The Hitler Icon: How Mount Athos Honored the Führer

 

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An image of Adolf Hitler greeted visitors to Mount Athos in 1941 (Source: Mönchsland Athos)

NOTE: Political instability in Greece during the mid-20th century that affected Mount Athos included Nazi occupation from the Easter season of 1941 through late 1944, followed immediately by the Greek Civil War in a struggle where Communist efforts failed. The Battle of Greece was reported in Time Magazine [see the end of this article]. After the Nazi takeover of Greece, the Epistassia, Athos’s four-member executive committee, formally asked Hitler to place the Autonomous Monastic State under his personal protection, and Hitler agreed. Mount Athos survived World War II nearly untouched, and for the remainder of the war, the monks of Mount Athos referred to Adolf Hitler as “High Protector of the Holy Mountain” (German: Hoher Protektor des heiligen Berges).

In an attempt to defend and justify Mount Athos’ allegiance with Hitler during WWII, Greek Orthodox apologists state that it was simply a strategic measure to protect the mountain from Bulgarian occupation and de-hellenization.1 They criticize the jouranlists who write “negatively” about this incident in Athonite history as “slanderers” and “accusers” of the Church; purposely hiding this important information in an attempt to tarnish Mount Athos’ image. However, these Orthodox apologists fall into the same “sin of concealing facts.” The defenders of Athos fail to mention that in the time leading up to the war—especially during the 30s—the Hagiorites were consumed with fervor and anticipation for Constantinople’s liberation as foretold in spurious prophecies that are not officially accepted by the Orthodox Church or the Church Fathers. Yet, the majority of Athonite monks during the 30s not only believed in them, but felt that they were living through their fulfillment.

The Anonymous Prophesy of 1053,2 was a popular prophecy on everyone’s lips before and during the war. This prophecy was virtually unheard of in the Orthodox world until 1914.3 There was a belief that Germany would be the first country to become Orthodox after the “New European War.”4

A common belief of Athonite monks during the 30s, as conveyed in various publications by pilgrims of that era was:

“You know Germany is going to become Orthodox very soon. The Holy Fathers have prophesied it. It is said that there is now a great king ruling in Germany, who slaughters all the Jews and Bolsheviks. We love him for that. It is the beginning of the prophecy.”5

The Triple Occupation of Greece by the Axis Powers (1941-1944)
Germany (red), Italy (blue), Bulgaria (green).

THERE IS A PIOUS notion out there that organized religion, if practiced devoutly enough, can preserve human beings from immoral thoughts and actions, particularly those stemming from the seductions of supposedly secular political ideologies. The Protestants have their “mighty fortress” of Lutheran song and liturgy, the Catholics have their eternal Vatican, and the Greek Orthodox Church preserves its theological purity in the twenty monasteries of Mount Athos, “the Garden of the Virgins,” on a peninsula in northern Greece, where all females – including dogs and cats – are banished from the premises so as to protect the monks from any impure sensations.* However, even the most cursory glance at the historical record reveals that the devout are not only as likely as anyone else to fall for a totalitarian bill of goods, they may even be more susceptible than the average citizen.

Mount Athos can serve as a case in point. In the summer of 1941, just months after the German invasion and occupation of Greece, Professor Franz Dölger led an official Nazi expedition to the holy mountain.6 The journey, which focused on historical and theological issues, was officially sponsored by Alfred Rosenberg, Reich Minister for the Occupied Eastern Territories, and was generously supported by the Wehrmacht. Dölger himself was a distinguished professor of Byzantine studies at the University of Munich from 1931 until his retirement in 1958.

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The expedition report Mönchsland Athos (Athos, Land of Monks), published in 1942

Dölger and his companions, both academic and military, encountered a religious community that was more than willing to embrace Nazism. In fairness to the residents of Mount Athos, we should note that they had good reason to despise Hitler’s nemesis, communism: Stalin was busy confiscating the Russian Orthodox Church’s property and deporting its priests to the gulag, and he had also halted the previously reliable flow of Russian contributions to the monasteries’ upkeep. According to Time Magazine report from 1941, the remarkably naïve monks only knew of Hitler as “a great German king who slays the Bolsheviks and the Jews – a fulfillment of prophecy.” In this, they differed little from the bulk of Catholics and Protestants in Germany and many of the occupied countries. After the Nazi takeover of Greece, the Epistassia, Athos’s four-member executive committee, formally asked Hitler to place the Autonomous Monastic State under his personal protection, a request with which the Führer gladly complied. Mount Athos survived the war nearly untouched, which is more than can be said for the rest of Greece, which lost 11 percent of its population, including virtually all of its Jews.

