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4'Enlightened" Christians and the "Oriental" Churches: Protestant Missions to the Greeks in Asia Minor, 1820-1860 Gerasimos Augustinus Moved by an evangelical impulse to bear witness to their personal faith in both spirit and deed, numbers of Protestants in England and the United States in the early decades of the 19th century committed themselves to serving God's interests in foreign lands. Philanthropic service to others was to them one more useful channel through which to express their fervent personal piety. Evangelical members of the Congregational and Presbyterian churches in New England formally inaugurated their plan to bring about the "moral renovation of the world" by creating the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in 1810. Protestantism from the New World was to revive spiritual life in the Old.1 With missions already underway to far-off places such as India, the Board decided in the fall of 1818 to send missionaries to the lands where Christianity began and first developed. In Palestine and the surrounding areas of the Near East there were millions of adherents of the three faiths linked through their association with the historical world of the Bible. Indeed, the fact that Eastern Christians lived side by side with Jews and Muslims only enhanced the attractiveness of sending a mission there. Filled with well-meant but naive expectations, both American and British Protestants envisioned a two-phased plan to bring the "pure doctrine" of Christianity to the peoples of the Ottoman Empire . Their ultimate goal was to make converts among the Muslim populace. But ". . .a wise plan for the conversion of the Mohammedans of Western Asia necessarily involved, first, a mission to the Oriental Churches."2 By undertaking the "revival" of the Eastern Christian churches, which were perceived as sunken in spiritual and literal ignorance, the missionaries hoped that the Muslims, who lived 129 130 Gerasimos Augustinos beside them, would be swayed by their example. Since the Greek Orthodox church was by far the most important of the Christian religions in the empire, it became the object of great expectations among the Protestants. As the instructions given by the Church Missionary Society of Britain to its missionaries revealed: The revival of the Greek Church, in its primitive purity and vigour, should be an object of the affectionate exertions and earnest prayers of all who wish the extension of Christianity in these regions. Enlightened and animated by the free and ample circulation among them of the Holy Scriptures, the Greeks—numerous, widely scattered, with a cultivated language, and maintaining a ready intercourse among themselves and with others—will act most powerfully and beneficially on the large masses of people among whom they live. ' The Greek Orthodox Church, then, was to have a role that it neither wanted nor condoned. Its participation in such a scheme would have jeopardized its political and religious position in the Ottoman Empire at the least. Buoyed by such visions, a small number of hardy and intrepid individuals embarked on missions to the Levant in the 1820s. Traveling alone or in groups of two or three, they often made for Malta before continuing their journey. That island offered an ideal location from which to commence field work to any area in the eastern Mediterranean . Under British rule, it provided a secure base in a politically unstable region. The existence of an English speaking community , the availability of printing presses, and accessibility to native speakers of the many tongues of the Mediterranean lands capped off the numerous advantages Malta proffered. From there the missionaries could choose from a number of places along the Mediterranean littoral and the islands dotting the sea to establish a site. The unfurling of the standard of revolt by Greeks in the Peloponnesos in March 1821, and their ensuing struggle for independence from Ottoman rule, elicited great sympathy from governmental and philanthropic circles in the United States.4 Missions to the Greeks in the lands where Western Culture, both pagan and Christian, once flourished, were naturally attractive from a religious, philanthropic and educational point of view. By the time that an independent Greek state became a reality in 1830, both British and American missionaries had established stations in several...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3265
Print ISSN
0738-1727
Pages
pp. 129-142
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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