Gouden Hoorn

Tijdschrift over Byzantium – Journal about Byzantium

Editorial / Redactioneel (6:1 – Summer 1998)

Posted by Gouden Hoorn on December 3, 2011

We begin in English this time, to welcome readers of the Late Antiquity Research Group in the UK and abroad. On behalf of the O.B.O., which is a small group that works on gathering and spreading information on Byzantine and linked subjects to all those who are interested, we invite you to participate in this journal. If you have information on a conference, or on a book, journal, even a journey,or an essay, and you would like to see it published for your fellow-researchers, let us know.

Golden Horn (or should we call it Chrusókeras?) was originally meant to be a journal for Dutch audience. We have grown out of that, and have discovered that many people abroad wanted to help and participate, so we try to be a bilingual journal, even trilingual at times, but not all articles will be translated or summarized, we leave it to the authors themselves to choose their language.

In this issue, we travel to Constantinople to visit the Varangian Guard, and to Edessa. Then we plunge into discussion, hoping therewill be more thought-provoking ideas to come.


We begonnen ditmaal in het Engels, om onze lezers van de Late Antiquity Research Group in het Verenigd Koninkrijk te begroeten. Wij vragen hen tevens om bij te dragen aan dit van oorsprong Nederlandse tijdschrift, dat ooit opgericht is door het O.B.O., om informatie over Byzantium te vergaren en verspreiden onder geÔnteresseerden.

Gouden Hoorn (of moeten we het Chrusókeras noemen?) richt zich meer en meer op een internationaal gezelschap, dat ons heeft ondersteund en gemotiveerd. Het is derhalve handiger als we ons ineen internationaal veel gesproken taal uitdrukken. Toch blijven we ook in het Nederlands communiceren, maar niet van alles komt een vertaling of samenvatting meer.

In dit nummer reizen we naar Constantinopel, om de Varjaagse Garde te bezoeken, en dan naar Edessa. Dan storten we ons op discussie, en hopen dat er nog veel uitdagende gedachten komen aangewaaid.


Posted in Editorial, Volume 6 Issue 1 (Summer 1998) | Comments Off

The uses of the Varangian Guard

Posted by Gouden Hoorn on December 3, 2011

by Timothy Dawson

In the year 987 Prince Vladimir of Kiev sent a force of six thousand men to aid the emperor of the Romaioi Basil II against the usurper, Bardas Phocas. In an army that had a thousand-year history of using foreign levies and mercenaries this force earned itself an unique place. Its survivors became the nucleus of the imperial bodyguard which became known as the Varangian Guard. The Varangian Guard had a reputation as en elite fighting force, but in a nation which was the most prosperous and militarily sophisticated in the world at the time the unit may be seen to have had uses perhaps surpassing the military ones.

This essay will concentrate on the heyday of the Guard from its founding to 1204; for while there is evidence for some survival of the unit in name after the Fourth Crusade,1 it is, as Sigfus Blondal put it, no more than “the ghost of the regiment”,2 a purely ceremonial entity with nothing like the prestige or military effectiveness of the earlier period.

Despite their fearsome reputation the “Varangians of the City” probably saw much less action than the army as a whole. Their duty was to stand behind the Emperor, and since he usually had many able generals to conduct ordinary campaigns and was often content to use them,3 they would only leave the City for those major enterprises of attack or defence that the Emperor oversaw personally. Even then they might not actually take part in the fighting, as is evidenced by John II’s initial refusal to “waste his Treasures” at the battle of Beroë even in the face of imminent stalemate or defeat.4

A task of the Varangian Guard in barracks at Constantinople was civil policing. Their character as foreign mercenaries untainted by the political and religious passions that stirred the local population and solely loyal to the Emperor must have made them especially useful in performing such risky and delicate tasks as arresting, imprisoning and punishing people who held some religious or aristocratic standing and who might otherwise have been able to work on sympathies existing in native troops.

The regiment probably also had a dampening effect on court intrigue, making it less likely to erupt into open revolt. The evidence for this is limited, but the Alexiad reveals that the Guard was a major consideration in Alexios’ strategy in his rebellion once underway,5 and it is a reasonable inference to conclude that the Guard’s existence and character would have made him think very carefully before he took military steps. The Varangians were almost always uncompromisingly loyal to the incumbent Emperor. The exceptions to this occur in situations manifesting a combination of popular discontent, Varangian disaffection, and the presence of a highly legitimate replacement. The clearest example of this was the overthrow of Michael V in 1042, wherein the Guard became the spearhead of widespread discontent caused by Michael’s policies and attempts to purge the upper bureaucracy and the royal family. In this uprising the Guard reinstated the Dowager Empress Zoe, whom Michael had stripped of her position and consigned to a monastery on false charges of treason. The final punishment of blinding was inflicted by the Varangian Commander, Harald Sigurdsson, later as King of Norway to become known as the “Stern-ruler” (Hardrada). This episode does not entirely paint the regiment as pillars of virtue, because one major cause of its ire was the imprisonment of Harald and two close associates on the probably justified charges of misappropriation of imperial booty and tax-farming.6 The prodigious quantities of loot that Harald sent home and took with him when he returned to Norway themselves became legendary.7 Returning to the original topic, episodes such as that of the succession of Constantine VIII show that the Guard valued legitimate succession in the western manner almost as much as simple encumbancy.8

The uses of the Varangian Guard had another less tangible side. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries it became an important pillar of imperial ideology. Byzantine chroniclers make much of the warriors having come from what were to them the farthest edges of the world lured by far-flung tales of the glory of New Rome and its ruler. The depictions of the Varangians’ imposing stature and combative prowess were undoubtedly true, but even their truth was probably somewhat a matter of contrivance. To enter the regiment it was necessary to purchase a position for a substantial sum of gold. Hence an aspiring Varangian had to have been successful enough to have made the perilous journey to the Great City with cash in hand, and is likely then to have had to pass some kind of selection criteria designed to maintain the quality of the company, with the unsuccessful applicants being shunted off to the provincial varangian regiments.

The influx of Saxons in the wake of the Norman Conquest, and those who followed in later centuries, was especially useful to the propagandists. Anna Comnena 9 in the late eleventh century and Cinnamus 10 and others in the twelfth were able to hark back in a fanciful fashion to Britain’s time as a Roman province and imply a continuity of fealty there.

Curiously Norse sources almost seem willing to accede to Byzantine political theory, explicitly conceding the Emperor of Constantinople a higher status than local rulers. Even if they do not profess any notional fealty, an echo of the Oecumenical Empire and the Family of Kings was plainly heard in Scandia.11

For propaganda purposes it was desirable that the Emperor’s elite should manifest some piety reflecting the sacrality of the Purple. The common image of Viking adventurers is that of heathen raiders despoiling monasteries and churches in the British isles, Neustria and Aquitaine, but the kingdoms of the North had all been thoroughly christianised by the first decade of the eleventh century. The original force of Varangians may well itself have been mostly Christian, since its despatch to Constantinople had been part of the manoeuvring that saw Vladimir receive the Byzantine Princess Anna as wife, and more, in exchange for imposing Christianity on the Principality of Kiev.12 The Varangian Guard had the distinction of its own churches, something not associated with other military units in the empire. The earliest of these seems to have been set up early in the eleventh century, but got caught in the crossfire of the struggle between Patriarch and Pope and closed in 1052.13 More is known of its successor, which was established not far from Hagia Sophia. In familiar fashion it was built in fulfilment of a supplicatory vow that was supposed to have turned the tide of the battle of Beroë. Norse sources say that this church was dedicated to Saint Olaf Haraldsson, and that his sword hung above the altar,14 but more reliable accounts indicate that it was dedicated in typical Byzantine manner to the Theotokos, Mary.15

Thus far I have dealt with the uses of the Varangian Guard to the Emperor, but the existence of the Guard was useful to other monarchs as well. I have already referred to the wealth Harald Hardrada obtained during his sojourn in Byzantium. The largesse and ostentation that this permitted him did much to acquire and strengthen his rule.16 Besides that, his time in the Guard became a major part in his royal mythology. King Harald’s Saga contains a number of common folk-motif stories along with the more factual accounts. These tales are known to predate Harald’s period in the East, and scholars have surmised that these tales were brought back by Harald’s companions and incorporated into his mythology within his lifetime.17 I have mentioned the hierarchy of kings embraced in Norse literature, and King Harald’s Saga and other treatments of his life make much use of the transferred glory of the Basileus by exaggerating his position and the favour in which he was held.

A similar use is made of reflected imperial glory in the story of King Eric of Denmark who passed through Constantinople on pilgrimage. He is said to have gained high favour and lavish gifts from the Emperor for his wise and humble advice to members of the Guard.18

There are two other examples of how the Varangian Guard was invoke to posthumously glorify rulers, enhance the sacrality of kingships and add lustre to national folklores. I have already referred to the cult of Saint Olaf. The thirteenth-century saga writer Snorri Sturlusson gives a long account of the events that turned the tide battle of Beroë, and especially of the miracles worked by Olaf’s sword which brought his sanctity to the notice of the Emperor.19 Snorri draws on a source not far removed in time from the battle, but the religious aspects of the tale are not corroborated in other sources, Norse or Greek, there is not record of any sword having hung above the altar of any church in the City. It seems certain that this is a hagiographical concoction.

The other example of the Saga of Saint Edward the Confessor, a much debated composition 20 originating in Iceland in its surviving example, and probably dating from the fourteenth century but perhaps earlier. This is a partisan account of events surrounding the Norman Conquest of England, which includes a tale of a mass migration of Saxons to Byzantium, some to settle on the Black Sea and others to join the Varangian Guard. Many of the events are confirmed by other evidence, but the Saga falls clearly into the genre of Saxon mythology that have given us such familiar stories and Robin Hood and Ivanhoe.

The Varangian Guard was thus more than a military bulwark for the Byzantine Emperor, and formed an element of the ideological foundations for rulers East and West, and grist for the mills of national folklores.


1 For example in the fourteenth century court ceremony manual of Pseudo-Kodinos. Jean Verpeaux Pseudo-Kodinos: Traitédes Offices, Paris, 1966 p. 179, 183, 184 and further.

2 Sigfus Blondal, The Varangians of Byzantium revised by Benedikt S. Benedikz, Cambridge, 1978 Chapter 7.

3 The exception which might be cited amongst the Comneni, Alexios I, John II and Manual I, have had their exploits somewhat exaggerated byclassicising biographers who felt compelled to depict them in a similar light to the heros of ancient Greek literature.

4 Snorri Snorrasson’s account cited in Blondal (n. 2 above) p. 149.

5 Anna Comnena, Alexiad, translated by E.R.A. Sewter, Harmondsworth, 1985 p. 95f.

6 Blondal (n. 2 above) p.77-87.

7 Ibid. p. 78 and H.R. Ellis Davidson The Viking Road to Byzantium London, 1976 p.226-8.

8 Blondal (n. 2 above) p.113.

9 Alexiad (n. 5 above) p. 95.

10 Quoted in Blondal (n. 2 above) p. 150.

11 King Eric’s position is depicted as lower in Eirics drapa by Magnus Skeggjason, quoted in Blondal, p. 134. Numerous references confirm it for example the “Great King” of Thjodolf Arnorsson’s Sexstefja (Blondal,p. 93) and especially “Lord of Kings” in Einar Skularsson’s Geisli (Blondal, p.186). Thorvald Kodransson’s Thattr gives a tributary position to Kiev (Blondal, p.198).

