Patriarch Gregory V's excommunication of the Greek revolutionaries (1821) was not simply an indication of his conservative and highly autocratic administration; it entailed the presumption that the slightest fragmentation in patriarchal jurisdiction would create a domino effect throughout the Balkans and would lead back to the chaos of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. In 1766-7 the archbishoprics of Pec and Achris were annexed, with the endorsement of the sultan, to the Patriarchate of Constantinople; by the end of that century its jurisdiction was almost the same as that in tenth-century Byzantium. The Church was in total control of education and the flow of ideas; so Koraes and his students had to publish their work outside the Ottoman Empire: 'Paris,
Trieste, Venice, Amsterdam and especially Vienna,' he wrote in one of his letters, 'are today the cultural capitals of Hellenism.'
And indeed, journals, newspapers, books, translations were published in these cities, whereas in the Hellenic Museum, the school established by Gregory in Constantinople, only the patriarch's speeches and denunciations of the Enlightenment were allowed to be printed and read. However, with the rise of nationalism and ideas of self-determination, popular opinion in various Orthodox regions (Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, etc.) turned irrevocably against the domination of the patriarch, who was almost always of Greek origin, and was so closely allied to a non-Christian ruler. One year before the Greek revolution of 1821, Patriarch Gregory V anathematized Copernicus' books together with all books of modern natural sciences; these two anathematizations were his last acts of pastoral care before he was strangled by order of the Ottomans. But the centralized system that he defended, in collusion with the Ottomans, started crumbling when the revolution begun.
After 1821 there was no immediate communication between the patriarch and the revolutionaries. There was a serious problem about the validity of all ordinations during this period, which was to be resolved later with an amicable settlement. Yet even if we accept that the Greek revolution was predominantly a national uprising, the demography of the Greek mainland and of the islands was not purely Orthodox. When the revolutionaries gathered in Epidavros, about the end of 1821, in order to agree on the constitution of their future state, they found themselves in a puzzling situation. National identity did not really mean religious affiliation; there were many Albanians, Christian and Muslim, amongst them, Roman Catholics from the Aegean islands and philhellenic Protestants from the West. The issue of Jews was also raised during these discussions. But what came out after many deliberations was enshrined in the second chapter of the 1822 Constitution as follows: 'All native inhabitants of the Greek territory who believe in Christ are Greek and enjoy all civil rights without any restriction.' The Constitution abolished slavery, social ranks and hereditary privileges. The first article of the first chapter stated: 'The predominant religion within Greek territory is that of the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ; however, the Greek government tolerates every other religion, whose rituals and sacred mysteries can be conducted without any obstacle' (Svolos 1972: 65-6). The conscious attempt of the revolutionaries at nationbuilding had to deal with the serious problem of religion; national identity remained a matter of religious belief and ecclesiastical commitment. The idea that 'all those who believe in Christ and are born in Greek territory are Greek' conveyed to the early state-builders a rather inaccurate conception of their immediate reality, which was to be maintained throughout the revolution.
Yet the problem became more obvious when many more non-Greek and nonOrthodox people arrived in Greece to assist the revolutionaries (the most prominent of all being Lord Byron, who was declared an honorary Greek citizen). In 1823, the reform assembly of the revolutionaries tried to reduce tension between rival factions; to do so, the articles of the Constitution had to be qualified. The first article, about the 'predominant religion in Greek territory', was retained, but in an attempt to dissociate Greek citizenship from any specific Christian denomination it was now prescribed that:
All native inhabitants of Greek territory who believe in Christ are Greek and enjoy all civil rights without any restriction. Similarly Greeks, and enjoying the same civil rights, are those foreigners who speak Greek and want to believe in Christ, by appearing in front of regional Greek authority so they can be enlisted as Greek citizens. (Svolos 1972: 80)
In the same chapter of the Constitution an ominous article appeared for the first time:
All Greeks have the right to express their ideas in the press, under the following conditions: 1. not to say anything against Christian religion. 2. not to transgress commonly accepted principles of morality. 3. to avoid personal vilification. (ibid.)
