Nationalism in Greek Orthodoxy (Sir Steven Runciman, 1968)

NOTE: The following is an excerpt from the book, The Great Church in Captivity:

The Great Church in Captivity

In the East money making has never, as it was in the feudally minded West, been considered to be incompatible with aristocracy. A moneyed nobility began to emerge among the Greeks, closely knit by common aim and interests and by intermarriage, but open to newcomers. These rich families were ambitious. Authority among the Greeks was in the hands of the Patriarch. It therefore became their object to control the Patriarchate. Calling themselves “Archontes” of the Greek nation, they built their houses in the Phanar quarter of Constantinople, to be close to the Patriarchal buildings. They obtained for their sons positions in the Patriarchal court; and one by one the high offices of the Great Church passed into lay hands. Their members did not enter the Church itself. That was considered to be beneath their dignity. The bishops and the Patriarch himself continued to be drawn mainly from bright boys of humbler classes who had risen through intelligence and merit. But by the end of the seventeenth century the Phanariot families, as they were usually called, dominated the central organization of the Church…. But the Patriarchate could not do without them; for they were in a position both to pay its debt and to intrigue in its favor at the Sublime Porte. (Pgs. 361-362)

Sir Steven Runciman
Sir Steven Runciman

It was good for the Church to have to meet an intellectual challenge; but the challenge was too abrupt. The strength of the Byzantine Church had been the presence of a highly educated laity that was deeply interested in religion. Now the laity began to despise the traditions of the Church; and the traditional elements in the Church began to mistrust and dislike modern education, retreating to defend themselves into a thickening obscurantism. The cleavage between the intellectuals and the traditionalists, which had begun when Neo-Aristotelianism was introduced into the curriculum of the Patriarchal Academy, grew wider. Under Phanariot influence many of the higher ecclesiastics followed the modernist trend. In the old days Orthodoxy had preferred to concentrate on eternal things and modestly to refuse to clothe the faith in trappings of modish philosophy. The Phanariots in their desire to impress the West had no use for such old-fashioned notions. Instead, seeing the high prestige of ancient Greek learning, they wished to show that they were, by culture as well as by blood, the heirs of ancient Greece. Their sons, lively laymen educated in the new style, were now filling the administrative posts at the Patriarchal court. As a result the Patriarchate began to lose touch with the great body of the faithful, to whom faith meant more than philosophy and the Christian saints more than the sophist of pagan times.

Sir Steven Runciman Street in Sofia, Bulgaria
Sir Steven Runciman Street in Sofia, Bulgaria

Above all, the Phanariots needed the support of the Church in the pursuits of the ultimate political aim. It was no mean aim. The Megali Idea, the Great Idea of the Greeks, can be traced back to the days before the Turkish conquest…With the spread of the Renaissance a respect for the old Greek civilization had become general. It was natural that the Greeks, in the midst of their political disasters, should wish to benefit from it. They might be slaves now to the Turks, but they were of the great race that had civilized Europe. It must be their destiny to rise again. The Phanariots tried to combine the nationalistic forces of Hellenism in a passionate if illogical alliance with the ecumenical traditions of Byzantium and the Orthodox Church. They worked for a restored Byzantium, a New Rome that should be Greek, a new center of Greek civilization that should embrace the Orthodox world. The spirit behind the Great Idea was a mixture of neo-Byzantinism and an acute sense of race. But with the trend of the modern world the nationalism began to dominate the ecumenicity. George Scholarius Gennadius had perhaps unconsciously, foreseen the danger when he answered a question about his nationality by saying that he would not call himself a Hellene though he was a Hellene by race, not a Byzantine though he had been born at Byzantium, but, rather, a Christian, that is, an Orthodox. For, if the Orthodox Church was to retain its spiritual force, it must remain ecumenical. It must not become a purely Greek Church.


