May 17, 2021

The Challenge of the Enlightenment and the "Kollyvades" Fathers

By Protopresbyter George D. Metallinos

In the 18th century, a new adventurous meeting of the Orthodox East and the West took place, which in its basic points is a repetition of the similar process of the 14th century. The successors of the Hesychasts of the declining Byzantium were the Kollyvades Fathers of Mount Athos, while in the place of the "Latin-Greek" Barlaam the Calabrian, that is, the bearer and exponent of the "European" consciousness, stood the most official representatives of the Greek Enlightenment, mainly clergy and monks as before. This was a new phase of our long-standing national division, of the long-running "spiritual dualism" which permanently devours our national flesh. This spiritual crisis is understood - correctly to a point - as a crisis of national identity. It is important, however, that again Mount Athos, a place more sensitive to issues of tradition, becomes the focus of the new conflict, since it has now been accepted (eg. Demetrios Apostolopoulos) that Mount Athos, in the figures of the Kollyvades, not only influenced, but also directed the struggle of the National Center in those truly crucial historical choices.

The Greek exponents of the European Enlightenment usually expressed a way of life which was a radical reinterpretation of the whole of social reality, on the verge of a new worldview (Weltanschauung), with the actual transplantation ("metakenosis") of ideas, principles and practices, produced in a long dialectical process - unknown to our East - in the European lands. The Greek Enlightenment did not lack atheistic, anti-Christian and above all anti-clerical tendencies. Their ideas, in fact, promoted something more terrible for the Orthodox conscience than their true or apparent "atheism" - indifference. On the other hand, in their works there are anti-trinitarian, pantheistic, but also pietistic (Korais) positions, which were impossible not to provoke the traditional consciences, given that all this was part of a clearly expressed intention to weaken the Roman Ethnarchy, with the ultimate goal of dismantling it (cf. Greek autocephaly). A new world, then, invaded the Roman (Greek Orthodox) East, which could not have prevailed without overthrowing the world of the Orthodox tradition.

Traditionally eminent in the East were the Kollyvades Fathers, learned monks and clergy, integrated in the hesychastic experience, with a Roman mindset and therefore able to understand the spiritual differences with the European world. Western scholars, such as the Protestant Gottlieb Nathaniel Bonwetsch or the Roman Catholic Louis Petit, did not hesitate to describe the "Kollyvades movement" as an "example of the awakening life of the Greek Nation", while a part of our Intellect insisted on viewing it with great contempt, in as much as the evaluation of the Kollyvades was in line with the general attitude towards Hesychasm and "Byzantium". But it is easier to assess them now than in the past, as the release of the older - largely non-endogenous - depressive criteria progresses.

According to Professor Christos Yannaras, the Kollyvades are a "movement of reaction to westernization and alteration", which reveals "an unexpected for the time theological vigilance and awareness of the experiential priorities of the Church." The Kollyvades expressed the consciousness of the broad popular stratum of their time, of the populist base, with the means and possibilities of their time, but also their personal characteristics. At the same time, however, they confirm the continuity of Mount Athos as the custodian of the patristic spirit. Their reaction to the movement of the time, that is, "to the European cosmogony […] betrays a historical insight and perceptiveness that is truly admirable." The clash of the traditional forces of the Greek Nation with the ideas of the Enlightenment was inevitable because, as has been said, these were diametrically opposed worlds and dramas. On the contrary, the Mount Athos Anti-Kollyvades showed sympathy for the ideas of the Enlightenment, focusing their opposition on the hesychastic tradition, which brought them closer to the Enlightenment. It was precisely the rejection of the hesychastic practices by monks of Mount Athos that was for the Kollyvades a tangible proof of the consequences of the identification with the new ideas of Europe and the impending alteration.