In the final constitution of the revolution (1827) an uneasy compromise was achieved. In the first article, on religion, it was stated: 'Every person in Greece can practise his religion freely and has the same protection for its worship. The religion of the state is that of the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ.' Unquestionably the phantom of theocracy is looming large behind such statements. The same constitution attempted for the last time to solve the question of who is Greek by incorporating four new conditions:
Greeks are: 1. all native inhabitants of Greek territory, who believe in Christ. 2. All those under the Ottoman rule, who believe in Christ and arrived or will arrive in the Greek territory in order to fight for or live in it. 3. All those born in foreign territories of Greek father. 4. All those native persons, or non-native, and their descendants, who became citizens in other countries before the formulation of this Constitution, and arrive in Greek territory giving oath of allegiance to Greece. 5. All foreigners who become Greek citizens. (Svolos 1972: 94)
Without doubt, religious belief became a nation-building exercise during the period of state formation, especially from 1828 to 1864. Furthermore, the problem of the relations between state and Church became more complex after the arrival of the first king of Greece, Otto (1833-62). Otto was Roman Catholic but apart from that he was fully immersed in the romantic classicism that was dominating Europe. When he arrived in Greece he decided to relocate the capital city from the city of Nauplion, in the Peloponnese (a place full of memories of the immediate past and of the war of liberation), to the imaginary birthplace of all European culture, Athens. The city itself became the locus of a new state ideology in which the idealized history of Periclean glory was combined with the idea that Athens was the political centre of a new state, an idea that appeared as a result of the Enlightenment. Soon after, the University of Athens was established (1837) along the lines of the ideas set out by Koraes and his project for a moderate Enlightenment. The first problems between state and Church emerged when the state decided to control the Church and reorganize it along traditional German Protestant lines, not simply for ecclesiastical reasons but because of the Russian political intervention that was taking place through the Church.
Otto's project came into conflict with two very deeply rooted factors of Greek society: first, the long historical connection with the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and second, the role of the lower clergy in particular throughout the Ottoman period and the revolution. Negotiations between the patriarchate and the first governor of the newly established state, Conte Capodistria had already started. After the assassination of Capodistria (1831) discussions were postponed but always remained as one of the national questions that had to be resolved. In 1844 a military revolt took place against Otto's autocratic regime, which led to the formulation of the first political constitution of the emerging Greek society. The person behind the idea for a new relation between Church and state was one of Koraes' best students, Theokletos Pharmakides (17841860). He thought that the newly established state was a new beginning for the Greek people, who had to cut themselves away from the legacy of Byzantium as represented by the patriarchate; he warned of the danger of a theocratic system that would control the body politic of the state; he was a staunch opponent of any kind of restriction on the free expression of the individual; finally he believed that 'the autonomy and the independence of the Church are inseparable from the autonomy and the independence of the state and every attack against the Church is a direct or indirect attack against the state'. His main concern was to dissociate the new Church from Constantinople by identifying it as one of the social and civil apparatuses of the state, as was the case with the Church of England. By reducing the Church to a state apparatus, he thought that the caesaropapist elements within it would recede and that it would be transformed into a place for spiritual quest. Pharmakides was a competent scholar, having published a massive four-volume exegetical commentary on the New Testament, and being a strong advocate of the translation of the Bible into a simpler Greek language. His plans were immediately deemed to be 'protestantizing', and he himself had to face the immense hostility of the educated conservative Konstaninos Oikonomos (1780-185 7).
