1922: THE ASIA MINOR CATASTROPHE

Written by Vladimir Moss

1922: THE ASIA MINOR CATASTROPHE

 

     When Eleutherios Venizelos came to power in Greece during the First World War, he began to purge, not only the military and the civil service, but also the Orthodox Church. Thus when Metropolitan Theocletos of Athens anathematized him in 1916, he had him defrocked. Then he recalled his friend and fellow Cretan and Freemason, Meletios Metaxakis, from America and enthroned him as Archbishop of Athens in November, 1918.[1] Meletios immediately started commemorating Venizelos at the Liturgy instead of the King. This led to an ideological schism within the Synod between the Venizelists and the Royalists. The latter included St. Nectarios of Pentapolis and Metropolitan Germanos of Demetrias, the future leader of the True Orthodox Church. Almost simultaneously, Patriarch Germanos V of Constantinople was forced into retirement when his flock protested against what they saw as his compromising politics in relation to the Turks.[2]

 

     Now the Greek government wanted to introduce the western, Gregorian calendar into Greece. And so Meletios promptly, in January, 1919, raised this question in the Church. The only obstacle to the introduction of the new calendar, he declared, was the Apostolic Canon forbidding the celebration of Pascha at the same time as the Jewish Passover or before the spring equinox. But since, he went on, “the government feels the necessity of changing to the Gregorian calendar, let it do so without touching the ecclesiastical calendar.” And he set up a Commission to investigate the question.[3]

 

     The Commission was set up with Metropolitan Germanos of Demetrias as the representative of the hierarchy. In May 20, 1919, on the initiative of Meletios Metaxakis, the Synod raised the question of changing to the new calendar. Meletios told the Synod: “The situation in Russia has changed, and the possibility of becoming closer to the West has become more real. We consider it necessary to introduce a rapid calendar reform.” However, the Commission headed by Metropolitan Germanos was more cautious: “In the opinion of the Commission, the change of the Julian calendar provided it does not contradict canonical and dogmatic bases, could be realised on condition that all the other Orthodox Autocephalous Churches agree, and first of all, the Constantinopolitan Patriarchate, to which it would be necessary to present the initiative in any action in this sphere, so long as we do not change to the Gregorian calendar, but compose a new, more scientifically exact Gregorian calendar, which would be free from the inadequacies of both of the calendars – the Julian and the Gregorian – at present in use.”

 

     “One of the committee members who voted in favour of this position,” writes Fr. Basile Sakkas, “was Chrysostom Papadopoulos, then an Archimandrite and Professor of Theology at the University of Athens.”[4] In 1919 he had declared that if the Church changed the calendar it would become schismatic. But later, as Archbishop of Athens, he introduced the new calendar into the Greek Church…

 

     When the conclusions of the commission had been read out, Meletios changed his tune somewhat: “We must not change to the Gregorian calendar at a time when a new and scientifically perfect calendar is being prepared. If the State feels that it cannot remain in the present calendar status quo, it is free to accept the Gregorian as the European calendar, while the Church keeps the Julian calendar until the new scientific calendar is ready.”[5]

 

     Two things are clear from these events of 1919. First, Meletios was very anxious to accommodate the government if he could. And yet he must have realized that blessing the adoption of the new calendar by the State would inevitably generate pressure for its introduction into the Church as well. Secondly, while he did not feel strong enough to introduce the new calendar into the Church at that time, he was not in principle against it, because he either did not understand, or did not want to understand, the reasons for the Church’s devotion to the Julian calendar, which have nothing to do with scientific accuracy, and all to do with faithfulness to the Tradition and Canons of the Church and the maintenance of Her Unity.

