The Holy Mount and Hilandar Monastery
Tapescript of "The History of the Hilandar Research Project and the
Hilandar Research Library and Resource Center for Medieval Slavic Studies
The Ohio State University Columbus, Ohio"
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Revised June 2005
Mount Athos, also known as the Holy Mount, is part of the Chalcidic Peninsula in northeastern Greece.
It is surrounded by the Aegean Sea and exclusively populated by Eastern Orthodox monks. In order not to disturb the contemplation of the monks,
women and children have been barred from even visiting the peninsula for over a thousand years.
From approximately the sixth century,
When the first monk-hermits settled there, until the present time, the Holy Mount has played an exceptionally important role in the life of the Christian and Orthodox Church.
Many of its monks are among the saints of the Orthodox Church, as well as among the most learned people of various periods of history.
At the time of its greatest flourishing, the Holy Mount had some three hundred monasteries and over ten thousand monks. Currently, there are twenty monasteries and over a thousand monks.
The spiritual Head of the Holy Mount is the Patriarch of Constantinople, while the Holy Mount itself is a protectorate of the Greek state, on whose territory it is located.
Internal affairs of the Holy Mount are governed by a monastic government made up of twenty monks, one from each monastery, who are elected and serve for a specified time.
The chairman of that government is the Abbot of the Holy Mount. Mount Athos is the world’s oldest continuing democracy, with a constitution that dates to the tenth century.
The Holy Mount has its own capital, Karyes, where visitors and pilgrims receive a visa giving them permission to make brief stays.
The life of [the] monks on the Holy Mount is spent in prayer
– in meditation
– and in work.
Until the very end of the twentieth century one could travel to the Holy Mount only by boat. Once there, there were no means of transportation but a bus, which
operated during the summer months between Daphne, the main port, and Karyes, and between Karyes and Iveron Monastery.
There were only a few roads and they were unpaved;
travel from one monastery to another was normally by foot.
The oldest monastery on the Holy Mount is the Great Lavra, built in 963.
The other nineteen existing monasteries were founded and built in the tenth through the fifteenth centuries.
In the course of centuries, various invaders and plunderers
attacked the monasteries on the Holy Mount. They destroyed or took away
much of the cultural wealth of the Holy Mount.
Frequent fires also contributed to the destruction of many old buildings,
icons, frescoes and precious manuscripts.
- Nevertheless, even today the Holy Mount has treasures
and invaluable cultural wealth preserved in
sketes and keliae.
It should be stressed
that the Holy Mount holds a central place in the history of the Orthodox Church.
All the Eastern Orthodox, regardless of nationality,
have supported and honored this center of spirituality and knowledge.
Of the twenty existing monasteries,
three are historically related to the world of Slavs and are populated
primarily or exclusively by monks of Slavic descent.
St. Panteleimon is Russian
– Zograf is Bulgarian – and
Hilandar is a Serbian monastery.
Hilandar was built in 1198 by St. Simeon, Stefan Nemanja, a former ruler of Serbia, and his two sons,
St. Sava and Stefan the First-Crowned.
Although on Greek territory, Hilandar has played a decisive
role in shaping the religious and national awareness of Serbs,
and has generally been important to many other cultures and peoples.
The monasteries together, and each separately,
have represented and still represent important monastic, religious and cultural centers.
Precious manuscripts were kept and written in various languages,
Notwithstanding the fact that over time,
a large number of manuscripts have been destroyed or taken away,
it is believed that there are still some 17,000 codices there,
as well as numerous fragments, edicts, charters, letters and various other documents.
Many objects of art needed for liturgical and religious practice
were also produced there.
Each monastery still owns numerous carved crosses,
frescoes, embroidered curtains, etc.
Many of these treasures were often gifts from various countries.
Such is the case with this curtain, which was sent to Hilandar by Anastasia, the wife of Ivan the Terrible.
She herself embroidered the curtain.
Also treasured in Hilandar Monastery is the famous Diptych of Euphemia
(from the end of the 14th century).
On the back of this two-paneled icon is engraved the Prayer of Euphemia, which mentions the death of her only son, Ugljesha. This text is considered to be the first poem in Serbian literature authored by a woman.
The monasteries of the Holy Mount house a large number of rare and precious printed books,
as well as manuscripts, in their libraries.
It was concern for these precious materials
that led the monks of Hilandar to contact the Very Rev. Dr. Mateja Matejic, who was known to them.
Sharing this concern, in 1969 the Department of Slavic and East European Languages and Literatures at The Ohio State University,
and especially its Chair, Leon Twarog, considered it desirable and necessary to obtain permission
to microfilm all these manuscripts treasured in Hilandar. It was also hoped in this way to make this material accessible to scholars,
students, and all individuals interested in it. At the same time, in case of some disaster on the
Holy Mount, this invaluable material would be preserved on film
even if the originals were damaged or destroyed. Such, in fact, was almost the case in March 2004, when a
devastating fire destroyed more than one-half of Hilandar Monastery.
It was precisely for such reasons that what became known as the Hilandar Research Project was born.
With the permission of the Greek civil authorities, as well as of the monastic government and the brotherhood of Hilandar Monastery, in the period of 1970-1975,
all Slavic codices, as well as numerous edicts, icons, frescoes, carved crosses, and many other objects of religious art
– at Hilandar Monastery – were photographed. This task was accomplished by
Professor Mateja Matejic, the first Director of the Hilandar Research Project and subsequently, Professor Emeritus of Slavic and a Senior Research Associate,
Professor Walt Craig, Professor Emeritus of Photography, and Dr. Predrag Matejic, the first Curator of the Hilandar Research Library.
Microfilms of the Slavic manuscripts in the Hilandar Monastery are available in the Hilandar Research Library,
a special collection of The Ohio State University Libraries.
The name “Hilandar” is retained as part of this library’s name to honor the initiative and concern of the monks of Hilandar Monastery
for the preservation of that which is in their keeping.
This collection also contains microfilms of numerous Greek codices from Hilandar Monastery, as well as
microforms of Slavic and other manuscripts from more than 100 collections housed in over 20 countries.
Among these, the most frequently consulted by scholars are those that represent approximately 80 percent of the extant Slavic material found in monasteries on the Holy Mount.
The Serb National Federation and many individuals of Serbian descent in the United States and Canada were especially generous
in helping to finance the original Hilandar Research Project, and what is now known as the Hilandar Research Library and the Resource Center for Medieval Slavic Studies.
Photography of the Hilandar Monastery manuscripts was originally financed by The Ohio State University,
the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Council for Learned Societies.
Even today the monks of the Holy Mount continue the Orthodox monastic tradition instituted in the fourth century in Egypt and in the sixth century on the Holy Mount.
Here in Columbus, fruits of that culture, which has been in existence for over a millennium, are preserved on our microfilms.
Thus, the Hilandar Research Library and the Resource Center for Medieval Slavic Studies represent a bridge between the Holy Mount and the United States and the world,
a bridge between the past and the present, and an ever growing repository for the preservation, description and study of the medieval Slavic recorded past.
Recorded for the second time, Wednesday, November 23, 2005 by Predrag Matejic
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