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Wehrmacht soldiers posing with Greek Orthodox monks in Karyes, Athos Peninsula, Easter 1941

In gratitude for his protection, the monks displayed and revered Hitler images, including not only the one described further down but also a portrait hung directly in the center of a wall of paintings in the great reception room of St Panteleimon monastery, directly beneath a portrait of Tsar Nicholas II (see video clip below).

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Hitler in a place of honor at St. Panteleimon Monastery (1942)
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This picture is taken partner after the Second World War. The portrait of Hitler is Replaced by portraits of Queen Frederica (1917 – 1981) and beside her king Paul (1901 – 1964).

The following is my translation of an excerpt from Prof. Dölger’s account of his visit to Mount Athos as printed in the book Mönchsland Athos (Munich: 1942), the official report of his 1941 visit to the holy mountain:

At the monastery of Konstamonitou, at the place of honor in the reception room, we encountered the image of our Führer.  A monk had discovered a picture in an illustrated magazine and created a pencil drawing based on this model. Elsewhere too we could observe how strongly the personality of the Führer and the Greater German Reich impressed itself upon the imagination of the residents of Mount Athos, at least among those who had not entirely turned away from the world. Upon our arrival at several monasteries and, upon our departure from one (Dionisíu), when we sailed out onto the sea in our little ship, we were greeted by the swastika flag. The Führer is regarded by a great many monks as the “High Protector of the Holy Mountain” who will also hold his protecting hand over the Holy Mountain in the reordering of the world.

We had a delightful experience as we photographed a miraculous image of the Virgin Mary. From the point of view of Athos, it represented an immense concession for us to receive permission to photograph the sacred icon, and monks even helped us in our preparations. One old monk who joined us observed these preparations, shaking his head. Turning to us, he said: “If you want to photograph the Panajía [Virgin Mary], then you will have little luck; for the Panajía has never yet allowed herself to be photographed.” – “But it could be,” he added in a trusting and good-natured manner, “that the Panajía may make an exception for you Germans and allow herself to be photographed, because you Germans, after all, are waging a holy war against Bolshevism, the enemy of God.”

*Banishing the opposite sex from the peninsula might sound like a recipe for boredom, but it appears that the monks knew how to keep busy. According to a Time Magazine article in April 1941, “[a]n alarming number of monks have taken to smoking, alcohol, even narcotics. And the immemorial escape from celibacy has threatened to become a fever sickening the whole ‘Great Academy of the Greek Clergy.’ The Greek press has stormed about the kidnapping of male children for the monks of Athos, and motorboats carrying male prostitutes are constantly reported chugging into the monastery harbors.”

Franz Dölger's Diamonitirion
On the recommendation of Georgios Tsolakoglou, 1st Greek Prime Minister of the occupation, Dölger received a special residence permit.

TWO ARTICLES FROM TIME MAGAZINE

MOUNT ATHOS: Failing Light

Monday, April 28, 1941
TIME Magazine

The Stukas swooped across the Aegean skies like dark, dreadful birds, but they dropped no bombs on the monks of Mount Athos. The motorized Nazi hordes rumbled across the Salonikan peninsula, but they did not invade its 40-mile-long eastern cape where the holy and historic Mount towers in misty beauty above monasteries perching like fabulous castles on crags above the sea. Surrounded by flower-scented glens and gorges, veiled with pine and cypress and chestnut, are great Lavra Monastery, Vatopédi, Simöpetra, bastioned Dionysiou (which proudly possesses the brain and right hand of Saint John the Baptist) and many others, each with its fusty library and gilded Byzantine church.

Last week Adolf Hitler gave no hint of what he proposed to do about this great religious prize which was his for the taking—the autonomous ecclesiastical republic of Mount Athos, 1,000-year-old capital of Greek Orthodoxy, governed by a council consisting of one monk from each of its 20 stony retreats.

The 5,000 bearded, black-robed Greek, Russian, Serbian, Bulgarian and Rumanian monks who live on Mount Athos arrived there for many reasons—religion, disappointment in love, political conspiracy, seeking sanctuary against political or criminal punishment. They include several former Greek lunchroom proprietors who fled the clatter of U.S. civilization. They live in two kinds of monasteries: cenobite (communistic) and idiorrhythmic (allowing private property, which reverts to the monastery). Many of them lead a truly monkish life of prayer and Church scholarship, a shabby life without bathing or toothbrushing, with a meatless diet and only brief snatches of sleep, because “sleep inflames the body.” They live on contributions and on the making and selling of wine, farm products, religious paintings and trinkets. Some are so ignorant or unworldly that they have heard only vaguely of Adolf Hitler—”a great German king who slays the Bolsheviks and the Jews—a fulfillment of prophecy.”