 

     The new calendar was not the only innovation Meletios wanted to introduce: what he wanted, writes Bishop Ephraim, “was an Anglican Church with an eastern tint, and the faithful people in Greece knew it and distrusted everything he did. While in Athens, he even forbade the chanting of vigil services (!) because he considered them out of date and a source of embarrassment when heterodox – especially Anglicans – visited Athens. The people simply ignored him and continued to have vigils secretly.”[6]

 

     However, the heart of Greek Orthodoxy was not Athens, but Constantinople. It was necessary for Venizelos to get his own man on the Ecumenical throne. That man would eventually be Metaxakis.

 

     But in the meantime, until Metaxakis could be transferred, he needed someone else to stir up the kind of nationalist ferment he needed. Fortunately for Venizelos, the patriarchal locum tenens in 1919, Metropolitan Dorotheos of Prussa, was just the right man for the job. He introduced two important and closely related innovations in the conduct of the patriarchate towards the Ottoman Empire, on the one hand, and the western heresies, on the other. Thus on January 21, 1919, protected by a Greek-Cretan regiment stationed in the city, Dorotheus proceeded to abolish the teaching of Turkish in Greek schools. Then, on March 16, a resolution for “Union with Greece” was passed in the Constantinopolitan churches, after which the patriarchate and the Greeks refused to communicate with the Sublime Porte. When the Greeks also refused to participate in the November elections, the break with the Turkish authorities was complete.

 

     The patriarchate had in effect carried out a political coup d’état against the Ottoman Empire, thereby reversing a 466-year tradition of submission to the Muslims the political sphere.[7]  Since such a daring coup required political and military support from outside, the patriarchate set about making friends with those to whom, from a religious point of view, it had always been inimical. Thus in January, 1919, a Greek-Armenian conference was held to coordinate the activities of the two groups in the city.[8] Then, in the summer, Metropolitan Nicholas of Caesarea in the name of the patriarchate accepted the invitation of the Joint Commission of the World Conference on Faith and Order, a forerunner of the World Council of Churches, to participate in its preliminary conference in Geneva the following year. He said that the patriarchate was “thereby stretching out a hand of help to those working in the same field and in the same vineyard of the Lord”. This statement, which in effect recognized that the western heretics belonged to the True Church, was probably the first statement from the Ecumenical Patriarchate explicitly endorsing the great heresy of ecumenism.

 

    Then, in January, 1920, Metropolitan Dorotheos and his Synod issued what was in effect a charter for Ecumenism. This encyclical was the product of a conference of professor-hierarchs of the Theological School at Khalki, led by Metropolitan Germanos of Seleucia (later of Thyateira and Great Britain).

 

     It was addressed “to all the Churches of Christ everywhere”, and declared that “the first essential is to revive and strengthen the love between the Churches, not considering each other as strangers and foreigners, but as kith and kin in Christ and united co-heirs of the promise of God in Christ.”

 

     It went on: “This love and benevolent disposition towards each other can be expressed and proven especially, in our opinion, through:

 

     “(a) the reception of a single calendar for the simultaneous celebration of the great Christian feasts by all the Churches;

 

     “(b) the exchange of brotherly epistles on the great feasts of the single calendar..;

 

     “(c) close inter-relations between the representatives of the different Churches;

 

     “(d) intercourse between the Theological Schools and the representatives of Theological Science and the exchange of theological and ecclesiastical periodicals and writings published in each Church;

 

     “(e) the sending of young people to study from the schools of one to another Church;

 

     “(f) the convening of Pan-Christian conferences to examine questions of common interest to all the Churches;

 

     “(g) the objective and historical study of dogmatic differences..;

 

     “(h) mutual respect for the habits and customs prevailing in the different Churches;

 

     “(i) the mutual provision of prayer houses and cemeteries for the funeral and burial of members of other confessions dying abroad;

 

     “(j) the regulation of the question of mixed marriages between the different confessions;

 

     “(k) mutual support in the strengthening of religion and philanthropy.”[9]

 

     The unprecedented nature of the encyclical consists in the facts: (1) that it was addressed not, as was Patriarch Joachim’s encyclical of 1903, to the Orthodox Churches only, but to the Orthodox and heretics together, as if they were all equally “co-heirs of God in Christ”; (2) that the proposed rapprochement was seen as coming, not through the acceptance by the heretics of the Truth of Orthodoxy and their sincere repentance and rejection of their errors, but through other means; and (3) the proposal of a single universal calendar for concelebration of the feasts, in contravention of the canonical law of the Orthodox Church.

