The Downside of Imperial Collapse
When Empires or Great Powers Fall, Chaos and War Rise
THE Eastern question has been simplified by the almost complete exclusion of the Turks from the Balkan peninsula, but the organization of the Orthodox Eastern Church has been complicated. Before the resurrection of independent Balkan states in the nineteenth century, the Turkish Government was wont to classify its Christian subjects rather by their common religion than by their distinctive races, and the Œcumenical Patriarchate at Constantinople had ecclesiastical jurisdiction not only over all the Greeks,[i] but also over the Serbs, Bulgarians, Rumanians and Albanians. This has gradually been modified.
When Greece became an independent kingdom, statesmen felt the political inconvenience of a system which allowed the head of the Greek church to be an ecclesiastic residing in the capital of a foreign and hostile state; for that state could make him, according to his strength or weakness of character, his patriotism or his opportunism, into a national martyr (like the Patriarch Gregory V) or into a Turkish instrument (like some of Gregory's predecessors). Consequently, in 1833, under the Bavarian Regency, there was created an autocephalous church of Greece, which was recognized by the Œcumenical Patriarch in the "Synodal Tome" of 1850, and with which he made complete peace in 1852. After the annexation of the Ionian Islands and of Thessaly and the district of Arta in 1864 and 1881 respectively, the Ionian and Thessalian sees were incorporated with this autonomous church, and thus the ecclesiastical jurisdiction, or klima, of the Œcumenical Patriarchate was further diminished even among the Greeks.
The creation of the Bulgarian Exarchate in 1870, the prelude to the establishment of a practically independent Bulgarian state, was a further blow to the Œcumenical Patriarchate; for the old Bulgarian Patriarchate had ceased to exist in 1394, a year after the fall of the mediæval Bulgarian Empire.
In 1922, a century and a half after the abolition of the old Serbian Patriarchate of Petch by Mustapha III, the Serbian Patriarchate was revived at Karlovitz (then in Austrian territory), whither the church had fled for refuge in the Turkish days. The Patriarch was thereupon enthroned at Belgrade and, in 1924, installed on the old patriarchal seat at Petch. He now usually resides at Belgrade, but the meetings of the Synod are held at Karlovitz.
A Rumanian Patriarchate was created in 1925. On the death of King Ferdinand, the first Patriarch, Myron, became and still remains a member of the Regency.
To complete the separatist tendencies of southeastern Europe, in 1928 an ecclesiastical coup d'état created an independent Albanian Church, whose head has the title of Archbishop of Tirana though he resides at Koritsa. No orthodox church has recognized this uncanonical establishment, and in February 1929 the Œcumenical Patriarchate deposed the bishops irregularly consecrated in Albania, protested to the Serbian church against the participation of a Serbian bishop in this consecration and demanded his punishment, and protested to the Albanian Government against what it considered to be a breach of the agreement concluded in June 1926 between the Patriarchate and the Albanian authorities. A similar protest was made by the Archbishop of Athens; but in March 1929 the Albanian Government expelled the Greek Metropolitan of Koritsa, who was acting as patriarchal Exarch in Albania. Considerable indignation was expressed in Athens, because there is a large Greek minority in South Albania. By the terms of the new Albanian ecclesiastical charter, however, King Zog can on his own initiative suspend the Metropolitans.
After the enlargement of Greece by the Balkan Wars of 1912-13 there arose the problem of the ecclesiastical sees of the new provinces, hitherto directly dependent upon the Patriarchate. Various schemes were put forward for the solution of this delicate question; but finally a law published on July 12, 1928, provided for the practical ecclesiastical amalgamation of the "old" and "new" Greece. By this law "all the Metropolitan sees in the new provinces recognize as their administrative authority the Holy Synod in Athens, to which their administration is entrusted by the Œcumenical Patriarchate, his canonical rights being preserved. The Metropolitans of the new provinces, being made equal in all things to those of the autocephalous Church of Greece, participate in the Synod in Athens, which consists of nine members," viz., four from " old " and four from " new " Greece, besides the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, who is President. The quorum is five and the annual session begins on October 1. It is, however, specially provided that "the present law does not apply to Crete;" and the Metropolitan of Crete (with the seven episcopal sees of that island which became autonomous in 1900 after the creation of the principality) still depends directly upon the Œcumenical Patriarch, though having his own synod. The Metropolitans of the new provinces are, however, bound to mention the Patriarch's name in the liturgy, and, in theory, the Metropolitans of "new" Greece may vote in the election of a Patriarch; in practice, however, the Turkish Government will not allow them to exercise their votes, but they may, and do, telegraph that they approve the holding of an election. This was done on the occasion of the last election, that of Photios II in October 1929.
