"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Monasteries and the Formation of Identity and History

The creation, redaction, and re-creation of Eastern Christian history and identity is a fascinatingly endless and complex process. Monasteries often play a significant part not merely in Eastern Christian ecclesial life, but also in the drafting and preservation of history--whether in iconographic, textual, liturgical or other forms. Recent studies have begun to emerge taking account of this role of monasteries in the historiographical process. In late 2007, we saw Robert Romanchuk's book published (and reviewed in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies by Jenn Spock): Byzantine Hermeneutics and Pedagogy in the Russian North: Monks and Masters at the Kirillo-Belozerskii Monastery, 1397-1501.

Last year we saw Scott Kenworthy's book on one of the most important monasteries in the East-Slavic world: The Heart of Russia: Trinity-Sergius, Monasticism, and Society after 1825. 

Kenworthy's book is being reviewed in Logos next year. We will have more to say about it in the coming weeks, and an interview with Kenworthy, whom I met two years ago at Ohio State, which hosted (as it will again in October of this year) the Association for the Study of Eastern Christian History and Culture. If you are free the first weekend of October, the ASEC Conference promises to be a splendid affair, as the last one was, and you should really consider attending. There is a feast of scholarship presented and a greatly convivial social life between papers and plenaries.

Also in late 2010, we saw David B. Miller's book, Saint Sergius of Radonezh, His Trinity Monastery, and the Formation of the Russian Identity (Northern Illinois U Press), 374pp. About this book, which will also be reviewed in Logos, the publisher tells us:

When Sergius of Radonezh founded a monastery near Moscow, his example spawned a movement of monastic foundations throughout Russia. Within three decades of his death in 1392, Sergius was recognized as a saint, and by 1450 many considered him the intercessor for the Russian land who freed its people from Mongol rule. Over the next century and a half, thousands sought St. Sergius’s intercession with gifts to the monastery. Moscow’s rulers made Sergius patron saint of their dynasty and of the Russian tsardom. By 1605, the Trinity-Sergius monastery was the biggest house in Russia. Miller presents Trinity’s dramatic history from the 14th century to the beginning of the Time of Troubles. Using extensive archival materials, he traces the evolution of Trinity’s relationship to Sergius’s venerators and its traditions, governance, social composition, and the lifestyle of its members. In lucid prose, Miller argues that St. Sergius’s cult and monastery became integrating forces on a national scale and vital elements in the forging of a Russian identity, economy, and cohesive society. The power of religion to shape national identity is a lively topic today, and Miller’s study will interest both medievalists and modern historians, as well as readers of Orthodox Church history.
Now another new book has come out to treat a famed monastery in Russia sometimes referred to as the Mt. Athos of the north: Kati Parppei, The Oldest One in Russia: the Formation of the Historiographical Image of Valaam Monastery (Russian History and Culture) (Brill, 2011), 300pp. 

About this book, the publisher says:

The post-Soviet resurrection of the Russian Orthodox Church has once again brought the idyllic borderland monastery of Valaam into public notice. The fame of the monastery is largely based on its long and honorable historic image as the “Northern Athos” . This book argues that the fascinating and colorful image of Valaam was exclusively a result of the National Romanticist historiographic efforts of the 18th and 19th centuries. The work contributes, for instance, to the fields of nationality and borderland studies. It is a versatile case study of the multifaceted ways in which contemporary ideological trends and politics have been reflected in history writing.

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