05 February 2009

'Sinai Codex Theodosianus: Manuscript as Icon'

Last night, I had the wonderful opportunity of driving with some friends down to the University of North Texas in Denton to see a presentation by Hieromonk Justin Sinaites, librarian of St Catherine’s Monastery, Mt Sinai, on the ‘Sinai Codex Theodosianus: Manuscript as Icon’. There have already been a few interesting blogs about the presentation, e.g., by Justin and two by Andrea Elizabeth (here and here), so I’ll try not to just repeat everything they said. But if you’re not aware, the Sinai Codex Theodosianus (cod. 204) is a beautiful Gospel lectionary from the late 10th/early 11th centuries, believed to have been made in Constantinople, and it is entirely written in gold letters. There are, I believe, seven colour icon illuminations, one each of Christ (reproduced here) and the Theotokos, one of each of the four Evangelists (one can see these here), and one of a Venerable Peter of Monovata, about whom nothing else is known. But all of the calligraphic work and decorative headings are gold, and the images Fr Justin showed are stunning.

One of the more interesting aspects of the manuscript that he highlighted was the layout of the pages. I didn’t take notes, so I don’t have the precise measurements, but Fr Justin showed how the icons and text occupied the same area of their respective pages, and how these were placed very deliberately in accordance with rules of Classical proportion (one can get some idea of how it looks from the position of the icon of Christ above).

Fr Justin also pointed out a number of textual idiosyncracies of the Gospel readings in the codex. For instance, I don’t recall precisely which, but in either St Matthew (26:26) or St Mark (14:22), during the institution of the Eucharist, rather than telling us that Jesus ‘took bread, and blessed, and broke it’, the codex has ‘took bread, and gave thanks, and broke it’, rather as in St Luke 22:19. Also, in St John 1:28, in place of ‘in Bethany beyond the Jordan’, the codex has ‘in Bethabara beyond the Jordan’, apparently following Origen’s reading (R. Riesner, ‘Archaeology and Geography’, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. Joel B. Green, et al. [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1992], p. 35). Finally, and I may have this one wrong, but I believe Fr Justin said that in St John 11:53, instead of ‘So from that day on they took counsel’, the codex has ‘So from that hour on they took counsel’.

Interestingly, Fr Justin spent perhaps the largest portion of the lecture explaining the justification for the veneration of icons as well as of the Gospel, and reading fairly long extracts from the writings of St Maximus the Confessor, St Theodore the Studite, and St John Damascene. I couldn’t help but wonder what all of the UNT students and faculty who weren’t Orthodox, or even Christian, were making of all of it!

Fr Justin also mentioned something he’d got from Fr Andrew Louth (he didn’t mention the exact source)—in the context of, I believe, St John Damascene’s 2nd Treatise on the Divine Images 20 (Fr Andrew Louth, trans., Three Treatises on the Divine Images, by St John of Damascus [Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir's Seminary, 2003], p. 75) , where St John cites I Corinthians 13:12, Fr Justin interpreted the reference to seeing ‘as in a mirror’ in light of Plato’s note on mirrors in Timaeus 46, A-C (see Desmond Lee, trans., Timaeus and Critias [London: Penguin, 1977], pp. 63-4, where there is a nice diagram!).

All in all, it was definitely a fascinating lecture, and as I said, the images were simply amazing. The organiser of the event, an English professor at UNT who attends the Metropolia parish in Denton, St Maximus the Confessor, graciously invited my friends and I to have dinner with them and Fr Justin at the church before the presentation. We also had the opportunity to talk with him a bit on the walk to and from the lecture hall and at a little reception at the church afterwards. Fr Justin is a true monastic, and it was a tremendous blessing to speak with him.
[See my post on a second lecture Fr Justin gave later that week, here.]


Esteban Vázquez said...

Oh, to have been there! What sorrow is mine. But of course, I am delighted that you were able to attend, and have shared this with us all.

(Also, it warms the cockles of my heart to see you employ my peculiar naming conventions. ;-)

aaronandbrighid said...

The particular naming convention to which you refer is, of course, an old ROCOR tradition. You have encouraged me in carrying it on proudly!

Which part of the heart is the 'cockles'?

Justin said...

The cockles aren't very distinctive as far as cardiac anatomy goes. But when they get warm, you definitely know it.

It was a unique experience to break bread with the man responsible for preserving Christianity's most important manuscripts. I was honored just to be there with you guys.

Even more satisfying was knowing that such a critical and historical library is being managed- not by a University administration or famous PhD- but rather a quiet and pious monk.

Andrea Elizabeth said...

It was a wonderful evening. Thanks for adding more details - especially the Plato source on mirrors. I listened to Father McGuckin's talk on St. Gregory of Nanzianzus from myocn.net on the way up in which he described the Saint's drawing from the Philosophers and recontextualizing their words to explain things.

p.s. I wish I'd known that bearded person I saw from the back was you!

orrologion said...

I believe Fr. Justin used to be a monk in Boston, but left after more and more was revealed. Given the quality of the book work they do/did, it isn't surprising that he would end up as the one responsible for other major works. Is he American, Greek, something else? I believe there was a major spread on him in some US papers a few years back, probably having to do with another digitized Codex being made available online.

aaronandbrighid said...

Andrea Elizabeth> I wish I'd known you'd be there too! Maybe we need to start making more announcements when we're planning to attend Orthodox events. I'm hoping to see Fr Justin's lecture tomorrow as well, so it's possible you'll have another chance!

Christopher> Fr Justin was indeed a monk at HTM (from back when they were in ROCOR), and I think that's mentioned in the article I linked to from his name at the top. He's an American convert.

Andrea Elizabeth said...

I'm going tomorrow night at the Ft. Worth Botanical Gardens, so it looks like we may miss each other again. Hopefully you and George can meet though at the Dallas Theological Seminary lecture. I was surprised how enthusiastically Father Justin spoke of all these events in which he's giving talks. He has a lot of energy!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a wonderful lecture. I'd have loved to have been there. Thank you for sharing Aaron.

Ugljesa said...

Greetings from Serbia.

I read both of your excellent posts. Had a chance to meet w/ fr. Justin several times - you really did transfered the feeling of being in vincinity of such a wonderful person..