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Bishop Kallistos Ware
Orthodox Church

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  • Part I: History.
    • The Church under Islam
      • Imperium in imperio
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Imperium in imperio

  .It doth go hugely against the grain to see the crescent exalted everywhere, where the Cross

stood so long triumphant.: so wrote Edward Browne in 1677, soon after arriving as Chaplain to

the English Embassy  at Constantinople. To the Greeks, in 1453 it must also have gone hugely

against the grain. For more than a thousand years men had taken the Christian Empire of Byzan-

tium for granted as a permanent element in God.s providential dispensation to the world. Now

the .God-protected city. had fallen, and the Greeks were under the rule of the infidel.

  It was not an easy transition: but it was made less hard by the Turks themselves, who treated

their Christian subjects with remarkable generosity. The Mohammedans in the fifteenth century

were  far  more  tolerant  towards  Christianity  than  western  Christians  were  towards  one  another

during the Reformation and the seventeenth century. Islam regards the Bible as a holy book and

Jesus Christ as a prophet; in Moslem eyes, therefore, the Christian religion is incomplete but not

entirely false, and Christians, being .People of the Book,. should not be treated as if on a level

with mere pagans. According to Mohammedan teaching, Christians are to undergo no persecu-

tion, but may continue without interference in the observance of their faith, so long as they sub-

mit quietly to the power of Islam.

  Such were the principles which guided the conqueror of Constantinople, Sultan Mohammed

II. Before the fall of the city, Greeks called him .the precursor of Antichrist and the second Sen-

nacherib,. but they found that in practice his rule was very different in character. Learning that

the office of Patriarch was vacant, Mohammed summoned the monk Gennadius and installed

him on the Patriarchal throne. Gennadius (1450-1472), known as George Scholarios before he

became a monk, was a voluminous writer and the leading Greek theologian of his time. He was a

determined opponent of the Church of Rome, and his appointment as Patriarch meant the final

abandonment of the Union of Florence. Doubtless for political reasons, the Sultan deliberately

chose a man of anti-Latin convictions: with Gennadius as Patriarch, there would be less likeli-

hood of the Greeks seeking secret aid from Roman Catholic powers.

  The  Sultan  himself  instituted  the  Patriarchceremonially  investing  him  with  his  pastoral

staff, exactly as the autocrats of Byzantium had formerly done. The action was symbolic: Mo-

hammed the Conqueror, champion of Islam, became also the protector of Orthodoxy, taking over

the role once exercised by the Christian Emperor. Thus Christians were assured a definite place

in the Turkish order of society; but, as they were soon to discover, it was a place of guaranteed

inferiority. Christianity under Islam was a second-class religion, and its adherents second-class

citizens. They paid heavy taxes, wore a distinctive dress, were not allowed to serve in the army,

and were forbidden to marry Moslem women. The Church was allowed to undertake no mission-

ary work, and it was a crime to convert a Moslem to the Christian faith. From the material point

of view there was every inducement for a Christian to apostatize to Islam. Direct persecution of-

ten serves to strengthen a Church; but the Greeks in the Ottoman Empire were denied the more

heroic ways of witnessing to their faith, and were subjected instead to the demoralizing effects of

an unrelenting social pressure.

  Nor was this all. After the fall of Constantinople the Church was not allowed to revert to the

situation before the conversion of Constantine; paradoxically enough, the things of Caesar now

became more closely associated with the things of God than they had ever been before. For the

Mohammedans  drew  no  distinction  between  religion  and  politics:  from  their  point  of  view,  if

Christianity was to be recognized as an independent religious faith, it was necessary for Chris-

tians to be organized as an independent political unit, an Empire within the Empire. The Ortho-

dox Church therefore became a civil as well as a religious institution: it was turned into the Rum


Millet, the .Roman nation.. The ecclesiastical structure was taken over in toto as an instrument

of secular administration. The bishops became government officials, the Patriarch was not only

the spiritual head of the Greek Orthodox Church, but the civil head of the Greek nation . the

ethnarch or millet-bashi. This situation continued in Turkey until 1923, and in Cyprus until the

death of Archbishop Makarios III (1977).

 The millet  system  performed  one  invaluable  service:  it  made  possible  the  survival  of  the

Greek  nation  as  a  distinctive  unit  through  four  centuries  of  alien  rule.  But  on  the  life  of  the

Church it had two melancholy effects. It led first to a sad confusion between Orthodoxy and na-

tionalism. With their civil and political life organized completely around the Church, it became

all but impossible for the Greeks to distinguish between Church and nation. The Orthodox faith,

being  universal,  is  limited  to  no  single  peopleculture,  or  language;  but  to  the  Greeks  of  the

Turkish Empire .Hellenism. and Orthodoxy became inextricably intertwined, far more so than

they had ever been in the Byzantine Empire. The effects of this confusion continue to the present


  In the second place, the  Church.s higher administration became  caught up in a degrading

system of corruption and simony. Involved as they were in worldly affairs and matters political,

the bishops fell a prey to ambition and financial greed. Each new Patriarch required a berat from

the Sultan before he could assume office, and for this document he was obliged to pay heavily.

The Patriarch recovered  his expenses from the episcopate, by exacting a fee from each bishop

before instituting him in his diocese; the bishops in turn taxed the parish clergy, and the clergy

taxed their flocks. What was once said of the Papacy was certainly true of the Ecumenical Patri-

archate under the Turks: everything was for sale.

