EUROPEíS EASTERN HALF:
THE ORTHODOX WORLD IN HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
Clifton R. Fox
Professor of History
presented to the
Raleigh Tavern Philosophical Society
Tomball, Texas, USA
May 21, 1998
EUROPEíS EASTERN HALF:
THE ORTHODOX WORLD IN HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
The Dimensions of the Orthodox World
In December 1991, Europe witnessed two events of profound significance. On December 10, the twelve leaders of the European Communityís members met at Maastricht, Netherlands to conclude a treaty transforming the European Community into the closer-knit European Union [E.U.]. The second event, closely followed in the United States, came on December 25: the Soviet Union decomposed with the resignation of Mikhail Gorbachev.
Since these events, their consequences have multiplied. The E.U. has expanded to fifteen members. Eleven of these member nations will adopt a common currency on January 1, 1999. In March 1998, the E.U. announced ten "Accession Partnerships" as a transitional step towards incorporating ten former Communist states into the Union. Other nations have expressed various degrees of interest in joining the E.U.
The "enlargement" of the E.U. raises deep questions in Europe and elsewhere. How much expansion of the E.U. is desirable? For example, Turkey has been requesting membership in the E.U. since the Ankara Agreement of 1964 which accorded an "Associate" status to Turkey, but the door to actual membership in the E.U. has remained closed. In their official statements, the E.U. and its member states have explained the failure of Turkey to win membership by expressing concern with Turkeyís democratic credentials, its treatment of the Kurds and its involvement in Cyprus. However, many Turks believe that the real reason for their rejection has been that Turkey is an Islamic nation. Although official expressions of opinion in Europe deny the role of religion in the matter, non-official opinion recorded in newspapers and other media often does cite Islam as a reason to exclude Turkey -- Islam is not "European." The question arises, therefore, what is Europe as a cultural entity? This essay precedes from this question.
Before the twentieth century, the answer is the question: "what is Europe?" would have been obvious: Europe meant states governed by Christians. No European would have considered the old Ottoman Turkish Empire to be "European," except in the merely geographical sense. Since the eighteenth century, Europeans have tended to replace the term "Christian" with the term "Western." Modern secular societies do not wish to describe themselves as "Christian," even if most citizens have at least some connection to Christianity. The reasons for this reluctance is that in the past avowedly "Christian" societies often included an established church, a politically powerful clergy, persecution of non-Christian religions, persecution of "heresy" among Christians, and intolerance of new ideas in every field.
The term "Western" as a substitute for "Christian" or "European" poses a problem, because Christian Europe has been divided into two halves for the last thousand years: East and West. In this sense, "Western" encompasses only those peoples of the Christian West, Catholic and Protestant by cultural background [if not by genuine conviction]. To switch from "Christian" to "Western" exiles into rhetorical limbo the peoples of the Christian East, the world of the Orthodox Churches. Many "Westerners" would not especially regret such an exclusion, because enduring prejudices of Western Europe towards its Eastern fraternal twin have existed for many centuries. Long ago, "Westerners" reviled the East as "decadent" and "luxury-loving" -- that is, richer than West -- while today the East is looked down upon as poor and backwards -- which goes to show the flexibility of prejudice.
The purpose of this essay is to explore the identity and history of Eastern Europe, the world of the Orthodox Christian Churches. Although the national boundaries which exist today do not match the boundaries of the past, one can still clearly identify eleven current European states in which the historical national churches are Orthodox. The eleven Orthodox nations are: Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Yugoslavia [Serbia and Montenegro], Cyprus and Greece.
In addition to the eleven Orthodox nations, others should be noted. Two nations, geographically in Eastern Europe, possess Orthodox minorities, but both have a Muslim majority or plurality; these are Albania and Bosnia. In addition, Armenia might be lumped in with Eastern Europe in a culture sense, although Armeniaís historical national church is a form of Christianity which is not Orthodox, but belongs to the "heresy" known as Monophysitism. The national church of Ethiopia is also Monophysite. There are large areas which where once predominantly Orthodox or Monophysitic in faith, but where Islam is today dominant. These areas include Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan and Egypt; Lebanon also has a large Catholic community. Finally, Israel must be noted: Judaism is dominant, but Islam, Orthodoxy, Monophysitism and Catholicism are present -- there are three different Christian Patriarchs of Jerusalem.
Clearly, we are discussing a large area of great historical and present importance, but one sure statement can be made: the root of the Orthodox world, the formative experience of its history must be found in the so-called "Byzantine" Empire.
