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9-08-2015, 18:02

Eastern Orthodoxy

Relations between church and state in early modern eastern Europe followed two general patterns. With the expansion of the Ottoman Empire in the fi fteenth and sixteenth centuries, Christians in Greece, the Balkans, and the rest of southeastern Europe came to live under Muslim rule; Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and other Christian denominations were tolerated, but the offi cial religion was Islam. In Russia, Orthodoxy was the state religion, with its religious leader in Moscow; church and state were expected to work together, and both came under the increasing control of the tsar. In the middle of the fi fteenth century, the Byzantine emperor and the patriarch of Constantinople appealed for western help against Turkish advances, even agreeing to a union of the eastern and western churches under the pope. This agreement dissolved with the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453. The patriarch fl ed the city, but Sultan Mehmed II allowed the bishops to elect a new patriarch, whom he personally invested with the symbols of offi ce. Mehmed permitted Christian services to continue in about half the churches in the city, while the other half, including the Hagia Sophia, the largest church in the city, were turned into mosques. He gave the patriarch civil and religious authority over all Christians under Ottoman rule, not only those in Greece, but also those in the Balkans, Syria, Palestine, and eventually Egypt. Christians were understood to belong to a semi-autonomous community called the millet , which followed Christian law in terms of marriage, divorce, and other matters. These measures increased the power of the patriarchs, but also increased their dependence on the sultan; those who did not implement government policies were quickly removed from offi ce. Ottoman offi cials also realized that they could demand gifts or bribes from candidates for the patriarchy or regional bishoprics, so encouraged quick successions; during the seventeenth century, the position of patriarch changed hands sixty-one times, though many individuals held the position more than once. The patriarchs and their clergy were in charge of collecting taxes from the Christian millet , taxes that were heavier than those paid by Muslims, and they often turned to secular offi cials to do the actual work for them. Some of these offi cials, called Phanariots from the section of Istanbul where they lived, grew very wealthy, investing in international trade and sending their sons to study at western European universities. Phanariots gained the right to rule in eastern European areas such as Moldavia and Walachia, where they founded Greek-speaking schools and intermarried with the local nobility. The dominance of Greek lay and church offi cials frequently led to resentment, particularly when patriarchs tried to increase uniformity in worship and imposed a Greek liturgy on Orthodox Christians who were used to using Serbian, Rumanian, Bulgarian, or other languages. During the sixteenth century, both sides in the Reformation attempted to get the Orthodox Church to weigh in supporting their religious position. Philipp Melanchthon, Luther’s follower and associate, translated the Augsburg Confession into Greek and sent it to the patriarch for comment. A response was not forthcoming until years later, long after Melanchthon’s death, and it highlighted the many areas where Lutheran and Orthodox understandings differed: faith and good works, the number of sacraments, the nature of the Eucharist, the worship of saints and the Virgin Mary. In the seventeenth century, the patriarch Cyril Lukaris (1572–1638) became very interested in Calvinist ideas, learned through discussions with Dutch diplomats in Istanbul and correspondence with Dutch ministers. He wrote a Confession of the Orthodox faith that was quite Calvinist in tone, which so alarmed both the French ambassador and Jesuits in Istanbul that they persuaded the sultan to have him strangled. Cyril’s confession was condemned as heretical, but it inspired other Eastern Orthodox theologians to write their own, and by the late seventeenth century there were several approved Orthodox statements of faith. These tended to be less detailed than those worked out by western Christian denominations, as the Orthodox Church held that divine mysteries could and should not be described in precise detail. Rituals, and not offi cial statements, were at the heart of Orthodoxy for the vast majority of believers. They attended regular Sunday services, venerated holy icons, participated in ceremonies to mark the stages of life and the change of seasons, and went on processions to celebrate holidays. Communities often chose their own priest from among the married men of the village; he went off for a few months to a monastery to learn the services, and then returned to take up both his family and clerical duties. Monks and nuns devoted themselves more to prayer than to intellectual accomplishments, and some were greatly venerated by local lay people for the rigor of their prayer schedule. Monasteries and convents – of which there were many in the Ottoman Empire – often owned icons understood to be miracle-working, so were places of pilgrimage as well as residences. Even before the Reformation, some groups in eastern Europe had received permission to use their own language and rituals, and accept married clergy, but still be considered Catholic, as long as they swore allegiance to the pope. Such groups, called Uniates or Eastern Rites Catholics, had developed fi rst in Poland- Lithuania; in the partitions of Poland in the late eighteenth century roughly half of Poles were Roman Catholic, and most of the rest were Uniates who used Greek or Church Slavonic instead of Latin in their services. Uniates were a sizable minority in Hungary, and in Croatia and Dalmatia, where there were confl icts between Latin and Uniate church hierarchies. The religious situation in the Balkans became even more complicated with the various advances and retreats of the Habsburgs and Ottomans in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In Bosnia and Albania, most of the population had converted to Islam, but in the rest of the Balkans Christians of various denominations predominated. Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries often accompanied Habsburg conquests, seeking to fi rm up loyalty to Rome; the Orthodox hierarchy responded by stressing its differences from Rome, and requiring Christians baptized in the west to be re-baptized in order to join the Orthodox Church. (This was not required by Catholics or Protestants in western Europe, who decided to accept baptism and marriage celebrated by the other as fully valid.) This policy made life diffi cult for Uniates, who sometimes migrated to areas they hoped would be more hospitable. In 1690, for example, 3,600 Uniate families left Serbia, where Orthodoxy predominated, for lower Hungary. Their Uniate bishop led them, but discovered when he got to Hungary that the Roman Catholic Church there was less than welcoming. Religious confl icts in Hungary and the Balkans thus involved disputes among Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Uniate, and in some places Protestant, Christians, as well as between Christians and Muslims. War led to the displacement and migration of many of these groups, further complicating religious and ethnic divisions, and setting the stage for long-lasting ethnic confl icts. The largest Orthodox community in the east was that of the East Slavs, who had adopted Christianity in the tenth century. By the fi fteenth century the most powerful state in eastern Europe was the principality of Muscovy, with its capital at Moscow, which also served as the center of the Russian church. The head of the Russian church, called the metropolitan, was initially appointed by the patriarch of Constantinople, but with the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453 metropolitans became largely independent. The Turkish conquest left Moscow as the only major city in the east to be ruled by a Christian prince, which many Russians interpreted as the will of God. In their minds, God had clearly punished the Greek Orthodox Church for making an agreement with Rome, and now that the “second Rome” – Constantinople – was under infi del rule, Moscow was destined to be the “Third Rome.” The princes of Muscovy began using the title “tsar,” Russian for caesar, and asserted that they had God’s blessing in their conquest of other Russian princes. In 1589 Muscovite political and religious authorities pressured church leaders throughout the east to declare the metropolitan of Moscow a patriarch, which gave him a status equal to the pope in Rome and the patriarch of Constantinople. As had the leaders of the Byzantine church, the patriarchs of Moscow saw the proper relationship between church and state as harmonious. The church controlled private family matters such as marriage and wills, and owned vast estates with villages and serfs, but it was not politically powerful. The tsar generally stayed out of doctrinal matters, though he often determined who would be appointed to high church offi ces. In 1551 the Russian church issued a law code known as the Stoglav (“Hundred Chapters”) that paralleled a recent law code of the tsar and largely reiterated earlier statements relating to proper rituals, beliefs, and practices. This document and other works emanating from church offi cials were not very theological, as the Orthodox Church held that the essence of God is ultimately unknowable – a type of theology termed “apophatic” – so that positive statements about God’s nature risk being blasphemous. In fact, critical analysis of texts and theological innovations were specifi cally condemned, and intellectual debates about such matters as the nature of the Eucharist or the interpretation of certain biblical passages were unknown in the Russian church. The church held that because faith is unchanging and eternal, no church body has the right to alter doctrine or sacraments. A complete Russian Bible was not even available until the 1490s, and the translators – working from Greek texts – had few debates, because “books are created by the Holy Spirit,” in their opinion, not by translators. Disastrous Russian losses to Polish and Swedish armies in the early seventeenth century, and other problems in this “Time of Troubles,” led both church and government leaders to wonder whether God had abandoned Russia in the same way he had earlier abandoned the Greeks. Tsar Aleksei (ruled 1645–76) and some church offi cials increasingly thought that this had happened because the Russian church had strayed from “true” Christian practice in its rituals, which were the center of Russian church life. Under the leadership of Bishop Nikon (1605–81 ), whom Aleksei promoted to patriarch in 1652, the church outlawed rituals that seemed to contain non-Christian elements or promote carnivalesque celebrations, and passed measures to make services more uniform. It instituted modest reforms in church liturgy, prayers, and rituals, such as using three fi ngers for the sign of the cross instead of two and spelling the name of Jesus in a new way, which made Russian practice more like that of the Greek and Ukrainian Orthodox churches. These changes were formalized in the Moscow Church Council of 1666–7, and those who did not accept them were excommunicated. The reforms were opposed by those who wanted to stay with traditional practices, later termed Old Believers, and by local church offi cials who opposed Nikon’s centralizing measures. Some