I. THE LAND AND THE PEOPLE
The Greeks are a people who appear first in history as separated in various small States, but bound together by a common language, religion and civilization, in the south of the Balkan Peninsula, the islands around, and the coast of Asia Minor opposite. For about three centuries these States attained perfection in every form of civilization that gives them the first place in the history of Europe. Then the Greek ideal--Hellenism--spread over Asia, Egypt, and westward to Italy.
The original race gradually sinks in importance; the States have disappeared. But the power of the Greek language, Greek learning, Greek art is never exhausted; the magic of the old memories still works in every age; while political changes cause the rise and fall of other governments, Hellenism never ceases from its conquests. The great Roman Empire, having become too unwieldy, is divided, and Greece gradually swallows up the eastern half. For nearly ten centuries again Greece reigns from Constantinople. The flood of Islam sweeps over the lands she had moulded; instead of destroying her, this brings her to fresh conquests across the distant West. Last of all, chiefly because of the magic of her name, the land where Hellenism was born has succeeded in shaking off the tyrant and we have again a free Greece.
But Hellas means more than this small country. It is that mighty force, undying from Homer to the present Phanar at Constantinople, that, through all changes of government, has been expressed in the same language, has evolved its own ideals, and, unbroken in its continuity for nearly thirty centuries, has moulded to its own likeness nearly every race it met. The barbarous tribes of Asia Minor--Macedonians, Christian Arabs, Egyptians and Slavs, Phoenicians and Italians, Wallachians and even some branches of the great Turkish race--met this ideal in turn, learned to talk Greek and to call themselves Hellenes. And at the knees of this mother all Europe has stood. It is not the object of this article to tell again the long story of Greece. One or two salient points only will clear the ground for an account of Christianity among this people.
First of all, what is Greece? Greece was not united as one State even in classical times; Alexander's empire included all manner of nations; under Rome the scattered Greeks gradually learned to call themselves Romans. The only answer that can be given for any period is that Greece is the land where Greeks live; any country, any city where the people in the great majority spoke Greek, were conscious of being Greeks, was at that time at any rate a part of Hellas: Syracuse and Halicarnassus as much as Athens and Corinth.
What is a Greek? It has been the special mission of Hellas to impose her language and ideals, even the consciousness of being a Greek, on other races. Of the enormous number of people since Alexander who spoke Greek and called themselves Greeks the great majority were children of Hellenized barbarians. Moreover districts were inhabited by mixed populations. The great towns were more or less completely Hellenized, while the peasants around kept their original languages.
One must use the names Greek and Greece as comparative ones. Where a certain degree of Greek consciousness (shown most obviously in the use of the language) prevails, there we may call the people Greeks, more or less so according to the measure of their absorption by Hellas. When Rome conquered Greece (146 B.C.) there was no longer any question of a Greek political nation. But the race goes on, and the language never dies. Constantine (A.D. 324-37) meant his new city to be Roman. But here, too, Hellas gradually absorbed her conquerors. At least from the time of Justinian I (527-65) the Eastern Empire, in spite of its Roman name, must be counted a Greek State.
The Byzantine period (roughly from 527 to 1453) is the direct continuation of the older Greek civilization. It is true that Byzantine civilization was influenced from other sides (from Rome and Asia Minor, for instance); but this would apply to the old Greek ideals too, on which Egypt, Persia, and Asia had their influence; it is the normal process of the development of any civilization to absorb foreign influences gradually, without breaking its own continuity. It was a special characteristic of the Turkish conquest that it neither destroyed nor absorbed the races subject to the sultan. The difference of religion, involving in this case an entirely different kind of life and different ideals in everything, prevented absorption. So, after 1453, except for the loss of independence and the persecution in a more or less acute form that they suffered, the older European races in the Balkans went on as before. The enormous majority kept their faith in spite of grievous disabilities. They kept their language, too, and their consciousness of being Greeks. They never called themselves Turks, nor thought of themselves as part of the Turkish State. They were Greeks, their land was Greece still.
