Great and Holy Saturday (St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite)

NOTE: The following article is excerpted from The Rudder:

Άγιος Νικόδημος ο Αγιορείτης


The faithful celebrating the days of the saving Passion with fasting and prayer and contrition must cease their fast about the middle hours of the night after Great Saturday, the divine Evangelists Matthew and Luke having signaled us the lateness of night, the one by adding the words “at the end of the Sabbath” (Matthew 28:1) and the other by saying “very early in the morning” (Luke 24:1).

(Canon I of Dionysios.)


This Canon decrees that Christians must celebrate all the Great and Holy Week of the Holy Passion with fasting103 and prayer and contrition of the heart real contrition, that is to say, and not hypocritical (exceptionally, however, and especially on Great and Holy Friday and Great and Holy Saturday they ought to be forced to spend the entire day without any nourishment at all); but about midnight – that is to say, after the midnight of the past Great and Holy Saturday – of the coming Great The Lord’s Day they must cease fasting104 since the Lord has already risen, as is plainly evidenced by the divine Evangelists.

For St. Matthew by saying that the women came at the end of the Sabbath to inspect the sepulcher revealed that the day of the Sabbath had past as well as a large part of the night after the Sabbath; while Luke, on the other hand, by saying that they came very early in the morning” revealed that there still remained a large part of the night until The Lord’s Day dawned. Hence, from the statements of both of them it may be inferred that the Lord rose about midnight, the sixth hour having passed and the seventh having begun.105


As concerning the precise time of the Lord’s Resurrection, Canon I of Dionysios goes into the matter more fully; in fact, it was from him that the present Synod derived its information on these matters. He adds that those who broke their fast before midnight were accused of being pusillanimous and intemperate, whereas those who waited with fortitude till daybreak were praised as being magnanimous and temperate. But even the Apostolic Injunctions, Book V, Chapter 19, say that Christians must cease fasting at the dawn of the first hour of Sabbath, or, more plainly speaking, at the dawning of the Lord’s Day. See also the Interpretation and Footnote to Canon XXIX of the present 6th Synod and Apostolic Canon LXIX.


But as for those persons who right after the liturgy of Great Saturday indulge in wine and oil, are obviously breaking the law. For the divine Apostles in their Injunctions (Book V, Chapters 18 and 19) command Christians to fast throughout Great Friday and Great Saturday, just as they themselves were accustomed to fast on those days, since fasting on these two days is laid down as a law by Christ Himself, who said:

“But days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast” (Matthew. 9:15). Now, it was on Great and Holy Friday and Great and Holy Saturday that the Lord was in fact taken from the Jews and crucified and buried, for our salvation. But if anyone should offer an objection to this view by citing the statement in the Typikon to the effect that on the evening of Great and Holy Saturday the Cellarman comes and gives a piece of bread and glass of wine, we reply to this objection, that this glass of wine and this piece of bread are not ordinary wine and ordinary bread, but, on the contrary, are bread and wine that have been blessed by the priest:

  1. Because further above it says for the bread to be blessed, and further below it mentions this;
  2. Because in most of them it is found written in the following fashion, that is, with a single piece, not of bread, indefinitely, but of the bread, definitely and relatively, of the above blessed bread, that is to say;
  3. And because this glass of wine was the blessed wine, which, after being mixed with water, was wont to be given to the brethren for the purpose of sanctification, and especially to those who had communed in order to rinse and wash out their mouth, just as it is the custom to do right after divine Communion.

Many persons fast for three days during the Great Fast. Accordingly, why should they not fast also for the two days of Great and Holy Friday and Great and Holy Saturday, which is more necessary? Indeed, if they cannot do both fasts, it is better for them to fast on these two days, than to do so on the three days in question. For divine Chrysostom says, in his Homily on the Great Week, that just as the Great Week is the head and greater than all the other weeks in the year, so again is the Great and Holy Saturday the head of the Great Week. The fact that the above blessing of the bread is the customary solemnization carried out by breaking the five loaves is more plainly and more explicitly presented by the manuscript Typikon of the Monastery of the Pantocrator.

It says, however, also this, that of the blessed loaves of bread a sufficiently large piece must be given to each brother, and similarly as regards the blessed wine. Hence it is to be inferred that the loaves of bread must be of a large size, and the wine must be of a correspondingly large quantity, in order to suffice for all.


That is why divine Epiphanios in agreement with this Canon says: “All peoples pass the six days before Pascha with the eating of plain food, by which expression I mean bread and salt and water being partaken of them towards evening.”



