VII. The Greeks
1. Castoria and its Archbishop
THERE is an obscure little place in Macedonia which deserves the title of "the home of lost causes." Castoria is a town cloistered among the hills and mirrored in a lake of calm. It stands amidst the waters on its narrow neck of land, and the ruined gateways that block the road to the mainland and the modern world serve only as an exit for the restless and the young. To the west a discreet curtain of low hills rises abruptly from the further shore, veiling the plain where the Albanian is master. To the north and the east there are mountains on whose slopes hang the white villages of Slav peasants, but at a distance one may confound them with the snows.
Castoria itself is Greek, an islet fixed amid the unquiet waves of Albanian raid and Bulgarian rebellion. It is disdainfully, completely Greek, and it treats as vain travellers' tales the rumours that tell of other races and barbarian peoples. The Bulgarians of the next hamlet are remote as anthropophagi; the Albanians just beyond the hill are the unknown tribes of the Cimmerian darkness. On this rock the Byzantine Empire has never ended. It was a place of exile under the Eastern Cassars, and the modern people of Castoria are the lineal descendants of patriots who contended against the Filioque clause. To this day it boasts its hundred and fifty churches — votive chapels for the most part, erected by banished noblemen in the hope that Providence might think better of it and restore them to favour at court. There are, to be sure,
some Turks in Castoria, but they are nomads and aliens who came but yesterday and may go to-morrow.
There is a Turkish Kaimakam in Castoria, and a big konak, which serves as prefecture. But the Governor is a harmless little man, some clerk from Constantinople, a foreigner who speaks no language of the country. The prefecture is a crumbling shell with walls of lath and plaster and a great gaping hole over the principal doorway. The real Governor is the Greek Archbishop. You may see him any day towards noon — a handsome figure with black robe, black beard, flowing locks, and chiselled features, prancing up the main street on his white horse from the prefecture to his own palace on the hill. He has been dictating policy to the Turkish Kaimakam. A week before our first meeting a Bulgarian Bishop had ventured to slink into the town. Within an hour of his arrival the church bells were ringing; the Greek Archbishop on his white charger, was massing the faithful for the act of protest, and soon a surging crowd was shouting death to the invader, under the house where he had sheltered. A few hours later a Turkish escort conducted the rash intruder out beyond the gates of the sacred city, and abandoned him in the wilderness, inhabited, so rumour has it, by the wolves and the bears and the Bulgarians.
There are many ways of dealing with Turks. There is the old-fashioned English method of bullying. There is the brutal, inartistic, Bulgarian way, much practised by the Committee — plain, downright blackmail. The Greek method is subtler. A Greek, when he corrupts you, does it with grace. He makes you feel that you are doing him a favour when you accept his very inadequate gift. He flatters your magnanimity. He tickles the dull Turkish wit with tales and anecdotes and a flow of easy talk. The first qualification of a Greek Bishop is to talk Turkish with elegance, and the second is to use the Church funds with discretion. It is often said that the Turk has corrupted the East. But then it was the Greeks who corrupted the Turk.
The Archbishop's was a character that repelled, yet
fascinated. One was never at an end of the surprises which it offered. I remember well our first meeting. We began our conversation in Greek, but in a few minutes we had discovered that we had been at a German university together, and the man I had taken for a Byzantine assumed the guise of a Berliner. Education is rare among the Greek Bishops, and I had never yet met a man among them who spoke a Western tongue. His Beatitude seemed a modern of the moderns. Could this be the fanatic who persecuted Bulgarian peasants to force them into his Church ? Could this be the raging partisan who massed his people to drive the schismatic Bulgarian Bishop from the town ? In five minutes he had professed himself a philosopher. In ten minutes he had avowed himself a freethinker. And he had views on psychology. He had read his Lotze, and soon we were criticising the ethics of Wundt. But there, above my head, on the wall, in a conspicuous place, hung the photograph of a ghastly head, severed at the neck, with a bullet through the jaw, dripping blood. And then I remembered the tale. That head had belonged to a Bulgarian chief. A band of bravoes in the Archbishop's pay had murdered him as he lay wounded in hiding. And the tale went on to tell how the murderers carried the bleeding trophy to the Palace, and how the Archbishop had had it photographed and paid its price in fifty pieces of gold. And there, over my head, hung the photograph. Somehow we stopped talking moral philosophy.
We met once again, this time in the konak of the Turkish Kaimakam, and once more a photograph caught my eye. It showed the Turkish authorities standing in full-dress round a Turkish cannon, and in their midst, handsome, conspicuous, with an air of mastery and command, was the Archbishop himself. And then I remembered another tale, which told how his Grace had sent his bravoes to guide the Turkish troops in their work of massacre, and blessed the cannon that were to batter the Bulgarian villages to dust. And then, under the very ears of the Kaimakam and the local commandant, his Beatitude began to talk treason — in
German. He assured me that his alliance with the Turks was only temporary.
A great day was coming, when Hellenism would claim her own. It was only
necessary to crush the Bulgarians first. A smile played over the handsome
face as he assured me that he had brought up Cretans, trained mountaineers,
redoubtable fighters, to spy out the land and study the passes, against
the day when he would unfurl the flag of revolt. Nor had he forgotten to
collect his store of rifles.
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