України [Sketches in the history and culture of Jews in Ukraine], 2nd edn, Kiev 2008, 38–59; Meir, Nathan M., Kiev, Jewish metropolis: a history, 1859–1914, Bloomington 2010, 23.

12 A clear reference to her foreign origins: ‘the nun Sklipiodota [sic], a native of the [Holy Roman] Empire’ (‘монахиня Склипиодота цесарка’) is found in official records:CSHAUK, fonds 127, op. 171, no. 100, fo. 3; fonds 915, op. 1, no. 12a, fos 2r–v. Asklipiodata's age (she was fifty-one in 1766) and place of birth are each mentioned on two occasions: ‘[she] comes from the city of Prague [in] the [Holy Roman] Empire’ (‘рода цесарского из города Праги’): CSHAUK, fonds 915, op. 1, no. 8, fo. 9v; op. 1, no. 11, fo. 25. On Prague as a Jewish city see Kochan, L., The making of Western Jewry, 1600–1819, Basingstoke 2004, 116, 170.

13 CSHAUK, fonds 915, op. 1, no. 8, fo. 9v.

14 Kochan, The making of Western Jewry, 169–71, 174. See also Kieval, Hillel J., Languages of community: the Jewish experience in the Czech lands, Berkeley 2000, 23.

15 Hyman, Paula E., Gender and assimilation in modern Jewish history: the roles and representation of women, Seattle 1997, 20–1. On Russian imperial government's commitment to religious marriage see Werth, Paul W., ‘Empire, religious freedom, and the legal regulation of “mixed” marriages in Russia’, Journal of Modern History lxxx (2008), 296331 at pp. 299–300.

16 Полное собрание законов Российской империи, Собрание первое [A full collection of the laws of the Russian Empire, first series], xi, St Petersburg 1830, 727–8; cf. CSHAUK, fonds 127, op. 166, no. 95, fo. 1.

17 For the statistics on Jewish population of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the second part of the eighteenth century see Hundert, Gershon David, Jews in Poland-Lithuania in the eighteenth century: a genealogy of modernity, Berkeley 2004, 22.

18 Hundert estimates that by the 1760s, 44% of the Commonwealth's Jewry inhabited its eastern provinces: ibid. 25; cf. Kaustov, ‘Євреї під владою Литви та Польщі’, 55.

19 Cohen, Jeremy, ‘The mentality of the medieval Jewish apostate: Peter Alfonsi, Hermann of Cologne, and Pablo Christiani’, in Endelman, Todd M. (ed.), Jewish apostasy in the modern world, New York 1987, 2047 at pp. 20–1.

20 Kochan observes that the majority of Jews baptised in Bohemia by 1720 belonged to the lower and lower-middle classes: The making of Western Jewry, 120. Likewise, Deborah Hertz argues that before 1770 most converts in Prussia tended to be poor: Emancipation through intermarriage? Wealthy Jewish salon women in old Berlin’, in Baskin, Judith R. (ed.), Jewish women in historical perspective, 2nd edn, Detroit 1998, 193207 at p. 201.

21 CSHAUK, fonds 127, op. 158, no. 53, fos 1r–5r; op. 166, no. 95, fos 1r–8r; op. 167, no. 95, fos 2r–22v; op. 170, no. 7, fos 3r–12v; cf. Deborah Hertz, ‘Seductive conversions in Berlin, 1770–1809’, in Endelman, Jewish apostasy, 48–82 at pp. 52, 58–9.

22 When both parents of the Jewish girl Anna had died in the Right-Bank Ukrainian city of Volodymyr Volyns'kyi, she at first converted to Roman Catholicism, but, on being adopted by an Orthodox family, accompanied them to Kiev in 1763, where she asked to be allowed Orthodox baptism. Her case also demonstrates that, from the Russian authorities’ perspective, an earlier conversion to another Christian faith was void, as they treated Anna as a Jewish, rather than Catholic, convert: CSHAUK, fonds 127, op. 158, no. 53, fos 1r–5r.

23 CSHAUK, fonds 915, op. 1, no. 8, fo. 9v. Asklipiodata's monastic name is extremely rare, as only one other Sr Asklipiodata appears on the eighteenth-century lists of monastic personnel in Kiev: fonds 127, op. 153, no. 85, fo. 21.

24 CSHAUK, fonds 915, op. 1, no. 8, fo. 9v; cf. Charipova, ‘Virgins and widows’, 274.

25 For a comparison between Jewish and Christian views on afterlife and salvation respectively see Leon Klenyts'kyi [Leon Klenicki] and Dzhefri Vaigoder [Geoffrey Wigoder] (eds), Юдео-християнський діалог: словник-довідник [The Jewish-Christian dialogue: a dictionary and reference guide], Kiev 2015, 84–90, 204–12.