The cessation of fasting which the Canon mentions ought to take place after midnight Balsamon says that in those days the Christians of old had a different custom of doing it in a different way, which way is nowadays completely disused. Others say that by the expression “cease their fast” (or, in Greek, “aponestizesthai” is meant the eating of cheese, eggs, and Pascha foods in general, this being inferred from Chapter 19 of Book V of the Apostolic Injunctions.

Yet, whether this be true or what was said before, Christians after midnight must first listen to the whole of the of the Resurrection and wait until Divine Liturgy has ended, and thereafter finish fasting and begin eating the Pascha feast with cheerfulness and joyfulness. For the Apostolic Injunctions say (ibid.): “On this account, when the Lord is risen, you too must offer your sacrifice, concerning which He commanded you through us by saying, ‘this do in remembrance of me’ (Luke 22:19); and thereupon cease fasting and partake of good cheer.”

Here you can see that they say that first the Divine Liturgy must be celebrated, and afterwards the celebration of Pascha must commence. Hence it is to be observed that those persons deserve to be condemned, and are indeed inordinate belly-slaves and gluttons, who the moment they hear the cry “Christ is risen!” at once, having eggs and cheese they have brought with them in their pockets or bosoms, begin stuffing them into their mouth. Accordingly, let them take pains to correct this impropriety here and now and henceforth. But parents, too, ought. not to allow their children to become guilty of any similar disorderly conduct.



For it is for this reason too that on the Lord’s Day we are wont to say that the Lord is risen, since according to Blastaris (Eta, Chapter 3) and Chrysanthus of Jerusalem (in his Geography) the day commences, among ecclesiastics, with the seventh hour of night and ends with the sixth hour of the next night. Accordingly anything that occurs in the interval during the twenty-four hours of this period, appears and is said to occur in that (perhaps one) day.

But note here that in the day of Resurrection it used to be the custom to kiss one another twice: once in the morning, in the Royal Palace, and particularly in churches, while the “Day of Resurrection” was being chanted, at the end of the morning; and again in the evening, thereafter, in the great church of St. Sophia, when the kissing was done together with the Emperor and all the magistrates of the empire, as is historically recorded by Curopalates, who says: “The Emperor sits on the throne wearing the broadsword of the Grand Domesticus, and as all the magistrates come in each, even to the least of them and last of them, kiss first of all the right foot (owing to the imperial character of the kingdom), then the right hand (because the Emperor has been anointed of the Lord and is the Defender of the Church, as Symeon of Thessalonica comments), and after that his right cheek (because “king and soldier, rich man and poor man, are all equal in Christ”).

For this reason many persons ignorantly call this second kiss the Second Resurrection.

As concerns the red eggs eaten at the time of the Resurrection, many persons say many things that are destitute of verification. In solving certain questions for the Emperor of Russia, a learned man named Gazes Paisius, says that when the Jews exclaimed His blood be upon us and upon our children” (Matthew 27:25). everything they had in their houses at once turned red, and consequently even the eggs. Hence in remembrance of this miracle we too dye our eggs red at Pascha on the occasion of the Resurrection then being celebrated. This miracle, he says, has come down to us through a tradition of old.

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I said qualifiedly that the night of Great Saturday is the middle between the burial and the resurrection of the Lord, and not Great Saturday, as both Zonaras and Balsamon have lumpingly said, because although the daytime of Great and Holy Saturday clearly includes the burial of the Lord, while Great Pascha clearly includes the resurrection, yet the night of Great Saturday, intervening between the two days in question, partakes of both of them. “On this account the Western local Synod held in Cabilone concerning hierurgy (or celebration of the Liturgy), in Division 1st and the Canon which begins with the expression “It has been the custom,” decrees that so far as regards all the other days of the fasts Liturgy is to be celebrated round the hours of Vespers, but on Great Saturday it is to be celebrated at the commencement of night.” Furthermore, all typicons with great discrimination and observation state that the Ecclesiarch must be possessed of accuracy in order that the time when the Liturgy of Great Saturday ends it shall be two o’clock in the night. But why on all other days of fasting should the Liturgy be celebrated in the evening, but on Great Saturday must be celebrated in the night time? The reason, of course, is that the Gospel is read containing the words “Late on the Sabbath” (Matthew 28:1), and generally affording an introduction to the resurrection, and in order that persons who have been baptized at that time may partake of communion in it. Hence the Apostolic Injunctions, Book V, Chapter 19, go right ahead and lay it down as a rule that catechumens are to be baptized still further in the night. For they say concerning the night of Pascha: “Reading the Law all through the night until the cock crows, and having baptized your catechumens, and having read the Gospel, and having delivered an address to the laity, cease your mourning.”

