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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Alexander Schmemann

5. The Dark Ages (16 pages)

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From Schmemann's A History of the Orthodox Church
Page 2

Christians Under Turkish Rule.

The position of the Church in the Turkish empire might therefore be considered as firmly established. This was only its outward aspect, however. Actually its position was very often a terrible one, and it is impossible to describe all the suffering, humiliation, and outright persecution the Church was obliged to undergo in this age, which was dark indeed. The “rights” just mentioned were not rights at all in our sense of the word, but represented the mercy of the sultan. The Turkish cast of mind was no less theocratic than the Roman, which had however been mitigated by an ancient and well-constructed juridical tradition. The Turkish sultan was the source of all rights and of mercy, as well as of the lack of it, and he was accountable to no one for his actions. According to Islam, Christians were rayah or cattle, the conquered, the unbelievers, and they had no real rights or citizenship. If all sultans had been on the same high cultural and political level as Mohammed II, his firman might have been observed, but it was broken even by Mohammed himself, when he took away from Patriarch Gennadius the Church of the Twelve Apostles, which he had previously granted to him.

Shortly after, a period of political decline set in for the Ottoman Empire, and arbitrariness, unscrupulousness, and corruption became the rule. The sultans fleeced their pashas, who in turn fleeced the Christians. There was no one to whom one could complain. The situation worsened perceptibly in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the bleakest in the history of the Church. As the Russian historian, Kartashoff, has remarked, Turkey could have been swept away by any of the European powers in this period, but Europe supported her for fear of Russia, and closed its eyes to the scandalous sufferings of the Christians. In some places every Christian was slaughtered. Russia alone intervened on their behalf, but this frequently resulted only in a worsening of their position.

The rights of the patriarch were gradually reduced to nothing; all that was left to him was the “right” of being responsible for the Christians. In the course of seventy-three years in the eighteenth century, the patriarch was replaced forty-eight times! Some were deposed and reinstalled as many as five times; many were put to torture. The rebellions of the Janissaries were accompanied by terrible bloodshed. Churches were defiled, relics cut to pieces, and the Holy Gifts profaned. Christian pogroms became more and more frequent. In the nineteenth century Turkey was simply rotting away, but the “sick man of Europe” was supported at all points by other nations in opposition to Russia. There was, it is true, a series of reforms by which the sultans attempted to Europeanize Turkey and thus improve the position of the Christians; actually their situation grew worse, especially as national self-consciousness and dreams of freedom arose within the empire. Greeks in Turkey and Constantinople paid for the Greek uprising of 1821 by terrible slaughter.

 

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Reference address : https://www.ellopos.net/elpenor/schmemann-orthodoxy-5-dark-ages.asp?pg=2