By modern convention, the phrase "Byzantine Empire" refers to a powerful political entity whose capital stood in the city called Constantinople, New Rome, Byzantium or Istanbul. The "Byzantine Empire" originated with the founding of Constantinople in the fourth century AD on the site of the ancient Greek town of Byzantium. The founder, Roman Emperor Constantine I [died 337] called the site New Rome or Constantinople, and moved the capital of the Roman Empire to the new site. Constantine abandoned the the Italian Rome. Constantine also legalized the outlaw faith of Christianity. He adopted the Christianity himself. Thereafter, Constantinople became a citadel of both Empire and Church. The successors of Constantine I lived in Constantinople without interruption until 1204 -- almost nine centuries. In 1204, warriors from Western Europe known as Frank" captured and looted Constantinople, and held the city until 1261. The "Byzantines" expelled the Franks in 1261, and restored the "Byzantine Empire" at Constantinople in diminished form. A second and final catastrophe came in 1453: the Ottoman Turks stormed Constantinople. The "Byzantine Empire" ceased to exist.
The role of the "Byzantine Empire" in European history is not understood by the educated Americans who have been taught a "Western" view of European history. In fact, Constantinople stood at the economic, political and cultural heart of Christian Europe from its founding until its capture by the Franks. The "Byzantine Empire" flourished in the same centuries that found Western Europe languishing in poverty and violence. Constantinople also became the wellspring of Orthodox Christianity. Although no large number of Christians live in modern Istanbul or Turkey, the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople remains the spiritual leader of all Orthodoxy. The peoples of other Orthodox lands still look to Istanbul: little wonder, because the whole of the Orthodox world acquired its faith by first or second hand from its missionaries. The predominant faith of Russia and the other Orthodox lands is rooted in the "Byzantine" experience. In our time, with recent changes in Russia, her "Byzantine" roots seem more relevant than ever to understanding the unfolding history of Europe. Without due respect to Europeís Eastern half, a unification of the continent will remain impossible. In spite of its rich heritage and significant role, the achievements of "Byzantine" civilization have often been given short shrift and denigrated in the West: the very name "Byzantine Empire" was, in fact, coined as an insult.
The phrase "Byzantine Empire" was coined and popularized by French scholars in the seventeenth century, long after the Empire had passed on into history. A major popularizer of the term "Byzantine" was Charles-Louis de Montesquieu, an influential figure of eighteenth century intellectual life. He was the same author whose seminal volume The Spirit of Laws , did much to inspire the Founding Fathers of the United States in their writing of the Constitution. Like other thinkers of his time, Montesquieu revered the ancient Greeks and Romans as masters of politics. Reflecting existing prejudices, Montesquieu regarded the Empire at Constantinople as corrupt and decadent. In his influential history of the Empire at Constantinople, Montesquieu could not bring himself to refer to the Empire at Constantinople with the noble names of "Greek" or "Roman." Montesquieu employed the term "Byzantine." The word "Byzantine" denoted the Empire, and also came to connote its supposed characteristics: elaborate dissimulation and dishonesty. The English scholar Edward Gibbon in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire introduced the same negative images to the English speaking world; Gibbon regarded the history of the Empire after the sixth century as an epic of unrelieved degradation and corruption.
In truth, the people who lived in the "Byzantine Empire" never called themselves "Byzantine" as a national name. The word "Byzantine" found occasional employment to indicate an inhabitant of Constantinople, but to apply the name to the whole Empire would be analogous to calling all the French by the name "Parisian." In respective to their national identity, the people of the entire know themselves to be Romans, nothing more and nothing less. By transferring the capital from Rome on the Tiber to the New Rome on Bosphorus, Emperor Constantine I transmitted the essence of Rome to the new location. Long before Constantine I, the idea of "Rome" had become disassociated from the "Eternal City" on the Tiber. The word "Roman" [Romanus in Latin, Romaios in Greek] meant a Roman citizen, wheresoever he lived.
The extension of Roman citizenship beyond the walls of the city of Rome itself commenced before the transition of Rome from a Republic to an Empire. In 89 BC, a law had granted Roman citizenship to people across Italy. Afterwards, Roman citizenship became extended to more people in different parts of the Empire; Emperors themselves hail from Spain or Algeria or Syria. In 212, Emperor Caracalla declared almost all free persons in the Empire to be Roman citizens, entitled to call themselves Romans, not merely subjects. Within a few decades, written sources refer to the entire Empire less often as the Roman Empire ["Imperium Romanorum" in Latin, "Basileia Romaion" in Greek], and more often as "Romania" [the land inhabited by Romans].
