From the publication of his dissertation to his death in 2001, Fr. John Romanides sought the completion of the work, which his friend and mentor, Fr. Georges Florovsky, had begun: the return of Orthodox theology to the Byzantine patristic sources. The Neo-Orthodox critique of modernity, basically, attacks the roots of western theological and social thought. Both Romanides and Yannaras critique the West on its basis in Augustinian theology. Romanides argues that Augustine’s Platonism blinded him to three major understandings of the Christian tradition.
First, Augustine failed to grasp the important distinction of God’s essence and energies for understanding the relationship of the creation with the Creator.
Second, Augustine embraced Platonic eudaemonism for understanding the telos of the Christian life. This eudaemonism leads Augustine and his successors to the possibility of the apprehension of the divine essence.
Third, Augustine failed to understand the Cappadocian teaching on the hypostatic relations in the Trinity, leading him to develop the heretical doctrine of the filioque. Essentially, Augustine’s theological method of credo ut intelligam is criticized as being an incorrect approach to matters of truth.
Romanides argues that Charlemagne and his court adopted the Augustinian position as a political ideology against the Christian East. Charlemagne used the filioque and the renaming of the Eastern Romans as “Greeks,” indicating their heretical stance against the Church of Rome. This enabled Charlemagne to then offer as replacement to the East Roman Empire, his own Holy Roman Empire as mirror of the heavenly kingdom. Hence, Romanides places much importance on the Romeic thesis for understanding Greek Orthodox identity.
Because Augustine had failed to understand the purpose of Christian theology to be deification, the ancient Christian approach to salvation was forsaken in the West. Knowledge of God, rather than participation in God, became the goal of the Christian life. What developed was what Romanides calls the “neurobiological sickness of religion.” Essentially, Christianity in the West gave birth to all of the social illnesses that disturb modern humanity. What is needed, according to Romanides, is a return to the authentic Christian tradition, which he equates with hesychasm. However, the project started by Romanides has evolved into a movement that not only seeks to offer authentic Orthodox theology but also desires the recovery of Orthodox identity culturally, socially, and politically. Herein lies the difference that Makrides notes between the theological revival of the 1960s and the neo-Orthodox movement of the 1980s.
Neo-Orthodoxy wants to purge Orthodox culture of all vestiges of the West, and in turn offer a society, which is authentically Orthodox and authentically Greek. Yannaras essentially agrees with Romanides, yet he utilizes Heidegger’s critique against modernity. The problem with the West is that it divorced itself from the relational understanding of knowledge and being, articulating an individualist approach to truth, which is equated with empiricism. Yannaras, like Romanides, argues that the problem essentially began with Augustine’s credo ut intelligam and was developed by Descartes. Within this intellectual tradition were the seeds that eventually led to the death of God in western thought, allowing for the creation of secular liberalism and the birth of modernity. He states, “I would add in summation that those differences, which during the eleventh century (1054) led to the Schism between Christian East and West, are the same ones that caused western Christianity to give birth to the preconditions for Historical Materialism.” Yannaras argues in his critique of the West that such an understanding of human society is not authentic to human flourishing, for it essentially denies the hypostatic freedom of humanity within community, replacing it with an understanding of humanity in its sinful state. The West in its eudaemonistic pursuit of truth, adopted a cataphatic understanding of reality, which limits human freedom. Drawing upon Dionysian apophaticism and Vladimir Lossky’s understanding of the human person, Yannaras articulates a social theology that supports human freedom within the context of the community. In his thought hesychastic understandings of the person are paramount.
Furthermore, Yannaras has espoused an anti-globalization position in his writings. In his book, The Church in Post-Communist Europe, Yannaras argues that the fall of Eastern European socialism was not the victory of the spirit of freedom over historical materialism, but rather the “desire for more Historical Materialism, and a more consistent Historical Materialism . . . . What triumphed was a more ingenious and more efficient system of historico-materialist management of human life against a system that was inadequate and ineffective.”
The globalization of the capitalist economic system of the West “thoroughly imposes upon peoples and nations the most vulgar practical application of Historical Materialism: consumerism made absolute.” Furthermore, Yannaras does not accept the other aspects of modernity that derive from the Enlightenment, especially the concept of human rights. Samuel Huntington has argued that there exists the potential for a “clash of civilizations” between Western and Orthodox civilizations, essentially because Orthodox civilization has not embraced the Western Enlightenment. In his critique of Samuel Huntington’s thesis, Yannaras states that there is indeed a “clash of civilizations” but not that which Huntington has argued. Instead, the clash is between historical materialism deriving from Enlightenment thought and Christianity.
