Graham Speake, Kallistos Ware
GRAHAM SPEAKE. ‘The Ark of Hellenism’:Mount Athos and the Greeks under Turkish Rule
Averil Cameron has already pointed out that when Constantinople eventually and inevitably fell to the Ottomans in 1453, the Holy Mountain was able to represent a symbol of the continuity of Orthodox culture – not exclusively, but none more so than, to the Greeks.321 Most of the Greek-speaking Byzantines had in fact been subjects of the sultan for decades, if not centuries, before the fall of the City. For them the year 1453 was of little significance in practical terms. Even on the Athonites the dissolution of the empire made little impact. Since 1312 the monks had been under the jurisdiction not of the emperor but of the ecumenical patriarch, and the patriarchate was to become a key plank in the structure of the Ottoman administration. While Macedonia as a whole was overrun by the Ottomans in the late fourteenth century and again, after a brief Byzantine interlude, in the early fifteenth century, the monasteries of Athos and their estates remained inviolate. The monks in their wisdom had already come to an arrangement with the sultan whereby in return for their submission to him they would receive his protection; and in 1430 a delegation of Athonites paid homage to Sultan Murat II in Adrianople. In this way they were able to secure their survival under the infidel.
Other holy mountains had been less fortunate, or less perspicacious. As Elizabeth Zachariadou has written, holy mountains were a characteristic feature of Byzantine monasticism. Most of them were located in Asia Minor (for example, Mount Olympos in Bithynia, Mount Latros near the ancient city of Miletus, and Mount Galesion near Ephesus). After the defeat of the Byzantines at Manzikert in 1071, the Seljuq Turks ravaged the newly won territory of Anatolia and, ignoring the rules of Islam, to which they had only recently and superficially been converted, saw no reason to spare the monasteries. Very few of them survived.
The decline of the monasteries of Asia Minor worked to the advantage of Mount Athos. Its monasteries were to emerge from the period of Latin rule after 1204 with an enhanced reputation for a pious way of life. They have preserved their unique character ever since. It served them well during the Ottoman conquest of Macedonia in the late fourteenth century, for the early Ottoman rulers were impressed by their spiritual authority and were anxious to fulfil the responsibilities expected of pious Muslim rulers.322
Before the year 1453 was out, a delegation of Athonites called on Sultan Mehmet II to pay their respects and in return he agreed to safeguard their rights and protect their independence. For a century and more the monks enjoyed the active support of successive sultans and the Mountain flourished as a ‘symbol of divinely ordained religious authority’.323 What did this mean in practice? Rather than attempt a broad sweep I propose to take two snapshots of Athos, in the sixteenth century and in the eighteenth century, and to observe the activities of two pairs of parallel lives.324
A clear indication of the continuing prosperity of the Holy Mountain in the sixteenth century is the foundation in 1541 of the monastery of Stavronikita. There are references in documents of the eleventh and twelfth centuries to a monastery of that name, but it had clearly become deserted, perhaps during the Latin empire, and reverted to being a cell of Philotheou. In the 1530s monk Gregorios, abbot of a monastery in Thesprotia and a close friend of Ecumenical Patriarch Jeremias I (1522–46), purchased the cell from Philotheou for 4,000 piastres and set about restoring it as a monastery. But he did not live to complete his work and shortly after his death in 1536 the katholikon and newly built cells were destroyed by fire. The Holy Community then wrote to Patriarch Jeremias, asking him personally to undertake the restoration of Stavronikita, partly out of a desire to protect Karyes and the east coast of the peninsula from attack by pirates. This he agreed to do and by February 1540 he had assembled a group of monks and appointed an abbot. He endowed the monastery with estates on Kassandra and on Lemnos, he rebuilt the katholikon (completed in 1546), and he established the brotherhood on strict cenobitic lines, even though this was a period when most monasteries had adopted the idiorrhythmic way of life. In the manner of imperial founders Jeremias had himself portrayed in a fresco in the katholikon, dressed in his patriarchal robes and holding a model of the church that he had founded. His will survives and constitutes the typikon of the monastery. In it he writes:
I appointed an abbot there and made good arrangement that there should be a coenobitic monastery, giving written instructions and laying down this canon, saying to the man chosen as abbot and to each of his successors: most reverend man and abbot of this my monastery, you shall in no way change the coenobitic rule and canon of the monastic community … you shall not acquire any worldly goods or possessions, nor shall you lay up treasure for yourself personally, not even as much as one silver coin … you shall not have any animal of the female sex for the use of the monastery, since you have renounced contact with the female … you shall not allow any beardless youth to enter the monastery under your command, even for an hour … you shall not have any different or valuable garment but shall go dressed and shod in the traditional manner like the other monks … you shall not desert your flock to go to another, nor advance to higher office … you shall put no man before the interests of the brotherhood in Christ …325
In short, this is every bit a traditional Byzantine foundation in a post-Byzantine world. But despite its generous endowments, which continued to accrue in subsequent centuries, it has remained throughout its history one of the poorest monasteries of the Holy Mountain and its population has always been small: 68 monks in 1615, 30 in 1666, 25 in 1808, 40 in 1873, 25 in 1903, 11 in 1965, 45 in 2000.
Cenobitic Stavronikita in the mid-sixteenth century was the exception to the idiorrhythmic rule. The transition to the latter had been a gradual one, and it had started before the end of the empire, but by the end of the sixteenth century every monastery had become idiorrhythmic and remained so at least until the late eighteenth century. Stavronikita was still idiorrhythmic in the 1960s when John Julius Norwich wrote of it:
in the four centuries of its existence, so brief by local standards, its funds and its inhabitants have decreased to almost vanishing point. Discounting the tragic condition of the Russian cenobion of St Pantaleimon and of other smaller Slav houses not on the establishment as Ruling Monasteries, this will probably be the first to crumble altogether into ruins and die.326
In the event this prediction was not fulfilled, though the house was close to being abandoned in 1968 when the civil governor of the Mountain invited the hermit Fr Vasileios Gontikakis to take charge of it. Fr Vasileios accepted this invitation on condition that he was appointed abbot by the Holy Community and the monastery reverted to cenobitic rule. This was agreed and in the last forty years Stavronikita has become a model of Athonite renewal, though its numbers remain small.
