But to treat the imperial-ecclesiastical complex as sole pillars of a 'commonwealth' would be to disregard 'the Holy Mountain', at once landmark and generator of spiritual movement, and known to fourteenth-century writers as 'the workshop of virtue'.80 A stay there offered individuals outstanding opportunities for self-improvement and eventual absorption within the godhead. The prospect appealed not only to Byzantines but also to individuals or whole peoples whose ideals ofpiety were closely aligned with theirs. Athonite monasticism played a key role in the spirituality or political formation of several of these peoples, whether through directing Anthony to return to Rus and inspiring later generations of monks, or cradling the cult of a sacred dynasty among the Serbs. Fourteenth-century Athos was a hive of spiritual endeavour: it produced innovative ways of staging the liturgy; there were intensive efforts to partake directly of the divine through fasting, prayer and meditation, while Gregory Palamas provided the theological foundations.
The Serb monastery of Chilandar became the scene of intensive copying and the translating of Greek texts into a literary language with South Slav characteristics but of sufficient clarity and consistency to be comprehensible to all readers and speakers of Slavonic, including the Rus. A Bulgarian-born monk writing among the Serbs around 1418, Constantine of Kostenets, remarked that there were only two centres producing Slavonic texts that faithfully reproduced the style and content of their Greek originals: one of these was Mount Athos and the other was Veliko T'rnovo.81 This had been the seat of the Bulgarians' patriarch and tsar, but by the second half of the fourteenth century the overriding concern of its churchmen seems to have been to improve their religious texts through reference to Greek originals, praising Greek for its inherent elegance and precision as a language, and also translating prayers, hymns and other liturgical offices recently composed by Greek-speaking Byzantines.
80 RPK11, no. 56, 428-9; Reg. no. 2309; Nicol, Church and society, 19.
81 V. Jagic, Codex Slovenicus grammaticarum (Rassuzhdeniia iuzhnoslavianskoi i russkoi stariny o tserkovnom-slavianskom iazyke) (St Petersburg: Weidmann, 1896), 190. Cf.Obolensky, 'Late Byzantine culture', 21 n. 58.
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