Christian Greek Orthodox Under Islamic Rule and Enslavement 1453-1821

My beloved spiritual children in Our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,


John Meyendorff in his book The Orthodox Church, Its Past and Its Role in the World Today, writes, "The capture and sacking of Constantinople by the armies of Mohammed II in 1453 was nevertheless one of the greatest catastrophes in the history of Christianity. In 1456 Athens also fell and the Parthenon, which for a thousand years had been a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, was transformed into a mosque, like Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. In 1460 the Turks conquered the Byzantine Morea and in 1461 Trebizond, the last remaining outposts of the Byzantine Empire. The Serbian Orthodox states succumbed in turn, in 1459 and 1463. This meant that the Ottoman Empire now embraced the whole of the Christian East, with the sole exception of Muscovite Russia, which, just at this time, was liberating itself from the Mongol yoke and would become the principal bulwark of Orthodoxy in the East for several centuries to come.

Under Turkish rule, however, the Church preserved its canonical organization intact and was even able to strengthen itself as a result of certain privileges granted to the ecumenical patriarch by the conqueror. Mohammed II allowed the canonical election of a new patriarch, Gennadios Scholarios, who was both the leader of the anti-unionist party and a devoted admirer of Thomas Aquinas. The sultan personally handed the new patriarch the emblems of his office, saying: "Be patriarch, preserve our friendship, and enjoy all the privileges which the patriarchs your predecessors possessed." These privileges included the inviolability of the patriarch's person, and through him, of all the bishops, exemption from all taxes, and civil jurisdiction over all Christians in the Ottoman Empire...Thus the Greek hierarchy found itself invested with considerable power, both civil and religious, in some respects greater than the authority it had enjoyed before the Turkish conquest. The jurisdiction of the ecumenical patriarch was virtually limitless, for it embraced not only the faithful who belonged to his own patriarchate but also those in the other Eastern patriarchates--who were theoretically his equals according to canon law--and even heterodox Christians who happened to be living in the Ottoman Empire. The Orthodox bishops greeted the ecumenical patriarch as "their sovereign, their emperor, and their patriarch." (Historia patriarchica, Bonn ed., p. 177)."

"Still, on a balance, all these rights and privileges, including freedom of worship and religious organization, seldom correspond to reality. The legal privileges of the patriarch and the Church depended, in fact, on the whim and mercy of the Sultan and the Sublime Porte, while all Christians were viewed as little more than second-class citizens. Moreover, Turkish corruption and brutality were not a myth. That it was the "infidel" Christian who experienced this more than anyone else is not in doubt. Nor were pogroms of Christians in these centuries unknown. Devastating, too, for the Church was the fact that it could not bear witness to Christ. Missionary work among Muslims was dangerous and indeed impossible, whereas conversion to Islam was entirely legal and permissible. On the other hand, converts to Islam who returned to Orthodoxy were put to death. Of a piece with this grim situation was the fact that new churches could not be built and even the ringing of church bells was not allowed. Finally, the education of the clergy and the Christian population fared no better - it either ceased or was of a rudimentary kind."

The Results of Corruption

It was likewise the Church's fate to be affected by the Turkish system of corruption. The patriarchal throne was frequently sold to the highest bidder, while new patriarchal investiture was accompanied by heavy payment to the government. In order to recoup their losses, patriarchs and bishops taxed the local parishes and their clergy. Nor was the patriarchal throne ever secure. Few patriarchs between the fifteenth and the nineteenth centuries died a natural death while in office. The forced abdications, exiles, hangings, drownings, and poisonings of patriarchs are well documented. But if the patriarch's position was precarious so was the hierarchy's. The hanging of patriarch Gregory V from the gate of the patriarchate on Easter Sunday 1821 was accompanied by the execution of two metropolitans and twelve bishops. (The gate still remains closed in St. Gregory's memory.) The above summary-- stark and short as it is--is sufficient to convey the persecution, decay, and humiliation that Eastern Christendom suffered under Ottoman rule. If we add to this tragic fate the militant communist atheism under which most Orthodox lived after 1917, we get some sense of the dislocation and suffering of Eastern Christianity in the last five hundred years..." (Source: History of the Orthodox Church by Aristeides Papadakis, Ph.D.)

According to Father Demetrios Constantelos Christian Greek Orthodox Under Islamic Rule writes, "from the conquest of Constantinople to the last phase of the Greek War of Independence, the Ottoman Muslim Turks condemned to death 11 Ecumenical Patriarchs of Constantinople, nearly 100 bishops, and several thousands of priests, deacons and monks...The present article is based on a variety of sources and principally on the vioi (vitae) of 172 Greek Orthodox Neo-Martyrs.

Papacy and Orthodoxy

"Along with these conditions, mention should finally be made of Rome's proselytizing pressure. Evidence for this phenomenon is appallingly plentiful. Missionaries were prepared in special schools such as the College of Saint Athanasius in Rome (opened in 1577) and then sent to the East in order to engage in direct proselytizing of the Orthodox. This network of Roman propaganda also embraced the Orthodox Slavic world. The pressure of the Catholic Polish monarchy and Jesuits in Poland and Lithuania on Orthodox dioceses canonically dependent on Constantinople is well enough known. The Uniat Ukrainian Church was, in part, the result of such pressure through the Union of Brest-Litovsk in 1596. There was, of course, little that the Orthodox Church could do to counter this aggressive Romanization, given the historical situation." (Source: History of the Orthodox Church by Aristeides Papadakis, Ph.D.)




With sincere agape in Our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George