"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Orthodox Church -- Dealing With Islamic Rule & Infiltration of Western Thought

The Orthodox Church by Timothy Ware

"The Muslims in the fifteenth century were far more tolerant towards Christianity than western Christians were towards one another during the Reformation and the seventeenth century." 

OK, that's it!  Westerners are just brutes.  As much as I like to think we came from an enlightened, tolerant bunch...uh, nope.  Wishful thinking!

Sultan Mohammed II, prior to the fall of Byzantium was called the "precursor of Antichrist," but he proved to not be quite that bad. In fact he took over the role of the former Christian Emperor and became, oddly enough, the "protector of Orthodoxy." 

It wasn't all fantastic since Christians were second-class citizens having to pay high taxes and forced to wear distinctive clothes, forbidden to marry Muslim women and unable to undertake missionary work.  Under Rome in the years before Constantine's conversion, Christians were persecuted and the Church grew. That whole "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church" thing, I reckon. But under the Turks, it was more of the "demoralizing effects of an unrelenting social pressure" and - reading between the lines - I think many Christians abandoned their faith to become Muslims.

With Muslims the line between religion and state was blurred even more; there was no distinction.  The Orthodox Church became a civil as well as religious institution. The good of the millet system was that "it made possible the survival of the Greek nation as a distinctive unit through four centuries of alien rule."  One drawback is that this lead to a confusion between Orthodoxy and nationalism.  Orthodoxy is not only for a single group or culture; it's universal. However these Greeks saw Hellenism and Orthodoxy as intertwined to the extent that the results of this linger still today.

Additionally the Church's higher administration "fell a prey to ambition and financial greed."  The positions were basically up for sale to the highest bidder and the Turks "were quick to see that it was in their financial interests to change the Patriarch as frequently as possible."  The Turks drove 105 out of 159 Patriarchs from the throne, 6 suffered violent deaths, 27 abdicated, often involuntarily, and only 21 died natural deaths while in office!  Quite the whirlwind of change!

Turkish occupation had "two opposite effects upon the intellectual life of the Church: it was the cause on the one hand of an immense conservatism and on the other of a certain westernization."  (pg. 91)  "Greek thought underwent an ossification and a hardening...[that] did in fact maintain the Orthodox tradition substantially unimpaired."

Yet also western thought infiltrated Orthodoxy mostly because Greeks who wanted higher education studied in non-Orthodox countries and learned from Roman Catholic and Protestant teachers. When Lutheran scholars visited Constantinople with hopes of introducing some sort of Reformation within Orthodoxy, Patriarch Jeremias, while kind, critiqued the Reformation from the Orthodox point of view in his Answers.

Later Patriarch Cyril Lukaris in an effort to rid any Roman Catholic influence in the Turkish Empire, turned to Protestant embassies in Constantinople for help.  His Confession show how his theology was influenced by his friendship with Protestants as it is "distinctively Calvinist in much of its teaching."  His Confession was condemned by his fellow Orthodox "by no less than six councils between 1638 and 1691."  Though heavily influenced by Roman Catholic manuals and "Latin weapons," Peter of Moghila and Dositheus of Jerusalem produced Confessions of their own with which to defend Orthodoxy against Cyril's Calvinism. 

The four areas which causes the most conflict: "the question of free will, grace, and predestination; the doctrine of the Church; the number and nature of the sacraments; and the veneration of icons." (pg.97)

Through all this, Orthodoxy realized the importance in "express[ing] its mind on these topics, and ... defin[ing] its position in relation to the new teachings which had arisen in the west."

The Kollyvades wanted to keep their fellow Greeks from falling under the influence of western Enlightenment.  They believed returning to the roots of Orthodoxy - as opposed to adopting secular ideas popular in the west - would regenerate the Greek nation.  They championed frequent communion - daily, if possible.  The Philokalia, "a vast anthology of ascetic and mystical texts...devoted especially to the theory and practice of inner prayer" made their appearance during this time and became especially popular in the late twentieth century!

One final thing:  "More than anything else it was the Holy Liturgy which kept Orthodoxy alive in these dark days." 


sanil said...

OK, that's it! Westerners are just brutes.

:D Cute.

I like the point about Orthodoxy and Greek nationalism becoming entertwined, that maybe also answers my question to the last post, if that idea has held on a little. Also, it's interesting that Christianity then was allowed under Muslim rule and the church was a civil institution. Religion and government were connected without the government's religion dictating religion for everyone. I still prefer the total separation, but it's cool to know that not having them separated doesn't automatically lead to oppression and loss of freedom of religion.

Susanne said...

Sanil, I'm glad the post was helpful in explaining your question from the other post. I remember thinking that it might. :)

Yes, the church/state thing is interesting and takes some getting used to! :)

I appreciate your comment!

Sy's Prints said...

really interesting post, I'm currently doing my dissertation on medieval representations of Islam and the Saracen. (Also I love Damascus too, beautiful city) :-)

Susanne said...

Sy, welcome and thanks much for your comment. I took a look at your blog and you have some lovely pictures there! I'm glad you can relate to my love for Damascus. :) Best wishes on all your projects!