12 February 2009

Saints & Vampires

A few years ago, a new vampire novel came out that attracted a lot of attention. While I was a fan of Dracula growing up (I read the Victorian novel in the fifth grade), I have long been wary of subsequent vampire novels, for the simple reason that most of them are trash. But this one seemed a bit different. Incorporating a great deal of actual research into Eastern Europe and the historical Prince Vlad who bears an ill-defined relationship to Stoker’s monster, The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (NY: Back Bay, 2006) was actually thought to have some literary merit. Suffice to say, though it is not flawless, I was scarcely disappointed with the book when, at last, I read it.

Anyway, a good deal more could be said about this book, but I wanted to focus on just one of the many interesting historical references Kostova makes. In Part II, Chapter 41, two of the protagonists discover a book in the library of the University of Budapest entitled, ‘Ballads of the Carpathians, 1790’ (Kostova, p. 338). Inside, they discover a number of woodcuts including one that shows a forest with some animals seemingly hidden within it, among which is a dragon, a domed church, and letters spelling the word ‘Ivireanu’ (Kostova, p. 352). While they ask another scholar in Budapest if he has any clue as to its meaning, this first fellow is clueless (Kostova, p. 354), and it is not until they meet a very interesting character in Bulgaria, Anton Stoichev, that they learn the significance of this word. Asked if he knows it, Stoichev replies:

‘Yes, yes, my son.’ Stoichev seemed to be looking through me without seeing. ‘It is the name of Antim Ivireanu, a scholar and printer at Snagov at the end of the seventeenth century—long after Vlad Ţepeş. I have read about Ivireanu’s work. He made a great name among the scholars of his time and he attracted many illustrious visitors to Snagov. He printed the holy gospels in Romanian and Arabic, and his press was the first one in Romania, in all probability. But—my God—perhaps it was not the first, if the dragon books are much older. There is a great deal I must show you!’. . . (Kostova, p. 493)

Now, while I didn’t immediately recognise ‘Ivireanu’, despite its obvious similarity to ‘Iveron’ and thus, ‘Iberia’, ‘Snagov’, on the other hand, is a name I have known at least since I was 11 years old. It is almost certain that I first learned of it in the book, In Search of Dracula: A True History of Dracula and Vampire Legends, by Raymond T. McNally and Radu Florescu (NY: Warner, 1974). On pp. 128-9 of that volume, the authors tells us:

Snagov is an island in one of the lakes surrounding Bucharest, and is located in the heart of the Vlasie forest. The island is about a mile in length, and a half mile in width. Today, a small brick chapel is all that remains of the ancient monastic complex. This chapel, one of three that originally belonged to the monastery, was rebuilt in 1517. It is here that tradition assigns Dracula’s grave. . . .

As in the case of Castle Dracula, one may safely pressume that the island monastery with its secure strategic position was originally built on an extensive scale, either by Dracula’s grandfather, Prince Mircea of Wallachia, or by one of the boyars at his court. From official documents we do know that mircea often resided at the monastery and that he endowed it with vast tracts of land from the surrounding villages. Relatively few official documents mention this monastery in Dracula’s reign, but in the 16th century a Wallachian prince, in an act of endowment, confirmed those estates bestowed upon the monastery by Dracula. In addition, we know that between 1436 and 1447 Dracula’s father endowed Snagov with more land than any other monastery of the realm, and that in 1464 Radu the Handsome endowed it with three additional villages: Vadul Parvului, Calugareni and Stroiesti. These along with gifts from other memberss of the family lead the conclusion that Snagov is par excellence a Dracula ecclesiastical establishment.

In Dracula’s time, Snagov undoubtedly was one of the three largest and most important monasteries in Wallachia.