That is why St. Gregory the Theologian in expanding upon Pascha, and Damascene, borrowing from Gregory, call the night of Great and Holy Saturday saving for those persons who get baptized on that night. “Being a radiant night and a herald of the day appareled in splendor.”

On account of the many lights of the ones illuminated (baptized). “How holy in reality and universally festival this saving night is and radiant!” etc.



Anointment with holy myrrh denotes the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove upon Christ when He was being baptized in the .Jordan; and consequently, according to Cyril of Jerusalem the chrism is a token that we are receiving in baptism the gracious gift of the Holy Spirit (and see the words of Cyril in the Footnote to Apostolic Canon L) and are becoming perfect Christians. Hence we are called Christians not only because we believe in Christ, but also because we get anointed with that heavenly chrism, becoming christs of the Lord and partakers of Christ in accordance with that passage in the Psalms saying: “Therefore God, thy God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above thy fellows” (Psalm 45:7). Note, however, that holy myrrh may be administered a second time, but only to those who have denied the faith. Hence the error practiced by some persons ought to be prohibited, viz, the custom of certain priests or spiritual. fathers (i.e., confessors) of anointing those Christians with holy myrrh who have fornicated with a Jewess, or with a woman who is a Latin (i.e., a Roman Catholic, according to English usage) or a heretic. For though it is true that such persons are canonized more severely than other fornicators, according to Reply 47 of Balsamon and Canon XXXI of John of Citrus, they are not anointed with holy myrrh. That is why Canon XLIV of Basil in referring to a deaconess who had committed fornication with a Grecian, does not decree that anything of the kind be done to her. As for how great an evil it is for some persons to partake of the holy myrrh of St. Demetrius instead of divine Communion, see the newly printed book of the saint of Campania.


Eight Letters Concerning Lent (Saint Athansios I, Patriarch of Constantinople)

NOTE: The following Letters are taken from The Correspondence of Athanasius I, Patriarch of Constantinople: Letters to the Emperor Andronicus II, Members of the Imperial Family, and Officials:

mosaic cross

The Who’s Who of the Great Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete (Protodeacon James Hughes)

Today, Saint Andrew of Crete is primarily known as a hymnographer. He is credited with the invention (or at least the introduction into Orthodox liturgical services) of the canon, a new form of hymnody. Previously, the portion of the Matins serrains inserted between the scripture verses. Saint Andrew expanded these refrains into fully developed poetic Odes, each of which begins with the theme (Irmos) of the scriptural canticle, but then goes on to expound the theme of the feast being celebrated that day (whether the Lord, theTheotokos a saint, the departed, etc.).


His masterpiece, the Great Canon (also known as the Canon of Repentance or the Great Canon of Repentance), is the longest canon ever composed (250 strophes). It is written primarily in the first person, and goes chronologically through the entire Old and New Testaments drawing examples (both negative and positive) which it correlates to the need of the sinful soul for repentance and a humble return to God. It is divided into four parts (called methymony) which are chanted at Great Compline on the first four nights of Great Lent (one part per night); later, it is chanted in its entirety at Matins on Thursday of the fifth week of Great Lent.

Twenty-four canons are reputed to have been written by Saint Andrew of Crete. Of these, we can be more or less certain that he wrote fourteen, including: the canons for the Resurrection of Lazarus (chanted at Compline on the Saturday—i.e., Friday night—before Palm Sunday); the Conception of St. Anne (9 December); the Maccabean Martyrs (1 August); St. Ignatius of Antioch (20 December), as well as four Triodia, and no fewer than one hundred and seven irmoi.

Byzantine Insights into Genesis 1-3 – St Andrew of Crete’s Great Canon:

Reading the Scriptures with Byzantine Eyes – The Hermeneutical Significance of St Andrew of Crete’s Great Canon:



The Annunciation (Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite)

NOTE: The following article is excerpted from The Rudder:

St_ Nikodemos 4

Note that during all forty days of the Great Fast fish is allowed by the Church only once, and that is on the Feast of Annunciation, as is ordained in the Typikon kept on the Holy Mountain. Hence it is evident that it has been a more modern hand that has written into the Typikon and into the Triodion that we may eat fish also on the feast day of the Lord’s Day of Palms. Besides, even Nicholas the Patriarch in his verses allowed the eating of fish only on the Feast of Annunciation. Therefore, when we learn this fact, let us follow the example of the saints, and not the modernist heretics, who yield obedience to the dictates of their stomachs. (pp. 371-372)