But in recent years the world has been altogether too much with Mount Athos to please its pure in heart. For one thing, the world’s sad economy has impoverished the religious life even more than need be. Joseph Stalin has stopped the steady flow of Russian funds into Mount Athos, and war and world depression have sharply cut all other income. The ancient sins of luxury have been increasingly apparent both outside and inside the holy ground. Vigorous young monks are rare. “We need young men today more than ever,” one Athonite has said, “but they prefer to fatten their ephemeral bodies and clothe them in silk shirts and ties.”

On the Mount itself, one of the wealthier monasteries has permitted itself all manner of worldly indulgences—central plumbing, mirrors, electric lights, newspapers, motorboats, wine-pressing machinery (instead of the industrious barefoot method). An alarming number of monks have taken to smoking, alcohol, even narcotics. And the immemorial escape from celibacy has threatened to become a fever sickening the whole “Great Academy of the Greek Clergy.” The Greek press has stormed about the kidnapping of male children for the monks of Athos, and motorboats carrying male prostitutes are constantly reported chugging into the monastery harbors.

Today many Greek laymen regard Mount Athos as a senile, decadent, insufferable vestige of its past. If Adolf Hitler decides to dim this “Lighthouse of the Aegean,” this greatest of world monastic experiments, he may well be doing only what the Greek Government would presently have done itself.

The Tragos ('Magna Carta') of Athos opened for Dölger.
The Tragos (‘Magna Carta’) of Athos opened for Dölger.

GREECE: Flight from Mt. Athos

Monday, July 13, 1942
TIME Magazine

Peter the Athonite came first to Mount Athos in the 9th Century and lived there for 50 years, battling devils and beasts in a cave high above Homer’s wine-dark sea. Then came Euthemius and Joseph, who sought eternal bliss by moving about on their hands and knees eating grass. All this was centuries after Xerxes’ legions invaded Greece, and, of course, centuries before Nazi Panzer divisions.

From the time of Peter the Athonite to Adolf the paper hanger, the great rocky promontory of Athos, jutting into the Aegean like a prong of Poseidon’s three-forked scepter, has been a place of refuge -for men only. No woman has knowingly been allowed to desecrate by her presence the huge cluster of monasteries atop the Holy Mountain, where bearded, black-cowled priests withdraw from worldly pleasures in the spiritual home of the Greek Orthodox Church. Even female cats and dogs and beasts of the field are barred, “so that their mating may not furnish an outlandish spectacle to souls which detest all forms of indecency. . . .”

Last week, from three priests who fled to an even more ancient home of Christian religion, there came the first account of what Europe’s new barbarians had done to the cloistered life of Mount Athos. For some 90 days & nights the priests had navigated nearly 1,000 miles of island-cluttered seas, and at last beached their 15-ft. open boat on the sands near Haifa in Palestine. There they told how ruck-sacked Nazi youths in peacetime had accepted the monasteries’ humble hospitality and returned as soldiers to pillage and defile. Great iron bells that for centuries sounded matins and vespers had been carried away, to be melted down for the Nazi war machine. Priceless icons, illuminated manuscripts handed down from Byzantine emperors, and religious treasures* had been gathered as loot and shipped to Berlin. These things had driven them, sick at heart, from beloved mountain valleys thick with arbutus and carefully laid out for the husbanding of vineyards and olive groves within sight of the slopes of Mt. Olympus and the plains of Troy. At the islands where their boat touched, peasants fed them and gave them shelter.

Greek Orthodox Church officials, believing the perilous voyage of the priests was divinely guided, ordered that their fragile boat be taken overland and placed as a shrine in the waters of the river Jordan, a trumpet’s blow from Jericho.

But German bombs last week struck in Haifa and there was a clash of great armies in the land of Egypt.

Possibly these were omens that the new shrine might soon, in 1942, have no more power to stop warring men than had the words of Him who, some 1,900 years ago, had gone up from the multitude and proclaimed: “Blessed are the meek; for they shall inherit the earth.”

Forced landing of the German plane 57 Juncker at the beach in front of the monastery of Aghios Pavlos
Forced landing of the German plane 57 Juncker at the beach in front of the monastery of Aghios Pavlos

During the occupation, a German plane Juncker damaged 57 landed on the beach in front of the St. Paul’s Monastery. Among the crew of the plane there was also a female soldier. To respect the rule of Avaton, the female German had to stay in an old fisherman’s hut on stilts near the beach of the plane, during the repair time. This cabin was then declared as not belonging to the monastic community. The German therefore have not touched the ground of Mount Athos, the rule of Avaton was respected even by the Germans during the war.

