CHRIST UNTO BYZANTIUM
A momentous awakening and an irrepressible interest have emerged and will continue to accelerate concerning the resurgence of Byzantium as a major force that as in the past will again affect the destiny of mankind. The defense of the West against terrorism with its monolithic intent attests to this reality.
Despite resistance and lack of sincerity to admit this clear and compelling notion, no dynamic prevents its existence and continued progress. The broad strokes or currents (trends) of human history — past, present, and future — are by intuitive perception evident and intractable: a matter of clear vision ahead and sensitivity to past events viewed from a current perspective.
Ref: Karras, Athanasios Constantne. (2001). .Leadership Style of Constantine the Great: Significance for Leadership Development in the Church. (A Dissertation). Newburgh, IN: Trinity Theological Seminary. / Available from ProQuest, Catalog No. 3114803; P. O. Box 1346, Ann Arbor, MI 48106-1346 USA; Tel. 800-521-0600 or 734-761-4700; http://www.il.proquest.com.
No less important are contemporary ominous circumstances than Constantine’s superior achievement in favor of Christianity and later the fateful and destructive Fall of Constantinople.
The Western world is thus not yet done; and the East, for its own benefit, will be wise to continue following the lead. The notion to destroy the West bears within it no constructive goal for human gain, for it is only a purpose unto itself to a dead-end finish.. The hope for human progress and improvement lies only in the higher realms of idealism. It is unfortunate, however, that even in the West resistance to this understanding also exists— including high levels of governments.
There is wide acceptance that the Christian faith, and in particular the Orthodox Church, is the principal factor since the Fall of Constantinople to nourish and perpetuate the loftier aspects of Greek conscience and the language. However, coupled with such incomparable idealism and practicality, the period since the Fall has not been devoid of a concurrent dynastic imperial presence. Knowledge of this significant fact was brought to public attention in Greece and in Spain in 1935 for a brief period. Political expediency at the time foreclosed on any plausible progress. The subject remained essentially dormant, particularly in Greece, until the year 1992 when it was re-introduced and aggressively rekindled. More details are included in the ensuing paragraph. This vigorous renewal has captured the interest of the intelligentsia and of the highest social, ecclesiastical, and military circles. Outreach of the activity as of this writing has assumed international dimensions.
In October of 1992 a televised interview on a major channel in Athens, Greece was offered through courtesy of Prof. Konstantinos Plevris, popular and respected cultural commentator and analyst. A half hour interview was broadcast on TELECITY that hosted Dr. Mark Athanasios C. Karras. The subject was on Byzantium as a major presence. A similar but lengthier radio interview (in the Greek language as well) aired on EPT-Radio Voice of Northern Greece through the courtesy of the EUXENE CLUB. The Club's important program serves an international audience as well as the surrounding area that includes a large Pontian population with influence in the economic, social, cultural and political arenas. Both interviews contained extended information on the Byzantine House of Lascaris Comnenus (Laskaris Komnenos) whose members, as positive achievers, reside in various countries in the world. The two interviews generated considerable but cautious interest. And, it happened that not much later an unexpected and precipitous remark came down from the highest quarters of officialdom to the effect that: “We don’t need Byzantiums.”
PETROS TH. PROKOPIDIS, ESQ.
EPT AE Radio, General Directorate of Northern Greece
Supreme Court Attorney
President of the Euxene Club
GABRIEL LAMPSIDIS (right),
Director Radio Broadcast
Dr. MARK ATHANASIOS C. KARRAS
The following concise and telling remarks are extracted from The New York Times of Thursday, June 12, 1997 in The Arts Section (L) p. C 13, under the title, A Wild Sail to New York From Byzantium by Judith Miller.
Works Are From
works from 117 institutions in 24 countries.
The book, The Glory of Byzantium, Copyright 1997 Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Edited by Helen C. Evans and William D. Wixom is the eminent and reliable source for information on the Exhibition.
In absolute contradiction to all negative convictions and attempts to marginalize the importance of Byzantium — as the latter existed in the past and affecting the present and the future — the accomplishment of the Exhibition sealed the fate of obstructionism and negativism that blindfolded even the thinking people of the world. The net result is that Byzantium is very present and will continue to be so. This renewal of public awareness, knowledge and unveiling of truth occurred in correct form at this point in time and at its proper place; which is to say in “The AMERICAS or NEW BYZANTIUM.”