The price paid by the Church for its subjection to the Phanariot benefactors was heavy. First, it meant that the Church was run more and more in the interests of the Greek people and not of Orthodoxy as a whole. The arrangement made between the Conquering Sultan and the Patriarch Gennadius had put all the Orthodox Church within the Ottoman Empire under the authority of the Patriarchate, which was inevitably controlled by Greeks. (Pgs. 377-379)

If any Orthodox Palestinian wished for advancement he had to learn Greek and entirely identify himself with Greek interests; and the Patriarch (of Jerusalem) himself spent much of his time at Constantinople or in the Principalities. The Greeks were not prepared to let this luscious plum fall into other hands. Yet it is doubtful whether in the long run the Greek nationalism that was being increasingly infused into the whole Orthodox organization was beneficial to Orthodoxy. It was not in the old Byzantine tradition. Though within the Empire itself a knowledge of Greek was necessary fro any official position, there had been no distinction of race; and the Byzantines had encouraged vernacular liturgies and had been cautious in trying to impose a Greek hierarchy upon other peoples. But the Great Idea encouraged the Greeks to think of themselves as a Chosen People; and chosen peoples are seldom popular, nor do they fit well into Christian life.


This attempt to turn the Orthodox Church into an exclusively Greek Church was one of the outcomes of Phanariot policy. It lead also to a decline in spiritual values, by stressing Greek culture as against Orthodox traditions and seeking to turn the Church into a vehicle of nationalist feeling, genuine and democratic up to a point, but little concerned with the spiritual life. At the same time it place the Patriarchate on the horns of a moral dilemma. It involved the Church in politics, and subversive politics. Was it not the duty of the Church to render unto Caesar the things which were Caesar’s? Could a Patriarch justifiably jettison the agreement reached between the Sultan and his great predecessor Gennaidus? Could he abjure the oath that he had sworn to the Sultan when his election was confirmed? On a more practical level, had he the right to indulge in plots which if they failed would undoubtedly subject his flock to ghastly reprisals? The more thoughtful hierarchs could not lightly support revolutionary nationalism. Yet if they failed to join in the movement from a sense of honor or from prudence or from spiritually minded detachment, they would be branded as traitors to Hellenism. The Church would lose its hold over the livelier and more progressive elements of his congregation. The rebirth of Greece was to involve a gallows erected at the gate of the Patriarchate and a Patriarch’s corpse swinging thereon. (pp. 382-384)


Territorial Jurisdiction According to Orthodox Canon Law. The Phenomenon of Ethnophyletism in Recent Years

NOTE: This article is taken from the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s website.


In the ancient Church, each city had its own bishop, who was the president of the eucharistic assembly and its shepherd, responsible for pastoral service in all its guises and the person who “rightly divided the word of truth”. Even small towns or places were the seats of bishops, each of whom exercised a certain episcopal jurisdiction independently of the bishop of the city. Because of the persecutions, the problematical conditions and the awkwardness of the situation for the Church, it was difficult to deftne the boundaries of each of the episcopal regions over which the bishops were to exercise thetr jurisdiction. As a result of this, confusion and conflict often arose within the administration of the Church, over the ordination of clerics or the dependence of presbyters on two bishops, given that there were often two bishops in one and the same place. When the persecution of the Christian Church by the Roman state ceased, the legislative authority of the Church was able to define the boundaries within which the bishop could exercise his episcopal authority. In this way, the canonical provincial administration was formed.


In the fourth and fifth centuries, the metropolitans/bishops of the Roman Empire, of the capitals of the Dioceses, acquired even greater power, and important ecclesiastical matters were handled in these major cities. The metropolitans of the five most important cities of the Christian world were called Patriarchs, while the metropolitans of the smaller cities, over time, lost their complete independence, though they retained their former title, “metropolitan”, and also their sees. The most important matters of the geographical eccle-siastical region were now handled by the Patriarchal Synod, by which metropolitans were now elected and consecrated, and then installed by the Patriarch. The Patriarchal Synods, under the chairmanship of the Patriarch, were at first made up of the metropolitans, then later also of the bishops of the patriarchal geographical region. The provincial metropolitan/episcopal synods under the chairmanship of the metropolitan were retained, and dealt with local provincial matters. They remained, however, under canonical dependence upon the patriarchs and their synods, in which they also participated.


The boundaries of the patriarchates are geographical and nothing more. They are not ethnophyletic, cultural, liturgical or anything else of the sort, and were defined by Ecumenical Synods through sacred canons and ecclesiastical regulations in accordance with Christian teaching against racial discrimination, with Orthodox ecclesiology and with canon law and pastoral requirements.