26 Cohen, ‘The medieval apostate’, 35.

27 Weissler, Chava, ‘The traditional piety of Ashkenazic women’, in Green, Arthur (ed.), Jewish spirituality from the sixteenth-century revival to the present, London 1987, 245–75 at pp. 247–52, and ‘Prayers in Yiddish and the religious world of Ashkenazic women’, in Baskin, Jewish women in historical perspective, 159–81 at pp. 171–4. For later examples of tkhines see Freeze, ChaeRan Y. and Harris, Jay M. (eds), Everyday Jewish life in Imperial Russia: select documents (1772–1914), Waltham 2013, 163–4.

28 See Rapoport-Albert, Ada, Women and the messianic heresy of Sabbatai Zevi, 1666–1816, trans. Greniman, Deborah, Oxford 2011, 35–6, 60–1, 81.

29 Cited in Deutsch, Nathaniel, The Maiden of Ludmir: a Jewish holy woman and her world, Berkeley 2003, 98: for women's cemetery visits see ibid. 99. Rumour even had it that the Maiden had visited and been offered sanctuary in the Greek Catholic convent of St Elias in Volodymyr Volyn'skyi (Ludmir): ibid. 161–5.

30 Hundert, Jews in Poland-Lithuania, 240.

31 The 1771 list of monastic personnel specifies the period of two years between her entry to the convent as a secular person and the time when she took the veil: CSHAUK, fonds 915, op. 1, no. 8, fo. 9v.

32 See Charipova, ‘Virgins and widows’, 278–9.

33 Ibid. 275.

34 Ibid. 280–1.

35 Only 1761, when after a hiatus of nearly forty years imperial authorities expressly encouraged the profession of suitable candidates in monasteries, and twenty-two sisters took the veil in the St Nicholas Holy Jordan Monastery, rivals 1769 for the number of women admitted to profession within a year: ibid. 280.

36 CSHAUK, fonds 127, op. 156, nos 4, 76; op. 157, nos 39, 43.

37 Charipova, ‘Virgins and widows’, 270–1.

38 Iryna Margolina and Vasylii Ulianovs'kyi, Київська обитель Св Кирила [The Kiev Monastery of St Cyril], Kiev 2005, 147; cf. Bryer, Anthony, ‘The late Byzantine monastery in town and countryside’, in Baker, Derek (ed.), The Church in town and countryside (Studies in Church History xvi, 1979), 219–41 at pp. 228–9, and Lehfeldt, Elizabeth A., ‘Discipline, vocation and patronage: Spanish religious women in a Tridentine microclimate’, Sixteenth Century Journal xxx (1999), 1009–30 at p. 1027.

39 CSHAUK, fonds 915, op. 1, no. 8; G. L[azarevskii], ‘К истории киевских женских монастырей’ [‘Concerning the history of female monasteries in Kiev’], Киевская Cтарина [Kiev Antiquities] liii (1896), 8–13 at pp. 9–10. Although it had originally been founded in the early seventeenth century and occupied the second place after the SS Florus and Laurus Monastery, the community of St John the Evangelist had no noble members, which is attributable to its small size: only fifty-two sisters at the time: L[azarevskii], ‘К истории киевских женских монастырей’, 11.

40 Charipova, ‘Virgins and widows’, 272.

41 CSHAUK, fonds 127, op. 176, no. 64, fo. 2v.

42 CSHAUK, fonds 915, op. 1, no. 8, fo. 10.

43 Charipova, ‘Virgins and widows’, 281–2.

44 CSHAUK, fonds 127, op. 171, no. 100, fo. 1r–v, 3v; fonds 915, op. 1, no. 12a, fo. 2r–v.

45 A document composed just over a decade later, in 1787, makes reference to 108 cells: Sokhan’, ‘Київські Богословський та Іорданський жіночі монастирі’, 93.

46 The sister with a stick could have been Ievanfa, who, along with Asklipiodata, would be described as a nun whose alleged misdemeanors were investigated by the consistory authorities in 1777: CSHAUK, fonds 915, op. 1, no. 11, fo. 24v.

47 CSHAUK, fonds 127, op. 171, no. 100, fo. 1r–v.

48 Ibid. fo. 2.

49 Cf. the case of another Kievan nun accused of staging a drunken night-time brawl in her convent, who countered these allegations with strenuous protests and assurances of her innocence: ibid. op. 151, no. 13, fos 1, 4.

50 In addition to Alexandra's conflict with Asklipiodata described here, a record of an earlier, seemingly unrelated, dispute with Sr Sophia is found on the consistory files: ibid. op. 171, no. 6.