 

     There is no mention here of the only possible justification of Ecumenism from an Orthodox point of view – the opportunity it provides of conducting missionary work among the heretics. On the contrary, one of the first aims of the ecumenical movement was and is to prevent proselytism among the member-Churches. That is why the potential proselytes from among the Catholics and Protestants are declared to be in no need of conversion, being already “co-heirs of God in Christ”.

 

     From this time the Ecumenical Patriarchate became an active participant in the ecumenical movement, sending representatives to its conferences in Geneva in 1920, in Lausanne in 1927 and in Edinburgh in 1937.[10]  The World Conference on Faith and Order was organized on the initiative of the American Episcopalian Church; and the purpose of the Joint Commission’s approaches to the Churches was that “all Christian Communions throughout the world which confess our Lord Jesus Christ as God and Savior” should be asked “to unite with us in arranging for and conducting such a conference”.[11]

 

     The real purpose of the 1920 encyclical was political, to gain the support of the western heretics, and especially the Anglicans, in persuading their governments to endorse Dorotheos’ and Venizelos’ plans for Greek control of Constantinople and Smyrna and its hinterland. Thus on February 24, 1920, Dorotheos wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury: “We beseech you energetically to fortify the British government… in its attempts to drive out the Turks [from Constantinople]. By this complete and final expulsion, and by no other means, the resurrection of Christianity in the Near East and the restoration of the church of Hagia Sophia can be secured.”[12]

 

     The tragedy of the Greek position was that, in spite of the support of the Anglican Church for Dorotheos, and of Lloyd George for Venizelos, the Allies never committed themselves to the creation of a Greek kingdom in Asia Minor. The reason was obvious: it would have meant full-scale war with Turkey – an unattractive prospect so soon after the terrible losses of the Great War, and when British troops were still fighting in Soviet Russia and other places. From the Allied Powers’ point of view, their troops were stationed in Constantinople, not as a permanent occupation force, but only in order to protect the Christian minority. In fact, the Greeks, by their fiercely nationalist attitude, antagonized the Turks and led to the creation of a powerful Turkish nationalist movement, which eventually destroyed the centuries-old Greek civilization in Asia Minor. The Greeks forgot that one nationalism inevitably elicits another, equal and opposite nationalism...

 

     With the fall of Venizelos, his brother Mason and Cretan Metaxakis also fell - temporarily. In February, 1921, he returned to America, campaigning on behalf of Venizelos, and presenting the novel argument that all the Orthodox in America should be under the Patriarchate of Constantinople because of Canon 28 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council.[13] He immediately returned into communion with the Anglicans. Thus the Greek ambassador in Washington reported to the prefect in Thessalonica that on December 17, 1921, “vested, he took part in a service in an Anglican church, knelt in prayer with the Anglicans before the holy table, which he venerated, gave a sermon, and blessed those present in the church” of the heretics.[14]

 

     Meletios won over the epitropos of the Greek Archdiocese, Rodostolos Alexandros, and the two of them first broke relations with the Church of Greece. Then, at a clergy-laity conference in the church of the Holy Trinity, New York, he declared the autonomy of the Greek Archdiocese from the Church of Greece, changing its name to the grandiloquent: “Greek Archbishopric of North and South America”. This was more than ironical, since it had been Metaxakis himself who had created the archdiocese as a diocese of the Church of Greece when he had been Archbishop of Athens in 1918! Metaxakis’ new diocese broke Church unity in another way, in that it was done without the blessing of the Russian Church, which until then had included all the Orthodox of all nationalities in America under its own jurisdiction. And once the Greeks had formed their own diocese, other nationalities followed suit. Thus on August 14, 1921 Patriarch Gregory of Antioch asked Patriarch Tikhon’s blessing to found a Syrian diocese in North America. Tikhon replied on January 17, 1922 that the Antiochian Patriarch would first have to get the agreement of the Russian bishops in America…