“It is crystal clear that Huntington employs as his criteria of cultural difference among Europe’s religious traditions the very products of European man’s anti-religious rebellion. All of us know that individual rights, political liberalism, utilitarian rationalism, economic development and progress are the most representative products of the Enlightenment, products of modern Europe’s zealous insistence on naturalism (physiocracy) as a substitute for Christian ontology, cosmology and anthropology.”
During the late eighteenth century, the idea that Hellas is the harmonious origin of civilization became popular in the West; it became a kind of topos of the Western imagination that continues to feed upon itself, at times more avariciously than at other times.”
Hellas and the ideals that emerged from it, then, was not so much a place for Western Europeans, especially Germans, but more a mythic ideal to be imitated. “Hellas represents a historical, philological, and literary logos as well as a topos of social, economic, and cultural activity. In Western Hellenism, Hellas occupies the realm of the imagination and intellect. It is a country of the mind, even when put on tour.”
When Western Europeans journeyed to the lands of ancient Hellas, then they had in mind what Hellas was supposed to be. What they found genuinely shocked them. Olga Augustinos has argued that the Western European travelers to the Greek world did not understand the modern Greeks to be Oriental but European, separated from their Ottoman overlords by language, religion, and cultural history. Because of their studies of the ancient world through ancient texts, “Western travelers felt that they were entering not an alien terrain but a land whose legacy they had absorbed and integrated into the matrix of their own civilization. The contemporary Greek reality that confronted them, however, disoriented them because it diverged vastly from their expectations.” In order to rectify the cultural dissonance that they experienced, Western philhellenes attempted to “bridge this gap and see Greek culture reunified by resuscitating its Hellenic past and expelling what were perceived as foreign intrusions. This envisioned rehabilitation of the Greek world sought to reclaim it and redeem it by purifying it and consequently, by suppressing certain eras of its past.”
In particular, the Christian, Byzantine, and Ottoman legacy was disavowed. As Augustinos notes, [Western philhellenism] was above all a manifestation of the mission civilisatrice of the culturally superior Europeans, who sought to bring about the rehabilitation of the modern Greeks on their own terms, namely, through the efficacious imitation of Western-derived classical models. Ironically, although it proposed the reunification of Greek culture, in actuality it fostered its bifurcation because it pitted its more recent Christian- Byzantine-Ottoman legacy against its ancient past.
Thus, the Hellenic identity was more shaped by Western ideals of the ancient past than the self-understanding of the Greek speaking peoples. Philhellenism and the Enlightenment combined to construct a secular Greek identity apart from their Christian identity of Romeosyne.
Furthermore, historical and genealogical texts were produced by Western Europeans retelling the story of the ancient world. These texts were quickly translated into Greek, providing textbooks for the Grecophone schools. Charles Rollin’s sixteen volume Histoire Ancienne (1730-1738) was extremely influential in this regard. With the spread of these texts, what occurred was a cultural reevaluation in the Balkan world. The works of Iosipos Moisiodax and Adamantios Korais reflect this critical evaluation.
Moisiodax, the director of the Princely Academy of Jassy, observed two problems with Greek culture. First, “knowledge of ancient texts was fragmentary, since the texts were largely unavailable.” Second, he noticed a great superstition in that “the ancients were revered without question.” His solution was to look to the West as a model for Greek culture.
Korais played a much more important role in the Greek Enlightenment. As his biographer, Stephen Chaconas, states, “The most important intellectual figure of the Greek national revival in the first decades of the nineteenth century was the patriot and philologist of Smyrna, Adamantios Korais.”
The English historian, Richard Clogg writes, “A leading role in this effort to re-awaken interest in the classical was played by that ‘new Hippocrates,’ Adamantios Korais, the dominant figure in the pre-independence cultural revival.”
Korais was born in Smyrna in 1748, and attempted his hand as a merchant in Amsterdam. He learned medicine at Montpellier, but his chief interest was classical philology. He resided in Paris from 1788 to 1833 where he “laboured ceaselessly to raise the educational level of his fellow countrymen and to instil in them a sense of Hellenic consciousness.” He was known for his nationalist polemics and being “one of the foremost Hellenists of the Europe of his day.”
