Posts tagged Constantinople
Yesterday, I ran the first of six articles on the so-called “Bulgarian Question,” a controversy that rocked the Orthodox world in the early 1870s and ultimately led to the 1872 Council of Constantinople, which condemned the heresy of “phyletism.” Search the Internet — both Google and the various subscriber-only databases of academic journals — and you’ll find precious little of substance on the Council. I recently stumbled onto a series of contemporaneous accounts published in the Methodist Quarterly Review, and I’m reprinting those accounts here.
I know I said that I’d run Part 2 next week, but I’ve got this ready to go now, so why wait? This latest installment appeared in the April 1871 issue of the Methodist Quarterly Review — so, nine months after the article I printed yesterday.
The Bulgarian Church Question, to the earlier history and importance of which we have referred in former numbers of the “Quarterly Review” led in the year 1870 to very important developments. The demand of the Bulgarians to have Bishops of their own nationality, and a national Church organization like the Roumanians and the Servians, was, in the main, granted by the imperial firman of March 10. The substance of the eleven paragraphs is as follows:
- Article I. provides for the establishment of a separate Church administration for the Bulgarians, which shall be called the Exarchate of the Bulgarians.
- Article II. The chief of the Bulgarian Metropolitans receives the title of Exarch, and presides over the Bulgarian Synod.
- Article III. The Exarch, as well as the Bishops, shall be elected in accordance with the regulations hitherto observed, the election of the Exarch to be confirmed by the oecumenical Patriarchs.
- Article IV. The Exarch receives his appointment by the Sublime Porte previous to his consecration, and is bound to say prayer for the Patriarch whenever he holds divine service.
- Article V. stipulates the formalities to be observed in supplicating for the appointment (installation) by the Sublime Porte.
- Article VI. In all matters of a spiritual nature the Exarch has to consult with the Patriarch.
- Article VII. The new Bulgarian Church, like the Churches of Roumania, Greece, and Servia, obtains the holy oil (chrisma) from the Patriarchate.
- Article VIII. The authority of a Bishop does not extend beyond his diocese.
- Article IX. The Bulgarian Church and the bishopric (Metochion) in the Phanar are subject to the Exarch, who may temporarily reside in the Metochion. During this temporary residence he must observe the same rules and regulations which have been established for the Patriarch of Jerusalem during his residence in the Phanar.
- Article X. The Bulgarian Exarchate comprises fourteen dioceses: Rustchuk, Silistria, Schumia, Tirnovo, Sophia, Widdin, Nisch, Slivno, Veles, Samakovo, Kustendie, Vratza, Lofdja, and Pirut. One half of the cities of Varna, Anchialu, Mesembria, Liyeboli, and of twenty villages on the Black Sea, are reserved for the Greeks. Philippople has been divided into two equal parts, one of which, together with the suburbs, is retained by the Greeks, while the other half, and the quarter of Panaghia, belongs to the Bulgarians. Whenever proof is adduced that two thirds of the inhabitants of a diocese are Bulgarians, such diocese shall be transferred to the Exarchate.
- Article XI. All Bulgarian monasteries which are under the Patriarchate at the present time shall remain so in the future.
