History of the Russian Church

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Contrast in Church Growth: the Possessors and Non-Possessors (XV-XVI Centuries)

The material and spiritual revival of the Church in the two centuries after the Battle of Kulikovo Field, with the two aspects harmoniously complimenting each other, began to pose a dilemma at the turn of the sixteenth century. Two parties emerged: the 'Non-Possessors' led by St. Nil of Sora, who taught that the inner life of prayer accompanied by material poverty should take precedence over the doctrine of monastic wealth accumulated with the aim of building schools, hospitals and churches. This latter vision was propagated by the 'Possessors', the spiritual leader of whom was St. Joseph of Volokalamsk. From the historical point of view, this latter party won the day as the wealthy monasteries expanded into ecclesiastical citadels such as the Lavra founded nearly two hundred years before by St. Sergius. This victory for the Possessors is born out by the canonization of Joseph within a generation of his death; Nil was canonized only in the twentieth century.

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