Graham Speake, Kallistos Ware
CONSTANTIN COMAN. Moldavians, Wallachians, and Romanians on Mount Athos
My presentation is structured on three levels: personal, historical, and an attempt to understand theologically the history of the relationship between Romanians and the Holy Mountain. I am not a historian. For this reason I have paid more attention to the other two components: personal testimony and the theological reading of history. For me, history makes sense only if assumed personally and evaluated theologically. For the historical part I have used two recent works.278 I have long and rich experience of Mount Athos (this year makes three decades). Somehow it is indicative of a certain kind of approach Romanians have towards the Holy Mountain. I am attached to Athonite monasticism. I love the Holy Mountain. I find support in the Athonite monks’ prayers for me, my family, and my work in teaching theology and in the Church. I find great comfort in the fact that certain Athonite monasteries and monks remember me, my family, and my community in their daily prayers. One of them is a young Romanian hermit whom I met last summer. Then we started a beautiful, intense spiritual relationship. I find support in the Athonite monastic experience in my theology too. I praise God for being alive during a strong renewal of Athonite monasticism.279
I would identify two specific characteristics of Athonite monasticism:
(1) the exclusive monastic character of the population of this region, which makes it a monastic republic, and (2) its multi-ethnic character. The special sanctity of the place is the result of its first specific trait, and Orthodox peoples’ consequent approach to it. The second specific trait reveals the challenge addressed by God to the Orthodox peoples for leading the monastic life together.
From this perspective, I would describe the Holy Mountain as a multinational rather than a supranational structure, due to the fact that the former faithfully expresses the right perspective on the unification or unity that preserves the identity of those in union. Unity does not mean creating a superstructure, but fulfils the vocation of being together, of accepting each other the way we are. The beauty of the Holy Mountain lies in the fact that monks of all Orthodox nationalities should live there loving each other. Togetherness is a sort of marriage and it involves overcoming the borders that separate one from the other. As in the case of a mixed marriage, so in Athonite monasticism, there is one more border to cross without eliminating it, that of belonging to different nations.
The permanent coexistence, in different proportions, of all manner of weakness and the highest experiences of divinity, explains why the nationalist element can be transcended, but also manifested in a worldly manner, at the same time. I will use this hermeneutical framework to interpret the presence of Romanian monks on the Holy Mountain and its place in the Romanians’ past and present self-conscience. For this reason, I will try to look at Romanians’ specific gifts and weaknesses. That is the dowry with which they enter into the ecclesiastical and monastic marriage with other peoples.
Romanian Monks on the Holy Mountain
History records the continuous presence of Romanian monks on the Holy Mountain since the beginning. Romanians have had a special devotion and love for the Mountain and have always longed to live there, even though the Mountain has not always received them with the same love. Equally important is the Romanian people’s special vocation for monasticism, consistently attested throughout history. Romania’s territory has always been full of monasteries and sketes. Today there are 423 monasteries and 183 sketes housing more than 2,966 monks and 5,174 nuns.
The presence of a community of Vlachs on the Holy Mountain has been attested since the eighth century, when Athos had not yet become an exclusively monastic territory.280 In the eleventh century we meet the Vlachs again as shepherds on Athos, simply living together with Athonite monks, helping them in many ways, but also causing them trouble.281 Their memory has been kept alive until today. A Romanian historian discovered a baptismal font at the Protaton around 1930. The ecclesiarch told him that it dated back to the Vlachs’ time.282
The first historical records of the presence of Romanian monks on the Holy Mountain date back to the fourteenth century. This is the century when the Romanian feudal states were established (1330, the Romanian Country or Wallachia; 1359, Moldavia) and also the first Romanian metropolitanates (Hungaro-Wallachia in 1359 and Moldavia in 1401). Mount Athos was to make an important contribution to the organization of church and monastic life in the newly formed Romanian states. Pious Nikodimos, a Serbian monk at Hilandar, set up the first monasteries in Muntenia (Vodita and Tismana) and established monastic rules. Some of the Greek Athonite monks became metropolitans of the Romanian principalities. This is also the time when the Romanians started helping the Holy Mountain.
The presence of a significant number of Romanians at Koutloumousiou is attested in the second half of the fourteenth century, from the evidence of supplies sent by the Romanian Voyevod Vladislav I. He had the Greeks grant the Romanians the right to follow the idiorrhythmic system, even though the Greek monks of the monastery lived a cenobitic life. Although Romanians flocked to this monastery, over which the Romanian Voyevod Vladislav I had obtained the title of ‘owner and founder’, the monastery remained under Greek jurisdiction. He had sworn that the Romanians would ‘honour and obey the Greeks … and not fall into the temptation of looking down upon the Greeks, on the grounds that the walls of the monastery, the refectory and the cells and even the properties that my lordship is going to buy are made for the Romanians ….’283 That seems to have been the reason why the number of Romanians coming to Koutloumousiou decreased and the connections of the monastery with the Romanian principalities weakened by the end of the fourteenth century.284
This episode indicates a certain characteristic of Romanian monks, namely their preference for the idiorrhythmic life, unlike the Greek monks who prefer the cenobitic. It also illustrates an important aspect of the Romanian monks’ presence on the Holy Mountain. Although Romanian rulers were to be the main supporters of the Athonite monasteries for five centuries, and the connections between the Holy Mountain and the Romanian principalities were very strong, the Romanian monks did not have a monastery of their own, but lived in monasteries mainly populated by other Orthodox nationalities or in the settlements dependent on them.