The Greeks of Constantinople where indignant at this firman, because they were well aware that its execution would put an end to the subordinate position in which they have thus far kept the Bulgarians. They demanded that the Patriarch should either reject it or resign. The Synod which was convened by the Patriarch in April declared that the firman was in conflict with the canons of the Church, and that an Ecumenical Council should be summoned to decide the question. The Patriarch accordingly notified the Turkish government that he could not accept the firman, and that, therefore, he renewed his petition for the convocation of an Ecumenical Council. The Bulgarian committee, on the other hand, issued a circular in which the solution of the question by the firman was declared to be entirely satisfactory, and corresponding with their just demands. They pointed out that the principal demand of the orthodox Bulgarians had been that their Churches and bishoprics be intrusted to a clergy familiar with the Bulgarian language, and that they did not understand how the Patriarchate could designate as unevangelical so legitimate a desire. The Patriarch, in a letter to the Grand Vizier, declared that he could retain his office only if the government granted the convocation of the Ecumenical Council. The endeavor of Ali Pasha to induce the Patriarch to desist from his demand proved of no avail. The twelve Bishops constituting the Synod of Constantinople sent a synodic letter to the Porte, in which they implore the government to settle the Bulgarian Church question on the basis proposed by the Patriarch in 1869. The government now yielded. Ali Pasha invited the Patriarch to send to the government a programme of the question to be discussed by the Ecumenical Synod. To this the Patriarch replied as follows:
We had the honor of receiving the rescript which your highness has condescended to forward to us, as a reply to our letter and the Maybata of the Synod of Metropolitans. We perceive that we shall be authorized to convene the Ecumenical Council, to which will appertain the final solution of the Bulgarian question by canonical decision. Your highness expresses the desire to know beforehand the objects and the limits of the deliberations of the Council, and invites us to submit a programme of the same. We have the honor of informing you that the Ecumenical Council, for whose convocation we requested the authorization of the imperial government, will have to investigate and to adjust the controversy which has arisen between the Patriarchate and the Bulgarians. Your highness is aware that said controversy resulted partly from the circumstance that the Bulgarians did not consider satisfactory the concessions which we granted them in regard to the administration of the Church, partly from the fact that the Bulgarians demand something which is in direct opposition to the spirit of our faith and to the commands of the holy canons, although they pretend that their proposals are not at all in contradiction to the holy laws. Thus the labors of the Council, which will not touch on any secular question, will be strictly limited to deliberations on the Bulgarian question; the demands of the Bulgarians, as well as the concessions made by the Patriarchate, will be minutely and impartially scrutinized, upon which the Council will come to a decision in accordance with the spirit of the canons, from which there can be no appeal.
Done and given at our Patriarchal residence on November 16, 1870.
And with that, the Methodist Quarterly Review article ends.
The biggest bombshell — the thing that really got the Ecumenical Patriarchate riled — seems to be Article X, which provided that, if two-thirds of the inhabitants of a diocese are ethnically Bulgarian, the diocese would be transferred from the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the Bulgarian Church. If THAT is what we’re calling “phyletism,” then I can see why Constantinople would be upset. You can’t have a bishop’s territory taken away from him simply by virtue of the ethnic makeup of that territory.
Also, while such things have been common throughout history, it’s pretty jarring to see church policy so explicitly dictated by a non-Orthodox, secular government. I mean, I realize that Bulgarian Orthodox officials probably drafted the “firman,” but the thing was issued by the Turkish government, and it’s this document that lays out the structure of an entirely new (purported) Local Church.
The part about the Bulgarian Exarch living in Constantinople sounds pretty weird, too, but in those days it wouldn’t have been such a big deal. The article alludes to the Patriarch of Jerusalem doing the same thing, and other Patriarchs lived in Constantinople at various times throughout history.
Anyway, we’ll run the next article on this fascinating situation in the very near future. Thanks for reading.
Recently, I had occasion to research the 1872 Council of Constantinople, which somewhat famously condemned “ethno-phyletism.” The issue arose because, as I understand it, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church — which was under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate — declared itself autocephalous. Anyway, before I began this research, I could probably tell you three or four sentences’ worth of information about the whole affair. Surprisingly, there is very little to be found online, and what little has been written about the Council tends to focus on applying it to a modern, American context — an endeavor that can lead to historical inaccuracies and anachronisms. I also searched various databases of scholarly journals, but came up empty. At least in English, there appear to be almost no modern treatments of this Council.
I then checked my personal archives, and it turns out that I have a series of contemporaneous accounts of the situation, published in the Methodist Quarterly Review beginning in 1870. I’m going to reprint those articles here, because they are the best thing I’ve yet found on the subject, and also because they show the kind of reporting you could find in America on global Orthodox events in the 1870s.
This first installment comes from the July 1870 issue of the Methodist Quarterly Review, beginning at page 451.
THE EASTERN CHURCH — THE BULGARIAN QUESTION. — Among the most important questions which have agitated the Eastern Churches since the beginning of the present century is the re-construction of a national Bulgarian Church, which is to remain united with the Patriarchate of Constantinople and other parts of the Greek Church in point of doctrine, but to maintain an entire independence in point of administration. This question has obtained a political, as well as an ecclesiastical, importance, as Russia, France, and other European powers have tried to make capital out of it. A decree of the Turkish Government, issued in February, 1870, appears to decide the main point which was at issue. As important results may follow this decision, a brief history of the Bulgarian question will aid in a proper understanding of the situation it now occupies, and of the hopes that are entertained by the Bulgarians with regard to their future.
