The Slavonic Archive

7 November 2011

The Holy Mountain constituted a school for the southern and eastern Slavs. After the death of the Thessalonian missionaries to the Slavs, Sts Cyril and Methodius and their disciples, bilingual teachers in the Slavonic world were immediately lacking. In spite of the great work that was accomplished by St Cyril, St Meth­odius and their disciples, the need to continue their translation work became imperative. There was now a demand for new monastic centres which would teach the Greek language and the practice of monasticism and where these experiences would be translated for the world of the Slavs.

In my opinion1, this is how the fact that it was by means of the Holy Mountain that the Slavonic script, the alphabet, and monasticism were disseminated among the Russians and the Serbs is to be understood. This may also explain the great regard which the Slav leaders actively displayed by their various benefactions to the Greek monasteries on the Mountain, as witnessed by the chyrso­bulls* of the Slav princes. As a leading monastery on the Mountain, they did not overlook Vatopaidi.

Up to the present a good number of scholars have concerned themselves with the Slavonic archive of the Monastery, including the Vatopaidi monks Arkadios and Alexandros2. In the present review we shall undertake a brief presentation of the Slavonic archive of the Monastery, citing the chrysobulls in their chronological order.

Bulgarian Documents

 

The overthrow of the Bulgarian state in 971 by John Tsimisces and the re-conquering by Basil II in 1018 of Byzantine territory over which Samuel had exercised his authority also resulted in the abolition of the autocephalous Bulgarian Church. In this early period we do not encounter the presence of Bulgarian state representatives on the Holy Mountain – which is not the case in the later period of the second Bulgarian state, when the Athonite monk Ioakeim was elevated to the post of Patriarch of Trnovo. The Prince of the Bulgars, Ivan Assanes, following his successes against the Franks, visited the Holy Mountain and benefited the Monastery of Vatopaidi by the chrysobull of the year 6738 (1230), by which he donated to the Monastery the village of Semalto in the area of Serres, which he relieved from payment of taxes and duties. The original chrysobull survives and is written on silk paper. The signature of the king is in red ink3.

Also preserved at Vatopaidi is a cross of the Tsar of the Bulgars George Terteros I (1280 – 1292) with the following inscription:

+ Kr|stn/ ym| znam/ eniem| 3jasa /⁄t| s⁄ var/ varsti pl/ ci :ko t/ :m| pob:/ jdaemi i / progo­ni­mi kr:pko t:m| tr|/ blajenoe i tril<­bovnoe dr:vo/ pokrovitel| v| braneh| posobni/ k| v| b:dah| b\di mi v| ca/ reh| vla/ d⁄}3 Ge/wrg”‘ Terte/r”‘ [email protected] / bo esi d/ r|java c / arem| i/ kr:post| v:rny/ m|

“By this sign of [Your Precious] Cross the ranks of the barbarians are put to shame, because through it they have been conquered and driven out with a mighty hand. O thrice-blessed and most happy wood, be a mighty defence in battles and the protector against temptations to me George Terterios, the first among the tsars, for you are the might of kings and the support of the faithful.”

The existence of this cross constitutes a proof of the bond between Vatopaidi and the state of Trnovo4. We do not encounter any other similar evidence concerning relations between the second Bulgarian kingdom and Vatopaidi.

Serbian Documents

Next come the chrysobulls of the Serbian princes in chronological order.

The time spent on Athos by the great national leader of the Serbs, St Sabbas (1176 – 1235) and his father, St Symeon, prompted nearly all the Serbian leaders to make large donations to the Monastery.

Scholars today are familiar with the following chrysobulls of Serbian leaders who were benefactors of Vatopaidi.

Serbian Chrysobulls Written in Greek

 

First among the Serbian princes is Stefan Dushan with two chrysobulls issued in 6854 (1346) and 6856 (1348) for Vatopaidi, confirming the existing acquisitions of the Monastery and also donating to it an entire village, Ayios Mamas, and other places “that the barbarian soldiers once possessed.” It also relieves the Mon­astery and its dependencies of the paying of taxes. It prohibits the Serbian zupans, soldiers, and state employees from interfering in the vested interests of the Monastery5. The second chrysobull of 1348 confirms afresh the current possessions of the Monastery: “… metochia in Kalamaria and elsewhere, as well as the village of Ayios Mamas recently granted to this venerable monastery …”, places that were hitherto occupied by barbarian soldiers, etc. It ratifies the rights of the Mon­as­tery and prohibits the Serbian zupans, the troops and the finance officials from visiting the meto­chia of the Monastery. It relieves all of the possessions of the Monastery from the payment of taxes6.