Canon 6 of the 1st Ecumenical Synod says “Let the old customs prevail as well as the later canons”, and goes on to confirm the geographical boundaries of the jurisdiction of Rome, Alexandria and Antioch. “Let the ancient custom prevail which obtained in Egypt, Lybia and Pentapolis, to allow the bishop of Alexandria to have authority over all these parts, since this is also usually accorded to the bishop in Rome. Likewise with reference to Antioch and the other provinces, let seniority be preserved in the churches”. Thus “the bishop of Alexandria precedes those in Egypt, Lybia and the.province of Pentapolis, Africa; Antioch similarly heads Syria, Coele or Hollow Syria, Mesopotamia and both Cilicias…” i. e. the diocese of the East; “and the bishop of Rome is senior in the western provinces”[1].


The bishop of Jerusalem, because of the sacred nature of the city “through the redemptive passion of Christ”[2], was declared patriarch by the 4th Ecumenical Synod, with his jurisdiction extended to include the three provinces of Palestine, known as the “Three Palestines”[3]. So Jerusalem was senior to “the provinces in Palestine, in Arabia and in Phoenicia.. .”[4].

As Patriarchate, Jerusalem occupied the fifth place, after Antioch[5], while since the schism between East and West it has taken the fourth place in the Orthodox Church. In the case of Jerusalem, too, the criteria applied by the 4th Ecumenical Synod for canonical jurisdiction- “ground” — were geographical and no more.

The Ecumenical Patriarch[6], the Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome, occupies the first place, the primacy of    honour in the canonical structure of the Orthodox Church. This position, as well as his canonical jurisdiction — the “ground” — have been defined by the sacred canons of the Ecumenical Synods, in other words by irreversible ecumenical decisions[7], and their application is binding for all Orthodox.

As regards the primacy of honour of Constantinople, this has been legislated for by the 2nd Ecumenical Synod (Canon 3), the 4th (Canon 28) and the Quinisext (Canon 36). Thus: “the Throne of Constantinople shall enjoy equal seniority with the throne of Older Rome, and in matters of the Church shall be magnified as the latter, coming second after it…”[8]. Since the schism Constantinople has held the primacy of honour and of διακονια in the Orthodox Church.


By a decision (Canon 28) which is of universal status and validity, the 4th Ecumenical Synod confirmed a long tradition and action of the Church as regards the canonical jurisdiction and the territory of the Ecumenical Throne. The geographical extent of its own ground was extended to the then administrations of the Roman Empire in Pontus, Asia and Thrace, as well as to the “barbarian” lands, i. e. those which were outside the boundaries of the then Roman Empire: “… only the metropolitans of the Pontic, Asian and Thracian dioceses shall be ordained by the aforesaid Most Holy Throne of the Most Holy Church of Constantinople and likewise the bishops of the aforesaid dioceses which are situated in barbarian lands…”.

The adjective “barbarian” defines the noun “nations”, which is omitted from the text of the canon, but which is to be inferred, as Zonaras interprets it[9]. Barbarian nations or countries are, as has been said, those provinces which lay beyond the Roman Empire at the time of the 4th Ecumenical Synod: “While it called bishoprics of the barbarians those of Alania, Russia and others”[10]. The other barbarian lands, apart from Alania and Russia, are, in general, “the Barbarians”, according to the interpretation of Aristenos of Canon 28: “… the (bishops ) of Pontus and Thrace and Asia, as well as the Barbarians, are consecrated by the Patriarch of Constantinople…”.


According to the “Notitiae episcopatuum” (Συνταγμάτιον) bearing the name of Emperor Leo the Wise (886-912), but actually dating more or less to the llth century[11], the eparchies of South Italy, i. e. Calabria and Sicily, are also under’ the Ecumenical Throne of Constantinople. Besides, according to the “Exposition” of Emperor Andronikos II Palaeologos (1282-1328), which was generally valid until the 19th century, these eparchies were subject to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. With the passage of time, however, this dependence in fact weakened away because of the propinquity of these provinces to Rome and because of the impossibility of Constantinople maintaining communications with them, situated as it was within the Ottoman Empire.

In the Order “of the Thrones of the Orthodox Eastern Church”, i.e. the (Συνταγμάτιον)of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of the year 1855, there is no reference to these eparchies[12].