 

     Meanwhile, the Patriarchate in Constantinople was still beating the nationalist and anti-monarchist drum. In December, 1920, it called for the resignation of the king for the sake of the Hellenic nation, and even considered excommunicating him! Then, in March, a patriarchal delegation headed by Metropolitan Dorotheos travelled to London, where they met Lord Curzon, the British foreign secretary, King George V and the archbishop of Canterbury – the first such trip to the West by the senior prelate of Orthodoxy since Patriarch Joseph’s fateful participation in the council of Florence in 1438. And there, like Joseph, Dorotheos had a heart attack and died, just as he was to receive the honorary vice-presidency of the World Congress for the friendship of the World through the Churches.[15]

 

     The terrible tragedy that was about to be suffered by the Greek nation in Asia Minor must be attributed in no small part to God’s wrath at the nationalist-ecumenist politics of Dorotheos and his Synod – a classic example of the destructive consequences of the intrusion of political passions into the life of the Church.

 

*

 

     Greece was counted as a victor nation at Versailles in 1919. This gave Venizelos the opportunity to put his nationalist expansionist plans into effect. The French Prime Minister Briand had been right to suspect, some years before, that “Venizelos may have very long teeth when peace negotiations open. He has not renounced his dream to recreate the Byzantine Empire… Now, a large-scale expansion of Greece would be a threat to the peace of the world. I have for a long time desired the cooperation of the Greeks but not under these conditions…”[16]

 

     In May, 1919, the Italians, having withdrawn from the Paris Peace Conference, began to occupy parts of Turkey – Antalya in the south and Marmaris in the west. The other Great Powers were alarmed. This gave Venizelos his chance to try and put his “great idea” – the restoration of the Byzantine empire – into practice.

 

     Margaret Macmillan writes: “He had been working hard from the start of the Peace Conference to press Greek claims, with mixed success. Although he tried to argue that the coast of Asia Minor was indisputably Greek in character, and the Turks in a minority, his statistics were highly dubious. For the inland territory he was claiming, where even he had to admit that the Turks were in a majority, Venizelos called in economic arguments. The whole area (the Turkish provinces of Aidin and Brusa and the areas around the Dardanelles and Izmir) was a geographic unit that belonged to the Mediterranean; it was warm, well watered, fertile, opening out to the world, unlike the dry and Asiatic plateau of the hinterland. The Turks were good workers, honest, in their relations, and a good people as subjects, he told the Supreme Council at his first appearance in February. ‘But as rulers they were insupportable and a disgrace to civilisation, as was proved by their having exterminated over a million Armenians and 300,000 Greeks during the last four years.’ To show how reasonable he was being, he renounced any claims to the ancient Greek settlements at Pontus on the eastern end of the Black Sea. He would not listen to petitions from the Pontine Greeks, he assured [the American official] House’s assistant, Bonsal: ‘I have told them that I cannot claim the south shore of the Black Sea, as my hands are quite full with Thrace and Anatolia.’ There was a slight conflict with Italian claims, but he was confident the two countries could come to a friendly agreement. They had, in fact, already tried and it had been clear that neither was prepared to back down, especially on Smyrna.

 

     “The thriving port of Smyrna lay at the heart of Greek claims. It had been Greek in the great Hellenic past and in the nineteenth century had become predominantly Greek again as immigrants from the Greek mainland had flocked there to take advantage of the new railways which stretched into the hinterland and opportunities for trade and investment. The population was at least a quarter of a million before the war and more Greeks lived there than in Athens itself. They dominated the exports – from figs to opium to carpets – which coursed down from the Anatolian plateau in Asia Minor. Smyrna was a Greek city, a centre of Greek learning and nationalism – but it was also a crucial part of the Turkish economy.

