W. Bruce Lincoln Book Prize

2020 Recipient

Sean Griffin

The Liturgical Past in Byzantium and Early Rus

The W. Bruce Lincoln Book Prize, established in 2004 and sponsored by Mary Lincoln, is awarded annually for an author’s first published monograph or scholarly synthesis that is of exceptional merit and lasting significance for the understanding of Russia’s past, published in the previous year.

Winner: Sean Griffin
Title: The Liturgical Past in Byzantium and Early Rus (Cambridge University Press)

Sean Griffin’s book, The Liturgical Past in Byzantium and Early Rus (Cambridge University Press, 2019) offers a strikingly original account of the origins of the Primary Chronicle, the most fundamental source of medieval East European (Rus’/Russian/Ukrainian/Byelorussian) histories. Griffin’s major conclusion is that the Orthodox monks, the very practitioners of that liturgy and the authors of this chronicle created a myth of Christian origins for Kievan Rus, a myth, which is reproduced even today by Putin’s regime in the Russian Federation. Griffin deploys a philological comparative analysis of ten annalistic entries from the years 955 to 1015 that deal with Princess Olga, Vladimir, and Boris and Gleb, “to lay bare the liturgical subtexts underlying the story of the Christianization of Rus” (91). Framing his technical analysis in accessible prose, Griffin demonstrates how history was informed by the Byzantine liturgy and, with these figures’ canonization, came full circle when the liturgy-inspired history became part of Slavic Orthodox liturgy. While some may wish to challenge the characterization of a “thoroughly secularized” post-Enlightenment elite (59) or the Orthodox service as “a covert form of political indoctrination” (91), by bringing Orthodox liturgy (back) into scholarly discourse, this stimulating book marks an important scholarly achievement that opens up new space for inquiry on a range of questions including those concerning cultural memory and evolution of ethno-political identities in Eastern Europe.

Honorable Mention: Brendan McGeever