This past year's Byzantine Studies Conference (an annual gathering of scholars organized by the Byzantine Studies Association of North America) was held in Cleveland, Ohio. If you don't know the city of Cleveland and its history, you may not know that it is home to one of the most impressive museums in the country, the Cleveland Museum of Art, which boasts a stellar collection of treasures and artifacts from all over the world, including Byzantium. The Byzantine Studies Conference was hosted at the nearby Case Western Reserve University, just a stone's throw from the museum in the city's lovely University Circle.
Cleveland has a special place in the history of American Byzantine Studies. It was the home, in 1975, of the very first Byzantine Studies Conference. This year's conference was therefore held in honor of the organizers of that pioneering event: Alice-Mary Talbot, Walter Kaegi, and David Wright. The gathering also focused, fittingly, on the careers of important scholars of Byzantine art, specifically Helen Evans and Robert Nelson, both of whom spoke at the conference and honored the attendees with their presence.
This year's meeting was marked by the special presence of Fr Justin of Sinai, librarian and hieromonk of the famed St Catherine's Monastery on Mt Sinai in Egypt. Fr Justin gave a number of presentations at the conference. On Thursday evening (Dec 9), he opened the proceedings with a discussion of the St Catherine Foundation and the important work that the monastery is doing to preserve and digitize manuscripts, restore the monastery buildings (which date back to the time of the emperor Justinian), and maintain this important landmark of our global heritage. Fr Justin also presented a paper on "The Digital Photography of the Sinai Syriac and Arabic Manuscripts," highlighting the technological and scholarly contributions to preserving and disseminating what is the monastery's smallest, and therefore most manageable, collection of manuscripts, as a first step to making the entire collection available in electronic form.
Fr Justin also gave a keynote lecture on the theology of the icon, which delved deeply into the patristic understanding of images - exploring especially its Trinitarian foundations and its connection with the imago Dei - offering an overview of the historic and highly important collection of icons at St Catherine's monastery on Mt Sinai.
Tikhon Pino, the Assistant Director of the Pappas Patristic Institute, also took part in the conference through a generous grant from the Byzantine Studies Association of North America. On Saturday afternoon (Dec 11), he moderated a session of papers on the "Sixth and Seventh Century," one of the more theologically-oriented sessions of the conference, with presentations on (1) Belisarius, a general of the emperor Justinian (David Parnell); (2) the Theopaschite controversy of the sixth century (Tiggy McLaughlin); (3) and the use of Old Testament prophecies in the Syriac Chronicle of Pseudo-Joshua the Stylite (by James Wolfe); and (4) the archeology of the Roman fortification on the Greek islands of Kalymnos and Telendos (Drosos Kardulias). You can view the entire program of the 2021 Byzantine Studies Conference here, and abstracts of the presentations here.
Of course, no trip to Cleveland would be complete without a visit to the Cleveland Museum of Art to luxuriate in its beautiful indoor and outdoor spaces and its fantastic collection of Byzantine icons and other masterpieces.
While in Cleveland. Dr Pino was also able to attend services at the Greek Orthodox Church of St Constantine and Helen, visit Little Italy and Lake Erie, and see the stadium of the newly-re-christened "Cleveland Guardians."
The Pappas Patristic Institute is grateful to the Byzantine Studies Association of North America for the opportunity to attend the 2021 Byzantine Studies Conference. It was a marvelous, well-organized event and a wonderful opportunity to get together with fellow scholars and discuss the latest research in the field of Byzantine Studies.