Largely in response to the proliferation of the idiorrhythmic way of life among the monasteries, the first sketes were founded in the second half of the sixteenth century. They too were idiorrhythmic, inevitably because each comprised a scattered community living in separate houses grouped around a central church, but the intention of their founders was to provide a more ascetic way of life than was currently available in the monasteries, and they still retain something of that reputation for austerity even today. ‘It is sometimes said’, writes R. M. Dawkins who, as Professor of Byzantine and Modern Greek at Oxford, made several visits to Athos in the 1930s,
that the greatest severity of life may be found where there is the greatest freedom; even in the idiorrhythmic monasteries monks may live as hardly as any hermit. But it remains true in general that those who seek austerity prefer the sketes; they are … the special resort of the wearers of the Great Habit, who live under a rule whose severity many monks are not willing to face.327
Far from contracting, then, the number and variety of monastic establishments on the Holy Mountain increased considerably during the first centuries of Ottoman rule. True, there was no longer a Christian emperor in Constantinople to provide financial support when this was needed, but instead the monasteries were able to turn to Orthodox rulers who were not under direct rule from the Sublime Porte, notably the Danubian principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia, but also to a lesser extent those of Russia and Georgia. For practical purposes it was business as usual for the monks, and the monasteries prospered. Let us look at two individuals who exemplified this prosperity.
Once the buildings of the new monastery of Stavronikita had been completed, they needed to be embellished. In Byzantine times the monks of Athos had regularly called on the finest artists currently available in Constantinople to beautify their buildings and write their icons. After the fall of the empire it was necessary to look elsewhere, notably to the island of Crete, which had been under Venetian rule since 1211 and during the fifteenth century became a favoured refuge for émigré Byzantine artists and scholars. A distinct Cretan school of painting emerged, of which the most prominent representative in the sixteenth century was Theophanes Strelitzas (c. 1490–1559), a native of Candia (modern Herakleion). Some of his early work survives at Meteora, but Mount Athos was still the place where artists’ reputations were made and in 1535 he and his sons, Symeon and Neophytos, were invited to work on the katholikon and refectory at the Great Lavra. All three became monks and we know from archives of the Lavra that in 1536 Theophanes purchased a property for them near the monastery which he retained until 1559.
Needing an artist to paint the church and refectory of his brand new ‘Byzantine’ monastery of Stavronikita as well as the icons of the iconostasis, it was natural that Patriarch Jeremias should turn to the most celebrated hagiographer of the day, Theophanes. With particular reference to the icons of the iconostasis, Fr Vasileios, abbot of Stavronikita from 1968 to 1990, has written:
The maturity of our painter is evident: his lines are clear and crystallized, his colours are matched with reverence and harmony, the brush-strokes are simple, the figures are serene. The bodies are tall and slender, their movements gentle and dignified, and the composition is well-balanced. He reveals the whole inner world of each figure through the shaft of light on the dark modelling of a face. Through a small white brush-stroke and a black dot he gives to an eye an expression that a thousand words cannot describe. Wealth of simplicity and compassionate austerity characterize the art of the monk Theophanes. The contrite peace created by his iconographical world derives from the tranquillity that he possesses as a great artist and a true monk.328
With particular reference to the frescos of the katholikon at the Great Lavra, which predate those at Stavronikita, Manolis Chatzidakis has written:
This Cretan painter, whose knowledge of grammar was somewhat wanting, shows marvellous skill in arranging and adapting his compositions to suit the available surfaces, and in harmonising the elegant, Hellenising figures and serene, balanced compositions he had inherited from fifteenth-century Cretan art – now of a monumental character – all in low relief against a black background with a ground-surface of green, in dominant earth colours and subtle harmonies. He created ensembles of an impeccably Orthodox character, befitting the good taste of the monastic public he was catering for and fulfilling the expectations of his patrons … Endowed with these qualities – high art, a rich stock of iconographic material and, above all, representations of a doctrinally impeccable character – this Cretan emigrant painting radiated its influence beyond the bounds of Athos – becoming, it could be said, the official model art of the Church, whose fame endured until the late eighteenth century.329
In short, what we see here is an artist of the first rank being attracted to Athos as the place to make his name and, in so doing, setting a style that became the model for Orthodox church art for the next two centuries. At his death he left a considerable fortune. Let us now turn from visual art to the world of books.
Michael Trivolis was born in Arta to a middle-class family of Laconian origin in about 1470. The family moved to Corfu when he was about ten years old, and in about 1492 Michael moved to Italy to continue his studies, first in Florence and later in Venice. Here he fell under the influence of such leading scholars of the Renaissance as Marsilio Ficino, Aldus Manutius, and Gianfrancesco Pico della Mirandola as well as emigré Greeks such as Janus Laskaris, Laonikos Chalkokondylis, and Constantine Laskaris. But perhaps the most influential of all was the Dominican friar Savonarola (1452–98) whose preaching affected him deeply and persuaded him, in 1502, to enter the Dominican order. But after only two years he left the order and returned to Greece. By 1506 he had joined the brotherhood of Vatopedi on Mount Athos and adopted the name of Maximos. It is clear from his later writings that he had become disenchanted with many of the doctrines of the Latin Church and it may have been the influence of his teacher Janus Laskaris that directed him to Athos. Laskaris was fully aware of the rich contents of certain Athonite libraries from his own travels, and this may have been what led Maximos to choose Vatopedi in particular.330 Whatever the reason for the choice, it was clearly a happy one and for the rest of his life Maximos was to regard Vatopedi as his spiritual home.