12 Blondal, p. 44 and Ellis Davidson, p. 179f.

13 Steven Runciman, The Byzantine Theocracy, Cambridge, 1977, p.106-7.

14 Blondal, p.148ff

15 Ibid., p.185.

16 Ellis Davidson (n. 7 above) p. 227.

17 Ibid., p. 214ff and Blondal, p. 71.

18 Blondal (n. 1 above) p. 132ff.

19 Ibid., p. 148ff.

20 Cf. Leslie Rogers “Anglo-Saxons and Icelanders in Byzantium”, in Byzantine Papers, Canberra, 1981.

Posted in Academic talks, Volume 6 Issue 1 (Summer 1998) | Tagged: | Comments Off

A time for killing*

Posted by Gouden Hoorn on December 3, 2011

by Andrew Palmer

17th April 1997

This is dead time, like dead ground, where something big, like a canyon, can hide from a close observer. No one knows where I am. In England they think I am in Syria; in Syria they think I am still in England. I have time to kill. Indeed, it is a time for killing: tomorrow is the Kurban Bayrami, the Muslim Festival of the Offering. That is why I have come back early: to redeem my car from the Customs Office before the six-day holiday begins. Yesterday or the day before there was a big conflagration among the tents at Mecca, in which about 200 died. It was covered last night on Turkish television to the point of saturation. Today all the pilgrims, including the Turkish Prime Minister, Erbakan, will go up Mount Arafat. When I left Turkey from Adana airport on 20th March, I was surrounded by old men and women in white, about to fly to the Hadj. Tomorrow the slaughter will begin. Here in Turkey it will continue for four days. The animals which shed their blood will be sheep and cows, at least a million of them in Turkey alone. Muslims do this because Abraham did it. Abraham who, according to a Muslim tradition, was born at Urfa. I arrive in the evening. All the way along the road from Adana I have been passing trucks full of sheep. In Urfa, certain shops are open until late; the people are buying new clothes, new shoes, jewellery, toys, tape-recorders, ceremonial knivesÉ The men are having haircuts and getting shaved; the old-fashioned cut-throat razor at their helpless throats seems too suggestive for comfort, in a place where thousands of throats will be cut after prayers tomorrow morning. I shall feel under-dressed, unless I go out and buy myself a new shirt to wear with my suit. An old man comes in to the shop, asking me for small cash, and protests, as the sales assistant shows him out of the shop: “He knows! He knows!”. But it is only later – cooling off around the fountain in the Turkish Baths – that I learn that Muslims should not refuse to give alms on this, of all days. The hammam in the cellar of my hotel (the “Harran”) is full of old men and young men, fathers and their prepubescent sons.

18th April 1997

I sleep late, avoiding the sight of slaughter in the streets, but I awake nonetheless to the sound of bleating, instead of birdsong. From the roof of my hotel I can see a river of blood in a very large ditch. I remember reading how 400 monks opposed to the Byzantine Emperor’s religion were slaughtered in the ditch outside the Southgate of this city. After a moment, I realise that what I see is blood mixed with water and the ditch is the cutting through which the Kara Koyun, or “Black Sheep”, river runs, collecting the life-blood of countless animals today.

The ancestor of the Kara Koyun, the Daysan (Greek: Skirtos), or “leaping river”, destroyed the lower part of the city (then called Orhay, or, in Greek, Mesopotamian Edessa) on several occasions. I imagine it was more powerful than this sickly stream between its banks of ordure. According to the Syriac Chronicle of Edessa (AD 540) the first recorded flood was in AD 201. Afterwards measures were taken to prevent another similar disaster: the river-bed, which passed, of necessity, through the city-walls from west to east, was widened and the banks were built up high. It was forbidden to sleep near the river (the disaster had occurred at night) and a special watch was kept above the water-gates. The king, whose name was Abgar, the son of Ma’nu, built himself a high palace on a rock outside the city to the south and stayed there in the winter. He also rebuilt the palace inside the wall, around the springs at the foot of that same high rock, as the summer residence of the king. All these works were recorded in the annals of the city. There is no word of a cutting to the north of the city or a dike to the north-west which diverted the river around the northern wall. These must have been made at a later time.

Procopius, in the Buildings, flatters Justinian by attributing this solution of the problem to that emperor. But already in the fourth century, in this same month of April, AD 384, a pilgrim from the Far West, Egeria, had seen the channel dug to divert the river around the northern wall, although at that time it was dry. The bishop who showed her around the city told her that the Persians had dug the channel to pressurise the besieged by thirst; but this can hardly be true, any more than the story (preserved in a XIIIth-century Syriac chronicle) that it was Nimrod the Giant who diverted the river. More likely the channel, a deep cutting through the shoulder of rock which forced the river southwards towards the springs and made it necessary to include either both, or neither, within the city-walls, was dug after the flood of AD 303. The city was at that time a Roman colonia not far from the eastern frontier and thus important to the Roman Empire, which feared the ambition of the young Sasanian Empire of Persia to recover all the territory once ruled by Xerxes and Darius. Constructing the ditch and the dike must have been a routine matter for the Roman engineers. The memory of the event was suppressed by the bishops who came to control the annals of the city, because the emperor under whom the work was done, Diocletian, had persecuted the Christian Church.

For many years this work of the Roman engineers protected the city from calamities; but the arches of the bridge over the ditch were narrowed by branches and other vegetation and the channel began to silt up, until the water came up over the dike and the river returned to its former bed. It was only a matter of time before the next catastrophe would occur (this happened in AD 413, as we read in the Chronicle of Edessa). By AD 384, the time of Egeria’s visit, the dryness of the channel had become the “proof” of a “miracle”. The bishop who was her guide told the gullible pilgrim that the Persians had diverted the river in order to reduce the city by depriving the inhabitants of water; but that God caused springs to be opened within the city-walls, inside the palace of King Abgar, and dried up the river, so that the Persians themselves were driven away by thirst. Egeria did not ask why the Persians did not benefit from the stream flowing from the springs, although she crossed what she understood to be that stream and remembered it as “a great river of silver”. In fact, on just such a sunny day as this, she must have crossed the river Daysan, which had returned to its original bed and which passed, augmented by the water of the springs, through the lower part of the city and out below the eastern walls into the Plain of Harran.

So did the holy man, a monk and confessor tell a lie? Not just one, but several! Since the annals of the city, as far as we know them from the Chronicle of Edessa, were largely taken up, from the early IVth century onwards, with the affairs of the bishops, Egeria’s guide, who was the bishop of Edessa, must have known that the high palace on the rock was built after the palace on the springs, but he told Egeria that Abgar’s first palace “was on high ground, like most palaces in those days”, a phrase which betrays the glib tongue of a none-too-scrupulous cicerone. He must also have known from the annals that the Tomb of Abgar, which he showed Egeria, was not yet made in the time of Abgar the Black (“In the year 400 [AD 88-89] King Abgar [Abgar VI bar Ma'nu reigned from 71-91] built a nafsho [that is, a tomb-tower] for himself”: Chronicle of 540; described as the mausoleum of the House of Aryo in the Teaching of Addai), yet he told her that it was his. He probably knew, or guessed, that the marble busts of Abgar and of his son, Ma’nu, were of the Severan period, shortly after AD 200, not of the Ist century, as Egeria was told (they were probably sculpted in Rome during Abgar VIII’s sojourn in that city, which is recorded by Dio Chrysostom and echoed by Procopius, though the latter projects it back to the time of Augustus).

The bishop certainly knew that the original text of Jesus’ letter to Abgar the Black, as quoted by Eusebius from the annals of Edessa, contained no promise that Edessa would be impregnable to its enemies, yet he included this promise in the translation he gave to Egeria. She naïvely supposed that this version was more complete than the shorter letter which she had read in a translation at home, presumably one brought back to the Far West by an earlier pilgrim. In fact, it seems likely that Egeria’s guide was personally responsible for this most daring fraud of all: an addition to a text which claimed Jesus himself as its author. His tour of the city was designed to focus attention on that promise. Knowing all this, one can believe that the holy bishop even dared to hoodwink Egeria on the subject of the river’s course. But how did he do that? He must have prevented her, during her three-day stay, from seeing the upper course of the river. To do this he had to keep her away from the western walls (especially from the water-gates, which were probably out of bounds anyway as belonging to the military precinct of the praetorium) and from the north side of the Palace Rock.

Traffic from the direction of Antioch entered Edessa in those days from the north, not, as today, from the west. The Westgate was used for burials: it was named after the kappe, or burial-niches, in the quarter now called the Forty Caves. Egeria was escorted to the martyrium of St Thomas, then, perhaps, lodged outside the Eastgate, near the other martyria on that side and to the north (the Chronicle of 506 speaks of “all the convents and inns that were close to the wall [on the outside]” and of “the bones of all the martyrs which were around the city”, presumably including the shrines of Sharbil, Babai, Barsamya and the famous pair, Gurya and Shmona on the north side of Edessa). She was kept busy the following day and the day after that with chaperoned visits to these martyria and to the holy monks who lived among them. Later there would be two monasteries directly outside the Harran Gate: that of the Oriental Brothers, and that of the Mother of God. Egeria says that “other [monk]s had their cells further away from the city, where it was more private”. The sites of the future Monastery of Saint Cosmas, now the shrine of the Righteous Job, and of the Monastery of the Domes, further to the south, are possible candidates. Egeria, who climbed many mountains, may even have gone up to the Monastery of the Tomb-Towers, which would have taken her the better part of a day. That she gives no further details is not difficult to explain. She surely intended to write another letter full of the wisdom of the desert-fathers (and the desert-mothers) in Egypt, in Sinaï, in Palestine, in Mesopotamia and in Cilicia. She visited them everywhere she went and they are the first justification she gives to her sisters for the unplanned excursion to Edessa. Other books of this kind have survived, such as the History of the Monks in Egypt, the Lausiac History, by Palladius, and John Moschos’ Spiritual Meadow. Egeria’s surviving letter has a separate section on the Jerusalem Liturgy, into which she gathers all her observations on this subject. She has the self-discipline to refrain from telling them in the course of her earlier narrative, so she was certainly capable of holding back details of her visits to the ascetics and keeping them for their proper place.

Two days, then, were spent gathering sayings for a book or a letter on the monks and nuns of the east, sayings which Egeria will have heard in the words of an interpreter and noted by shorthand, as she noted the narrative of the bishop, with evident accuracy. The bishop’s tour probably took place on Sunday, the day of the Resurrection; Egeria will have been presented to the bishop after church. If he was aware that she was planning to write letters and perhaps a book about her pilgrimage, he may have attached considerable importance to her as a mouthpiece and a means of communication with the western world.

After the Eucharist, then, the bishop, a successor to the apostles and, like them, “a fisher of men”, took the pilgrim from the cathedral to the nearby palace of the king and gave her a breakfast of fishes from the pools created by the springs within that palace. By doing so he imitated the resurrected Jesus, who roasted the “miraculous draught of fishes” for St Thomas and the other apostles on the lakeside in Galilee, as related in the Gospel According To John. The action was richly symbolic, but the symbolism was lost on Egeria.

He then went out of the palace, showing her the busts of the king and his son and no doubt suggesting to her (inspired by the Acts of Judas Thomas and by Ephraims madroshe on the pearl) the pearl-like sheen which she ascribes to the marble, and crossed by a bridge the very river which he would later tell her had been dried up for ever by a miracle. He even drew her attention to this river and to the abundance of its water and made her believe that all this water came out of the miraculous springs in Abgar’s palace. It must have been impossible, then, to see the western watergates from the bridge.