Bishop Seraphim (Joantă), in his important study of Romanian monasticism, adds a little to McNally’s and Florescu’s account. He calls Snagov the ‘most ancient hermitage known in the Codrii Vlăsiei . . . , whose origins may go back before the 14th century’, and ‘an important spiritual and cultural center for the country’ (Romania: Its Hesychast Tradition and Culture [Wildwood, CA: St Xenia Skete, 1992], pp. 57, 58). Finally, Bishop Seraphim corroborates Kostova even further:

In the 17th and 18th centuries the monks of Snagov printed on their own presses numerous service books and books of religious teaching destined for Orthodox Romanians, Greeks, Arabs, and Georgians. At the turning point between these two centuries, Abbot Anthimus of Iberia (Georgia), the future Metropolitan of Wallachia, particularly distinguished himself by his publishing activities. (Bishop Seraphim, p. 58)

This piece of information about ‘Antim Ivireanu’ leads us to our fourth and final source of relevant information: Archimandrite Ioanichie (Bălan)’s Romanian Patericon: Saints of the Romanian Orthodox Church, Vol. I: Third to Eighteenth Centuries (Platina, CA: St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1996). Here we learn that this man who plays an enigmatic, if not sinister rôle in Kostova’s novel, was a holy man, martyred for his faith by the Muslim Turks in 1716, glorified by the Romanian Orthodox Church in 1992, and commemorated (according to the Romanian Wikipedia article) on 27 September. I shall reproduce in full Fr Ioanichie’s brief Life of St Anthimus, as well as a short paragraph or two from the various teachings of the Saint that he gives.

The venerable Metropolitan Anthimus was born in Georgia. His parents, John and Maria, gave him the name of Andrew at his baptism. In his youth he was made a slave by the Turks, and he lived for many years in Constantinople, where he learned the Greek, Arabic, and Turkish languages, as well as the arts of sculpture, painting, and embroidery.

About 1690 Andrew was brought to the Romanian Land by Constantine Brîncoveanu. There he learned the art of printing from Bishop Metrophanes, and after a year he became a monk and was ordained a priest.

From 1691 to 1694 he directed the royal printing house in Bucharest and printed three books. Between the years 1694 and 1696 he founded a new printing house at Snagov Monastery, and from 1696 to 1701 he was abbot of that monastery. During that time he printed fourteen books, four of which were in Romanian, and the others in Greek, Slavonic, and Arabic.

Between 1701 and 1705 he again directed the printing house in Bucharest, where he printed fifteen books, most of them service books.

From 1705 to 1708 he was bishop at Rîmnicu Vîlcea, founding the first printing house there. During those three years he printed ten books, seven of which were in Romanian. From 1708 to1716 he was Metropolitan of the Romanian Land, where he founded new printing houses and produced another nineteen books, of which twelve were in Romanian.

In the autumn of 1716 Metropolitan Anthimus was imprisoned by order of the Turks, defrocked, and exiled to the Monastery of Saint Catherine on Mount Sinai. On the way there he was martyred by the soldiers and thrown into the Tungia River, near Adrianople (today’s Edirne in Turkey). It is now thought that he may have been drowned in Snagov Lake. (Fr Ioanichie, pp. 383-4)

There are nearly 14 pages in Fr Ioanichie’s book full of the teachings of this holy hierarch. I shall give two passages, the first being particularly appropriate as we prepare to begin the Lenten fast:

29. What profit is it for the body to be empty of food, but the soul full of sins? What profit is it to be pale and withered from fasting, but burning with envy and covetousness? What profit is it to abstain from wine, but to be drunk with the venom of anger? What profit is it to not eat meat, but to rend the flesh of our brethren by slander? What profit is it for us to cease from things which are sometimes allowed, but to do things that are never allowed? God loves and honors those who keep themselves from what is forbidden. (Fr Ioanichie, pp. 388-9)

Finally, the second passage is quite interesting in light of the desire for unnatural immortality that Dracula expresses to a 15th-c. abbot of Snagov on p. 675 of Kostova’s book, a desire he obviously achieves within the story:

70. Death is a great gift and merciful cure given to man by God, for this body of sin decays and another spiritual body, incorrupt and deathless is raised up at the general resurrection. Death brought great gain to man, says St Gregory the Theologian, for sin is cut off so that evil may not live forever. (Fr Ioanichie, p. 396)


Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

Here's something vaguely related to the vampire thing. It's from Elder Paisios' book on St Arsenios the Cappadocian (Holy Convent of the Evangelist John the Theologian, Souroti, Thessaloniki, Greece; 1996), page 65:

While the great fear initially was of the Turks, and he kept the existence of the school a secret for this reason, later on there was more reason to fear the Protestants, because they wanted to pollute the Orthodox faith of the little children.