The library of Vatopedi provided Maximos with the opportunity to immerse himself in the study of patristic literature, especially the works of St John of Damascus, whom he later described as having achieved ‘the summit of philosophy and theology’, and St Gregory of Nazianzus.331 He may also have enjoyed the cosmopolitan nature of Athonite society which now embraced considerable numbers of men from Russia, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania, attracted by the revival of hesychasm in the late Byzantine period. Certainly this will have prepared him to some extent for his future life in Russia.
In 1516 an embassy arrived on Athos from the Russian ruler Basil III with the aim of inviting to Moscow a skilled translator of Greek. During the Byzantine period, when the Russian Church had been under the jurisdiction of the Constantinople patriarchate, the royal library had acquired a large number of manuscripts in Greek which, by the early sixteenth century, very few Russians could read. They therefore needed a scholar who could read them and translate them into Slavonic. The abbot of Vatopedi recommended Maximos because, as he wrote to the metropolitan of Moscow, he was
proficient in divine Scripture and adept in interpreting all kinds of books, both ecclesiastical and those called Hellenic [i.e. secular], because from his early youth he has grown up in them and learned [to understand] them through the practice of virtue, and not simply by reading them often, as others do.332
There is no doubt that he was also expected to raise funds for his monastery. On his way he stopped in Constantinople where we may be sure that the patriarch briefed him on the two most pressing issues of the day: the wish to restore his authority over the Russian Church and his hope that Russia might provide aid for the Greek subjects of the sultan.
Maximos arrived in Moscow in March 1518, accompanied by the Greek monk Neophytos and the Bulgarian monk Lavrentii, and was received with honour. His first assignment was to translate some patristic commentaries on the Psalms. Since he did not yet know Russian, his method was first to translate the texts into Latin, which his collaborators then translated into Slavonic. This was not an ideal procedure and inevitably mistakes were made, but in his introduction to the work when it was finally completed Maximos assured his patron that it would be a useful aid to defeating heresy. So-called ‘Judaizers’ were thought to have tampered with the text of certain passages in the Psalms, and though the heretics had been denounced in 1504, Russian society was still divided over how to respond to them and so Maximos’s work was a hot potato.
On completion of this translation Maximos expected to be able to return to Mount Athos, but this was not to be. Now he was employed in translating various biblical and patristic texts and also in correcting the liturgical books, which he found to be full of errors. ‘It became obvious to him’, writes Dimitri Obolensky,
that the howlers committed by early translators, compounded by scribal errors, had led to mistranslations which at best were absurd, and at worst heretical. Some of the most glaring he corrected himself, unaware of the trouble he was storing up for the future.333
Maximos also allowed himself to be drawn into other controversial debates. At the request of his friend Vassian Patrikeev, a former general and diplomat who had become a monk, he wrote in praise of the virtues of cenobitic monasticism as practised by the monasteries of Athos. He left unstated his opposition to the very different approach of the larger monasteries of Russia which had become immensely wealthy by their possession of enormous estates and exploitation of peasant labour. But if Maximos was restrained in his writing, his friend Vassian went to the opposite extreme in declaring:
All our books are false ones, and were written by the devil and not by the Holy Spirit. Until Maxim we used these books to blaspheme God, and not to glorify or pray to him. Now, through Maxim, we have come to know God.334
Not everyone agreed. In 1522 Daniel, abbot of Volokolamsk, one of the wealthiest of the monasteries that Maximos had tacitly impugned, was appointed bishop of Moscow and primate of the Russian Church. Most provocatively, Daniel invited Maximos to translate a book that supported monastic landownership and contained other texts of a heretical nature. Maximos declined, and went on to criticize the divorce and remarriage of the ruler, earning himself enemies both ecclesiastical and princely. In the winter of 1524/5 he was arrested on charges of heresy (for making changes to the liturgical books), sorcery, and treason (for allegedly entertaining relations with the Sublime Porte). He was also accused of maintaining that the independence of the Russian Church from the Constantinople patriarchate was illegal and of criticizing the Russian monasteries for their ownership of land and serfs. While the first three charges were clearly unjust, the last two were no doubt true and Maximos would not have denied them. The court, presided over by Grand Prince Basil III and Metropolitan Daniel, sentenced Maximos to solitary confinement in the monastery of Volokolamsk where he was put in chains, excommunicated, and deprived of the means to read and write. After a second trial, in 1531, convened to silence the prisoner’s protests at his unjust treatment, he was moved to Tver where gradually some of his privations were relaxed. He asked repeatedly to be allowed to return to Mount Athos but all such requests were refused.
Maximos was finally released from prison in about 1548, his excommunication was annulled, and he was allowed to reside in St Sergius’s monastery of the Holy Trinity near Moscow (formerly Zagorsk, now Sergiev Posad). Here he spent his last years reading, writing, and teaching and here he died, at the age of eighty-six, on 21 January 1556. His entry in the Synaxarion, a compendium of saints’ lives first put together by St Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain, ends with these words:
Saint Maximus the Greek was the most prolific of all the writers of Old Russia. Opposed with good reason to the infiltration of western humanism, he conveyed the treasures of the Byzantine spirit and literature to the Russian people. Soon after his decease, he was recognized and venerated as a holy Martyr and ‘Enlightener of Russia’.335
Dimitri Obolensky, who had championed the cause of Maximos and was instrumental in his eventual canonization, concludes his portrait with a judiciously balanced assessment:
Maximos, though not a creative thinker, was at least a sound and wide-ranging scholar, with an excellent training in ancient philosophy and textual criticism; though he played an important role in the controversies that shook sixteenth-century Muscovite society, his learning was, with a few notable exceptions, above its head; and he lived in a cosmopolitan world where the Byzantine heritage, the late medieval Italo-Greek connections, and the traditional links between Russia, Mount Athos, and Constantinople were still to some extent living realities. He was one of the last of his kind.336
It was the Russian scholar Elie Denissoff who succeeded in identifying Maximos the Greek with the Greek émigré Michael Trivolis and was therefore able to suggest that his life took the shape of a diptych with Mount Athos as its hinge and Italy and Russia as its two leaves.337 This attractive image would surely have appealed to Maximos who throughout his Russian exile longed to be allowed to return to the Holy Mountain. It was not until 1997 that the final denouement of the drama was to be played out. In July of that year Abbot Ephraim of Vatopedi travelled to Moscow to be presented with a portion of the relics of Maximos by Patriarch Alexis II. After concelebrating the Divine Liturgy with the Patriarch in the church of the Intercession (St Basil’s) in Red Square, the abbot returned to Athos with the relics and placed them in the Katholikon of the Annunciation at Vatopedi. This joyful event, by which some of the physical remains of Maximos were at last laid to rest in his spiritual home some 480 years after he had left it, was seen as symbolic of the increasingly close relationship between Vatopedi and the rest of the Orthodox world.