The beginning of Romanian establishments on the Holy Mountain can be dated back to the second half of the eighteenth century. Some Moldavian monks settled at Lakkou skete under the jurisdiction of St Paul’s monastery in 1754. In 1760 the skete was renovated with the help of schema-monk Daniel, Paisios Velichkovsky’s disciple. Lakkou skete became one of the most heavily populated Romanian establishments. In 1760 at New Skete, also on the territory of St Paul’s monastery, there were sixteen cells and ten huts, all of them Romanian. At the time there were about twenty-four Romanian cells and almost a hundred Romanian hermits on the Holy Mountain.
The Esphigmenou ‘Offer’
In May 1805 the monks at Esphigmenou, led by Abbot Theodoretos the Lavriote, suggested to the Metropolitan of Moldavia, Veniamin Costachi, that in exchange for yearly aid, which the monks desperately needed, it could become a Moldavian monastery.285 The Greek monks resorted to this solution after a very difficult period in the life of the monastery. It seems that the idea was initiated by Metropolitan Daniel of Thessaloniki, who had saved Esphigmenou while he was its abbot. Seeing that ‘the Moldavian monks who flock to the Holy Mountain wander about in vain and return to their own without any result’, he thought that he could help both the monastery and the Moldavian monks by turning the monastery into a ‘settlement of that nation’.286
The Byzantinist Alexandru Elian discovered the act in which this offer was made, unprecedented in the history of the relationship between Romanians and the Holy Mountain. The document has exceptional value for these relations and the question of a Romanian monastery on the Holy Mountain. In the eight chapters of the document it is stated, among other things, that,
if the metropolitan of Moldavia and the Moldavians help the monastery survive, resist, and pay to the empire taxes of 4,000 grosz annually, then the monastery of Esphigmenou and all its fixed and current assets, many or few, wherever they are, will immediately and surely be considered the Moldavians’ own property, which can never be alienated or taken away.287
It was also established in the same act that the metropolitan and the voyevod of Moldavia should be commemorated just as in Moldavia, that the abbot should be elected from the Moldavian monks, that the services should be sung in the Moldavian language, and the papers of the monastery ‘should be drawn up in the Moldavian language and alphabet in the same way that Hilandar’s and Zographou’s papers are drawn up in Slavonic’.
The content of the last article of the document is relevant for the multinational character of Athonite monasticism:
As it is customary that in the communities on the Holy Mountain there should also live monks of other nationalities (as in the case of the monasteries of the Greeks, Russians, Serbians, and Bulgarians), this should also happen in the sanctified Moldavian monastery of Esphigmenou, that the foreigners are to be treated just like the foreigners in the Greek monasteries and the monasteries of Hilandar and Zographou, and follow the customs, rules, and manners of the Moldavians, in all the affairs of the monastery.288
Metropolitan Veniamin’s refusal is hard to explain in the light of his later initiative. In 1820 he asked the Great Lavra to give permission for the Romanians to establish a skete. This did happen, but only as a dependency of the Lavra, which was far less favourable to Romanians than the Esphigmenou offer.
The Romanian Skete Prodromou
The most important Romanian settlement on the Holy Mountain was to be the Prodromou skete. Originally a cell, its first known Romanian monks were from the brotherhood of the monastery of Neamț, Fr Justin and his disciples, Patapios and Gregory. Around 1810–16 they bought the Prodromou cell from the Lavra monastery. Following a request addressed by Metropolitan Veniamin Costachi of Moldavia to the Great Lavra, in 1820 the two disciples of Fr Justin obtained for the cell the status of ‘cenobitic skete of the faithful people of the Moldavians’, through an act which in thirteen sections defined the relation between the skete and the monastery. The Greek Revolution of 1821 saw the two monks banished from Prodromou. In 1840, when the community had reached thirty monks, the skete was devastated by an attack of the Turkish army.
In 1852 two other Romanian monks, Nifon and Nektarios, bought back the Prodromou skete from the Great Lavra for 7,000 grosz and reopened it. A new document was drawn up, adding four more sections to the existing thirteen. Prodromou was asked to pay 1,000 grosz annually to the Lavra and to limit the community to a maximum of twenty monks. The first prior and founder of the skete is thought to have been Hieroschemamonk Nifon Ionescu. In 1860 the construction of the church was finished.
This was when the state of Romania was formed by the unification of Moldavia and Wallachia in 1859. Romania acknowledged the Prodromou skete as a Romanian settlement and in 1863 the Romanian government decided to give the skete 1,000 ducats annually, which was later raised to 3,000 and then to 4,000 ducats. In 1871King Charles acknowledged the skete as a Romanian community and changed the seal to ‘the seal of the Romanian cenobitic skete of the Holy Mountain of Athos’. The maximum number of twenty admitted monks was exceeded. By then their number had reached 100.
The history of the skete was affected by events. The secularization of monastic estates in Romania nullified the Romanians’ request addressed to the Holy Community in 1880 to obtain for the skete the status of a monastery. The liberation of the Holy Mountain from the Turks in 1912 and the transfer of its rule to the Greeks mark the beginning of a new stage, not only for Romanian monks, but for other nationalities as well ‒ Russians, Serbians, Bulgarians, and Georgians.291 The introduction of the new calendar in 1923 found the Romanian monks on the Holy Mountain in fierce opposition from their base in the Romanian skete. Consequently, starting in 1927, the Romanians’ access to the Holy Mountain was practically blocked, being made conditional on the approval of one of the twenty monasteries, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Greek government, the archbishopric of Athens, and the renunciation of Romanian citizenship in favour of Greek.
