on 30 August 2012
This book is less a comprehensive history of patriarchate of Constantinople under Ottoman rule than a series of studies on aspects of the relationship between the Orthodox patriarchate and its Ottoman rulers. Part I is a survey of the Eastern Orthodox church in general before the Ottoman conquest, including themes such as the monasteries, mysticism and the churches relations with philosophers and with the Western church. Part II has three main themes: how the patriarchate and its Greek followers adapted to an Ottoman sultan replacing a Christian emperor; how it related to other churches, including the Russian Orthodox Church, the Papacy and Protestant denominations, and how it developed its doctrine. The emphasis on relations with Protestant churches in the 16th and 17th centuries arises from Runciman's contributions to a conference on this subject.
Part II is the more interesting, as it deals with the patriarchate's attempts to preserve an Orthodox culture. Even though the Turks were generally tolerant, they were opposed to the expansion of Christianity, so the story is one of slow decline in the face of social and material temptations to convert to Islam. This decline was more rapid following the fight for Greek independence in the early 19th century onwards, when Orthodox Christians were regarded as potential traitors, and particularly after the rise of Turkish nationalism in the early 20th century
Runciman makes little claim to originality, but the value of this work is that it assembles the results of researchers in several languages into a single volume. It is generally well written and readable, although it does cover a rather specialised topic.
on 16 December 2014
One of the must-reads for any Byzantine History enthusiast, Runciman really outdoes himself in this book. After seeing Runciman's film 'Bridge to the East', this book was a natural purchase and one that I haven't regretted.
Covering everything from the way the Great Church was structured pre-15th Century, right up to the fall of the Great City and beyond, this book is also a great account of how the Church is still structured and governed to the present day.
Not only is Runciman easy to follow, but also his way of writing is second to none. It is as if he is your mdoern-day tour guide accompanying you on a journey through time - the once village known as Byzantium, the Great City of Constantinople and subsequently Ottoman-occupied Istanbul - have been home to The Patriarchate for a good 17 Centuries.
Runciman also makes clear the distinction between Greek and 'Rüm' (Roman) and gives a historical account as to why these expressions are in use today within the Great Church and the wider community in modern-day Istanbul.
An absolute classic by the most valued historian of that period.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 23 February 2008
Runciman is probably the ranking master of Eastern Orthodox history, and his insights shed light on all religious traditions of the world. As the Eastern churches passed under many political masters, Runciman traces how they adjusted and survived. Often they were treated as subject communities, under threat of collective punishments for any disobedience from groups or individuals in their midst. For example, under Ottoman rule Greek Orthodox Patriarch Gregory V felt constrained, both by his Turkish rulers and his own religious tradition, to condemn the rising movement for Greek national freedom. In his "Paternal Exhortation" of 1790, Gregory called Greek Christians to remember that God had placed them under the Ottoman Sultan. Therefore their cry for political freedom was "an enticement of the Devil and a murderous poison destined to push the people into disorder and destruction". Later, Patriarch Gregory threatened to excommunicate any local priests who aided or sheltered Greek freedom-fighters. No doubt the patriarch knew his own life depended on giving such orders, and on his church obeying them. The Ottoman rulers had already killed, enslaved, or exiled seven Orthodox patriarchs for failing to control their subordinates. And when Gregory failed to halt the movement for Greek independence, the Ottomans killed him too.
These accounts highlight the injustice of collective punishment as we still see it in the modern world. And the whole book gives tremendously valuable background on the whole cultural life of modern East Europe.
--author of Correcting Jesus: 2000 Years of Changing the Story