Oikonomos was a contradictory individual whose intellectual formation followed a trajectory similar to that of Voulgaris. In the beginning he was impressed by the Enlightenment and the new ideas; however, his protection by the autocratic regime in Russia, his personal friendship with Tsar Alexander I and his strong attachment to the patriarchate made him change his mind after his return to Greece in 1834. He immediately allied himself with the so-called Russian Party and instigated a strong and continuous opposition to all plans for changes that did not have the consent of the patriarchate. In 1833, Pharmakides and the Bavarian Vice-Regent Maurer had formulated a plan which proclaimed: (1) the autocephalous Church of Greece, (2) the subordination of the Church to the state, and (3) the dissolution of all monasteries with fewer than six monks. The intention was to free the Church from the powerful influence of the Russian Church and to help the state begin to reconstruct the devastated country. Oikonomos opposed this plan by establishing secret societies (the Orthodoxophile Society among them) in order to incite public unrest and galvanize all Orthodox forces in support of the protection that Russia, as a co-Orthodox country, offered to the patriarchate. He spoke repeatedly with a rhetoric that was to become the most pervasive mode of conservative Orthodox advocates, down to contemporary theologians such as Christos Yannaras. He declared that 'we have to fight against the blasphemous novelty (kainotomia) of becoming independent and against the charlatans and fortune-seekers, of our race or other races, who imported alien and strange miasmas against traditional customs, as though it was an example of cultural advancement' (Oikonomos 1993: 23).
The conflict between Pharmakides and Oikonomos was theoretically resolved with the victory of Pharmakides and his political supporters in the 1844 constitutional compromise. Although it seemed that the new political arrangement, by legally protecting freedom of individual conscience and expression, favoured the autocephalous Church and confirmed the need for it to take a new direction, it became clear that Pharmakides' plan had begun to disintegrate. Pharmakides was gradually neutralized and the king started negotiations with the patriarchate; in 1850 the patriarch issued the Tomos, a document of mutual compromises, which ratified the new reality. Pharmakides responded with the 'Anti-Tomos', an extremely passionate and provocative document which argued that any connection with the patriarchate would mean a voluntary lack of emancipation from the past and would show the self-declared inability of the Greek Church to engage into a dialogue with the most obvious institution established by post-Enlightenment modernity, that is the nation-state. It would also mean conflict between two perceptions of legitimacy and civil rights within the nationstate. His passionate response was largely ignored and the antagonism between civil society and traditional authorities was soon to come into the open, along with some serious problems of civil disorder and legitimacy.
Theophilos Kaires (1784-1853) was one of the leaders of the Greek Revolution, a deeply educated priest and a progressive pedagogue. After the revolution he established an orphanage in his native island of Andros, where with the support of local population he started preaching his personal religion. He called it theosebeia (God-piety) and it was a patromonistic version of Christianity, very close to Judaism and Islam, but based on a new personal, almost mystical experience of God as perceived by individual reason. Undoubtedly, Kaires was indebted to the rationalist religion of the Theophilanthropists of the French Revolution, the philosophy of Auguste Comte about the self-deified humanity, and the ideas of Quakers and George Fox. Both the Incarnation and the Trinity were symbolic re-enactments of what happens in the human heart at the moment it realizes the mysterious nature of being and its incomprehensible finality. 'Since I was a child,' he stated in his final apology at the court that was to sentence him:
I had many doubts about the doctrines of Christian religion and its sacraments. . . . In such a confused state in which I was, there was danger in remaining religion-less; but since I could not bear such beastly existence, I decided to conform, until I should become able to solve my questions. Because as long as I remained in that state of doubt and crisis, I looked like a man fallen into a ravine, who, while he tries with all his strength to escape, falls into an even deeper abyss, since the shaky basis on which he supports his feet collapses and disintegrates. At last, one serene and quiet night as I was looking intently at the starry majestic and resplendent sky, I thought that I read on the firmament, written with golden letters, the words 'Respect God', 'Love God'. At that moment I felt that that the tribulation that had devoured my soul until then was immediately appeased and vanished. (Paschales 2000:185)