Despite the vicissitudes of these times, monastic life at the Romanian skete of Prodromou has been kept alive to the present day. It was in serious decline by the 1970s, but it has since revived spectacularly together with all Athonite monasticism. Today the Romanian skete of Prodromou, considered by both Romanians at home and the Romanian Athonites to be ‘the Romanian monastery’, is completely restored and has a beautiful community of about forty monks gathered around two great spiritual fathers, Fr Petronios, the thirteenth prior of the skete, and Fr Julian.
The second most important Romanian establishment on the Holy Mountain is Lakkou skete, which belongs to St Paul’s monastery. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Lakkou had more than thirty cells where more than eighty monks lived in self-denial. Later in the nineteenth century 120 monks lived in the same number of cells. In 1975 the skete had only four monks left. There are currently thirteen cells and quite a few monks and brethren living the ascetic life there.
Today, about 200 Romanian monks live on Mount Athos.
Assistance Accorded to the Holy Mountain by Romanians292
For a period of about 500 years, from the fourteenth until the nineteenth century, the Romanians were the principal sustainers of the Holy Mountain. It was a unique historical and religious phenomenon which has not yet been fully studied and evaluated. It goes beyond the scope of my paper to cover this in depth, which is why I shall outline the beginnings and then try to offer some illuminating episodes.
The period when Romanians started sending aid to the Holy Mountain has been historically attested as the fourteenth century. In 1360 Ana, one of the daughters of the Romanian Voyevod Nicolas Alexander Basarab, married the Serbian Despot Stefan Uros.293 It is possible that even during the wedding ceremony, which was attended by many Athonite abbots, or afterwards through Ana’s intercessions, Abbot Hariton of Koutloumousiou contacted the Romanian voyevod in order to ask him for help.
Nicolas Alexander died in 1364 and in 1369 his son, Vladislav I (Vlaicu Voda), committed himself to rebuilding the Koutloumousiou monastery:
I will encircle the monastery with walls and a reinforcing tower and build a church, a refectory, cells; I will ransom lands and donate animals so that through this my lordship’s parents and I should be commemorated […] as the Serbian, Bulgarian, Russian, and Georgian rulers are commemorated on the Holy Mountain!294
In 1372 Abbot Hariton became the second metropolitan of Hungaro-Wallachia. He was to play an important role in relations between the Romanian principalities and the Holy Mountain because he remained the abbot of Koutloumousiou and became the Protos of the Holy Mountain in 1376. The Romanian voyevod’s title as founder was acknowledged along with his right to appoint the abbot.295 Hariton imposed a categorical provision on the voyevod that he should sign a document in which Koutloumousiou was declared a Greek monastery, not Romanian, ‘since threats and curses hang over him who dares upset the Greeks by claiming that the monastery ought to belong to the Romanians because of the lord’s donations’.296 The Romanian voyevod could have considered a Romanian monastery, just as the Serbian or Bulgarian rulers did. There were three big Serbian monasteries at the time, Hilandar, St Paul’s, and Xenophontos, and two Bulgarian ones, Zographou and Philotheou.
This early episode was characteristic of the course of events over the next five centuries. It is a complex story in which the strengths and weaknesses of both the Romanians and the Athonites are revealed. But over all are seen God’s hand and the Mother of God’s protection. On the one hand, Romanian support steadily increased until it was stopped by the secularization of monastic estates under Cuza in 1863. On the other hand, Athonites were active in the Romanian principalities, making major contributions to the Church, monastic organization, and cultural life. Meanwhile history records the Romanians’ ceaseless presence on the Holy Mountain, their life and striving from their innate humility, and their aspirations for something more, stimulated by their protected status.
The help given by the Romanians to the Holy Mountain has been diverse: money, church objects, construction, renovation, and decoration of the churches and other Athonite monastic dependencies, the hospitality shown to the Athonite monks and their ecclesial and cultural activities, and lastly, the dedication of a great number of Romanian monasteries together with their estates.
We are dealing with a phenomenon which is unique in its dimensions297 and hard to explain from a purely historical perspective. The voyevods of Wallachia and Moldavia, almost without exception, would regularly help all the Athonite monasteries. Their wives, the noblemen of the country, the Romanian hierarchs, and the people as well, all took part in this charitable activity both through the taxes that filled the state treasuries and directly. There were cases in which the voyevod ‘asked all the inhabitants of the country to give money to the Xeropotamou monastery’.298 Here are some examples.
St Stephan the Great of Moldavia was one of the principal Romanian benefactors of the Holy Mountain. He built the port tower, the cells, and the refectory of the Zographou monastery and towards the end of his reign he repaired the whole monastery and painted the main church at his own expense. In 1489 the monk Isaiah from Hilandar said the Zographou monastery was founded by Stephan the Great. In the archives it is described as ‘my lordship’s monastery’. He also completely rebuilt the Grigoriou monastery after it had been demolished by pirates. The belfry has been preserved from 1502 until today. He also helped the Vatopedi monastery, where he built the quay in 1496, and the Konstamonitou monastery as well.