Note that just as the word homoousion [meaning of the same essence or coessential] was one to which the Fathers were accustomed even before the First Ecumenical Synod, though the latter sanctioned the use of this word and imparted it to the whole world, in a like manner had other Fathers called the Virgin Mary a Theotokos even before this Third Synod. But this Synod, having sanctioned this sweetest name of the Virgin, imparted it as a dogmatic definition to the whole world and handed it down through all later generations. Origen was the first to call the Virgin a Theotokos, in interpreting verse 33 of chapter 22 of Deuteronomy (pages 15 and 54 of the first volume of the series of the Fathers (in the Patrologia). Socrates also ( in Book 7 of his History, Chapter 32) says that Origen himself, while engaged in a comprehensive examination of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans found out how the Virgin came to be called the Theotokos. Cyril of Alexandria, in writing to Nestorius, says that even Athanasios the Great called her the Theotokos, and Ammon the Bishop of Adrianoupolis concurred, just as Alexander of Alexandria called the All-holy Virgin the Theotokos in writing to Alexander of Constantinople (the one who presided at the First Ecumenical Synod).

1st Ecumenical Synod (325)
1st Ecumenical Synod (325)

Again, Basil, in his discourse on the birth of Christ, says: “The Theotokos never ceased being a Virgin, because she would not displease the ears of Christlovers.” These testimonies, I take it, are self-sufficient. But it may be added here that Gregory the Theologian, in his first letter to Cledonius, says: “if there be anyone who does not consider Mary to be Theotokos, he is destitute of divinity.” And in his first discourse concerning the Son, in addressing the Greeks, he says; “For where among your deities have you known a Virgin Theotokos?” Eusebius, in his Life of Constantine (Chapter 43) and Socrates (Book 7, Chapter 32) say: “Wherefore indeed the most God-revering Queen (i.e. Helena) with wonderful tombstones magnificently decorated the Theotokos’ birthplace” – Bethlehem). Dionysios of Alexandria said to Paul of Samosota: “the one who became incarnate out of the holy Virgin and Theotokos Mary.” St. Gregory Thaumaturgus (or Wonder-worker) of Neocaesarea, in his discourse on the Annunciation, says these following words: “The Holy Theotokos, therefore, gave voice to the song of this prophecy by exclaiming, ‘My soul does magnify the Lord’” (Luke 1:46). Only the All-holy Virgin is called the Theotokos, according to the explanatory remark of Zonaras in commenting upon some troparia of the canons of the Octoechos of Damascene, by way of contrast with the women among the Greeks who were mythologically asserted to have given birth to their non-existent pseudo-gods.

3rd Ecumenical Synod (381)
3rd Ecumenical Synod (381)

The Virgin is called the Theotokos as having truly given birth to God, the accent being upon the last syllable, and not Theotocus, with the accent on the antepenult, which would signify “having been begotten by God spiritually,” as recusant and man-worshiping Nestorius called her.

For in this manner all human beings have been begotten spiritually through and by virtue of baptism. But the Holy Virgin is said to be a Theotokos in two ways.

One of these ways is on account of the nature and the substance of the God Logos which was given birth from of her and which assumed humanity; and the other way is on account of the humanity assumed, which became deified as a result of that union and assumption, and attained to Godhood (John Damascene, Concerning the Orthodox Faith, Book 3, Chapter 12, and elsewhere).

The Holy and Ecumenical Sixth Synod proclaimed her Virgin (in its act 11 by means of the document of the faith of Sophronios of Jerusalem) before giving birth, and in giving birth, and after giving birth: which is the same as saying Ever-virgin. Concerning St. Epiphanios (Hairesei. 78) says: “Who, having said Mary, and having been asked whom he meant, ever failed to answer by adding the Virgin?” And St. Jerome (Dialogue Second against Pelagius) said: “Christ alone opened the closed portals of the Virgin’s womb, and thereafter these remained shut (this word “opened” denotes that the Lord fecundated the womb, just as, in the opposite case, the womb is said to be shut in the sense that the womb is barren because of sterility: in accordance with that passage in Genesis saying: “God had shut fast every womb from without” (Genesis 20:18); or it may be said to denote “parted asunder,” but without injury, and not like the rest of infants). She is declared to be Ever-virgin also in the first Canon of the Sixth Ecumenical Synod, held in the Troullos.

6th Ecumenical Synod (681)
6th Ecumenical Synod (681)


On all the Forty days of the Great Fast devoted to fasting, with the exception of Saturday and The Lord’s Day and the days of the holy Annunciation, let the Holy Liturgy of the presanctified be celebrated. (Apostolic Canon LXIX; Canons XLIX, LI of Laodicea)


The days of holy fast are days of mourning and of contrition and of repentance. But for a perfect sacrifice to be offered to God, and indeed in he commemorations of saints, is deemed by the majority of people to be matter of jubilation and joy, and of festivity. That is why they are wont to indulge in merry-making during this period. For this reason the present Canon commands that on the other days of the Fast there shall be a celebration of the liturgy of the56 which is the same as saying the second offering of the completed and sacrifice offered, whereas on Saturdays and The Lord’s Days, as more cheerful days and not devoted to fasting, likewise also on Annunciation Day, as being the commencement of our salvation and the exordium, and consequently as a feast day and festival, it allows a perfect sacrifice and Liturgy to be celebrated.


