Dates: June 26 to July 4, 2013
The frontier denotes that amorphous border space between what is familiar and what is different, what is of this world and what is of a world beyond. While its very existence implies the demarcation of some border, boundary, or divided line (to use Plato’s term), the “frontier” concept is double-edged, lending itself to all the paradoxes that discourse on the threshold affords. It separates yet unites, bars sight yet reveals, and encompasses both end- and starting-points simultaneously.
The 2013 Mount Menoikeion Summer Seminar posed the frontier (the barrier, the boundary, the borderland, the limen) as the lens through which to deeply examine—and, for our undergraduates, introduce—Byzantine / Modern Greek culture and society. Timios Agios Ioannis Prodromos, a functioning imperial monastery (est. 13th cent) located in the isolated wilderness outside Serres in Greek Makedonia, is uniquely suited to exploration in this vein. Situated on the frontier periphery far removed from cosmopolitan urban centers like Thessaloniki (where our seminar began), the monastery existed and still exists as an island of Orthodoxy floating within the Ottoman Empire and, since 1913, the modern nation of Greece. From the chime of the semantron to the permeable doors of the iconostasis—so many elements of daily life within the monastery walls contribute to a meticulous partitioning, privileging, and mediating of time and space. Such organizational frameworks mirror and figure Christianity’s hierarchical structuring of Heaven, and serve to emphasize the monastery’s role as an arbiter linking the ephemeral and eternal, earthly and divine.
This year’s seminar participants—students, faculty, and administrators representing Hellenic Studies via Art & Archaeology, Classics, History, Religion, Politics, Anthropology, English, Music, and Architecture—stepped out from their disciplinary comfort zones to engage the frontier from rich, integrative points-of-view. We thank the nuns for their hospitality and friendship, and look forward to celebrating the Center for Hellenic Studies’ tenth year on Mount Menoikeion in 2014.
- Faculty Presentations
- Grad Students Workshops
- Undergraduate Student Papers and Journals
John Lansdowne (Art & Archaeology) [point-person 2013]
Jamie Greenberg Reuland (Music) [in absentia 2013]
Slobodan Ćurčić (Professor Emeritus, Art & Archaeology)
Kathleen Crown (Executive Director, Council for Humanities)
Teresa Shawcross (Assistant Professor, History)
Greek Archaeological Service Participants:
Xenophon Moniaros (9th Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities)
Mika Ahuvia (Religion)
Nikolaos Michailidis (Anthropology)
Lee Mordechai (History)
Nadezhda Savova ’12 (Anthropology)
Benjamin Denzer ‘16
Brittany Hardy ‘14
Stephanie Leotsakos ‘16
Liz Lian ‘15
Jarron McAllister ‘16
Jasmine Race ‘14
Kai Song-Nichols ‘15
Byzantine Architecture in Thessaloniki and at the Monastery of Agios Ioannis Prodromos
Slobodan Ćurčić, Professor Emeritus, Dept. of Art & Archaeology
An Introduction to the Monastic Typikon of Agios Ioannis Prodromos, Serres
Teresa Shawcross, Assistant Professor, Dept. of History
‘Dislocated States’: History as Palimpsest in Contemporary Greek and Greek-American Poetry
Kathleen Crown, Executive Director, Council of Humanities
The Frontiers of the Byzantine Empire: A Short Overview
Lee Mordechai (History)
Byzantine Icons beyond Byzantine Borders
John Lansdowne (Art & Archaeology)
Prayer, Sacred Song, and Angelic Praise in Judeo-Christian Traditions: An Introduction
Mika Ahuvia (Religion)
Re-Imagining the Self: Religious Conversion in Turkey
Nikos Michailidis (Anthropology)
The Breaf of Life: Bread Stamps, <em>prosphora</em> Breads, and Orthodox Rituals across the Centuries
Nadezhda Savova ‘12 (Anthropology)
Posted on January 27, 2014
Staring at the high mountains, twisting and scurrying up the narrow path, we traveled to the monastery within the excess of green. To feel small on arrival is not something foreign. First day of high school, first day of college, first day in a new country, first time in a Greek Orthodox monastery – in habited by nuns. But then, the view of even higher mountains, upon arrival, created a different feel. Finally, the monastery. After reading about the ascetic life of Anthony in class and his great health at such an old age, mixed with the description of Pachomius’ Cenobitic style of monastic life, all of this is so surreal. Of course, this monastery is full of nuns that do not practice the same style of monasticism that was practiced in the third century. This style is even more inviting. So when a person’s feet hit the stones that make up much of the grounds at the monastery, there is no foreign feeling. There exists a wave of welcoming and recognition that one expects of people who are so selfless and generous to others from all over the world. Even though it’s expected, it’s still jarring – this feeling of inclusion. The mountains, that are even higher than the monastery, cradling it and everyone else here. The sounds of water permeating almost every area outside. This place of spiritual awakening and magnificent will power will be, and already is, a place where the unknown space is not foreign and size is not diminished. Everything has been included even before entry.
“Agios, agios, agios” Reading the lives of saints in a class setting and looking at the accompanying icons in a monastery leaves a person speechless, or at least me. Full of social commentary, models for living a good and honorable life. Stories of caves, demons, and visions. The spirit of an agios, or saint, lives on in these forms but also in other ways. During the liturgy today I recognized one word and it has carried so much meaning since I’ve been at the monastery – agios.
