Varieties of Monastic Experience in Byzantium, 800-1453
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Varieties of Monastic Experience in Byzantium, 800-1453

Alice-Mary Talbot

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Varieties of Monastic Experience in Byzantium, 800-1453

Alice-Mary Talbot

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In this unprecedented introduction to Byzantine monasticism, based on the Conway Lectures she delivered at the University of Notre Dame in 2014, Alice-Mary Talbot surveys the various forms of monastic life in the Byzantine Empire between the ninth and fifteenth centuries. It includes chapters on male monastic communities (mostly cenobitic, but some idiorrhythmic in late Byzantium), nuns and nunneries, hermits and holy mountains, and a final chapter on alternative forms of monasticism, including recluses, stylites, wandering monks, holy fools, nuns disguised as monks, and unaffiliated monks and nuns.

This original monograph does not attempt to be a history of Byzantine monasticism but rather emphasizes the multiplicity of ways in which Byzantine men and women could devote their lives to service to God, with an emphasis on the tension between the two basic modes of monastic life, cenobitic and eremitic. It stresses the individual character of each Byzantine monastic community in contrast to the monastic orders of the Western medieval world, and yet at the same time demonstrates that there were more connections between certain groups of monasteries than previously realized. The most original sections include an in-depth analysis of the challenges facing hermits in the wilderness, and special attention to enclosed monks (recluses) and urban monks and nuns who lived independently outside of monastic complexes. Throughout, Talbot highlights some of the distinctions between the monastic life of men and women, and makes comparisons of Byzantine monasticism with its Western medieval counterpart.

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1. (60) Charsianeites [B2], BMFD 4:1641 (my translation).