The above is a provisional arrangement; but a new ecclesiastical charter has been drawn up, though it has not yet been ratified by the Greek Parliament. This enlarges the numbers of the Holy Synod to thirteen, viz., seven Metropolitans from "old" Greece, including the Archbishop of Athens as President, and six from "new" Greece. The annual session is to begin on September 1, the quorum is seven, and the Synod's duties include the prevention of proselytism, the supervision of theological education, including the lectures of professors of theology, the appointment of preachers, and the publication of the official organ of the Church, Ecclesia. The charter enumerates the thirty-two Metropolitan sees of "old," and the forty-seven of "new" Greece, and includes the Metropolitan of Crete with five Cretan bishoprics in the Church of Greece, thus practically severing "the great Greek island" from the jurisdiction of the Patriarch, and assimilating the Cretan Church to those of the other new provinces. There is only one Archbishop (that of Athens, as at present), and the number of Metropolitan sees may be diminished by a vote of two-thirds of the Synod, which action is to be communicated, in the case of the new provinces, to the Patriarch.
The practical jurisdiction of the present Patriarch has, therefore, considerably shrunk. There are now only eighteen Metropolitans actually in Turkey, of whom twelve, with the addition of the Patriarch, compose the Holy Synod; thirty-five others (including that distinguished ecclesiastical diplomatist, Chrysanthos of Trebizond, who acts as the Patriarch's Exarch in Greece and in that capacity, together with the Archbishop of Athens, received the Archbishop of Canterbury when he recently visited Greece) were driven from their sees in Turkey and Bulgaria by the Asia Minor catastrophe and the exchange of populations. The small number of Metropolitans still dependent upon the Patriarchate will be further diminished if the Italians succeed in forming (on the alleged analogy of the Church of Cyprus) an autocephalous Church of the Dodecanese. This would supposedly be under Apostolos, Metropolitan of Rhodes, and would comprise the three other Metropolitans of Kos (at present vacant), Kalymnos with Leros, and Kasos with Karpathos, besides the Abbot of the Monastery of Patmos. The Cypriote parallel is scarcely exact, because Great Britain found the Cypriote Church already autocephalous when she went to Cyprus in 1878, and would certainly have no more interfered with the constitution of that church, had she found it dependent upon the Patriarch, than she interfered in the ecclesiastical relations between the Ionian Islands and the Patriarchate during the British Protectorate. The Metropolitan of Rhodes, whose return from three years' exile in 1924 was contingent upon his signing a document submitted to him by the Italian authorities, is favorable to the Italian plan, but it is strongly repudiated by the Dodecanesians abroad, who can freely express their opinions, and by the Patriarchs of Alexandria and Jerusalem and the bishop of Cyprus. The new Patriarch, unlike his predecessor, is also understood to be against it.
A native of the island of Kalymnos informs me that the question, abstruse as it may seem to us, deeply interests the spongefishers as well as the intellectuals, because "where the discussion of politics is forbidden, the Greek takes refuge in debates on theology." The whole of Byzantine history points to the truth of this remark. But Italy may cut the Gordian knot by force, putting the reluctant Patriarch before an accomplished fact, based on the cannons of her fleet rather than on the canons of the church. The recent Lateran arrangement with the Papacy may also tend to a weakening of the Orthodox Church and a strengthening of Roman Catholicism in "the Italian Islands of the Aegean." It should be added that there now is a Roman Catholic Archbishop of Rhodes.
After the expulsion of the Patriarch, Constantine VI, from Constantinople in 1925, on the ground that he was an "exchangeable" Greek, it was suggested that the Patriarchal residence should no longer be Constantinople, but Mount Athos, which since 1920 has been a theocratic republic under Greek sovereignty. But this opinion has not prevailed. Historical continuity and the desire to keep the Patriarchate as a nucleus of Hellenism even in the much-diminished Greek colony of Constantinople maintain the Patriarch's seat in the Phanar, but he is now merely magni nominis umbra. Professor Karotides in his valuable "Contemporary History of the Greeks" regrets the separation of the Greek Church of Greece proper from the Patriarchate; but during the last century the jurisdiction of the former has waxed, while the latter's has waned, and the Turks have even endeavored to constitute a separate Orthodox Church of Turkey under the notorious Papa Epthym.
In addition to the Orthodox Churches in southeastern Europe and Asia Minor which have been mentioned, there exist the Orthodox Patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem and Russia, and the Orthodox Church of Poland under a Metropolitan. The Orthodox Church alike in the United States, Great Britain, Malta and Australia depends upon the Œcumenical Patriarchate. There is an Orthodox Archbishop of North and South America, whose seat is New York, and under him are the bishops of Chicago, Boston and San Francisco. Until 1928 there was a schism among the American Greeks, some of whom asserted their dependence upon the Patriarch while others acknowledged the autocephalous Church of Greece. But a decision of that year settled the question in favor of the Patriarch. The Metropolitan of Thyateira -- Germanos, who resides in London -- is patriarchal Exarch for not only the Orthodox Churches in Great Britain and Malta, but also for those of northern and western Europe. The Metropolitan of Australia and all Oceania is resident in Sidney.
Except on the "Holy Mountain" of Athos, with its twenty monasteries, monasticism is on the decline in Greece. The tendency of modern life is against it, and there is a feeling that the funds of the monasteries might be better employed in improving the educational and material condition of the clergy. By a decree of 1926, ratified by the present Greek Constitution of 1927, Mount Athos, while forming a part of the Hellenic state (including the famous historic Serbian monastery of Chilindar), enjoys administrative autonomy, but ecclesiastically depends upon the Œcumenical Patriarchate. Greece is represented by a governor, controlled by the Foreign Office, and order is maintained by a force of Greek gendarmerie. The twenty monasteries enjoy exemption from taxation and their lands are inalienable.