51 CSHAUK, fonds 915, op. 1, no. 11, fos 19v–20r.

52 ‘Undistinguished’: ibid. fos 6, 8, 13v, 22; sisters described unfavourably: fos 6v, 22v, 24v, 25.

53 CSHAUK, fonds 127, op. 178, nos 104, 122.

54 Collective letter about the misappropriation of the convent funds by Alexandra: ibid. op. 180, no. 36, fo. 2r–v; individual complaints: ibid. nos 37, 46.

55 Mother Agafia Humenitskaia, a noblewoman who led the community of the Kiev SS Florus and Laurus Monastery in the first half of the seventeenth century, funded the restoration of its church, the building of monastic cells and boundary fence, and purchased several plots of land in the city to improve the convent's financial standing: CSHAUK, fonds 167, op. 2, no. 2, fos 45, 46v. The scale of the mothers’ charity visibly shrank in the eighteenth century, but they still occasionally felt compelled to dip into their private purses to keep the community afloat: IMVNLU, fonds 232, no. 255, fo. 4; CSHAUK, fonds 127, op. 167, no. 140, fo. 38.

56 CSHAUK, fonds 127, op. 170, no. 61, fo. 4.

57 Полное собрание постановлений и распоряжений по ведомству православного исповедания Российской империи [The complete collection of laws and regulations concerning the Orthodox Church administration in the Russian Empire] ii, St Petersburg 1872, 252.

58 Emchenko, ‘Женские монастыри в России’, 260.

59 CSHAUK, fonds 127, op. 170, no. 61, fo. 6.

60 A. Murashkintsev, ‘Елизаветград’, in Энциклопедический словарь Брокгауза и Эфрона [The encyclopaedic dictionary of Brockhaus and Efron], xi-a, St Petersburg 1894, 614–16 at p. 614; O. G. Bazhan, ‘Кіровоград’, in Енциклопедія історії України [The encyclopaedia of the history of Ukraine], iv, Kiev 2007, 329–30 at p. 329.

61 Serhii Didyk, ‘Етнічний склад населення Новослобідського казацького полку’ [‘The ethnic composition of the Novaia Sloboda Cossack regiment’], Збірник тез наукової конференції студентів, аспірантів та молодих вчених, 2007 р. [Collection of abstracts of the papers presented at the academic conference of undergraduate and postgraduate students, and early-career researchers, 2007], Zaporizhzhia 2007, 51–4 at p. 54.

62 CSHAUK, fonds 127, op. 170, no. 61, fo. 8. A Dmitrii Avtonomovich Tishkov (1727–77) was registered as a merchant in Kaluga: N. I. Kozhevnikova (comp.), ‘Калужские купцы’ [‘Database of the merchants of Kaluga’], at <>, accessed 5 Feb. 2016.

63 Fr Amphilochius, the Archimandrite of the St Cyril Monastery and Taisia Gorkovskaia's immediate ecclesiastical superior, rebuked her for the laxness of her rule in a letter of 17 Aug. 1770: CSHAUK, fonds 915, op. 1, no. 6, fos 7r–8r.

64 Martin, A. Lynn, Alcohol, sex, and gender in late medieval and early modern Europe, Gordonsville 2001, 7.

65 See CSHAUK, fonds 127, op. 1027, no. 8, fo. 3; op. 151, no. 85, fos 3v, 27v; op. 1021, no. 28, fos 2r–4v.

66 Ibid. op. 151, no. 85, fo. 17v.

67 Ibid.

68 Ibid. fo. 19.

69 Maksym Iaremenko, Київське чернецтво XVIII ст. [Kiev monasticism in the eighteenth century], Kiev 2007, 170.

70 D. V[ishnevskii], ‘Киевский митрополит Рафаил Заборовский и его меры к исправлению духовенства’ [‘The Kiev Metropolitan Rafail Zaborovskyi and his efforts to improve the clergy’], Киевская старина [Kiev Antiquities] iii (1899), 397–423 at pp. 416–17.

71 IMVNLU, fonds 232, no. 286, fo. 26v.

72 CSHAUK, fonds 127, op. 151, no. 13, fos 1, 4.

73 Ibid. op. 171, no. 100, fo. 1.

74 Cf. Martin, Alcohol, sex, and gender, 12.

75 Hertz, ‘Emancipation through intermarriage?’, 204; cf. Freeze, ChaeRan Y., ‘The Mariinsko Sergievskii shelter for converted Jewish children in St Petersburg’, in Avrutin, Eugene M. and Murav, Harriet (eds), Jews in the East European borderlands: essays in honor of John D. Klier, Boston 2012, 27.

76 CSHAUK, fonds 915, op. 1, no. 12a, fo. 5.

77 Ibid. no. 13.

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