The Cherubicon: Draft

St. Sava and the Liturgy:
A Proposed Origin for an Offertory Chant

In 1969, Pribislav Simic published a short note dealing with the replacement, in some Paschal manuscripts of Serbian origin, of the Cherubicon with the troparion «Arise O Christ», taken from the stikhera of the Easter Cycle.  Since this usage is unrecorded for the Patriarchate of Constantinople, Simic suggested it may have been an original Slavonic composition.  Impossible, replied a noted specialist swiftly and categorically (Taft 1970).  This usage is exceedingly rare, but not unknown:  it is anticipated in a 12th century Jerusalem codex.  Since neither Taft nor Simic seems to have followed up on this discovery (Trifunovic 1990), I propose to do so.

I must first clear up some problems with the existing articles.  Simic suggested that the troparion was a Serbian creation.  Taft asserted that Slavonic liturgical prayers are «invariably» translations from the Greek (438).  This statement requires an adjustment.  Familiarity with the works and the career of St. Sava would have shown Taft that some Slavic liturgy is original, particularly in medieval Serbia (Corovic, etc).  St. Sava composed an entire liturgy in honour of St. Symeon.  He may have made other changes to the liturgy.

During his episcopacy (1219-1235), St. Sava also visited Jerusalem twice (Bogdanovic 144), a point of significance when considering a liturgical usage common to both Serbia and Jerusalem.  The changes in Serbia’s ecclesiastical status during that period require more attention than Taft provides, as does the survival of Greek ritual and culture in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, a witness of which is the most important manuscript in this case, the Stavrou 43, written in 1122.

Text transmission from the Holy Land to any area of the Christian world need not pose any difficulty:  so many pilgrims visited these sacred grounds.  Innovations in the liturgy, however, imply top level personnel.  [Cf Bishop Rabbula of Edessa who introduced changes in the Syriac lectionary on the basis of Jerusalem usage (Burkitt 1931/23:324).]

History of liturgy:  After Constantine and Helena, Jerusalem became a centre for liturgical diffusion.  In the 10th century, the CPL liturgy started to obliterate Jerusalem’s native liturgy which is now only known from the Georgian lectionary, Egeria, and a few fragments (Leeb 1970:22f).  [Summarize rest of scholarship.]

During the 12th century, the Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem lived in exile (Cyprus, CPL), but was restored in the 13th century, shortly before the Patriarchate of CPL experienced in its turn a long period of exile to Nicaea, during which its existence was questioned.  In establishing an autocephalous Church for the Kingdom of Serbia, St. Sava had the support of the Patriarch of CPL in exile;  but he was taking territory away from the Autocephalous Archbishop of Ohrid who supported the Despots of Epirus, rivals to the rulers of Nicaea and unfavourable to the existence of a sovereign state of Serbia to the north of their vulnerable territories.  St. Sava’s two visits to Jerusalem, at a time of extreme turmoil and uncertainty, need to be assessed against the background of the momentous changes in the international system.

The Byzantine World After 1204:

The great turning point in St. Sava’s life (as indeed the Western World) was the fateful date of 1204:  the Sack of Constantinople by the Crusaders.  Without it, St. Sava might have ended his days in obscurity as a monk on Mount Athos.  Because of it he was drawn into the political whirlwind and ended up Archbishop of Serbia, and the founder of the new Kingdom’s national church.

In his HBE, Vasiliev lists the successor states which developped on Byzantium’s territory:  the Latin kingdom of CPL, the Kingdom of Thessaloniki, the Duchy of Athens and Thebes, the Venetian colonies of the Aegean islands, the Empire of Trebizond, the Empire of Nicaea, the Despotate of Epirus;  for good measure, he also mentions the expansion of the Second Bulgarian Empire and the Sultanate of Iconium made at the expense of Byzantine territory (506).  Amazingly, he overlooks the single most enduring offspring of the Fall of Constantinople:  the Nemanjid Kingdom of Serbia.

For just under 600 years, the Serbs had dwelled in the Western Balkans as Byzantine subjects, but under their own native dynasties.  Loyal and hard working, they are almost never mentioned by historians.  One doubtful case of rebellion is ascribed to them by Anna Comnena.  Earlier some of them were drawn into the conspiracy of the Comitopouloi.  During the latter half of the 9th century, they were a bone of contention between the Pope at Rome and the Patriarch at Constantinople.  The decapitation of the Byzantine state meant foreign domination for only a smaller part of imperial territories;  the larger part came under native leadership:  Trebizond, Nicaea, Epirus… and the Serbian lands, unaccountably omitted by Vasiliev.