He then took her on what seemed to be a complete tour of the city. First they will have walked up the street parallel with the western walls, which Egeria must have seen marching beside them. Then they will have mounted the battlements at the Gate of Hours (now the Gate of Samsat). From here they will have had a view very much like mine from the roof of the hotel; the hotel is further to the east, and so further downhill, but its roof (above the sixth floor) compensates by being higher than the battlements. The intervening buildings will not have been so high as they are today. Far away to the south they could see the Palace Rock and, below it, the greenery which grew around the springs in the palace gardens of King Abgar. To the west they could see the ancient acropolis (of which Egeria says nothing – presumably it had only pagan temples and was thus without interest for her) and, beyond the western walls, the hills in which the river rises, crouching low on the horizon. The hill on which the acropolis stood and the walls which marched along its western crest blocked Egeria’s view of the Valley of the Stadium and of the upper course of the river. Just below her, she could see the vast cutting on either side of the Roman bridge outside the Gate of Hours, and satisfy herself that it was dry. Over to the east was visible the plain, on which the Persians must have pitched camp. To the south was the Gate of the Sun-Temple (now the Harran Gate), where King Abgar had held up Jesus’ letter as a talisman against the besiegers.

Egeria evidently had an interpreter who sat with her while the bishop told his story. She got the story down word for word, presumably by shorthand, something she could only do if they were resting. From the wording of the story we can see that it was told from a vantage-point at which everything could be seen: “the small hill you see up there”, from which the city had its water; “the springs you can see over there”; the dry channel, which “is like that today, as you can see, for since then there has never been any water running in it”; Abgar’s palace, which, “as you can see, had been on high ground”. The bishop ended by saying, “Now let us go to the gate where the messenger Ananias came in with the letter of which I have been telling you.”

So, whether they went back the way they had come, or (more probably) walked along the battlements, he took her to the Southgate, where he read her the letters of Abgar and of Jesus, including the fraudulent passage containing the promise that Edessa would be impregnable to her enemies, the promise which gave point to the whole story of the Persian siege. They then went around, outside the city walls, and Egeria and her interpreter were shown the Tomb-Tower of Abgar and his family. Egeria writes, “The holy bishop also showed us the tomb É and he took us up to Abgar’s first palace (the one on the Palace Rock, according to the bishop), and showed us all the other things there were to see.” This seems to mean that they did not actually go up to the Tomb-Tower of the House of Ary.

By now, it being time for Evensong, the bishop will have taken his guest back to the cathedral by way of the Harran Gate. She thought she had seen, in the hydrography of the city, the incontrovertible proof of the power of God and of his favour towards King Abgar and his city. It was a superb conjuring trick, which the bishop insisted on performing in person; for who would dare to doubt the word of a holy monk and confessor? If any shadow of a doubt should subsequently arise in the mind of the pilgrim, it would be dispelled by the illusion that the whole city and the surrounding land had been surveyed. But why did the holy man indulge in fraud? For two reasons, I suggest, as usually in Byzantine times, one theological, the other political; and, as usual in Byzantium, the theological reason is also political, the political reason also theological.

The theological reason has to do with the Old Covenant passing away and being replaced by the New. The drying up of the river, which is reminiscent of the parting of the Red Sea and the Jordan, two events central to Jewish sacred history, was intended by the bishop, as I think, to symbolise the redundancy of Judaism, while the welling up of the springs in the palace of Abgar stood for the birth of Christianity. The Persian siege represented the persecution of the new religion by the Romans; and the diversion of the river into the Persian camp was like the alliance between the Jews and the Romans in crucifying Jesus. The city of Edessa stands for the Church, nourished by the miraculous Resurrection of the crucified Jesus. This symbolism was politically charged, because there had been, in the period before Egeria’s visit, a resurgence not only of the more Jewish interpretation of Christianity, Arianism, but also of Judaism itself. Julian the Apostate (AD 360-363) had given confidence to the Jews by authorising the rebuilding of the Temple of Solomon, although his reign was too short to allow the project to be realised; his successor, Jovian, had reigned only a few months; after that came Valens in the east and his brother Valentinian in the west, both of whom gave their support to Arianism and thereby, according to Saint Ephraim (who died at Edessa in AD 373), removed the essential difference between Christianity and Judaism, namely Jesus’ property of bridging the divine and the human by his full identity with both. Valens died at Adrianople in AD 378 in battle against the Goths and the Visigoths. His successor, Theodosius, became sole emperor, ruling from Milan, where he was influenced by Ambrose, the bishop of that city, to initiate an anti-Jewish bias in the imperial administration and legislature. He also convened a General Council of the Church at Constantinople in AD 381, which reaffirmed the doctrine of the first General Council at Nicaea in AD 325 and condemned Arianism. It was not yet “a time for killing” the Jews, but persecution of various kinds was beginning to be the order of the day.

This leads us to the second, political, reason which the bishop of Edessa may have had for practising deceit on Egeria. The defeat of the Roman army and the death of the emperor on the field of battle at Adrianople in AD 378 placed a large question-mark beside the power of the Cross to defend the Roman Empire against its enemies. The Cross had been put forward as the new talisman of Rome by Constantine the Great, whose statue at Edessa, as in other cities around the empire, held a Cross as the standard-bearer holds the standard in the field. Indeed, oblivious of Christ’s words that “those who live by the sword shall die by the sword”, the Roman standard-bearers now carried a kind of cross, the labarum, into battle. The chief political justification of the favoured position of the Church in the Roman Empire of Constantine and his successors was this: that the power of Jesus protected the Roman Empire against its enemies and made the emperor victorious. The spectacular defeat of the only non-Christian successor of Constantine, Julian, and his death of the field of battle, seemed to confirm this reasoning. But it must have rung hollow after Adrianople. One can imagine how much capital the Jews made out of this defeat, since already in the time of Saint Ephraim they were crowing over the Church, split as it was between the Nicaeans and the Arians, both of whom rested their case on the text of the Gospels. The only answer was to attribute the defeat to the Arian sympathies of Valens and to restate the Constantinian doctrine with renewed vigour, saying that all Roman emperors would be victorious, provided that they were not heretics, like Valens.

The promise of Jesus to King Abgar, that his city would never be taken by its enemies, can be understood as a transferred restatement of the doctrine of Constantine. It was invented, I suggest, by Bishop Eulogius, who had been exiled by Valens for his opposition to Arianism, and who, after his return from exile, received Egeria and many other pilgrims at Edessa. Edessa epitomises both the Church and the Empire. Abgar set an example which was followed by Constantine. Where Constantine was victorious in the sign of the Cross, Abgar was saved by the letter of Jesus. For pilgrims like Egeria, it was recommended to go from Jerusalem to Constantinople, taking in Edessa on the way, just as the Christian Faith, which spread from Jerusalem, only became the religion of the Roman Empire after first becoming the religion of the little kingdom of Orrhoene. This one small city’s role in epitomising all that the Church and the Roman Empire stood for was reinforced by the visit to Harran. The largely pagan population of that city stood in contrast to the largely Christian population of Edessa; and the bishop of Harran drew attention to the proximity of the Persian border when he told Egeria that Abraham’s birthplace (Ur of the Chaldees, according to the hebrew tradition, not Urfa, as Muslims say) was in Persian territory and thus inaccessible to pilgrims.

Pilgrims like Egeria may have been generally identified by eastern churchmen as receptacles for ideas and chosen as the vehicles by which those ideas could be spread to other parts of the Empire. The usefulness of these ideas (their “truth”, as the bishops would have said) was ample justification for trivial fraudulence, such as pretending that the river had dried up, when in fact it had returned to its former bed. It even justified, I believe, so far as Eulogius was concerned, misrepresenting the contents of a letter supposedly written by Jesus himself and attributing to him a promise which would be seen to have failed, if ever Edessa should actually be taken by the Persians. This happened in 609 and no doubt the event deeply undermined the confidence of the local Christians, who, thirty years later, surrendered the city to the Arabs after a token resistance and began to lose their faith. Today the city, renamed Urfa, is entirely Muslim. The last Syrian Christians left in 1924 and went to Aleppo. Nine years before that the Armenians had been the victims of the worst “time of killing” in recent memory.

All these things occur to me as I stand on the roof of my hotel. Then I descend from that height, coming down at the same time out of my cloud of historical reflections. I walk down to the Great Mosque, built in AD 1170, and approach it through an archway on the north side, which looks Roman. The row of arches continues as part of the wall to the west. In the courtyard are numerous sculpted capitals and in the prayer-hall several marble columns. The imam’s assistant tells me that this used to be a church, called “the red church”, probably because the columns are of pink marble. (According to Segal, this may have been the church of St Stephen, constructed with imperial funds in the early Vth century on the site of the former Jewish synagogue.) Here there is a well from which pilgrims drink in faith, wishing to be cured of their skin ailments and of eye-diseases. I drink from the well, with little faith, hoping that my weak eyes will grow stronger and that my skin will cease to itch – perhaps hoping to cure my lack of faith. The assistant tells me that the well is known as that into which the towel (mendil) of the prophet Jesus was thrown. I ask him whether Jesus visited Urfa. No, he says, Jesus lived in a village near Jerusalem; but he sent the towel as a present to the king of Urfa. Outside the Great Mosque I am struck by the quantity of doctors advertising their services by red and white notices. Does this mean that Urfa has more than its fair share of sick residents, or is the phenomenon connected with the pilgrimage, which must attract many sick people? No doubt they are ready to try medical remedies in addition to religious ones.


* For literature mentioned here, see S. Brock: “Syriac historical writing: a survey of the main sources”, Studies in Syriac Christianity: history, literature and theology, Aldershot, 1992 (Variorum collected studies ; 357)

Posted in Travel Tales, Volume 6 Issue 1 (Summer 1998) | Tagged: , , , , , | Comments Off

Gouden Hoorn Discussion

Posted by Gouden Hoorn on December 3, 2011

An essayistic discussion on current affairs that have roots in the (Late Antique/Byzantine) past. In this issue: Ecumenic Communion?

A discussion broke out in the Netherlands on the topic of Roman Catholic Communion at an ecumenical weddingservice in Apeldoorn, where, on the Saturday before Pentecost, the Royal wedding took place of Prince Maurits and his spouse Marilène. The church authorities of the Roman Catholic Church had made an exception, that the Dutch Reformed Prince could alongside his R.C. wife, take part in the Eucharist. But at the handing out of the Communion, several members of the Royal Family also received the Communion. This encited an angry response of the Dutch cardinal, Simonis, who was quoted in the newspapers to say that the Royal Family should have been more aware of the church protocol, just as much as the church was aware of the royal protocol.

This incident set off discussion among letter-writers in newspapers on the question what is more important, that two young people are married in church in an era of secularized societies, even if members of their family show no respect for the meaning of the Communion-service, or that the Eucharist remains strictly for those who have been through First Communion, excluding other christians from the Body of Christ.

Interested readers of Gouden Hoorn wondered about these ancient rites in the church, of which they nowadays hardly know the background. This encited our search for the opinion of the Orthodox churches on this issue. In Jean Meyendorff’s L’Orthodoxie: hier et aujourd’hui1, he states that the Orthodox church stresses the metabolè of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, but that it was not until the post-16th century creeds (that intended to pose the Orthodox dogma against the reformationist theology) that the Orthodox church used the term ‘transsubstantiation’, or ‘metousioosis’.

But while the Orthodox church stresses the reality of the change, it does not attempt to give an explanation of the manner of the change, as Timothy Ware puts it.2

In the following article, Gabriel Rabo demonstrates how the Hostie functions in the Syrian Orthodox church.