Stephan’s successors continued to support these monasteries.299 In 1651 Zographou received the Dobrovat monastery from Vasile Lupu with 14,000 hectares of land, and the Capriana monastery from Constantin Cantemir in 1698 with lands extending over 50,000 hectares. In 1769 Grigoriou received the Vizantea monastery with all its possessions. Ten years after he was appointed abbot of this monastery (1842–52), the Greek Visarion left 20,000,000 lei in his will (the equivalent of about 2,200 kg of gold) to the Grigoriou monastery, the Holy Community of Athos, the Athens hospital, and other Greek cultural and charitable settlements.300
In the sixteenth century five Athonite monasteries were revived by Romanian lords: Zographou, Grigoriou, and Konstamonitou by the Moldavian rulers, and the Lavra and Koutloumousiou by the rulers of Muntenia. Apart from two monasteries under Georgian patronage, Iviron and Philotheou, the others were in total decay: Pantokrator, Hilandar, Vatopedi, Xeropotamou, St Paul’s, Dionysiou, Simonopetra, Stavronikita, Xenophontos, Docheiariou. All of them were waiting for their great sixteenth-century benefactors, Radu the Great and Neagoe Basarab from Muntenia, and Petru Rares and Alexander Lapusneanu from Moldavia.
Alexander Lapusneanu (1552–68) rebuilt and painted the church at Docheiariou (1566–8) and also at Karakalou, which had been begun by Petru Rares, from 1535 to 1563. The sultan’s letter of permission made it clear that ‘the buildings of the [Docheiariou] monastery were founded by the voyevods of Moldova-Wallachia, and the renovations made to the monasteries’ ruins at various times were also the Romanian voyevods’ work.’301 Alexander Lapusneanu’s charitable works were numerous: he repainted Xeropotamou, he bought a warehouse for Vatopedi for 65,000 aspers (Turkish currency, about 1,060 gold pieces) and granted it 300 gold coins per year in aid; he built the infirmary at Dionysiou and the southern wing of the monastery and he extended the refectory. His wife, Lady Ruxandra, bought back the subsidiary monasteries belonging to Zographou from Macedonia in return for 52,000 aspers, and after her husband’s death and in his memory donated 165,000 aspers (that is 2,700 gold pieces) to Docheiariou.
Neagoe Basarab, the voyevod of Wallachia (1512–21), was called ‘the great benefactor of the whole Sveta Gora (Holy Mountain)’.302 His systematic work of sustaining the Orthodoxy of the Balkans and the Middle East had an unparalleled scope and resonance.303 At the consecration of his establishment of Curtea de Arges on 15 August 1517, Neagoe Basarab invited the abbots of all the Athonite monasteries, along with a great number of Orthodox patriarchs and hierarchs. On this occasion he proclaimed the holiness of his spiritual mentor, Nifon, Patriarch of Constantinople and former Metropolitan of Hungaro-Wallachia.
Neagoe Basarab almost completely rebuilt the Lavra monastery and gave it financial support of 90,000 talers annually,304 he completely rebuilt the Dionysiou monastery from 1512 to 1515, and in 1520 he also built the tower. At Koutloumousiou he built the church of St Nicolas, the cells, the refectory, the cellar, the quay, etc. He also helped the Vatopedi monastery (the Holy Belt of the Mother of God chapel, the great cellar, and a golden globe with precious stones for the icon of the Mother of God); Pantokrator (the high walls); Xeropotamou (a new refectory and a cellar); Zographou (3,000 aspers annually); St Paul’s (a defence tower); and Iviron (an aqueduct).
Basil Lupu, voyevod of Moldavia (1634–53) had such a great influence in the east that he enthroned and dethroned the patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, and Jerusalem. It was he who convened the pan-Orthodox Synod in Iasi in 1642. During his reign he repaid all the debts of the Holy Mountain. In 1641 he dedicated the monastery of the Three Hierarchs, one of the richest monasteries in Moldavia, to the entire Holy Mountain.
The Simonopetra monastery was wholly rebuilt by Mihai Viteazul, who in 1599 dedicated to it his most important establishment, the Mihai Voda monastery in Bucharest. The income from this monastery made possible the reconstruction of Simonopetra after the fire of 1625. The monastery of Mihai Voda had been endowed with sixteen villages by its founder and his family. In 1850 its annual income was 1,000,000 lei, that is 110 kg of gold.
St Panteleimon monastery was rebuilt from its foundations by Scarlat Calimachi, the voyevod of Moldavia, from 1812 to 1819. One can still read the inscription: ‘This beautiful church of the Holy, Venerated, Great Martyr and Healer Panteleimon was built from its foundations, just like this Holy Venerable Monastery, which is called Russian, by the very reverend Voyevod of Moldavia Scarlat Calimachi […].’
The Dedicated Monasteries
From the second half of the sixteenth century the most important component of this support was the dedicated monasteries. A dedicated monastery was no longer under the jurisdiction of the local hierarch, and was exclusively administered by the monastery to which it was dedicated. They were often exempt from taxes owed to the state. The incomes were used primarily for the maintenance of that monastery and secondly for the support of the monastery to which it was dedicated.