Canon XLIX of Laodicea is in agreement with the present Canon in decreeing that bread is not to be offered during the Fast, or, in other words, a perfect liturgy, but only on Saturday and the Lord’s Day. Furthermore, Canon LI of the same prohibits the celebration of commemorations and birthdays (actually death days) of martyrs on fasting days in the Great Fast, but allows it only on the Saturdays and The Lord’s Days therein. Balsamon in his Interpretation of Canon LI of this Synod of Laodicca, and, above all, Blastaris, in Chapter 5, verse 300, say that not even memorials for the sleeping are to be held on the other days in the Great Fast, the sole exception being 57 just as the typikons conformably prescribe. See also Apostolic Canon LXIX.


But in his Reply 55 the same Balsamon says that not even baptisms can be performed during the Great Fast except only on the Saturdays and Lord’s Days therein, and the day of Annunciation. But those who do these things ought to be corrected with heavy penalties, as having sinned unpardonably, except in case there should be a dire necessity of death (page 389 of Jus Graeco-Romanum).

Many teachers, indeed, are inclined to insist that it was on the Lord’s Day that the Annunciation took place. Christ was born on the Lord’s Day. It was on the Lord’s Day that wonder of the multiplication of the five loaves of bread occurred. It was on the Lord’s Day that the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, and it was on the Lord’s Day that John was privileged to behold the terrible Revelation as is stated in the first chapter of it.


If Annunciation falls on Great and Holy Thursday or Great and Holy Friday, we are not sinning if on that day we partake of wine and fish. (Apostolic Canon I, XIX)

St. Nikephoros I of Constantinople
St. Nikephoros I of Constantinople

The refectory as a place of punishment (Mary-Alice Talbot)

NOTE: These practices are also continued today in Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries. In Arizona, after Fr. Anthonios backed a truck into an orange tree, Geronda Ephraim told him he’d never eat another orange again. Thus, every Trapeza, when the Fathers were eating fresh picked and juicy oranges from the orchards, Fr. Anthonios would have a different fruit placed in front of him. In other monasteries, a monastic may be punished with being served a rusk and a fruit, even on dairy days, or no food whatsoever. During a bus pilgrimage to St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY, Fr. Kassianos was forced to stand in the middle of the trapeza doing prayer rope while everyone else ate. Breaking, scratching, or ruining things, and in some monasteries even just dropping objects, is also punishable with prostrations—usually 50-100, though in cases of expensive tools, machinery and vehicles it can be up to 1000+ prostrations and this could be for many days. Each monastery has its own methodology of punishment and the punishments are tailored to the individual monastic according to their vulnerabilities and weaknesses.

Holy Archangels Monastery (TX)
Holy Archangels Monastery (TX)

A medieval visitor to a Byzantine trapeza might observe some monks or nuns being singled out for punishment. One monk might be doing the equivalent of one hundred pushups, another standing next to the abbot holding fragments of a broken ceramic vessel, and another might be eating only olives and nuts, while his tablemates were feasting on lentil soup and boiled greens seasoned with olive oil.

St. Nektarios Monastery (NY)
St. Nektarios Monastery (NY)

The refectory, as a communal gathering place for monks and nuns, was deemed an appropriate location for public penance, particularly for misbehavior and infractions of the rule related to preparation of food and refectory discipline. A particularly useful source of information in this regard is the penitential’ of Theodore of Stoudios. He prescribes, for example, a series of 20 to 300 penitential prostrations (metanoiai) for various lapses of the cooks, such as failure to add oil and salt to food at the proper time while cooking, allowing broth to boil over, spilling wine or oil or vinegar, permitting food to spoil, or leaving a pot uncovered for a long time.1 Breaking a clay pot was viewed as a serious act of carelessness and might be punished by making the monk perform up to 300 metanoiai (the number probably depending upon the size of the pot) or stand at the front of the refectory holding the pieces of the pot in his hands, until he received the forgiveness of his brethren.2 A slight variant of this punishment is found in the eleventh-century vita of St Neilos of Rossano. After a young monk broke a pot by overfilling it with legumes and boiling them too vigorously, he had to tie the potsherds together with a string and wear them around his neck like a necklace while standing in the refectory.

