Stole of Meletios of Ochrid, 1682

3 November 2011

Dimensions: 150 x 30 cm., inscription: 29 x 8 cm.

The stole is decorated with the scene ‘The Prophets from on High’. The yoke has the Theo­tokos enthroned in the type of the Platytera* with the Infant Christ and a cherub on either side. On the two descending bands of the vestment a branch climbs, forming itself into acute-pointed frames which contain busts of the prophets. These hold in their hands the symbols of the Theotokos, in the following order:

The objects which they are holding refer to their prophecies in connection with the coming of the Saviour.

David: “I before called thee a sanctified ark, Daughter, seeing the grace of the temple”.

Solomon: “I before called thee the couch of the king, Daughter, proclaiming thy miracle”.

Moses: “I before called thee a bush, daughter Theotokos, for I saw a strange mystery in the bush”.

Aaron: “To me the rod foretold that the creator would bring forth a branch from thee, pure Virgin”.

Zechariah: “I foresaw thee as a lamp with seven lights, Virgin, shedding spiritual light upon the world”.

Gideon: “I before called thee, pure one, a fleece of wool, Virgin, for I saw the miracle of thy giving birth in a fleece”.

Ezekiel: “I saw thee as the closed gate of God, through which the God of all things alone passed”.

Jacob: “I in sleep saw thee as a ladder, daughter Theotokos, reaching from the earth to the Divine Pole”.

Isaiah: “I before saw thee, pure one, as coal-bearing tongs, and the throne of the king”.

Jeremiah: “Cleanse thy heart from evil, Jerusalem”.

The branch ends at the breast of the vestment in floral decoration in the shape of a candlestick. A comparison of this stole with others of the same art in the Museum of Decorative Arts in Belgrade leads to the conclusion that it comes from a Serbian workshop, a hypothesis which is supported by the Slavonic inscription: “THIS STOLE IS THE PROPERTY OF THE MOST BLESSED ARCHBISHOP OF JUSTINIANA PRIMA DOMINUS MELETIOS AND IT WAS FINISHED IN THE YEAR, ãAX¶Bã (1682)”32

Justiniana Prima, the birthplace of the Emperor Justinian in Lower Moesia, was created as a city by the Emperor. Its site, however, is not known with certainty. The Emperor also made it an archbishopric which included seven provinces and 20 bishoprics. These provinces had previously been dependent upon Rome, which ratified their dependence on Justianiana Prima in 545. The archdiocese was subject to raids from the 7th century and was in part laid waste by the Slavs. It is not known when the archbishopric disappeared from history, but the title began to be used afresh in the 11th or 12th century. In 1018-1020, Basil II, the conqueror of the Bulgars, set up an autonomous archbishopric in Ochrid, where the Bulgarian Patriarch had taken refuge. This included many of what had been the provinces of Justiniana Prima. In order to increase its prestige, one of the Archbishops of Ochrid added to his title that of Justiniana Prima. In the 17th century, the Ecumenical Patriarch intervened in the Archdiocese of Ochrid, given that it was a centre of Hellenism: all the documents were written in Greek, and as a rule not only the archbishops but the metropolitans and bishops subject to them were Greek. The state of the Archdiocese of Ochrid had deteriorated from the second half of the 17th century, because the archbishops and bishops were lacking in education and because its resources were slender. The local bishops sought from the Turkish Government their annexation to the Constantinople Patriarchate, since theirs was a church which had resulted from a political privileged concession, and not one founded by an Ecumenical Council33.

Meletios was at first Metropolitan of Sofia (1628), a position from which he was deposed in 1631. Later, however, he was appointed to the archepiscopal throne of Ochrid. After the death of the Patriarch Theophanis, he was a candidate for the throne of Constantinople, but on the orders of the Grand Vizier, he was arrested for misconduct and beheaded34. The fact that the inscription is in Cyrillic characters is no surprise, since racial discrimination was not practised in the Church before the mid 19th century.