This kind of support has not yet been thoroughly evaluated. Most of the archives of the Athonite monasteries, which are said to include about 40,000 documents relating to Romanian – Athonite relations, remain closed to research. The most recent list of the Romanian monasteries, sketes, and churches dedicated to the Holy Mountain has 109 entries.308 Most of them were dedicated as follows: to Vatopedi 23, to Esphigmenou 15, Iviron 13, Protaton 9, Zographou 7, Simonopetra 6, St Paul’s 4. Only two monasteries, Philotheou and Pantokrator, are not listed. During Cuza’s reign the dedicated monasteries and their properties owned between 700,000 and 1,000,000 hectares of land.309
Two of the greatest and richest royal monasteries, the Three Holy Hierarchs in Iasi and Cotroceni in Bucharest, were entirely dedicated to the Holy Mountain. The income went to the Protaton, and was further shared between the twenty monasteries.
As an illustration I will give details of the wealth of the two monasteries. The monastery of Cotroceni, which was built by Serban Cantacuzino, and in 1682 was the richest monastery dedicated to the Holy Mountain, had four subsidiary monasteries and numerous estates. In 1780 its annual income was 15 bags of gold coins. In 1828 its income had reached 300,000 lei and in 1860 it exceeded 1,000,000 lei.310 What was that money worth? The value of the national currency against gold was 100 lei for 11g of gold. Therefore, the income of Cotroceni in 1828 was the equivalent of 33kg of gold, and in 1860 it was tantamount to 110kg.
The Three Hierarchs monastery, Basil Lupu’s establishment, had numerous estates, forests, orchards, and vineyards, which around 1827 yielded an annual income of 50,000 piasters or 250,000 lei (the equivalent of 27kg of gold).311 In Iasi alone the monastery owned an inn, 20 houses, 32 shops of its own, 150 leased shops, and 36 hectares of vineyards.312
The Secularization of the Monastic Estates
The relations between the Romanian principalities and Athos were radically transformed when the modern state of Romania was created under Alexandru Ioan Cuza and were severely shaken by the secularization of monastic estates. The main cause was the new vision of the Romanian political class, strongly influenced by secularism.
The Greek abbots, who administered and abused the dedicated monasteries, contributed much to this situation. Also, the conflicts and tensions between the local nobility and the vast Greek aristocracy that had settled in the principalities made the situation worse. There are many recorded examples of attempts to banish the Greeks and the rulers that supported them.313 In the seventeenth century Matthew Basarab removed twenty-two dedicated monasteries from the jurisdiction of the holy places. With effect from the nineteenth century the dedication of monasteries was forbidden and every effort was made to increase the state’s control over the dedicated monasteries.
The condition of the dedicated monasteries, left to rot, became a national problem for Romania. The taxes they owed to the state were huge.314 The issue generated international concern. The Athonite monasteries appealed for support to the Sublime Porte, Russia, and the representatives of Western countries in Constantinople. On 16 December 1863 the Legislative Board voted on the law for the secularization of the monastic properties in Bucharest. Its first article read, ‘All the monastic possessions in Romania are and will remain the Romanian state’s property.’ The Romanian authorities committed themselves to paying monetary compensation to the Athonite monasteries.315 The Romanian state recovered between 25% and 27% of Wallachia’s territory and 22% of Moldavia’s territory.316
Rationale for Supporting the Holy Lands
Historians mention two main reasons for undertaking this campaign: political and missionary-religious. With regard to the political motive, Nicolae Iorga expressed his conviction that ‘The Romanian rulers were renovators and protectors of most of the monasteries for centuries, as natural and entitled successors of the Byzantine emperors and the Serbian tsars.’317 The missionary motivation seems to me to have been much stronger than the political. The support given to the Holy Mountain was part of a unique campaign for saving and maintaining all the holy lands and apostolic patriarchates. Jerusalem, Sinai, Constantinople, Alexandria, and Antioch benefited equally from Romania’s support. It was a five-century crusade which is not discussed in church history books, although it appears to have achieved more than the better-known crusades. Perhaps silence is better. However, Iorga admitted that ‘the Romanian voyevods’ oblations to the Holy Mountain undoubtedly had religious meaning.’318
Stephan the Great endowed the Zographou monastery with an annual grant of 100 Hungarian gold coins,
so that he, his wife, and their two children, Alexander and Helen, would be commemorated at the Prothesis; so that he should have a paraklisis sung on Saturday evenings and a Liturgy on Tuesdays as long as he was alive, and after he died he would be commemorated by tradition and then he would have a Panikhida sung in the evening and a Liturgy in the morning once a year.319
The same reason is invoked by Vladislav I and all the Romanian voyevods. This concern of the voyevods that they should be commemorated as long as they were alive and especially after death reveals a profound faith in eternal life and resurrection. This faith is still to be found today in the Romanians’ spirituality, which has the most developed cult of the dead of all Orthodox peoples.320 I am sure that this was the strongest reason behind the Romanian voyevods’ and noblemen’s endeavours – they invested their fortune in being commemorated on the Holy Mountain. They somehow tried to amass their wealth in heaven. They donated a quarter of Romania’s territory so that after their death they would be commemorated every day at the holy services. The names of some of them can still be heard in the Athonite monasteries.
The Romanian voyevods invested not only in the holy places, but also in their own countries. Stephan the Great built forty-seven monasteries and churches, most of which have survived until today: Putna, Neamţ, Voroneţ, etc. Petru Rares, Alexandru Lapusneanu, Neagoe Basarab, Vasile Lupu, Matei Basarab, and the martyr Voyevod Constantin Brancoveanu followed suit.