Once they had sent a Protestant teacher, who, as soon as he arrived in Farasa, asked for the house of the Protestant Koupsis--who was paid to proselytize--to unload his things and to stay there. When Father Arsenios learned about the teacher, he went to meet him at once and said to him:

"Leave now, with your things as they are, before you unload them, because in Farasa we don't want another Protestant. The one we've got is enough, and the one Turk who's been here for years."

After this Father Arsenios also told the congregation at church:

"Anyone who so much as says good morning to Koupsis, had better know that when they're exhumed, their corpse will not have decomposed."

This was the only way of isolating the hornet, Koupsis, who was always stinging the young mainly, by pouring into their tender souls the poison of his error, and he inflamed them by accusing Hadjiefendis [=St Arsenios] of getting rid of teachers so as to leave the children uneducated. But now when nobody spoke to him, Koupsis was forced to recognized the error of his ways. He went to Father Arsenios, asked forgiveness and returned to the flock, too. In this way the hornets' nest of the Protestants was destroyed.

It's that very interesting "when they're exhumed, their corpse will not have decomposed" that is tied in with the belief in the vrykolakas, akin to the Slavic vampire.

Gnarly, dude.

aaronandbrighid said...

Totally gnarly! I don’t know if there’s any truth in it or not, but Montague Summers claims that ‘Greek Priests and Bishops when they launch the ban of excommunication against a person always add this anathema, καὶ μετὰ τὸν θάνατον ἅλυτος καὶ ἀπαράλυτος, ‘and after thy death thy body shall remain incorrupt and entire’ (The Vampire in Europe, 239). The anecdote about St Arsenios seems to support this claim.

Summers also claims to have found a MS. from Hagia Sophia in Thessaloniki warning people of the risks of this evil sort of ἀφθαρσία if they die under some sort of ban or curse (Vampire, 240). But while he gives an excerpt in Greek, he doesn’t offer any citation for it at all, and one wonders if perhaps he has made up the story and composed the Greek text himself!

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

Yes, I think that's in there, from all I've heard. I hope never to hear it, mind you!

What's interesting is the dual interpretation possible to incorruption. Obviously, in the above context it is a sign of sin. But in other cases it is a sign of sanctification.

Those who would accuse the Orthodox of overly simplistic beliefs are fools.

David Stone said...


I have nothing erudite to add to your post and the other comments. I just wanted to inquire as to whether you have read any of the Anno Dracula books by Kim Newman?



I don't know if they would qualify as "trash" in your view...but they are an entertaining series of alternative-history vampire novels.

Ok, so you've now done the obligatory vampire post. I suppose the golem post technically counts for a zombie post...when are we going to be treated to a post on werewolves...or at the least a post on the more hirsute of Saints. A St. Onuphrius post perhaps?


aaronandbrighid said...

David> I have not read these books, though I seem to recall having come across them at some point. To tell the truth, it takes something really exceptionally meritorious (such as extensive historical research, references to Orthodoxy, and a setting in libraries and monasteries all over Europe), to get me to read a novel that is not one of the great classics these days. But even if a book is, technically, 'trash', that does not mean I wouldn't enjoy it if I got so far as picking it up! I'm a big fan of Lewis's distinction between the types of pleasure derived from great vs. mediocre art.

It's possible I may be able to come up with an idea for a werewolf post, but I'm not sure. Of course, if you count 'Jekyll and Hyde', I already referred to it, at least in passing: http://logismoitouaaron.blogspot.com/2008/12/merciful-man-st-pardus-solitary-of.html

aaronandbrighid said...

Of course, I should add that this is not merely an 'obligatory vampire post'. There will likely be more vampire posts in the future. It was vampires that led me to Orthodoxy.