For long periods of its history we have precious little information about what life was really like for the average monk on the Holy Mountain. Since for the most part there was nothing particularly remarkable about it, there was no reason to write it down. We only know about the stars who shine out by reason of their exceptional qualities, their enduring writings, or their adventurous exploits. ‘When exploring Athonite spirituality,’ writes Metropolitan Kallistos, ‘we are like children gathering sea shells on the margin of an uncharted ocean.’338 Certainly for the seventeenth century and the early part of the eighteenth there was a mood of gloom and despondency throughout much of the Greek world and Athos was no exception to this trend. Economic decline set in as a result of punitive taxes imposed by the Ottoman authorities, followed by intellectual decline which manifested itself particularly in neglect of the libraries and their contents. There is also some evidence of spiritual decline, though standards of asceticism were upheld and vows were strictly observed, despite the universal adoption of the idiorrhythmic system.
We gain some idea of conditions for monks on Athos at the time from the accounts of pilgrims. The Russian traveller Vasily Barsky (1702–47), for example, visited the Mountain as a pilgrim in 1725 and again in 1744, leaving copious accounts of both journeys. When he arrived at the Russian monastery of St Panteleimon in 1725, he found just four monks, two Russians and two Bulgarians; on his second visit, in 1744, he noted that the monastery was now in Greek hands, that it was idiorrhythmic, and that its buildings were in a serious state of disrepair.339 He observed Russian monks ‘wandering hither and thither about the hills, living by manual labour, eating scraps and being despised by all’, though he suggested that they only had themselves to blame for this sorry state of affairs: ‘for in Russia, where all labour is carried out by dedicated Christians, the monks live in great ease and comfort’.340 Spiritual life on the Holy Mountain had clearly reached a pretty low ebb, especially for the Slavs.
Despite the prevailing gloom, or perhaps because of it, one or two stars emerge; and as the century wore on, a veritable galaxy bears witness to an intellectual and spiritual revival in which Athos was to play a leading role. Once again we shall focus our attention on just two parallel but contrasting lives, both remarkable examples of Athonite outreach.
The initiative for the foundation of an academy of higher learning on Mount Athos in the mid-eighteenth century seems to have come from the idiorrhythmic fathers of Vatopedi under the enlightened leadership of their Prohegoumenos Meletios. The school on Patmos, which had been a major centre of Orthodox education for the Greek world in the early part of the century, was now in decline and when Cyril V was appointed to the patriarchal throne in 1748 he soon became aware of the need for a new one. The Holy Synod therefore welcomed the suggestion of the Vatopedi fathers and entrusted the task of establishing the academy to Meletios. A site was chosen on high ground overlooking the monastery and handsome buildings were erected at Vatopedi’s expense. The aim of this institute of higher learning, both religious and philosophical, was to produce suitably qualified leaders for the Church and for the Orthodox world as a whole. Its first director, monk Neophytos of Kafsokalyvia, perhaps the most learned Athonite of the time, was appointed in December 1749. But by the end of his term of office the school still had no more than twenty students and in 1753 the patriarchate appointed Evgenios Voulgaris (1716–1806) to take over as director and to provide instruction in philosophy and mathematics as well as ethics and theology.
This was an inspired appointment, and a bold one. Voulgaris was a Corfiot who had studied in Italy where he learned Latin as well as French and Italian. He was a devout deacon who had served the church in Venice, but he was also a student of modern philosophy and the sciences. Returning to Greece to teach in schools in Ioannina and Kozani, he had aroused controversy among traditionalists who were suspicious of his rationalist views and even accused him of heresy. None of this deterred the patriarchate from appointing him to Athos since he was clearly the best candidate for the post. Paschalis Kitromilides has described the Athonias, as the academy came to be known, as ‘undoubtedly the most important initiative of the Church in the field of education during the eighteenth century’.341
When Voulgaris was called by patriarchal sigil, in 1753, to improve the Athonite Academy, to ‘change and reform it’, certainly the Church’s expectation was that by modernizing the education of its leading personnel, it would be able to respond more effectively to the challenges of the times.342
With the backing of both the patriarch and the Vatopedi fathers, Voulgaris seemed destined for a stellar career that would test the extent and the strength of the encounter between Orthodoxy and the Enlightenment. For a while all seemed to go well, and in a letter written in 1756 to a former pupil, Kyprianos the Cypriot, whom he had taught in Ioannina, he wrote lyrically of the delights of the school’s location and went on to give a rather poetic description of the curriculum:
There Demosthenes struggles, encouraging the Athenians against the Macedonians; there Homer in his rhapsodies sings the heroic deeds around Ilion; there Thucydides narrates in sublime style the civil strife of the Greeks; there the father of history in Ionic style narrates earlier history and victories against the barbarians; here Plato expounds theology and Aristotle in multiple ways unravels the mysteries of nature; and the French, the Germans, and the English teach their novel philosophical systems.343
There is no reference to religious instruction (apart from Plato); and ‘the French, the Germans, and the English’ who did form part of the curriculum were presumably Descartes, Leibniz and Wolff, and John Locke. As in Ioannina, it was these ‘novel philosophical systems’ that were to be the director’s undoing.
