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Death and the Fate of the Soul in Byzantium: Theologies, Liturgies, Images

Vasileios Marinis, Yale University, Fellow 2014–2015, Fall

During my fellowship term at Dumbarton Oaks, I dedicated my time to my current research project, a book-length study that marries for the first time liturgical, theological, literary, and material evidence to investigate a fundamental question: what did the Byzantines believe happened after death? Closely related is a host of pertinent topics: what is the role of angels and demons in the provisional judgment, the outcome of which determines where souls await the Second Coming? Who actually performs this judgment, and how? What is the nature of Hades, and of paradise? Although I investigate the origins of these ideas during the formative years of Christianity, I focus primarily upon the middle (842–1261) and late Byzantine eras (1261–1453) because it was in these periods—well after the volatility of late antiquity and the turmoil of iconoclasm—that a variety of often-imperceptible syntheses occurred and attempts to harmonize the different traditions were made. I am interested in how notions of the afterlife evolved, mutated, and were manipulated in the context of a society that regarded such notions as being of the utmost importance. Thanks to the excellent resources of Dumbarton Oaks, I was able to complete drafts of five chapters of my book. Three belong to Part I “Theologies,” where I discuss the tendency toward the systematization of afterlife narratives in the middle and late Byzantine periods. In the other two chapters, which belong to Part II “Liturgies,” I analyze the theology behind funeral and commemorative services.