By Xenophon Moniaros
As a result of the trusting relationship between the community of Timios Prodromos monastery and the Menoikeion Seminar, our team was granted access to the monastery’s archives during the summers of 2006 and 2007. Specifically, we were given permission to study the undocumented personal archive of one of the most important elders of the community, Gabriel Kountiades. It should be noted that only a small part of the celebrated collections of Prodromos monastery survive as its library and treasury were pillaged by the Bulgarian army in June of 1917.
Gabriel Kountiades, born in 1875 came to Prodromos in the age of seventeen to study at the seminary school run by the monastic community. He became a monk and served as the secretary and the librarian of the monastic community until his death in 1966. Kountiades was one of the prominent leaders of the community during the first half of the twentieth century which was a politically volatile period for the monastery and the region of Serres. The study of his archive, preserved in two wooden trunks, is of invaluable importance for the history of the monastery and the city of Serres.
Our first task in 2006 was to get a general sense of the nature of this archive and accordingly to determine how to proceed with its cataloguing. The condition of preservation of the materials (receipts, books and letter) was quite damaged by time, poor preservation conditions and humidity. The bulk of the receipts were contemporary to Kountiades’ stay at the monastery. However, amongst them are a couple of very old documents of income and expenses for the monastery, dating from the first decades of 19th century. There are only a few books preserved in this collection. As Kountiades was a famous teacher and composer of Byzantine music, almost all concern Byzantine hymnology. The third and most significant category of the preserved material are letters. With the help of Alexandra Courcoulas (Wellesley College *08) we tried to organize and properly store the archive materials in a preliminary way. The letters dating before 1941 are related to the administration of the monastery, while the later correspondence concerns personal affairs of Kountiades as well as his communication with some of his pupils.
During the 2007 season of the Mt. Menoikeion Seminar we selected for study what are perhaps the most interesting set of letters in Kountiades’ archive, related to his position as the monastery’s secretary. These letters were written by the monk Daniel who was the monastery’s permanent representative in the town of Serres and had the obligation to send daily written reports to the community on Mt. Menoikeion. Kountiades’ archive preserved the reports of the year 1916. During our stay at Prodromos in June 2007 all letters were photographed and transcribed.
This has proved to be an important source of information for both Prodromos monastery and the town of Serres. The writings of Daniel demonstrate the sophisticated organization of the community and are a reflection of the political and the social life of Serres during a very unstable time. Daniel was the ears and the eyes of the monastic community in the city. In his nearly daily reports he informed the Prodromos Administrative Committee (the monastery’s council of elders) regarding all aspects of life in Serres related to the monastery’s interests: contacts with ecclesiastical and secular authorities, politics, international news, product prices at the local market, possibilities for bargains, rents, trade and financial transactions etc.