The force of
the honesty of thought and action
Florence and San Marco, the face of Moscow would
certainly have been different.”
(Giorgio La Pira, Mayor of Florence, 1959)
The face of Moscow … perhaps or
almost certainly yes, but the Russian soul, oppressed,
slandered and torn by the Soviet occupation and by the
separatism that followed the collapse of the regime, is
very profound in its intense spirituality, and has a lot
to teach the world, which preferred to forget it during
the dictatorship and still ignores it, confusing it with
a perverse occupation, which deceived the people by
spreading political ideas of non-existent facts.
Even Russia’s traditions and History
are trampled, using underhand political intrigues.
Perhaps not many people know that
Russia's Baptism took place in Kiev in 988 AD.
The collapse of the regime brought
separatism, but many Countries, which the west still
ignorantly insists on considering without identity, or
to which forms of allegiance and/or independence are
superficially attributed, have a Russian soul that dates
back many centuries.
Saint Maximus the Greek, born Michael
Trivolis, is little known in western countries.
His culture, formation, ideas,
spirituality, and his life spent in countries far from
Italy unfortunately make him rather enigmatic.
Above all Saint Maximus the Greek
sends us this message: “Widen
your horizons and bear all sufferings with Christian
serenity.” The cultural world
often imposes limits and we might say that, at times,
also some Catholics impose limits on themselves.
Fortunately, in this difficult time,
Pope Francis is reminding Catholics how important it is
to keep an open mind.
We known that after his Byzantine
education on Corfu, Michael Trivolis attended the best
humanist schools in Florence, we also know that he met
Girolamo Savonarola, an extraordinary character, who has
been rehabilitated by the Catholic Church.
In 1997 the diocese of Florence
relaunched the cause for his beatification.
Now his works are considered in
important treatises on theology.
After Michael’s stay in Florence he
retired to Mount Athos, where his faith was
strengthened. Not only
spiritual but also intellectual work led Michael
Trivolis to retire to the Lavra of Vatopedi.
Specialists in Humanism and the
Italian Renaissance, Byzantine and Slav scholars, met in
Florence from 22 to 24 November 2007 to discuss this
religious figure who is so important yet still so little
known. The meeting was
organised by the Department of Linguistics and the
Department of Mediaeval and Renaissance Studies, with
the patronage of the Italian Association for Slav
Studies and the support of the Romualdo del Bianco
some doubt as to whether Michael Trivolis ever entered
the Convent of San Marco in Florence.
An uncatalogued manuscript in the
Convent, would appear to confirm that Michael entered
the Community. On the other
hand some scholars, especially
Sinicyna, express doubts that it may have been
Michael of Arta who entered San Marco in June 1502.
Probably Trivolis remained a short time in that Covnent,
but never took his vows there.
However it must be remembered that in one of his essays
the scholar Elie
Denissoff defines Michael Trivolis as a
“Dominican at San Marco”. The
religious crisis that caused Trivolis to retire to a
Monastery on Mount Athos can almost certainly be linked
to the environment in Florence and to the figure of
Savonarola, whose honesty of thought was brutally
In his essay of 1943, E.
Denissoff made known
what he had managed to find out about the life of Saint
Maximus the Greek and for the first time revealed his
birth name: Michael
V. S. Ikonnikov
had already recognised many traces of Italian culture in
the monk’s Russian works.
Denissoff and Ikonnikov placed his birth in the year
research, begun by Denissoff, has been most important,
allowing the discovery of various written works by
Michael Trivolis – Maximus the Greek – in both Greek and
Ikonnikov supposes that the first
Italian city where Michael stayed was Venice. Instead
Denissoff states that Michael Trivolis arrived in
Florence in 1492 with Giano Lascaris, who had gone to
Greece to buy some manuscripts for Lorenzo dei Medici.
Also Prince Andrej Kurbskij had given some information
about the cultural education of Maximus the Greek with
Giano Lascaris. Andrej
Kurbskij said that it took place in Paris, but this may
be a mistake, due to the fact that in one of his
manuscripts Maximus the Greek praised the Parisian
University. However, Kurbskij
has the merit of first mentioning the name of Maximus
the Greek together with that of Giano Lascaris.
Teaching, research and publication
were the main activities of Lascaris.
It is very probable that Lascaris
published some works by Michael Trivolis.
The Greek epigrams were printed and
published in 1494 with the title:
Among the other publications we can
mention the tragedies by Euripides:
Hippolytus, Medea, Alcestis and
Trivolis almost certainly participated in these
Bulanin recognised two
Trivolis as the translation of a quatrain by the Greek
epigrammatist Leonidas, criticising magicians and
Hellenes who study the evolution of the stars,
masters of a wretched skill,
boldness and raised by madness, ,
even predict your own misfortune.”
