Wednesday, January 25, 2012

TS: Icons and the Object of Pilgrimage in Middle Byzantine Constantinople

Senior thesis due in approximately two and a half months, so it's really nothing but obscure stories about various Orthodoxies here on out. Enjoy.

Both these excerpts are from Annemarie Carr's "Icons and the Object of Pilgrimage in Middle Byzantine Constantinople", available online here.
First, however, we should pause to consider the kind of pilgrimage envisaged here. Victor Turner forged the current terminology of pilgrimage. It is rooted in the metaphor of the journey, of "being on the way" toward a transformative (in)sight. Capacious as his paradigm is, it is inevitably both late and Western, and I should like to suggest instead a paradigm derived from a ninth-century Byzantine narrative about a major pilgrimage site. 
This is the story of the miracle at Chonai. The story is clearly intended to give pilgrimage status to a great site, but I think it also offers us a paradigm of the pilgrim, in the figure of its protagonist, Archippos. Archippos is not in any literal sense on a journey. Instead, he is in a state of veneration: for sixty years he has tended the shrine of the Archangel Michael. This is his pilgrimage. It culminates when he is invited to avail himself of the  access that loyalty has earned him, and to come into the very presence of the archangel: "Rise, just soul," the Archangel bids him, "...  take the access offered  you,  and  come  towards me." 
Now, with synaesthetic intensity, he adores the mighty presence of holy power. More than one who traveled, the Byzantine pilgrim was aproskynetes, one who venerated; the critical movement was over the threshold of access to the one venerated. The space claimed was one less of distance than of presence... 
...the icon of Symeon the New Theologian [plays a role] in several posthumous miracles that can be exemplified by the story of a middle-aged man of substance led by a pilgrimage to abandon his life in the world and become a monk in Symeon's monastery. But soon a demon of envy overcame him, and he saw Symeon's icon taunting and making faces at him. Clearly, the man's monastic profession had been prompted  by a vainglorious infatuation with his own presumed spirituality. Symeon's taunting visage showed him that he must shed his affectation and begin the pilgrimage of his monastic profession over again.
By the way, today is Saint Tatiana's Day in Russia-- she's the patron saint of students, so keep her in mind through your struggles.

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