Moreover, from the 8th century, all the provinces of Eastern Illyricum, i. e. the Balkan region from the borderş of Thrace to the Adriatic, were removed from the jurisdiction of Rome and placed under the canonical jurisdiction of Constantinople.

The newer lands of North and South America, of Australia, the Far East and so on, and also those in general that are outside the boundaries of the local Churches as defined by the sacred canons and the decisions of the Ecumenical Synods, as well as by the Patriairchal and Synodical Tomes, are included in theory, and hence in practice, in the “other” barbarian lands, according to the general terminology of the 4th Ecumenical Synod and of the other synods. This has nothing to do with an ethnological or any other modern cultural definition, but is geographical, since they were not included, at the time of this synod, within the bounds of the then Roman Empire and were not named in the canonical sources, as were Alania or Russia[13].


The Ecumenical Throne of Constantinople thus has canonical jurisdiction over the Orthodox in all the “barbarian” countries which constitute its geographical area and “ground”, while the exercise of its canonical rights over all the Orthodox in these countries should not in any way be considered as being“beyond the boundaries” (of its “ground”), i. e. “υπερόριος”[14].Through Patriarchal Synodical Tomes or Acts, specific metropoles, archbishoprics and bishoprics which were part of the geographical area of the canonical jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople have been ceded to the newer autocephalous local Churches, in Russia, in the Balkans and beyond. After autocephaly, these autocephalous Churches acquired canonical, administrative and pastoral jurisdiction over them. Any exercise of administration or pastoral tasks by these autocephalous Churches over Orthodox outside and beyond their own defined geographical boundaries, on the basis of national, racial, linguistic or “cultural” criteria, constitutes, according to canonical exactitude, an action “beyond the boundaries” (υπερόριον) and an intrusion (εισπήδησιν) into another province, thus violating the fundamental principles of canonical jurisdiction and the tradition of the Church.


The entire article can be read here:

The Excommunication of Matthew Heimbach (Aaron Jacob, 2014)

NOTE: The following article is taken from THE DEN, May 9th, 2014,

“So many sheep without! So many wolves within!” —St Augustine

Last month, activist Matthew Heimbach was received into the Orthodox Church in the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. (This was his first mistake; he would have been far more at home in the ROCOR.) Heimbach was, at the time, the leader of the Traditionalist Youth Network; he has since declared an indefinite sabbatical, for reasons to be explained below.

Matthew Heimbach
Matthew Heimbach

According to this statement from Heimbach’s priest, Father Peter Jon Gillquist of All Saints Orthodox Church in Bloomington, he has been excluded from Holy Communion for his “nationalistic, segregationist views”. Father Peter Jon writes: “Orthodoxy rejects the teaching that churches or countries should be divided along racial lines. For, ‘There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’”

Fr. Peter Jon Gilquist
Fr. Peter Jon Gilquist

With all due respect to Father Peter Jon, however, while the Orthodox Church does reject the idea of geographically overlapping ecclesiastical jurisdictions and in particular the heresy of phyletism, which advocates overlapping jurisdictions defined along ethnic lines, it does not reject at all the idea that countries could be divided along ethnic lines. In point of fact, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church wrote in The Basis of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church the following, on the subject of ethnic and racial identity and its relationship to the Orthodox Christian Faith:

In the contemporary world, the notion of “nation” is used in two meanings, as an ethnic community and the aggregate citizens of a particular state…In addition to their sharing one religion, the unity of the people of God was secured by their ethnic and linguistic community and their rootedness in a particular land, their fatherland…The ethnic community of the Israelites was rooted in their origin from one forefather, Abraham…The universal nature of the Church, however, does not mean that Christians should have no right to national identity and national self-expressions. On the contrary, the Church unites in herself the universal with the national…Orthodox Christians, aware of being citizens of the heavenly homeland, should not forget about their earthly homeland…Christian patriotism may be expressed at the same time with regard to a nation as an ethnic community and as a community of its citizens. The Orthodox Christian is called to love his fatherland, which has a territorial dimension, and his brothers by blood who live everywhere in the world. (emphasis mine)

This document makes it very clear that the concept of a nation as a community of people descended from the same ancestors and sharing linguistic and cultural ties is not only a legitimate one, but one which is explicitly endorsed by the Church. An Orthodox Christian is not “permitted…to love his brothers by blood;” rather, he is “called” to do so. An Orthodox Christian is obligated, according to the Bases of the Social Concept, to live an “active patriotism” both with respect to his territorial-political state and his ethnic nation.

