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Bishop Kallistos Ware
Orthodox Church

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  • Part I: History.
    • The twentieth century, Greeks and Arabs
      • The Patriarchate of Constantinople
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The Patriarchate of Constantinople

 which in the tenth century contained 624 dioceses, is today

enormously reduced in size. At present within the Patriarch.s jurisdiction are: Turkey; Crete and

various other islands in the Aegean; All Greeks of the dispersion, together with certain Russian,

Ukrainian, Polish, and Albanian dioceses in emigration; Mount Athos and Finland.

  This amounts in all to about three million persons, more than half of whom are Greeks

dwelling in North America.

  At the end of the  First World War, Turkey  contained a population of some 1,500,000

Greeks, but the greater part of these were either massacred or deported at the end of the disas-

trous Greco-Turkish War of 1922, and today (apart from the island of Imbros) the only place in

Turkey where Greeks are allowed to live is Istanbul (Constantinople) itself. Even in Constantin-

ople, Orthodox clergy (with the exception of the Patriarch) are forbidden to appear in the streets

in clerical dress. The Greek community in the city has dwindled since the anti-Greek (and anti-

Christian,) riot of 6 September 1955, when in a single night sixty out of the eighty Orthodox

Churches at Constantinople were gutted or sacked, the total damage to Christian property being

reckoned at £50,000,000. Since then, many Greeks have fled from fear or else have been forcibly

 68

deported, and there is a grave danger that the Turkish government will eventually expel the Pa-

triarchate. AthenagorasPatriarch during 1948-1972 . indefatigable as  a worker for Christian

unity  .  and  his  successor  Patriarch  Dimitrios  have  shown  great  patience  and  dignity  in  this

tragic situation.

  The Patriarchate had a celebrated theological school on the island of Halki near Constantin-

ople, which in the 1950s began to acquire a somewhat international character, with students not

only from Greece but from the Near East in general. But unfortunately from 1971 onwards the

Turkish authorities prevented the school from admitting any new students, and there is at present

very little prospect that it will be reopened.

  Mount Athos, like Halki, is not merely Greek but international. Of the twenty ruling monas-

teries, at the present day seventeen are Greek, one Russian, one Serbian, and one Bulgarian; in

Byzantine times one of the twenty was Georgian, and there were also Latin houses. Besides the

ruling monasteries there are several other large houses, and innumerable smaller settlements

known as sketes or kellia; there are also hermits, most of whom live above alarming precipices at

the southern tip of the peninsula, in huts or caves often accessible only by decaying ladders. Thus

the three forms of the monastic life, dating back to fourth-century Egypt . the community life,

the semi-eremitic life, and the hermits . continue side by side on the Holy Mountain today. It is

a remarkable illustration of the continuity of Orthodoxy.

  Athos faces many problems, the most obvious and serious being the spectacular decline in

numbers. And it is likely  that numbers will continue to decline, for the  majority of the monks

today are old men. Although there have been times in the past . for example, the early nine-

teenth century . when monks were even fewer  than at present, yet the suddenness of the de-

crease in the past fifty years is most alarming.

  In many parts of the Orthodox world today, and not least in certain circles in Greece itself,

the monastic life is viewed with indifference and contempt, and this is in part responsible for the

lack of new vocations on Athos. Another cause is the political situation: in 1903 more than half

the monks were Slavs or Romanians, but after 1917 the supply of novices from Russia was cut

off, while since 1945 the same has happened with Bulgaria and Romania. The Russian monas-

tery of Saint Panteleimon, which in 1904 had 1,978 members, in 1959 numbered less than 60;

the vast Russian skete of Saint Elias now has less than five monks, while that of Saint Andrew is

entirely closed; the spacious buildings of Zographou, the Bulgarian house, are virtually deserted,

and at the Romanian skete of Saint John the Baptist there is a mere handful of monks. In 1966,

after prolonged negotiations, the Greek  government eventually allowed five monks from the

U.S.S.R. to enter Saint  Panteleimon, and four monks from Bulgaria to enter Zographou: but

clearly recruitment on a far vaster scale is necessary. Of the non-Greek communities, the Serbian

monastery alone is in a slightly better position, as some young men have recently been allowed

to come from Yugoslavia to be professed as monks.

  In Byzantine times the  Holy Mountain  was a center of theological scholarship, but today

most of the monks come from peasant families and have little education. This, though not a new

situation, has certain unfortunate consequences. It would be sad indeed were Athos to modernize

itself at the expense of the traditional and timeless values of Orthodox monasticism; but so long

as the monasteries remain intellectually isolated, they cannot make their full (and very necessary)

contribution to the life of the Church at large. There are signs that leaders on Athos are aware of

the dangers of this isolation and are seeking ways to overcome it. The Athonite School of Theol-

ogy was reopened in 1953, in the hope of  attracting and training a somewhat different type of

novice. Father Theoklitos, of the monastery of Dionysiou, goes regularly to Athens and Thessa-

 69

lonica to speak at meetings, and has written an  important book on the  monastic lifeBetween

Heaven and Earth, as well as a study of Saint Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain. Father Gabriel,

for many years Abbot of Dionysiou, is also widely known and respected in Greece as a whole.

  But it would be wrong to judge Athos or any other monastic center by numbers or literary

output alone, for the true criterion is not size or scholarship but the quality of spiritual life. If in

Athos today there are signs in some places of an alarming decadence, yet there can be no doubt

that the Holy Mountain still continues to produce saints, ascetics, and men of prayer formed in

the classic traditions of Orthodoxy. One such monk was Father Silvan (1866-1938), at the Rus-

sian monastery of Saint Panteleimon: of peasant background, a simple and humble man, his life

was outwardly uneventful, but he left behind him some deeply impressive meditations, which

have since been published in several languages (See Archimandrite Sophrony, The Monk of Mount Athos

and Wisdom  from Mount  AthosLondon1973-1974 [most  valuable]). Another such monk was Father Jo-

seph (died 1959), a Greek who lived in a semi-eremitic settlement . the New Skete . in the

south of Athos, and gathered round him a group of monks who under his guidance practiced the

continual recitation of the Jesus Prayer. So long as Athos numbers among its members men such

as Silvan and Joseph, it is by no means failing in its task. (The text above describes the situation as it

existed  on Athos  during  1960-1966.  Since  then  there  has  been  a  notable  improvement.  Although  the  non-Greek

monasteries have only been able to receive a few fresh recruits, in several Greek houses there has been a striking

increase in numbers, and many of the new monks are gifted and well-educated. The revival is particularly evident in

Simonos Petras, Philotheou, Grigoriou, and Stavronikita. In all of these monasteries there are outstanding abbots).

 




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