NEWS

Byzantine learning becomes better known in the West

Until just a few decades ago, the approach taken by most Western scholars gave the impression that the development of Greek history had been abruptly cut off by the fall of Constantinople and only resumed with the foundation of the Greek State. Many enlightened Greek scholars, influenced by their studies in the West, espoused the same view. It was the British Byzantinist Sir Stephen Runciman who led to the rediscovery of Byzantine history and Mount Athos in the West and in Greece. He revealed the cultural, spiritual and everyday life of the empire of which Athos’s 20 monasteries have been the living continuation for 10 centuries. This revelation sparked immense interest as Greek and foreign scholars followed in Runciman’s footsteps. Articles, books and other publications made Athos widely known; more people visited the monasteries; diaspora Greeks founded societies of friends of Mount Athos; and Runciman himself founded a society in Britain which attracted distinguished members. The ecumenical patriarch, as the spiritual leader of Mount Athos, encouraged these overtures to the outside world, while pointing out the dangers of a secularization that had left the mountain untouched for centuries. The Greek State eventually reacted enthusiastically, and in recent years restoration work has been done on Athos and priceless relics have been conserved. Publications, documentaries and even the Internet have become the vehicles of communication with millions of people who know the place without having visited it, making an ongoing acquaintance with the uninterrupted historical development of Greek culture and Orthodoxy. The latest addition to the treasures of Mount Athos is the first of a two-volume work (the second to be published soon) about the relics from the heart of Mount Athos, Protatos, home to the Virgin Mary, the protectress of the mountain. The publication was subsidized by the Culture Ministry, which has already spent large sums on Mount Athos. It will show both those who already love Mount Athos and those who are just now learning about it that the Greeks lived on after the fall of Constantinople, and that post-Byzantine Greeks made a great contribution to the Western Enlightenment, with the distilled wisdom of antiquity, Byzantium and Orthodoxy.