In Greek speaking provinces of Romania, the appellation of "Romans" -- in Greek, "Romaioi" displaced the old ethnic name applied to Greeks -- "Hellene." The word "Hellene" had designated the Greeks as a common ethnic name from the seventh century BC onward, if not earlier. The epic poet Homer, writing earlier or employing an older tradition, had called Greeks by other names, not "Hellenes," but all of the classical writers and leaders, such as Aeschylus, Herodotus, Pericles, Plato and Alexander, called themselves "Hellenes," as did Greek speaking inhabitants of the Roman Empire in the first and second centuries AD. After "Romaioi" had displaced "Hellene," the name "Hellene" survived with a new signifcance. In the fourth century AD, after Constantine turned Christian, the term Hellene became redefined by common convention to indicate people who still worshipped the old Olympians gods and studied philosophy in hopes of resisting the new faith of Christianity.
In the final years of the fourth century AD, Emperor Theodosius I [379-395] made Christianity the sole state. After Theodosius' critical decision, few people were willing to call themselves "Hellene." For centuries more, the word Hellene remained in bad repute, associated with outlawed religious ideas and disloyalty to the state. The majority of Greek speakers adopted the "Romaioi" identity in place of "Hellene." To be "Romaioi" meant to be both Christian and loyal to the Emperor. Writing in the tenth century, Emperor Constantine VII claimed that last Hellene had rooted out in his grandfatherís time..
At the death of Theodosius in 395, the Romania still held the territory which it had held for centuries: from the lowlands of Scotland to the frontier of Sudan, and from the Atlantic coast of Portugal and Morocco to the Euphrates River in Iraq. However, the western provinces of Romania were lost to the Emperors in the fifth century. Many students in America have been taught that the Roman Empire "fell" at this time, both this is not correct. Our shorthand summary of the fifth century AD should not be "the fall of the Roman Empire," but instead "how the West was lost." New kingdoms ruled by Germanic peoples emerged where proconsuls had governed in Italy, Spain, France, Britain and Tunisia. By 500 AD, Romania had shrunk to half of its former size: the Balkans remained; Asia Minor remained; Egypt remained, and the region which the Romaioi called simply "the East": Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine and Jordan. In addition some areas were reconquered in the sixth century by Emperor Justinian I [ruled 527-565]: this included the province of Africa [Tunisia and coastal northwest Africa], an adjacent piece of southern Spain, and much of Italy, including the city of old Rome itself.
The contraction of Romania placed the Christian Church in a curious position. The laws of Romaioi had empowered the Emperor to define and mandate "correct" Christian belief. These approved beliefs were based on the decisions of Ecumenical Church Councils called by the Emperor, of which four were held in the fourth and fifth centuries. Christian groups which did not comply with the law were condemned as "heretics," including such beliefs as Arianism, Monophysitism and Nestorianism. Within the area remaining under the authority of the Emperor, "heretics" could be punished under the law, but in the lost provinces the situation differed. The majority of Christians in the lost provinces of the West remained loyal to the spiritual leadership of the Emperor and his Church, although they no longer lived under his political authority. However, the government in Constantinople had no jurisdiction to control these "heretics." Indeed, in parts of Western Europe the new Germanic rulers were "heretics." In order to bring the message of the Imperial Church where the Emperorís political writ no longer ran, the Imperial Church had to become more than a state religion.
In the end, the Imperial Church could not maintain its unity: the Church in the West developed into the Catholic Church, and the Imperial Church in the East developed into the communion of Orthodox Churches. The parting of the ways came by gradual steps across a long period.
Division of the Imperial Church
Numerous factors led to the division of the Imperial Church. One point was the difference of language: the East spoke Greek, the West spoke Latin. All of the official prouncements in the Church emananting from Ecumenical Church Councils were in Greek, and the West had to function on translations, which led to problems. The problem of translations was exacerbated by practical problem: in Romania, the main rival of the Imperial Church was Monophysitism, while in the West, Arianism was the most important "heresy." In both areas, Church authorities were prepared to shade Church teaching to cope with the respective dissenters.
The theological issues may seem recondite to most modern ears, but these were issues of great importance, issues which aroused deep emotion and often violence. The Nicene Creed of the Imperial Church, adopted at the first Ecumenical Church Council at Nicaea [Iznik, Turkey], included a formulation which emphasized Christís dual nature as both human and divine. The Monophysites rejected the Nicene Creed by denying Christís human nature; the Arians denied Christís divinity. In the East, the Emperors tried to reconcile with the heretics by emphasizing Christís divine nature, but Church authorities in the West, such as the Pope of Rome, tended to move Church doctrine in the opposite direction to reconcile with the Arians.
The series of historical events which led these abstract differences to cause a fundamental split in the Christian world is long, and only a few highlights can be mentioned here. A good place to start would be in the seventh century. Late in the reign of Emperor Heraclius [ruled 610-641], the Romaioi faced the extraordinary challenge of Islam. In Mohammedís lifetime [570-632], the Romaioi had heard little of the Arabian prophet and his message, but the Muslims invaded Romania in 636. By 642, the Roman "East" and Egypt had been lost forever. One reason which allowed Islam to triumph was the refusal of Monophysites and Jews to fight for a government which oppressed them; the incoming Muslims, in spite of their own religious zeal, were far more tolerant of minorities than the Romaioi. The aging Heraclius in his last years attempted to reconcile the Monophysites by a desperate proposal called the "Ekthesis" [Resolution] which adjusted official dogma towards the Monophysite direction without the consent of an Ecumenical Church Council.
