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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Alexander Schmemann

4. Byzantium (22 pages)













From Schmemann's A History of the Orthodox Church
Page 16

Inherent Weaknesses.

The dimensions of the victory, of course, should not be exaggerated. Against the background of this theory, in its own way great and beautiful, all the countless retreats and distortions that took place in reality now seem too ugly. True, no emperor will again dare to impose heresy on the Church as Byzantine emperors from Constantine to Theophilus had done (with the exception of the question of union with Rome, but this sore subject we shall explore later), and the Church’s voice was to sound stronger than it had before. Like the state in the Church, the Church in the state would now acquire a new and more important position. Such patriarchs as Photius or Nicholas the Mystic were statesmen who did not confine themselves to the ecclesiastical sphere but took a fully qualified part in the solution of important matters of state, including dynastic and even military problems.

But the completely arbitrary nature of state authority always remained an incurable sore in Church life; still worse was the almost equally complete acceptance of this arbitrariness by the Church hierarchy. It was as though, having isolated its dogmatic doctrine in an inviolable holy of holies, protected by vows and with the empire itself subjected to it, the Church no longer felt any limit to imperial authority. It was as though, having become completely Orthodox, the emperor could now do anything that suited him in the Church.

There are too many instances during these centuries of this arbitrary use of power, of capitulations of the Church, for even a simple enumeration to be possible. Their tragic series began almost immediately in the clash between the patriarchs Photius and Ignatius, which may serve as something of a symbol for all ensuing crises.[29] Each twice ascended the patriarchal throne and on both occasions was driven from it by a simple command of the emperor. Each in his own way offered opposition, met arbitrary power with a passive firmness. Each was personally virile and reflected in himself a certain truth of the Church. Nor did the entire hierarchy submit; many had the strength to prefer exile to surrender.
Nevertheless, the Church as a whole accepted all this manipulation almost as if it were equitable. Not a single voice rose in defense of the Church’s essential freedom; apparently no one now felt keenly its mystical independence of the state, in whose name so much blood had been shed a hundred years before.


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