*Most famed of Mount Athos’ religious relics: the camel-hair girdle which legend says the Virgin gave to doubting Thomas; pieces of the True Cross; the skull of St. Basil the Great; the brains of St. John the Baptist; the three gifts of the Magi (gold, frankincense and myrrh).

German officers and soldiers on Mount Athos (1943)
German officers and soldiers on Mount Athos (1943)

NOTES

  1. See: Η επιστολή του Αγίου Όρους προς τον Χίτλερ
  2. The Anonymous Prophecy of 1054 is a manuscript found in the Library of Koutloumousiou Monastery, Mt. Athos.
  3. Archimandrite Neilos Sotiropoulos writes in his book, The Coming Two Edge Sword: “The prophecy texts preserved are found in Northern Epirus, Epirus, and western Macedonia. They were found and are located in the Holy Monastery of Naum, Ochrid. It was found in Northern Epirus by the priest-monk, Archimandrite Neophytos Kalofountis, who served there as a soldier in 1914 after the liberation of Ioannina.
  • The ever-memorable lay-preacher, Demetrios Panagopoulos recorded another copy in his book, Saints and Sages Concerning What Will Happen in the Future. The text is continuous and not divided into verses or enumerated. He mentions that “it is found at the Holy Monastery Kozani.” This copy of the prophecy is obviously by an uneducated writer [i.e. not Panagopoulos, but the prophecy text he used]; it inadvertently has spelling errors and variations in a few words, though without changing the meaning. It was found written on a papyrus. At the end of the text, it bears the timeline of being written in 1503 AD, while in the caption it states 1053 AD.
  • The Old Calendarist Bishop of Kalamata, Gregorios, records another copy of the prophecy text in his book, “What We and Our Children Will See.” It reports that it is found in the Holy Serbian Monastery, Kozani. The text has minimal differences from the previous in words and spelling errors without changing the meaning.
  • Another text is found in a village of the prefecture of Kozani and is also written on papyrus. In 1937, a Gendarme appeared at a village house to collect tax. An old woman, the only inhabitant of the house, told him she had paid the tax. The Gendarme asked for the receipt. The old lady, not knowing letters advised him to search the chest to find it. He emptied all the documents onto the floor. He found the receipt and congratulated the old woman. He also noticed an ancient document of prophecy amongst the papers. He took it, copied it and circulated it in many copies. In 1962, a Macedonian journalist published the text of this prophecy in a pamphlet with still more annotations. A Thessalonian gave me this booklet in 1972.
  • Also, the Hagiorite Monk, Nektarios Katsaros’ small booklet, “Prophecies Concerning Constantinople’s Liberation” also contains this prophecy. I bought this book in 1957 at Karyes, Mount Athos where I went and was tonsured a monk.”
  • Some books state that there is a copy of this prophecy in the Library at the Holy Monastery of Koutloumousiou, Mount Athos.
  1. The “New European War” is now considered to be a prophecy of World War II as it occurred after the “Great European War” which is considered to be a prophecy of World War I.
  2. Ralph H. Brewster, The 6,000 Beards of Athos, p.
  3. “In the spring of 1941 the Germans invaded and occupied Greece”, Father Maximos said to Bob Simon.
    They marched up the Acropolis, raised the swastika beside the Parthenon and were about to invade. The monks asked for a meeting with Nazi officers who told them to appeal to Hitler himself.
    The monks wrote Hitler a letter. “And in the letter, the monks identified themselves. They said, ‘This is who we are.’ And they asked Hitler to place the Holy Mountain under his personal protection,” Father Maximos said.
    When asked what kind of response they got, Father Maximos said, “It seems that Hitler liked the idea. He accepted the invitation to become the personal protector of the Holy Mountain.”
    Hitler sent a team of German academics to Mount Athos. They took 1,800 pictures of the mountain’s treasures, and it wasn’t because they enjoyed photography – Hitler wanted the monasteries’ riches in Berlin.
    “The professors were sent as an advance team to catalogue the treasures of the Holy Mountain so that a selection of things could be looted”, Father Maximos explained.
    But it didn’t happen that way and not a single item was taken.
    Father Maximos believes they have the Russians to thank for that: by the time the Nazi scholars completed their work, Hitler was bogged down in Russia and wasn’t thinking about icons.
  4. 1 August 1943, a helpful German soldier showing a copy of Signal in Greek to an orthodox resident of the ancient monastic state of Mount Athos.
    1 August 1943, a helpful German soldier showing a copy of Signal in Greek to an orthodox resident of the ancient monastic state of Mount Athos.
  5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0tYWPPl4qE

The Orthodox Patristic Teaching on “The Curse of Ham” and the Origin of Black People

NOTE: “The Curse of Ham” is a misnomer for the curse upon Canaan that was imposed by the biblical patriarch Noah. The narrative occurs in the Book of Genesis and concerns Noah’s drunkenness and the accompanying shameful act perpetrated by his son Ham the father of Canaan (Gen. 9:20–27).