In the beginning of the nineteenth century the wave of enthusiasm for liberty started by the French Revolution reached the Rayahs, as the Christian subjects of the sultan were called by the Turks. The Klephts and Armatoles had kept up a ceaseless, if hopeless, rebellion against the pashas and kaimakams. In 1814 the “Philike Hetairia” was founded at Odessa, to work for the freedom of Greece. In the revolution that followed, from 1821 to 1833, Greeks joined equally all over the Turkish Empire, in the islands and coast towns of Asia Minor, in Constantinople and Salonica as much as in Attica and the Peloponnesus.
Something must be said about the name. The land and the people that we call Greece and Greeks are in their own language Hellas and Hellenes. Greek is a form of the Latin Graecus. After the common use of the other name, Hellene, this one still survived.
II. THE CHURCH IN GREECE BEFORE THE SCHISM (52-1054)
Greece possesses by the most undisputed right an Apostolic Church. St. Paul, in his second missionary journey (52-53), while he was at Troas in Mysia, saw the vision that brought him for the first time to Europe. At Philippi in Macedonia he founded the first Christian Church on European soil. Thence he came to Thessalonica, Berea and, travelling southwards, to Athens. Here he preached about “the unknown God” on the Areopagus, and went on to Corinth. In all these places St. Paul preached, according to his custom, first to the colonies of Jews and then to Gentiles too; in all he left Christian communities from which others in the neighbourhood were formed by his disciples. The Church spread rapidly in Greece.
III. THE ORTHODOX CHURCH IN GREECE
There is no trace of independent action in local Greek Churches. They all used the Byzantine Rite and followed the Byzantine Patriarch faithfully. From 29 May 1453 till the nineteenth century the Greeks and the Orthodox Church in Greece were subject to a Moslem government. The Sultans applied the usual terms of Moslem law regarding non-Moslem Theists to the Christian population of their empire. There was to be no active persecution. Christians suffer certain disabilities. As long as they keep these laws they are not to be molested further, and they are quite free with regard to their religion. Of course any Christian may turn Moslem at any time; if he does so it is death to go back. During the centuries between the fall of Constantinople and the beginning of Greek independence the Greek Church has no history, unless one counts as such the affairs of the Patriarchate. The hideous oppression of the Turk overshadowed all their lives. For the Turk has never kept his own fairly tolerant law. The Christians were always in a state of simmering rebellion and the Turks were always punishing their attempts by wholesale massacre. In Crete 50,000 Christian children, in the year 1670, were torn from their parents, circumcized, and brought up as Moslems; in Asia Minor thousands of Greeks had their tongues torn out for not talking Turkish. Meanwhile the clergy celebrated the Holy Liturgy on Sundays, worked in the fields, and kept wine-shops on weekdays. But they kept alive faith in Christ and Hellas, prayed for better days, were generally at the bottom of each attempt at resisting the pasha's abominations, and bore silent but heroic witness for Christ during those dark centuries. The schism had cut them off from the West. Europe had forgotten them. They had everything in the world to gain by turning Turk; and yet they kept the Christian faith alive among their people, in spite of pashas, and soldiers, and massacres. Their little dark, dirty churches were the centres not only of Christianity but of Hellenism too.
The Greek War of Independence brought a great change to the Church of the free kingdom. The clergy had taken a leading part in the revolution. In 1821, at the beginning of the movement, the Metropolitan of Patras, Germanos, the Archimandrite Dikaios and other leading ecclesiastical persons openly took the side of the Greeks, helped them with their counsels, and in many cases even joined in the fighting. In 1822 the Turks began their series of reprisals by barbarously murdering the Patriarch Gregory V in his vestments, after the Liturgy of Easter Day. But, in spite of Greek enthusiasm for Gregory V, the court of the patriarch was too much under the power of the sultan for the free Greeks to submit to its jurisdiction.