NEW BYZANTIUM was inspired by Dr. Karras who articulated and presented it to memebrs of the Order of Saint Constantine the Great and of Saint Helen on June 11, 1990 at a breakfast meeting in the Black Forest region of Germany. The event took place the day after a sailing cruise on Lake Konstanz (Bodensee) by members of the Order. H.I. and R.H. Prince Theodore IX, Grand Master of the Order and Hegemon of the House of Lascaris Comnenus of Constantinople listened to the presentation with a great deal of enthusiasm and adopted it at once. He has continued since then to embrace and support the principle with much interest, enhancing it with his valuable writings and contributions to academia.
Ref: Lascaris Comneno, Teodoro. (1993). Quinto Centenario: Encuentros y Desencuentros al Medio Milenio de Hallazgo del Nuevo Mundo
[tr. Encounters and divergencies on the half millennium of discovery of the New World]. (Pp. 136-139). Consejo Nacional de la Cultura (CONAC).
Caracas, Venezuela: Colper, Editores. (Original in Spanish).
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The obvious effect of these initiatives has been the noticeable upsurge of interest in Byzantium. This is important in the area of public awareness, which has as a consequence the arousal of interest among academics. It is in academia where the strength of attention (or its lack) is critical —intentional or not. Education determines the cultural direction of a people. A marked absence of historical knowledge and understanding produces an isolated society unable to relate well with other peoples. Such knowledge must be encompassing in its scope and must not be studied or taught in a vacuum; unless the intention is propaganda. It is, therefore, gratifying and hopeful to observe the recent interest in Byzantium, including that from a heretofore either cowed or narcissistic academia. The contemporary Western world is a cultural continuum that has been nourished into its present existence by much more than a continental source (European, that is). NEW BYZANTIUM salutes and welcomes all oncoming scholastic contributions emerging with new courage, enthusiasm, and vigor, prepared to present the case with frank sincerity.
Are the Orthodox coming? It is a challenging question that should not be asked in the context of divisiveness but rather as an objective fact. If they are, the matter should be viewed as a constructive development that will enrich and stabilize the Western world. The reason is that Western culture is singular with variations that have long been intertwined. The Orthodox are not just now coming: they have always been present, even in the makeup of those to whom it appears they are now coming. The underpinning of the Christian Church is Orthodox, whence the subsequent development emerged and is expressed as Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. It is the awareness of this fact that is lacking, not the fact itself.
The same as in physical characteristics varying among people, there are human idiosyncratic differences that influence the makeup of cultures. The influx, therefore, of people westward and the influence this will bear is best described in terms of human characteristics rather than religious conviction. The article presented below is reproduced with the permission of its author and for which commentary is offered. The work is titled, The Orthodox Are Coming!, which in principle is a visionary statement to be applauded, for it attests to the reality of New Byzantium. Yet, there are two points contained therein that from the present quarter warrant qualification:
The article states in one instance that, Most people realize that the common cultural legacy begins with Roman law and Greek philosophy, and that both contributed to the stability of the Byzantine Empire. No, most people do not realize it — as far as the implication involves the Byzantine Empire. Awareness is only now beginning to surface. Those who do are limited among the astute and dedicated students of the Byzantine world; and of those, the ones who admit and publish the truth are the worthy ones. It is for this very reason that in the conventional and untried opinion of people the profound perception of separateness exists. In the United States, all of World War II elapsed with Orthodox GIs having dog tags issued to them and designating them as Protestant (except for Archbishop Iakovos, head of the Greek Orthodox Church of North and South America, who labored later and resolved that unfortunate blunder). If the whole issue is not ignorance, then it must be propaganda.
The second observation is that, besides the current title, The Orthodox Are Coming!, the article demonstrates a strong dependence on the film title known as The Russians Are Coming!. This occurs because the underlying thrust of the article highlights the westward shift of Russians and adjacent populations more than it does the westward shift of Orthodox conviction. The latter appears more as a consequence of the main cause rather than as a cause itself. Orthodox influence is integral to the West and also interactive. Awareness of this presence will increase as the public becomes more knowledgeable about facts that have long been distorted and silenced. This will occur even if the Russians do not come. The conclusion to be drawn is that in the westward shift the influence is more idiosyncratic in essence than it is idealistic; although the latter will be augmented by receptiveness toward its own kind -- rather than debased as some imagine it might be by a Moslem influx, which is an idealism of a different kind. Therefore, it is more accurate, due to the underlying theme, to title the article, The Russians Are Coming!. (The referenced work is reproduced below by courtesy permission of the Author.)
