III. The Orthodox church
3. Power of the Bishops
It is one of those odd anomalies against which one is for ever stumbling in Turkey, that the Bishops of the Orthodox Church enjoy, in name at least and by right, an authority and a rank which Churchmen in any Christian country rarely possess, unless by reason of their personal character. The old-fashioned Turk seldom brings himself to regard a Christian as anything better than an unclean and perverted animal. The official documents which confer authority upon Bishops and Patriarchs are based upon an ancient model which denounces all Christianity as a corrupt invention of the Evil One. The Sultan may order a systematic massacre of the Bishop's flock, to be carried out under the control of his officers at the signal of trumpets sounded from minarets. But none the less the Bishop is a high officer of state. He may rank in the official hierarchy above the civil and military governors of the town in which he resides. He may, if he chooses, claim the authority, the precedence, and the dignity which that rank confers. He has a place in the advisory council of his district. It happened that the Caimakam (prefect) of Castoria was dismissed in the autumn of 1903 because he had fallen too palpably and too publicly under the influence of the Greek Archbishop. It was a useless precaution. The next Caimakam, being a person of no particular character and of very limited intelligence, fell promptly
under the same ascendancy. A clever ecclesiastic, if he has a quick wit and a deep purse, and above all if he has the courage to use his position, may come to exercise a very real influence upon the administration. The Caimakams, and even the Valis (Governors), rarely keep their posts for very long and seldom acquire much local influence. They come to look upon the bribes which the Bishops pay them as among their most secure and reliable sources of income, with the result that a knowledge of Turkish is more valued in a Bishop than a deep acquaintance with New Testament Greek. It is of little moment that he should be a theologian, but highly important that he should be a man of the world. And yet among the nine Macedonian Bishops I have known, not more than three used their power to much effect. The Bishops, though chosen exclusively from the celibate clergy who have had a long professional training, often find it hard to forget their peasant origin; and the dread of the ruling race that is ingrained in every Macedonian villager is apt to cling to them through life. In any event the powers of the local Turkish officials are so limited under modern conditions that the influence of the Bishops can only be brought to bear upon trivial and parochial details. And if the Bishop has some power, he also bears a very grievous responsibility. If the Turks happen to be in the state of mind when they wish that the people had only one head that they might cut it off, the Bishop offers a very tempting substitute. Of late years the influence of Russia has strengthened the position of the Bishops. The classical instance of this tendency to make the Bishops responsible for the sins of their flock is the case of the Greek Patriarch who was hanged during the War of Independence. The recent annals of Armenia would supply other parallels. This sort of thing naturally tends to make the average Bishop, who ought to be a sort of tribune of a people, a shifty and timid representative of official religion who serves two masters with an anxious neck.
But among his own people it would be difficult to exaggerate the influence of the Bishop. In the common speech of the Greeks he is known as the Despótes. He
represents among them at once the civil and the religious power, and he is the nearest approach that they possess to a native aristocracy. He is their sole mediator with the Turks — unless there are European consuls at hand. He guides all the machinery of the Church, including its truncated civil functions (marriage, inheritance, divorce). He controls the schools, and, if such a thing exists, the hospital of the community. He is, by peasant standards, fabulously wealthy. He maintains a certain state, and usually inhabits a great house on a commanding site. His advice is sought on large issues and on small. He keeps his distance, bears himself as a rule with a dignity which is partly aristocratic and partly sacerdotal. Etiquette surrounds him with reverent phrases of Byzantine origin, and usage prescribes that the faithful who enter his presence shall bow profoundly, kiss his hand, and seat themselves at some distance from his chair. But he is part of an old order which is rapidly disappearing before Western influence. Among the older generation of Bishops, while a certain practical wisdom and knowledge of the world is no rare quality, education in any European sense of the word is rare. There are, however, two Macedonian Bishops, both Greeks, who have studied abroad, one in Oxford and one in Leipzig, but their knowledge of English and German only throw into deeper relief their incorrigibly Byzantine habits of thought. Many of the higher Bulgarian clergy have studied in Russia, but only in the clerical seminaries, from which, I imagine, modern and Western ideas are very jealously excluded. They lead for the most part a sedentary life, rarely venturing beyond their palaces or coming into touch with the daily life of the peasantry. Their preoccupation is the incessant round of intrigue and violence by which each Church in Macedonia retains its place against its rivals. Their trade is intolerance and their business propaganda, and it leaves them little leisure to concern themselves with the spiritual or material welfare of their flocks. Against some, rumour tells tales of avarice and corruption, notably in the sale of divorces. Others are celibates only in their vows. The most favourable type
among them whom I have known was the Bulgarian Metropolitan Gregorius of Monastir, a gentle old man with no taste less innocent than the culture of flowers. In his early manhood he organised an ambulance during the Russo-Turkish War, and, despite all the opposition of Turks and Greeks, he spent some weeks of the winter which followed the insurrection in going about among the devastated villages to relieve their distress.
The importance of the Bishops is destined to disappear with Turkish
authority and the theocratic tradition which it acclimatised in Eastern
Europe. Already the Bulgarian Committee represents a movement of democratic
revolt against these princes of the Church. It is a movement led by young
and half-Westernised men who find themselves nearly as much out of sympathy
with Byzantinism as with Turkish rule.
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