The first National Assemblies (at Epidaurus and Troezen) in 1822 and 1827, while declaring that the Orthodox faith is the religion of Greece, had pointedly said nothing about the oecumenical patriarch. In July, 1833, the Greek Parliament at Nauplion drew up a constitution for the national Church. Imitating Russia, they declared their Church autocephalous--independent of any foreign authority--and proceeded to set up a “Holy Directing Synod” to govern it. Between 1822 and 1844 the Greek Church considered itself autocephalous, managing its own affairs by its synod, but had sent no notice of the change to the Phanar. So the patriarch affected to ignore the change. The free Greeks had determined to have nothing more to do with the Phanar at all.
IV. CONSTITUTION OF THE CHURCH OF GREECE
The laws that fix the establishment, organization, and regulations of the Greek Church are those of 1852, in which the parliament repeated and codified the arrangements made by various governments since 1822:
“The dominant religion in Hellas is the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ. Every other known religion may be practised without hindrance and shall enjoy the protection of the laws, only Proselytism and all other attacks on the dominant Religion are forbidden.” “The Orthodox Church of Hellas acknowledges as her Head our Lord Jesus Christ. She is indissolubly united in faith with the Church of Constantinople and every other Christian Church of the same persuasion [as Constantinople]. She is autocephalous, uses her sovereign rights independently of any other Church, and is ruled by the members of the Holy Synod”.
There are now 32 sees in Greece. The Holy Synod, to which all bishops are subject, meets at Athens. The Metropolitan of Athens is always president for life. Its jurisdiction is described as extending over questions of faith (only, of course, in the sense of preserving the Orthodox Faith of the Seven Councils), rites and canon law, religious instruction, duties of clerks in Holy orders, ecclesiastical discipline, examinations for ordination, consecration of churches, celebration of feasts and services. The Synod can appeal to the Government to put down heretics and refractory clergy, and dangerous books against faith or morals.
In 1856 the Government established higher schools for the clergy at Syros, Chalcis and Tripolis, in 1875 a fourth was begun at Corfu. It appears that all these institutions came to an end for want of students. Still higher in the scale is the Athenian seminary called the Rhizarion (founded by the brothers Rhizares in 1843) whose students attend lectures at the university besides those of their own institution. This is the only seminary that in any way comes up to our standard. Its students form the aristocracy of the clergy and become archimandrites, professors, and bishops.
There are a great many monasteries in Greece. In spite of the suppression, in 1833, of the small ones, 80 remained. There are now 250, with 1322 choir monks and 545 lay brothers, also 9 convents, with 152 nuns and 68 novices (census of 1897). The head of each monastery is the archimandrite, or hegumenos (abbot), elected by the monks and confirmed by the bishop of the diocese. He must be a priest-monk (hieromonachos).
V. THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN GREECE
With the exception of a very few scattered Uniat congregations, all Catholics in Greece are Latins. This is explained partly historically and also by the strictly legal position. After the Great Schism the first restoration of the Catholic Faith was made by the crusaders, the Frankish princes who ruled as their successors, and Venice. None of these authorities cared at all about the Byzantine Church or its rights. Wherever their power extended they set up Latin bishops, just as at home, and tried to persuade the people to turn Latin by harassing disabilities that often became real persecution. Whatever native Catholic communities now exist are the successors of those set up by the Franks and Venetians. They are strengthened by foreigners (French and Italian merchants, etc.) who are naturally Latins too.
The legal justification of what seems an anomalous situation is that Greece is part of Illyricum, and Illyricum, according to the ancient right never abandoned by the popes, belongs to the Roman patriarchate. According to the general (but by no means quite universal) principle, that rite follows patriarchate, all Greeks should be not only Catholics but also Latins. On the other hand, there is no doubt that this circumstance is a great hindrance to the conversion of Greece. It would be much easier to persuade Greeks simply to return to the old allegiance of the first see, than to make them go through so radical an upsetting of their lives as is involved in turning Latin. The foreign character of all Catholic missions in Greece is the great difficulty always; the authorities of these missions are nearly always not only Latins but foreigners--Italians.