Despite his impeccable Orthodox credentials, his serious interests in hesychasm and apophatic theology, and his receipt of a cure from a miracle-working icon of the Mother of God at Dionysiou, Voulgaris soon encountered opposition. It came first from the monks who found his teaching to be at odds with their own conservative traditions. Then his own students (who had greatly increased in numbers since his arrival at the school) divided into factions and a group turned against him. Finally in 1757 Patriarch Cyril himself was deprived of his throne and retired to Athos where he proceeded to meddle in the business of the school. Having been Voulgaris’s staunchest supporter, Cyril became his most hostile opponent and set the whole Mountain against him. Under attack on all fronts, from colleagues, students, and his former patron, Voulgaris felt obliged to resign. In a letter to Cyril dated 29 January 1759 Voulgaris cites the behaviour of the former patriarch as the principal reason for his resignation and in February he left Athos for good.
Thus ended the Holy Mountain’s experiment with Enlightenment. For the best part of a decade the Athonias had shone as a model institution, attracting pupils not only from the Greek world but from as far afield as Italy and Russia, drawn no doubt by the international reputation of its director as well as by the thirst for knowledge that characterized the eighteenth century in general. Among them were Athanasios Parios, Iosipos Moisiodax, and Kosmas the Aetolian, all of whom went on to enjoy distinguished careers as scholars and evangelists. The school itself survived for a year or two. The appointment of Nikolaos Zerzoulis, a philosopher from Metsovo who had introduced the Greek world to Newtonian physics, as successor to Voulgaris demonstrates the determination of the patriarchate to persevere with its original intention of creating a modern institute of higher learning. But he too encountered problems similar to those of his predecessor and within two years he was back in Metsovo. Those students that remained followed Voulgaris to Constantinople and the school on Athos was closed. Revisiting his alma mater in 1765, Iosipos Moisiodax described it as a ‘nest of ravens’.344
Voulgaris’s career, however, was far from being at an end. After a short stint in Constantinople, where he was invited by Patriarch Seraphim II to reform the patriarchal academy and to modernize its curriculum, in 1763 he returned to the west and continued his studies in Leipzig and Halle, immersing himself in German rationalism and publishing works of his own including his influential Logic (Leipzig, 1766). Then in 1771 came an invitation to Russia from no less a person than Empress Catherine II to join her court in St Petersburg as librarian and curator of antiquities.345 Voulgaris’s acceptance of this invitation should be seen in the context of his vision of the advantages that were to be gained from the adoption of western philosophy and science in the education system of the Orthodox world. As Kitromilides has written,
Voulgaris visualised that intellectual reform would supply the appropriate moral substratum for the attainment of political change and the re-establishment of an enlightened Christian monarchy over the Orthodox peoples of south-eastern Europe in the place of Ottoman autocracy. His predilection for a Christian monarchy eventually attached Voulgaris to the policies of Catherine the Great, who in her turn saw the expectations of the Christian subjects of the Ottoman Empire as a convenient vehicle for Russian imperial expansion toward the warm seas of the South.346
From 1775 to 1779 Voulgaris served as Archbishop of Kherson and Slaviansk in Novorussia, territory ceded to Russia as a result of the Russo-Ottoman war of 1768–74. In retirement he remained for some years in Kherson and Poltava before returning to St Petersburg in 1788. There he spent his old age, studying the philosophers, but remaining ever loyal to his church, until his death in 1806. Variously labelled ‘the dean of the Enlightenment in south-eastern Europe’ (by Kitromilides) and ‘the living library of polymathy’ (by Moisiadax), Voulgaris was one of the greatest intellectuals and theologians of the eighteenth-century Orthodox world. If his principal achievements lay in the extension of the political dimension of Greco-Russian cultural relations, his motivation is neatly summarized by Kitromilides:
Despite his receptivity to several of the fundamental philosophical and scientific principles of the European Enlightenment, the broader context of his thought was determined by the Orthodox tradition and by Orthodox doctrine. He thus remained within the bounds of Orthodoxy, which he saw as the common denominator to the aspirations of the Russians and the Greeks.347
My fourth and final Athonite star is Kosmas the Aetolian (1714–79). Born to a pious family of weavers in the village of Megadendron near Naupaktos, he was educated locally before moving to Mount Athos and finally enrolling as a student at the newly founded Athonias in 1749. On leaving the academy, probably shortly before the arrival there of Voulgaris, Kosmas was tonsured a monk at the monastery of Philotheou and later ordained priest. After thirty-five years of study he was finally convinced that Orthodoxy was the one true faith.
Having reached this conclusion, Kosmas felt a calling to share his faith with his fellow Greeks and asked permission of his elders to leave the monastery and travel to Constantinople. There he obtained the blessing of Patriarch Seraphim II (1757–61) to become a missionary and a permit in writing that would ensure his safe passage among local bishops and Ottoman officials. Kosmas was deeply conscious of the widespread ignorance of his fellow countrymen in matters of religion and alarmed by the rate at which they were abandoning Orthodoxy and converting to Islam. His aim was to counter this by taking his knowledge of the Bible and of the Church Fathers and of Athonite spirituality to the people of Greece and the Balkans.
Kosmas began his ministry in 1760 in the churches around Constantinople. He was clearly a charismatic preacher and attracted huge crowds who came to hear his message. Wherever he went – and in the course of nearly two decades he covered more or less the whole of Greece including the Dodecanese and the Ionian islands – he founded schools that would promote both the study of Orthodox Christianity and the knowledge of Greek as the language of the Bible and the Fathers, saying:
My beloved children in Christ, bravely and fearlessly preserve our holy faith and the language of our Fathers, because both of these characterize our most beloved homeland, and without them our nation is destroyed.348
From time to time Kosmas returned to the Holy Mountain, but only for brief periods, no doubt to recharge his spiritual batteries. But it is interesting to note that he had acquired the Athonite practice of the Jesus prayer and that this formed part of his teaching. At a time when hesychastic traditions are thought to have more or less died out on Athos, Kosmas was exhorting people to pray continually: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son and Logos of the living God, by the intercessions of the Theotokos and all the saints, have mercy on me the sinner and unworthy servant of Thee.’349 Perhaps Philotheou, a strict monastery (then as now), had succeeded in preserving spiritual traditions that had been lost elsewhere on the Mountain.