This is the most spiritual moment in nineteenth-century Greece, a moment of harmonious fusion of the individual with the universe. It is notable that the 1840s were a period of immense spiritual and religious unrest worldwide: in China, the Tai Ping movement based on the ecstatic vision of Hung Hiu Ch'uan created a new religion of mixed Christian and Taoist origin; in Persia, the Bab, or Gateway, founded the Baha'i faith; in India, the Brahmosamaj created a Christian-Hindu syncretism and in 1851 Ramakrishna had his first revelations. In the United States, Joseph Smith (1805-44) had his first encounters with an angel who took him to the cave where the golden plates with the history of the lost tribes of Israel were safely guarded for centuries; the Mormon faith was then born as the first authentic American religion. In Europe, traditional Christianity had already been questioned by the rise of biblical criticism and the research into the personality of the historical Jesus, while philosophically Seren Kierkegaard had laid the foundations for modern existentialism. At the same time, the social question was becoming more obvious and pressing; in 1848 Karl Marx published his Communist Manifesto, a declaration of a new perception of a millenarian Utopia. Furthermore, within the Eastern Orthodox countries, Russia was shaken by the rise of mystical sects in the woods of Siberia and the profound challenges of western rationalism; Dostoevsky's bleak and terrifying vision of human nature started emerging as a product of such irrevocable change in the relations between individual conscience and the divine. Charles Darwin's Origin of Species (1859) shattered for ever the closed and self-gratifying universe of traditional Christianity and shed new light on the perception of human history as a never-ending process between progress and regression.
The case of Kaires shows how harshly the autocephalous Church of Greece could deal with dissent and diversity. The Church falsely prosecuted Kaires for proselytization and had him imprisoned twice under terrible conditions that undermined his health. At the end of 1853 he was sentenced to seven years in prison, a punishment that quickly led to his death. Two weeks later, when he had already died and been buried, the Supreme Court revoked the decision. Meanwhile, his enemies dragged his body out of his grave and threw it into limestone to be burnt for his sins against the Church.
This was only the beginning of a series of persecutions of independent intellectuals and writers that prevented any lively theological and philosophical debate developing in nineteenth-century Greece. In 1856, the writer Andreas Laskaratos (1811-1902) published his fairly innocuous satire The Mysteries of Cephalonia, which simply criticized manners, customs and traditions of priests in his native island. The book was immediately banned by the Church and Laskaratos was anathematized; the Church bells tolled for days and the writer was persecuted from all sides. At that time the western prefecture of the Seven (Ionian) Islands was an English protectorate, but the decision was taken at both local and national level.
This abomination of the desert born amongst us is worthy of contempt and unworthy of any Christian care; it is worthy of being enlisted amongst the few but most horrible minds, born from time to time, who spoke out against Christian society, like spiritual monsters, stigmatised with the eternal anathema of all Christian generations. (Laskaratos 1916: 11)
But the most obvious case against free thinking took place when a young writer called Emmanuel Roides (1836-1904) published his now famous 'medieval study' under the title Pope Joan (1866). The storm that was unleashed was to last for decades and formed the way that the official Orthodox Church perceived creative imagination, revision of the past and understanding of intellectual life. The book is uneven structurally but stylistically is a masterpiece. Despite the fact that it depicts the medieval mores of the Roman Catholic Church, it was quite clear that the attack was against the Church as an institution. The publication of the book was immediately followed by an official denunciation and anathematization by the Orthodox Church with the protection of the Kingdom of Greece. The Synod of the Church sent to all parishes a remarkable encyclical against the 'blasphemous and malignant book' which it said was 'harmful to the body and the soul of the faithful, who should stay away from it as from a monster and a miasmatic disease and who should throw it into fire, wherever they find it, so that they themselves won't be tempted and be guilty of the eternal fires of hell' (Roides 2001: 5 7). Roides responded with four very powerful letters defending freedom of conscience:
The greatest of our gifts that we maintained after the fall, or even better we developed because of the fall, since before it was rather useless, as I think, is that special force within our soul, which we call 'Conscience' and through which we distinguish between good and evil, loving the former and despising the latter. . . . Nothing can quench the light of conscience; as a great contemporary poet says 'human kind is altogether an honest man', loving good and abhorring evil. (Roides 2001: 345)
To such theologically sound language, the Church replied with a tirade of extreme abuse that had the effect of transforming the rather dilettantish writer into an intellectual hero; and this kind of persistent reaction has established the Church ever since as the main anti-intellectual force in Greek society. Roides' witty rationalism inaugurated a fresh understanding of the recorded history of the Church, from within the critical perspective of Edward Gibbon and Voltaire, through the meticulous scrutiny of primary sources and the conscious attempt to explain through the problematic of their eras. Yet his book galvanized an incipient alliance between state and Church, which were gradually coming closer, as the generation of the revolution and that of Koraes' students were dying.