Fr. Anthony Filotheiotis (AZ)
Fr. Anthonios Filotheitis (AZ)

Misbehaviour while eating might also be punished by a prescribed number of metanoiai, or by deprivation of certain foods or an entire meal. Examples of infractions of refectory discipline were conversing or laughing during a meal (one hundred metanoiai), missing a meal altogether (standing penance in the refectory, or eating of dry foods or fasting until the following day), idle or loose talk (deprivation of wine for one day and forty metanoiai), and getting up from the table before dismissal (no wine for three days and one hundred metanoiai).3

Holy Protection Greek Orthodox Monastery (PA)
Holy Protection Greek Orthodox Monastery (PA)
  1. See Theodore of Stoudios, Poenae monasteriales, nos A36-9, 41-5; PG 99.1737-40. These particular penitential regulations do not specify that the prostrations are to be performed in the refectory, but others (nos A2, 8, B29, 55) do, and this practice is confirmed by the evidence of the rule of Stoudios and vita B of Athanasios (see next footnote).
  2. Poenae monasteriales, nos A40 and 46; PG 99.1737 and 1740; Stoudios, chap. 35, BMFD 1.113AB, adds the detail that the careless monk had to stand next to the abbot with his cowl covering his head, while vita B of Athanasios of Athos says he had to stand next to the reader (Noret, Vitae duae, chap. 29, p. 118).
  3. See Theodore of Stoudios, Poenae monasteriales, nos B29, A12, B37, B36; PG 99.1735 and 1753.

 Le Troupeau Bénit 13

Inequalities in Monastic Food and Drink (Alice-Mary Talbot)

NOTE: The following article is taken from Eat, Drink, and be Merry (Luke 12:19): Food and Wine in Byzantium, pp. 117-119:

Eat, Drink, and be Merry

A common principle of typika is equality of food for all, in terms of number of dishes, quality and portion size.’ As stated in the fourteenth-century typikon of Andronikos II for St Demetrios-Kellibara cited at the beginning of my paper, ‘the same bread should be given to all the brothers to eat, whether you are talking of the superior, the steward, the ecclesiarch, or whether it be the shoemaker, the gatekeeper, the baker or whoever it may be.’ The same held true of wine: ‘Neither shall good wine, full-bodied and with a nice bouquet, be given to this one to drink while that one is given the opposite, like vinegar, foul smelling and hostile to one’s palate and one’s stomach.’

Other typika suggest that some monks and nuns claimed the right to a more luxurious diet ‘because of pride in ancestry perhaps or advanced education or supposed superior virtue, or the privilege of age, or because of a contribution of money of [read: or] property.’ The typikon of Bebaia Elpis enjoins the nuns to maintain ‘custody of the eyes’, and not to look around the table to see if others were receiving larger portions or different food:

“No one at table will be allowed to raise her eyes and look at her neighbor to see how she eats the food set before her, and what has been served to her. Each nun should not only have eyes for herself alone, and focus her attention on the food set before her, but should concentrate … on the sacred readings.”

In similar vein Theoleptos of Philadelphia instructed the nuns at the Philanthropos monastery to keep their gaze fixed on their own food:

“When you are at table, do not look around at the portions your sisters got, nor allow your mind to be divided by nasty suspicions: As you look upon and touch what is set before you, give food to your mouth, attentiveness to the readings to your ears and prayer to your soul …”2

Manuel I Komnenos
Manuel I Komnenos

The constant reminders that the same food and drink were to be served to all monastics, no matter their rank, lead to the supposition that in fact there were disparities in the quality and amount of food and beverages provided at the refectory table. This suspicion is borne out by the testimony of the twelfth-century Ptochoprodromos’s satire on monastic superiors. This lengthy poem, ostensibly written by Hilarion Ptochoprodromos, a former monk of the Philotheou monastery in Constantinople, was addressed to the emperor Manuel I Komnenos as a complaint about the excessive privileges of the superior and high monastic officials in contrast to the discriminatory and abusive treatment of ordinary monks. A large part of the satire deals with inequalities in food and drink, so that the abbot and his cronies gorge on gourmet delicacies, while junior monks are subjected to an almost starvation diet of virtually inedible food and wine. Ptochoprodromos reports that monks of lower station are served tiny pieces of rotten tuna, unsalted soaked beans, dry bread, hot cumin drink or vinegary wine, and the dreaded αγιοζουμι, literally ‘holy broth’. He describes this horrid concoction as being made from water, onions and olive oil, flavoured with savory (θρυμβοξυλον) and served in bowls containing small bits of bread.3 Additional piquancy was provided by the verdigris from the copper cauldron that floated atop the broth with a greenish sheen. Meanwhile the monks of higher station were feasting, even on fast days when fish was not permitted, on untold varieties of shellfish, including oysters, clams and scallops, crab, squid and lobster, as well as caviar, accompanied by honey-flavoured rice, apples, dates, figs, nuts and grapes from Chios, quinces and pomegranates. On non-fast days the senior monks enjoyed multiple courses of various fish, including mullet, red snapper, striped bass and flounder cooked with exotic spices such as cloves, cinnamon, caraway and saffron. A particular treat was the casserole that included the following ingredients: cabbage, moray eel, swordfish, carp, small dried mackerel, fourteen eggs, Cretan and Vlach cheese, twelve heads of garlic and fifteen onions.55 These succulent dishes were washed down with the finest wines from Mount Ganos, Crete, Samos and Chios,56 while the junior monks had to be satisfied with sour and vinegary wine from Varna or large quantities of cumin drink that caused Ptochoprodromos to be afflicted with dropsy! The bread differed as well, the top-quality variety made from fine wheat flour, served hot and. sprinkled with sesame seeds, while the other was coarse brown bread with an outer coating of ashes from the oven

