The beginnings of the modernization of the Greek-Orthodox Church and community in Jerusalem and Palestine, took place despite the reluctance of perhaps the majority of members of the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher. These measures were applied under the force of circumstances that existed in Jerusalem and Palestine since early 19th century and apparently following the recommendation of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem. The Brotherhood is the predominant institution in the Church and is composed exclusively of Greek ecclesiastics. From among its 278 members (as it stood at early 20th century) the Synod of the church is appointed. At the head of the Brotherhood stands the Patriarch, who in Synod, form the governing body both of the Brotherhood and of the church.
For reasons out of the context of this paper, the Patriarch resided for many generations, in Constantinople. As a result, the Brotherhood was left in control in Jerusalem, undisturbed. It was a closed and a conservative body which regarded that its primary duty was the guardianship of the Holy Places. Consequently, the Orthodox community that lived in Palestine and Jordan that fell under the spiritual and pastoral responsibility of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, was denied access to the Brotherhood and was neglected. This negligence manifested itself in the condition of the clergy, churches and in education. The Arab clergy were "unlettered and unpaid", wrote an authority and the churches outside the towns were in a state of disrepair and schools were not existent. Indeed a large section of community were village dwellers and were poor, while those who lived in towns (such as Jerusalem, Jaffa, Acre, Nablus or Gazza) were apparently of much better conditions. But the Brotherhood regarded the Community as a whole not an asset but a burden and neglected it.
At any rate, this attitude of the Brotherhood towards the community was hardened yet more by other reasons. First, there was no common language between them. The members of the Brotherhood, as mentioned, were all of Greek origin while the community, on the whole, was of Arab origin. And though they were both identified by their confession, according to the millet system and were called Roum, the Islamic term for Greeks, the emergence of the Greek national movement strengthened the awareness of the members of the Brotherhood of their national identity at the expense of their confessional identity and thus widened the gap and deepened the feeling of estrangement between them and the Arab community.
Secondly, the national differences were not the only cause of the negative attitude towards the community. Since early 19th century the Brotherhood fell into a huge debt. The churches and convents which were old buildings constantly needed repairs and restoration the cost of which fell upon it. In 1808 the Holy Sepulcher church was burnt and the Brotherhood took upon itself the act of its restoration and redecoration. For that reason they needed to borrow large sums of money for the cost of the rebuilding and for bringing engineers and materials (such as wood, marble and other materials) from outside Palestine. Moreover, according to Bazili, who served as Russian Consul first in Jaffa and then in Beirut and who himself was of Greek origin, the Brotherhood had to pay large amounts for licenses and other payments for influential people in Jerusalem, Damascus and Istanbul. By 1810 the restoration was completed. The reconstructed Holy Sepulcher Church attracted very many pilgrims which aroused the need to secure adequate accommodation for them. Thus, less than a decade after that, the Brotherhood started to built a large convent outside Bethlehem. But, due to the outbreak of the Greek Revolution in 1821, hardly any pilgrim from the Greek regions could have performed the pilgrimage for a whole decade. Consequently, by 1830 the debt of the Brotherhood swelled and was estimated at 30 million Kurush.
The repayment of this huge debt should be attributed to the great efforts of Patriarch Athanasius who served between 1827 and December 1844 and who resided in Constantinople. From there he organized the sending of emissaries to the "orthodox world" to collect contributions. Bazili speaks of about 150 offices that existed in the Orthodox countries to solicit and collect contributions. Most of these offices were in Russia. Moreover, many endowments and other possessions that belonged to the Patriarchate of Jerusalem were found in Moldavia and Walachia which yielded a yearly income of about 1.5 million kurush for the Brotherhood, and that in addition to property in Bessarabia and the income from the Pilgrims. In short before the mid 1840s, the Brotherhood managed to repay all its debt.
In fact the 1830s and early 40s witnessed the beginning of a new era in the history of Ottoman Palestine in which the interest of the Christian world in the holy places grew unprecedented since the middle ages. This growth of interest resulted in a steady increase in the number of pilgrims who performed the pilgrimage to the Christian holy places in Jerusalem and to sacred cites in other parts of Palestine. Several factors contributed to this growth. First, Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt who occupied and governed the country between 1831 and 1840, succeeded to impose law and order. Consequently, security was much improved and that in addition to the fact that he was especially tolerant towards the non-Muslims.
