Theodore G. Karakostas is a Greek-American who has written previously about the crisis in the Balkans and the situation facing the Orthodox Church. He returns today with an essay on a similar theme.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate
by Theodore G. Karakostas
It is very rare when contemporary realities serve as a near repetition of events that took place five and a half centuries ago. In the years preceding the Fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks, the Greeks undertook a variety of diplomatic measures to gain support from the West in order to forestall the impending tragedy.
While the Christian Empire fell, and its last Emperor Constantine Palaeologos died resisting the conquest, one Byzantine office survived and continues to barely survive up to the present. The Ecumenical Patriarchate today is the “First Among Equals” among the Eastern Orthodox Churches, and his holiness Bartholomaios I has “Primacy of honor” among the various Patriarchs and Archbishops of the autocephalous Orthodox Churches. Today, the Ecumenical Patriarch seeks relief from the West in order to forestall a tragedy that appears increasingly inevitable as was the case with the last Christian Emperors.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate is in a state of crisis. The Patriarch’s flock is nearly extinct as a result of the genocidal policies of the Turkish government. During the First World War, the Young Turks began their policies of exterminating the Greek Orthodox, Armenian, and Assyrian Christians of Asia Minor.
In the aftermath of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Greece was briefly permitted to liberate the Christian City of Smyrna and other portions of Asia Minor in order to protect the surviving Greek Orthodox. In September 1922, the Turks under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal conquered the liberated City of Smyrna, and slaughtered the Greek and Armenian Christians. Among the casualties was the Greek Archbishop Chrysostom who was slaughtered by Muslim fanatics on the orders of a Muslim General named Noureddin Pasha.
The new Turkish leadership presided over the extermination and mass ethnic cleansing of Greek Orthodox in Eastern Thrace and other regions such as Pontus and Cappadocia. Further ethnic cleansing against the Greek Orthodox population of Constantinople followed which reduced the number of Greeks living in the Patriarchal City from nearly half a million to just over 100,000. Under the Turkish Republic, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has endured endless harassment and persecution.
The suffering of the flock of this institution that Greeks reverentially refer to as “the Great Church of Christ” included extreme taxation and subsequent deportations to forced labor camps in Anatolia. A subsequent campaign of terror on September 6, 1955 in which the entire Greek population was set upon by fanatical mobs of criminals and resulted in a pogrom which has burned itself into the collective memories of all Greeks was the beginning of the end for the Christians of Constantinople.
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Many Greeks compare the events of September 1955 with the atrocities that accompanied the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. The primary difference is that the horrors of the later period — in which Greek Churches and their sacred chalices and Icons were profaned in unspeakable ways, and priests and Bishops were set on fire and beaten to death — occurred in a country that was a member of the NATO alliance and the recipient of American economic and military assistance.
Most of the surviving remnants of the Patriarch’s faithful were forcibly driven from Turkey in 1964, and by 1971 the Patriarchal School of Theology was forcibly closed on the orders of the Turkish government.
Between 1993 and 2004, the Ecumenical Patriarchate was bombed or attacked by arsonists on at least five occasions, with the murder of his holiness Bartholomaios I being the primary aim. In July 2007, it was revealed by Turkish news reports that retired Turkish military officers planned the assassinations of the Ecumenical Patriarch, and that of the Armenian Patriarch.
All this is of extreme importance to the United States because Washington claims to be waging a “war on terror”. A campaign of terror against a defenseless minority continues in Turkey as can be seen by the discriminatory laws against Greeks, and the continued seizure of property. In the past three months, a Greek Orthodox Monastery in Turkey was demolished, and a Greek newspaper editor was beaten.
This tragedy that continues to play out does not bode well for democracy in Turkey. Nor does it bode well for the United States and its image. The message that Turkish nationalists and Islamic fundamentalists have heard loud and clear is that American administrations will tolerate any amount of violations of human rights, religious freedom, and terror in the name of appeasing Turkey.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate is honored by Greeks with the title “The Great Church” which is also used to honor the empty Church of Hagia Sophia, which itself was named for Christ (meaning literally the Holy Wisdom of Christ). The displacement of one of the great institutions of Christendom from what was once the supreme Christian City is a defeat for democratic values, and a major victory for the intolerant fanaticism that the West claims to be fighting against.