The Romanians’ Charismata
Apart from these historical motives, I believe that behind this sustained effort, which was made for centuries, there were some charismata with which God endowed the Romanians’ nature. From among these I would mention two: a deep sense of holiness combined with a humble, modest character that makes them trust their fellows more than they trust themselves. I apologize for talking about Romanians’ humility while I myself am Romanian.
To illustrate the Romanians’ thirst for holiness I will mention their piety for the holy places, objects, and relics, and an extraordinary desire to take part in the building of churches and monasteries which still characterizes them. Since 1990 almost 2,000 monasteries and churches have been built or are still under construction. And since the fall of communism Romanians have resumed pilgrimage to the Holy Land and Mount Athos.
To illustrate their humility, I would cite their hospitality to foreigners. This humility can easily be traced in Romanian monasticism too. Everything about the Romanian monks is truly modest: the chants, clothes, vestments, church adornments, cells, guest houses, and food. Romanian monks do not have the eschatological daring that, for example, the Greeks and Russians have. Romanian monks take Holy Communion much less frequently. Their services are far less ceremonious. While the Greeks inhabit an atmosphere of eschatological joy, created by a heavenly liturgical environment, the Romanians dwell in the realm of asceticism and repentance, with an evident awareness of their unworthiness.
Seen from a competitive perspective, this condition of Romanian monasticism is unfavourable to them and can create problems. From a spiritual perspective, however, the situation can turn out differently.
The two sides of Athonite monasticism, eschatological daring and asceticism, can complement each other, preserving the tension between the human and the divine, between this world and the world to come. Overestimating the eschatological perspective without the support of humility, repentance, and asceticism risks falling into the trap of a kind of spiritual docetism, while remaining in the realm of asceticism and repentance risks a spiritual arianism.
It is the most eloquent example of the fact that ‘there are varieties of gifts’, according to St Paul’s theology (I Cor. 12), and only when people are together can gifts complete each other; hence the need for coming together and sharing spiritual gifts. As I have spent much time on the Holy Mountain, I consider that it would be a great benefit for all if specific spiritual gifts were shared.
From a worldly perspective, the Romanians have turned out to be losers in their relationship with the Holy Mountain, which is not to ignore the contribution of Athos to the organization of ecclesial life and the cultural development of the Romanian principalities. They made so many donations, they supported the Holy Mountain for centuries on end with their wealth and their sacrifices, and yet they have almost always had a humble status in the monastic republic of Athos.
From the same perspective, the Romanians’ sense of frustration seems justified. They do not have a monastery of their own, their gifts are kept out of sight, the condition of their monks is sometimes hard to bear and even humiliating, if only for the simple fact that they have no representatives in the Holy Community, the governing body, and they depend completely on the other monasteries.
From the spiritual point of view, this humble and lowly condition could be a challenge sent from God. We cannot say that it is or was the will of the Greeks that the Romanians should have a monastery of their own on Athos. Whoever says so, be they Greek or Romanian, excludes God and the Theotokos from the equation. Consequently, only one solution remains, so beautifully expressed by Stephan the Great in the inscription on a church that he built after a battle in which he had been defeated by the Turks: ‘My Lord, because of my people’s sins and especially because of my own sins, You permitted the pagans to defeat us!’ Fr Dionysios, one of the last great Romanian fathers on Mount Athos, said, ‘We Romanians are not united. That is why God and the Theotokos have not given us a monastery on Athos!’ I am afraid that the Romanian diaspora can only confirm this painful truth.
There is a tension inside me. Although it is difficult, I almost want us to remain in this humble condition of Romanian monks continuing without a monastery. At the same time, I would make every effort to help them fulfil this desideratum. I once said to a Romanian monk: ‘Don’t compete with the Russians and the Greeks! Try to run in the opposite direction.
Basically, our Saviour’s Gospel invites us to dispute the last place, not the first. From this point of view, it seems to me that the Romanians are in a better position!’
Fr Dionysios of Colciu, whom I had the pleasure to meet several times, said that he had one last battle to fight. He had turned ninety and had been a monk on Athos for over seventy years without ever having seen his country again. The battle he referred to was the temptation of nationalism: ‘I left my country with the aim of leaving everything – my parents, my people, my country – for God. And here I have become nationalistic. All my life I have fought against this temptation!’ I can assure you that Fr Dionysios was loved by all the Athonites: he was the spiritual father of many Greeks and Russians for the simple reason that he was first Athonite and secondly Romanian.
Bodogae, Pr. Teodor, Ajutoarele româneşti la Mânăstirile din Sfântul Munte (Sibiu, 1940).
Cioran, Gh., Σχέσεις των Ρουμaνικών Χωρώνμετά του Άθωκαιδητωνμονών Κουτλουμουσίου, Λαύρας, Δοχειαρίου και Αγίου Παντελεήμονος η των Ρώσων (Athens, 1938).
Collection de documents diplomatiques et des pièces officielles concernant la question des monastères dédiées en Roumanie, 1858–1878 (Constantinople, 1880).
‘Biserica Ortodoxă Română şi problema Sfântului Munte’, Ortodoxia, 2 (1953).