Secondly, the introduction of steam navigation into the Mediterranean Sea made the trip to Palestine faster, safer and cheaper. Moreover, by the orders of Ibrahim the impositions that were levied from pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem or from convents to certain dignitaries of the city were all cancelled. Consequently, the rise in the number of pilgrims including pilgrims from Greece, Russia and the other Orthodox countries, resulted in the increase of the income of the Brotherhood substantially. It entered a new phase of its history in which the old hard days were forgotten and a new era distinguished with prosperity started. However, this new phase brought new challenges to the Brotherhood unknown before which threatened to undermine its hold over the local Christian Arab community.
The Rise of Kyrillos II (1845-1872)
It was the Patriarch Kyrillos who had to tackle these challenges and to try to regain the confidence of the Arab community and to reinforce their allegiance to the Patriarchate. Kyrillos was a senior member of the Brotherhood and a Bishop of Lydda. Following the death of Patriarch Athanasius, the Brotherhood elected him as Patriarch in his place. Apparently, he was elected "with Russian help". Kyrillos was the first Patriarch in modern times who had been elected in Jerusalem instead of being nominated by his predecessor. He was also the first to shift his residence from Constantinople to Jerusalem and act independently of the Oecumenical patriarch. In other words his rise to the Patriarchate represented a new era in the history of this institution. Those who knew him described him as a fine gentleman "of great urbanity of manners, self possessed and dignified," or a man "of a very commanding character." In the view of Uspenski, the Russian clergyman in Jerusalem, Kyrillos was "the most impressive of the 19th century Patriarchs."
Whatever were his qualities the circumstances in which he functioned were difficult. Already before his election, the Greek-Orthodox church started to face the challenges of other denominations and of west European missionaries on two fronts: The first concerning the Holy places and the second, the Arab Christian community. In this talk our main concern is the community and the response of the Patriarchate under Kyrillos to the challenges that he faced in this matter.
The local Greek-Orthodox community (or the Roum-Orthodox) became at about the time of his rise an object of proselytizing by three different churches. By the Greek-Catholic (or Roum Catholic) church, by the Latin and by the Protestant missionaries. The most serious challenge came however from the Greek Catholic church though not in Jerusalem itself but in other parts of Palestine especially in the north. This church was a split from the Greek-Orthodox church of Antioch (Syria) in the early 18th century. Though it is a Uniate church (i.e. united with Rome) it preserved the oriental rites and above all its liturgy was/is all in Arabic and of course fully understandable by the laity. Moreover, its bishops and priests were/are Arabs and on the whole educated at the church seminaries and well trained. And though it emerged in Syria and Lebanon it started since the late 18th century to penetrate the Palestinian regions, first Acre and Galilee, a diocese which belonged to the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. This trend continued unabated in the 19th century so that very many followers of the Greek-Orthodox church shifted their allegiance to the new church. This situation seems to have aroused the concern of the Russian ecclesiastical mission to Palestine. It is perhaps not by chance that the first schools that this mission established were in Galilee and that their famous Seminary for male students was founded in Nazareth (1886).
Another threat not less serious were the Anglican missionaries who established their mission at Jerusalem in1841. Bishop Gobat (1846- 1879) geared his efforts primarily towards the oriental Christians [i.e. the Greek Orthodox], whom he regarded as "misled". He soon realized that schools were the best means to spread the Gospel and gain converts to the Anglican church. Thus starting from 1847 he first opened an elementary school for boys in Jerusalem. Few years later he established a higher boarding school on Mount Zion. Gobat's willingness to open schools reached Nablus and motivated some members of the Greek-Orthodox community there to call at him in Jerusalem and ask him to open a school for their community in their town. Thus within a short time, Bishop Gobat established Anglican schools in 14 different towns and villages in the country including one in Salt in Jordan. These schools were free of charge and even provided the children with free text books. These efforts of Gobat were boosted following the recognition by the Porte of the Protestants as a separate millet in1850.
Not only Kyrillos was appointed to the Seat of Jerusalem in 1845 and Gobat arrived to the city in 1846, a year later, the Papacy sent Joseph Valerga as Latin Patriarch to Jerusalem for the first time since the middle ages, with instructions to spread the Latin rite in the country. We can imagine then the fierce competition that existed between these three religious dignitaries and the object of their struggle was, who else but the Arab Greek Orthodox community.
Valerga came to Jerusalem not to administer an existing church but "to revive the Latin Patriarchate anew" a much harder duty than the other prelates. Like Bishop Gobat he also resorted to the means of opening schools to gain converts. Throughout a tenure that extended a quarter of a century he established a seminary to prepare teachers and recruit priests. Many catholic schools were established as well as a Latin community in eleven towns and villages came into being. He also encouraged the Catholic orders to establish hospitals and other philanthropic institutions. In his endeavour he enjoyed the protection of the French Consul in Jerusalem while the Anglican and the Greek Orthodox prelates- the British and the Russian Consuls respectively. Indeed, at the beginning of the 19th century almost all the Christian population of Palestine belonged to the Greek-Orthodox church, by mid-century this church was quickly loosing grounds to these new religious denominations.