The "Ekthesis" came too late to stop Islamís surge of conquest, but it enraged the West. The Pope of Rome, the senior Western prelate, denounced the "Ekthesis" as a heresy, a daring pronouncement since Rome remained within Romania, reachable by Imperial power. Heracliusí grandson Emperor Constans II [ruled 641-668] exacted retribution by ordering Pope Martin I arrested and exiled to the Crimea where he died, but political realities brought Constans into a more conciliatory frame of mind. He visited old Rome in 663, the first emperor to set foot there in almost two centuries, and remained in Italy until his death. Alas, reconciliation is an elusive goal: Constans was murdered in Syracuse, Sicily by persons unknown. Constansí son Emperor Constantine IV [ruled 668-685] faced a renewed Islamic threat, which placed Constantinople itself under a Muslim siege in 678. Constantine IV called the Third Ecumenical Church Council of Constantinople in 680 to heal the rift within the Imperial Church. The "Ekthesisí was forgotten.
A generation later, another Muslim siege of Constantinople was thwarted by Emperor Leo III [ruled 717-741], but Leo III, like Heraclius, issued a theological pronouncement which split Christian Europe. Reacting to the criticism of Monophysites, Muslims and Jews, Leo issued the Iconoclast Edict which banned religious art: if Christ is divine, in whole or in part, making pictures of him violates the commandment against graven images. Needless to say, the Iconoclast Edict did not endure -- if it had, the loss to the world of art would have been immeasurable -- but in the short run, people who lived in Romania had to obey their Emperor or face stern punishment. The West, of course, did not labor under this handicap; the West rejected Iconoclasm as they rejected the Ekthesis, and the Pope Gregory II led the way. The Pope himself ran a certain risk: Rome still remained within Romania, but this time the Emperorís orders to arrest the Pope were not obeyed by officials and soldiers who were Italian born. For all purposes practical purposes, Rome ceased to be part of Romania at this time, and her people had ceased to be Romaioi. The Popes were now independent rulers of what they called the "Patrimonium Petri" [Peterís Patrimony]. In 731, the newly elected Pope Gregory III took possession of his see without awaiting the customary blessing from Cnstantimople: no such blessing was ever sought again.
The new independence of the Papacy meant that no protection could be forthcoming from the Romaioi, as well as no heretical decrees. Soon after their independence, the Patrimonium Petri found itself under threat from the the most powerful Italian-based state of the time, the Lombard Kingdom with its capital at Pavia. The actions of the Papacy in the middle of the eighth century can be understood by a simple analogy: when the mouse is stalked by the cat, the mouse should make friends with the dog. In this case, the Patrimonium Petri was the mouse, and the Lombard Kingdom was the cat. The dog to whom the Popes appealed was the most powerful Catholic [if we may use that term now] kingdom in the West, the Kingdom of Franks. The Kingdom of Franks stood north of Alps, far enough from the Popes not to be a threat, but adjacent to the Lombards, who dared not offend their powerful neighbors. In 751, Pope Zacharias approved the usurpation of the Frankish throne by the ambitious lord Pippin [also known as Pepin the Short]. In return, Pippin came in person to Rome in 754, passing with his army through Lombard territory under a "safe conduct" from the Lombard king, which he could not refuse. Zachariasí successor, Pope Stephen II, greeted Pippin, and adorned him and his sons with the title "Patricianus Romanorum" [Lords of the Romans]. After the Franks had left, the Popes seemed safe in their autonomy.
In the next decades, however, political realities changed. Pippin died, and his son Karl [ruled 768-814] became his successor as both King of Franks and "Patricianus Romanorum." In 774, Karl invaded the Lombard kingdom, and besieged King Desiderius in his capital of Pavia. Desiderius surrendered; he was shipped as a prisoner north of the Alps, and Karl crowned himself King of Lombards. At a blow, the distant protector of the Papacy had become an overwhelming neighbor. The Popes were lucky that Karl was an exemplary neighbor due to his respect for the Church.