1 Translated into Dutch: De Orthodoxe kerk, verleden en heden, Roermond [etc.], 1964, see p. 86.

2 See Timothy Ware: The Orthodox church, [1983] (1963-1), p. 290-295.

Posted in Volume 6 Issue 1 (Summer 1998) | Tagged: , | Comments Off

Das eucharistische Brot tab’o in der Syrisch-Orthodoxen Kirche[note1]

Posted by Gouden Hoorn on December 3, 2011

von Gabriel Rabo

I. Einleitung

Das Brot für die Eucharistiefeier war in der Ostkirche, aber auch in der lateinischen Kirche, bis zur Mitte des 5. Jhs. das gewöhnliche Brot, 2 dann entwickelte sich eine vom christlichen Geist geprägte Form mit unterschiedlichen Kennzeichen. Die älteste Form, wohl ein Vorläufer des heutigen Hostienstempels, ist möglicherweise das ganz punktierte Flachbrot mit in der Mitte eingeritzten Kreuzchen.3 Über sein genaues Alter ist nichts bekannt. Das Brot verwendeten die Ostsyrer wahrscheinlich sowohl als gewöhnliches Nahrungsmittel wie auch für den eucharistischen Zweck. Als eucharistischen Hostienstempel kann man zunächst an den koptischen Tonstempel denken, der mit einem Reliefbild oder -negativ versehen ist.4 Ebenfalls hat sich im syrisch-orthodoxen Ritus eine besondere und eindrückliche Gestalt für das eucharistische Brot entwickelt, welches mit verschiedenen Namen belegt wurde. Diese Art des Brotes dürfte spätestens schon vor dem Ende des 8. Jhs. in Gebrauch gewesen sein, da die beiden Liturgiekommentatoren Iwannis Bischof von Dara (+860) und Mose Bar Kepha (+903) sie in ihren Werken besprechen. Das eucharistische Brot wird tab’o, furshono (arab. burshan, abgeleitet vom syrischen Wort furshon, furshono), bukro und fristo genannt. Der Name tab’o, der heute allgemein gebräuchlich ist, kommt von dem syrischen Verb tba’ (abdrücken) und bezeichnet einen aus Holz gemachten Stempel (Abdruck), mit dem der Teig des eucharistischen Brotes geformt wird. Der ancrwp wird wohl so benannt, weil die Gläubigen ihr eigenes Mehl für das eucharistische Brot als Darbringung in Anlehnung an Lv 6,7-16 opfern. Das Wort furshono kommt von dem Verb frash und bedeutet ‘trennen’. Der Name bukro, ‘Erstgeborener’, bezieht sich auf paulinische Aussagen: “Wenn er den Erstgeborenen wieder in die Welt einführt” (Hebr 1,6) und Christus als ‘Erstling der Auferstehung’ (1 Kor 15,19). Der andere Name fristo leitet sich von dem Verb fras (ausdehnen) her und ist wahrscheinlich der einfache Name für das Flachbrot.

II. Herstellung

Die Hostie tab’o ist rund, ca. 1,5 cm dick und im Durchmesser etwa 7 cm groß. Sie wird kreuzweise gleichmäßig in vier große Teile geteilt; jeder Teil wird weiter in drei Stücke geschnitten. Die Hostien werden für jede Eucharistiefeier täglich frisch gebacken. Es wird erst nach dem Sonnenuntergang, am Vorabend des jeweiligen Tages der Zelebration, mit dem Kneten des Brotes begonnen, weil der neue Tag in der syrischen Kirche wie im Judentum nach dem Sonnenuntergang, d.h. nach dem Abendoffizium beginnt. Der Teig der Hostie besteht aus weißem, sauber durchgesiebtem Mehl, aus klarem warmem Quellwasser, Sauerteig vom letzten Backen und aus ein wenig Salz,5 dessen symbolische Bedeutung aus 2 Kön 2,19-22 und aus Mk 9,49-50 abgeleitet wird. Das Mehl wird aus handverlesenen Weizenähren mit einer Handmühle gemahlen; während der Erntezeit wird das Getreide nach der Tradition im Tur’Abdin von den Gläubigen wöchentlich als qsoto, d.h. als Opfergabe, zum Priester bzw. Hostienbäcker gebracht. Der Teig wird von einem Diakon, Mönch oder Priester in der Kirche, im Pfarrhaus oder beim Messner bei Psalmen und nach Yahya Ibn Garir (11. Jh.) “wie manche sagen” nüchtern 6 geknetet und in ein dafür bestimmtes weißes Tuch gelegt. In diesem wird er unter einem Gesang eines wahrscheinlich von Ephrem dem Syrer (+373) verfaßten Hymnus 7 hin und her geschwungen und dann bis zur Durchsäuerung beiseite gelegt. Der Teig wird zunächst gleichmäßig in Stücke geschnitten und mit dem eigentlichen tab’o (Hostienstempel) aus Holz 8 geformt. Dabei begnügt man sich damit, die Oberfläche der Hostienstempel mit etwas Öl einzustreichen, um zu verhindern, daß der Teig festklebt. Der Holz-tab’o hat auf beiden Seiten einen Stempel. Ein Stempel ist für die normalen Hostien jeder Eucharistiefeier, der andere Stempel für die Hostie der Eucharistiefeier am Donnerstag der Geheimnisse (Gründonnerstag) bestimmt. Letzterer wird bukro (s.u.) genannt. Nach dem Stempeln der Teigstücke werden diese nun kreuzweise an fünf Stellen der Oberfläche angestochen. In die Rückseite der Hostien werden mit einem kleinen Hölzchen fünf kleine Kreuzchen gestochen. Am frühen Morgen vor der Messe beginnt man dann, die Hostien frisch zu backen. Als Bestandteil des Brennstoffs bestimmte Yahya Ibn Garir das “Holz, dessen Frucht wohlschmeckend ist”.9 Nach dem Backen aller Hostien wird die beste, schönste und reinste Hostie, die nicht angebrannt und verkümmert ist, für den Altar zur Konsekration ausgewählt.10 Sie darf auf keinen Fall zerbrochen, verbrannt oder beschädigt werden.

Die Anordnung der Hostie auf der Patene während der Eucharistiefeier ist im Verlauf des Kirchen-Jahreskreises verschieden: Von Weihnachten bis Karfreitag 11 wird die Figur des Lammes (emro), von Karsamstag bis zum Kreuzerhöhungsfest am 14. September die des Gekreuzigten (zqifuto) und vom Kreuzerhöhungsfest bis Weihnachten die des Jünglings (talyo) oder des Menschen (barnosho) verwendet. Zum Bild des Lammes wird die Hostie vom Priester während der Brechung und Bezeichnung (qsoyo wa-rshomo) in zwei Hälften (A B) gebrochen und die oberen Eckstücke des linken (C) und rechten (D) Teils werden abgetrennt. Dann werden die beiden Hälften (A B) so in die Patene gelegt, daß ihre beiden Ränder einander berühren. Eines der Eckstücke (C oder D) wird oben von dem Gesamten getrennt angeordnet und soll so den Kopf der Lammfigur bilden. Für die Jünglingsfigur wird die Hostie zunächst bis zum oberen Bruchstück (C) wie bei der Lammfigur bearbeitet. Der Priester befeuchtet mit dem in den Kelch eingetauchten Stück (C) die beiden Hälften (A B) der Hostie und legt dann das Stück (C) in der Oberkante der Hälften (A B) wieder wie bei der Lammfigur. Anschließend werden die beiden Hälften (A B) in zwei Abschnitte, jeweils für ein Bein, geteilt. So besteht die Jünglingsfigur aus fünf Teilen. Die Figur des Gekreuzigten wird sorgfältiger als die anderen angeordnet. Die Brechung wird wie bei anderen Figuren bis zum Stück (C) für die Position des Hauptes bearbeitet. Die beiden Hälften (A B) werden in weitere acht Teile zerschnitten. Für den Körper (a b) und die Arme (c d) werden vier Stücke, für das Becken das einzelne Stück (e) und für die Beine die anderen zwei Stücke (f g) verwendet. Das Stück D wird in die Unterkannte (unter den Stücken f g) gelegt und versinnbildlicht nicht die Füße, sondern den Adamsschädel, der nach der syrischen Tradition auf Golgotha liegt, wo das Kreuz Jesu stand.12

III. Kommentar

Die Stücke der Hostie sind mit einem Kreuz versehen und bilden insgesamt die symbolische Zahl Zwölf, für die zwölf Apostel. Die im äußeren Kreisring der Hostie eingeprägten Punkte symbolisieren die 72 Missionare und die den Leib Christi empfangenden Gläubigen; die vier großen Teile sind ferner das Symbol für die vier Evangelisten.13 Die fünf Einstiche auf der Hostienoberfläche symbolisieren die fünf Wundmale Christi, nämlich die durch die Lanze, den Dornenkranz und die drei Nägel des Kreuzes.14 Die zweite Art der Hostie bukro, die aus vier Teilen besteht, ist nur für die Eucharistiefeier am Donnerstag der Geheimnisse bestimmt. An diesem besonderen Tag wird die Eucharistie der Bukro-Hostie gefeiert. Am Donnerstag der Geheimnisse werden einfache und Bukro-Hostien gebacken und von zwei Diakonen an alle Familien der jeweiligen Pfarrei verteilt; d.h. für jede Person ist eine einfache Hostie und für jede Familie eine Bukro-Hostie und ein Stück Sauerteig bestimmt, der nach syrischer Tradition seit der Zeit der Apostel bis in die Gegenwart überliefert wird. Dieses Teigstück mischt man mit anderem eigenem Teig, so daß man das ganze Jahr über den gechenkten Segensteig zur Verfügung hat. Die Hostie wird nicht einfach gegessen, sondern als Segensbrot oder -gegenstand für das Haus zum Schutz vor dem Bösen oder zum Zweck der Getreidesegnung zwischen dem Getreide aufbewahrt. Diese sehr alte syrische Tradition ist im Tur ‘Abdin noch immer lebendig.

In bezug auf das Backen des eucharistischen Brotes ist anzunehmen, daß die Gläubigen es früher selber hergestellt und am gleichen Tag als Opfer auf den Altar gebracht haben. Da aber die Regeln beim Brotbacken häufig nicht genau eingehalten wurden, wurde dann festgelegt, daß die Gläubigen das Brot nicht mehr selber backen, sondern das Mehl dafür zum Hostienbäcker bringen sollten.

Neben dieser Opferung der Hostie gab es damals noch einen anderen Opferbrauch in der syrischen Kirche, der heute in Vergessenheit geraten ist: Man legte zu Beginn der Weizenernte neben die Hostie zwölf Körner einer Weizenähre in die Patene, um das Erstlingsgetreide zu opfern. Rahmani bezieht diesen Brauch auf den 4. von den Aposteln gesprochenen Kanon.15 In gleicher Weise bringt man auch noch heute ab und zu frische Trauben während der Erntezeit statt des Weines dar.