The Serbian despot John Uglesha, following a petition of the Abbot of the Monastery of Vato­paidi Theodosios and of all the brotherhood, issued a chrysobull in the year 6856 (1369) by which he refunds the annual levy of 120 hyperpyra* which the Monastery had paid for Lake Buru, thereby expressing “gratitude as a symbol and acknowledgement” to Our Lady the Theotokos; “ if anyone should overturn this, may the curses of the 318 God-bearing fathers of the Council of Nicaea be upon him ... ”.

The chrysobull is written on paper which is not all that well preserved. The signature of the despot is in red ink7.

The same Prince issued another chrysobull in favour of Vatopaidi in the year 6879 (1371) in which reference is made to his struggles against the Muslims; for this reason he visited the Mountain and issued this chrysobull, by which he grants Vatopaidi the fish farm of Sts Theodore on Lake Buru, and fishing rights in the seas. He relieves these from all taxes and prohibits officials from visiting the metochia of the Monastery in those parts, “ … unless he who attempts to trouble them thus wishes to have My Lady the Theotokos as his opponent in court …”8.

Serbian Chrysobulls written in Slavonic

Another Serbian despot who issued a chrysobull in favour of the Holy Mountain is Stefan Lazarevic who, by the chrysobull of the year 6925 (1417) bequeathed to the Monastery as an annual endowment 60 litras from the mine of Novo Brdno. He directs each official responsible for the fortress for the time being to honour the above obligation and that should he fail to do so, that his property be impounded to the extent of the same amount. He cedes the village of Koprivnica, which is located in Novo Brdno, as a place of sojourn for Vatopaidi monks. The village was also relieved of taxes.

The chrysobull is written on parchment; the signature of the despot is in red ink9.

In 1432, the Great Celnik Radic issued a chrysobull by which he ceded another village to the Monastery, that of Belo Polje on the Morava River. It also was relieved from paying taxes. He also donated vineyards to the Monastery for its needs and 100 gold ducats per annum10.

These two documents were ratified by another two (dated 1427 and 1432) issued by the Despot George Brankovic11.

The archive of the Monastery also preserves another chrysobull, issued by the Serbian Despot Lazar Brankovic, dated 1457. In it, the despot certifies that he grants to his nephew (his Treasurer), Radoslav, three villages. This chrysobull is written on parchment and the signature of the despot is in red ink12.

Russian documents13

During the period of Ottoman occupation, Russia helped Vatopaidi repeatedly. A contributory factor here was the presence in Russia of the prominent Athonite personality, Maximus the Greek, a Vatopaidi monk who continued the work of the Thessalonian brothers Cyril and Methodius in laying the foundations of the translation work of the Russian Church during the 15th and 16th centuries. Among the Slavonic manuscripts of the Monastery there is one which testifies to the translation work of Maximus: “Translation of the homilies of Chrysostom on the Gospel of Matthew in the Russian dialect by the most wise Maximus the Greek of Vatopaidi, together with his assistant Silvanos, copied by a Russian monk of the Lavra of St Sergius in the year of creation 7032 [1524]”.

It was not infrequently that Vatopaidi monks took the road of alms missions to Russia. This is substantiated by the following Russian chrysobulls in the Monastery:

On the petition of Archimandrite Pachomios of the Holy Monastery of Vatopaidi, who had sent the ecclesiarch* Grigorios to Moscow for alms, the Russian Tsar Fyodor Ivanovich in 7097 [1539] issued for Vatopaidi a ‘Chrysobull of Mercy’ (Zˇalovanaja Gramota) by which he granted permission to the monks of the Monastery to cross the frontier without any delay. He commands that they be given money and food, for themselves and for their horses, in the winter; that they should be provided with carriages for themselves and for their belongings, and be provided with a police escort as far as Moscow, relieving them of all customs and road duties. If anyone deprives these monks or their servants of the slightest item, he will fall into the disfavour of the Tsar and will be obliged, without trial, to reimburse them twofold.

The chrysobull is on parchment, written in a careful minuscule hand. It is adorned with a linear heading which has geometrical and plant ornamentation, as do the highly elaborate initial letters (V,f)14.

In the year 7140 (1632), Tsar Michael Fyodorovich, on the petition of Archimandrite Ignatios of the Holy Monastery of Vatopaidi, in which he besought the Tsar to ratify the imperial chrysobulls of mercy on alms missions for the Monastery, having requested that these chrysobulls be copied, confirmed the privileges of the previous chrysobull by the issuing of a new one. This chrysobull is of parchment, and it measures 65.5 x 61 cm. The script is small, carefully-executed gold lettering with a linear heading, and its background is decorated with spiral branches with geometrical and floral ornamentation, with an elaborate capital (V)15.

