Interpretation as Revelation: Logos and the Authorial Word in Kiril Turovskij's Palm Sunday Sermon ("Slovo na Verbnicu")

Alina Wyman, University of Chicago

The first sermon in Kiril Turovskij's spring cycle, "Slovo na Verbnicu," is devoted to the evangelical events traditionally commemorated on Palm Sunday in the Orthodox Church: Christ's entrance into Jerusalem and the raising of Lazarus. But although the evangelical "plot" contained in the narrative part of the sermon largely reflects the officially prescribed Biblical readings for the holiday service, Kiril's highly abstract interpretation of the recommended passages invites a variety of literary material from other Biblical sources into the text. By means of direct citations or paraphrases and through the introduction of stylistically marked lexemes, whose specific religious usage triggers immediate associations with a given passage in the scriptures, the author evokes a number of gospel episodes presented as semantically equivalent to Christ's entrance into Jerusalem. Such abundance of referential material, some of which has not been identified by scholars, results in the shift of focus from the historical value of an individual gospel event to its highly abstract symbolic value, shared with other events that allude to the same signified.

By adding references to the incarnation passage in the prologue to the Gospel of John (John 1: 14) and the bread of life discourse (John 14: 20) to the recommended depiction of Christ's entrance into Jerusalem (Matthew 21: 1-17, John 12: 1-18), Kiril constructs a paradigm of iso-functional events (entrance into Jerusalem / entrance into the world / entrance into the soul of the believer) which point to a much broader Christian theme than was traditionally evoked in Palm Sunday sermons, namely, the incarnation and transmission of the divine Logos through Christ. This central event of Christianity is conceptualized as the joyous revelation of God's eternal truth, which has always dwelled in God but remained inaccessible to humanity until it became incarnated in the God-Man Christ. As a result, the New Testament is read as a document of that revelation, in which the sacred meaning contained in the Old Testament in the form of mysterious prophecies is triumphantly unveiled. This philosophical premise, important in all of Kiril's sermons and central in "Slovo na Verbnicu," is realized not only thematically but also structurally in the writer's highly sophisticated prose. By analyzing "Slovo na Verbnicu" in the context of the tradition of patristic exegesis, I intend to prove that Kiril's peculiar "de-symbolizing" style, characterized by consistent use of disclosed metaphors, is motivated by his intention to create the mode of narration most adequate to his central theme of revelation. Kiril's emphasis on interpretation, on disclosing covert meanings and solving complex hermeneutic puzzles, manifested through our textual analysis, will cast doubt on the traditional assessment of the author's work as non-exegetic in function.