Not surprisngly, the Popes sought to flatter Karl. Pope Leo III hit upon the ultimate flattery. To explain: in 780, Emperor Constantine VI ascended to the throne in Constantinople, although a child, under the regency of his mother Irene. In 786, Irene revoked the Iconoclasm Edict of Emperor Leo III, and immediately called an Ecumenical Church Council in Nicaea for the next year. The Second Council of Nicaea turned out to be the last Ecumenical Church Council still recognized by Catholic and Orthodox alike. Irene attempted to reconcile with the West by making overtures towards Karl. She proposed that Constantine VI should marry one of Karlís daughters; Karl suggested that he and Irene should wed. Neither proposal came to fruition, but the improvement in relations served both rulers, and seemed a propitious development. Then, in 797, came a stunning turn of events: although Constantine VI had come of adult age, Irene refused to relinquish her hold on power. Constantine VI attempted a coup against his mother, but the plot failed. In retaliation, Irene removed Constantine from the throne, and ordered him blinded: he died from the infection. Irene then did something without precedent: she crowned herself Empress in her own right. No women had ever ruled the Romaioi in her own right, least of all a woman who had murdered her son. In the West, Constantine VI had been recognized as Emperor [otherwise Irene could not have called the Council of Nicaea], but the Pope refused to recognize Irene. He declared the Imperial throne vacant -- until Christmas Day, 800.
In 800, Karl kept his Christmas in Rome. He later claimed that had he known the intentions of Pope Leo III that day, he would not have entered St. Peterís to hear Mass. At the conclusion of the service, Leo placed a crown on Karlís head. The Pope proclaimed the Frankish King to be Roman Emperor. Whatever the state of Karlís prior knowledge, he did not refuse the honor. That moment made Karl one of the giants of European history, the stuff of legend, to be immortalized in France as Charlemagne.
Making of the Schism
Karlís Imperial coronation stands as an important event in many ways, but not least, it meant the end of the Imperial Church. Even after Irene was deposed by her own court, Karl retained his Imperial title; they were now two Emperors and two Empires. In fact, Karlís coronation had initiated a political institution which lasted a thousand years, the Holy Roman Empire. An Emperor in the West now existed in opposition to the Emperor in the East. More than this, the Pope not only succeeded in crowning Karl, but Leo III and his successors for centuries to come convinced the West to accept the idea that the Pope alone could make an Emperor out of an ordinary King -- such is how the Western Empire became Holy.
Constantinople, needless to say, found the whole matter ludicrous. It is was laughable to think that an Italian bishop could turn a barbarian chieftain into an Emperor! There were times in the centuries to follow when the two Emperors, West and East, would recognize or at least tolerate each other -- politics is politics, after all, but on both sides derision and distrust were the general rule. The unity of the Church remained in theory, but hung by a thread. Both sides often resorted to name calling. The West would say: "you in the East are not Romans, you are Greeks." Translated, Greek became "Hellene," which meant pagan, not a friendly sentiment to express towards the Orthodox. Constantinople denied the "romanity" of the West -- the Western Emperors were simply barbaroi, Franci, Germani or Alemanni. Both sides called the other "scismatics" or, even worse, "heretics."
The rivalry of Catholic and Orthodox was not lost on the outside world. Boris, Khan of Bulgars, contemplated turning Christian in the ninth century, but he played off the Catholics against the Orthodox to get a better deal. The Bulgars had started out as a Turkic tribe from the Volga River region who had planted themselves south of the Danube River in the late seventh century; they had became a constant threat to Constantinople. In time, the Bulgars adopted the language of the South Slavic people who populated much of their lands. The Romaioi authorities hoped that conversion to Christianity would domesticate the Bulgars, but Boris played envoys from Constantinople off against emissaries from Rome.
In the end, Boris selected the Orthodox way, because the Orthodox were more lenient in allowing the Bulgars to use their own language instead of Greek, keep many of their customs, and retain political control over their own Church. From here, precedes the Orthodox idea of their faith as a family of national churches sharing "correct beliefs" [literally, "orthodox" in Greek]. The Catholics insisted on a degree of uniformity in ritual and obedience in organization which Boris would not accept, but that is why the Catholic Church is the "catholic" [i.e. universal] church.
The rivalry of the two churches over Bulgaria led to an ugly episode in which the Pope and the Patriarch of Constantinople excommunicated each other. The Emperor of the Romaioi, Basil I [ruled 867-886], called an Ecumenical Church Council in Constantinople in 869-870 to adjudicate the quarrel between the two prelates. In an effort to undermine the weak Western Emperor Ludwig III [ruled 855-875], Basil ruled that his own Patriarch Photius had misbehaved; he removed the man from his office in the interest of amity with the Pope. Oddly enough, Basil later changed his mind -- he was not willing to sacrifice Bulgaria -- and the Orthodox Church repudiated the Council, but to this day the Catholic Church accepts the validity of the Fourth Council of Constantinople.