Creţeanu, Radu, ‘Traditions de famille dans les donations roumaines au Mont Athos’, Etudes byzantines et post byzantines (Bucharest, 1979).
Iorga, Nicolae, ‘Le Mont Athos et les pays roumains’, Bulletin de Section Historique d’Académie Roumaine, 2 (1914).
––, Roumains et grecs au cours de siècles (Bucharest, 1921).
Marinescu, Florin, Τα Ρουμανικά έγγραφα του Όρους. Αρχείο της Ιεράς Μoνής Ξηροποτάμου (Athens, 1997).
––, Τα Ρουμανικά έγγραφα του Όρους. Αρχείο της Ιεράς Μoνής Κουτλουμουσίου (Athens, 1998).
Moldoveanu, Ioan, ‘Contribuţii la istoria relaţiilor Ţărilor Române cu Muntele Athos (1650–1863)’ (PhD thesis, Bucharest, 2007).
Nandris, Gr., Documente slavo-române din Mânăstirile Muntelui Athos (Bucharest, 1936).
Năstase, D., ‘Les documents roumains des archives du couvent de Simonopetra’, Συμμεικτα, 1 (1983).
Năsturel, Petre, Le Mont Athos et les roumains. Recherches sur leur relations du milieu du XIVe siècle à 1654. Pont. Institutum Studiorum Orientalium (Rome, 1986). Românii şi Muntele Athos [Romanians and the Holy Mountain], Culegere de studii şi articole, alcătuită de Prof. Gheorghe Vasilescu şi Ignatie Monahul, 2 vols (Bucharest, 2007).
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An almost complete anthology of articles published in Romanian in the last two centuries and recently edited by G. Vasilescu and I. Monahul, Romanians and the Holy Mountain, 2 vols [in Romanian] (Bucharest, 2007), and a doctoral thesis of one of my younger colleagues at the Faculty of Theology in Bucharest, Fr Ioan Moldoveanu, entitled ‘Contributions to the History of the Relations between the Romanian Countries and Mount Athos’ [in Romanian] (Bucharest, 2007).
It is an epoch of perceptible hesychast regeneration, similar to the ones that took place in the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. The hesychast effervescence is sustained by the existence of several great spiritual personalities who have inspired the current renewal of Athonite monasticism (St Silouan, Elder Joseph, Fr Sophrony, Fr Paisios, Fr Ephrem of Katounakia, etc.), of certain great communities dedicated to the practice of hesychasm, such as the monasteries of Simonopetra and Vatopedi, and the appearance of an abundant literature of spiritual testimonies.
In 885 Basil I the Macedonian and later on Leo the Wise stopped them coming into the Holy Mountain in order to protect the monks.
There are said to have been more than 400 families of Vlachs. Alexios I Komnenos had to expel them and forbid them access to Athos, as they were disturbing the monastic life.
Marcu Beza, ‘The Vlachs at the Holy Mountain’, in Romanians and the Holy Mountain, vol. 1, pp. 432f.
Alexandru Elian, ‘Biserica Moldovei ȿi muntele Athos la începutul secolului al XIX-lea’, in Romanians and the Holy Mountain, vol. 1, p. 483.
However, the number of the Romanian monks and the conditions that they had benefited from under Hariton were never repeated according to Byzantinist Al. Elian, who argues that the name ‘Romanian Lavra’ given to Koutloumousiou was inconsistent with the real state.
Al. Elian, art. cit., pp. 484f.
Ibid., p. 486.
Ibid., p. 488.
Ibid., pp. 488–9.
The reason given by Metropolitan Veniamin Costachi is shortage of money: ‘the great difficulties’ that he had been confronted with when he became metropolitan (the absence of the voyevod’s and the noblemen’s support) ‘stunned him into not accepting the offer that, in exchange for an annual amount, one of the great monasteries of Athos should become a Moldavian monastery, and the Romanians, like other Orthodox peoples, Russians, Serbians, Bulgarians, let alone the Greeks, should have a monastery of their own on the Holy Mountain’.
Metropolitan Veniamin’s refusal is even more inexplicable when we learn that twenty-two years later the income from the Floresti monastery’s lands in Barlad amounted to 21,020 piasters.
Until then it was enough for monks to declare that they were Orthodox in order to benefit equally from all the rights and prerogatives granted to the Athonites by the Byzantine emperors and the Turkish sovereigns, irrespective of nationality. From now on, the Greek element of the Athonite population, subscribing to the current trend for national renewal, asserted itself by imposing severe measures against the monks of other nationalities who were regarded with reserve and considered undesirable. See Liviu Stan, ‘Caracterul Interorthodox al Muntelui Athos’, in Romanians and the Holy Mountain, vol. 1, p. 366.
See Teodor Bodogae, ‘Historical Considerations Regarding the Relations between the Romanian Orthodox Church and Mount Athos’, in Romanians and Mount Athos, vol. I, pp. 441–53.
See Petre Nasturel, ‘The Links between the Romanian Countries and Mount Athos until the Middle of the Fifteenth Century’, in Romanians and Mount Athos, vol. I. p. 456.
Ioan Moldoveanu, ‘Contributions to the History of the Relations between the Romanian Countries and the Holy Mountain’ (PhD thesis, Bucharest, 2007), p. 15.
See Petre Nasturel, op. cit., p. 460.
Ibid., pp. 460–1.