By the end of the century, and despite the changes that were taking place in the patriarchate, which was rediscovering its ecumenical character, the Church of Greece was forming the concept of synallellia, co-synergy, with the Greek state. The identification of national borders with ecclesiastical jurisdiction contributed greatly to this new bond of co-survival between Church and state: every questioning of the Church and its historical foundations became inimical to the state and as such it was declared illegal. This collusion culminated in the bizarre inclusion in the first (later the third) article of the Constitution of the unexpected clause that 'The Greek state forbids completely any translation of the text of the Holy Scripture, without the approval of the Great Church in Constantinople.' This article has ever since been repeated in all Greek constitutions, as if the Greek state had the copyright on the New Testament. Two translations that were attempted in the first decade of the twentieth century were condemned and banned; two students were killed in the centre of Athens defending the integrity of the Orthodox faith which they believed was endangered by the act of translating. In 1911, the Constitution simply sanctioned a close alliance between the two partners in a manner that left indelible marks on the spiritual life of the Church.
The first step towards the gradual convergence became obvious in the case of the theologian Apostolos Makrakes (1831-1905). In one of his trips by boat to Constantinople as a child he experienced a vision of the Virgin over the Aegean; she enjoined him to study the Bible and become a good Christian. He studied it indeed, learned many languages and published enormous commentaries on the Bible, which are monuments to his omnivorous polymathy and yet a conspicuous demonstration of sterile literalism. It was not simply a personal issue; the banishment of any kind of creative dialogue within the Church made it impossible for new theologians to assess new methods of looking at the Bible as they were articulated in the nineteenth century outside Greece. The Theological School in Athens functioned more as seminary for priests or preachers and less as a tertiary education institution for critical thinking and advancement of knowledge. Makrakes rejected the predominant allegorical interpretation of the Bible in the Eastern Church, but he was unable to interpret its meaning contextually and culturally; he thought of the New Testament text as the direct and unmediated word of God, which was impenetrable and inscrutable. By disregarding the humanity of its writers and their very historicity, he interpreted the texts as self-explanatory documents whose meaning could be unfolded only in acts of personal intuition.
He also based his interpretation of the human phenomenon on the tripartite division by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 15: 39-49), between the carnal (sarkikos), psychic (psychikos) and spiritual (pneumatikos) body. He advocated the trisyntheton of human beings as a gradual process of evolving from the physical body to the pneumatic, through Christian baptism, with the psychic body as the result of the historical life of the individual. His teachings were immediately rejected by the Church, which advocated the mind-body dichotomy as a result of the pervasive Platonic and Manichean influence in Christian history. So Makrakes was expelled from the Church; he then formed his own Church, on the models of Evangelical and Pentecostal traditions, and introduced public confession and communion without fasting every Sunday. In 1878 the Church issued a fierce encyclical against him and forced the government to close down his school and his church. Makrakes was taken to court twice, accused of heresy, and was sentenced to two years' imprisonment. The persecutions undermined his health and Makrakes died a lonely man, abandoned by his followers and in utter poverty.
Was this article helpful?