But in Greece outside of Athos monasticism is the subject of discussion. The two hundred and forty-seven monasteries and thirty-five nunneries of Greece are considered too numerous, and in 1926 the Holy Synod resolved that, while rejecting General Pangalos's proposal that all monks under 50 years of age be dismissed, no further additions to their ranks be admitted and novices discharged. Recently the suggestion has been made that in picturesque sites -- and Greek monasteries are usually to be found in such -- these institutions should be converted into hotels.
Greek monks are rarely devoted to learned research, and the writers upon Greek monasteries and their treasures have usually been laymen. But in its present head, the Archbishop Chrysostom, the Greek hierarchy possesses a scholar of great learning who has published historical works and has lectured upon the Greek Archbishop of Canterbury, Theodore of Tarsus. As former director of the Rhizareios School, he gained a practical insight into the conditions of clerical education and is anxious to improve them. During his seven years' tenure of the Archiepiscopate, twelve theological seminaries have been founded on the lines of the Rhizareios School at various places, and a hostel for theological students has been opened in the historic monastery of Petrake, near the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. There was urgent need for the better education of the Greek priests. Often married men with families to support, they had to keep shops or in some other way add to their meagre stipends, derived from the fees paid by their parishioners at weddings and (since 1909) from a fund formed out of the surplus revenue of the monasteries. By the proposed charter of the church the Archbishop will receive a sum equivalent to the salary of the President of the Supreme Court, and each Metropolitan the same salary as a judge of that Court. With few exceptions, the clergy in Greece take small part in political or social life; since 1827 they have lost the right of sitting in Parliament, and a mondain Metropolitan of the type not uncommon among Roman Catholic Monsignori is rarely seen in Athenian drawing-rooms.
The Greek Church is very jealous of any attempt at publishing a "Revised Version" of the Holy Scriptures. Warned by the experience of the "Gospel Riots" of 1901, when the Theotokes Cabinet fell over the question of the translation of the Gospels into a form of the vernacular, the present Constitution ordains that "the text of the Holy Scriptures remains unchanged. The rendering of it into another linguistic form is absolutely forbidden without the previous approval of the Church." It may be doubted whether the people would appreciate a vulgarization of the original, while scholars and divines envy the Greek Church its possession of the language in which the New Testament was written. Orthodox ecclesiastics express some suspicion of Uniate propaganda, but the Roman Catholic Church coexists with the Orthodox in Greece, and at the last vacancy in 1927 the Vatican wisely appointed a Greek as "Latin Archbishop of Athens," instead of a foreigner. The Constitution forbids proselytism, while allowing " the free exercise of the service of every known religion, provided it be not opposed to public order and good morals." Thus there has been an English Church in Athens (attended also by Americans, who are represented on its financial committee) since 1843, and the Jews, who form such an important element at Saloniki, enjoy full toleration, like the Moslems of Western Thrace. Athens now has a synagogue, and it has been proposed to build a mosque there for the use of Moslem visitors. Jewish and Moslem deputies are elected to Parliament from special constituencies and sworn respectively on the Talmud and Koran. Anti-Semitism, evidences of which occurred a generation ago at Corfu, is warmly repudiated by the Government. The relative numbers of various religions in Greece will be known when the religious census of 1928, the first held since 1907, is published.
Thus, while the Orthodox Church has become more alive to the racial feelings of its various flocks, it has ceased to be preponderantly Greek. The time is over when the Œcumenical Patriarch was the Ettinarch, or national head of the Greek people; he is now, in practice, merely the head of the small Greek community left in Constantinople, and, for the present, of the Dodecanesians. The separation of the various Orthodox churches from his sway was inevitable, as soon as independent states arose in the Near East. Hence the liberation of Orthodox Christians from Turkish rule has led not only to their ecclesiastical liberation from the Greek head of the Orthodox Church, but to the diminution of his authority over the larger portion of his own race. Whereas non-Italian Roman Catholics have acquiesced in the tenure of the Papacy by Italians alone for over four centuries, the races of the Near East have preferred to establish hierarchies of their own blood. Whatever the future may have in store for the Œcumenical Patriarchate, it seems improbable that he will recover the authority which he once possessed as head of the only Christian church of the East. All the omens point in the contrary direction. But, as the Balkan states now have fewer "unredeemed" brethren subject to their neighbors than before the recent wars, their respective churches have less political importance than in the days when a Greek, Serbian or Bulgarian bishop in another country was usually also a political propagandist, and they can accordingly devote their whole attention to religious work, to education and to social reforms. Possessed of a splendid ritual, a great history and a distinguished list of martyrs, the Orthodox Church may thus adapt itself to the new conditions of life in the East.
[i] Except those of Cyprus, whose archbishop has been head of an autocephalous church since the Council of Ephesus in 431, and enjoys the privilege of signing his name in red ink.