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April 22, 2017

Neophytos Kavsokalyvites (1689-1784), Initiator of the Kollyvades Movement

By John Sanidopoulos

Neophytos Kavsokalyvites (1689-1784) was a Greek monk and ecclesiastical writer, who initiated the movement known as the Kollyvades Movement. He was born in Patras when it was under Venetian occupation and where the economic and social situation was very bad, with increased taxes, and with the brutalities and abuses of Turkish officers. In Patras there was a Jewish community who were active commercially. In time these Jews married Greeks, thus becoming Christianized. It was to such a family that Neophytos was born, which is why he is often referred to as "Neophytos of the Jews". Neophytos was educated in the schools of Constantinople, Patmos and Ioannina, having as teachers Gerasimos Byzantios in Patmos and the wise Eugenios Voulgaris in Ioannina, where he specialized in rhetoric, logic, grammar, science and theology. He became a monk at the Skete of the Holy Trinity, known as Kavsokalyva, on the Holy Mountain of Athos after his studies in Constantinople, arriving at Mount Athos in 1723. Whether he arrived there as a Deacon or became a Deacon there is not known, though it is probably the latter. He was at Patmos from 1739 to 1744, then after studying in Ioannina he returned to Mount Athos.

The Athoniada School of Vatopaidi Monastery was founded in 1748, a philosophical and theological school for the whole of Greece. Initially it was run by the intellectual and scholar Hierodeacon Neophytos Kavsokalyvites for three years. Among his students were Saints Athanasios Parios and Nikephoros of Chios. He was replaced by Eugenios Voulgaris in 1753 when it was renamed the Athoniada Academy. Many believe that it was this replacement that caused the so-called Kollyvades Movement to erupt. Neophytos was a traditional Athonite who primarily focused on teaching Grammar, but Eugenios introduced a modern curriculum inspired by the Enlightenment of the West and had a wider philosophical and theological knowledge to contribute. Eugenios was installed for this purpose by Patriarch Cyril V (1749-51 and 1753-57), who divided and radicalized Greek Orthodoxy with his strict stance on re-baptizing all converts to Orthodoxy. The reason Cyril V installed the renowned Eugenios was because Cyril V opposed the Phanariots and gerontes of Constantinople, and he wanted to challenge the position of the Patriarchal Academy of Constantinople by installing the best Orthodox scholar at Athoniada, which was under his authority since 1750, and Eugenios drew many students to study under him. From 1753 the two factions of Athoniada had an open and respectful correspondence, until 1757 when Cyril V was dethroned as Ecumenical Patriarch for a second time and exiled to Athos, where he settled at the Skete of Saint Anna. For two different reasons, Cyril turned against both the Kollyvades (led by Neophytos) and Eugenios. Soon the Monastery of Great Lavra, under which was the Skete of Saint Anna, excommunicated the Kollyvades, causing a persecution and their eventual dispersal.

In 1756 Neophytos had left teaching Grammar at Athoniada and went to live a life of silence at Kavsokalyva, devoting his time to study and writing. Then in 1759 Neophytos abandoned Mount Athos after being slandered and persecuted, and he went on to teach at Chios (1759-63), Adrianople (1763-67) and the Principalities; in Brassov in Transylvania (1770-76) and Bucharest (1768-70 and 1776-1784). He spent many years in Wallachia because his uncle was a bishop in Bucharest. Almost his entire life after Athos was spent excluded from later interaction with his former companions and was silently side-stepped as a paragon of the Movement. In the early 1770's he is described as having adopted a hostile stance against Athonite monks. During these years of teaching he also authored numerous philosophical and theological works of great importance. Among these was his book On Frequent Participation in Holy Communion, written in 1772 and published anonymously in Venice. Though similar to the book on the same subject by Saint Makarios Notaras and Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite in 1783, it shows that the Kollyvades had in essence a core message. This book of Neophytos was initially condemned by the Ecumenical Patriarch Gabriel IV ((1780-1785), it was praised as "beneficial and salvific" by Ecumenical Patriarch Neophytos VII (1799-1801). It should also be noted that in 1759, at the age of seventy, he was asked to run the Patriarchal Academy in Constantinople, but due to his old age he refused the position.

In 1771 Paisios the Calligrapher, a loyal and zealot follower of Neophytos, wrote a Confession of Faith. In this Confession the anti-Kollyvades were described as "unbelievers" and "idolaters", while the Synod which condemned and excommunicated the Kollyvades was called "heretical". This Confession, possibly inspired by Neophytos, was ascribed by the opponents of the Kollyvades as belonging to all the Kollyvades, not knowing that there had been a split in the group between the now silent Neophytos with his outspoken disciples and others like Athanasios Parios and Nephon of Chios. Athanasios Parios even doubted the Orthodoxy of his teacher Neophytos, probably as early as the 1760's, due to his extremist stance as influenced in the Confession of Paisios. With the silence of Neophytos and the absence of Athanasios Parios, the anti-Kollyvades started to condone violence against the Kollyvades, and thus assassinated Paisios and his elder Theophanes, causing most of the Kollyvades to flee Mount Athos (a small and insignificant group survived on Mount Athos). Constituted as a zealot group, the Kollyvades had espoused a policy of akriveia, the strict implementation of canonical law, and were thus, in principle and in practice, alien to any kind of compromise, which would undermine their group identity. This inevitably led to their patriarchal and synodal excommunication in 1776. Thus the silence of Neophytos, the assasination of Paisios and the excommunication of 1776 was the final death-blow to the more radical element of the Kollyvades. The more moderate side only restored the reputation of the Kollyvades by 1784, after Makarios Notaras began to lead the Movement and with Nikodemos the Hagiorite, Athanasios Parios and others like them began publishing magnificent scholarly works. Neophytos reposed in Bucharest around the year 1784, the same year the Kollyvades were reinstated in the Church.