The competition of Catholic and Orthodox in converting peoples to Christianity, which Boris and the Bulgars had exploited, continued. By the early eleventh century, a line had been drawn between the two Churches across Europe. The Romaioi had conquered the Bulgarian Empire by this point, and with it the peoples which the Bulgarians had converted -- notably Serbs and Vlachs [modern Romanians]. Meantime, the Croats and Hungarians had become Catholics, as had the Poles. To the east of the Poles, stood the most important conversion achieved directly by the Romaioi after the Bulgars: the land of the Rus, with its capital at Kiev.
In modern historical literature, it has been customary to identify the Kiev-based state as "Russian." However, since the independence of Ukraine in 1991, a resurgence of opinion has questioned this identification: Ukrainians consider the Kievan state their own. The truth is better put that the three modern national peoples of Russians, Belarussians and Ukrainians are all co-heirs of the Rus. All three of these peoples took their Orthodox faith from the conversion of Vladimir I, Khagan of Rus to Christianity in 989.
The degenerating relationship between Catholic and Orthodox reached a critical juncture in 1054, which church historians often view as the start of the "official" separation of the two faiths. The leaders of the two faiths exchanged mutual excommunications which were not finally expunged from the record until 1964. The ostensible cause of the break was a matter of abstruse theology: the Orthodox accused the Catholic of adding the word "filioque" [" ... and the Son"] to the Nicene creed. The Catholic insisted that since their Latin version of the Nicene Creed was a translation from the Greek original, it was ridiculous to insist on literal translation when it might lead to confusion. Catholics in Spain had chosen, as early as the sixth century, to express the Creed in a fashion which clearly differentiated the correct theological position from that of the Arians by stressing the divinity of Christ. In Romania, where Monophysitism still remained a significant force [especially among ethnic Armenians], the Catholic Church appeared guilty of the "heresy of double procession," which the Orthodox Patriarch regarded as a dangerous concession to Monophystism.
In truth, this esoteric argument must be set into a political context. In the middle of the eleventh century, the Romaioi still held the toe and heel of southern Italy, but they were losing ground -- and would be driven out completely -- by Catholic knights from Normandy in France, products of the Western feudal system. The Romaioi might have better served their own interest by trying to drive a wedge between the Normans, on the one hand, and Pope, on the other, but by this time the Romaioi seem to have lost the capacity to maneuver.
Ironically, the Romaioi were soon begging the West to save them. A new enemy had appeared: the empire of the Seljuks, a Turkic people who had converted to Islam. The Seljuks had started as mercenaries in the service of the Islamic Caliph of Baghdad, but the servants became the masters, and the Seljuk leader assumed the tile of "Sultan." In 1071, the Seljuk army encountered the army of the Romaioi under Emperor Romanus IV at the Battle of Manzikert. The results was catastrophic: the Romaioi army was smashed, the Emperor taken prisoner. In the years which followed, the Seljuks occupied most of Asia Minor. Places which had been parts of Romania since the days of Caesar were lost forever. The existence of Romania itself seemed at stake.
Emperor Alexius I [ruled 1081-1118] took a desperate step. He put aside his distrust of the Catholic world, his anger at the recent conquests of the Normans in southern Italy, and his sense of betrayal at Norman invasion of the Balkans by sea as Romania faced the Seljuks. Alexius sent a letter to Pope Urban II, and asked for Catholic knights, famed as warriors, to help save Constantinople. The response was staggering. At Clermont in France , Pope Urban II called upon the Catholic world not only to save Constantinople, but to liberate Jerusalem from the Seljuk Turks as well.
Pope Urban II had initiated the Crusades. Countless thousands, from peasants to princes, responded in an explosion of both piety and greed. Alexius was staggered by armies of Catholics "Franks" which appeared at Constantinople to help him, wondering if these barbarians from afar might turn on him instead. They did not betray Alexius, but they did save Romania by stopping the advance of the Seljuks. They also marched across Seljuk territory and captured Jerusalem in 1099, creating a Catholic Kingdom in the heart of the Islamic World.
In many ways, the rude Frankish warriors were ill-prepared to cope with either Romania or the new Kingdom of Jerusalem. They found these lands richer than the places from which they came, and they found a bewildering variety of faiths: Muslims, Jews, Monophysites and Orthodox had often coexisted before the arrival of Catholics. The Franks had been shocked to find a mosque in the middle of Constantinople, and they had celebrated the capture of Jerusalem with a massacre of many thousands of Muslims and Jews.
Long residence in the new climes often soften the Franks: many learned to enjoy a more comfortable life, and became more tolerant, but new Frankish crusaders fresh from the West, who arrived in periodic waves, always meant the possibility of fresh trouble. The First Crusade had captured Jerusalem; a Second Crusade in the 1140ís halted a menacing Islamic upsurge. Nonetheless, the Islamic Sultan Saladin retook Jerusalem in 1187. Recoiling from the shock of defeat, the Franks sent a Third Crusade, which failed to make any difference. At the opening of the new century, Pope Innocent III preached a Fourth Crusade. The Frankish warriors arranged to travel by sea, renting a fleet from the merchants of the Venetian Republic. However, the crusaders failed to pay the Venetians on time, and the Venetians threatened to pull the plug on the Fourth Crusade. The Venetian Duke [Doge] Enrico Dandolo proposed a payment in services which the Crusaders could make in place of cash -- a little diversion to Constantinople to assist Venetian trade.
