Adrian Lupu, Studies on Byzantine literature. 13th century, Nikolaos Mesarites

Publishing House Mitropolia Olteniei, Craiova, 2019, ISBN 978-606-731-059-7

This paper aims to present one of the lesser-knownByzantine writers. Nikolaos Mesarites can be considered an atypical writer because of his descriptive style, less common in the Byzantine literature of that period. The most valuable writing, The Description of The Church of the Holy Apostles, is of a particular importance, bringing a breath of fresh air into the Byzantine literature by the manner in which it is composed. Adept of the vivid descriptions, Mesarites captivates his readers through the beauty of the exposure of painted scenes and mosaics in the great lost church of christianity. The importance of Mesarites’ works is given both by the elaborate and innovative style of the composition, and by the fact that these are descriptions of an eyewitness of the events. Mesarites has performed a wide variety of administrative functions over time, and some time in or before 1213 he was made Metropolitan of Ephesus.His name also appears in the documents recording the discussions between the Greeks and the Latins at the beginning of the thirteenth century. The age in which he lives is a tumultuous one. Orthodoxy is struggling for its very existence, threatened by both the Muslim danger, that wants to occupy the Byzantine space, and the Catholic Church, eager to subordinate the Greek clergy. Fortunately, the Byzantine Orthodoxy has devoted people, who will vigorously defend the truths of faith, being able to die for the tradition and the Christian heritage. Among them, is Nikolaos Mesarites who, through his ingenuousness and his powers, dedicates himself to the Orthodox ideals. By demonstrating profoundly dogmatic and judicial knowledge, Mesarites is able to make a stand in front of his adversaries and perform his tasks successfully. He follows the example of the great Fathers of the Church. He joins the clergy since he was a young man, he studies extensively at the great schools of his time, dedicates his life to the Orthodox faith, and, through his writings, leaves valuable testimonies to the posterity.

The works of Nikolaos Mesarites were, unfortunately, later discovered in the nineteenth century. For this reason, his writings have not been thoroughly evaluated and studied. The great encyclopaedias and collections of the Byzantine patristic and post-patristic texts do not include the author in their lists, they only occasionally recall him. Through his writings, Mesarites helps us discover the lost images of the Great Church of the Holy Apostles, today, when this church no longer exists. He also urges us to discover the meanings of the Orthodox faith expressed in pictures in an era of great trials through which it has passed. In order to understand precisely those events, we have the testimony of an eyewitness, with vast theological knowledge, which reveals new aspects of the age and gives us new perspectives. Nikolaos Mesarites, as a writer, belongs to a school that questions the traditional Byzantine values ​​of rhetoric and tries to create new principles of aesthetics. His speeches differ significantly from those of contemporaries, especially because the author presents a vivid image in a continuous movement. Mesarites, through everything he writes, shows in detail his own vision of the world, without hiding the world of reality in the interest of a higher moral truth. His purpose is to present real, living events and not to go over them. Mesarites always keeps his attention on the details, whatever they are. For him, even the smallest details or experiences must be exposed to the reader. The structure of his narrative is sometimes improvised but dynamic. The period when Nikolaos Mesarites lived and worked was full of political and religious events. The thirteenth century is one of major changes in the Byzantine Empire. The Fourth Crusade would destroy The Empire and make a heavy blow to the relationship between christians. The devastation of Constantinople and the violence of the Crusaders in 1204 would leave deep traces in the memory of the Orthodox christians who live there. The attempts to unite the Church were now hitting a new impediment, which turned out to be insurmountable. The talks about Filioque, and especially those about the papal primacy, through which the Church of Rome wanted to obey the Greek clerics, did not lead to any results. Putting aside the dogmatic diferences, the two sides will look from now on with suspicion and mistrust. The Empire would be divided into smaller kingdoms, and the reconquest of Constantinople later faild to restore its greatness and power. In many ways, the road that led to the disaster of 1453 began in 1204, when all that remained of the unity of The Empire was forever disintegrated. In this political and religious context, in Constantinople lived scholars and man of clergy who fought for the unity of Christianity and tried by their own strengths to contribute to the creation of the levers through which this union would be achieved. This paper aims to provide to the readers the translation into romanian language of the greek text of the works The description of the Church of the Holy Apostles, accompanied by notes and explanations, bio-bibliographic information about the author, as well as a short study on the general situation of the Byzantine Empire in the 13th century necessary, we think, for a better understanding of the context of the era in which Nikolaos Mesarites works.