THE ORTHODOX ARE COMING!
"The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!" was a 1966 Hollywood spoof of Cold War attitudes. It portrays a Soviet submarine crew stranded on the coast of Maine. The Soviet sailors end up winning over the local townspeople, who even help the sub to escape before U.S. Air Force planes arrive to sink it. The movie made light of the differences between Russians and Americans by suggesting that they had much more in common than they realized.
As improbable as that story seemed back in 1966, an even more momentous encounter is currently taking place in Europe. Thanks to the expansion of the European Union, millions of Orthodox Christians now have a seat at the table of European decision-making bodies. The admission of Romania and Bulgaria will quadruple the number of Orthodox Christians in the EU, from ten million to more than forty million, but this is just the tip of a very large iceberg. Should the EU continue to expand eastward, it could someday encompass as many as 200 million Orthodox believers, transforming Orthodox Christianity from a quaint minority into the largest denomination in Europe, with the Russian Orthodox Church as its pre-eminent political voice. This will be true regardless of whether Russia itself joins the EU, since more than half of its parishes are located outside Russia. For the first time since before the fall of Constantinople, Orthodox polities are part of the decision making structures of Europe, yet little thought has been given to the impact this is likely to have on the political complexion of Europe.
There are some potentially worrisome aspects to this encounter. For one thing, the political weight of the Church within those countries is not declining, as it is in Western Europe, but growing. Orthodox faithful expect to have their voice heard within the European political institutions of which they are now a part, and this poses a direct challenge to the secular framework of the EU. Moreover, with the fall of communism, the various branches of Christianity are once again in direct competition for members. Religious proselytism has already emerged as a source of tensions in several Orthodox countries. Finally, while most take it for granted that people in Eastern Europe will follow the Western path of modernization, it is certainly worth pondering what impact the values of Orthodox Eastern Europe will have on the West, and the potential danger of an intra-European clash of cultures, if a common ground is not found.
There are many who believe that there is, in fact, no common ground to be found. Following in the footsteps of historians Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee, Samuel Huntington has warned of the coming clash between "Slavic-Orthodox" civilization and the Catholic-Protestant West. He claims that basic Western cultural values ("individualism, liberalism, constitutionalism, human rights, equality, liberty, the rule of law, democracy, free markets, the separation of church and state") have little currency within Orthodox cultures. In his view there is a slim chance that Orthodox countries can join the West, but only if they recast their self-identity in clearly secular terms. Huntington portrays the Eastern and Western halves of Europe as profoundly alien, and "the eastern boundary of Western Christianity [as] . . . the most significant dividing line in Europe."
Recently, however, a much more hopeful assessment has begun to gain ground in both Western and Eastern Europe. It advocates a broader view of the process of European integration, by suggesting that the Western and Eastern branches of Christianity focus less on what has divided them, and more on re-acquiring the common cultural heritage that once united them. Most people realize that the common cultural legacy begins with Roman law and Greek philosophy, and that both contributed to the stability of the Byzantine Empire. Few, however, stop to consider its contribution to the theology of the Christian Church and its doctrines on Church-State relations in particular. Of special importance is the evolving Orthodox view of democracy and civil society, which can be most clearly traced in the Russian Orthodox Church because of its size and its impact on the whole Orthodox world.
According to senior spokesman for the Patriarch Alexey II, Fr. Vsevolod (Chaplin), there is a renewed appreciation of democracy within the Russian Orthodox Church. Democratic institutions allow the Church to carry out its social mission more effectively, and to voice concern about the decay of moral standards in post-Soviet Russia. Still, he says, Orthodoxy's endorsement of democracy can only be a qualified one. Democracy, particularly secular democracy, can never be considered a proper ideal, because the Church can never accept as ideal any form of government that consciously separates itself from the divine. However, there are two notable elements in Church life that directly contribute to the democratization of society: 1) the locus of its authority; and 2) its stewardship of the community.
Unlike Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy is highly decentralized and dispersed. There is no supreme papal authority overseeing the fifteen autocephalous Local Orthodox Churches. Ultimate authority rests with Church Councils that bring together the entire religious community — both laity and clergy. Within that context, bishops are expected to administer their diocese in harmony with the will of both these groups. Historically, such administration has taken a wide variety of forms in Russia — from thoroughly hierarchical control to extensive popular control, including consensual investiture of bishops. The form deemed most suitable depends on the needs of the particular Church, and the community's prevalent political culture. In the present context of expanding democracy, the Russian Orthodox Church has responded by expanding dialogue on ways in which Church life should democratize.