Noah Dunk Mosaic

This article is not about the various terms used in Patristic and Hagiographic literature that denote an anti-Black sentiment. This article examines the racist Patristic teaching concerning the Orthodox Christian belief on where black people originate—i.e. When Noah cursed Canaan, he also cursed that God make his face black. This belief is rooted in an older Talmudic Tradition that was accepted and taught by the early Church Fathers. Essentially, Canaan, or Ham’s, white skin was changed into black through Noah’s curse. These early Patristic teachings also led to the later biblical justification of colonialism and the African slave trade, since Noah’s statement that Canaan should be the slave of Japheth and Shem was translated into blacks, or “Hamites,” should be subject to whites as a result of the “Curse of Ham” [Genesis 9:18-29].

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Though today the vast majority of those involved in research on human variation would agree that biological races do not exist among humans,1 the early Patristic texts recognized three races: the descendants of Noah’s three sons, Japheth, Shem, and Canaan. For an Orthodox Christian, “the Holy Fathers—the ‘mind of the church’—are the key to the understanding of Genesis.

Chronology of a Racist Patristic Teaching (Later writers of the non-Chalcedonian churches are also included to illustrate that this teaching is universal amongst both Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches):

Icon of the Fathers and Mothers of the Church who used the writings of the Theologian Origen of Alexandria.
Icon of the Fathers and Mothers of the Church who used the writings of the Theologian Origen of Alexandria.

Origen (ca. 185-254): ―For the Egyptians are prone to a degenerate life and quickly sink to every slavery of the vices. Look at the origin of the race and you will discover that their father Cham, who had laughed at his father‘s nakedness, deserved a judgment of this kind, that his son Chanaan should be a servant to his brothers, in which case the condition of bondage would prove the wickedness of his conduct. Not without merit, therefore, does the discolored posterity imitate the ignobility of the race.2

St. Ephraim the Syrian (ca. 306 – 373): “When Noah awoke and was told what Canaan did, Noah said, ‘Cursed be Canaan and may God make his face black,’ and immediately the face of Canaan changed; so did of his father Ham, and their white faces became black and dark and their color changed.”3

The Cave of Treasures [attributed to St. Ephraim the Syrian] (4th century): Gives the explanation that Canaan’s curse was actually earned because he revived the sinful music and arts of Cain’s progeny that had been before the flood.4 “And Canaan was cursed because he had dared to do this, and his seed becamea servant of servants, that is to say, to the Egyptians, and the Cushites, and the Mûsâyê, [and theIndians, and all the Ethiopians, whose skins are black].”5

St. Ephraim the Syrian (Patron saint of Geronda Ephraim)
St. Ephraim the Syrian (Patron saint of Geronda Ephraim)

Ishodad of Merv, the Syrian Christian bishop of Hedhatha,(9th century): “When Noah cursed Canaan, ―instantly, by the force of the curse. . .his face and entire body became black [ukmotha]. This is the black color which has persisted in his descendants.”6

Eutychius, an Alexandrian Melkite patriarch, (d. 940): ― “Cursed be Ham and may he be a servant to his brothers… He himself and his descendants, who are the Egyptians, the Negroes, the Ethiopians and (it is said) the Barbari.”7

Ibn al-Tayyib, an Arabic Christian scholar, Baghdad, (d. 1043): ― “The curse of Noah affected the posterity of Canaan who were killed by Joshua son of Nun. At the moment of the curse, Canaan‘s body became black and the blackness spread out among them.”8

Bar Hebraeus, a Syrian Christian scholar, (1226–86): ― “And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and showed [it] to his two brothers, That is…that Canaan was cursed and not Ham, and with the very curse he became black and the blackness was transmitted to his descendants… And he said, ‘Cursed be Canaan! A servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.’”9

