Even those with little knowledge about Russia easily identify the image of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow’s Red Square as the symbol of Russia. Yet few people know what made St. Basil so famous. This saint wandered about naked, bullied passersby, brawled at the marketplace, and once even smashed a revered icon. Saints such as Basil overturn the conventional concept of sainthood. Why did they get away with such bizarre acts? What is saintly about them? Such saints are called “holy fools.” The phenomenon of holy foolery is a spontaneous response of the religious consciousness to the “secularization” of the church; it is an attempt to blow up the world which is “lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot.”
In his lecture Sergey Ivanov will trace holy foolery from its origins in Egyptian monasteries through its evolution in the cities of Byzantium, its prime and decline, followed by a new flourishing and a gradual fading on Greek soil. He will identify its prerequisites and its development in the religious mind and follow the emergence of the first hagiographic texts describing these paradoxical saints. As holy foolery was an international phenomenon, Ivanov will compare similar figures who emerged elsewhere in Europe, especially in medieval Italy. He will then proceed to analyze Russian holy foolery, which borrowed some elements from the Byzantine model, but significantly reinterpreted it. Holy fools vanished in modern Greece, but in Russia they are deeply worshiped by believers up to the present day. What is happening to this phenomenon in a modern, secular society? Ivanov will end with reflections on the role of holy fools in contemporary social discourse.
Sergey A. Ivanov is a Senior Research Associate of the Institute of Slavic Studies (Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow), Professor of Byzantine Studies in the State University of St. Petersburg, and a professor at the Institute for Advanced Studies of the Russian State University for the Humanities. Ivanov graduated from Moscow State University in 1978 as a classicist and received his PhD in History in 1984. He has produced over 170 scholarly publications including two monographs: Byzantine Missions (Moscow, 2003, a Czech translation is in print, an English-language edition is forthcoming) and Byzantine Holy Fools (Moscow, 1994). An English translation of the latter, Holy Fools in Byzantium and Beyond, was published by Oxford University Press in 2006. Ivanov has also co-authored Corpus of the Earliest Written Evidence on the Slavs (2 vols., Moscow, 1991-1995) and The Fates of The Cyrillo-Methodian Tradition After Cyril and Methodius (Moscow, 2000); and he is a contributing author of The Cambridge History of the Byzantine Empire (Cambridge, 2008). Prof. Ivanov has held fellowships from the Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung in Munich and Cologne (1989, 1999, 2003-2004), the British Academy in Cambridge (1994), the Onassis Foundation in Athens (1999), Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C. (2006), and the Maison des sciences de l'homme in Paris (2009). One of Russia’s most distinguished academic historians, Sergey Ivanov is also a leading popular historian and columnist, known for his ability to communicate to the common reader his passion for as well as knowledge of history.
For more information, contact Prof. Andrea Sterk
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