Had the despots of Epirus secured Serbian cooperation (whether by extending their rule over them or forging an alliance), they would have gained resources to facilitate their reconquest of Constantinople from the Crusaders.  The silver mines which later provided such wealth for the medieval kingdom of Serbia were not yet fully exploited, but the fur trade with Italy was a considerable source of income for the Serbian principalities.  Serbia’s agricultural surplus and her reserve in men of proven fighting ability would have greatly benefited the Despots of Epirus.

First paragraph on 1204:  The much-debated «betrayal» of the Venetians.  Alexandria was the false goal, CPL the true one, telling lies about destinations was a standard protective device for Italian sea merchants (see Iris Origo, Prato).

Second paragraph on 1204:  Collapse of the international system, and the international currencies market.  By 1291, the last Crusader stronghold had fallen in the Holy Land;  by that time, the economic crisis induced by the collapse of the bezant meant that there were no resources for more Eastern ventures.

Popes and rulers:  Innocent III, Vukan and Stefan Prvovencani.  Overview of Innocent III’s policies:  he sought to replace Stefan with Vukan, Alexius III with Alexius IV, etc.  But his experiments in leadership were not fruitful.

[Compare Stefan’s coronation with the Act of Union which Alexius IV imposed upon Byzantium.  Compare the coronation of the Despots of Epirus at Thessaloniki by the Archbishop of Ohrid, with the coronation of Stefan Prvovencani by the Pope’s representatives.]

In the Byzantine world, a prelate who anoints and crowns a head of state is perceived to be rendering a service to his temporal lord.  When the Pope crowns a king, he perceives the king to be his vassal, a point which outraged Frederick II Hohenstaufen.  The coronation of Stefan by the Pope would have affected the balance of power in favour of the Latins, had not the establishment of the national church of Serbia turned the situation around.

In 1217, Stefan was crowned King of Serbia by the Pope.  Why the Pope?  The Coronation ceremony was normally performed by a top echelon churchman (the Patriarch in CPL).  When CPL fell to the Crusaders, and a Latin Patriarch was introduced, this did not affect the Serbs who belonged to the Autocephalous Archdiocese of Ohrid.  But when Stefan decided that he needed a new title to match his nation’s emerging sovereignty, he could not ask Archbishop Demetrios Chomatianos for the favour of performing the coronation:  the Archbishop was now a subject of the new Despot of Epirus, who could not approve of Serbian autonomy.  Stefan’s decision, however, threatened the leadership of the Eastern Church, and his brother Sava addressed the issue.

The Eastern Church:  Leadership in Peril

In his HBE, Vasiliev provides a stunted and misleading view of ecclesiastic relations after 1204 (540f).  Within a few years of the fall of CPL, an emperor and a patriarch had managed to establish themselves at Nicaea;  their cooperation was a crucial factor in validating their joint authority over the Byzantines, and in securing the eventual restoration of the Empire.  Likewise the Despots of Epirus had a chance to establish their credentials as Emperors because they had the support of the Autocephalous Archbishop of Ohrid.  By supporting the establishment of an autocephalous Church for the Kingdom of Serbia, the emperor and the patriarch at Nicaea consolidated their own power base not only with the Despots of Epirus, but also with the Latins;  they also however alienated the Despots of Epirus.  This crucial development in the relationship between Epirus and Nicaea is overlooked by Vasiliev, and indeed many Byzantinists.

There is no mystery to the origins of the Serbian church;  it is an offshoot of the autocephalous Archdiocese of Justiniana Prima and all Illyricum, the name later updated to Ohrid and all Bulgaria.  The evolution Justiniana Prima into “Western” Bulgaria.  The Serbs of Byzantium spent a total of nearly six centuries under the ecclesiastical rule of Rome, Constantinople and Ohrid.  The story which remains to be written is that of the transition from the older, imperial institution to the newer national institution.  […]  The autocephalous Church of Serbia was created at the expense of the Archdiocese of Ohrid — a point commented bitterly on by the incumbent, Demetrios Chomatianos (see Ferjancic 1986:645;  1989:122 and note 94).

The separation of Serbia from Ohrid was swift and smooth, but it was not painless.  The establishment of the Autocephalous Church of Serbia is connected with Stefan’s coronation in 1217 by the Pope who had earlier encouraged a Hungarian invasion of Serbia in order to remove Stefan from the throne and replace him with his brother Vukan.  By asking the Pope for the Coronation, Stefan could kill two birds with one stone:  he consolidated his position as ruler vis-à-vis the West (Rome and Hungary), and he could style himself king (a step up from Great Zupan, and a natural step at that point in time).