When the Bulgarians, in the ninth century, under King Bogaris, became Christians, the new missionary Church was placed under the supervision of the Greek Patriarch. About fifty years later King Samuel established the political independence of the Bulgarian nation and the ecclesiastical independence of the Bulgarian Church. But after his death, the Church was again placed under the Greek Patriarch, and did not regain the enjoyment of ecclesiastical independence till the latter part of the twelfth century. After the conquest of the country by the Turks, in 1393, many of the Bulgarians for a while became, outwardly, Mohammedans; but, as religious freedom increased, returned to their earlier faith, and the Bulgarian Church was made an appendage to that of Constantinople. Good feeling prevailed then between the Greeks and the Bulgarians, and the Sultan filled the Bulgarian Sees with Greek prelates, who were acceptable to the people. As the Bulgarian nobility was exterminated, and the people oppressed by wars which followed, there was, until the beginning of the present [19th] century, scarcely a single voice raised against the foreign Episcopate. But the national feeling began to assert itself about fifty years ago, and the Greek Patriarch was compelled to authorize several reforms. Abuses continued, however, and the national feeling increased, so that the Patriarch was obliged, in 1848, to approve the erection of a Bulgarian Church, and of a school for the education of priests, in the capital. The demand of the Bulgarians for a restoration of their nationality, in 1856, again aroused the slumbering zeal of the Greeks, and the differences between the two nationalities have continued very active up to the present time. The Porte, in 1862, named a mixed commission, to investigate and settle the inquiries. It proposed two plans of adjustment. According to one of these plans, the Bulgarian Church was to name the Bishops of those districts in which the Bulgarian population was a majority. The other plan accorded to the Bulgarians the right to have a Metropolitan in every province, and a Bishop in every diocese, where there is a strong Bulgarian population. Both plans were rejected, and the Turkish Government, having been to considerable pains for nothing, left the contending parties to settle the controversy in their own way.
Accordingly the Greek Patriarch, in 1869, proposed a General Council, and solicited the different Churches of the Greek Confession for their opinions and advice on the subject. Greece, Roumania, and Servia declared themselves in favor of the Council. On the other hand, the Holy Synod of Petersburgh, for the Russian Church, declared the claims of the Bulgarians to be excessive, and that, although it considered a Council the only lawful means of settling the points at issue, it feared a schism if the demands of the Bulgarians were complied with, and was further afraid that the fulfillments [sic] of the demands of the canons would be refused, and advised the continuance of the status quo. The Greek Patriarch, being unwilling to solve the question, the Turkish Government took the matter into its own hands, and in February, 1870, issued a decree which establishes a Bulgarian Exarch, to whom are subordinate thirteen Bulgarian Bishops, whose number may be increased whenever it may be found necessary. The Turkish Government has tried to spare the sensibility of the Greeks as much as possible, and has, therefore, not only withheld from the head of the Bulgarian Church the title of Patriarch, but has expressly provided that the Exarch should remain subordinate to the Patriarch of Constantinople. Nevertheless the Patriarch has entered his solemn and earnest protest against the scheme. His note to the Grand Vizier, which is signed by all the members of the Holy Synod of Constantinople, is an important document in the history of the Greek Church, and reads as follows:
To His Highness the Grand Vizier: – Your Highness was pleased to communicate to the Patriarchate, through Messrs Christaki, Efendi, Sagraphras, and Kara-Theodor, the Imperial firman, written upon parchment, which solves the Bulgarian question after it had been open during ten years. The Patriarchate, always faithfully fulfilling its duties toward the Emperor, whom the Lord God has given to the nations, has at all times remained foreign to any thought that the decrees of the Sublime Sovereign in political questions should not be obeyed. The Oriental Church obeyed with cheerfulness and respect the legitimate Sovereigns. The latter, on their part, have always respected the province which belongs to the ecclesiastical administration. The Sultans, of glorious memory, as well as their present fame-crowned successor, (whose strength may be invincible,) have always drawn a marked boundary-line between civil and ecclesiastical authority; they recognized the rights, privileges, and immunities of the latter, and guaranteed it by Hatti-Humayums. They never permitted any one to commit an encroachment upon the original rights of the Church, which, during five centuries, was under the immediate protection of the Imperial throne.