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Serfdom

The curse of Ham became used as a justification for serfdom during the medieval era. Honorius Augustodunensis (c. 1100) was the first recorded to propose a caste system associating Ham with serfdom, writing that serfs were descended from Ham, nobles from Japheth, and free men from Shem.However, he also followed the earlier interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7:21 by Ambrosiaster (late 4thcentury), that as servants in the temporal world, these “Hamites” were likely to receive a far greater reward in the next world than would the Japhetic nobility.10

The idea that serfs were the descendants of Ham soon became widely promoted in Europe. At the height of the medieval era, it was a significant trend in Genesis exegesis to interpret that the descendants of Ham were serfs. Dame Juliana Berners (c. 1388) in a treatise on hawks, claimed that the “churlish” descendants of Ham had settled in Europe, those of Shem in Africa, and those of Japheth in Asia—a departure from normal arrangements — because she considered Europe to be the “country of churls”, Asia of gentility, and Africa of temperance.11

As serfdom waned in the late medieval era, the interpretation of serfs beingdescendants of Ham decreased as well.12

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 Proslavery

The curse of Ham has been used to promoted race and slavery movements as early as Classical antiquity. European biblical scholars of the Middle Ages supported the view that the “sons of Ham” of Hamites were cursed, possibly “blackened” by their sins. Though early arguments to this effect were sporadic, they became increasingly common during the slave trade of the 18th and 19th centuries.13

The justification of slavery itself through the sins of Ham was well suited to the ideological interests of the elite; with the emergence of the slave trade, its racialized version justified the exploitation of a ready supply of African labour.

In the parts of Africa where Christianity flourished in the early days, while it was still illegal in Rome, this idea never took hold, and its interpretation of scripture was never adopted by the African Coptic Churches. A modern Amharic commentary on Genesis notes the 19th century and earlier European theory that blacks were subject to whites as a result of the “curse of Ham”, but calls this a false teaching unsupported by the text of the Bible, emphatically pointing out that this curse fell not upon all descendants of Ham but only on the descendants of Canaan, and asserting that it was fulfilled when Canaan was occupied by both Semites (Israel) and Japethites (ancient Philistines). The commentary further notes that Canaanites ceased to exist politically after the Third Punic War (149 BC), and that their current descendants are thus unknown and scattered among all peoples.14

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NOTES:

  1. In 1950, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) issued a statement asserting that all humans belong to the same species and that “race” is not a biological reality but a myth. This was a summary of the findings of an international panel of anthropologists, geneticists, sociologists, and psychologists. Today the vast majority of those involved in research on human variation would agree that biological races do not exist among humans. Among those who study the subject, who use and accept modern scientific techniques and logic, this scientific fact is as valid and true as the fact that the earth is round and revolves around the sun. http://www.newsweek.com/there-no-such-thing-race-283123
  2. Homilies on Genesis 16.1.
  3. Paul de Lagarde. Materialien zur Kritik und Geschichte des Pentateuchs,(Leipzig, 1867), part II.
  4. This sentiment also appears in the later Syriac Book of the Bee (1222).
  5. Cave of Treasures, E. Wallis Budge translation from Syriac.
  6. C. Van Den Eynde, Corpus scriptorium Christianorum orientalium 156, Scriptores Syri 75(Louvain, 1955), p. 139.
  7. Patrologiae cursus completes…series Graeca, ed. J.P. Migne (Paris, 1857 –66), Pococke‘s (1658–59) translation of the Annales, 111.917B (sec. 41-43)7)
  8. Joannes C.J. Sanders, Commentaire sur la Genèse, Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium274-275, Scriptores Arabici 24-25 (Louvain, 1967), 1:56 (text), 2:52-55 (translation).
  9. Sprengling and Graham, Barhebraeus‘ Scholia on the Old Testament, pp. 40 – 41, to Gen 9:22.
  10. Paul H. Freedman, 1999,  Images of the mediaeval peasant  p. 291; Whitford 2009 pp. 31-34.13)
  11. Whitford 2009 p. 38.14)
  12. David Mark Whitford (21 October 2009). The curse of Ham in the early modern era: the Bible and the justifications for slavery. .Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.. p. 173.ISBN978-0-7546-6625-7.  Retrieved 15 September 2011.15)
  13. Benjamin Braude, “The Sons of Noah and the Construction of Ethnic and Geographical Identitiesin the Medieval and Early Modern Periods, “William and Mary Quarterly LIV (January 1997):103 – 142. See also William McKee Evans, “From the Land of Canaan to the Land of Guinea: TheStrange Odyssey of the Sons of Ham,”American Historical Review 85 (February 1980): 15 – 4316)
  14. Commentary on Genesis) p. 133-142.