Porfirios Uspensky, Istorya Afona (St Petersburg, 1877), vol. 3, p. 334: ‘No other Orthodox people have done as much good to Athos as the Romanians have’.
Scarlat Ghica, ruler of Moldavia (1757–8). See Ioan Moldoveanu, op. cit., p. 298.
‘What Stephan did here encouraged his successors to continue the sacrifices’, wrote Nicolae Iorga. ‘Romanian Voyevods and Boyars Who Were Founders at Athos’ in Romanians and the Holy Mountain, vol. I, p. 582.
Ibid., p. 529.
Ibid., p. 522.
Gabriel the Protos in St Niphon’s Life.
Nicolae Iorga, Byzantium after Byzantium, 2nd edn (Bucharest, 1972), pp. 129–30.
Gh. Moisescu, ‘The Romanian Contribution to Sustaining Mount Athos throughout the Ages’ in Romanians and Mount Athos, vol. I, p. 504.
See Ioan Moldoveanu, op. cit., for a complete list of the Romanian voyevods’ donations between 1650 and 1863. Matthew Basarab in 1634 confirms the dedication of Slobozia to the Docheiariou monastery, adding more estates; in 1636 11,000 aspers to Xenophontos; in 1637 confirms the dedication of the Roaba monastery to Xenophontos; in 1640 repairs the katholikon painting at Koutloumousiou; in 1640 4,000 aspers annually to Dionysiou; in 1641 two Gospels to the Lavra; buys St Michael of Sinada’s relics for Amota; in 1646 confirms the dedication of the Clocociov monastery to Koutloumousiou; dedicates the monastery of the Dormition to Koutloumousiou; in 1637–41 renovates the western cells at Pantokrator; in 1642 4,000 aspers to Dionysiou; in 1643 an icon to Hilandar; in 1645 renovates the refectory at Hilandar; in 1644 a silver tabernacle to the Lavra; in 1648 dedicates the Holy Trinity monastery to Iviron; in 1650 donates a vineyard in Caciulesti to Dionysiou; in 1653 renovates the north-eastern wing at the Lavra, builds the chapel of St Michael of Sinada, and makes donations to Xenophontos.
In 1678 21,000 aspers annually to Vatopedi, renovates the chapel of Paramythia; in 1679 builds an aqueduct for Stavronikita; in 1680 builds the chapel of Portaitissa at Iviron; in 1681–2 dedicates the Budisteni skete to Protaton; 400 salt slabs annually; tax exemption; in 1684 dedicates the Valeni de Munte monastery; in 1686 dedicates the Calugareni skete to Stavronikita.
In 1689 dedicates the ‘Maria Doamna’ church in Bucharest; in 1691 6,000 aspers to the Lavra monastery and silver for the coffin containing St John Chrysostom’s relics; in 1696 8,000 aspers to Dionysiou; in 1696 21,000 aspers annually to Vatopedi; in 1698 150 talers annually to St Paul’s; in 1692 3,000 aspers annually to Pantokrator; in 1694 dedicated three villages to St Paul’s; in 1703 exempts the Roaba monastery, dedicated to Xenophontos, from all taxes; dedicates the Caciulati monastery to Xenophontos; 11,000 aspers to Xenophontos; in 1704 dedicates the Baia de Arama monastery to Hilandar; in 1708 repairs the north-western cells at Vatopedi; in 1708 builds the west wing of cells, the refectory, two chapels, and general renovations at St Paul’s; in 1709 a coffin/tabernacle for St Gregory the Theologian’s relics at Vatopedi; in 1713 120 aspers to Dionysiou, supplies to Philotheou, and estates to Stavronikita.
See a complete table of the dedicated monasteries, sketes, and churches, mentioning the venue, the people who dedicated them, the date, and the monastery they were dedicated to in Ioan Moldoveanu, op. cit., pp. 301–4.
Through the secularization of the monastic possessions the Romanian state came into possession of 560,000 hectares of land.
Gh. Moisescu, ‘The Romanian Contribution to Sustaining Mount Athos throughout the Ages’ in Romanians and Mount Athos, vol. I, p. 504.
Ioan Moldoveanu, op. cit., p. 80. Between 1831 and 1832 the Organic Statute established the following equivalents: 31.5 lei = 39.4g gold 990 % or 2.25 lei = 6.68g silver 583 % and 1 leu = 40 pence.
See Ioan Moldoveanu, op. cit., p. 23.
1,466,520 piasters in Moldavia and 19,920,124 piasters in Wallachia. The debts came from the fourth part of the incomes, which the monasteries were required to pay to the state at that time. By 1863 the debt amounted to 28,889,020 piasters.
The final sum they agreed on was 150,000,000 piasters, which was to be paid through a loan offered by a French bank in Constantinople, with the guarantee of the Porte, the Great Powers, and Romania.
Cf. Ioan Moldoveanu, op. cit., p. 72.
Nicolae Iorga, op. cit., p. 600: ‘At a time when Byzantium no longer existed and Serbia had expired, our voyevods alone were responsible for helping the monasteries, which no longer had a patron’.
Ibid., p. 594.
Gh. Moisescu, art. cit., p. 519.
Even people who have not entered a church before their parents died will come from that moment on to hold all the due memorial services, at three days, six days, nine days, three weeks, forty days, three months, six months, nine months, one year, and then every year after death until the seventh, all this in addition to the two occasions when the dead are jointly remembered during the church year.