Father Peter Jon writes of Matthew Heimbach:

Matthew must cease and desist all activities, both online, in print, and in person, promoting racist and seperationist[sic] ideologies, effective immediately. He must formally reject violence, hate speech, and the heresy of Phyletism. Finally, he must submit to period[sic] of formal penance in order to be received back into the Orthodox communion.

Bp. Mark of Toledo visits St Vladimir's Seminary; ordains Fr. Peter Jon Gillquist
Bp. Mark of Toledo visits St Vladimir’s Seminary; ordains Fr. Peter Jon Gillquist

Now, this is where the case gets complicated. Heimbach has apparently been excluded from Holy Communion, and in order for him to return, Father Peter Jon has demanded that he renounce the following three things:

First, “violence”. It’s not entirely clear to me what acts of violence Heimbach has committed. I’ve been unable to find any evidence that he’s ever been charged with a violent crime. In fact, the biggest evidence I’ve been able to find suggesting that Heimbach is violent is this image (and it appears that this action was in self-defense). I was unable to find the origin of the image in order to put Heimbach’s actions in context, but again, there are no reports that he’s ever been arrested or charged with a crime. It is certainly not the place of an Orthodox priest to demand that Heimbach not defend himself if attacked. Whether that is what he is demanding is unclear, as are the circumstances prompting this demand, so my ability to comment is limited.


Second, “hate speech”. “Hate speech” is nothing but leftist smear language. It means any speech that violates the Cathedral’s orthodoxy, nothing more. Any expression of an opinion to the right of Jeb Bush can and will be classified as “hate speech.” There is unequivocally nothing in the canonical or doctrinal tradition of the Orthodox Church that makes “hate speech” an offense worthy of excommunication. This is the part of the letter that should be most troubling. If excommunications for “hate speech” become the norm, then the power of the Church hierarchy will be turned against anyone who expresses a political view outside the Overton window, and excommunications for “sexism” and “homophobia” will not be far behind.


Third, to the question of “phyletism”. Phyletism is a genuine heresy, and some comments Heimbach made at Occidental Dissent suggest he may subscribe to it. If this is the case, he should indeed renounce it. However, there is a certain richness to the righteous fury with which the American Antiochian hierarchy has condemned Heimbach for his alleged “phyletism.” After all, phyletism is nothing other than the proposition that in the same area, there should be separate jurisdictions for different ethnic Churches. This idea was condemned at the 1872 Council of Constantinople, which affirmed the traditional, canonical order of one bishop per territory. But for all practical purposes, the jurisdictional arrangement in America today is phyletist. In a particular city, you might find an OCA church, a Greek Orthodox Church, and an Antiochian Church, all serving different ethnic communities and commemorating different bishops. In fact, even within the OCA (the jurisdiction to which I belong) there is at least one explicitly ethnic episcopate — the Romanian Episcopate, held as a subsidiary title by the Archbishop of Detroit. Romanian OCA parishes all over the country, regardless of whose diocese they are physically located in, commemorate Archbishop +NATHANIEL of Detroit, simply because they are Romanian.

All of this is to say that while phyletism is indeed a heresy, it is highly questionable whether Heimbach has confessed it. And even if he has, he has, by doing so, simply confessed his support of a jurisdictional arrangement no more uncanonical, untraditional, or immoral than the one which our hierarchs maintain and perpetuate in America today.


Matthew Heimbach’s views are no doubt distasteful to many, including churchmen. I don’t agree with everything he says myself. But the bar for excommunication needs to be higher than that. One cannot be excommunicated simply for disagreeing with a particular cleric or hierarch on a matter of politics. One cannot be ordered to renounce “hate speech”, which is not a heresy. Father Peter Jon and Bishop +ANTHONY (if he gave his approval to the excommunication as Father Peter Jon implies) have acted wrongly in this case, and Heimbach ought to seek vindication in a canonical court.

Orthodox Christians of the Right are on notice: You will be attacked from within the Church as well as without.