Macedonia: Its Races and Their Future
H. Brailsford

III. The Orthodox church

2. The Church the one possible Political Organisation
 

It is not so much the religious instincts of the Balkan peasant as his political conditions which explain his passionate attachment to his Church and the great part which it plays in his existence. His fidelity to his Church has been through five centuries one continuous martyrdom. He has remained true to it not merely from a reasoned or traditional faith in its tenets, but rather because apostasy involved a foreswearing of his nationality and a treason to the cause of his own race. It is the only free and communal life which the Turks permit him. It is essentially a national organisation. It reminds him of the greater past. It unites him to his fellow-Christians throughout the Empire, and in the free lands beyond the Empire. It is the one form of association and combination which is not treasonable. Its Bishops are the sole Christian aristocracy in Turkey, its synods and its local councils the only form of autonomy or representative self-government which the law allows. Any political organisation outside the Church must necessarily be a secret and proscribed society. Within the Church and the various activities, mainly scholastic, which grow up around a Church, a certain measure of freedom is possible. The result is that the Christians of Turkey have always preserved and still possess a certain unity and power


62

of common action. The Church has paid the inevitable penalty. She has been more or less secularised and her spiritual functions have suffered. Her mission has been patriotic rather than spiritual.

This transformation of the Orthodox Church into a national organisation was a consequence of the peculiar civilisation of its conquerors. The Turks were a military people with a theocratic organisation. Their law was a religious code; their army a force which conquered in the name of a faith. Of civil law and civil administration they had no conception, and these ideas have hardly taken root even in our own time. The law which they brought with them was the Koran, and it was no more possible to impose it upon Christians than it was to include them in the army. And accordingly there grew up a curious system of autonomy within the Empire which had no territorial or racial basis, but rested wholly on religion. The Turkish courts, which existed only for the interpretation of the Koran, had jurisdiction only over Moslems. Disputes among Christians were left to the Christian Church for settlement, and the heads of the Church were made responsible to the Ottoman officials for the good government of their flocks. Society was organised in Churches, to one or other of which every Ottoman subject must belong. These Millets, as they are called Islam, the Greek Church (Roum), the Catholics, the Armenians, and the Jews were the only subdivisions which the Turks recognised. The Roum Millet (Roum is a Turkish corruption of Romaios, the Greek name for a subject of Byzantium) was all that remained of the Eastern Empire. Under Bishops and Patriarchs it carried on the life of the Byzantine court, and preserved the Greek nationality with the Greek form of Christianity. It was a name which confounded Serbs, Bulgars, and Greeks under one common designation which implied only a recognition of the authority of the Patriarch of Constantinople. The system lasted everywhere in its entirety until well into the last century. There are still towns in Albania (e.g., Ipek) where there are as yet no civil courts and the Koran is the only law. But although a code based on the Napoleonic


63

model now prevails in all but the wilder corners of Turkey, the old theocratic arrangement is by no means extinct. The law of marriage, divorce, and inheritance is still administered by the Bishops. It was, moreover, only the Sultan's Reform Scheme of 1902 which abolished the plan by which each of the religious communities of the chief towns elected a lay member to sit as judge in the various civil courts. For purposes of registration and for passports the old system of Millets is still in vogue, and Serbs, Vlachs, Orthodox Albanians, and Bulgarians, who have not joined the schismatic national Church, are still classified in the census under the comprehensive title Roum a fact of which the Greeks, eager to make out a claim to Macedonia, are never slow to take advantage.
 

[Previous] [Next]
[Back to Index]