An Orthodox Journal of Cross-Cultural Theology, Dialogue and Mission

Rite, Language, and Identity in the Margins: Annotations in Italo-Greek Prayerbooks as part of Acculturation

Dr Eirini Afentoulidou
DOI: 10.57577/1-22A13
Salt: Crossroads of Religion and Culture: 1 (2022): 230-240
Keywords: Byzantine-Latin rite, Southern Italy, acculturation, liturgical manuscripts, language encounters

Medieval Greek communities in Southern Italy constitute a particularly interesting case of interaction between Eastern and Western Church, and Greek and Latin liturgical rite. Though belonging to the jurisdiction of Rome for most of the time, Italo-Greek communities followed a local version of the Greek rite. In the course of time, Italo-Greek communities were—to varying degrees—linguistically assimilated to the majority population, who spoke a Southern Italian local vernacular. However, they continued using the Greek rite for much longer. Yet the rite also underwent a long process of Latinisation, which was manifested in various forms. In this paper I will examine selected cases of Latinisation in the margins of Italo-Greek prayerbooks: that is, prayerbooks following the Greek rite in their original form, in which later users have written notes with additional elements or in place of extant material. These selective interventions testify to a decentralised process of acculturation on the level of everyday communication, in the margins of official contacts between the Greek and the Latin Church.



Introduction: Medieval Greek communities in Southern Italy (Sicily, Calabria, Terra d’Otranto) constitute a particularly interesting case of interaction between Eastern and Western Churches, and Greek and Latin liturgical rite. Greek-speaking populations had settled in what is sometimes called Magna Graecia already in Antiquity. During the Middle Ages, the Greek presence in Southern Italy was reinforced by migration from the Balkans and the Middle East, the latter particularly in face of the Arab expansion. Southern Italy was part of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) for most of the time until the 11th century. Ecclesiastical administration, however, was exercised by Rome, except for the time between the 8th and 11th centuries, during which the Southern Italian jurisdiction was transferred to Constantinople. The language spoken in these communities was a Greek dialect.The numerous literary texts produced in Greek in Southern Italy, including liturgical texts, were mostly written in various linguistic registers of the “Byzantine literary Koine.” As regards the liturgy of the Italo-Greek parishes and monasteries, it was, roughly speaking, a version of the Constantinopolitan rite with Palestinian influences and distinctive local elements—meaning that in the case of Southern Italy, confessional boundaries did not coincide with ritual and linguistic boundaries.The Italo-Greek communities continued to follow the Greek rite—on occasion translating liturgical texts into Latin—long after these territories were lost to Byzantium. Yet, they lived among a population (which, depending on time and place, might have been the majority) that spoke Southern Italian dialects and used the Latin rite in their liturgy. Over the centuries Greek was more and more replaced by Italian in everyday communication, even if the language of the liturgy remained Greek. In the course of time, the Italo-Greek rite was also more and more influenced by traditions of the Latin church. The process of acculturation has left traces on the liturgical books used in the Italo-Greek communities.

Meeting in a global community is not always an easy task. The Church is catholic and universal, but we humans are subject to partiality. This is the antinomy we are striving to overcome when we think in an open and missional way, when we meet at the crossroads of religion and culture. If we wish to embrace the world in its richness and variety, we should also work for a plurality of aspects and viewpoints in our theological scholarship. One has to understand that mission is not a one way endeavour. Peoples and cultures welcomed into the Church have their own valuable background, and they should also have the possibility to make their voice heard, meet with the others, increase in self awareness, and enrich the Orthodox Church with the gift of their civilisation, language, art, customs and culture which are their own particular offering to Christ our God.

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