Meet the spiritual head of Eastern Christianity

November_2006_BartholomewThe visit of the Pope to Turkey has included a meeting (the first such meeting in a millennium) with His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome. As Patriarch of Constantinople he is the spiritual head of the Eastern Orthodox Communion even though his diocese only includes around 5000 Turkish (Greek Orthodox) Christians. I find relics of the past such as this fascinating. Bartholomew is a modern remnant of a bygone Christian age. (In 1453, Byzantine Constantinople fell to the Turks.)

Still, Bartholomew is no fossil. Some of his achievements include a storied academic career. He studied Theology at the Patriarchal Theological Seminary of Halki (Turkey) and did graduate work at the Pontificio Istituto Orientale of Rome, the Ecumenical Institute of Bossey (Switzerland) and the Ludwig-Maximilians Universität of Munich. His doctoral research was on Canon Law. He also speaks Greek, Turkish, Latin, French, English, Italian, and German. He has been nicknamed the “Green Patriarch” for his environmental efforts and was awarded the US Congressional Medal of Honor.

The Pope is supporting Turkey’s efforts to join the EU, but perhaps not without concessions. One obstacle to Turkey’s EU integration is the suspicion surrounding its poor human rights record, including religious freedom. Both Benedict and Bartholomew believe in what the Vatican calls “reciprocity” — “that Muslim demands for greater respect in the West must be matched by increased tolerance and freedom for Christians in Islamic nations.”

Turkey’s path to improved human rights is a difficult one for sure. Whilst its refusal to acknowledge the “ecumenical,” or universal, title of the patriarch seems petty (he is instead considered only the head of the local Greek Orthodox community), Turkey’s reasoning is not incomprehensible: the idea of a single Turkish nationality — a sacrosanct feature of its secular identity — is believed to be under threat if wider status was granted to the patriarch, because it would inspire demands for special recognition by other minorities, including Kurds. This puts the West in a bind: the Kurdish “problem” and the Armenian genocide are two unsavoury aspects of the Turkish state, yet we are happy for Turkey to be a secular bulwark in the Islamic world. Is it a price worth paying?

In 1971 the Turkish government shut the Greek Orthodox seminary in Turkey. This was part of a policy to close all private Muslim schools, but an exception could not be made for the Christians. “We are in danger of dying,” the Rev. Dositheos Anagnostopulos, Bartholomew’s spokesman, said. “We are dying because we have no priests. We have 48 churches and 30 priests. There are only 10 young priests. We have many who are 70 or 80 who are still working.”

I would like this seminary to re-open. Question is, do I want the Muslim schools to re-open too?


  1. Why is it bad to have Muslim private Schools? It’s not like they are going to be accredited suicide bomber schools. Personally, I would love to spend a year in a Muslim school just to experience the culture.

  2. Matt,

    I think Turkey employs the slippery slope argument. Muslim schools > madrasas > militants. Turkey has an avowedly secular psyche; this is something we are generally happy about. Most stable country, Pakistan or Turkey?

    That said, it is a pickle, and the EU is going to have to sort through all this. Mind you, Austria has threatened an eternal veto.

  3. LXX Luthor says:

    I don’t know that I understand why countries with such varied populations even try to emulate something of America’s melting pot situation. It clearly hasn’t made whites, blacks, hispanics, asians, indians or anyone forget that they are who they are. I’ not eve sure that all of those people would say they think they are American. Of course, if acknowledge that everyone is different, then they all have to agree that they are equal, having special groups doesn’t seem to work either (e.g. Quebecers in Canada). I say they open the religious schools. Private religious schools doth not a secular government destroy. Or does it?

  4. LXX,
    Turkey would say that in the Islamic world the rules of the game are different. Whatever else we think of Ataturk, he realised that Turkey’s survival relied on a secular, non-Arab identity. That has largely been successful, but there have been many casualties along the way.

    BTW, if anyone ever gets the chance to go to Turkey, do so. It’s beautiful, cheap, friendly, and drenched in history. In 2003 I traveled all the way from Ararat to Bodrum. Loved every minute.

  5. Steve Evans says:

    I would agree with Ronan’s experience, except that once, I got arrested for smuggling hash out of Turkey and got a life sentence. I’d still be there too if I hadn’t taken the midnight express.

  6. The melting pot metaphor has been replaced during the eighties with the salad bowl.

    Be that as it may, it is a little bit more difficult when ethnic and religious factors pervade settlement patterns. With some notable exceptions, that’s not a factor in the USA.

    Imagine if all rural areas of the United States were like Utah or Amish country then we would neither have a melting pot nor a salad bowl.

  7. Ronan,

    What do you take of the seeming rise of the Islamists in Turkey? Many observers are concerned about what appears to be a long term slide away from securalism and towards a situation more like the other Muslim nations in the region.

    Secular Turk birthrates are really low compared to their poorer more islamic rural folks.

    Also its really hard for Christians to prosper in the Middle East. Their numbers have been shrinking in the last few decades. In my town in suburban Chicago (2000) recent Christian immigrants from Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Iran etc were quite common. They all had similar stories of intense persecution. Also I heard on NPR that Instanbul was 50% Christian as late as 1914.

  8. bbell,
    All I can say is that this is the Time of the Islamist. It’s a pan-regional phenomenon.

  9. The best way for any minority to prosper is Turkish European Union membership. There would be a steady inflow of all sort of Christians, Kurds, Jews, and Armenians if there are opportunities to make money.