Your Highness: If the said firman had been nothing but the sanction of a Concordat between the Patriarchate and the Bulgarians, we should respect and accept it. Unfortunately, things are different. Since the firman decides ecclesiastical questions, and since the decision is contrary to the canons, and vitally wounds the rights and privileges of the Holy See, the Patriarchate cannot accept the ultimatum of the Imperial Government. Your Highness: Since the Bulgarians obstinately shut their ears to the voice of that reconciliation which we aim at, and since the Imperial Government is not compelled to solve an ecclesiastical question in an irrevocable manner; since, finally, the abnormal position of affairs violates and disturbs ancient rights, the Ecumenical Patriarchate renews the prayer, that the Imperial Government may allow the convocation of an Ecumenical Council, which alone is authorized to solve this question in a manner legally valid and binding for both parties. Moreover, we beseech the Imperial Government that it may take the necessary steps which are calculated to put an end to the disorder which disturbs the quiet within our flock, and which can chiefly be traced to the circulars of the Heads of the Bulgarians (dated the 15th of the present month). The Ecumenical Patriarchate enters its protest with the Imperial Government against the creation of these disturbances.
Written and done in our Patriarchal residence, Mar. 24 (old style), 1870.
(Signed) GREGORY CONSTANTINE, Patriarch.
(Signed) All the members of the Holy Synod.
The note of the Patriarch and his Synod indicates that they are aware that, sooner or later, the national demands of the Bulgarians must be granted; and their chief concern now is to obtain as large concessions for the supremacy of the Patriarchal See as possible.
A peaceable and a speedy solution of the difference is the more urgent, as during the last ten years the heads of the Roman Catholic Church in Turkey, aided by the diplomatic agents of the French Government, have made the most strenuous efforts to gain a foothold among the Bulgarians, and to establish a United Bulgarian Church. Nor have these efforts been altogether unsuccessful. Several years ago the Pope appointed the Bulgarian priest, Sokolski, the first Bishop of those Bulgarians who had entered the union with Rome, and who constituted a nucleus of the United Bulgarian Church, which, like the other united Oriental Churches, accepts the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, but is allowed to retain the ancient customs of the ancient national Church, (marriage of the priests, use of the Sclavic [sic] language at divine service, etc.). Bishop Sokolski was quite on a sudden carried off from Constantinople, (as was commonly thought by Russian agents,) and has never been heard of since. In 1855, Raphael Popof was consecrated successor of Sokolski; he still lives, as the only United Bulgarian Bishop, is present at the Vatican Council. He resides at Adrianople, and under his administration the membership of the United Bulgarian Church has increased (up to 1869) to over 9,000 souls, of whom 3,000 lives in Constantinople, 2,000 in Salonichi and Monastir, 1,000 in Adrianople, and 3,000 in the vicinity of Adrianople. The clergy of the Church, in 1869, consisted of ten secular priests.
The part about Rome and the emerging Bulgarian “unia” — complete with a Uniate bishop allegedly abducted by Tsarist agents! — is a topic worthy of study on its own. It’s also interesting to note that all of this was happening simultaneous with the First Vatican Council, which proclaimed the Roman Catholic dogma of papal infallibility.
Next week, we’ll be back with another article on the “Bulgarian Question” and the build-up to the 1872 Council of Constantinople — which, as you might have noticed from the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s letter, was referred to as an “Ecumenical Council.” (Yes, there were Ecumenical Councils after #7.)
I’m assuming, in this short article, that you’ve read about Serbian Diocese v. Milivojevich. But for those who haven’t: the Serbian Holy Assembly deposed Bishop Dionisije Milivojevich, and Illinois courts basically overruled the deposition on the grounds that the Holy Assembly hadn’t followed its own rules. The US Supreme Court reversed the judgment, holding that secular courts must defer to the decisions of higher church authorities in hierarchical churches. Even if the Holy Assembly doesn’t follow its own rules, because it’s the highest authority in the Serbian Church, its decisions are binding on US courts.