A new generation of Western scholars on religion (Zoe Knox, Christopher Marsh, Elizabeth Prodromou, Nikolas Gvosdev) have even applied Western literature on civil society to contemporary Orthodoxy. By looking at the Church's highly delegative, almost "confederative" system of administration, and focusing on its community-centered initiatives, they argue that the Russian Orthodox Church is playing an important role as the country's largest civic organization. In this capacity the ROC has also had to come to terms with de facto religious pluralism of modern Russia. Following the collapse of the atheistic communist regime, Orthodox laity was exposed to a wide variety of new political and economic doctrines, including some from Orthodox communities outside Russia. In the absence of a clear consensus, the leadership of the ROC decided to give up the role of the institutional Church as a political competitor, and to establish it as a neutral arbiter. As a result, the Church itself has become a place of dialogue, a space existing outside the state, the government, or the family, devoted to the preservation of an autonomous sphere for the individual, and a protector of "the inherent foundations of human freedom from the arbitrary rule of outside forces." Nikolas Gvosdev quite correctly sees this as a theological endorsement of civil society.
Indeed, Orthodox communities seem much more comfortable with the ideals of civil society than they do with those of liberal democracy. One reason is that they see the latter as rooted in competition and confrontation, while the Church strives for community and harmony, a tradition that Fr. Vsevolod calls "gathering the scattered" (literally, in Church Slavonic, sobrati rastochennaya) — bringing people of differing ethnic, political and social persuasion together for the common welfare. Avoiding confrontation with state authority is deeply ingrained in the theology of Orthodoxy, stemming from the Byzantine view that, pace St. Augustine, the gap between the "City of God" and the "City of Man" can and should be overcome. Societies on earth should strive to be a "reflection" of the heavenly realm, and to accomplish this Church and State must work together for the good of the whole community.
The Orthodox Church does not shun the world, or abstain from politics. Its politics, however, are non-partisan, a call to "calming of political passions, and concern for peace and harmony" and to civic dialogue. A typical example is the Russian Orthodox Church's efforts to mediate the political crisis between Boris Yeltsin and the State Duma in 1993. Orthodox church leaders have played similar role in the political crises in Serbia, Bulgaria, Georgia and, most recently, Ukraine.
The issue of the Orthodox Church's stewardship of the community also poses the question of whether Orthodoxy is compatible with capitalist economic development and a global market economy, which many consider as vital to democratic development. While Max Weber stressed the otherworldly aspects of Orthodox cultures (as he did with Islam, Hinduism and Catholicism), economic, developments in Russia suggest that the notion of Orthodox Christian stewardship affords ample room for business and economic development. In fact, the rebirth of Russian Orthodoxy (from 7,000 parishes in the early 1990s to more than 26,000 today) has coincided with a no less impressive economic upsurge, particularly since 1999. Record-breaking productivity growth, rapid increases in domestic investment, and a tripling of wages nationwide since 2000 have been matched by a seven-fold increase in corporate philanthropy, which Patriarch Alexey II has highlighted as vital to the nation. Clearly, Orthodoxy has been good for business.
We, in Catholic-Protestant West, should prepare for the coming of the "Orthodox Century" by appreciating all that unites us. If the dividing line between East and West continues to exist in our hearts and minds, removing it from the political map of Europe will accomplish very little. In the long run Europeans must become much better educated about their common Byzantine and Eastern Christian heritage. Even in the short run, however, the essential elements of this common inheritance can be used to shore up pan-European democratic institutions. Recent scholarship by Silvia Ronchey, Helene Ahrweiler, and Antonio Carile, provide a conceptual link between Byzantine political thought and the modern age, and highlight how much current European aspirations to pluri-culturalism and subsidiarity (the idea that matters should be handled by the lowest competent authority), have in common with the Byzantine political model.
The worst possible solution would be to cling to a "clash of cultures" view that regards Orthodoxy as anti-modern and anti-western. This can only result in Orthodox believers feeling like strangers in the "common European home" they have just joined. If that occurs, we will have succeeded only in pushing the dividing line through the heart of Europe a little further east of where it was before.
Nicolai N. Petro is professor of political science at the University of Rhode Island (USA). His most recent book is Crafting Democracy (Cornell University Press, 2004), available in both English and Russian.
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Expansion of Western Civilization: from Constantine the Great to Constantinople and Byzantium and onward to America
is The AMERICAS