Die vier Bestandteile des eucharistischen Brotes: Mehl, Wasser, Sauerteig und Salz – so Mose Bar Kepha und Dionysius Ya’qub Bar Salibi (+1171) – symbolisieren wohl die vier Elemente des Kosmos, aus denen die Körper zusammengesetzt sind, d.h. die Erde, das Wasser, das Feuer und die Luft.16 Mehl, Wasser und Sauerteig sind gleichseitig ein Abbild der Dreifaltigkeit.17 Außerdem wird aber auch das Olivenöl als Bestandteil für die Hostie bei Isaak von Antiochien (+460), dem Patriarchen Yuhannun Bar Shushan von Antiochien (+1072), Yahya Ibn Garir und dem Papst Christodulos von Alexandrien (+1077) genannt, wobei hier zwischen den letzten beiden eine heftige Diskussion entstand, weil letzterer in den Teig weder Salz noch Öl mischte.18 Bar Salibi und Yahya Ibn Garir sehen im [Oliven]öl einen der wichtigsten der oben genannten Bestandteile des eucharistischen Brotes.19 Letzterer bevorzugt das Öl vor allem Anderen und mißt ihm einen hohen Rang zu, weil die mit Öl übergossenen Speiseopfer in Lv 2,1-7 und die mit Öl gekneteten zwölf Brotkuchen in Lv 24, 5-7 Vorbilder der Eucharistie (qurbono) seien: “Das Öl im Qurban ist wie die Seele im Leib”.20 Ob das Öl auch heute tatsächlich ein Bestandteil im eucharistischen Brot ist, kann hier allgemein nicht beantwortet werden. Jedenfalls wird es als Hilfsmittel gegen das Kleben des Teiges am Stempel verwendet.

Der Teig darf niemals von einer Frau, auch nicht von einer Jungfrau, vorbereitet werden, weil die Frau nach den syrischen Kirchenvätern den Menschen zum Sündenfall verführt hat. Sind die oben genannten Personen abwesend, kann ein jungfräulicher Laie diese Aufgabe übernehmen. Die Tradition des täglich frisch gebackenen eucharistischen Brotes geht nach Yuhannun von Tella (+538), Bar Salibi und Gregorius Yuhannun Bar ‘Ebroyo (+1286) bis auf die Apostelzeit zurück. Sie vergleichen im Anschluß an Paulus (1.Kor 10,3) das täglich frisch gebackene eucharistische Brot mit dem “himmlischen Manna für die Israeliten”, 21 das man täglich frisch aß und das für den nächsten Tag nicht aufgehoben werden konnte. Es ist möglich, daß die Hostien zu früheren Zeiten in einem nur dafür bestimmten Ofen gebacken wurden, weil es früher einen solchen kleinen Ofen, genannt arwunt, auf einem syrischen, aber auch auf dem koptischen Kirchhof im alten Kairo gab. Heute backt man sie – so nach der syrischen Tradition im Tur ‘Abdin – auf einer gewöhnlichen Blechplatte.

Mehrere Hostien können für die Eucharistie je nach Bedarf der Kommunizierenden, z.B. am Donnerstag der Geheimnisse, an dem jedem syrisch-orthodoxen Christ grundsätzlich der Empfang der Kommunion empfohlen wird, zum Altar gebracht werden. Bis zu drei Hostien können ohne weiteres gebracht werden. Aber sonst soll man sie immer als Einzelstücke und nicht paarweise nehmen. Mose Bar Kepha vergleicht die eine Hostie mit dem mensch-gewordenen Logos, die zwei Stücke mit der Menschheit und Gottheit Christi und die drei Stücke mit den drei Personen der Dreieinigkeit.22 Bar ‘Ebroyo weist in seinem Nomokanon darauf hin, daß er – wie auch Yuhannun von Tella – keine Regel kennt, wonach die Hostien einzeln oder paarweise auf den Altar dargebracht werden sollen. Er schreibt allerdings an Klemens, man solle am Samstag drei Brote für die Zahl der Dreieinigkeit und am Sonntag vier Brote der Zahl der vier Evangelisten entsprechend für den Altar nehmen.23 Die auf den Altar gebrachten Hostien dürfen nie mehr weggenommen werden, wohl aber dürfen andere hinzugefügt werden, solange das Velum auf dem Kelch und der Patene ausgebreitet ist. 24 Jedes Stück der konsekrierten Hostie, des Leibes Christi, wird in Anlehnung an Jes 6,6-7 gmurto, wörtlich ‘Glühkohle’ genannt, 25 welche die Gottheit und Menschheit Christi darstellen soll. Ephrem der Syrer, Ya`qub von Sarug (+521) und Yuhannun von Tella nennen sie margonito, d.h. ‘Perle’.26 Außer den für den Altar bestimmten Hostien werden einige (meistens wird eine besonders große gebacken) für das Eulogion (burkto) genommen, die während der Eucharistiefeier vor der Predigt und nach der Segnung in viele kleine Teile geschnitten und am Ende der Eucharistiefeier von einem Diakon, der eine Kerze in der rechten Hand hält, vor dem Ausgang der Kirche stehend an alle Gläubigen verteilt werden.

Für die syrische Kirche wie auch für einige andere orientalische Kirchen hat die Verwendung des gesäuerten Brotes (lahmo hami’o) für die Eucharistiefeier eine entscheidende Bedeutung, im Gegensatz zum Brauch der abendländischen und mancher anderer orientalischen (z.B. der armenischen) Kirchen. Dieser Brauch war schon in der alten Kirche von Antiochien bekannt. So kritisiert Ephiphanius, der Bischof von Zypern (+403) die judenchristlichen Ebioniten, weil sie ungesäuertes Brot und nur Wasser für die Eucharistiefeier verwendeten.27 Johannes Chrysostomos (+407) bezeugt auch, da die aus Erde bestehende Substanz des Menschen dem Tod unterworfen sei, habe nun Christus den zweiten Teig vorbereitet. Ein noch deutlicherer Beweis für den Gebrauch des gesäuerten Brotes in der frühen Kirche von Antiochien ist die Kritik des Rabbula von Edessa (+435) an den fastenden Mönchen des Klosters von Perin, die absichtlich mehr gesäuerten Teig für das eucharistische Brot verwendeten, das ihnen dann zugleich als Speise diente.28 Mose Bar Kepha und Bar Salibi, die hier von Yuhannun Bar Shushan abhängig sind, beantworten diese wichtige Frage des gesäuerten oder ungesäuerten Brotes gegenüber den Armeniern ganz deutlich, indem sie betonen, daß der Begriff lahmo (Brot) sich stark vom fatiro (Ungesäuerten) unterscheide. Der lahmo besteht zweifellos aus hmiro (Sauerteig) der die Lebendigkeit versinnbildlicht. Der fatiro aber besteht nur aus Mehl und Wasser, was die Sterblichkeit symbolisiert. Bar Kepha und Bar Salibi sagen weiter, wobei sie sich auf Worte der Evangelisten und des Paulus stützen, unser Herr – so ebenfalls auch bei Maruta von Tagrit (+649) in seinem Kommentar zu den Evangelien 29 – habe beim Abendmahl den lahmo (das Brot) und nicht den fatiro (das ungesäuerte Brot) genommen. Nach diesen beiden Kirchenlehrern ist das Brot der Einsetzungsberichte also gesäuert. Sie beziehen sich dabei auch auf das Gleichnis vom Sauerteig (Mt 13,33).30 Ebenso meint Yahya Ibn Garir, Jesus habe sich als das vom Himmel herabgekommene Brot bezeichnet. Er habe nicht gesagt, er sei das ungesäuerte Brot. Und er betont: “Wie der Leib Jesu das Vollkommenste ist, so muß auch zur Materie des qurban die vollkommenste Brotart genommen werden, also gesäuertes Brot”.31 Nach Rahmani waren frühe Kirchenlehrer wie Ephrem der Syrer und Rabbula von Edessa andererseits aber auch der Meinung, daß Jesus ungesäuertes Brot am Tag der ungesäuerten Brote aß. Der Patriarch Yuhannun von Antiochien (+649) und der Bischof Lo’ozor Bar Sobto von Bagdad (9. Jh.) geben dieselbe Überlieferung wieder.32 Das eucharistische Brot ist aber Ephrem zufolge aus Sauerteig. Dabei bezieht er sich negativ und polemisch auf das ungesäuerte Brot des jüdischen Pascha: Sauerteig schenkt das Leben aber Ungesäuertes den Tod.33

Das eucharistische Brot ist in der Syrisch-Orthodoxen Kirche eines der wichtigsten liturgischen Elemente, desen Symbolik das theologische Herz und die Frömmigkeit der Kirche zum Ausdruck bringt. Viele liturgische Traditionen, aber auch Bräuche der syrischen Volksfrömmigkeit, die ihren Ursprung schon in der Alten Kirche haben, wurden und werden im Tur ‘Abdin praktiziert.


1 Diese Arbeit wurde am 14.08.1996 auf dem VII. internationalen Syrologenkongreß, dem sog. ‘Symposium Syriacum’, in Uppsala, Schweden vorgetragen. Sie ist in den folgenden Zeitschriften veröffentlicht: Kolo Suryoyo No 117-118, (Sept-Okt) 1997, S. 167-173; Hermeneia, Zeitschrift für ostkirchliche Kunst, Bd 14, Heft 1, April 1998, (Herten) S. 7-14; Orientalia Christiana Analecta (OCA) 256, Symposium Syriacum VII, (Roma 1998), S. 139-147.

2 Vgl. O. Casel, “Altchristliche Liturgie bis auf Konstantin d. Gr.”, JLW 9, (Münster 1929), 229-260, hier 232.

3 Vgl. F. J. Dölger, “Heidnische und christliche Brotstempel mit religiösen Zeichen”, Antike und Christentum, 1, (Münster 1929), 1-46, hier 27, (Tafel 7 unten links).

4 Vgl. ebd., 10 f.

5 Vgl. E.S. Drower, Water into Wine, A Study of Ritual Idiom in the Middle East, London 1956, 55.

6 Vgl. G. Graf, “Die Eucharistielehre des Jakobiten Yahya Ibn Garir”, OC 37 (Wiesbaden 1953), 100-115, hier 108.

7 Dieser Hymnus wird nach der Melodie quqoyo gesungen und lautet: eno no lahmo d-haye emar moran, d-men raumo l-’umqo nehtet tursoyo l-’olmo, shalhan(y) abo melto d-lo besro, w-ak akoro zar’an(y) gabriel, w-qabeltan(y) karsoh d-maryam ak ar’o tto, w-ho mzayhin li b-idayhun kohne ‘al madbho haleluya badmut malake. “Ich bin das Brot des Lebens, sagte unser Herr, der aus der Hoheit [Himmel] in die Tiefe [Erde] hinabgestiegen ist, zur Nahrung für die Welt. Der Vater sandte mich als Wort ohne Fleisch, Gabriel pflanzte mich wie ein Ackermann, und Maria empfing mich in ihrem Mutterschoß wie ein gutes Feld. Nun tragen mich die Priester (lobend) mit ihren Händen auf den Altar H[alleluja] im Bild der Engel.” Textausgabe: E. Barsaum, ktobo d-shumloyo d-qurobo lfut tekso d- ´ito suryoyto trisat shubho, dayro d-kurkmo [Kloster Zafaran, Mardin] 1912, 61.

8 Die Hostienstempel können auch aus einem Stein sein, obwohl solche heute nicht mehr in der syrisch-orthodoxen Kirche gibt, aber ein solcher Steinstempel befindet sich in Kairo und in der St. Stephans-Kirche in Jerusalem. Vgl. A.A. King, The Rite of the Eastern Christendom, 1, (Rom 1947), 102.

9 Vgl. Graf, “Die Eucharistielehre” (oben Anm 5), 108.

10 Vgl. Dölger, “Heidnische und christliche Brotstempel” (oben Anm 2), 35; Graf, “Die Eucharistielehre” (oben Anm 5), 108.

