Byzantine prayer books (euchologia) contain—in addition to the eucharistic and sacramental liturgies— a vast number of ‘small prayers’ pronounced by the clergy that address the concerns of all levels of society, regardless of social and economic status, at various occasions in a human being’s lifetime. Yet, they have gone largely unexplored as a source for daily life and social history, in large part because of the challenges posed by their transmission.
Euchologia are extant in manuscripts beginning with the late eighth century and well into the post-Byzantine period. Their exact number is unknown. In the early 15th century, it was estimated to amount to about 2,000. There is considerable variation between the manuscripts in the number, sequence, content and concern of the small prayers, depending on the community where the euchologion was used. While scholars have studied individual prayer book manuscripts, a comprehensive study of the entire tradition of Byzantine euchologia has not yet been attempted.
Unlocking the potential of the small prayers in the euchologia as a source for daily life and social history requires a systematic, step-by-step effort of a research team over an extended period of time.
This paper will introduce the new project at the Division of Byzantine Research, IMAFO, Austrian Academy of Sciences: a systematic study of euchologia, through a combination of individual, thematically focused research projects and the creation of the first-ever database of prayer books in manuscript form, in a fully searcheable, open access format that unlocks the wealth of issues and concerns addressed in the small prayers. The database is designed to facilitate potential future research in other areas as well, such as liturgical studies.