In dissent, Justice Rehnquist pointed out the problems with this approach. For instance, what if a group of Holy Assembly members — but not enough to constitute a quorum for an official meeting — got together and voted to depose a bishop? Would the US courts have to defer to this decision, even though according to the Serbian Church’s own rules, the group of bishops wasn’t enough to constitute the Holy Assembly? According to Rehinquist, you can’t just toss out the church rules and “rubber-stamp” decisions simply because they’re on religious letterhead.
After analyzing that case, I learned that Bishop Dionisije had appealed to the Ecumenical Patriarch, who rejected the appeal and supported the decision of the Holy Assembly. But this raised another question — what if the Ecumenical Patriarch had done the opposite? What if he had, instead, reversed the Holy Assembly decision? And if the Holy Assembly rejected the EP’s reversal, leading to two competing groups in America: one pointing to the Holy Assembly decision, the other to the EP?
This is what I’ve taken to calling the Dionisije Conundrum. According to one interpretation, Canon 17 of Chalcedon grants to the Ecumenical Patriarch the right to hear appeals. Others claim that the EP has no such prerogative. In my hypothetical, to use the deference approach, the secular court would first have to decide what Canon 17 means. Think about what that would involve. The court would have to hear testimony from canonists and historians, weigh competing interpretations, and decide which interpretation would be enshrined as law by the court. All of that would deeply involve the court in a religious matter, but that involvement would be a necessary prerequisite for the court to use the deference approach. If you’re going to defer to the highest authority, you first have to figure out who actually is the highest authority.
There is no easy answer to the Dionisije Conundrum. The only alternative, for the court, would be to refuse to hear the case altogether — to tell the two sides that they’ll have to fight it out themselves, without involvement from the civil authorities. In other words, if the court rejects its role as arbiter, it must accept the likelihood that the parties will take matters into their own hands. It should be clear that this isn’t an acceptable approach. We can’t have rival factions of a church physically battling for control of property. That’s the whole point of having a judicial system — to decide between the parties in as unbiased a manner as possible, and for that decision to be final and enforceable.
I keep coming back to the same idea — that civil court involvement in religious matters, at least in Orthodoxy, is inevitable and unavoidable. The judgments of these courts will not always be in the best interests of Orthodoxy, and we certainly don’t want secular judges getting so involved in church affairs that they are effectively overruling legitimate church authorities. But for a secular court to determine whether a church authority acted legitimately — that is something we may need to accept. This determination will involve religious questions. It won’t fully take into account all the nuances of Orthodox ecclesiology. But at this stage, I just don’t see how it can be avoided.
This article was written by Matthew Namee.
Editor’s note: Last week, Nicholas Chapman introduced three documents he found in the National Archives in London, under the heading “The Russian Orthodox Church in America and Its Clergy in 1865.” Today, we present the first of these documents — a letter from His Holiness Philaret, Metropolitan of Moscow, to the Ober-Procurator of the Holy Synod of Russia, February 26, 1865. Nicholas Chapman explains, “The author of this document was Metropolitan Filaret (Drozdov) who served as Metropolitan of Moscow for from 1826-1867. Metropolitan Innocent, since canonized as the ‘Apostle to America,’ succeeded him.” This draft translation has been provided by Matushka Marie Meyendorff.
One final note: St. Philaret makes reference to a Christmas liturgy celebrated by Honcharenko in New York. This appears to have been the first Orthodox liturgy in the history of New York City (or, for that matter, the first known liturgy in the eastern United States). It is earlier than the better-known liturgy celebrated by Honcharenko a couple of months later (and discussed here and here).
When the American spiritual leaders first showed the desire to have an Orthodox Church in America it seemed necessary for California but not for New York. Now a new outlook appears.
Already a priest has received from the Holy Church of Constantinople the antimens and the Holy Chrism. He has arrived in America and on the day of the birth of Christ performed there the first Orthodox liturgy from the time of the discovery of America. Then he performed the baptism of eight Slavs and two Russians. He writes, “I found there seven thousand Slavs, three thousand Greeks and three thousand Russians, without a Pastor.” If this is true, it is a strong reason to have in America a Russian Orthodox Church.
