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  • Religion and Politics in the Orthodox World: The Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Challenges of Modernity by Paschalis M. Kitromilides
  • Roderick Beaton
Paschalis M. Kitromilides, Religion and Politics in the Orthodox World: The Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Challenges of Modernity. London and New York: Routledge, 2019. Pp. xiv + 130, 10 illustrations. Cloth $136.00.

In his magisterial study, Enlightenment and Revolution: The Making of Modern Greece, Paschalis Kitromilides presented the fullest evidence to date to support his case that "the witness of the Greek intellectual experience … illustrates the transition of a population defined … primarily by religion and secondarily … by language … to a modern national community, primarily defined by language and rigidly delineated by its attachment to a modern nation-state" (Kitromilides 2013, 12). In the collection of essays that make up the present volume, he returns to that primary function of religion, in the pre-national Hellenic world, and follows its vicissitudes through a longer time period than in the earlier work to bring it very nearly up to date.

The volume consists of seven essays, originally published between 2004 and 2014, with a new introduction by the author and a foreword by Metropolitan John of Pergamum, also known to the academic community by his secular name, Ioannis Zizioulas. In his own preface, Kitromilides explains that he has "come to the study of religion and politics from the road of intellectual history" and writes "in order to clarify to myself as a secular scholar and understand the opposite side with which the Enlightenment had to come to terms" (xi). He brings to the individual case studies that follow all the intellectual rigor that might be expected from the foremost scholar of the Greek Enlightenment. But the Emeritus Professor of Political Science and the Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church share a common purpose: not merely to discover but to a large extent also to justify the role of the Church, and particularly of its most exalted institution, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, in its interaction with secular ideologies—first, that of the Enlightenment and then, from the late 1790s onward, of nationalism.

In the introduction, the author takes aim at two fundamental misconceptions which he argues have vitiated much modern scholarship on Balkan nationalism: first, that the Orthodox Church was inherently opposed to the Enlightenment and the more general cause of secular education for the faithful; second, that Orthodoxy has historically, in modern times, been "'particularly prone' to nationalism" (3). The first misconception has been very thoroughly refuted in previous works by Kitromilides (2007; 2013; 2016). It is the second misconception that is most thoroughly and vigorously addressed in the present volume. Broadly, the counterargument set out here is that the Church in its core principles, and specifically, in accordance with its name, the Ecumenical [End Page 246] Patriarchate, have been driven by a universalist worldview which has only ever compromised with the fragmenting forces of nationalism under pressure from contingent historical forces.

The chapters follow a chronological progression from the early nineteenth century to the first decade of the twenty-first. The very brief Chapter One homes in on little-known details of the correspondence of Ignatios, Metropolitan of Hungrowallachia, during the Greek Revolution. That enigmatic and influential spiritual champion of Greek liberty was, according to the evidence presented here, no tub-thumping nationalist in the conventional mold, but rather a product of the Enlightenment convergence between secular learning on the one hand and the Orthodox tradition on the other. The second and third chapters offer valuable insights into the role of the emerging national churches in the Balkans, including Greece, from the 1830s to the little-remembered flourishing of church building in the Ottoman Empire in the wake of the Tanzimat reforms of 1856. For those more familiar with the Greek story than with what was happening elsewhere in the Orthodox Balkans, there is valuable and insightful information on Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria. Chapter Four, on the "end of empire," shows how the Ecumenical Patriarchate did, for a brief space at the end of World War I, lend itself to the nationalist agenda of the Great Idea at the very time when that idea was about to come crashing down...


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