In Paris, he witnessed the events of the French Revolution first hand. Michael Jeffreys describes his reaction: “His strongest personal reaction is to project the events from Paris to the Ottoman Empire. The confiscation of church property, for example, gives him an opportunity for the vicarious satisfaction of his own anticlericalism against the Orthodox Church, an attitude he seems to have combined with unquestioned religious faith.”
As Chaconas notes, the French Revolution “transformed Korais from a dreaming patriot into a revolutionary nationalist.” Korais “applauded” the anticlericalism and republican sentiments of the French. Basically, the influences upon Korais were the same that influenced the French Revolution: the ancient Roman and Greek writings. The ancient republican heroes of Greece and Rome were imitated by the French revolutionaries. This could not have pleased Korais even more. As Chaconas comments, “Consequently, the words and deeds of the revolutionaries always implied, in Korais’ mind, some connection with the ‘subjugated’ Greeks of his day. It was during this period of war in France and Europe that he wrote his anonymous pamphlets urging the Greeks to rise up against the Turks and to unite with their spiritual brothers, the French, for the cause of national independence and liberty.” However, he came to the realization that the Greek people were not prepared for such a revolution for they had yet to become enlightened. To this end, Korais devoted his life work.
Korais sought to bridge the distance between the ancient Greeks and the modern Greeks through the use of education, especially by republishing Greek classical literature. His work became the leading textbooks in the Greek schools. He believed that the ideas found in the classic literature would inspire the Greeks to the nationhood and thus to liberty. His editions of the classic literature were published as the Éλληνικη Βιβλιοθηκη (Hellenic Library). The volumes of the Hellenic Library included Korais’s introductions that espoused his nationalism and the desire that the Greeks would overthrow their Turkish overlords. Furthermore, Korais argued for the purification of the Greek language. The language should be purified, according to Korais, because the use of Turkish forms and vocabulary demonstrated the subservience of the Greek nation.
Furthermore, other non-Greek forms and words should also be removed because they demonstrated additional subjugations. Additionally, he “attacked the monkish ignorance and obscurantism of the Orthodox clergy.” By liberating themselves from their religious and political rulers, the Greek people would be able to regain their ancient glory in establishing their own rule. Of course, Korais never stated how this was to occur. Believing that the revolution should occur in 1850, Korais was completely surprised, believing that the Greeks were unprepared, when they revolted in 1821.
Besides the revitalization of the ancient Greek world in the minds of the modern Greeks, the French Revolution also inspired thoughts concerning government. What type of government would be best for a liberated Greek people? French republicanism became the chief inspiration. In responding to the Paternal Instruction of 1798, Korais issued the Fraternal Instruction, “which disowned Ottoman tyranny and its Christian sycophants and reiterated the hopes in political emancipation on the French model.”
While Korais and some of his French compatriots, Konstantinos Stamatis and Dimo and Nicolo Stephanopoli, encouraged French republicanism throughout the Greek diaspora and the Peloponnesus, the work of Rhigas Velestinlis ranks as the most important. As Kitromilides states, “The most significant case of republican activism was that of Rhigas Velestinlis, a Greek [Vlach] patriot who absorbed integrally the radical message of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution and attempted to implant them in the politics of Southeastern Europe.” Similar to Korais’s plan of educating the Greeks to their ancient glory, Rhigas translated French republican texts, like Montesquieu and Marmontel, to bring about a rise in understanding of republicanism among the Greeks.
Furthermore, he translated an important text that served as an educational tool for the Greek people: Abbé J.J. Barthélemy’s Voyage du jeune Anacharsis en Grèce, dans le milieu du quatrième siècle avant l’ère vulgaire. This story of the journey of the fabled Anacharsis and his conversations with famous Greeks between 363 and 338 BCE, served to educate and inspire the Greeks about their glorious past. While Georgios Sakellarios began the translation, Rhigas was the one who brought it to fruition in 1797. However, the project of translating the work came to an end with Rhigas’s arrest and execution in 1798.
Rhigas’s republicanism was mixed with the universalism of Orthodoxy to create a secular nationalistic republican state for the Balkan peoples. In his Χáρτα της Ελλáδος (Map of Greece), which was based on his reading of The Voyage of the Young Anacharsis in Greece,73 Rhigas “identifies Hellas [ancient Greece] with the Ottoman Empire’s ‘central lands’ (i.e., the Balkans and Anatolia) and calls for the overthrow of the despots by the coordinated action of all Balkan peoples.”74 What this entailed, notes Roudometof, was a replacement of the Orthodox understanding of the Rum Millet with a secular national vision based on French republicanism. The radical French constitution of 1793 provided the basis for Rhigas’s own constitution of the Greek republic.