Watching the baptism of the baby earlier today was such an enlightening experience. I have never seen a Greek Orthodox Christian baptism so the ritual was new for me. The time before the actual procession into the katholikon was full of life from the family and this filled the air. Having gone into the area adjacent to the katholikon I was unable see all of the ceremony but I was able to hear everything. When the family brought the child into the katholikon, it was all ceremony and all history. Infant baptisms are different than what I’m used to seeing. Normally, I either see someone slowly get dunked into a pool of water or they’re just thrust into the waters of the Lord and they’re flopping around like a dying fish. Yet, this more tradition filled ceremony was a sight to see and another wonder of the Greek Orthodox Church.
Rest is an important part of life. Normally, I don’t get a ton of sleep during the academic year because I’m studying until late hours of the night or I’m having issues falling asleep. But either way, my conception of rest has changed since being here.
Today, I have probably taken two naps. Things kind of blend together these days. I didn’t even realize it was the weekend until yesterday. Nonetheless, this day was full of relaxation, partially due to the amount of dairy I’ve eaten.
But I feel terrible resting as much as I do here. I feel as though I’m just here and not really immersing myself in the community. The nuns are so nice and they are really into helping us with whatever we want to know about the monastery, monastic life, or anything else that we can think of. On top of this, they’ve done their daily work and performed three baptisms since we’ve arrived. Yet, they sleep for as little as three to six hours – not continuously.
Of course, they are used to this by now, but it’s still remarkable that they have such charisma and energy which fills every inch of their beings despite the small of sleep they get during the day.
Granted, I know that a large amount of sleep is less important than what people claim, it makes me want to give them all my sleep and allow them more rest time. Alas, this does not fit their living style in the slightest. They do not live to serve their needs (sleep or bathing, etc.) but for the people of the Earth, our God, and the monastery. This dedication to the greater good is certainly something that I admire am still in awe of.
All of this makes me desire to spend the rest of my days here helping out and being more active. Talking to the nuns a bit more. Going into the gift shop to see ΠΑΡΘΕΝΙΑ. I can rest when I’m dead – or at home.
Mt. Menoikeion Journal Entry
Posted on January 27, 2014
June 30, 2013
This experience is special because it’s showing me how small the world is–how much we all have in common despite where we come from. Since I only know “thank you,” “hello,” “excuse me,” “do you speak English?” and now, “good night,” “nice to meet you,” and “my name is…” in Greek, I’ve had to become much more aware of my body language as a way of communicating. Not to mention I’m in a monastery, where one isn’t supposed to cross one’s legs. So I’ve actually made a conscious effort to stand up straighter. My jaw hurts from smiling so much since I can’t express my happiness to be here in Greek, and because a big, toothy smile seems to be a universal “Hello!” It’s actually pretty easy to tell when someone is making a joke, even if you can’t understand what they’re saying, and when to laugh, just by following their cadence, body language, and expression. It sort of reminds me of the season finale of the show “Louie” if you’ve seen it. I don’t want to spoil anything because it really is such a special episode, but Louie finds himself in the company of a group of people with whom he has no common language, yet he still manages to make them all crack up. I haven’t gotten comfortable enough with the nuns yet to crack jokes, but they all seem to have great senses of humor and love to laugh. I mean, who doesn’t?
Tonight as Dmitri and I brushed our teeth side by side, he asked me, just as I was spitting, how I liked the monastery so far. “Good?” he asked. “Better than good,” I told him, trying not to froth too much toothpaste. I admitted that at first I was a little unsure, a little anxious, because I didn’t know what was appropriate and what wasn’t. He nodded his understanding, saying how, like any other community, this ascetic community has its own codes and structure. Then I said how after a day or two, though, I felt more comfortable because beneath all that, we’re all pretty much the same. “Yes,” he said, “we are all human beings, and this is a community that values acceptance of all different kinds of people of all origins above all.”
Mount Menoikeion Journal Entry
Posted on January 27, 2014
June 29, 2013
The monastery is so beautiful and peaceful. It’s nice hearing the natural things of the world like running water and birds chirping. The nuns are very friendly and speak very good English. Although meat is not cooked here, the meals have been amazing.
It is really cool to experience the nuns’ daily life. The nuns are such kind-hearted and patient people. They inspire me to be more positive and helpful as well. It is nice to watch how caring and genuine they are. Human compassion like this is rare nowadays, so I’m blessed and very thankful for this experience.
Today’s liturgy service was new for me. It was very calming to hear the singing even though I could not understand what was being said. The church has an element of mystery to it with some of the guests being in a room outside the priest. I took a short nap today and now waiting for lunch to be served. I’m excited to see what it will be! Yesterday’s dinner was great. The vegetables come straight from the garden here. The eggplant, zucchini, and cucumbers are my favorite.
Now I am at a baptism. Baptisms are often held at this monastery. The baby’s entire family is here. It’s odd because I feel like I am a part of the family too. The baptism was a very different experience from what I am used to in my church. Children here are immersed into the baptismal pool and not sprinkled lightly with water. It was a very beautiful ceremony and really showed me the importance of family in the Orthodox community.
June 30, 2013
I am outside the church listening to the nuns sing for liturgy service. The sun is bright, and the sky is clear and blue. I hear water running from the bath on the church. I’ve finally understood why I love this place; it reminds of the towns I’ve seen in Biblical movies. Despite the modernization that has taken place, the monastery still has historical value. It’s just simply amazing.
The monastery collects the skulls and bones of deceased members after they have been buried for 7 years as it is an Orthodox tradition. This was very interesting to see on the tour of the monastery because there are hundreds of skulls of children and adults that date back to several centuries. I can only imagine the range of emotions the nuns feel when they dig up the bones of a loved one.