groups of Old Believers opened new religious communities and held services that followed the old rituals, while others were convinced that the changes were the work of the Anti-Christ and that the Apocalypse was at hand, so in 1688 they did not plow their fi elds and lay in white shrouds in coffi ns. Because they cast the tsar and the government as the “spirit of the Anti-Christ,” and refused to serve in the army, obey central directives, or pay taxes, Old Believers were subjected to persecution, often in the form of military campaigns. Some Old Believers chose the route of martyrdom, usually by self-immolation, while others fl ed to the fringes of the enormous Russian Empire or even abroad. The small groups that survived copied the letters and writings of their martyred leaders, crafting them into heroic stories and creating an Old Believer identity. The modest adoption of western practices that so horrifi ed Old Believers paled in comparison with those demanded by Peter the Great. As we saw in chapter 9 , Peter was intent on modernizing and westernizing Russia, in order to make it a larger, more powerful, and more centralized state. An independent church did not fi t this vision, and when the patriarch died in 1700, Peter prevented the election of a new one. In his church reform of 1721, Peter abolished the offi ce of patriarch and instead established a committee, the Holy Synod, as the church’s ruling body, headed by a lay offi cial he appointed. This effectively made the church a department of the secular government. With the endorsement of the church hierarchy, Peter required parish priests to keep records of births, baptisms, marriages, and deaths. These records allowed the state to determine men’s status for taxation and military service. Peter the Great’s political ambitions resulted in nearly constant warfare, and he favored anything that would increase the Russian population. Peter was convinced that unhappy marriages produced fewer children, so in 1722 he added his voice to that of the Orthodox Church forbidding forced marriages at all social levels, including landlords arranging the marriages of their serfs. He criminalized infanticide, opening orphanages for babies born out of wedlock, and, with an eye to both procreation and western models, criminalized male homosexual activity. He continued the policy, begun in the fi fteenth century, of requiring priests to marry and ordering them to retire if their wives died. Peter also wanted to modernize Russian gender norms and marriage practices. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, it had become customary in Russia to protect the honor of elite women, especially marriageable daughters, by secluding them in the terem , separate women’s quarters. Although women in the terem could carry out economic activities and invite guests, they rarely appeared in public. Peter required that elite women abandon the terem , and appear at public social gatherings, mingling with men. He ordered men and women of the elite to dress in western style, and required all men to shave their beards in defi ance of Orthodox tradition; well-to-do women were to don the corsetted gowns and adopt the bare-headed coiffures of the west. Popular rituals that stressed female purity, such as showing the bride’s bloody sheets or nightgown after the wedding night, were prohibited, and women who bore children out of wedlock were not to be forced to marry the father of their child, though they were allowed to. (As in western Europe, children conceived or even born out of wedlock in rural areas generally brought little dishonor if their parents subsequently married.) Peter regarded marriages between social equals as preferable, and so required spouses to be of the same social class. Religious differences, on the other hand, were not an issue; over the objections of the church, he allowed marriages between spouses of different Christian denominations, demanding only that the children be baptized into the Orthodox faith. Because Peter saw no purpose in wasting human resources on monastic life, he forbade physically capable men and women of childbearing years from taking vows. Although the church and state of Peter’s era issued many new regulations, it proved much more diffi cult to alter ingrained attitudes and behavior. Church leaders complained about peasants’ ignorance of Christian teachings, but made little concrete effort to remedy it. Peter and his successors opened seminaries for the training of clergy, but these stressed Latin rather than Greek, Russian, or Church Slavonic, so the priests and monks who emerged were ill-prepared to serve their congregations. Rules concerning entrance into monasteries and convents were relaxed, and displaced widows in particular sought this alternative, though monasteries gradually lost landed wealth. Catherine the Great speeded up this transfer of land from monasteries to the government, and placed the appointment of all offi ces of the church under state control. During Peter’s reign, large numbers of peasants moved to Old Believer communities to avoid army recruitment, higher taxes, and imposed social changes; by 1800 there were several million Old Believers in communities on Russia’s southern and western borders and in Siberia. They grew increasingly separate from the rest of Russian society, dressing distinctively, prohibiting alcohol, tobacco, and tea, opening schools, limiting contact with outsiders, and developing a theology distinct from Russian Orthodoxy. In many ways they were similar to spiritualist and pietist groups in western Europe, with a strong sense of religious devotion and practical piety. Old Believer communities were sporadically persecuted, but eventually Catherine the Great allowed them a degree of tolerance, though they had to pay twice the taxes that members of the state church did.