  When there were several candidates for the Patriarchal throne, the Turks virtually sold it to

the highest bidder; and they were quick to see that it was in their financial interests to change the

Patriarch as  frequently  as possible, so as to multiply occasions for selling the berat. Patriarchs

were removed and reinstated with kaleidoscopic rapidity. .Out of 159 Patriarchs who have held

office between the fifteenth and the twentieth century, the Turks have on 105 occasions driven

Patriarchs from their throne; there have been 27 abdications, often involuntary; 6 Patriarchs have

suffered violent deaths by hanging, poisoning, or drowning; and only 21 have died natural deaths

while in office. (B. J. Kidd, The Churches of Eastern Christendom, London, 1927, p. 304). The same man

sometimes held office on four or five different  occasions,  and there were usually several ex-

Patriarchs watching restively in exile for a chance to return to the throne. The extreme insecurity

of the Patriarch naturally gave rise to continual intrigues among the Metropolitans of the Holy

Synod who hoped to succeed him, and the leaders of the Church were usually separated into bit-

terly hostile parties. .Every  good Christian,.  wrote an  English resident in the seventeenth-

century Levant, .ought with sadness to consider, and with compassion to behold this once glori-

ous Church tear and rend out her own bowels, and give them for food vultures and ravens, and to

the wild and fierce Creatures of the World. (Sir Paul Rycaut, The Present State of the Greek and Armenian

Churches, London, 1679, p. 107).

  But if the Patriarchate of Constantinople suffered an inward decay, outwardly its power ex-

panded as never before. The Turks looked on the Patriarch of Constantinople as the head of all

Orthodox Christians in their dominions. The other Patriarchates also within the Ottoman Empire

. AlexandriaAntiochJerusalem . remained  theoretically  independent  but  were  in  practice

subordinate. The Churches of Bulgaria and Serbia . likewise within  Turkish dominions .

gradually lost all independence, and by the mid-eighteenth century had passed directly under the

Ecumenical Patriarch.s  control. But in the nineteenth century, as  Turkish power declined, the

frontiers of the Patriarchate contracted. The nations which gained freedom from the Turks found


it impracticable to remain subject ecclesiastically to a Patriarch resident in the Turkish capital

and closely involved in the Turkish political system. The Patriarch resisted as long as he could,

but in each case he bowed eventually to the inevitable. A series of national Churches were

carved out of the Patriarchate: the Church of Greece (organized in 1833, recognized by the Patri-

arch of Constantinople in 1850); the Church of Romania (organized in 1864, recognized in

1885); the Church of  Bulgaria (reestablished m 1871, not recognized by  Constantinople until

1945); the Church of Serbia (restored and  recognized in 1879). The diminution of the Patriar-

chate has continued in the present century, chiefly as a result of war, and its membership is now

but a tiny fraction of what it once was in the palmy days of Ottoman suzerainty.

  The Turkish occupation had two opposite effects upon the intellectual life of the Church: it

was the cause on the one hand of an immense conservatism and on the other of a certain west-

ernization. Orthodoxy under the Turks felt itself on the defensive. The great aim was survival .

to keep things going in hope of better days to come. The Greeks clung with miraculous tenacity

to the Christian civilization which they had taken over from Byzantium, but they had little oppor-

tunity  to  develop  this  civilization  creativelyIntelligibly  enough,  they  were  usually  content  to

repeat accepted formulae, to entrench themselves in the positions which they had inherited from

the past. Greek thought underwent an ossification and a hardening which one cannot but regret;

yet conservatism had its advantages. In a dark and difficult period the Greeks did in faces main-

tain the Orthodox tradition substantially unimpaired. The Orthodox under  Islam took as their

guide Paul.s words to Timothy: .Guard the deposit: keep safe what has been entrusted to you. (I

Timothy 6:20). Could they in the end have chosen a better motto?

  Yet alongside this traditionalism there is another and contrary current in Orthodox theology

of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: the current of western infiltration. It was difficult for

the Orthodox under Ottoman rule to maintain  a good standard of scholarship. Greeks who

wished for a higher education were obliged to travel to the non-Orthodox world, to  Italy  and

Germany, to Paris, and even as far as Oxford. Among the distinguished Greek theologians of the

Turkish period, a few were self-taught, but the overwhelming majority had been trained in the

west under Roman Catholic or Protestant masters.

  Inevitably  this had  an effect upon the  way in which they interpreted Orthodox theology.

Certainly Greek students in the west read the Fathers, but they only became acquainted with such

of the Fathers as were held in esteem by their non-Orthodox professors. Thus Gregory Palamas

was still read, for his spiritual teaching, by the monks of Athos; but to most learned Greek theo-

logians of the Turkish period he was utterly unknown. In the works of Eustratius Argenti (died

1758?), the ablest Greek theologian of his time, there is not a single citation from Palamas; and

his case is typical. It is symbolic of the state of Greek Orthodox learning in the last four centuries

that one of the chief works of Palamas, The Triads in Defence of the Holy Hesychasts, should

have remained in great part unpublished until 1959.

  There was a real danger that Greeks who studied in the West, even though they remained

fully loyal in intention to their own Church, would lose their Orthodox mentality and become cut

off from Orthodoxy as a living tradition. It was difficult for them not to look at theology through

western spectacles; whether consciously or not, they used terminology  and forms of argument

foreign to their own Church. Orthodox theology underwent what the Russian theologian Father

Georges Florovsky (1893-1979) has appropriately termed a pseudo-morphosis. Religious think-

ers of the Turkish period can be divided for the most part into two broad groups, the .Latinizers.

and the .Protestantizers.. Yet the extent of this westernization must not be exaggerated. Greeks

used the outward forms which they had learnt in the west, but in the substance of their thought


the great majority remained fundamentally Orthodox. The tradition was at times distorted by be-

ing forced into alien moulds . distorted, but not wholly destroyed.

  Keeping in mind this twofold background of conservatism and westernization, let us con-

sider the challenge presented to the Orthodox world by Reformation and Counter-Reformation.


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