Kosmas’s missionary journeys and the impact that he made on his hearers are described in detail by his disciple Sapphiros Christodoulidis in the New Martyrologion, of which an English translation is included in Constantine Cavarnos’s book, St Cosmas Aitolos.
Wherever this thrice-blessed man went [writes Christodoulidis], people listened with great contrition and devoutness to his grace-imbued and sweet words, and there resulted great improvement in their ways and great benefit to their souls … Aided by Divine grace, he tamed the fierce, rendered brigands gentle, made the pitiless and unmerciful compassionate and merciful, the impious pious, instructed those who were ignorant in divine things and made them attend the church services, and briefly he brought the sinners to great repentance and correction, so that everybody was saying that in our times there has appeared a new Apostle.350
By the Greeks he was labelled ‘Isapostolos’, ‘equal to the Apostles’, but he was equally revered by Muslims who were deeply moved by his sermons, his piety, and the miracles that occurred wherever he went. There is no doubt about the spiritual effect that his missionary activities aroused, but Kitromilides, doyen of the study of eighteenth-century Greece, is surely wise to be cautious about the anachronistic contribution some see him as making towards the arousal of Greek national consciousness.351 He concludes his survey of the initiatives of the Great Church in the mid-eighteenth century thus:
The activities [of the Church] in the sectors of education [in the hands of Voulgaris], pastoral care [in the hands of Kosmas] and administration [in the hands of Patriarch Samuel I] … appear to aim at safeguarding the Orthodox community as a whole, and do not seem to issue from any nationalist motives or from expediencies of secular power politics. For this reason, the systematic effort that has been made in Greek historiography to elevate Kosmas the Aetolian to this status of ‘awakener of the nation’ and to dub him a ‘national apostle’ of the political interests of Hellenism in the Balkans is not only a misinterpretation but also a suppression of the significance of the Church’s solicitude for the weal of Orthodoxy.352
On the contrary, Kosmas belonged to the school of thought that regarded Turkish rule as a punishment sent by God for the sins of the Greeks: ‘And why did God bring the Turks and not some other race? For our good, because the other nations would have caused detriment to our Faith.’353 This line of thought, by which the hierarchs of the Church could be seen to have identified their own interests with those of the Ottoman government, was to manifest itself later in the declaration of Patriarch Anthimos of Jerusalem, causing great resentment in the ranks of the embryonic nationalist intelligentsia in the decades before 1821:
Our Lord … raised out of nothing this powerful Empire of the Ottomans in the place of our Roman [Byzantine] Empire which had begun, in certain ways, to deviate from the beliefs of the Orthodox faith, and He raised up the Empire of the Ottomans higher than any other Kingdom so as to show without doubt that it came about by Divine Will.354
As Richard Clogg comments, ‘The argument advanced by the Patriarch Anthimos of Jerusalem in 1798 that Christians should not challenge the established order because the Ottoman Empire had been raised up by God to protect Orthodoxy from the taint of the heretical, Catholic West was by no means untypical of the views of the hierarchy at large.’355 Indeed it was being propounded by Kosmas the Aetolian thirty years earlier.356
In fact Kosmas was careful always to ask permission to preach not only of the local bishop but also of the Turkish authorities wherever he travelled. Having obtained it, he did not hold back from references to the Antichrist, the end of the world, and (despite his belief in the Ottoman empire as the bulwark of Orthodoxy) the liberation of Greece which he predicted would come about within three generations. Not surprisingly, such comments aroused the suspicions of the authorities who were easily persuaded that Kosmas and his followers were associated with the declared aims of the Russian government to liberate the Orthodox peoples of south-eastern Europe from the Ottoman yoke. One day, when visiting the Albanian village of Kolikontasi, he was seized by agents of the local pasha and, realizing that the moment had come for his work to be crowned with martyrdom, he gave thanks to Christ for deeming him worthy of so great an honour. The next day, 24 August 1779, he was hanged from a tree beside the road to Berat. ‘Thus’, comments Christodoulidis, ‘the thrice-blessed Kosmas, that great benefactor of men, became worthy of receiving, at the age of sixty-five, a double crown from the Lord, one as a Peer of the Apostles and the other as a holy Martyr.’357
Kosmas’s tomb became the site of many miracles, and in 1813 Ali Pasha of Ioannina, whose glittering career the saint had predicted thirty years before, built a church and monastery there in his honour. Having been officially canonized by the patriarchate of Constantinople in 1961, his relics are now the object of fervent veneration by the Orthodox and a symbol of the restoration of the faith in the land of Albania.
So we see that the power of Athos as symbol of continuity for the Orthodox lives on even today. If after the fall of the Byzantine empire the Holy Mountain represented a symbol of the continuity of Orthodox culture, it has never lost sight of this role. If the symbol was shining with all the brilliance of a new creation in the sixteenth century, it had lost none of its lustre in the eighteenth, and in the twenty-first century, when the need for it is greater than ever before, it shines just as brightly as ever.