The two versions of the quatrain by
Leonidas are perhaps due to the fact that two editions
of the Greek Anthology appeared.
As well as the publication by
Lascaris in 1494, there is that by Aldo Manuzio, who
corrected and revised the Florentine edition.
Here we are faced with the same
problem of comparison of various translations concerning
the Sudas Lexicon.
The collaboration with Lascaris did
not last long. In 1496 the
scholar moved to Paris, to the Court of King Charles
VIII. According to Denissoff
the period that Trivolis spent in Italy should be
considered in two separate environments:
“Au service de la Renaissance” and
“Dominicain à Saint Marc”.
The desire for
asceticism was expressed immediately in Michael Trivolis
in the first years during which he lived in Italy, and
was not due only to the influence of Savonarola.
Michael particularly appreciated the
mendicant religious orders. He
devoted a brief text to the Dominicans and the
Franciscans. He also wrote the
“Terrible and memorable narration of the perfect
style of monastic life”.
In this work Trivolis mentions the Carthusian and
Dominican Communities as an example for their poor life
style, and also speaks of Savonarola with great respect.
According to Denissoff, Michael
Trivolis may have been an eye witness of the tragic
death of Savonarola, since he provides many details in
his description of the sentence and execution.
In Italy Michael
dealt with the revision and copying of manuscripts,
transcribing works by classical and Christian authors;
he was also a teacher and translator.
Important records have been collected
for 1498. In that year Trivolis was in Venice, dealing
with the copying of a manuscript.
In the same year he went to Mirandola,
where he helped Pico’s nephew Gianfrancesco prepare his
uncle’s works for printing. In
that period Michael turned down two important work
proposals. Ludovico, Count of
Desana, had invited him to take up service with him.
He also turned down an invitation
from Antonio Urceo in Bologna.
the Convent of San Marco
According to Denissoff, Michael
Trivolis entered the Convent as a novice in 1502 and
lived there for two years.
He should have taken his vows at the
end of the novitiate. In the
Chronicles of the Convent of San Marco there is no
record of Trivolis being there.
The note concerning the entry of
Michael of Arta is a fragment of an uncatalogued
manuscript, kept in the Convent of San Marco.
There remain two questions that have
not been answered. How is it
that the details of the entries to the Convent are
recorded in two lists: the
Liber vestitionum and the Cronaca di
Ubaldini, secretary of Savonarola?
Why at the beginning of his research
did Denissoff have to overcome several obstacles before
being able to find the fragment of the manuscript
recording the entry of Michael of Arta to the Convent?
In 2003 it was possible to consult
the general tally, a manuscript of the early
twentieth century, containing the complete list of
entries to the Convent, from the 14th
to the 20th
century. The tally was
drawn up in 1911, based on the Chronicles of the Convent
of San Marco: the liber
This list is in alphabetical order
and has various columns. They
give the baptismal name, surname, date of birth, date of
death. The clothing column
gives the date of the start of the novitiate, while the
profession column records the date on which the novice
took his religious vows. The
general tally records the note in the liber
vestitionum concerning brother Michael, son of
Emanuel, of the city of Arta, and indicates only the
date of the start of the novitiate, while the columns
for “profession” and “date of death” are empty. From
this it may be deduced that Michael lived in the Convent
as a novice, without taking his vows.
When Michael left the Convent, he had
to overcome many difficulties in Florence.
In a letter of 1503 Michael asked
Scipione Carteromaco to help him move to Venice and to
give him a “letter of recommendation to the honourable
Aldo”. Aldo was a printer and
The New Academy of Aldo Manuzio was
founded in 1503, giving great impulse to the publication
and study of Greek books.
Aldo’s most trusted collaborators were Scipione
Carteromaco and Giovanni Gregoropulo.
Scipione wrote the Constitution
or Rule of the New Academy.
We quote a few sentences from the
the true lovers of study draw great advantage from
conversing in the Greek language, we three, Aldo Romano
(as Aldo Manuzio called himself), John of Crete
(Giovanni Gregoropulo) and I myself Scipione
Carteromaco, have agreed on the rule to publish only the
Manuzio was undoubtedly looking for
new collaborators who knew Greek, so it is very likely
that Michael began to work with Aldo
The Greek Anthology was published.