 

     “When Venizelos reached out for Smyrna and its hinterland, he was going well beyond what could be justified in terms of self-determination. He was also putting Greece into a dangerous position. Taking the fertile valleys of western Asia Minor was perhaps necessary, as he argued, to protect the Greek colonies along the coast. From another perspective, though, it created a Greek province with a huge number of non-Greeks as well as a long line to defend against anyone who chose to attack from central Anatolia. His great rival General Metaxas, later dictator of Greece, warned of this repeatedly. ‘The Greek state is not today ready for the government and exploitation of so extensive a territory.’ Metaxas was right.”[17]

 

     The Italians and the Americans rejected the Greek claims on Smyrna; but the British and the French were sympathetic. The deadlock was resolved when the Italians walked out of the Peace Conference and landed troops on the coast of Western Asia Minor. This gave Lloyd George his chance to intervene on behalf of Venizelos. The Americans were won over, and the Greeks were told that they could land in Smyrna and “wherever there is a threat of trouble or massacre”.

 

     “The whole thing,” wrote Henry Wilson, the British military expert, “is mad and bad”...[18]

 

     Lord Curzon, the soon-to-be British Foreign Minister, was also worried, though he was far from being a Turkophile. As he said: “The presence of the Turks in Europe has been a source of unmitigated evil to everybody concerned. I am not aware of a single interest, Turkish or otherwise, that during nearly 500 years has benefited from that presence.”[19] “That the Turks should be deprived of Constantinople is, in my opinion, inevitable and desirable as the crowning evidence of their defeat in war, and I believe that it will be accepted with whatever wrathful reluctance by the Eastern world.” “But,” he went on, “when it is realized that the fugitives are to be kicked from pillar to post and that there is to be practically no Turkish Empire and probably no Caliphate at all, I believe that we shall be giving a most dangerous and most unnecessary stimulus to Moslem passions throughout the Eastern world and that sullen resentment may easily burst into savage frenzy”. And he called the landing in Smyrna “the greatest mistake that had been made in Paris”.[20]

 

     The landing took place on May 15, 1919. Unfortunately, it was handled badly, and some hundreds of Turkish civilians were killed. Although the Greeks arrested those responsible and did all they could to make amends, international opinion, stirred up by Turkish propaganda and the American representative in Constantinople, Admiral Bristol, began to turn against them, ignoring the mass slaughter of Greeks in Western Asia Minor, Pontus and the Caucasus. Then, on May 16, Kemal Ataturk slipped out of Constantinople on an Italian pass, and arrived in Samsun to organize the nationalist movement that eventually defeated the Greeks and created the modern state of Turkey. By the end of the year he had created a new Turkish capital in Ankara. Although, on May 20, the Allies had recognized the Sultan, and not Ataturk, as Turkey’s legitimate ruler, the Italians were already secretly negotiating with Ataturk, and the French were not slow to follow suit. Only the British – more precisely, Lloyd George – continued to support Venizelos.

 

     On June 14, Venizelos asked the Supreme Council to allow the Greeks to extend their occupation zone. However, the western powers said no. They were exhausted from more than four years of war, had already been demobilizing their armies around the globe, and with the defeat of the Whites in Russia, this process accelerated. The last thing they wanted was another full-scale war with the Turks. Besides, the Americans were concerned that their Standard Oil Company should have large concessions in Mesopotamia, which they believed Ataturk could give them, and the French wanted an intact Turkey in order to pay back her pre-war loans. The British toyed with the idea of supporting an independent Kurdistan in Ataturk’s rear, but by the spring of 1920 this plan had been dropped. Soon they also abandoned their protectorates in Georgia and Baku.

 

  &nbs

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