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Anti-Black Sentiment in the Vitae Patrum (Philip Mayerson, 1978)

NOTE: The following article is excerpted from The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 71, No. 3/4 (Jul. – Oct., 1978), pp. 304-311. It is an important article as it sheds light on why anti-Black sentiment exists amongst some of the monastics in the Greek monasteries here and why racial slurs are used freely in the monasteries. Besides, Geronda Ephraim named one of his cats “Arapis” while he was with Elder Joseph the Hesychast on Mt. Athos. “Arapis” is the Greek equivalent to the English derogatory word “nigger.” There have been black pets, or animals with large amounts of black color, at St. Anthony’s (AZ), St. Nektarios (NY), Holy Protection (PA), etc. that have been named Arapis by the Abbots/Abbesses. Though Fr. Vasileios was never called Arapis by the other monks (probably due to the respect factor of being an older father from Filotheou Monastery), lay people did refer to him by that racial slur amongst themselves and behind his back. However, after Mathaios and other African Americans started to become novices at St. Anthony’s Monastery, “Arapis” was used freely by certain monks behind their backs when referring to them. This also extends to other non-white cultures. It is said that at St. Nektarios Monastery, before Geronda Joseph secretly baptized the Woo family (who were of Asian descent), he mocked them to his monks during a homily, saying, “You know, the Woos” (simultaneously slanting his eyes with his fingers and making a laughing expression with his front teeth exposed. It is said that all the monks were roaring in laughter except Novice Vasileios Datch (now Fr. Panteleimon) who knew the family from when he lived in DC and Hieromonk Michael Santos (who is also of Asian descent). As well, some Orthodox monastics believe that Black people originated from Noah’s curse: i.e. when Ham (or Canaan depending on text) were cursed, God turned them Black. This teaching later was also the reason used to justify the African slave trade: When  Noah condemned and cursed Ham in the person of his son Canaan, he said that his offspring would be in slavery to the offspring of his brothers).

"Arapis" the black cat at St. Anthony's Monastery, AZ.
“Arapis” the black cat at St. Anthony’s Monastery, AZ.

Upon looking into the various editions of the Vitae Patrum, 1 this writer has come upon expressions of anti-black (i.e., Ethiopian or “Indian”) sentiment in the early monastic communities of Egypt (third to fifth centuries). The evidence is not one of highly articulated prejudice; on the other hand, it is neither overly subtle nor subliminal

A closer reading of some of the episodes in the life of this Desert Father [Moses the Ethiopian] will show, I believe, that he was abused and subjected to discriminatory treatment because of the color of his skin. On one occasion Moses openly declares himself to be inferior to his white brothers because he is black. In the Vitae Patrum these episodes are cited as examples of the black monk’s humility and fortitude, qualities which earned for him a distinguished place in the annals of the Desert Fathers. But these incidents, regardless of how they were interpreted by the compilers of the Vitae Patrum, are clear evidence of anti-black sentiment.

St. Moses the Ethiopian
St. Moses the Ethiopian

Abba Moses is the sole black among the Desert Fathers about whom we have any biographical information. The other blacks that are cited in the Vitae Pat rum are demons or devils. These, as far as I know, have not entered into any discussion regarding the attitude of early Christians towards Ethiopians or blacks. It is true that in imagery “blackness”was associated with the darker side of human nature. But as far as demons go, the Desert Fathers, who encountered multitudes of them, never characterize them by color or race with the exception of those comparatively few that are cited as Ethiopian or black. Specifically citing a demon as black or as an Ethiopian must surely indicate a sentiment among some unlettered and theologically uninformed monks that black was not always beautiful.

With regard to   Abba Moses, the evidence for the prejudicial treatment he received at the hands of his fellow monks or clerics is contained in four incidents. Moses is either insulted, treated with contempt, “tested,” or reviled; he was subjected to treatment of a kind that was not inflicted upon other monks, even those of a lesser reputation for ascetical good works.

Geronda Ephraim has named his black cats "Arapis" (the Greek equivalent to the slur "nigger")
Geronda Ephraim has named his black cats “Arapis” (the Greek equivalent to the slur “nigger”)

The clearest instance of color prejudice occurs on an occasion when the Fathers were gathered together, and because certain people wished to see Abba Moses, they treated him with contempt, saying, “Why does this Ethiopian come and go among us?” When Moses heard this he held his peace. And when the congregation was dismissed, they (the certain people?) said to him, “Abba Moses, were you not afraid?” And he said to them, “Although I was afraid, I did not say a word.”