11 Zur Erklärung der Anordnung der Figuren wird immer der Karfreitag herangezogen. Am Karfreitag aber wird die Eucharistie nicht gefeiert.

12 Vgl. G. Rabo, Die Eucharistiefeier der Syrisch-Orthodoxen Kirche von Antiochien, 92 f, [unveröffentlichtes Manuskript]; Drower, Water into Wine (oben Anm 4), 144 ff.

13 Vgl. ebd., 55.

14 Vgl. E. Kaplan, pushoq gmirut gmiruoto, [unveröffentlichtes Manuskript], 15.

15 Vgl. E. Rahmani, Les Liturgies Orientales et Occidentales, Beyrouth 1929, 70.

16 Vgl. Mose Bar Kepha, ktobo d-pus’oq (a)roz qurbono Kurban Sirrinin Tefsiri, hg. E. Bilgiç, Mardin 1957, 30; Kaplan, pushoq gmirut gmiruoto, (oben Anm 13), 13 f.

17 Vgl. Graf, “Die Eucharistielehre” (oben Anm 5), 108.

18 Vgl. King, The Rite of the Eastern Christendom, 1 (oben Anm 7), 102 ff; E. Rahmani, Les Liturgies (oben Anm 14), 69.

19 Vgl. BO II, (Rom 1721), 182 f.

20 Vgl. Graf, “Die Eucharistielehre” (oben Anm 5), 108; W. de Vries, Sakramentenlehre bei den syrischen Monophysiten, OCA 125, (Rom 1940), 159 f.

21 Vgl. King, The Rite of the Eastern Christendom, 1 (oben Anm 7), 104; BO II, 185; G. Barhebräus, Nomocanon (Hudoye), hg. St. Ephrem der Syrer Kloster, Glane21986, 22.

22 Vgl. Mose Bar Kepha, ktobo d-pushoq (a)roz qurbono (oben Anm 15), 24 f; I. Saka, pushoq qurobo, tafsir-ul-quddas, Bagdad 21977, 9.

23 Vgl. Barhebräus, Nomocanon (oben Anm 20), 22 f.

24 Vgl. King, The Rite of the Eastern Christendom, 1, (oben Anm 7), 106; Saka,pushoq qurobo (oben Anm 21), 9.

25 Vgl. Bar Salibi, BO I, (Rom 1719), 79.

26 Vgl. King, The Rite of the Eastern Christendom, 1, (oben Anm 7), 102.

27 Vgl. Rahmani, Les Liturgies (oben Anm 14), 65.

28 Vgl. ebd., 65.

29 Vgl. Maruta, BO I, 180.

30 Vgl. Mose Bar Kepha, ktobo d-pushoq (a)roz qurbono (oben Anm 15), 29 f; Bar Salibi, BO II, 183.

31 Graf, “Die Eucharistielehre” (oben Anm 5), 107.

32 Vgl. Rahmani, Les Liturgies (oben Anm 14), 66 f.

33 Vgl. ebd., 63.

Posted in Academic talks, Volume 6 Issue 1 (Summer 1998) | Tagged: , | Comments Off

The Late Antiquity Research Group

Posted by Gouden Hoorn on December 3, 2011

The Late Antiquity Research Group, or LARG, was established in the UK in 1996. Its primary purpose is to promote and coordinate archaoelogical and related (eg.art historical) research on the period AD 300-700 in the whole of the Roman (and former) Roman world by specialists working in the UK.

However, the Group also maintains a very active programme of international academic and research links. This is designed both to assist members of the Group and to help those who are seeking to establish cooperative research programmes with UK scholars, international field projects or simply seeking help regarding the latest work on some related area of study by UK scholars.

LARG currently has three spheres of activity, the oversas programme already referred to, a formal membership within Britain and a core research group based at Reading. The UK membership attend research seminars and other meetings, undertake an annual field trip and exchange information regarding current work in the field. Research by the core group centres on two principal issues: the end of Roman Britain and the archaeology of the Byzantine empire. Both the Chair and current Academic Secretary have personal research interests in these areas and these topics are by far the most commonly studied among the membership.

Any readers of GH based in the UK may apply for (currently free) membership to:

Late Antiquity Research Group
Faculty of Letters
University of Reading
Whiteknights, Reading, RG66AA

Readers based in academic organizations outside the UK interested in the advantages offered by LARG for collaborative projects and advice about the latest UK research in their area, can apply for the ‘Overseas Fellowship Programme’. This offers non-stipendary fellowships to established scholars in the field outside the UK, within the context of reciprocal formal linkages. The Programme is designed to establish formal academic relationships between LARG and academic organizations with related interests throughout the world. Those wishing to participate should initially contact:

Late Antiquity Research Group
324 Norbury Avenue
London, SW16 3RL

Posted in Volume 6 Issue 1 (Summer 1998) | Tagged: | Comments Off

Byz-Niz: Berichten uit de O.B.O.-burelen (6:1)

Posted by Gouden Hoorn on December 3, 2011


fifth Belfast Byzantine International Colloquium

“Founders and refounders of Byzantine monasteries: Evergetis and others”, fifth Belfast Byzantine International Colloquium, will be held 17-20 september 1998 at Portaferry, Co. Down.

Information:everget @ clio.arts.qub.ac.uk

Twenty-fourth annual Byzantine Studies Conference

University of Kentucky, Lexington, USA. 5-8 November, 1998.

Inquiries: clrapp @ ias.edu Claudia Rapp, Program Chair, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ 08540.

“Perspectives on Panopolis: An Egyptian town from Alexander the Great to the Arab conquest”

16-18 december 1998 in Leiden.

Information: Dr A. Egberts,egberts @ rullet.leidenuniv.nl

Cultural and intellectual history society

The members of C.I.HI.S. (Cultural and Intellectual History Society), a newly-founded society consisted mainly of young historians, are considering the preconditions for organising a conference which will take place in Athens, in 2000. This conference will concern the development of research conducted by historians regarding modern and contemporary Greek history (19th-20th c.).

Basically, the intention of C.I.HI.S. is to bring together historians (or other social scientists dealing with historical issues), who are still working on their Ph.D thesis or they have recently concluded it. For information concerning participation in this project please contact:cihis @ webindex.gr

11th Conference of the Australian Association for Byzantine Studies

“Orthodoxy and Unorthodoxies”: the 11th Conference of the Australian Association for Byzantine Studies, Macquarie University, Sydney (1999).

http://www.museum.mq.edu.au/docs centre/ahdrc.html

Web sites

The Evergetis Project (Queen’s University, Belfast)


The Society for the Promotion of Byzantine Studies (SPBS) in the UK has a new website:


Levantia is a site for Byzantine and medieval Near Eastern social history, especially that explored by means of practical reconstruction and experimentation. It also discusses issues of historiographic method and representation in public contexts.



Porphyrogenitus ltd. – 1998 list

Now published and available:

The letter of the three patriarchs to the emperor Theophilus and related texts, ed. J.A. Munitiz, J. Chrysostomides, Ch. Dendrinos, and E. Harvalia-Crook: A new edition, with English translation, notes and introduction of these important texts, which are vital sources of information on the second period of the iconoclast movement (813-843). An introductory essay by J. Chrysostomides offers a new assessment of the authenticity of the largest text, *The Letter of the Three Patriarchs*. c.300 pages, 240 x 160 mm, plates, indices, hardback. ISBN 1 871328 12 8. Price £65.

Already published:

Monumenta Peloponnesiaca, ed. J. Chrysostomides, 1995: A collection of 320 fully annotated, unpublished documents in Latin, Italian, and Greek, drawn from the archives of Dubrovnik, Florence, Malta, Paris, Venice and the Vatican. These documents shed a new light on the political, social, and economic conditions in the Peloponnese in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. 16 plates, map, full index, select vocabulary. 704 pages, 280 x 220mm, hardback ISBN 1 871328 06 3. Price £130.

Kathegetria. Essays in honour of J.M. Hussey, ed. J. Chrysostomides, 1988: A collection of 31 articles by internationally distinguished scholars, exploring a wide range of important aspects of Byzantine history – a fitting tribute to Professor Hussey’s contribution to Byzantine studies. Contributors include J. Darrouzes, J. Koder, H. Hunger, S. Runciman. 543 pages, 242 x 170mm, hardback, maps, analytical index. ISBN 1 871328 00 4. Price £45.

The journals and letters of George Finlay, ed. J.M. Hussey, 1995: The journals and selected correspondence of the nineteenth-century Scottish scholar, traveller, and philhellene. His writings provide a vivid picture of day to day life in Greece, and will be an invaluable source to topographers, archaeologists and historians. This edition is richly illustrated with over 130 of Finlay’s own sketches. 949 pages, 240 x 165mm, hardback in two vols. ISBN 1 871328 10 1. Price £95.

Jonathan Harris, Greek emigres in the west 1400-1520, 1995: Most studies of emigrants from Constantinople and Greece in Western Europe in this period have focused on the scholars who contributed so much to the study of Greek during the Italian Renaissance. This original investigation reveals that they also included physicians, shipbuilders, artists, and other skilled craftsmen, and argues that the readiness of western regimes to employ them undermines traditional assumptions about Byzantium’s cultural and technological backwardness in the century before the fall of Constantinople. 282 pages, 220 x 150mm, hardback, index, full bibliography. ISBN 1 871328 11 X. Price £45.

Betty Naggaar, Jewish pedlars and hawkers 1740-1940, 1992: An amusing and vivid look into the lives of itinerant salesmen in Britain. ‘A charming book, richly illustrated … a real contribution to social history … a book to be recommended and to be explored.’ *European Judaism*. 160 pages, 206 x 140mm, paperback, 25 plates. ISBN 1 871328 05 5. Price £14.95.

Ideology and religion in French literature. Essays in honour of B. Juden, ed. H. Cockerham and E. Ehrman, 1989: A collection of 23 essays by internationally known contributors. ‘This substantial, well-produced Festschrift … is a worthy and fitting tribute to its recipient’ *French Studies*. 360 pages, 242 x 170mm, paperback. ISBN 1 871328 02 0. Price £32.80.

All these books may be ordered directly from:

Porphyrogenitus Ltd.
27 Upper Gordon Road
Surrey, GU15 2HJ
United Kingdom.

Prices are quoted in £(United Kingdom Pounds Sterling). Please add 10% to over postage and packing. Make your cheque/international money order in £, payable to Porphyrogenitus Ltd.


[Note 2011: as the links are very old, we unlinked them here, and we did the same with the email addresses mentioned here]

Posted in Byz-niz, Volume 6 Issue 1 (Summer 1998) | Comments Off

Medewerkers/Contributors (6:1)

Posted by Gouden Hoorn on December 3, 2011

From being a medieval re-enactor Tim Dawson came to tertiary study late with an established interest in Byzantium. B.A. Honours in Classics at the University of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. Thesis topic: Byzantine slavery from Justinian to Leo the Wise. He is presently engaged in a further degree at the University of New England, New South Wales, Australia on the subject of the evolution of middle Byzantine court dress.

Gabriel Rabo ist Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter am Lehrstuhl für Syrische Kirchengeschichte an der Universität Göttingen. Er kommt aus Hah/Tur ‘Abdin (Südosten der Türkei) und hatte als Schüler das syrische Priesterseminar Mor Gabriel in Tur ‘Abdin besucht. Nach dem Studium der katholischen Theologie an der Universität Eichstätt schreibt er eine Doktorarbeit über Paulinenauslegung des Dionysius Yakub Bar Salibi (Ý 1171) und seinen Kommenter zum Römerbrief. Adresse: Universität Göttingen, Platz der Göttinger Sieben 2, D-37073 Göttingen

Andrew Palmer is Lecturer in Eastern Christianity aan de School of Oriental and African Studies. Momenteel werkt hij aan een nieuwe editie, vertaling en commentaar op de Hymnen over het Geloof, van Ephraïm de Syriër.

