Macedonia: Its Races and Their Future
H. Brailsford

III. The Orthodox church

6. Catholicism in the Balkans.      Note. Protestant Missions
 

But perhaps the most curious and instructive ecclesiastical development in the Balkans is the organisation known as the Catholic Uniate Church. Nothing bears witness so triumphantly to the hold which "Orthodoxy" has on the East. The Uniate Church is an invention which played its part in Louis Napoleon's efforts to consolidate French influence in the Near East (1857-1861). In ritual, constitution, and even in dogma, it is practically indistinguishable from the Orthodox Church. But just as the Bulgarian Church is an Orthodox Church which recognises not the Patriarch but a Primate of its own, known as the Exarch, so the Uniate Church is an Orthodox Church which recognises the Pope. The clergy marry, wear the garb of the Eastern priest, say Mass in Bulgarian, and in every external follow the Eastern rite. There seemed no other way of creating nominal Catholics who would be under French protection. The movement had some temporary success among the Bulgarians, but it defeated its own ends by frightening Russia into the creation of the Bulgarian Exarchate [1] and when that happened its adherents deserted en masse. The Uniate Patriarch was kidnapped, and the Church has practically no following in Macedonia to-day except in the district of Kilkish, where its admirable orphanages are situated. The implied admission that nothing in Catholicism is essential save the authority of the Pope seems curiously cynical. But the policy of making converts by a wholesale political method justifies itself in the second generation. The priests are educated and transformed: worship is rendered reverent, and the children are trained up in a conception of religion which has nothing at all in common with that of the genuine Eastern Church. But the day of political Churches is rapidly passing even in Macedonia. During the winter of 1903-4, Sarafof, disgusted by

1. This was in 1870, in the days when Panslavism was a force in Russia and General Ignatieff ruled Constantinople. Russia naturally feared that if the southern Slavs became Catholics she would lose her ascendancy over them.


74

the failure of Orthodox Russia to support the revolution, gave the word of order that, with the object of winning the sympathy of the Western Powers, the Bulgarians should enrol themselves either in the Roman or the Protestant communion. [2] There was practically no response.

But the real religion of the Balkans is something more deeply-rooted than all this fantastic confusion of political Churches and racial feuds. It is older and more elemental than Christianity itself; more permanent even than the Byzantine rite. It bridges the intervening centuries and links in pious succession the modern peasant to his heathen

2.  It may not be irrelevant to add here a note on the failure of Protestant missions in the Balkans. The real root of this failure is doubtless the simple fact that the Macedonian expects that his Church should have a definitely national and political character. A purely spiritual propaganda is beyond his comprehension. He never quite abandons the conviction that the American missionaries must be working in the interests of England or America (he hardly distinguishes between them). When he discovers that conversion carries with it no claim to consular protection he feels cheated and disillusioned. A Church on these lines has, in his view, no bait which should tempt him into a national apostasy. Native Protestants, moreover, have to endure not a little social persecution, despite the fact that the missionaries themselves are universally and deservedly respected. One of them who has just left Monastir was indeed informally canonised by local opinion. And yet in thirty years he hardly made as many converts. Evangelical Protestantism, as the older generation of missionaries interpret it, seems it is merely a personal opinion a somewhat harsh and sterile creed. To the natives it appears mainly as a series of negations so many prohibitions of wine, tobacco, eikon-worship, and Sunday travelling. Negations will never attract. Another serious drawback is the use of the English language in the American schools, not merely as an acquirement, but as a vehicle of instruction. French is the language which the educated Macedonian wishes to learn, and English is comparatively useless. Better results should be achieved by the industrial and agricultural school which the Rev. E. Haskell has started near Salonica. It seems a pity that the Protestant missionaries ever founded a rival Church at all. Had they cared to take orders in the Orthodox Church, or even to confine themselves to educational work, they might have promoted a reformation from within. Undoubtedly they have done great good, particularly in Bulgaria and in Armenia. Their colleges and secondary schools were so largely frequented by native Christian lads that the Eastern Churches were compelled in self-defence to imitate them. Mere rivalry did much to hasten the educational development of all the Christian races. At least the American schools sowed discontent and aspiration. If they have not made Protestants they have made relatively well-educated men, who found the stagnation and oppression of the Turkish East completely unendurable.


75

ancestor, who wore the same costumes and led the same life in the same fields. It is based on a primitive sorrow before the amazing fact of death, which no mystery of the Resurrection has ever softened. It is neither a rite nor a creed, but only that yearning love of the living for the dead which is deeper than any creed. The most poignant expression of Eastern religion for me is a Macedonian churchyard on All Souls' Day. Under an irrelevant cross stand crowds of women wailing for the dead, some with a conventional, an annual grief that strikes no note of sincerity, others with a bitter anguish that seems to mock the consolations of religion. One by one they place their offerings on the tombstones the same gifts of wine and corn that nourished the shade of an Homeric hero. It is true that the priest comes round to bless them, but one feels that he is a spiritual parvenu dragged by a force beyond himself into a prehistoric ritual which survives in the heart of the Balkan peasants, a Paganism more native, more congenial, more deeply-rooted than the Orthodox Church itself.
 

[Previous] [Next]
[Back to Index]