Apocryphal prayers in medieval Slavia Orthodoxa

Brandon, Yvonne Marie, Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, University of Virginia
Perkowski, Jan Louis, Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, University of Virginia
Kononenko, Natalie, Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, University of Virginia
Ryan, Karen, Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, University of Virginia
Metcalf, Peter, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia

Slavic medieval apocryphal prayers, also called false prayers or magical prayers, are often defined as prayers with a "magical purpose" or which rely on "magical means." Some of the most common are intended to counteract the bite of a snake or mad dog, to stop bleeding or to cure disease. Often, they combine pre-Christian and Christian elements, drawing a natural comparison to oral charms, although they are written texts found in Orthodox manuscripts.
Scholarship has often presented apocryphal prayers as the domain of uneducated priests and scribes whose understanding of Christianity was less than perfect. They have frequently been considered evidence of a lingering pagan worldview among the medieval clergy, and regarded as part of an illegitimate manuscript tradition, outside the control of the official church.
This dissertation presents an alternative view of apocryphal prayers, one which suggests they occupied a more legitimate place in medieval religious practice. It attempts to portray them not as pagan remnants in conflict with a dominant religious culture, but as texts that both reinforced cultural beliefs and supported official Orthodox teachings.
First, the concept of magic is traced to its roots in the ideas of the Reformation, with a view to exposing a modem and western bias which has had a lasting influence on the scholarly understanding of apocryphal prayer. Manuscript evidence is presented to show that apocryphal prayers were known and used at a wide range of ecclesiastical and educational levels, from monastic student to metropolitan. A study of medieval polemical works is also included, which suggests that not all apocryphal prayers were explicitly condemned by medieval hierarchs.
In order to demonstrate how apocryphal prayers could have been used as part of legitimate Orthodox practices, four groups of apocryphal prayers (for snake bite, dog or wolf bite, colic and bleeding), dating from the thirteenth to the sixteenth century, are analyzed in terms of their relationship to canonical Christian literature and folk belief Special attention is paid to the manuscripts in which the prayers are found, and to the interrelatedness of the prayers to surrounding texts. 

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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