St. Sava had a different point of vantage on this development.  He could already anticipate that the coronation might be helpful for the Serbs politically, but would involve them with the Latin church, something St.Sava was not prepared to countenance.  At that time, the maritime Serbs were already part of the Western Church;  now the whole of Serbia would fall under Roman hegemony, and be cut off from Orthodoxy.  Sava’s counter move:  he sought approval from Nicaea for autocephalous status for the new kingdom.  The Roman threat, a vivid one for Nicaea, was undoubtedly a factor in the speedy approval.

Nicaea’s support of Serbian autocephaly carried considerable political weight but rather less ecclesiastical significance.  Caught between the Latin Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Pope at Rome, St. Sava needed higher, that is older, authority to consolidate the newly created Archdiocese of Serbia.  The Patriarch of Jerusalem had suffered under the Crusaders but he happened to be at that time the most senior Orthodox prelate.  His support would validate the fledgling Serbian church — or so St. Sava thought.

The ecclesiastical turmoil in Byzantium echoed the difficulties experienced by the Greek Church in Palestine under the Crusader kingdoms.  And we now turn to the impact made by the Crusaders upon Christianity in Palestine, and the status of the church of Jerusalem in the days of St. Sava.

The Cross and the Crossbow:  Crusader Ideology

As one medievalist writes, «every historian of the First Crusade has sooner or later to face up to the question of what moved men to take the cross.»  (Riley-Smith 721).  Actually, no.  The sentimental fumes which wrap this subject need not interfere with scientific analysis.  Many books have been written on the settlement of the Americas without entering into the issue of the settlers’ motives.  These are only an issue in the case of the Crusades because the motives of the propagandists are imputed to the settlers themselves;  they suffuse our sources and need to be considered when extracting material.  But the motives of the settlers were not those of the propagandists and can be uncovered from their actions, if one needs to study them.  History in its most basic sense requires a description of the visible facts, and does not require a study of the motives assigned to these facts for purposes of recruitment, unless one is studying for instance the mechanisms of the recruiting process.

In the case of the Stavrou 43, Taft assumes it was an archival copy of a extinct liturgy because he works on the premise of a triumphant progress for the Latin liturgy which obliterated the Greek liturgy.  Dealing with the history of text transmission in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, the scholar must study the events, not reconstruct an imaginary process on the basis of propaganda produced on another continent.  Generally, in the East, the Latins appropriated some of the Greek churches and the mosques, usually the most outstanding examples, and they adapted them to their use for the Latin liturgy.  They made no attempt to create a unified Latin liturgy for all the inhabitants of these lands.  Muslims and Eastern Christian alike continued in their traditional ways, using the places of worship which were left to them.

Taft’s views are shared with many who have not immersed themselves in the sources.  One finds widespread confusion between the ideology propounded by the See of Rome, and the reality of the Crusader occupation.  «The Crusaders on the other hand, and the Moslem conquerors before them, had genuinely ideological motives.  They fought to impose a religion.  Both plunder and the love of war were clearly sidelines.  The economic situation, though probably not the system, of Arabia may well have played a role in launching the Moslems.  But even this is not true of the Crusaders:  their aggressions were surely the most purely idealistic of all history.» (Wiles 272).  Setting aside the question of Moslem expansion (which belongs to a different period), the Crusaders showed no interest whatever in the conversion of their subject peoples, only in their economic productivity, which they freely appropriated.

The ideology propagated by the See of Rome remained an abstract concept, perhaps useful for recruitment, but was never implemented by the Crusaders.  In order to Latinize the East, the Popes needed associates who could form integrated and organic Latin states in partnership with the local population.  The Latins had no motivation to do this;  when the Popes ordered over and over again that their Muslim slaves who converted to Christianity should be manumitted, the Latins could not face the material loss and ignored these injunctions (Kedar 1985: . . . ).  One cannot even accuse the Crusaders of hypocrisy:  they never pretended to pursue any but material goals;  the spiritual claims were made on their behalf by propagandists.

Ideologically, the popes’ indispensable secular associates followed their own agenda, which is the same for all conquerors:  power, prestige, plunder.  Amongst thousands of illustrations, see for instance Angeliki Laiou’s article on the fluctuations of Marino Sanudo, fervid propagandist of the Crusades ( . . . ).  While unswervingly constant in his dedication to Venice’s economic interests, Sanudo perceived the Byzantines now as hateful heretics, now as estranged brothers, according to their place relative to Venice on the complex economic checkerboard of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Indeed, the religion of the conquered people (Orthodox in the Balkans, both Eastern Christians and Muslims in Palestine) provided an excuse for oppression, not for missionary work:  «L’orthodoxie des autochtones était tenue par le chevalier occidental pour une sorte de justification morale de ses propres pillages et cruautés envers ces “schismatiques” (comme il appelait d’habitude les originaires du pays)» (Litavrine, 1979).  The end result of Crusader activity is that the local populations suffered materially but preserved their culture, including their religion.  When the Latin conquerors were eventually driven out, their religion disappeared with them.