They also published an edition of
Lucian of Samosata, a Greek satirical writer who lived
in the second century A.D. It
is almost certain that Maximus had both these
anthologies in his possession when he was in Moscow,
since he had taken part in the preparation of the two
In all the
letters of his period in Moscow, Maximus the Greek
always begins by repeating the same request to his
asked me, oh my Prince and Lord, to reveal to you the
meaning of a sign which you saw in a printed book.
Now listen carefully.”
He introduced the
discussion from far back, speaking about the printer and
Venice there lived a clever philosopher, Aldo by name
and Manuzio by surname, of Italian origin, but Roman by
birth, an heir of ancient Rome, he had a good knowledge
of both Roman (that is, Latin) and Greek letters.
I knew him and visited him in
Venice and there I often went to assist in his
publishing activity; at that time I was young and had
not yet worn the habit.
Thanks to his wisdom, Aldo Manuzio
Romano conceived a clever idea.”
The actual idea was not presented,
but Maximus was clearly referring to Manuzio’s activity
as a printer. At that time
printing and printed books were almost unknown in
supposed that Michael Trivolis had left Italy in 1505.
Instead, Ikonnikov placed the arrival
of Maximus in Moscow in 1518.
According to that scholar, he had arrived at Mount Athos
in 1508 and, as Maximus himself stated in one of his
Russian works, he remained on the Holy Mountain for ten
Athos to Russia
Maximus was sent to Moscow because
the Great Prince of Moscow, Vasilij, sent ambassadors to
the Monastery of Mount Athos, asking for an expert
translator. The Prince had
mentioned a monk named Savva, but Savva was very old and
sick. The Superiors decided to
send Maximus, who was in expert in the Holy Scripture
and could explain and translate any book.
After having received from the
Patriarch of Constantinople a letter of presentation to
the Metropolitan of Moscow, Maximus arrived in the
Russian city. He stayed in the
Kremlin, in the Chudov Monastery, where be began to
translate an explanation of the Psalter.
As Maximus did not know the Church
Slavonic language well enough, he translated the Greek
text into Latin, then another monk wrote it in Slavonic.
Many people admired it and just as
many detested it because of the modifications that it
had made to the old liturgical books.
Unfortunately the Prince began to
suspect that there were political intrigues against him,
and even the new Metropolitan Daniel was not favourable
to Maximus, who was sentenced to prison by a court.
He had to live six years in a small
damp cell of the Joseph-Volokolamsk Monastery, he was
banned from receiving communion and was not even allowed
to write, but the Lord did not abandon him and he was
not without inspiration: in his cell he composed a canon
to the Holy Spirit, the comforter, it was found later on
a wall of the cell, Maximus had written it with a piece
of coal. In 1531 he underwent
a new trial, he was accused of heresy and political
treason. He was transferred to
the monastic prison of Tver.
At least in the prison in Tver he had access to paper,
pen and ink. He wrote some
books on the Bible and some comments.
In 1544 the new Patriarch of
Constantinople asked for Maximus to be allowed to return
to Mount Athos, but this request was not well received.
In 1547 the ban on receiving the
Sacraments was lifted. In 1551
Maximus was at last transferred to the Trinity Lavra of
St. Sergius, where he led an almost normal life.
In 1555 he had the possibility to
speak with the Czar Ivan the Terrible.
He predicted a woeful event, but his
words went unheeded and the event occurred.
Maximus died in 1556, after 50 years
of monastic life, 38 of which were spent in Russia.
He always bore his physical and moral
sufferings with great serenity. He was buried in the
Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius.
His tomb is now in the Church of the Holy Spirit.
In the years just after his death the
portrait of Maximus the Greek began to be included in
the frescos in the vestibule of the Church of the
Annunciation in Moscow and in other Churches.
In a manual for iconographic painters
of 1694 we find explanations of how his Icon should be
painted. Already in the 17th
century there was talk of miraculous occurrences due to
the intercession of Maximus, but his official
canonisation took place in 1988. Saint Maximus is
commemorated on 21 January.
His life filled with sufferings, misunderstandings,
defamations and humiliations teaches all of us that we
must not fear the powerful of this world.
It was probably also the longa
manus of Medici abuse of power that made life so
difficult for Maximus in Russia, but the more the
powerful ill-treat us and persecute us, the more the
Lord helps us to move forward to pass on his message.
Great strength often lies in those
characteristics which are scorned and trampled by the
men of this world. The
strength of humble people which can never be destroyed
by worldly power, because it comes from the only King of
Sources: Nina Vasil'evna
Massimo il Greco
e l'Umanesimo italiano
Greek and Italian Humanism)
(Marcello Garzaniti – Francesca Romoli)
Bergamo Ortodossa (Orthodox Bergamo)