Though no doubt exaggerated, this account of the abundant and tasty food to be found in at least some monasteries is borne out by Eustathios of Thessalonike’s famous tale about the wedding banquet hosted by Manuel I Komnenos. The story goes that late one night the emperor decided on the spur of the moment to organize a wedding feast, but since it was Cheese-Eating Week his servants could not find appropriate foodstuffs in the Blachernai Palace on short notice. Manuel suggested that they go to the nearby monastery of St John Prodromos in Petra, where indeed they were able to obtain delicacies suitable for serving at the palace: breads of various kinds, a pure white loaf, spongy and light as foam; another well kneaded and solid; barley-cakes; sweet and dry wines; abundant cheese; dried and salted fish; red and black caviar imported from Tanais on the Sea of Azov. The imperial emissaries took so much from the monastic storerooms that it took several donkeys to carry the foodstuffs back to the palace.


  1. A similar injunction is made by Isaac Sevastokrator Komnenos in the Kosmosoteira typikon, where he forbids the serving of wine that has turned sour (ὀξώδης) because it can be harmful to the monks’ health: Kosmosoteira, chap. 70, BMFD 2.832.
  2. Theoleptos of Philadelpheia. The Monastic Discourses, discourse 1, chap. 31.
  3. This soup was a prescribed staple food at Kosmosoteira on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A recipe for this soup is found in the vita of St Cyril Phileotes, singling out onions and herbs as the principal ingredients. Cyril does not find the concoction sufficiently ascetic and calls it γαστριμαργοζωμιον!

Catecheses for the 4th Week in Great Lent (Saint Theodore the Studite)

NOTE: The place of these two catecheses in the numbering suggests that they may have been given during the 4th week of Lent.


CATECHESIS 66: That this Pascha is a type of the future and eternal Pascha; and about endurance and courage.

Brethren and fathers, Lent is already galloping past and the soul rejoices at the imminence of Pascha, because by it it finds rest and is relieved of many toils. Why did this thought sound for me in advance? Because it is as if our whole life directs its reason contemplating the eternal Pascha. For this present Pascha, even though it is great and revered, is nevertheless, as our fathers explain, only a type of that Pascha to come. For this Pascha is for one day and it passes, while that Pascha has no successor. From it pain, grief and sighing have fled away[1]; there everlasting joy, gladness and rejoicing; there the sound of those who feast[2], a choir of those who keep festival and contemplation of eternal light; where there is the blessed breakfast[3] of Christ and the new[4] drink of which Christ spoke, I shall not drink of the fruit of this vine, until I drink it with you new in the kingdom of my Father.[5] Of this he spoke to his disciples when he was about to ascend to heaven, I am going to prepare a place for you and, if I go, I will prepare a place for you. I am coming again and I will take you to myself, so that where I am you maybe also. And where I am going you know, and the way you know.[6]And a little further on, On that day you will know that I am in the Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.[7] And elsewhere, Father, I wish that where I am they may be with me also, so that they may see my glory, which you gave me, because you loved from before the foundation of the world.[8] But because this concerns not only the Apostles, but also ourselves, he also said, I do not ask this only for them, but also for those who through their word believe in me, so that all may be one, as you, Father, are in me and I am in you, that they may also be one in us.[9] What could be more comforting than these words? What could be more appealing? What soul can they not soften? What heart not prick with compunction, even should someone say that the human heart is a nature of stone? With thoughts like these the saints bore all that they bore, considering afflictions as joys, constraints as freedoms[10], struggles as delights, harsh training as relaxation, deaths as lives. I beseech you, my brother, should not we also, since we have the same aim and seek the same Pascha, bravely and courageously bear our present condition, not falling, not succumbing to despondency, but rather roused with greater fervour watching for the wicked serpent who works to deceive us by the passions, transforming himself into an angel of light,[11]and altering things from what they are; show dark as light, bitter as sweet. This was how he ensnared our forefather, bewitching his sight and depicting as beautiful what was not, and as a result through food casting him out of Paradise. But let us, who have learned by experience what a deceiver he is, not leave the paradise of God’s commandments, nor, when he indicates to us that the fruit is beautiful, let the eye of soul or body be directed there, otherwise we are being caught in the snare. But let us flee by every means from looking. What the is the fruit which seems beautiful? The love of the flesh, the evil lust of every one of the destructive passions. If we avoid experiencing them, my brothers, we shall be saved and easter[12] to age on age, with all the Saints in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory and might with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