Even if they had shown the least interest in missionary work, the ruthless competition amongst Western states over the immensely profitable Eastern trade could not have created a propitious climate for civilizing endeavours which require activity by a strong government.  At Constantinople, by supporting the replacement of Alexius III with the pro-Latin Isaac and Alexius IV, Innocent III did achieve his goal of subjecting the Greek Patriarch to his rule.  But this victory was short-lived.  Within months, Constantinople had fallen to the Latins, the Greek Patriarch had emigrated to the court of Nicaea.  Rome then established a Latin Patriarchate for a few decades but this remained alien and made little progress with the local population.  Without a Latin government competent to administer the area and provide infrastructures for the new Patriarchate, the endeavour could only end in failure for Rome.  After 1261, the situation became even worse:

The favored economic position that Venice enjoyed in the eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea following the Fourth Crusade lasted only until the fall of the Latin Empire of Constantinople in 1261.  During the next century the republic sought to reinstate its hegemony over the waterways and engaged in a prolonged struggle for maritime supremacy with its Ligurian rival, Genoa.  The two cities were unable to resolve their debates over commercial privileges in key ports until 1381 (Katele 1988:865).

By that time, of course, the Ottomans had already gained control of the Bosphorus, so the eventual resolution of these conflicts remained academic.  While the popes wished to impose their vision of Christianity upon the lands conquered by the Crusaders, these merchants and aristocratic adventurers had incompatible pursuits of their own.  From the first to the last, the Crusader ideology propounded by the See of Rome remained like an unrelated voice-over to the conflicts:  aggressions against Byzantium by the Normans of Sicily, involvement by Venice which first sought to protect its sea-routes from the Normans, then to aggrandize itself at the expanse of Byzantium;  Byzantine irritation against Venice which led to favouring Genoa;  Norman conquests in the East made at first under Byzantine hegemony, then at the expense of Byzantium.  The clearest example of this dichotomy between the ideology propounded by Rome and the activities of the Western knights can be read from the starting point attributed to the Crusades in the sources:  they all start with the 1090’s, with the Normans already in place in the East, and veil the history of how the Normans came to that place.

The true history of these Eastern wars starts with the lightening conquest of Sicily by the Normans, and later their attack on Durazzo.  [Para on the events from the conquest of Sicily by the Normans, up to the war over Durazzo, and the deal between Alexius Comnenius and the Normans, over Antioch and Palestine.]  The most enduring achievement of the Warriors of the Cross is the crossbow.  [Crowsbow and the Normands.  The cross-bow, not the cross, was the blazon of the Crusaders.]

The period between Basil Bulgaroctonus and Alexius Comnenius is marked by the disintegration of an older leadership structure, and its replacement with a new dynasty.  Too weak to stand up to Norman aggression on the Adriatic coast, Michael Parapinakes offered a marriage alliance to Robert Guiscard.

The Crusader ideology, which suffuses our sources, masks a total mismatch of values between the See of Rome, and the warriors in the East.  In the fault lines concealed by propaganda, the local cultures, Syriac, Byzantine, etc., managed to survive;  in particular their continued to develop their written culture.  Taft’s assumption that the Greek liturgy at Jerusalem had totally died out by 1122 is patently false.  By the time St. Sava visited the ancient city, this liturgy had been restored.

The Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem:

Taft sees the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem as a political formation with full attributes of a state, and permanent and homogeneous rituals.  This enables him to suppose that the Stavrou 43 might be a mere archival copy of a dead liturgy.  However this is an idealized view of the Latin Kingdom which was a microcosm of the general fragmentation characteristic of Latin activity in the East.

Kedar has highlighted the precarious and disjointed situation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem (see Variorum copy);  but even more than the material uncertainty, the Kingdom was less an organic state than an occupation army in a foreign land.  Some level of accommodation undoubtedly took place between the two sides of the equation but there was no blending of cultures such as in Anglo-Norman England, or Norman Sicily.  The local culture survived, and eventually re-emerged;  whether we can agree with Richard that it «flourished» is debatable.  Conflicts between the Latins and the other political lords were endemic, as they were amongst the Latins themselves;  Syria-Palestine became a permanent war zone, and no one «flourishes» in such an environment.  But the local culture undoubtedly maintained itself and re-merged later.

