Orthodox Church of the Mother of God

Joy of all the Sorrowful - Mays Landing, NJ (f. 1966)

Church History 4 - Orthodoxy Under the Ottomans (1453-1821)

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Relations with the West

The Union of Florence became fully inoperative as soon as the Turks occupied Constantinople (1453). In 1484 a council of bishops condemned it officially. Neither the sultan nor the majority of the Orthodox Greeks were favourable to the continuation of political ties with Western Christendom. The Byzantine cultural revival of the Palaeologan period was the first to experience adverse effects from the occupation. Intellectual dialogue with the West became impossible. Through liturgical worship and the traditional spirituality of the monasteries, the Orthodox faith was preserved in the former Byzantine world. Some self-educated men developed a remarkable ability to develop the Orthodox tradition through writings and publications, but they were isolated exceptions. Probably the most remarkable among them was St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, the Hagiorite (1748-1809), who edited the famous Philocalia, an anthology of spiritual writings, and also translated and adapted Western spiritual writings (e.g., those of the Jesuit founder, Ignatius of Loyola) into modern Greek.

The only way for Orthodox Greeks, Slavs, or Romanians to acquire an education higher than the elementary level was to go to the West. Several of them were able to do so, but, in the process, became detached from their own theological and spiritual tradition.

The West, in spite of much ignorance and prejudice, had a constant interest in the Eastern Church. At times there was a genuine and respectful curiosity; in other instances, political and proselytistic (conversion) concerns prevailed. Thus, in 1573-81, a lengthy correspondence was initiated by the Lutheran scholars from Tbingen (in Germany). However interesting as a historical event, this correspondence, which includes the Answers of Patriarch Jeremias II (patriarch 1572-95), shows how little mutual understanding was possible at that time between the Reformers and traditional Eastern Christianity.

Relations with the West, especially after the 17th century, were often vitiated in the East by the incredible corruption of the Turkish government, which constantly fostered diplomatic intrigues. An outstanding example of such manipulation was the kharaj, an important tax required by the Porte at each patriarchal election. Western diplomats were often ready to provide the amount needed in order to secure the election of candidates favourable to their causes. The French and Austrian ambassadors, for example, supported candidates who would favour the establishment of Roman Catholic influence in the Christian ghetto, while the British and Dutch envoys supported patriarchs who were open to Protestant ideas. Thus, a gifted and Western-educated patriarch, Cyril Lucaris, was elected and deposed five times between 1620 and 1638. His stormy reign was marked by the publication in Geneva of a Confession of Faith (1629), which was, to the great amazement of all contemporaries, purely Calvinistic (i.e., it contained Reformed Protestant views). The episode ended in tragedy. Cyril was strangled by Turkish soldiers at the instigation of the pro-French and pro-Austrian party. Six successive Orthodox councils condemned the Confession: Constantinople, 1638; Kiev, 1640; Jassy, 1642; Constantinople, 1672; Jerusalem, 1672; and Constantinople, 1691.In order to refute its positions, the metropolitan of Kiev, Peter Mogila, published his own Orthodox Confession of Faith (1640), which was followed, in 1672, by the Confession of the patriarch of Jerusalem, Dostheos Notaras. Both, especially Peter Mogila, were under strong Latin influence.

These episodes were followed, in the 18th century, by a strong anti-Western reaction. In 1755 the Synod of Constantinople decreed that all Westerners—Latin or Protestant—had invalid sacraments and were only to be admitted into the Orthodox Church through Baptism. This practice of the Greek Church fell into disuse only in the 20th century.

 


 From the book The Orthodox Church by Timothy Ware (Now  Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia)

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