The movement of the Enlightenment thus developed a strong dynamic in the traditional consciousness of the Greek Nation, and in fact not only negatively but also positively. In other words, the challenge did not only lead to contradictions - in many cases barren and harmful - but also to creative action (writing production and pastoral actions to rekindle the patristic spirit in the life of the ecclesiastical body. It is a fact that "the leaders of the Kollyvades (Makarios Notaras, Nikodemos the Hagiorite, Athanasios Parios) did not oppose modernity as an opposing ideology, but it was a reason for an existential awakening to the essential primary needs of man, as illuminated by the ethos and experience of the Fathers of the ecclesiastical tradition.") Anti-heretical and theological creation accompanied the actions of the Kollyvades, offering a testimony of spiritual and cultural self-consciousness, which would not have reached the light of publication under other circumstances. After all, this has been the generative cause of the creation of theology in the Church for centuries. Heretical deviation always causes creatively the orthodox consciousness and thought. This happened also in the tradition of the Kollyvades. In fact, their anti-Enlightenment campaign, despite its failures and exaggerations here and there, revealed the continuation of the Patristic-Orthodox experience in times when the Orthodox theological presence was very weak. The Kollyvades developed their opposition to the representatives of the Enlightenment, moving on a theme, the main points of which are the following:

a) Europe: The Greek Enlighteners, with Adamantios Korais first, spoke with pride about "enlightened Europe", the "lights" of which they transmitted to the Greek Nation. Their orientation towards Europe, a permanent vision of the Unionists for centuries, will produce the "syndrome of Europeanization" in Modern Hellenism, which made Europe its "universal metropolis". The Kollyvades, faithful to the tradition of the Anti-unionists, from the Hesychasts of the 14th century to Father Kosmas the Aitolos (18th cent.), were not original in anything in their attitude towards Europe. They also rejected post-schism Europe, denying to it any relation to the patristic tradition, theologically and socially, as well as any possibility of the rebirth of the Nation with its own “lights.” The term “France” or "Franks" often used by them expresses the whole of the frankified West. Nikodemos and more systematically, for special reasons, Athanasios Parios - proposed the cessation of all relations with Europe, because the way of existence that it created, would overturn the Orthodox ethos.

b) Education: The Greek Enlighteners considered the "new philosophy" as the quintessence of the revised education, which they favored for the Greek Nation and its progress. The consciousness of the Kollyvades regarding the "new philosophy" also determined their attitude towards the imported European education. In their relevant works, especially in Athanasios Parios, they are in favor of an education which is based on the tradition of the forefathers of their race, as they of course understood it. Their starting point - no matter how much other motives were sought, is essentially here, too, a hesychastic-patristic repetition of the similar attitude of Saint Kosmas the Aitolos. They also distinguished between the two knowledges/wisdoms, of the "above" and the "outer" and set their limits. The wisdom "above" requires a patristic universal participation of man. The polemic of Athanasios Parios against the Scientists does not mean their rejection in and of themselves, but of people putting their only hope in them. This tradition was also embodied by Saint Gregory Palamas, the spiritual model of the Kollyvades. That is why they resorted to the "sciences" in their works, but in order to proceed to more spiritual substantiation. Athanasios Parios's statement is clear: "Outer wisdom is by its very nature neither bad nor good, but it becomes good or bad based on how it is used by those that possess it." Therefore, not "wisdom", but the "wise" is the problem of the traditional Kollyvades. This includes the rejection of the Copernican system by Athanasios Parios, but also others. Fundamentalist positions (the absolutization of the Bible, for example, with statements of the type "mathematics is the source of atheism" are understood in this context and are related to the arrogance of European-minded scientists, a permanent problem of Greek society until our century), the so-called opposition between faith and knowledge (science), which is a pseudo-problem for Orthodoxy, and the recognition of the priority of science justified by reason, lies in the background of the Enlightenment attitude and anti-Enlightenment aggression.

c) Promotion of Models: In the promoted models of the "wise" of the world by the Enlighteners, the patristic Kollyvades counter-proposed the wise of the Roman tradition, the Saint, the deified man and god-man "by grace". Thus, the ideological confrontation is overcome and the problem is treated at the level of authentic existence in Christ. That is why they throw all the weight of their theological and pastoral contribution to worship, a proven ark of the Greek Nation during slavery. They emphasize the importance of the liturgical life, in which the Eucharistic ethos of the ecclesiastical body is formed. It is not surprising, then, that most of their writing is devoted to this subject, which includes: patristic publications focusing on Gregory Palamas and Symeon the New Theologian, who instituted a renaissance of Hesychasm in the 11th century; publication of texts of the desert fathers (the wisdom of the desert), of a liturgical nature (homilies, services, synaxaria, encomiums) and above all of the Philokalia. The latter, offering the neptic ascetic experience of Orthodoxy, became the spiritual food of all Orthodox and Slavic countries and a criterion of our modern theology, as an "empirical testimony of ecclesiastical authenticity." Christos Yannaras is absolutely right when he writes that the publication of the Philokalia is a "challenge of confrontation between two civilizations." "On the one hand, the frenzy of 'progress', which triumphantly idolizes the driest and tightest anthropocentric self-sufficiency, self-sufficiency of the natural and mortal […], and on the other hand, the priority of the search for truth and not of utility."