Posted in Medewerkers - Contributors, Volume 6 Issue 1 (Summer 1998) | Comments Off

Redactioneel / Editorial: 5 jaargangen Gouden Hoorn (5:2 – Winter 1997-1998)

Posted by Gouden Hoorn on November 28, 2011

De vijfde jaargang is volbracht met dit tweede nummer. Een goede reden meenden wij, om een index van artikelen van de eerste vijf jaar op te nemen. Ook zijn we verheugd te melden dat Gouden Hoorn een website heeft sinds september, waarop alle nummers te vinden zijn.

Het aantal artikelen groeide weer, en we zijn trots het tweede deel van Dirk Krausmüller’s serie over ‘Byzantine concepts of the Resurrection’ te publiceren.

In deze aflevering ook twee bijdragen van schrijvers afkomstig uit Tur ‘Abdin, een streek waar ooit de grens van het Byzantijnse Rijk heeft gelopen: in Gabriel Rabo’s artikel worden we eraan herinnerd dat het klooster Mor Gabriel 1600 jaar geleden is opgericht en nog steeds, zij het onder moeilijke omstandigheden, de traditie doorgeeft van Syrische taal en religieus onderricht.

Neurez Atto verraste ons met haar gedichten over het leven in onvrijwillige ballingschap, waarvan we er in Gouden Hoorn Literair twee publiceren.

André de Raaij recenseerde Met de bijbel door Turkije, en verwerkte in zijn beschouwing overwegingen over onze ‘politieke correctheid’ en Turkije’s gebrek aan respect voor haar minderheden.

Tot slot nog een artikel van Annabelle Parker over de worstelingen van ascetisch levende vrouwen met de verleidingen des levens. Rest dit ‘skelet omhuld met vlees’ nog te melden dat Gouden Hoorn vanaf de volgende jaargang samen gaat werken met de Late Antiquity Research Group (L.A.R.G.) in Engeland, waardoor GH een ‘joint publication’ wordt met L.A.R.G. We hopen dat deze samenwerking nog meer vruchten zal afwerpen.

Dank wederom aan al onze lezers en allen die zich geïnteresseerd hebben getoond voor Gouden Hoorn.

Editorial: five volumes of Golden Horn

This second issue completes the fifth volume of Gouden Hoorn. This is a good reason for publishing an index containing the articles of the first five volumes, which is included in this issue. Also, we are glad to announce the launch of our website, at which you can find all previous volumes.

The amount of articles has risen again in this issue, and we are proud to present the second part of Dirk Krausmüller’s article on Byzantine concepts of the Resurrection. Also, we have two authors who are both from Tur ‘Abdin, an area where once the boundaries of the Byzantine Empire lay: in Gabriel Rabo’s article, we are reminded that the monastery of Mor Gabriel was erected 1600 years ago and is still passing on the tradition of the study of Syriac and religious teachings, albeit in very difficult circumstances.

Neurez Atto surprized us with her poems on life in involuntary exile, of which we have published two here. André de Raaij reviewed Met de bijbel door Turkije, and incorporated in his contemplation thoughts on our ‘political correctness’ and Turkey’s lack of respect for its minorities.

Last but not least, an article by Annabelle Parker about the strugglings of ascetically living women with temptations of all kinds. This ‘skeleton with flesh’ has one more announcement to make: Gouden Hoorn will be cooperating with the Late Antiquity Research Group (L.A.R.G.), based in England, from next volume. This journal, Gouden Hoorn/Golden Horn, will become a joint publication between O.B.O. and L.A.R.G. We hope this will be an even more fruitful cooperation.

Our thanks to all who have been reading Gouden Hoorn and who have shown their interest.

Volume 5, issue 2 (winter 1997-1998)


Posted in Editorial, Volume 5 Issue 2 (Winter 1997-'98) | Comments Off

‘Nothing but blood mixed with phlegm’: Desert Mothers’ teachings on the object of desire

Posted by Gouden Hoorn on November 28, 2011

by Annabelle Parker(1)

Three years ago I introduced the audience of this symposium to Synkletike, ascetical teacher and Desert Mother. This time the theme of the symposium seemed appropriate to look at the Vita again from the angle of ‘desire and denial’…

In this paper I will discuss desire and temptations of women who lived ascetically in Late Antique christianity, with emphasis on Synkletike. It is not an attempt to prove that women had different temptations than men when in the desert.

Most women who wanted to become a ‘Bride of Christ’ went to live in a church, to become ‘virgins of the church’. These communities already existed in fourth-century Egypt, because for instance the well known Anthony sent his sister to a community of virgins, when he started his ascetical lifestyle.2

The culmination of desert asceticism can be found in fourth-century Egypt. According to Athanasius, Anthony did a most unusual thing: he retreated into the desert, not just at the edge of his village, but deep into the desert.3 He closed himself in a tomb, and later on in a fortress, to emerge some twenty years later as if transfigurated, for he had gained the state of ‘apatheia’, passionlessness. Many men followed in his footsteps, and the retreat into the desert as an ascetic became an important ‘movement’.

But, as this paper suggests, not only men retreated, we have accounts of women who also lived a life of asceticism in or on the edge of the desert.

Synkletike was a virgin who lived on the outskirts of Alexandria in the 4th or 5th century. The Vita of this ‘didaskalos’4, written by someone who has been called ‘Pseudo-Athanasius’,5 can be taken as an example for women in that age, who chose an ascetical lifestyle, and for whom it was meant to be an example. As the name of Pseudo-Athanasius suggests, Synkletike has often been referred to as the female St. Anthony. This could mean that her Vita was a literary construction.

In Palladius’ Lausiac History6 not only stories about holy men, but also of women are mentioned.7

But, to quote Peter Brown: “No Life of Anthony heralded a new departure in the piety of Christian women”.8 The Life of Synkletike can be seen as an example of a female St. Anthony, because of her monologue on the Devil’s works (also called logismoi, or ‘thoughts’), and her retreat in a family tomb, and her giving away everything after the death of her parents; but the big movement of men going into the desert and building communities has not such a ‘heroic’ female counterpart. Not many women who became consecrated virgins, or Brides of Christ, had made this choice for themselves. It was mostly their parents who decided for them that they should live in a church, and dedicate themselves to being a gift to the church, a sacred vessel, although they kept their own free will.9 A virgin meant a lot to the household or small community: her prayers and fasting were a protection for the house from evils and disasters.10

But the women who became ‘famous’ were those who had chosen the ascetical life for themselves, wether it was through their sins or as widows, or even like Anthony, and who were not pushed by their parents. In the Apophthegmata Patrum 11 there are stories about the brave or seductive conduct of women, but we find only three headings of women whose sayings have been collected: Sarra, Theodora and Synkletike. Of these three, Synkletike’s life has been written down and transmitted separately, and both her sayings and Life may have a common source. Sarra and Theodore have left us just some of their sayings.

Before I start talking more about the Desert mothers, I would like to consider these stories about individual women living ascetically more in general. These are, amongst others: Mary of Egypt, Alexandra, Pelagia the Harlot, Thaïs, and in other places than Egypt: the female companions Jerome corresponded with (Eustochium, Melania the Younger, Paula), Egeria, Olympia, Febronia, Thecla, etc.

Some of these women are known through churchfathers. Sometimes a Vita has been written by a bishop, or it was mentioned in compilations of desert stories. Synkletike’s life was made famous through Athanasius (or rather: Pseudo-Athanasius), Thecla’s acts through Paul, Olympia through her friendship with Chrysostomos, Eustochium, Melania (the Elder: 340-410), Paula and Melania (the Younger: (+439) through their teacher Jerome, and Macrina, who was Gregory of Nyssa’s sister.

Others gained merit on their own: Egeria, who wrote her pilgrim’s travel journal, Mary of Egypt, and Sarra and Theodora, the desert mothers.

So even though some of these stories and lives of women have come to us introduced by a churchfather, it was also possible for a female ascetic to become well-known on her own accord.

The reasons for women to become an ascetic varied of course, but sometimes it seems to us that there is a cliché or pattern to be found, for instance, some females lived ascetically because they wanted to do penance for a sin, usually a sexual sin, for example: Mary of Egypt (harlot), Pelagia (harlot), and Alexandra, who felt guilty, because she had seduced a man. Others became ‘didaskalos’, teachers for other women or even men: for example Thekla12, Macrina, Gregory of Nyssa’s sister, who is depicted as a ‘virgin-philosopher’ and Synkletike, who teaches a crowd of women about ascetical practice.

Concerning teaching, Peter Brown13 states, that it was not at all unusual to have females as ‘spiritual guides’. Theodora is such a spiritual guide for men and women alike,14 and in the Vitae of Macrina15 and of Synkletike16, Thekla is mentioned as an example for their lives. In Synkletike’s Vita, the Saint addresses women in particular, but in the quotes of her Vita taken over in the Apophthegmata and in Paul of Evergetis’ Synagoge17, her words are for monks as well, shown in the male participiats.

There are also those women who, in order to survive in the desert, dressed themselves successfully as men, for example: Pelagia was a harlot in Antioch; on hearing a sermon spoken by bishop Nonnus in church, she decided to live ascetically, and was baptized by this same bishop. She disappeared and when she died in her cell in Jerusalem many years later, everyone, including bishop Nonnus, who came to visit her, or rather, him, thought she was the monk Pelagius, a man. But when they ‘set about anointing the body with myrrh, they found that it was a woman.’18

A lot of these women come from a rich background. That leaves them a lot to give up, which in some cases makes them very virtuous. Jerome helps a group of aristocratic women in Rome educate themselves, and Synkletike seems to have a lot to give away when her parents die. The name ‘Synkletike’ could mean female senator, senatrix, or wife of a senator. In the Vita, the author explains her name as being derived from ‘assembly of saints’ (from Synkletos, assembly)19 can also be a literary construction to take a wealthy woman as an example for other women, just because she can stand out as very generous. What news is there in the story of a poor girl living ascetically?

Finally we can categorize the women who were on pilgrimage to the Holy Land and some of them also wanted to visit the famous Desert fathers: Egeria20, who travelled supposedly from Galicia to the east, Melania the Younger21 and Severa the deaconness.22

As mentioned above, women who wanted to live ascetically, were able to do this in churches, where they were taken up with other virgins. Usually, these groups in churches or convents were gathered together by rich widows or unmarried women. Some virgins lived together in rooms or with their family.

But there were also women who lived alone, in a cell, not in a group. One of the three women mentioned in the Apophthegmata Patrum 23, Sarra, spent sixty years on the banks of the Nile, where the passage was very narrow, and thus the place where she lived was very difficult to approach. In a saying, we read: “It was said concerning her that for sixty years she lived beside a river and never lifted her eyes to look at it.”24 So looking at water while being in the desert was a temptation she resisted.

What were the desires or temptations to be on the look out for? Clearly, gluttony, and other ‘luxuries’, because they make us weak (c. 32); possessions of all kinds are also vices, because “the majority of our griefs and trials originate in the removal of possessions”, as Synkletike tells the reader (c. 35), “What course of action does he (the Enemy) have against those without possesions? None! Can he burn their estates? Impossible! Destroy their livestock? They do not have any! Lay hands on their dear ones? To these too they long ago said good-bye.”(c. 35)25 So the devil cannot touch those who have let go of their earthly possessions, according to Synkletike.

