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Patriarch Joachim III (1878-1884) and the Irredentist Policy of the Greek State Evangelos Kofos Three months after the conclusion of the Congress of Berlin, the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople elected a new patriarch, Joachim III, one of the most brilliant patriarchs of the 19th century. His first term (1878-1884) coincided with a period of major changes which affected the future course of Hellenism. On the one hand, the irredentist policy of the Greek state was undergoing a general review, in order to cope with new realities brought about by the Eastern crisis of the 1870s. On the other hand, the ecumenical role of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and its leading position among the Balkan Orthodox peoples had been seriously challenged, thus requiring immediate attention and new initiatives. In the center of this situation remained the problem of the subject Greeks and their future.1 From the beginning, Joachim appeared determined not only to regain the former ecumenical prestige of his Patriarchate, but also to reassert beyond doubt his ethnarchic role over the Greek Christians of the Ottoman Empire. His actions in this respect brought to the foreground the old debate between the two centers of Hellenism, Athens and Constantinople: namely, whether the irredentist policy and nationalist priorities of the Greek state should take precedence over the ecumenical ideology and practices of the Ecumenical Patriarchate .2 When Joachim III, former metropolitan of Varna and Thessaloniki , ascended to the Ecumenical throne at the age of 44, he had already acquired a name for being sensitive to national issues. "I have appreciated his independence and his views concerning the interests of Hellenism," wrote Greek Ambassador to Constantinople Andreas 107 108 Evangelos Kofos Koundouriotis on the eve of the election, adding that "if he is elected, it will be beneficial to the Church and to Hellenism."3 On their part, however, the Turks had many reservations. Sultan Abdul Hamid confided to a leading Ottoman Greek that he believed the new patriarch to be "a bad man."4 The new patriarch had limited room for maneuvering as his election had come about at the conclusion of a disastrous war for the Ottoman Empire. The losses suffered by the Ottoman state had also curtailed the territorial jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and had weakened its authority within the Orthodox world. To reestablish its leading position among the Orthodox Christians of the newly independent or autonomous Balkan states, Joachim had to establish new patterns of relationships and to solve certain delicate problems. The most pressing one was the mending of the Bulgarian schism, which had done much to undermine the Patriarchate's prestige by severing its spiritual ties with its faithful in the Bulgarianspeaking lands of the Empire and by creating friction with Russia, its traditional supporter.5 The loss of ecclesiastical provinces to the Bulgarian Exarchate had, moreover, caused loss of revenues which, in turn, had further weakened the position of the Greek clergy. Although it is true that rich Ottoman Greeks of Constantinople came to the support of the Patriarchate, their sizeable donations could hardly solve the problem in the long run. Thus, the patriarch found himself in the position of having to accept financial assistance from the Greek state, in order to sustain "needy" dioceses in the contested regions of Macedonia and Thrace, and to finance certain religious and philanthropic institutions in Constantinople.6 This development, however, placed the relations between the Greek state and the Ecumenical Patriarchate on a new basis, gradually rendering the latter dependent on the former. As a result of these developments, the political leverage of the Patriarchate within the Ottoman establishment was reduced. The patriarch became more vulnerable to the "divide and rule" tactics of the Sublime Porte, which sought to keep in check its subject nationalities . It was understandable that these new conditions favored Athens in its endeavours to assume the leadership in the affairs of the subject Greeks. The advocates of the irredentist line correctly assessed that the Church, despite the setbacks suffered, still enjoyed considerable influence and could offer valuable service to the national cause. But there was no time to lose. At a time when the rival nationalist and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3265
Print ISSN
0738-1727
Pages
pp. 107-120
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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