In , Mother Philotea, a member of another monastery in the complex at Mt. Sinai, addressed a symposium in Goslar, Germany, and spoke about the discovery of some Armenian manuscripts, among which were some Georgian works. In turn, German Orientalist Julius Asphalg, who was a well-known Georgian specialist, contacted Akaki Shanidze, distinguished Georgian scholar and director of the modern linguistic school in Tbilisi.
But not until - nine years after the fire - did scholars in Tbilisi obtain more specific information. The Orthodox Patriarch of All Georgia, Ilia II, then visited Sinai and determined that the newly discovered manuscripts were not Armenian, as had been announced at the symposium; but rather, Georgian.
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Naturally, the Georgian Patriarch contacted the scholars at Tbilisi's Institute of Manuscripts and invited them to make an expedition to Egypt. At the time, the Institute was directed by the well-known scholar Academician Helen Metreveli. She was elderly at the time, so traveling to Egypt was considered difficult. Also they had heard a rumor that women were not allowed in the monastery - information that turned out to be untrue. Preparing for Sinai At the end of , Dr.
Zaza Aleksidze was appointed as Director of Institute of Manuscripts. From the early days of his appointment, he began making preparations to visit Sinai. Even so, organizing for such a trip was complicated. The unstable political situation in the Middle East aggravated the situation, making it unpredictable and difficult to plan. There were also difficulties in obtaining visas; much less, funding. In the Soviet Union was in a severe economic situation. The USSR would collapse the following year.
Nor did it make much sense to visit St. Catherine's if they could not meet there with the Greek Archbishop who held jurisdiction over the monastery as they would need his permission to carry out research on the Sinai manuscripts. They discovered that he spent most of his time in Athens. Communication was slow and cumbersome. Those were the days before e-mail and the Internet, and the Manuscript Institute didn't even have access to a Fax machine. Eventually, they were able to connect with the Soviet Embassy in Egypt, which helped them tremendously in organizing that first expedition.
After several failed attempts, they were finally able to make the first of what, so far, has been four working expeditions to Sinai , , and Since then, relations have been established with the Greek Orthodox Archbishop and the monks living at the monastery, and contacts have become much easier.
However, whenever reference is made to "Sinai", it implies St. Catherine's, which is the main Orthodox monastery and dates back to the 6th century. The Georgian presence has been marked at Sinai since the early Middle Ages.
Georgians seem to have played a dominant role since the second half of 10th century when a number of chapels and complexes were built by Georgian kings. Sources indicate that the names of the first two Georgian monks to live at Sinai were Mikhail and Eustatheus 6th century. Today, there are about 20 Orthodox monks residing at Sinai, though the number varies from time to time. They tend gardens there. The Bedouins work for them. Income for the monastery comes from hotels outside the monastery wall , the enormous number of tourists, donations during Holy Days and from Orthodox religious communities.
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The monks are mostly Greek although a number of them come from various other countries, including Australia, the U. There are even some Orthodox Jews from Russia. The Greek monks at Sinai had never even heard anything about the Caucasian Albanian language. In the beginning, they even mistook the Georgian manuscripts as Armenian. There are no Georgian monks on Sinai today. Had there been, still they likely would have had difficulty reading the old Georgian manuscripts without special training because the Old Georgian script looks so much different from the modern script.
Though the Georgian script has changed over the millennia, the language itself has remained much the same. Prior to the fire, Sinai was known for a significant number of very important ancient Georgian manuscripts. After the fire, this remote monastery become known as a great repository and treasury for Caucasian and Georgian studies. First Expedition The journey to Sinai via the desert wilderness from Cairo takes about eight hours by car. Fourteen years after the fire had taken place, the Georgian experts finally had arrived.
They only had 13 working days to get an overview of the situation and begin compiling the rather extensive, though preliminary, catalog of the Georgian manuscripts. While Kavtaria concentrated on identifying the numerous liturgical texts, Aleksidze began describing the historical, hagiographical, patristic and Biblical manuscripts. He also examined and copied all the colophons - commentaries that scribes traditionally wrote at the end of the manuscript or in the margins, offering their own opinion about the content of the manuscript or historical events that had occurred while they were copying the text.
These colophons which they found in the Georgian manuscripts are treasured for their rare insight into the history of Georgia and the Sinai monastery. Aleksidze also was curious to define the languages and scripts on parchments that had more than one text, which are known as "palimpsests" from the Greek words, "palim" and "psito" - "to cook again".
The monks were in the habit of recycling and conserving material. Typically, when they didn't have anything on which to write, they would take an old manuscript for which they had little use anymore or which was ideologically outdated and try to scrub off the ink and reuse the manuscript. Afterwards, they would introduce new text, sometimes by writing perpendicular to the original script. It seems that during the 10th century, there was quite a shortage of parchment at Sinai. Some of the monks even complained about this shortage in their colophons.
More often than not, Greek or Ethiopian, Syrian or occasionally Armenian texts comprised the original script underneath the Georgian. Aleksidze was quite familiar with palimpsests as there are about 5, pages kept at Tbilisi's Institute of Manuscripts. On that first expedition, Aleksidze took an interest in the original layer of one of the palimpsests, which was barely legible and had rather unusual lettering.
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