Mount Athos and Serb saints princes and emperors

The theory of the 'superordinate' centre offers an explanation for the paradox that the standing of the Byzantine Empire remained high, arguably rising further, after 'the God-protected city' succumbed to the Fourth Crusade, losing material wealth and unbroken continuity of sovereignty, as well as sacred relics. The city kept its allure even though it never fully recovered after 1204. But there were other, more specific, reasons why beliefs that the empire was divinely ordained could accommodate such a catastrophe. In Orthodox eyes the fate of the City was intertwined with that of the empire and God's design for mankind. The City's fall to barbarians could herald the End of Time, but it might alternatively warn His people to mend their ways and find spiritual rebirth. Such had been the theme of preachers during barbarian assaults in earlier centuries.22 The collapse could therefore be interpreted as signalling God's demand for stricter religious observance from His people. The events culminating in the crusaders' seizure of the City seem to have been followed intently by even the most distant Orthodox. A full narrative comes from a Novgorodian chronicle. Probably composed not long afterwards, it apportions blame to the Greek tsars' internecine strife rather than to Latin aggression.23 The restoration of the capital in 1261 signalled the rehabilitation of Constantinople as a locus ofGod-blessed authority on earth. The mystique of its rightful incumbents watching over all true-believers appealed to Orthodox rulers not only because the basileus was now more malleable and suggestible, but also because of a new-found solidarity in the face of the threat to the Orthodox faith from the Latins.

If the imperial capital provided one conduit to God's kingdom, Byzantine monasteries offered another. The veneration and awe they generated as microcosms of the celestial order had come increasingly since the mid-tenth century to focus on the Holy Mountain of Athos. Imperial patronage ensured

22 P.J. Alexander, 'The strength of empire and capital as seen through Byzantine eyes', Sp 37 (1962), 343-7; D. M. Nicol, Church andsocietyin the last centuries of Byzantium (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 98-9,104-5.

23 Novgorodskaia pervaia letopis' starshego i mladshego izvodov, ed. A. N. Nasonov (Moscow and Leningrad: AkademianaukSSSR. Institutistorii, 1950; reprinted St Petersburg, 2000), 240-6.

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