In Jerusalem, the struggle between Venice and Genoa was intense.  In 1254, papal epistles arrived in Acre with conflicting orders to seize the monastery of St. Sabas.  A war broke out amongst the local Venetians and Genoese which resulted in the destruction of the monastery and much of the city of Acre itself (Mayer for sources and scholarship).

Para:  Muslim domination of Palestine, before and after Latin domination.

Greek Culture in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem:

The Jerusalem Codex Stavrou 43 is conveniently dated AD 1122. Along with other specialists (Bertonière, Dmitrievsky) Taft attaches considerable importance to this date:  at a time when Jerusalem was under Latin rule, both secular and ecclesiastical.  They agree that, on account of the demise of the Greek Patriarchate of Jerusalem, this liturgical text had no longer any practical application but was produced for the archives.  This leaves unresolved the curious issue of why an inactive Patriarchate would want an archive of former liturgies, and where it would find the funds for such a costly and sterile undertaking.  Other possible explanations come to mind.

While Bertonière, Dmitrievsky and Taft consider that this liturgy became extinct before 1122, the year when the allegedly archival codex was compiled, I see the date of compilation as evidence of the liturgy’s continuation well into the Latin domination.  The Stavrou 43 was one of many Greek codices written under Latin domination, eloquent witnesses to Byzantine survival.  Bertonière himself describes several Palestinian liturgical codices produced during the Latin kingdom, in such establishments as St. Catherine’s on Mount Sinai (246-249).  The destruction wrought by both Muslims and Latins in the years around 1100 A.D. must have affected libraries;  when peace returned, replacements would be needed.  The Greek rite of Jerusalem was no longer current in the Patriarchal Cathedral, now dominated by the Latins, but there was no reason to discontinue it in the «flourishing» monasteries or in the churches of the Byzantine subjects of the Latin rulers.

If this liturgy was worth the attention of a scribe 23 years after the Latin conquest, there is no reason to suppose that it had died out when the Latin kingdom came to an end in 1294, or even earlier, in 1190, when Eraclius, the last Latin Patriarch, died and Jerusalem fell to the Muslims (see Kedar 1982).  This bring us closer in time to the Serbian codices discussed by Simic, one of which is dated to the reign of a Tsar Stefan, i.e. between 1346 and 1371.  It brings us closer to St. Sava’s state visits to Jerusalem, where he was welcomed by a Greek Patriarch, Athanasius, who had undoubtedly restored the Greek liturgy.

In more recent times, this manuscript was known to belong to the Patriarchal library;  but it may have been orignally a monastic realisation.  Its name, «tou timiou Stavrou» refers to the well known monastery of the Holy Cross (P-Kerameus 3:99-102).  For even without their own patriarch, the Greek monasteries of Palestine continued to thrive under the Crusaders (Richard 1979:137).

The Stavrou 43 is a monastic production.  [Potted history of this monastery required here.]

St. Sava in Jerusalem:  A State Visit

[Sava’s activities as Head of Church]

To date the transfer, it is helpful to note that Simic found this novelty in specifically Serbian, not Slavonic, manuscripts.  In view of the massive destruction of Byzantine and Slavic manuscripts throughout the ages, some as recently as April 6, 1941, it may be presumptuous to rely on distribution for evidence.  Nevertheless, this liturgical use may have entered this area of the Balkans after it had become constituted as an autocephalous church, and was no longer part of the Archdiocese of Ohrid.  Had this novelty been introduced into the Balkans before the establishment of an autocephalous Serbian church, it might have been found on a wider territory, including Ohrid, and its region.

By then, the Greek Patriarchate had been restored.  But even during the period of the Latin Kingdom, a Greek patriarch was appointed by the Byzantine emperor, though he could not always occupy his post in the war-torn land;  one of the best known was Leontius of Jerusalem, a noted theologian (see Petit).

[Paragraph on this visit and the reception by Patriarch Athanasius.]


A noted historiographer once wrote:  «history is the study not of origins but of mediations» (Butterfield 58).  The deliberate adoption by the newly formed Church of Serbia of a liturgical usage from the oldest Christian community, namely the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, is an element of this transition;  its purpose was to guarantee the sanctity of the new Church, and to ensure its authenticity in the eyes of the faithful.


About nikolina1950

Philologist, specialized in Byzantium and the Slavs in the middle ages. Also novelist, and interested in weddings.
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