A rare manuscript— a complete New Testament, handwritten in Greek— owned by the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago was handed over to representatives of the Greek Orthodox Church.
More than a thousand years ago, a monk named Savas hand-wrote the book and it became part of the sacred books of the Kosintza Monastery near Drama in northern Greece.
In 1917 Bulgarian rebels looted monasteries in northern Greece and many of the relics, documents and rare manuscripts ended up on art black markets throughout the globe.
In an effort by the Greek Orthodox Church to retrieve relics and rare manuscripts that rightfully belong to them, numerous letters were sent after items scattered throughout the world were identified.
The tale of the Chicago manuscript and how it arrived is interesting.
Bulgarian authorities took it to Sofia in 1917. From there, it found its way to Munich, where antiquities dealer Jacques Rosenthal sold it in 1920 to Levi Franklin Gruber, a religious scholar who, in 1926 became president of Chicago Lutheran Theological Seminary, one of the institutions that later would merge to become LSTC in 1962.
The school made the manuscript available to students and researchers for decades and considered it one of its most prized possessions. They also photographed the pages of the book and created a website for future scholarly research.
Officials from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America reached out to the Lutheran seminary, requesting the return of the manuscript to its rightful owners.
In a ceremony in Chicago on November 15, 2016, the Lutherans passed over ownership of the manuscript to Archbishop Demetrios, head of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, who will return the book to the monastery in Greece from where it was originally looted. He was accompanied by Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos, chancellor of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago who helped arrange the transfer of the book.
Lutheran administrators said it was not only the right thing to do, but an act they hope will prompt other institutions to return antiquities to their rightful owners.
Archbishop Demetrios praised the move.
“Today, in the spirit of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, our hearts are filled with gratitude to our Lutheran brothers and sisters for this generous and kind gesture” said Archbishop Demetrios.
“Nearly a century ago, our faithful lost an integral part of the treasures of our Orthodox faith and tradition when the library of the Monastery of Panagia Eikosifoinissa (Kosinitza Monastery) was ransacked and many manuscripts, Codex 1424 included, were taken. We hope that other collections in the United States which also possess manuscripts originating from the Monastery of Panagia Eikosifoinissa will follow the fine example set by LSTC and voluntarily return the manuscripts to their rightful home. Our gratitude to LSTC is enormous indeed for adhering to the original spiritual intent and moral mandate of the manuscript itself.”