d) Societal-National Vision:
One of the main means of shaping European society were the Chrestoethia, which defined the ethos of the new society, ie the "relations between individuals and between the sexes." They are "guides of good behavior" of the citizen, "how he will sit, how he will eat, how he will speak...." These mentalities invade Greek society through various channels and especially those who, after their studies in Europe, transferred their morals to Greece. The consequences are pointed out by the late Konstantinos Dimaras: "Everything shows that a profound alteration had taken place in the formation of Greek society." "Traditional love for what is good and beautiful goes through an ordeal, until the new ones are assimilated, while the old ones are neglected." It is Europe's challenge to society. In this context, it should not be forgotten that the formation of the post-Charlemagne European society has a theological infrastructure, but the background of Roman society was also theological, that is, ecclesiological. The Kollyvades experience this as ecclesiastical figures and theologians. That is why in their effort they combine the renewal of the theological tradition with the immovable Orthodox social model, which offers the monastic coenobium and instills worship in the consciences. The promotion of the Orthodox social ethos takes place, thus, after the Orthodox practice itself, which connects the society of worship with the "liturgy after the liturgy", something that the ecclesiastical "festival" fully expresses with its double aspect, inside and outside the church. Nevertheless, the Chrestoethia of Saint Nikodemos comes to cover the issue in theory. The author's references are of course not pietistic, but patristic and hagiographic. So these are not for moral "norms", but for a holy spiritual experience. The Saint, who with his ascetic spirit disturbs those who have become secularized within the ecclesiastical space, proposes the authentic Orthodox-Patristic ethos as a way of ecclesiastical existence. The political action of the Kollyvades, especially of Athanasios Parios, in this context must first and foremost, in my humble opinion, be considered. It is the ultimate consequence of rejecting Europe not only ideologically but also socially. Their theoretical substantiation confirms this position. The "preaching of slavery" under Ottoman rule or the "theologically substantiated voluntary slavery" would be appropriate if they did not amuse themselves with the addition of Vasilios Makridis: in order to "protect Orthodoxy from the danger of the West." Perhaps for this reason "self-protection" is preferable and more realistic than the term "voluntary slavery". The "anti-Europeanism" of the Kollyvades is not necessarily "pro-Turkish", for one who knows the European and especially the French plans at this time for the Roman Ethnarchy. The coincidence of the Kollyvades qualification with the immediate goals of Ottoman politics is an indisputable fact, but here it is completely identical with the attitude of the national martyr Saint Kosmas the Aitolos, who considered the Ottoman yoke a divine favor for the Greek race, but with the criterion of the position of Europe towards Orthodoxy. The search for interpretation must accept this undisturbed fidelity to the tradition of the Greek race. Its revision, however, automatically transforms science into politics. Only the proposal of Athanasios Parios to honor the victims of Islam as the ancient martyrs of the Church or to honor the New Martyrs as saints without the approval of the Great Church, should be considered as a practical "resistance" to the power of the "antichrist", who, according to Saint Kosmas, was the Sultan.

In conclusion:

1. The confrontation between the Kollyvades and the Enlighteners is the opposition of two different worlds and "political visions", as two mutually exclusive versions of Hellenism. The choice of the means in this struggle is not as important as the struggle itself, which underlies the consciences.

2. The assessment of the attitude of the Kollyvades presupposes the possibility of understanding the significance of Orthodoxy for them, not as a religious ideology or metaphysical contemplation, but as a way of being, which leads to deification, the unique Orthodox destination of man, historically and post-historically. It is also necessary to know their language, which is not just Greek, but ecclesiastical Greek, to avoid further misunderstandings.

3. This is how the persistence of the Kollyvades in the tradition of the Greek race is understood, expressed with the scriptural axiom: "Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set" (Proverbs 22:28).

4. Finally, the misunderstandings in the interpretive approach of the Kollyvades must be attributed to the application of western criteria (political-economic, materialistic, that is) and not their own (spiritual). It is a mistake that today's scientific research is trying to correct this, when of course it frees itself from the depressing weight of the past.

Source: Πειραϊκή Εκκλησία, June 2009. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.