However, his constitutional charter was not limited to Greeks alone, but also for all peoples, including Turks, Jews, and all Christians. His constitution provided for religious freedom for all religions, and articulated a doctrine of individual rights. As Roudometof comments, “In place of the Rum millet’s religious Orthodox identity, the new mentality postulated a secular identity based on the knowledge of the West and the ideology of liberalism.” However, Roudometof does not mention that underlying Rhigas’s vision is Orthodox universalism maintained in the political vision. Rhigas did not limit his concept of the political institution to Greeks alone, but allowed for a republic to exist for all the Orthodox peoples, similar to the idea of the Byzantine commonwealth at the time of its demise.
Rhigas organized a secret society, similar to a Masonic organization. In 1796-97 Rhigas’s society planned an insurrection in the western and southern parts of mainland Greece. This insurrection was planned to coincide with Napoleon’s presence in the Adriatic as he journeyed to his campaigns in Egypt and northern Africa. Many had believed, including Korais, that Napoleon could help liberate the Greek people. The revolutionary plans came to an end when in 1798 he was arrested in Trieste by the Habsburg authorities, who desired to learn of his relations with the French forces. After his interrogation, the Austrians turned the society over to the Ottoman authorities who promptly executed them in Belgrade in the same year.
Rhigas’s attempt to mount an insurrection party and a Balkan revolution cannot be over emphasized. His political movement and the republican ideas on which they were based provided a model for future liberation attempts. As Kitromilides states regarding the importance of Rhigas, 'By bringing together in his program the most progressive elements of Enlightenment thought with the politics of the French Revolution, he projected for the first time in the history of Southeastern Europe an unequivocally radical collective future of all Balkan peoples. In his political theory the accent was unequivocally on equality and his constitution stipulated important measures that gave specific social content to his legislation. His proclamation appealed to the fraternity and common moral humanity of all Balkan nationalities–including the Turks–whose moral liberation was to be achieved by the values of republican hellenism."
Thus, what we see in Rhigas’s political vision is actually the transmutation of Orthodox political culture into a secular vision. As a result, the Church of Constantinople condemned Rhigas and his thought.
Consequently, the Ottoman authorities pressured the Orthodox Church to maintain control over its peoples. In order to maintain its position in Ottoman society as well as to pronounce its own theological position on the matter, the church condemned liberalism and all of its excesses coming from the West. Additionally, as Kitromilides points out, “All aspects of modern culture, including modern science came under vehement attack by traditional intellectuals as destructive of the fabric of society and poisonous of all morality and faith.” The Paternal Instruction of 1798 was a response to the supporters of liberalism in the Rum Millet.
However, both the liberalism from the West and the revival in pagan literature concerned the church. Richard Clogg points out, "It was the hierarchy of the Orthodox Church that was most outspoken in its attacks on this resurgence of interest in the classical past. Equating as it did the ancient world with idolatry, the hierarchy was fearful that this obsession with antiquity, combined with a growing interest in the natural sciences, might fatally undermine the attachment of the Greek people to the Orthodox faith."
In this regard, the Orthodox Church of Constantinople, according to Clogg, descended into cultural obscurantism and political conservatism, eliciting the anticlericalism of the Greek intelligentsia in the early nineteenth century. One of the chief traditionalists was Athanasios Parios of the Kollyvades Movement on Mt. Athos. In response to Korais’s rebuttal of the Paternal Instruction of 1798, Parios offered his Neos Rapsakis, which was never published due to its theft by two followers of Korais. According to George Metallinos, “Athanasios Parios (1722- 1813) was the most militant of the Kollyvades,85 and also the most martyric. From 1776 to 1781 he remained unfrocked as a ‘heretic’ because of his vigorous stand on the issues of tradition. He passionately fought the European Enlightenment, Voltaireanism, and atheism, and was accused of being an obscurantist by his ‘West-struck’ contemporaries.”
Parios’s stance against the Enlightenment and the West can be understood from the traditional hesychast understanding of the separation of theological and scientific truth on the one hand and the universal vision of Orthodoxy on the other. Hesychasm has traditionally not been aligned with the state, seeing its role pertaining to heavenly salvation. However, at times hesychasm, and monasticism in general, have supported the state in securing the universal vision of Orthodoxy apart from heresy. The nationalism and republicanism of Korais and Rhigas both represent a dangerous innovation in terms of the universalism of Orthodoxy. The church, and its most traditional adherents, attacked these innovations as heresy.