The "diversion" ended with the Franks capturing and looting Constantinople, the first hostile army to achieve that goal. Here was a deed of spectacular infamy. Pope Innocent II was furious: these "crusaders" had forsaken the Holy Land in order to serve themselves. Egged on by Dandolo, the Franks in Constantinople elected one of their leaders "Emperor of Romania" [Imperator Romaniae], and divided up all that they could grab of Romania for themselves.
In the end, the Romaioi rallied around their surviving noble leaders. They retook Constantinople in 1261, but their Empire never recovered. The savage behavior of the Fourth Crusaders would embitter the relations between Catholic and Orthodox Church across the centuries. The schism of 1054 had been, from a legal point of view, a definitive break, but emotionally it was the sack of Constatinople which placed an impassable barrier between the two faiths. Any attempt to make Europe whole make still face down the ghost of Enrico Dandolo and the Fourth Crusade.
Crisis of the Orthodox World
Clearly enough, the Fourth Crusade meant disaster to the Orthodox world, but a second disaster followed within a few years: the Mongol conquest of Russia. Genghis Khan [lived 1167-1227] had built his vast realm around the core of his own Yakka Mongol tribesmen as a vast confederation of nomadic peoples who exploded out of the Central Asian steppes to devastate the old civilizations of China and the Middle East. After the old conqueror had died, his sons and grandsons continued Mongolian expansion. Genghisí grandson Batu [ruled 1227-1255] led the Mongol onslaught into Kievan Rus. The initial conquest of Rus was bloody, but afterwards Batu withdrew to his capital at Sarai [near modern Volgograd], and left the various surviving princes of the Rus to rule as his vassals, subject to his sometime violent whims. Within these limits, the Orthodox faith was not molested, even after the Mongol rulers and their Tartar subalterns of the so-called "Golden Horde" became Muslims. Nonetheless, the Orthodox of Rus had become submerged within an alien shell, isolated from the rest of the Christian world.
The spirit of Orthodox had the greatest opportunity to flourish in the section of Rus which the Golden Horde found hardest to adminster, where deep snow and dense forests cancelled out much of the military advantage of the swift and lethal Mongol horsemen. In the upper reaches of the Volga River valley, stood the principality of Moscow. Here the Metropolitan of All Rus, the head of the Church, had transfered his seat in 1326; here the rulers of Moscow, a junior branch of the traditional ruling house of Rus, retained their nominal allegiance to Golden Horde while building towards the possibility of indeoendence.
While Moscow nurtured the Orthodox faith in the cold north, the Romaioi fell into despair. Emperor Michael VIII [ruled 1261-1282] had recaptured Constantinople, but he had feared new assaults from the Franks. To the horror of his people, he tried to negotiate a reunion of the Church; the Pope even convened an Ecumenical Council at Lyons to celebrate, but the deal did not last. By the middle of the 14th century, the Romaioi faced the threat which finally proved mortal. In Asia Minor, a Turkish clan called the Ottomans started to make themselves the successors of the Seljuks, who had never recovered from an encounter with the Mongolians. By 1400, Constantinople was surrounded by the Ottomans. Emperor Manuel II [ruled 1391-1425] actually left Constantinople for three years to go to the West, and beg for aid. He was received with great politeness at royal courts, but the message was firm: the price of aid was submission to the Pope. Manuel II would not pay the price, and no aid arrived.
The Romaioi survived longer than Manuel would have thought possible. The Ottomans did not ring down the curtain on the Romaioi for another half-century after Manuel IIís empty handed return in 1402 due to their own defeat at the hands of Tamerlane. By the 1430ís, however, the Ottomans had revived their threat to Constantinople. Emperor John VIII [ruled 1425-1448] followed Manuel IIís footsteps to the West, and sadly consented to reunion of the Churches on Romeís terms. Catholic European celebrated the humiliation of the Romaioi with the Ecumenical Council of Florence in 1438-1439 where John VIII found himself the befuddled house guest of the Florentine banker-prince Lorenzo "Il Magnifico" deí Medici. Afterwards, no Catholic King actually assisted the Romaioi, except the idealistic young King Wladyslaw III of Poland who got himself killed in a futile expedition. John returned home to find his clergy refusing to accept his decision, and he failed to implement the promises he had made in Florence; he died in 1448 knowing that his brother Emperor Constantine XI would be the last Emperor. The Ottoman Turks stormed Constantinople on May 29, 1453, and Constantine XI died in the fighting.