Similarly, throughout its history Athos has never ceased to attract men of outstanding ability, endowing them on their arrival with the full panoply of its own spiritual gifts, then sending them out into the world to live and work to God’s praise and glory. The careers that we have briefly charted above have been among the most celebrated: Theophanes the artist, drawn to Athos to make his name, only to find his work raised to the status of a model for the art of the Church for centuries to come; Maximos the scholar, lured by the prospect of studying the famed contents of Athonite libraries, only to find himself exporting the treasures of Byzantine spirituality and culture to the Russian people; Voulgaris, one of the greatest intellectuals and theologians of the eighteenth-century Orthodox world, appointed to Athos to mastermind the pet project of the patriarch, then translated to the court of Catherine the Great with a vision to re-establish an enlightened Christian monarchy over the Orthodox peoples of south-eastern Europe; finally Kosmas, the humble monk, blessed with a compulsive missionary urge to enlighten his fellow Greeks, equal of the Apostles and holy martyr. It would be hard to imagine a starker contrast than that between Voulgaris, doyen of the Enlightenment, and the arch-traditionalist Kosmas. That both could be accommodated on Athos at more or less the same time is testimony to the Mountain’s astonishing vitality in the second half of the eighteenth century. These are just four examples from an endless stream of witnesses to the power of Athos to preserve and transmit its traditions, ‘at once landmark and generator of spiritual movement, known to fourteenth-century writers as “the workshop of virtue”’.358
Athos has survived because it transcends national borders. It remains the centre of spirituality for all the Eastern Orthodox Churches. As could be said of all the lands of Byzantium (and according to Anthony Bryer can be said by a villager in north-eastern Turkey to this day), ‘this was Roman country; they spoke Christian here.’359 It is no accident that all four of the stars whose careers we have traced have been Greeks. Apart from a brief period of Slav domination at the turn of the nineteenth century, Greeks have always formed a majority on Athos. But three of them died outside the borders of modern Greece, and all of them exerted an influence that spread throughout the Orthodox world. Between them they transmitted the elements of Greek art, Greek scholarship, Greek philosophy, and Greek language to a world that was ravenously hungry for them. Not without reason is Athos celebrated as ‘the ark of Hellenism’. This is the principal legacy of the post-Byzantine Greeks on the Holy Mountain.
Batalden, S. K., Catherine II’s Greek Prelate: Eugenios Voulgaris in Russia, 1771−1806 (New York, 1982).
Bryer, A., ‘The Roman Orthodox World (1393–1492)’, in J. Shepard (ed.), The Cambridge History of the Byzantine Empire c. 500–1492 (Cambridge, 2008), pp. 852–80.
Cavarnos, C., The Holy Mountain, 2nd edn (Belmont, MA, 1977).
––, St Cosmas Aitolos, 3rd edn (Belmont, MA, 1985).
Chatzidakis, M., ‘Byzantine Art on Mount Athos’, in Treasures of Mount Athos (Thessaloniki, 1997).
Clogg, R., A Concise History of Greece (Cambridge, 1992).
––, ed. and trans., The Movement for Greek Independence 1770−1821: A Collection of Documents (London, 1976).
Dawkins, R. M., The Monks of Athos (London, 1936).
Denissoff, E., Maxime le Grec et l’Occident: Contribution à l’histoire de la pensée religieuse et philosophique de Michel Trivolis (Paris, 1943).
Fennell, N., The Russians on Athos (Oxford, 2001).
Gothóni, R., Tales and Truth: Pilgrimage on Mount Athos Past and Present (Helsinki, 1994).
Grishin, A., ‘Bars’kyj and the Orthodox Community’, in M. Angold (ed.), The Cambridge History of Christianity, vol. 5: Eastern Christianity (Cambridge, 2006), pp. 210–28.
Icons at the Monastery of Stavronikita Painted in 1546 by Theophanes the Cretan (Athens, n.d.).
Kitromilides, P., An Orthodox Commonwealth: Symbolic Legacies and Cultural Encounters in Southeastern Europe (Aldershot, 2007).
––, ‘Orthodoxy and the West: Reformation to Enlightenment’, in M. Angold (ed.), The Cambridge History of Christianity, vol. 5: Eastern Christianity (Cambridge, 2006), pp. 187−209.
Hieromonk Makarios of Simonos Petra, The Synaxarion: The Lives of the Saints of the Orthodox Church, trans. C. Hookway, vol. 3: January, February (Ormylia, 2001).
Norwich, J., J., and R. Sitwell, Mount Athos (London, 1966).
Obolensky, D., ‘Italy, Mount Athos, and Muscovy: The Three Worlds of Maximos the Greek (c. 1470−1556)’, Proceedings of the British Academy, 67 (1981), 143–61.
––, Six Byzantine Portraits (Oxford, 1988).
Patrinelis, C., A. Karakatsanis, M Theocharis, Stavronikita Monastery: History, Icons, Embroidery (Athens, 1974).
Shepard, J., ‘The Byzantine Commonwealth 1000−1500’, in M. Angold (ed.), The Cambridge History of Christianity, vol. 5: Eastern Christianity (Cambridge, 2006), pp. 3−52.
Speake, G., ‘Janus Laskaris’ Visit to Mount Athos in 1491’, Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies, 34: 3 (1993), 325−30.
––, Mount Athos: Renewal in Paradise (New Haven, CT, and London, 2002).
Vaporis, N. M., Father Kosmas, the Apostle of the Poor: The Life of St Kosmas Aitolon together with an English Translation of his Teaching and Letters (Brookline, MA, 1977).
Ware, K., ‘St Nikodimos and the Philokalia’, in D. Conomos and G. Speake (eds), Mount Athos the Sacred Bridge: The Spirituality of the Holy Mountain (Oxford, 2005), pp. 69−121.
Zachariadou, E. A., ‘Mount Athos and the Ottomans c. 1350−1550’, in M. Angold (ed.), The Cambridge History of Christianity, vol. 5: Eastern Christianity (Cambridge, 2006), pp. 154−68.
* * *
See above, p. 27.
E. A. Zachariadou, ‘Mount Athos and the Ottomans c. 1350–1550’, in M. Angold (ed.), The Cambridge History of Christianity, vol. 5: Eastern Christianity (Cambridge, 2006), p. 155.
Averil Cameron, above, p. 26.
For a more general survey of Athos under Turkish rule the reader is referred to the chapter on ‘Ottoman Athos’ in my book Mount Athos: Renewal in Paradise (New Haven, CT, and London, 2002), pp. 113–56.