  10. Excellent point, Hellmut. The Old EU is scared to death of increased Turkish immigration. How much traffic do you think will really go the other way?

  11. Just a minor quibble, from a former colonial to one who cannot be expected to understand the intricacies of congressional medals. The Patriarch was not awarded the Medal of Honor (commonly called the Congressional Medal of Honor), since that is reserved for exceptional valor on the battlefield. The medal he received is, rather, the Congressional Gold Medal, which is the highest civilian honor given by Congress. It’s recipients have included George Washington, Horatio Gates (ever heard of Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne and the battle of Saratoga, Ronan? :-)), Mother Teresa, Frank Sinatra, Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Byron Nelson, Pope John Paul II and the Patriarch.

    Perhaps the most famous recipient of the Medal of Honor was Raymond Shaw, of whom Captain Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra) said:

    Made to commit acts too unspeakable to be cited here by an enemy who had captured his mind and his soul. He freed himself at last and in the end, heroically and unhesitatingly gave his life to save his country. Raymond Shaw… Hell… Hell.

  12. Damn. Who put that apostrophe in there?

  13. Good question, Ronan.

    In my opinion, unless there is a surprising revival of the French or German economy, there will be more people going to Turkey.

    Of course, incomes are a lot higher in Europe but there are not any jobs. In the absence of substantial economic growth in Germany and France, Turkish immigration will be slender.

    European integration transforms migration conditions in two ways. First, Europeans will finally be able to own real estate and businesses in Turkey. There will be enterpreneurial opportunities in Turkey once the Union provides property rights.

    Second, it will be possible to move back and forth between Turkey and the other member states. Turks living abroad will be less apprehensive moving back home. If things don’t work out at home, they could come back at will if Turkey belongs to the Union.

    Therefore, I speculate that the net migration will go in the Turkish direction.

  14. Hellmut.

    As a matter of record Turkish immigration has headed to Germany since the 1960’s.

    I can see some Turks returning to Turkey but the real chances of Herr Miller, Frau, and their one child (if any) headed to set up shop in Instanbul seems unlikely.

    Any immigration from the West to Turkey would create a target rich environment for the local jihadis. Especially if the movement towards Islamism continues in Turkey

  15. bbell is right. It’s hard to imagine a flood of Germans and French moving to Turkey. A few entepreneurs and vacation home owners, sure, but don’t the masses always tend to migrate from poorer to richer areas?

    Given the current climate in Europe, it sure seems unlikely that this is going to move beyond the discussion stage for a long time anyway.

  16. Haha, Hellmut # 7 just can’t resist the opportunity to slam Utah. He is, after all, an authority on all that is Utah (and as he has expressed in the past, we here in Utah all live in fear of our Stasi-like neighbors and never invite anyone over for dinner).

  17. bbell

    I agree that there won’t be much immigration.

    Remember that there are only several dozen orthodox congregations in Turkey. Dozens and hundreds of immigrants would make a large difference to that group.

    If a couple of thousand American Mormons to Croatia then the Church would assume a different quality, wouldn’t it?

    As for Turkish immigration to Germany, those times are over since the late seventies. Since then the numbers are rather modest. I don’t see that changing because there just is not any work.

  18. John, if you have a minute, read up on Attribution Theory.

  19. Jonathan Green says:

    I think Hellmut’s point was that more than a few Turks now living in Germany might consider moving to Turkey if it was in the EU. I’m not sure if there would be enough to cause a net outflow, but it’s not impossible.

  20. Hellmut, you really did make the East German comparison to Latter-day Saints — that is not an attribution error on my part by any stretch of the imagination. Read these two consecutive comments together: comment 51 and comment 52. You throwing a link to attribution theory at me seems more of an attribution error than my jumping on you for yet another instance of your eagerness to bash Utah at any opportunity.

  21. No, John. You are the only person who mentions the Stasi in that thread.

    Though religious and ethnic population patterns have emerged in the United States, generally, these identities have not shaped the settlement of north America. That is one reason why the nature of intercommunal interactions is different than in Turkey or in Germany and France, for that matter.

    However, there are important exceptions to this rule. In that respect, it would be an omission to ignore Utah on a Mormon blog.

    Salad bowls and melting pots are descriptive metaphors, not normative prescriptions. Therefore it is not a put down to argue that identity driven population patterns impede the emergence of either.

  22. Jonathan and Bbell,

    One thing is for sure. I will be wrong the moment the German or the French economies grow. In that case, there would be a large inflow of people.

    In terms of immigration stats, Turkish accession would not add more people. If they cannot come then other foreigners will. Of course, one might prefer eastern and southern Europeans but that preference is neither reasonable nor ethical.

  23. Carl Griffin says:

    I had the pleasure of meeting last year with His All Holiness as part of a larger delegation of religious scholars to Turkey. He is a very gracious but careworn man. His church only has a small presence in Turkey, and they suffer. They were buoyant, however, over the recent translation of some prized relics to the patriarchal church, which we were privileged to view.

    We were there specifically to visit the Syrian Orthodox communities in eastern Turkey, that communion’s heartland, and they are even worse off. We witnessed government harassment first-hand. Fortunately, the diaspora that continues to drain members from their communities is resulting in an influx of money that is paying for a lot of new building and repairs. One can now visit some gloriously restored monasteries, even if there is only a monk or two left in residence.

  24. Jonathan Green says:

    Carl, did you teach Hebrew at BYU in 1994?

  25. Carl Griffin says:

    Jonathan! How unreal. Yes, and I’m back at BYU now. Email me and let me know what you’re up to.


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