We are attaching to this a copy of the letter of Agapius Honcharenko written to the Editor of the newspaper “Orthodox Overview.” Won’t you take the decision if something should be done about this situation?
Editor’s note: On Monday, we introduced Fr. Kyrill Johnson, who converted to Orthodoxy in the 1920s and spent most of his career in the Antiochian Archdiocese. Then, on Tuesday, we presented an article by Johnson reviewing a Protestant translation of the Divine Liturgy. Below, we’ve published another article by Johnson, on “The Prestige of the Oecumenical Patriarchate.” This piece originally appeared in the Orthodox American in its October 1944-February 1945 issue. Oh, and please be warned: Johnson can be… well, abrasive, I guess. I hope no one is offended by our publication of this historical document.
One of the pleasant myths in the uninformed Orthodox mind is that which infers that the various statements and pronouncements of certain individual Orthodox Patriarchs in conjunction with their Synods have binding force in the realm of Orthodox faith and morals. Nothing could be further from the facts.
It is true that there was a time in Orthodox history when such documents and pronouncements, although local and racial in origin, did have a certain weight and authority. That period came to an end with the reconstitution of the Greek nation and the consequent subservience of Orthodox faith and institutions to the Greek political ideal among ecclesiastics of Greek blood. Even the most casual student of Orthodox Church history is struck by the fact that all too often men of high ecclesiastical position in Orthodoxy, if they are of Greek blood, have been willing to use their positions to further and advance, not pure Orthodoxy, as such, but Greek political and racial aspirations.
Without doubt the ideal series of documents by which this thesis could be adequately proved is that which proceeded from the various Greek Patriarchates during the crises in Russian Church affairs after the Russian Revolution.
When the late Russian Patriarch Tikhon, of blessed memory, was deposed by a rump Synod of Bishops, the then Patriarch of Constantinople, Meletios, condemned this act as uncanonical. His successor, Gregory VII, reversed this pronouncement, and in his turn Gregory VII was reversed by his own successor, Basil III.
The Greeks who occupied the Patriarchate of Jerusalem reveal an equally unpleasant record of having no mind of their own, or any Orthodox mind at all for that matter, issuing document after document each in conflict with itself and with those, which had come before. Aside from the Russian Patriarchate of Moscow, only the Syrian Patriarch of Antioch seems to have had the ability to make up his own mind for himself and to stick to his decisions.
If one collates this series of pronouncements issued by Greek ecclesiastics with the political events and pressures, which paralleled their appearance, one soon discovers an obvious relation between their interpretation of Orthodox canon law and faith and the political tensions to which they were subjected.
Tempting as it is to explore this field in terms of the Russian question, we prefer at this time to direct attention to a lesser Greek political-ecclesiastical document. We do this because we have collected a considerable body of firsthand and as yet unpublished data relative to this lesser document. We refer to the pronouncement in the year 1922 by Meletios, Patriarch of Constantinople, on Anglican orders.
The facts necessary to understand the problems involved are simple enough. On July 28th, 1922, Meletios issued two documents. The first was in the form of a personal letter, not to the legal head of the Protestant religion established by law in England, the King, but to one of his political appointees, the senior of the two Protestant archbishops functioning in England. The other document was a sort of round robin addressed to “The Presidents of the Particular Eastern Churches.” The subject matter of both documents concerned itself with the much-debated question of the possible validity of Protestant ordinations in the state religion of England.
These two documents were hailed as a seven days’ wonder throughout the Protestant world. With this reaction we are in hearty agreement. Unfortunately their content was so neatly phrased in the subtle niceties of the Greek language that neither the casual nor learned reader could be quite sure what meaning they were intended to convey.
It is not our intent to add another essay in the necessarily dull exegesis of these documents. Obviously they follow the Pauline injunction, so dear to the Greek heart, of being all things to all men.
It is our purpose to throw some historical light on the confused background, which made these documents possible, and to trace the devious actions of the Greek mind when occasion demands of it that it say something without saying anything. It can be safely taken for granted that historical scholarship is fully justified in judging any document, not only in terms of its content, but also in terms of the conditions and the men, which brought it forth.
