Orthodoxy and Islam: Theology and Muslim–Christian Relations in Modern Greece and Turkey

  • Book Title:
 Orthodoxy And Islam
  • Book Author:
Archimandrite Nikodemos Anagnostopoulos
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Muslims and Christians have been living in a challenging symbiotic co- existence for more than 14 centuries in many parts of South- eastern Europe and the Middle East (Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria). The relations of Christian and Muslim communities of each South- eastern European country are unique because of the diverse political, cultural, and socio- economic background of each nation, which however influence one another despite an often shared Ottoman background.

The present study investigates the relations between Muslim and Christian communities in the contemporary context of modern Greece and Turkey, which have received many political, governmental, cultural, geographical, and religious influences leading them to their present relational shapes.

 This work proposes that a distinct ecclesial development has taken place in the contemporary status of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Autocephalous Greek Orthodox Church in response to Muslim–Christian relations in modern Turkey and Greece, especially after the establishment of the Kingdom of Greece in 1832 and the Republic of Turkey in 1923.

In addition, the present study investigates the modern historical context of the States of Greece and Turkey especially as it relates to the minority question under the light of reciprocity and international treaties, conventions, and the Declaration of Human Rights.

 Greece, where the prevailing religion is Eastern Orthodoxy, accommodates within its borders an official recognised Muslim minority based in Western Thrace, as well as other Muslim populations located at major Greek urban centres and the islands of the Aegean Sea.

On the other hand, Turkey, where the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople is based, is a Muslim country, which accommodates within its borders an officially recognised Greek Orthodox minority, located principally in Istanbul, the Princes’ Islands (Tk. Büyükada, Heibeliada, Burkazada, Kınalıada), and the islands of Imbros (Tk. Gökçeada) and Tenedos (Tk. Bozcaada) at the Turkish coast of the Aegean. After an extensive analysis of the associated literature regarding the historical background and the development of the Orthodox Ecclesiology and the political theology of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Autocephalous Greek Orthodox Church in relation to the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, this study examines the regulations of this Treaty in relation to the issues of the Muslim and the Greek Orthodox minorities.

 Semi- structured interviews were used in order to gather information about the contemporary conditions of the Muslim and Christian communities in Western Thrace and Istanbul. The study recruited religious and political individuals who live in those two specific regions because of their thorough experience and familiarity with the relevant minority legislation and understanding of Islamic and Christian religious practices.

The collected data have been examined though a thematic analysis approach. The work concludes that religious practices and beliefs have an effect on the nature of the relationship that develops between Muslims and Christians in contemporary Turkey and Greece, as well as on the political and socio- cultural content developments alternations of minority religious groups. Finally, the present study proposes suggestions in order to over-come conflicts and difficulties that Muslim and Christian communities are still facing with the Turkish and Greek States in an official capacity, as well as with the prevailing religions of these two countries.

Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople


This chapter sets out the religious political environment and development of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, based on its important and historical role as a religious institution of the Eastern Orthodox Christian world, not only within the dynamic context of Turkey, where it has been based since its founda-tion in the fourth century, but also its significance to global Christianity in terms of the question of religious minorities in modern Turkish society.

This chapter also analyses the development of Eastern Orthodox theological thought and understanding in relation to religious freedom, Orthodox ecclesiology and Muslim–Christian relations, and brings to the forefront the obstacles that the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Greek Orthodox minority of Istanbul still face in Turkey.

 Finally, this chapter sheds light on the recent positive developments of the Turkish government towards the Greek Orthodox minority and the future of the Patriarchate, and identifies the necessity for further development in the light of full Turkish membership of the EU.

 Muslims and Christians live alongside each other in many parts of South- eastern Europe and the Middle East.1 For nearly five centuries between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Ottomans ruled a multi- ethnic empire; this diverse society, which consisted primarily of Muslims, Jews,2 and Christians, was the result of the creation of a society with a significant communal autonomy.

The diverse communities functioned and practised their religions in a manner that influenced one another and enriched their different cultures and customs. The society of the Ottoman Empire was an indicative paradigm of limited plurality with a certain degree of Islamic- determined toleration despite the fact that certain inequalities existed.