  1. Isaias 35:10. The phrase is familiar from the prayer for the departed.
  2. Psa. 42:4, where the Greek has a singular. The same phrase is found, but with the plural, in the prayers after Communion.
  3. John 21:12.
  4. The Greek has koinon, ‘common’, but the word should be kainon, ‘new’, as the following citation makes clear. There is also an echo of the Paschal canon, ‘Come, let drink a new drink’ (poma kainon).
  5. Matthew 26:29.
  6. John 14:2-4.
  7. John 14:20.
  8. John 17:24.
  9. John 17:20-21.
  10. It is difficult to reproduce the play in Greek on stenochoria and evrychoria.
  11. 2 Corinthians 11:14.
  12. St Theodore uses a very rare verb paschazein, and temptation to follow G. M. Hopkins and use ‘Easter’ as a verb is irresistible. The only reference in Lampe is to St Theodore’s contemporary Theophanes, who uses it of the Quartodecimans, who ‘Easter’ with the Jews.
Fasting foods for Lent.
Fasting foods for Lent.

CATECHESIS 67: That to feast each day and to easter to the Lord God consists in the death the passions and the resurrection of the virtues.

Brethren and fathers, the day of Pascha is drawing near, since with God’s help we have passed the mid-point of the fast. But are we pressing forward to reach the Pascha that comes and goes? Have we not achieved this year after year? The present Pascha too will pass, for there is nothing lasting inthe present age, but, All our days pass like a shadow,[1] and our life travels like a rapid rider, until it has driven us to the final boundary of life. ‘What’, someone says, ‘is Pascha not to be desired?’ Of course, it very much to be desired. How could it not be? But we accomplish Pascha every day. And what is this? Cleansing from sins, contrition of heart, tears of compunction, a clean conscience, the death of the parts of us that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire,[2] and any other evil that is at work. One who has been found worthy in all this does not easter and celebrate a much longed for feast to the Lord just once a year, but, we may say, does so each day. Someone, on the other hand, who does not have all the foregoing, but is held fast by the passions, cannot celebrate. For how can someone celebrate whose god is their stomach?[3] Or who is aflame with fleshly lust? Or melted by the heat of jealousy? Or drowned by the love of money? Or enslaved to vainglory? Or caught up by the other passions. No one could possibly say that someone with a high fever was at rest, or that someone shipwrecked was making a good voyage. It simply isn’t possible. It is impossible for someone who has become dark to be enlightened, or for someone possessed by sins to celebrate. But for you, brothers, we are confident of better things, ones that promise salvation. For our way of life is nothing other than preparation[4] for a feast. Look at the reality: psalmody succeeds psalmody; reading, reading; study, study; prayer, prayer, like a wheel drawing us and joining us to God. How truly excellent is this way of life, how supremely excellent! How blessed this life and thrice-blessed! So then, since we have been shown the sought for Pascha, my honoured brothers, let us make it our aim, and, as far as we can, celebrate it every day, through the death of the passions and the resurrection of the virtues, in imitation of the Lord, because he too suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should follow in his steps.[5] And I say this, not so we become judges of the others —for each has their own load to carry[6]—but so that, conscious of the grace that has been given us by God, we may give thanks to the giver, glorify the benefactor, repay the master, who has not only granted our present blessings, but also, to those who genuinely serve him to the end, he will also give those that are in his promises, that eternal and heavenly Pascha. May we all attain it, by the grace and love for humankind of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and might, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and always, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

  1. Psalm 143:4.
  2. Colossians 3:5.
  3. Philippians 3:19.
  4. The ordinary Greek word for ‘preparation’, paraskevi, in Christian Greek also means Friday, in particular Good Friday, the ‘preparation’ for Pascha.
  5. 1 Peter 2:21. The critical editions have the second person throughout.
  6. Galatians 6:5.