The above is adapted with very little change from the Syriac version. The Greek text of the same incident makes no mention of “certain people wishing to see Abba Moses,” but that “the Fathers, wishing to test him, treated him as an object of contempt, saying, ‘Why does this Ethiopian come into our midst?’ Later when the congregation was dismissed, they (the Fathers?) asked him, ‘Abba, were you not in any way upset?’ He replied, ‘I was upset, but I did not speak.”‘

A similar, if not the same, incident is reported in the Syriac Vitae Patrum under the rubric of “Questions and Answers on the Ascetic Rule.” In this instance it is “certain men” who revile Abba Moses. The purpose in recalling the incident is to interpret the words of the monk’s reply: “Although I was troubled, yet I said nothing” The conclusion that is reached is that although Moses had demonstrated spiritual excellence in maintaining silence and in not showing his inner anger, he had not attained the perfect state of impassibility (apatheia?) by being angry neither inwardly nor outwardly.

Troy Polamalu, a Samoan spiritual child of Geronda Ephraim.
Troy Polamalu, a Samoan spiritual child of Geronda Ephraim.

Abba Moses is subjected to two more”tests”at a time when he was an old man and had become a member of the clergy. The two incidents are combined in the Syriac and Latin systematic collections to illustrate the virtue of humility. The translation of the Syriac text is as follows:

They used to say that when Abba Moses was one of the clergy he wore a long outer garment, and that the Bishop said unto him, “Behold , thou art wholly white, 0 Abba Moses.” The old man said unto him, “Is the Pappa within or without?” And again wishing to try him, the Bishop said unto the clergy, “When Abba Moses goeth into the sacrarium drive him out, and go after him and hear what he saith.” Now when he went into the sacrarium they rebuked him and drove him out, saying, “Get outside, 0 Ethiopian”; and having gone forth he began to say to himself , “They have treated thee rightly , 0 thou whose skin is dark and black ; thou shalt not go back as if thou wert a [white] man .””

The Greek text of the alphabetical collection does not differ substantially from the Syriac or Latin versions, but the impact of the treatment that Moses receives at the hands of the Bishop (or Archbishop) and his fellow clerics can be felt more strongly.

It is said of Abba Moses that when he became a member of the clergy and had been invested with the ephod, the Archbishop said to him, “See, Abba Moses, you have become entirely white.” The old man said to him, “Outwardly, Lord and Father; am I also so inwardly?” Wishing to test him, the Archbishop said to the clergy, “Whenever Abba Moses comes into the sanctuary, drive him out and follow him so that you may hear what he says. The old man came in and they abused him and drove him out saying, “Get out, Ethiopian!” He went out and said to himself, “They have treated you properly, you soot-skinned black! Since you’re not a man, why should you come into the company of men.”

However much these episodes were viewed in the past as demonstrations of Abba Moses’s humility, they were also deliberate acts of humiliation directed against the man because of the color of his skin.

Hieromonk Michael Santos, a Filipino convert. Geronda Ephraim use to refer to him as "the Chinaman."
Hieromonk Michael Santos, a Filipino convert. Geronda Ephraim use to refer to him as “the Chinaman.”

There can be no question but that the use of the word “Ethiopian” in these contexts is strongly deprecatory and is the equivalent of the most offensive word used against blacks in American society. The demoralizing effect that this treatment had upon Abba Moses understandably results in his denigrating appraisal of himself:”… you soot-skinned black! Since you’re not a man, why should you come into the company of men” He of course means “in the company of white men.” Further, the remark made by the Bishop, gratuitous at best, that Moses had become completely white because of his ephod stirs a hostile reaction within the black monk. His rejoinder-if it is accurately reported -is oblique yet pointed; he says in effect: “It seems that I am completely white outside because of my ephod, but do you think that I am completely white inside as well, and hence in every respect like you?”

The first grey tabby at St. Nektarios Monastery (NY) was named Arapi.
The first grey tabby at St. Nektarios Monastery (NY) was named Arapi.

Whereas Abba Moses is attacked because of the color of his skin, black demons-or even the devil himself in the form of a black -attack the monks as they strive to attain spiritual and moral perfection. These black demons appear in the form of a woman, a man, or as young boys. Four of the seven instances cited in the Vitae Patrum represent demons of fornication or lust; the others represent arrogance or pride, disobedience, and distracting thoughts. The brief narratives that follow are so explicit in characterizing black or Ethiopian spirits as evil that they hardly require further commentary.

Saints of Africa

The rest of the article recounts numerous stories from the Vitae Patrum concerning demons appearing as Ethiopians or Blacks to the Desert Faters.