 The basic societal inequalities within the Ottoman Empire were associated with the principal doctrines and practices of the Ottoman rule, the millet system,3 and affected the inequalities of man and woman, master and slave, and, finally, believer and non- believer.4 Nevertheless, the most significant aspect of these societal inequalities was that between believer and non- believer, which created religiously conditioned dis-crimination against those who did not accept the truth through God’s revelation as constructed by the norms of the Islamic tradition.5 The Ottoman period…

3 The development of the Autocephalous Greek Orthodox Church


The origins of the Orthodox Church within the specific region of the Greek pen-insula since the apostolic period until the present day depict a significant and continuous political, ethnographic, religious, and cultural unity, albeit in a changing historical context.

 The Christian people of Achaia, as Greece was known during the apostolic era, formed an integrated community1 clustered around the city of Corinth, the capital of Achaia, and it was for this reason that the foundation of the administrative organisation of those Greek Bishoprics was placed under Paul the Apostle.2

This fact is demonstrated not only by the important political and geographical position of Greece within the Roman Empire, but additionally from the accounts of the visits of Paul to Greece in his Epistles to the Christian communities of Corinth, Thessalonica, and Philippi.

 In addition to the particular geographical position of Greece, the Greek culture, tradition, and the ethnic conscience experienced during the early Chris-tian centuries have shaped the ecclesial identity of the local Church of Greece, despite the challenging historical circumstances that have marked the Greek Orthodox population of this specific region of the Greek territories.

 In order to examine authoritatively the ecclesial development of the Church of Greece, scholars have divided its history into four major periods based on significant Church structural and functional changes: (1) the apostolic era (49/50–732/733); (2) the Byzantine period (732/733–1453); (3) the period of the Ottoman Empire (1453–1833); and (4) the modern period (1833) until the present day.3 Every historical period signifies particular developments of the Church of Greece as an ecclesiastical entity in relation to its pastoral, spiritual, and administrative functions.

It is important to mention that since the apostolic period, when Christian-ity was first proclaimed in Greece, until 1833, the Church of Greece was dependent initially on the Bishop of Rome,4 until the mid eighth century, and afterwards on the Church of Constantinople.5

The history of the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Greece is closely related to the Greek War of Independence (1821–1832); therefore the later period of the history of the Greek Church highlights its significance, based on the Church autocephaly issue, because the Greek Church has been established as…

Modern historical context of the States of Greece and Turkey as it relates to the minority question


The question of minorities1 among the post- Ottoman States has had a great influence on the specific foreign policies followed by each particular country and has without doubt deep roots in history. The co- existence of minority and majority religious groups therefore creates an environment of religious pluralism within society.

On the other hand, the religious identity of a particular State is actually a feature of national and international affairs in modern societies.2 A large amount of con-temporary research has been conducted by sociologists of religion, who have investigated the role that religion plays among immigrant groups in relation to the ways that these groups maintain group identity and solidarity.

Furthermore, the investigation of the connection between religion and ethnic identity has revealed the continuing significance of religion in preserving and understanding cultural and ethnic traditions.

 It should be noted that some immigrant religious communities place more emphasis on religious identity among their members than on their ethnic back-ground, whereas others stress their ethnic identity, relying primarily on religious foundations in order to preserve their culture, tradition, and ethnic customs and boundaries.3 This chapter examines the question of religious minorities as well as State religious identity in the context of modern Greece and Turkey.4

 Modern Greece is demographically a homogeneous country.5 Approximately 95 per cent of Greek citizens are defined as ethnic Greeks.6 This homogeneity of the Greek population7 is related to the common language and religion of the population, and is the result of two population exchanges8 and several wars that followed, in addition to particular domestic policies whose objectives were to establish a nation- state.

The official religion of the Greek State is that of the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ as defined by Article 3 of the Greek Consti-tution.9 The Muslim community of Western Thrace10 is the only official religious minority the Greek State recognises, and its minority status is defined and safe-guarded by Section III of the Treaty of Lausanne.11

 However, there are other smaller religious and linguistic communities, which complete the multicultural minority situation in the country. Legal literature classifies the minorities in Greece into two main groups: religious and linguistic. Among the religious communities the estimated population of Old Calendarists

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