What about the other desire, the desire for another person?

For men, to be far away from women, preferably in the desert, was an effective way to live ascetically. Ascetical women lived more often in houses in cities, and could separate themselves from the ‘world’ by following a strict diet. Is this so?

According to Synkletike, fasting was not the only option for women, they also had to keep themselves from making public excursions in order to stop images arising in their thoughts (c. 25). Synkletike also gives the following warning for ‘sisterly love’: (c. 27) “…the Malevolent One has transformed even sisterly love into his own brand of evil. He has actually tripped up, through their attachment to their sisters, virgins who have fled from marriage and all worldly illusion”.

The true ascetic must really be the person who stands above the male or female body of the other, as Susanna Elm in her book ‘Virgins of God’ shows by quoting an anonymous saying about a monk who takes a detour to avoid a group of virgins. The leader of the group says: “If you were a perfect monk, you would not have seen us as women.”26


The Life of Synkletike contains a large monologue on the logismoi, or: ‘thoughts’. According to the author of the work, not a lot is known about her ascetical practice, because Synkletike did not allow anyone to “be an observer of this” (c. 15). But the monologue explaining the ways in which every person’s logismoi work shows that the Vita is a work of great psychological insight (for instance: caput 41, see below).

The theory of the logismoi has been developed by Evagrius of Pontus (+399). Every person has ‘thoughts’. One of the thoughts that Synkletike uses in her teachings is for example: fornication (c. 26). The Devil uses the thoughts to “promote his own plans” (c. 27): he sets the thoughts to work through memories or visions of objects. It is how we react to these memories or visions that we know which thought the Devil is using.27 The ascetic has to learn to master his or her thoughts. The impure and material thoughts are the first ones to be mastered by ascetics. After these follow the more interior ones like arrogance. The Devil uses more subtle means for those ‘internal’ thoughts, so one has to be more advanced in the ascetical lifestyle to handle those internal thoughts.

What does Synkletike say about the logismos of fornication, of sexual ‘impure’ thoughts? of physical attraction? The devil works through the senses, or he works through remembrance, images of the past that go through one’s mind. Even “to give assent to these fantasies, is equivalent to sexual impurity in the world” (c. 26). One of the most interesting chapters of the Vita Syncleticae, concerning thoughts of desire is the next: (c. 29)

“For example, if in the crannies of the mind there should appear a vision of a beautiful apparition, it should be opposed instantly by one’s rational faculty. One should mentally gouge out the eyes of the image, and tear the flesh from its cheeks, and slash off the lips too – then one should look at the ugly framework of the bare bones! then one should view with scorn what was the object of desire! For thus the mind would have the strength to retreat from a foolish deception. The love object was nothing but blood mixed with phlegm, a mixture that for living creatures requires a covering. In this way, then, also through such mental processes it is possible to frighten off the foul evil… And still further, one should imagine over the entire body of the object of lust foul-smelling and festering sores and to see it with the inner eye, to put it briefly, as something like a corpse or even to see oneself as a corpse. And most important of all is control over the belly, for thus is possible also control over pleasures beneath the belly.”

This is a cruel but effective citation, and there are more stories like this one.

In his article ‘Mères du désert et Maternité spirituelle’, p. 236-237,28 Joseph Soler writes that the fathers did not underestimate the spiritual and ascetical life of females, and that the spiritual direction that women were taught did not vary much from that of men. The emphasis on Christ as the husband of virgins, and taking Mary more as a model for them, were the only differences. But Sarra, the desert mother, had to prove herself still in front of men, according to this tale:

“Another time, two old men, great anchorites, came to the district of Pelusium to visit her. When they arrived one said to the other, ‘Let us humiliate this old woman.’ So they said to her, Be careful not to become conceited thinking to yourself: “Look how anchorites are coming to see me, a mere woman.” ‘ But Amma Sarah said to them, ‘According to nature I am a woman, but not according to my thoughts.’”29.

So did women de-womanize themselves or their thoughts? As I have mentioned, some women dressed as men, because it was safer, and in some cases, to gain acceptance among a community of monks. Maybe some women did not want to live with hundreds of other women, who often had fights, or to avoid what Synkletike had called ‘sisterly love’. In order to live alone, a woman had the choice between making herself inapproachable (like in a cell that was sealed off, or up a steep mountain), or pretending to be a man. And anyway: if a woman went to live in the desert, her appearance would adapt itself to the climate there, like Mary of Egypt, whose clothes were torn and lost long ago.30

Synkletike went to live in a family tomb on the outskirts of Alexandria. Many women found their way to her place, and it was only after many pleas that she talked about the way to leave the whole world behind in order to “advance towards God” (c. 60). But Synkletike’s sayings were taken up in the Apophthegmata Patrum, just as Sarra’s. And moreover, Synkletike’s Vita is cited in the tenth-century monastic florilegium, Paul of Evergetis’ Synagoge, that was being read in monasteries, and the verbs in female form were written in the male form, in order to appeal to ‘everyone’, not only to women… And as Benedicta Ward told me, when discussing the Desert fathers and mothers: “some Desert fathers were spiritual mothers too, so it is not a matter of gender, but more a matter of approach.”31

So if the difference between men and women in the desert was not mentionable, what about the difference between women who lived in the ‘world’ and ascetical women: Synkletike tells this to those who have come to hear her (c. 42):

“Let us women not be misled by the thought that those in the world are without cares. For perhaps in comparison they struggle more than we do. For towards women generally there is great hostility in the world. They bear children with difficulty and risk, and they suffer patiently through nursing, and they share illnesses with their sick children — and these things they endure without having any limit to their travail. For either the children they bear are maimed in body, or, brought up in perversity, they treacherously murder their parents. Since we women know these facts, therefore, let us not be deluded by the Enemy that their life is easy and carefree. For in giving birth women die in labour; and yet, in failing to give birth, they waste away under reproaches that they are barren and unfruitful.”

Conclusion, a general one

This paper has been about ascetics, about women, about the temptations of sexual attraction, how to act against it. The fascinating world of desert fathers and mothers still captures our imagination, even though the monastic environment is not desired by most. The teachings that were written down, even if the persons may not be historical, are still read today. Does this prove they have a universal message? To train body and soul for salvation, to be free of desires, it must be as old as man himself. And I admit, when I am stuck in my thoughts like possessiveness, or fornicative ones, then it helps to read about the struggles of others before me, and to realize that it makes sense to be able to discern between the different ‘thoughts’ and what stirs me, and how I get addicted, and how I can project my bad feelings on a devil, rather than on a human being. The stories of these women and men make our own bad thoughts more human, and they prove that nothing that one wants is reached by not putting in an effort. And that temptations are a basic force in everyone’s life.

I hope you have enjoyed hearing something about the temptations in the desert.


1 This paper was given as a communication at the 31st Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies, Brighton, 21-24 March 1997, which carried the theme ‘desire and denial’.

2 Vita Antonii, ed. J.-P. Migne, Patrologia Graeca 26, col. 835-976, 841 b.

3 Idem, 860 B- and further.

4 Some mss. refer to Synkletike as didáskalos, see Migne’s ed. in P.G. 28, col. 1487-1558; Colbert’s ed. has metros, see Ecclesiae Graecae Monumenta, T. 1, Parisiorum 1677, ff. 201-277, so have Vat. gr. 825, Paris grec 1449, and Gotob. 4, and Athena 2104; Coislin 124 has aeí parthénou; Paris grec 1598 has parthénou; Uppsala gr. 5 has a strange reference to kallipárthenou Théklis.

5 Ed.: Migne, J.-P.: Patrologia Graeca 28, col. 1487-1558.

6 Palladius: Historia Lausiaca, ed. C. Butler, Cambridge 1898-1904 (2 vols).

7 Margot King: The desert mothers, Toronto, 1989, p. 10, has apparently counted 2975 women mentioned in the Historia Lausiaca.

8 Peter Brown, The body and society, 262.

9 Idem, 260.

10 Ibid., 264.

11 Ed. J.-P. Migne, Patrologia graeca, T. 65, col. 72-440, Paris, 1868. Transl.: Benedicta Ward, Kalamazoo, 1975. Dutch: Chr. Wagenaar, Vaderspreuken: gerontikon, Bonheiden, 1987 (3de herz. uitg.).

12 Who taught or preached even though Paul had written: (1 Tm 2, 12): ‘But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.’

13 The body and society, p. 269.

14 The sayings of the Desert Fathers: the alphabetical collection, transl. forew. by Benedicta Ward, Kalamazoo, Mich., rev. ed. 1984 (1975), p. 82.

15 Vita Macrinae: Migne, J.-P.: P.G., T. 46, cols 96-1000. Translat.: Kevin Corrigan, The Life of Saint Macrina, by Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa, Toronto, 1989 (Peregrina transl. series no. 10), p. 28/Dutch transl. F. van der Meer en G. Bartelink, Utrecht, 1971, p. 35.

16 P.G. 28, see caput 10 for mention of Thekla.

17 Euergetinòs etoi Sunagooge toon theofthóngoon remátoon kaì didaskalíoon toon theofóroon kaì hagíoon patéroon, ed. Makarios Korinthos, Nikodemos Hagiorites, Venetië, 1783; 7de ed. in 4 vols: Athena, 1983.

18 Helen Waddell: The desert fathers, translations from the Latin with an introduction, London, 1987 (1936), p. 281.

19 PG 28, caput 4.

20 Peregrinatio ad loca sancta, éd. P. Maraval (Journal de voyage), Paris, 1982 (Sources chrétiennes, 296).

21 There is no edition known to me of this Saint’s Life, see Joyce E. Salisbury: Church Fathers, independent virgins, London, 1992 (1991), for a chapter about her deeds, p. 89-96.

22 See for Severa: Susanna Elm: ‘Virgins of God’: the making of asceticism in Late Antiquity, Oxford, 1994: Severa wanted to cross the desert on her pilgrimage to the Desert fathers, pp. 277-279.

23 Ed. J.-P. Migne, Patrologia graeca, T. 65, col. 72-440, Paris, 1868. Transl.: Benedicta Ward, Kalamazoo, 1975. Dutch: Chr. Wagenaar, Vaderspreuken: gerontikon, Bonheiden, 1987 (3de herz. uitg.).

24 Sarah 3, Ward: p. 230. Wagenaar, p. 250.

25 Vita Syncleticae, transl. E. Bryson-Bongie.

26 Susanna Elm, p. 267 and n. 45: N 23 and also Abraham 1.

27 See for this specific psychological explaining of the thoughts: Anselm Grun: Het omgaan met de boze, Bonheiden, 1984, transl. from Der Umgang mit dem Bösen, der Dämonenkampf im alten Mönchtum, Münsterschwarzach [s.d.], p. 26.

28 Joseph M. Soler: “Mères du désert et maternité spirituelle”, in Collectanea Cisterciensia 48 (1986) 235-250.

29 Sarah 4, transl. Ward, 193, Wagenaar, 250.

30 See for Mary of Egypt: J.-P. Migne (ed.): Patrologia Graeca 87, col. 3697-3726, and the translation of Benedicta Ward: Harlots of the desert, Kalamazoo, 1987, p. 26-56, for this citation: p. 41.

31 On my visit to the Convent of the Incarnation, Fairacres, Oxford, Sept. 1996.

Posted in Academic talks, Volume 5 Issue 2 (Winter 1997-'98) | Tagged: , , , | Comments Off


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