C. Patrinelis, A. Karakatsanis, M. Theocharis, Stavronikita Monastery: History, Icons, Embroidery (Athens, 1974), pp. 23–4.
J. J. Norwich and R. Sitwell, Mount Athos (London, 1966), p. 146.
R. M. Dawkins, The Monks of Athos (London, 1936), pp. 150–1.
Introduction to Icons at the Monastery of Stavronikita Painted in 1546 by Theophanes the Cretan (Athens, n.d.).
M. Chatzidakis, ‘Byzantine Art on Mount Athos’, in Treasures of Mount Athos (Thessaloniki, 1997), pp. 21–8 (pp. 24–5).
See G. Speake, ‘Janus Laskaris’ Visit to Mount Athos in 1491’, Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies, 34: 3 (1993), 325–30.
See D. Obolensky, Six Byzantine Portraits (Oxford, 1988), pp. 201–19 (p. 206).
Ibid., p. 208.
Ibid., p. 211.
V. S. Ikonnikov, Maksim Grek i ego vremya, 2nd edn (Kiev, 1915), p. 409, quoted in Obolensky, op. cit., p. 213.
Hieromonk Makarios of Simonos Petra, The Synaxarion: The Lives of the Saints of the Orthodox Church, trans. C. Hookway, vol. 3: January, February (Ormylia, 2001), p. 252. But it was not until 1988 that the Moscow Patriarchate formally added Maximos to the calendar of saints.
Op. cit., p. 219.
E. Denissoff, Maxime le Grec et l’Occident: Contribution à l’histoire de la pensée religieuse et philosophique de Michel Trivolis (Paris, 1943). Hence the title of Obolensky’s 1981 Raleigh Lecture on History, ‘Italy, Mount Athos, and Muscovy: The Three Worlds of Maximos the Greek (c. 1470–1556)’, published in the Proceedings of the British Academy, 67 (1981), 143–61, which preceded the publication of his book, Six Byzantine Portraits, by seven years.
K. Ware, ‘St Nikodimos and the Philokalia’, in D. Conomos and G. Speake, eds, Mount Athos the Sacred Bridge: The Spirituality of the Holy Mountain (Oxford, 2005), pp. 69–121 (p. 74).
N. Fennell, The Russians on Athos (Oxford, 2001), p. 58.
V. G. Barsky, Travel Diary (St Petersburg, 1793), pp. 296, 300. For Barsky’s two journeys to Athos see further R. Gothóni, Tales and Truth: Pilgrimage on Mount Athos Past and Present (Helsinki, 1994), pp. 73–80, and A. Grishin, ‘Bars’kyj and the Orthodox Community’, in Angold (ed.), Eastern Christianity, pp. 210–28.
P. Kitromilides, ‘Initiatives of the Great Church in the Mid-Eighteenth Century: Hypotheses on the Factors of Orthodox Ecclesiastical Strategy’, Ch. V in An Orthodox Commonwealth: Symbolic Legacies and Cultural Encounters in Southeastern Europe (Aldershot, 2007), p. 5.
Ibid., p. 3.
Quoted by P. Kitromilides, ‘Orthodoxy and the West: Reformation to Enlightenment’, in M. Angold (ed.), Eastern Christianity, p. 203.
I. Moisiodax, Apologia (Vienna, 1780), p. 128; quoted by P. Kitromilides, ‘Athos and the Enlightenment’, Ch. VII in An Orthodox Commonwealth, p. 261.
See S. K. Batalden, Catherine II’s Greek Prelate: Eugenios Voulgaris in Russia, 1771–1806 (New York, 1982).
P. Kitromilides, ‘Europe and the Dilemmas of Greek Conscience’, Ch. XI in An Orthodox Commonwealth, p. 5.
P. Kitromilides, ‘From Orthodox Commonwealth to National Communities: Greek-Russian Intellectual and Ecclesiastical Ties in the Ottoman Era’, Ch. VI in An Orthodox Commonwealth, p. 13.
N. M. Vaporis, Father Kosmas, the Apostle of the Poor: The Life of St Kosmas Aitolon together with an English Translation of his Teaching and Letters (Brookline, MA, 1977), p. 146.
C. Cavarnos, St Cosmas Aitolos, 3rd edn (Belmont, MA, 1985), p. 71.
Neon Martyrologion, 3rd edn (Athens, 1961), pp. 202–3; quoted in C. Cavarnos, The Holy Mountain, 2nd edn. (Belmont, MA, 1977), p. 58.
P. Kitromilides, ‘Orthodox Culture and Collective Identity’, Ch. II in An Orthodox Commonwealth, p. 141 n. 22.
P. Kitromilides, ‘Initiatives of the Great Church in the Mid-Eighteenth Century’, Ch. V in An Orthodox Commonwealth, p. 6.
Id., ‘Orthodox Culture and Collective Identity’, Ch. II in An Orthodox Commonwealth, p. 23.
Anthimos, Patriarch of Jerusalem, Didaskalia Patriki (1798), quoted in R. Clogg, A Concise History of Greece (Cambridge, 1992), p. 13.
Ibid. See also R. Clogg, ed. and trans., The Movement for Greek Independence 1770– 1821: A Collection of Documents (London, 1976), pp. 56–62.
The same view is stated by St Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain who in his collection of the Holy Canons entitled Pedalion (‘Rudder’) writes, ‘Divine Providence has set a guardian over us’, that ‘guardian’ being none other than the Ottoman empire. See K. Ware, ‘St Nikodimos and the Philokalia’, p. 81.
Cavarnos, St Cosmas Aitolos, p. 45.
J. Shepard, ‘The Byzantine Commonwealth 1000–1500’, in M. Angold (ed.), Eastern Christianity, pp. 3–52 (p. 36).
A. Bryer, ‘The Roman Orthodox World (1393–1492)’, in J. Shepard (ed.), The Cambridge History of the Byzantine Empire c. 500–1492 (Cambridge, 2008), p. 853.