First let us consider the man over whose signature these two documents saw the light of day. He was one Meletios. By birth he was a Cretan; and if Pauline injunctions mean anything the wary should at once be put on their guard. His ecclesiastical career paralleled that of his fellow Cretan, Venizelos, in the realm of Greek politics. When this statesman was in power in the Greek world, Meletios also held a position of power. When the statesman fell, as he did many times, the ecclesiastic also fell. Let us grant at once that they were both very able men, intensely devoted to the Greek political ideal.
After the First World War Venizelos fell from power. Meletios, who was his Archbishop of Athens, fell with him and came to the United States as an exile. There is sufficient historical evidence to justify the statement that both the politician and the ecclesiastic were creatures whose power and position depended upon British foreign policy and backing. As exile in this country Meletios found favor with only a minority of Greek-Americans. He did receive much support from a section of the Protestant Episcopal Church in this country.
During this period of exile the Throne of Constantinople suddenly became vacant, and with equal suddenness Meletios was elected to the Patriarchate. How the Throne of Constantinople became vacant, and how Meletios was elected, does not concern us here.
In this country the Greeks with consternation received this election. Some were delighted; many refused to accept it as fact. It goes without saying that the Protestant Episcopalians received the news with great rejoicing. How tense the situation was in this country can be gathered from an article in the New York Tribune of Jan. 8th, 1922. The headline stated that this election “shakes the foundations of the Greek Church.” It did not hide the fact that Meletios’ chief support came from Protestant circles.
In Greece itself the Holy Synod of that country refused to accept the election of Meletios as canonical and valid. Meletios journeyed to his Throne by way of England, and it was currently reported that he entered the Golden Horn on a British man-of-war.
Let us now turn to analyze the conditions, which existed during the brief administration of Meletios in Constantinople. An inter-allied military control entered the city. It was made up of representatives of England, France, Italy and the United States. The city itself had been promised by secret treaty to Russia at the beginning of the war. All the nations represented in the city save the United States were playing the age-old game of power politics. As was natural, the religious issues of the centuries merged into the political issues. France and Italy, representing Roman Catholic ambitions, were moving with not too much caution to establish a claim to the Cathedral Church of Orthodoxy, Hagia Sophia. If anything was necessary to throw Meletios even further into the hands of the British, this was more than sufficient.
At the same time the drama of the tragedy of Christian Asia Minor was developing. A mutual and secret agreement by France and Italy on the one hand to support Turkish aspirations, and by England on the other to support Greek aspirations, to the end that a fatal collision of these two minor powers might ensue to the mutual profit of the Great Powers, sealed the doom of the ancient Christian Churches of Asia Minor.
It is quite probable that Meletios at that time knew only the externals of this situation. The hard fact was that he had to sit on his uncomfortable Throne at the Phanar and watch the growing tension between the various members of the Allied military control and to hear each day of new Greek disasters in Asia Minor.
The implications of the situation were obvious to Meletios. Each day the diminished Greek race was being decimated throughout Asia Minor; the Great Idea of a reconstituted Byzantine Empire was dissolving into dust and ashes before his eyes. Meletios, the Greek nationalist, became a desperate man. He had but one last jewel to spend on wooing British Imperialism to stop the decimation of his co-racialists in Asia Minor. The jewel was his Orthodox Faith. He would offer up this precious jewel to international politics in a last desperate gesture. Out of Meletios’ racial agony was born his pronouncement on Anglican ordinations.
A number of years after it was issued we spent a very pleasant afternoon with Meletios in Cairo, Egypt. (British influence had translated him to the Throne of Alexandria.) During our lengthy discussion of Orthodox affairs we introduced the subject of these two documents. Without any hesitation Meletios discussed them quite frankly. He admitted that they had been issued against his better Orthodox judgment. He also pointed out some pertinent facts, which should become part of the record if these documents are to be judged in their proper perspective.
From our notes on this conversation we outline those things, which seem to have some historical import. He prefaced his remarks by saying that as a Greek he could not have been expected to sit quietly and not use everything at his command in an effort to avert the Asia Minor disaster. He made it quite clear that he realized fully that if the Turks won he lost the throne of Constantinople. He did not try to excuse the incongruities contained in the documents. His only disappointment was that he misjudged British opinion (something which Greeks are always prone to do).