Along with the cultural and political revival of the Greeks, Korais instigated an identity change. According to John Romanides, Korais “started the war against Romanism.” Korais argued that the proper name for the Greek speaking people was either Γραικοí or Éλληνες (Greeks or Hellenes). Because Western Europeans called them Greeks, Korais chose that term. But this acceptance of the Western understanding of Greek identity created a disjunction in the territorial understanding of the Greek people.
The Western European understanding of Greece was associated only with what is properly known as Hellas, not the larger area of Romania or Roumeli known by the Orthodox peoples. As Roudometof comments, “Hence the identification of the ‘Romans’ as ‘Greeks’ was bound to create an important disjuncture between the intellectuals’ version of ‘Greece’ (the so-called Hellenic ideal) and the popular ‘Romeic’ religious and political identity. Not surprisingly, the Phanariot-religious establishment was at odds with Korais’s project.”
As we have already noted, Athanasios Parios was one of the more vocal opponents of Korais. Christos Yannaras argues that Parios attacked Korais not only for his Western Enlightenment ideas but also for the change in name for the Orthodox people. “Parios opposed the obsession with the idea of the polyethnic empire which grounded politics of unity in a cultural basis.”
While Korais’s program amounted to an attempt to provide a cultural continuity between ancient and modern Greeks, it also had the more subtle idea of replacing Orthodox identity with a secular identity. As Roudometof argues, the use of “Greek” or “Hellene” in place of the Orthodox “Roman” identity was a deliberate attempt to challenge the authority of the patriarchate. It also can be argued that it was a deliberate attempt to undermine the religious identity of the people as the basis of unity, substituting an alternate secular vision of national identity, divorced from religion. “The gradual use of the words “Greek” or “Hellene” and similarly of the word εθνος reflects the slow transformation of a religious identity into a secular one.” Rhigas’s republican vision was the political instantiation of the replacement of the Orthodox identity with a secular one.
While Rhigas’s planned insurrection of 1796-97 did not come to pass, and his arrest and execution in 1798 prevented any future attempt by his secret society, the Philiki Etairia continued his vision and attempted an armed revolution in the Romanian provinces on 6 March 1821. The Philiki Etairia (Friendly Society) was a semi-masonic organization, similar to that of Rhigas Velestinlis, organized by three Greeks in the Diaspora. It was organized in 1814 in Odessa by Nikolaos Skoufas, Athanasios Tsakalof, and Emmanuel Xanthos with the express purpose of the overthrow of the Ottoman Empire. There has been some discussion as to whether their intent was to create a Greek nation-state or a multinational state similar to the vision of Rhigas. Stephen G. Xydis has argued that the resultant formation of the Greek nation-state was part of the plan of the Filiki Etairia. He notes that the society combined with Greek nationalists in the Diaspora and in the Pelopponesus for a coordinated uprising in the Greek lands of the Ottoman Empire. However, Zakythinos and Roudometof both argue that essentially the Filiki Etairia desired the formation of a multinational state, employing the universalism of Byzantine Orthodoxy as the model. Only later after the initial uprising in Romania did the revolt, led by Greek nationalists and Philhellenes in the Pelopponesus, become a movement for a Greek nation-state. Xydis’s argument betrays a reading of Greek history through the lens of later nationalism that simply did not inform the thought of the majority of Greek Orthodox intellectuals, who continued to emphasize the importance of the universal vision of Orthodoxy and a restoration of the Byzantine Empire.
Roudometof’s argument that the vision of the Friendly Society was a multinational republican state is based on three basic premises. First, the name “Greek” or “Hellenic” had not come into “common discourse” by this time. Its use still implied the concept of “Roman.” Second, the idea of the “nation” still was imbued with the concept of the Rum Millet; thus, it did not have the connotation of an ethnic nation-state at this time. Third, if the revolution is limited to the Pelopponesus, “it was religious and not ethnic solidarity that shaped the popular attitude vis-à-vis the revolt.” This claim is legitimated by the fact that other Balkan peoples participated in the revolt alongside the Greeks.
(From: The Revival of Political Hesychasm in Greek Orthodox Thought by Daniel Paul Payne)