After outlying enclaves of the Romaioi had been swept up by the Ottoman Turks, the entire Orthodox world lay under Muslim rule. Luckily, Muslims were more tolerant of Christians than Christians were of Muslims in those days. Rus princes ruled own their lands, and in the Ottoman Empire the "millet" system prevailed. The "millet" system classified every subject by religion, and then permitted each religion to govern itself in many matters. The Ottoman Sultans after 1453 declared the Patriarch of Constantinople to be head of the "Rum millet" which included all of the Orthodox in the Empire. In the fifteenth century, the Ottomans recognized the Muslims, Orthodox, Monophysites [called the Armenian millet] and the Jews as distinct "milletti". Later, other groups attainted "millet" status. The "milletti" were not territorial, but based on a concept of personal status which is alien to modern law. One cannot understood, for example, Bosnia without seeing that Bosnia lived under the "millet" system for four centuries, and this accounts for the intersection of nationalism and religion there. The "millett" has been employed in many parts of the Islamic world.
The Modern Orthodox World
The Orthodox world in the modern age has been a world dominated by Russia. In 1480, Ivan III of Moscow [ruled 1462-1505] declared his independence from the Golden Horde. He and his successors aspired to make their independence stick, to attain control over all of old Rus, and to gain aceptance as leaders of the Orthodox world, successors of the Romaioi. To this end, Ivan married Sophia Palaeologina, the niece of Constantine XI, the last Emperor in Constantinople. Ivan and his successors began to employ the title "Tsar" [i.e. Caesar or Emperor], although Ivan IIIís grandson Ivan IV [Ivan the Terrible, 1533-1584] was the first to actual undergo a formal coronation as Tsar.
By the 16th century, Russian Orthodox theologians were propounding the theory of the "Three Romes." God had ordained, so the theory went, that humanity should have one faith, one emperor, one capital city. For abstruse mystical reasons, there must in succession three capital cities corresponding to the three persons of the trinity: Rome in Italy had been first, Constantinople had been second, Moscow was third -- there could be no other. Russian officialdom, both religious and secular, seemed to have accepted this view, which placed the Tsar in a special position within the Orthodox World, indeed within the cosmic plan.
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Russia took the offensive against the Ottoman Empire. A constant theme in Russian policy was the goal of liberating Orthodox peoples from Muslim rule. Catherine the Great commanded her son Paul to give his sons Greek names, expecting that one of them would rule as Emperor in Constantinople: neither Alexander nor Constantine nor Nicholas ruled there, but Catherine the Great had not been bereft of vision. Within the lifetime of her grandsons, Greece did attain independence as a kingdom after a revolution against the Ottomans exploded in the 1820ís. The British and French intervened in favor of the rebels out of sympathy towards the Greeks as heirs of Plato and Pericles, but they were suspicious of Russian machinations. To forestall Russian influence, the Greeks were denied Constantinople, and had to settle for Athens as a capital. The Greeks were forbidden to have a Russian as their king: they were forced to stomach a Bavarian king, and later a Danish royal family.
The Greek revolutionaries who created the modern Greek state made a deliberate choice to call themselves "Hellenes," like the ancient Greeks, and eschew the name "Romaioi." The switch from Romaios back to Hellene flowed from the politics of modern nationalism. Greeks needed Western European help to liberate themselves from the Ottomans, and they were not likely to attract assistance if the Western peoples thought of Greeks as "Byzantines." However, if the Greeks were imagined as the children of Plato and Pericles, then the sympathies of educated Westerners, steeped in the Classical tradition, would be with Greece. In the Greek Revolution, the "Philhellenic" [Greek loving] sympathies of Britain and other European governments were deeply engaged, and their proved decisive. The name of "Hellene" was revived in order to presented a national image which rejected the "Byzantine" past. Nonetheless, many people in rural areas of Greece still use the two terms interchangeably, When they wish to praise a man, they say that he is "true Romaioi."
No one one should underestimate the power of the past to shape the present. Peoples steeped in tradition -- unlike Americans -- remember the triumphs and trials even of remote times as though they were yesterday. In particular, peoples mired in poverty and tested by oppression take refuge with their hearts and minds among the deeds of past "golden ages," deeds which their despair in the present and their hope in the future have selected, embellished and enshrined.
If the two halves of Europe are ever to be made whole, much must be overcome. This achievement may or may not, in the long run, prove possible, but the peoples of Orthodox Europe can never be incorporated on a basis which will better the condition of themselves, Europe in total and the world, if the peoples of Western Europe think of them only as bedraggled victims of time awaiting salvation, and not as the lost half of their own souls to be welcomed home.