Another Tsar who helped the Holy Monastery of Vatopaidi was Alexei Michailovich, who issued two chrysobulls for the Monastery: one in the year 7161 (1653), by which the Tsar permits an alms mission for the Monastery of Vatopaidi, through its representative the Archimandrite Da­m­as­kinos and his entourage, supporting them financially for building at the Monastery. He pro­mises that he will reward them generously if they send to him for veneration the Cross of Constantine the Great and the skull of John Chrysostom, which he will return promptly with Archimandrite Damaskinos, by whom he was informed of the presence of these relics at the Monastery16.

The second chrysobull of Tsar Alexei Michail­ovich was issued in 7164 (1656) and contains the following: it certifies that in the year 7163 (1655) Archimandrite Damaskinos presented the sacred objects of veneration which the Tsar had requested and for this the Tsar donates to the Monastery considerable sums of money. Archimandrite Damaskinos beseeches the Tsar that these venerable objects of veneration remain for a certain time – something which would require ratification by the Tsar with a chrysobull. Alexei begs the fathers of the Monastery not to be distressed and fixes the sojourn of the objects of veneration to around 20 years or fewer, since he promises that his benefactions to the Monastery will be very generous. In this way the Tsar held on to the sacred relics.

The chrysobull is on parchment and measures 65.4 x 61 cm. The script is small, carefully-executed gold lettering with a linear heading; its background is decorated with spiral branches with geometrical and plant ornamentation, as well as highly elaborate initial letters (B,≠¨J, K I, E, > ≠¨)).

The children of Alexei followed the example of their father. Ivan Alexeivich, Pyotr Alexeivich (Peter the Great), and Sophia Alexeievna issued chrysobulls in the year 7196 (1688) following a petition in 7195 (1687) from the Vatopaidi fathers through the cellarer Dometianos, who requested the return of the sacred objects of veneration to Vatopaidi. In their chrysobull the Tsars request that the venerable objects stay on a little longer on the grounds that they are safer in Moscow than in the Monastery. The Tsars bestow gifts on Vatopaidi, sending aid with the Monas­tery’s cellarer, Dometianos, and since on two occasions the monks came as far as the city of Putivla but were refused permission to continue to Moscow, they are compensated. By the present chrysobull not only is the Monastery compensated for its sacred treasures, but also financial support is given for the restoration of the church and of the aqueduct, and, furthermore, the alms to the Monastery in the previous two chrysobulls are ratified (see above, the first and second chrysobulls)17.

The chrysobull is on parchment and measures 62 x 45 cm. A golden rectangular frame surrounds the text and it is crowned with rich plant and floral ornamentation. There is also similar decoration on the four sides. The ornamentation gives it a particular grandeur. The document is a product of the pen of the deacon Boris Michai­l­ovich18.

On the reverse side of the document it is recorded that on 23 May 7201 (1694), the princes of Russia Ivan Alexeivich and Pyotr Alexeivich (Peter the Great) send to Vatopaidi 500 gold roubles (for the sake of the sacred relics) with the cellarer Symeon and two other elders. It is accompanied by the memorandum and signature of Kosma Nedimonov, secretary for foreign affairs19.

Other Documents

 

A deed of cession of 1432 by which the Mon­astery cedes to the brother voivodes Radoslav and Michael “the tower of Coletzes” and the cells within the walls, as well as the surrounding area. In the document, “six adelphataria” (that is, six kathisma* monks) together with one priest are appointed to live there. The voivodes grant 600 hyperpyra and 300 litras of silver to the Monas­tery20. In the Slavonic archive of the Monastery there is also a document of the year 6947 (1439), a copy of a document dated 1336 of the Monas­tery of St Panteleimon in which it is certified that the kelli* of the priest Cornelius is ceded by the Protos to the Monastery of St Panteleimon (the Rossikon)21. These documents do not exhaust the Slavonic archive of the Monastery. In it there are also included the Vlacho-Moldavian texts which are kept in the Monastery by the hundreds, as well as a great number of Russian documents which relate to the Vatopaidi metochia in Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, and elsewhere22. In the library of the Monastery there are also nine Slavonic manuscripts.

The Monastery of Vatopaidi performed a great service to the Greek nation and to the Orthodox peoples of the Balkans with the establishment of the Athonite Academy in 1753 and more especially by the work of its principal, Evgenios Voulgaris. Amongst the students who were educated at the Athonias in the period of Voulgaris were also Orthodox Slavs and Moldavians23.

Content