He made no attempt to deny that his documents accomplished nothing for the cause of Greece. This he could not quite understand. Like so many other Greek ecclesiastics he had been thrown into contact with only the High Church minority, and he had no clear notions about the staid and respectable Protestantism of the majority of the English church. He was actually convinced that the majority of the clergy and members of the Establishment were smarting under the sting of the pronouncement of Leo XIII declaring English ordinations null and void in form and intent, and would reward handsomely any statement to the contrary.
It was at this point that Meletios sighed and said, “But these English, they just do not have any sense of history.” Piqued by this statement we pursued it further, and Meletios replied fully as to his meaning, and the following is an outline of his convictions as an Orthodox theologian.
In the first place, he pointed out, as Patriarch of Constantinople he had no historical or canonical right to intrude into the ecclesiastical problems of the Christian West. He contended that the bases of the centuries’ old contention between the See of Constantinople and the See of Rome rested upon the thesis that the See of Rome had no canonical jurisdiction in the Christian East. By the same token he had to admit that the See of Constantinople had no canonical right to intrude into the domestic problems of the See of Rome; and certainly the question of Anglican Orders, deriving from Rome, was essentially a problem coming under the jurisdiction of that Patriarchate.
Obviously, he said, England could not by any perversion of logic be considered within the jurisdiction of any Eastern Patriarchate; and to presume to settle any ecclesiastical problem arising among non-Orthodox peoples in that area would destroy once and for all the foundation and corner stone upon which all contentions between the Eastern Patriarchate and Rome had been erected.
In writing his documents, Meletios contended that he made his Greek sufficiently vague and subtle so as not to commit Orthodoxy to any untenable position. When I raised honest doubts, he further pointed out that the most that any person could obtain in the way of satisfaction from his documents was a mere opinion; and that even though an opinion derived from the Patriarch and Synod of Constantinople, it still remained an opinion and nothing more, and opinions never had and probably never would have any binding force in the realm of dogma or upon the Orthodox conscience.
Because I was still unconvinced, he reiterated that if I would re-examine the documents with care I would discover that Constantinople had only reviewed the report of a committee, merely taking note of the things contained therein. He then made a distinction between his encyclical to the Orthodox Churches and his private letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury. The former he held was the document upon which Orthodoxy could pass judgment; the latter was a personal matter. An analysis of the two documents will reveal why Meletios made this distinction. It is interesting to note in this connection that all copies and translations released in England of this letter carry the simple signature of Meletios, not his rank and title. Meletios in our conversation desired me to keep in mind that in his encyclical it was clear that both he and his Synod in accepting the report of the committee accepted it as an opinion and requested further opinion from other Orthodox Patriarchates. If the English had any sense of history, Meletios continued, the English should know that the Orthodox Church can only speak as a whole.
“Opinions,” Meletios said with a twinkle in his eye, “are, after all, just opinions, and the Greeks, as a people, have a considerable reputation for being able to change them very quickly. Remember, my son, there is a world of difference between opinions and conclusions.”
This then is a brief summary of Meletios’ own estimate of his own documents.
There is another angle to this whole involved question of the historical setting of these documents, which merits passing attention. It has to do with the question of who constituted this committee and just what its full report said. When we were in residence in Constantinople, we were unable to locate this report, and so was everyone else. It was just counted as among the number of missing documents. While we are in no position to say with finality that no such report ever existed, until it is produced we will remain of the opinion that it never did exist. This does not mean that it never will be produced. Knowing the ability of the Phanar to produce documents when and where needed, we think it is entirely possible that if pressure were brought the report would come into being in short order.
At least two conclusions are justified by any historian of these particular documents. The first is, that since the reconstituting of the Greek nation to a precarious existence, Greek ecclesiastics are very prone to consider themselves as Greeks in the political sense first and as representatives of the Orthodox Faith afterward. Secondly, our Christian charity demands that we do not judge too harshly the acts of Greek hierarchs, when as men and members of a once great race they use every instrument at their command to stem the tide of the destruction of the Greek people by the Christian powers of the West. As documents these pronouncements, which we have considered, are no more than interesting ecclesiastical curiosa, reflecting the political stresses and strains of the Greeks as political beings. As statements of Orthodox teaching and dogma they are completely meaningless and not worth the paper they were written on.