1. For a summary of the contents of these rules, see John Thomas in BMFD, 1:21–32.
2. Haim Goldfus, “Urban Monasticism and Monasteries of Early Byzantine Palestine: Preliminary Observations,” ARAM Periodical 15 (2003): 71–79.
3. On the early phases of monasticism in Syria, see Sidney Griffith, “Asceticism in the Church of Syria: The Hermeneutics of Early Syrian Monasticism,” in Asceticism, ed. Vincent L. Wimbush and Richard Valantasis (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 220–45, esp. 220–23 and 235–38.
4. Joseph Patrich, Sabas, Leader of Palestinian Monasticism: A Comparative Study in Eastern Monasticism, Fourth to Seventh Centuries (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks, 1995).
5. Peter Hatlie, The Monks and Monasteries of Constantinople, ca. 350–850 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 25–132.
6. Gilbert Dagron, “Les moines et la ville: Le monachisme à Constantinple jusqu’au concile de Chalcédoine (451),” Travaux et Mémoires 4 (1970): 253n125.
7. Aristeides Papadakis, “Byzantine Monasticism Reconsidered,” Byzantinoslavica 47 (1986): 40 and n36.
8. See Klaus Belke, “Heilige Berge Bithyniens,” in Heilige Berge und Wüsten: Byzanz und sein Umfeld. Referate auf dem 21. Internationalen Kongress für Byzantinistik. London, 21.–26. August 2006, ed. Peter Soustal (Vienna: Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2009), 15–24.
9. See Alice-Mary Talbot, “Les saintes montagnes à Byzance,” in Le sacré et son inscription dans l’espace à Byzance et en Occident, ed. Michel Kaplan (Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 2001), 263–75 (with earlier bibliography).
10. Janin, Grands centres, 43–50. There has been controversy as to Stephen’s death date. In opting for 765, I have followed Marie-France Auzépy’s dating in Vita of Stephen the Younger, 1.
11. Janin, Grands centres, 127–91. The term “Mount Olympos” also includes the plain at the foot of the mountain.
12. See Talbot, “Les saintes montagnes,” 265–66.
13. See Rule of Saint Benedict.
14. For such an assertion, see Johannes Quasten, Patrology (Westminster, MD: Newman Press, 1960), 3:213: “The Basilians are the one great order of the Orient,” which is refuted by Cyril Mango, Byzantium: The Empire of New Rome (New York: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1980), 110, and by John Thomas in BMFD 1:22.
15. See BMFD 1:21–29.
16. As does John Thomas in BMFD 1:10, I am excluding from consideration here the more general monastic rules compiled by Pachomios and Basil of Caesarea in late antiquity.
17. (1) Apa Abraham and (2) Pantelleria Typikon, BMFD 1:51–66.
18. For English translation of the so-called Testament of Theodore, see BMFD 1:67–83. For the history of its composition, see the definitive article by Olivier Delouis, “Le Testament de Théodore Stoudite, est-il de Théodore?” Revue des études byzantines 66 (2008): 173–90, and Delouis, “Le Testament de Théodore Stoudite: Édition critique et traduction,” Revue des études byzantines 67 (2009): 77–109.
19. (4) Stoudios Rule, BMFD 1:84–119.
20. BMFD 2:608.
21. For discussion of Athanasios of Athos, see chapter 1, section “St. Athanasios of Athos and the Great Lavra.”
22. See ODB 3:1946–47, s.v. “stauropegion.”
23. John Thomas, Private Religious Foundations in the Byzantine Empire (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks, 1987).
24. BMFD 1:49–50, 3:1093–1106.
25. For further details, see Peter Charanis, “The Monk as an Element of Byzantine Society,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 25 (1971): 69–73; and Alice-Mary Talbot, “A Comparison of the Monastic Experience of Byzantine Men and Women,” Greek Orthodox Theological Review 30 (1985): 19–20, table 2.
26. See Charanis, “The Monk as an Element of Byzantine Society,” 63–66.
27. Anthony Bryer, “The Late Byzantine Monastery in Town and Countryside,” Studies in Church History 16 (1979): 219. See also Talbot, “A Comparison of the Monastic Experience,” 18, table 1.
28. Janin, Eglises CP.
29. For a useful survey of the written sources for the early period of Byzantine monasticism, up to the tenth century, see Vincent Déroche, “La vie des moines: Les sources pour l’Asie Mineure et les Balkans, ca. 300–1000 apr. J.C.,” in La vie quotidienne des moines en Orient et en Occident, IVe–Xe siècle. I. L’état des sources, ed. Olivier Delouis and Maria Mossakowska-Gaubert (Athens: École française d’Athènes; Cairo: Institut français d’archéologie orientale, 2015), 275–87.
30. A prime example is the liturgical typikon from the Evergetis Monastery in Constantinople; see The Synaxarion of the Monastery of the Theotokos Evergetis, ed. and trans. Robert H. Jordan, 3 vols. (Belfast: Belfast Byzantine Enterprises, the Institute of Byzantine Studies, the Queen’s University of Belfast, 2000–2007).
31. BMFD:
32. (57) Bebaia Elpis, ch. 4–11, BMFD 4:1524–26; (58) Menoikeion, ch. 1, BMFD 4:1591–94.
33. See, for example, Robert Jordan’s masterful linguistic analysis of this typikon or hypotyposis, which strongly suggests that the preserved version by Timothy, the second founder of the monastery, was based on an earlier version by Paul, the original founder; see chapter 17 of the introduction, “A Pauline Hypotyposis?” and appendix 1, “The Typikon of Paul Evergetinos: A Reconstruction,” in The Hypotyposis of the Monastery of the Theotokos Evergetis, Constantinople (11th–12th Centuries), ed. Robert H. Jordan and Rosemary Morris (Farnham: Ashgate, 2012), 127–35, and 217–39.
34. This process is facilitated for users of BMFD, which sets passages from earlier typika in bold font.
35. For discussion of the use of hagiography as a source for social and economic history, see Michel Kaplan and Eleonora Kountoura-Galake, “Economy and Society in Byzantine Hagiography: Realia and Methodological Questions,” in The Ashgate Research Companion to Byzantine Hagiography (Farnham: Ashgate, 2014), 2:389–418.
36. See Thomas Pratsch, Der hagiographische Topos: Griechische Heiligenviten in mittelbyzantinischer Zeit (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2005).
37. See Denis Sullivan, “The Versions of the Vita Niconis,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 32 (1978): 159–73; and Vita of Nikon, 7–18.
38. Alice-Mary Talbot, “Fact and Fiction i...

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