In this work the author – for the first time, having studied Lives of Russian saints of the twelfth – seventeenth centuries – described the development of Russian hagiography, using methods of textual criticism, and separating historical events from historical tales. The author made a thorough critical analysis of almost 150 versions of hagiographic texts and not less than 5000 manuscript copies. He shows that the credibility of the material of the Lives depended on subjective tasks of writers and on those political, historical, and cultural circumstances. The content of a certain Life could depended on a personality of the author, his attitude to the described character, absence or lack of some sources, their credibility, and some additional factors which had some influence at the cultural and historical context where the author of a Life existed.
The author argued that the Life was a type of literature, where the content was in the strict frames of canon. That peculiarity made the Lives so difficult as a historical source. He proved that beside genuine Lives, based on the facts, there were some fictional ones; that is why he concluded the Lives, in general, would be quite unsatisfactory historical source. They could give just a few information on a certain character, because the strict canon limited the narration; their task was to show the sacred role of saints. At that, in the course of compiling a Life, real facts could be transformed, or they could use only those facts which support the main task, and the real features of a character could be lost for the sake of an ideal image of a saint. Besides, the quality of the content of the Lives was inversely to the chronological distance between the death of a saint and a moment of compiling a certain Life.