VI. PROTESTANTS AND OTHER SECTS
There are a few small communities of Greeks who have left the Orthodox Church, either converted by Protestant missionaries or following some new protestantizing or rationalizing leader of their own. English and American missionaries have been at work here, disseminating bibles and holding prayer meetings, since 1810. At first the Orthodox seem to have watched their movements without suspicion. The British and Foreign Bible Society had even arranged with the Patriarch of Constantinople for the sale of their bibles. But these were found to exclude the deuterocanonical books and to be done into Modern Greek from the Massoretic text without reference to the Septuagint, the official text of the Orthodox Church. The missionaries also, not content with selling their bibles, held prayer meetings in opposition to the liturgical services and preached against sacraments and ceremonies. So the Orthodox became suspicious of them; they were denounced as disturbers of the public peace, and in some places their schools and conventicles were closed.
The end of this disturbance about the missionaries was that the Government granted entire toleration, but the Orthodox Church formally excommunicated them and their adherents. At first it had been a question of selling bibles and preaching to the Orthodox rather than of forming a new sect. Now the issue is quite clear; the Orthodox are forbidden to attend the missionaries' meetings, so these have built up regular congregations with ministers. People who join these leave the established Church and become Protestants. The first church of these Greek Protestants was opened at Athens in 1874.
There are about 6000 Sephardim Jews in Greece, and in 1889 the census counted 24,165 Moslems, living chiefly in Thessaly. It is to the credit of the Government that these Moslems have always been treated with perfect toleration. They are excused from serving in the army under a flag marked with the cross. They have their mosques wherever they want them, and the muezzin still cries from the minaret, as loudly as when the sultan reigned here, that Mohammed is the prophet of God. Nevertheless, great numbers of Moslems crossed the frontier into Turkey when Greece became free; the addition of more territory in 1881 led to another great emigration, and the Moslem population of Greece is still steadily diminishing. At Larissa and thereabouts one finds Turkish quarters with their mosque, as across the frontier, but many more such villages are now deserted, and their mosques in ruins.
VII. THE CHURCH IN ENSLAVED GREECE
Greeks outside the kingdom are practically all Orthodox. They form a great part of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, the aristocracy of the Patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, and the whole Orthodox population of Cyprus. In all these parts except Cyprus the same evolution is taking place. For many centuries the Greeks had it all their own way. All the important offices--those of patriarchs, metropolitans, archimandrites--were never given to the native Orthodox Christians, but were kept in the hands of a little group of Greeks generally sent out by the Phanar. In each case the awakening of national sentiment during the nineteenth century has produced this result: the natives (Slavs, or Wallachians, or Arabs) are making tremendous, and now always successful, efforts to throw off the yoke of these Greeks and to have bishops of their own races, the Liturgy in their own tongues. And everywhere the Greeks are waging a hopeless war in the name of Conservatism to keep their predominance.
Russia steps in everywhere, always on the side of the natives; so each year the Greek element has to retire.In the Patriarchate of Constantinople the Bulgars have made a formal schism since 1872. They have an exarch at Constantinople, and his exarchist bishops dispute the jurisdiction of the Greek (patriarchist) hierarchy all over Macedonia. This is the greatest schism. At Alexandria things are better. The Orthodox patriarch, Photios, is of course a Greek; but he has taken the trouble to learn Arabic and allows the Liturgy to be celebrated in Arabic to some extent. There is a schism at Antioch. After a long line of Phanariot patriarchs, the Arabs at last succeeded in getting an Arab patriarch, Meletios, in 1899. He was at once excommunicated by Constantinople, apparently for not being a Greek. The trouble at Jerusalem may be read in all the newspapers. The Patriarch Damianos is a Greek; he has always been disliked by the Arabs, now he has begun to try to conciliate them, so his Greek Synod has deposed him for being civil to Arabs, and the Arabs will not have him because he is a Greek. In Cyprus, though they are all Greeks, they have a schism too. Since 1900 the quarrel of the two pretenders to the archiepiscopal see, Cyril of Cyrenia and Cyril of Kition, has disturbed the whole Orthodox world.
Adrian Fortescue, ed.
Transcribed by: M.E. Smith
This extract is cited June 2003 from The Catholic Encyclopedia, New Advent online edition URL below.
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