Monday, May 19, 2014

Orthodox Communal Politics in Palestine (1908-1910)

Taken from:  Konstantinos Papastathis and Ruth Kark, "Orthodox Communal Politics in Palestine after the Young Turk Revolution (1908-1910)". Jerusalem Quarterly 56/57, Winter 2013 / Spring 2014, pp. 118-139 Read the entire article in pdf here.

The ideological background of the Greek dominance was the messianic fallacy of “Helleno-orthodoxia.” This is a theoretical formulation of Greek irredentism of the Megali Idea, according to which Greek national identity is intimately tied to the Orthodox religion. This socially dominant ethno-phyletist narrative advocates the primordial, and thus essentialist, equation of Orthodoxy with the Greek nation. In short, an individual can be regarded as a member of the Greek “imagined community” only if he/she is a Christian Orthodox and vice-versa. The Orthodox lay populations in Syria and Palestine, therefore, were not regarded as Arab, but rather as Greek "arabophones". Furthermore, the various shrines in the Holy Land under the custodianship of the Patriarchate were perceived as the tangible continuity of the Greek presence in the historical cradle of Christianity. According to this “invented tradition” of the Greek imagined proprietorship of Palestine’s Christian sanctuaries, these did not belong to the Orthodox commonwealth at large. Rather, the Greek nation was their sole owner. The Holy Places were perceived as national treasures, and as such the non-Greek Orthodox populations could not have a say in the administration of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which was the competent authority for their guardianship. Since Orthodoxy is held to be the true faith expressing God’s word and the Greek nation is represented as being by definition the “rightful” owner of His Holy Places, the Greek people are defined as the “chosen” people, under whose guidance all the ecclesiastical centers should continue to operate, as they had since their establishment. For the advocates of Helleno-orthodoxia, thus, the Patriarchate should be exclusive, and entrance to it should be confined only to Greek nationals or subjects. Consequently, Athens, as the nation-state’s capital, should be the political center par excellence not only of all Orthodox institutions, but also of the Orthodox populations at large, regardless of any other criteria defining their collective identity.

Two strategies were formulated within the Greek ecclesiastical apparatus for confronting the developing local Orthodox movement: a) absolute rejection of lay demands, which were viewed as subverting the Greek character of the Patriarchate and its religious “purity”; and b) the adoption of a controlled concession to the community of some secondary rights without putting at risk the institution’s Greek character and centralized governing structure. The long-standing conflict between these two distinct schools of thought led to a series of crises within the Patriarchate from the end of the nineteenth century onwards. The one under discussion caused a split within the Greek senior clergy with major repercussions for the future of the Jerusalem Patriarchate.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

There is indeed a great problem, and neither of the two opposing sides is being constructive, nor are they acting in a Christian way.

The Patriarchate of Jerusalem's violation of Patriarchate of Antioch's rights is absolutely abominable, and is indicative of a lack of judgement on part of those heading the said church. This is all true, but the mention of this issue in a letter (I am writing this in reply to a few of your posts) is not constructiveness and is likely to cause further bad blood. The appeal to the Sultan and other secular authorities is equally unwise, and points to a lack of judgement on part of the protesters, too.

This all stems from a lack of understanding of others, and a lacking understanding of history. It is absolutely true, no matter what any Arab nationalist may wish to think, that the Orthodox Christian community of today that identifies itself as Arab, has roots that date much prior to the Arab invasion of the region. Their stem from a mix of Greek and other ethnic groups which lived in the region in Byzantine times, and prior. While the Orthodox Arabs of today have every right to identify as Arab, and while they are, indeed, no less Arab than any Muslim Arab (because they, too, are of mixed heritage), if they so choose, they need to have an understanding that the other side - one identifying itself as Greek - also has justification for its claims.

The 'facts' made in the text above simply don't add up, from a historical point of view. The Church of Jerusalem was always Greek or Syriac speaking, with Greek being dominant for most of its history. This is a fact, and one you overlook. There is nothing good in the fact that Greeks often go too far in identifying the Church with their nation, but that in no way erases the underlying facts.

Now, this is this, and the requirements of present day are something else. The flock entrusted to the Church of Jerusalem is today largely Arab speaking, and it now identifies itself as Arab. This means that the Church needs to make some changes, but those asking for them need to be aware that they are the ones disrupting the status quo, and that is something that those not initiating the changes find painful. You need to be understanding of that and show compassion. Remember that martyrs showed no hatred for those who subjected them to suffering. Today, faced with this, you too need to show brotherly love. Have understanding and make demands that can be met, without there being a need to overly encroach upon anyone's comfort zone. Choose love and choose compromise.