Professor Sergey Sergeevich Averintsev, the outstanding Russian linguist, specialist in literary history and theory, translator and poet, passed away in Vienna on 21 February 2004.
Averintsev was born on 10 December 1937 in Moscow and graduated from the Faculty of Linguistics of Moscow State University in 1961, after which he taught at major universities both in Russia and abroad. His main areas of research were: the Christian tradition in European thought and literature, New Testament literature in light of late classical culture, patristics, medieval Christian hymnography and hagiography, Byzantine literature and philosophy, scholasticism, German Romantic literature (C. Brentano) and Neo-Romanticism (G. Trakl, H. Hesse), Russian poetry (V. Ivanov, O. Mandelshtam) and historical poetry.
Prof. Averintsev, whose books and articles began to appear in the 1960’s, was the author of many works on the history of classical, Byzantine, European and Russian literature, the history of theology and philosophy, as well as of translations from ancient Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Syriac, German, French and Polish. His book The Poetics of Late Byzantine Literature, published in 1977, became the first monograph in the history of Soviet literary criticism on the works of the Fathers of the Eastern Church. Among his translations are selected psalms, the Book of Job and the Gospels according to Mark and Luke.
Over the past few years Averintsev lived in Vienna, where he was a professor of Slavic Studies at the University of Vienna. In May 2003 he suffered a serious heart attack which put him in a coma for almost 10 months. Shortly before his death Bishop Hilarion of Vienna and Austria, Representative of the Russian Orthodox Church to the European Institutions, administered to him the Sacrament of Holy Unction.
The first memorial service for him was served on 24 February 2004 in the Cathedral of St. Nicholas in Vienna by Bishop Hilarion of Vienna and Austria, together with Archpriest Vladimir Tyshchuk, the dean of the cathedral, and priest Radoslav Ristic, member of the cathedral clergy.
Before the beginning of the service, Bishop Hilarion read the letter of condolence addressed by His Holiness Patriarch Alexy of Moscow and all Russia to N. P. Averintseva, in which the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church described the departed as a “man whose entire life was enlightened by the faith of Christ”.
Addressing the faithful at the cathedral, Bishop Hilarion shared with those present his memories of the late professor: “Many of us remember the times when the Church in Russia was separated from society, when being a Christian meant challenging society, risking one’s position, career and sometimes even one’s life. In those years few dared to talk about faith and the Church in a language understandable for the intelligentsia. One of these rare people was Sergey Averintsev. His books were a bridge between the persecuted Church and those who were outside the Church but desired to hear words of living faith about God. It is through his books that many came to know about Romanos the Melodist, Ephraim the Syrian, Isaac the Syrian, John of Damascus and other great Fathers of the Church. In those difficult years when nobody could speak openly about God, he spoke about Him – discreetly, but distinctly enough so that thousands of people came to Christ through his books”.
As Bishop Hilarion remarked, Averintsev was a man of extraordinary erudition and encyclopedic knowledge, equally familiar with classical philosophy and literature, German idealism, European literature, Russian religious philosophy and the works of the Greek, Latin and Syriac Church Fathers. “However, the essence of his human and Christian achievements was not in his extraordinary erudition, but in the fact that, as Gregory Nazianzen wrote, having gathered all the intellectual wealth of the East and West, he laid all of this at the feet of Christ”.
“It is not by chance that the last book of Sergey Sergeevich, containing translations of patristic texts and published in Kiev, is called The Pearl of Great Price“, Bishop Hilarion noted. “In the preface to this book His Beatitude metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev and all Ukraine described its author as one ‘who, like the Gospel merchant, preferred the pearl of great price of the Living and Incarnate Truth to all the riches of the world’. Once again we remember the words of Gregory Nazianzen: ‘Blessed is he who has acquired Christ instead of all the riches of the world’. Such a person was Sergey Sergeevich”.
“It is not surprising that he knew so much”, Bishop Hilarion concluded, “but that he so abundantly shared his knowledge with many people. He was a man of the Church, a man of true and heartfelt piety. Moreover, he was characterized by a deep Christian humility. And today we pray for him as for a faithful son of the Church, who served many people through his words, preaching and scholarly work”.
The cremation of S. Averintsev took place at Vienna’s Central Cemetery on 4 March 2004. His ashes, in accordance with his will, are to be buried in the cemetery of the St. Daniel monastery in Moscow.