Kyrillos as Modernizer
In the early 1840s the Russian Church sent a fact finding mission to Palestine headed by Archimandrite Porfiri Uzpenski. We are told that Uzpenski was shocked by the condition of the Patriarchate on both levels: the Greek hierarchy and the Arab community. He forged friendly relations with Kyrillos and advised him on the necessary measures that should be undertaken to face the aforementioned challenges. It should be emphasized however that during his tenure, the Patriarchate enjoyed much income both from its property in the Northern Orthodox countries and from the influx of pilgrims including by now, large numbers of Russians. Without this income he perhaps would not have been able to achieve much.
The acts of Kyrillos could be put under 4 headings.
- He worked to impose order into the Patriarchate by applying strict control over its income and expenses, which was a cause of much tension between him and many members of the Synod;
- Education was perhaps the most important field in which he showed great interest. Already in the last years of his predecessor, Athanasius, 7 schools were opened. But during the first decade of Kyrillos's tenure 25 lower elementary and elementary schools were opened in the towns and townships throughout the country and this trend continued. In these schools the children learned Arabic, Arithmetic, the Psalms, the Acts of the Apostles, etc. the Greek language was taught in upper elementary classes in the large towns. Generally speaking, these were small schools, one room in townships and two or more in the towns (Jerusalem, Jaffa, and Acre), depending on the number of pupils which varied between 10-15 and 40-50;
- Above all a Seminary was established in 1855 in the convent of the Cross, which, a little earlier, was bought from the Georgian Church. It was a boarding college and intended to prepare clergymen better qualified than the existed members of the Brotherhood and teachers and priests for the schools and churches of the community. The need for such a Seminary came up a year or so before the death of the Patriarch Athanasius, but during the time of Kyrillos its establishment became urgent, due, as we have seen, to the proselytizing activities of the other churches and the missionaries.
The founding of the Seminary was entrusted to a Greek theologian named Dionysios Kleopas who accepted the offer of Kyrillos after he was convinced by the latter's argument that "it was necessary to encounter the Protestant and Latin influence in the Holy City and that this school of theology would be a lighthouse for Orthodoxy". (It should be mentioned that a few years before a theological seminary was opened at Chalki in Constantinople by the oecumenical Patriarchate.) But Kleopas who was trained in Leipzig and Berlin soon clashed with conservative members of the Synod who regarded him as a dangerous innovator. He consequently resigned his office one year only after the opening of the Seminary, despite the efforts of Kyrillos to convince him to stay longer. For the next four years the Seminary was directed by Germanos Gregoras on loan from Chalki who did much to shape it as a college of high repute. However, due to the circumstances through which the Patriarchate passed in the 1870s the Seminary closed in 1876, opened 5 years later but closed again in 1888, it opened once more but in 1909 finally closed and never opened again;
- The Seminary accepted Greek and Orthodox Arab students primarily from Palestine but students from other orthodox communities could join. The condition of acceptance was the knowledge of Greek, Arithmetic, Geography, Biblical history and Arabic. The language of instruction was of course Greek but Arabic was taught as a subject. Within few years the Seminary grew up to six forms. Arab students studied up to the 4th form and the last two forms were left for Greek students only. The Arab students were destined to serve as school teachers and after their marriage they could be promoted to the rank of priests in the churches of the community. In this way Kyrillos hoped to change the older generation of Arab priests who were uneducated, by a new generation of educated priests capable of becoming spiritual leaders of their communities. The Greek students on the other hand, would, after graduation, serve the church and rise in the church hierarchy. Whatever the positive aspects of these measures the fact remained that higher ecclesiastical positions were kept exclusively for Greek clergymen and Arabs were deprived from rising in the church hierarchy. At any rate, it should be added that this seminary was the pride of the Patriarchate and was one of the highest institutions of learning in the country in the second half of the 19th century, along with Bishop Gobat's high school on Mt. Zion, and the Russian seminary established some thirty years later in Nazareth (est. in 1886). [The Latin seminary left at that stage far less impact than these three]
- Another measure of modernization was the establishment of a printing press in Jerusalem. At first, the Franciscans established their own press in 1847. Shortly afterwards Kyrillos established a press for the Patriarchate which was called the Holy Sepulcher Printing Press and it started functioning in 1852. It printed books in Greek and Arabic first textbooks for the schools then liturgical books for the churches, and thirdly books concerning the history of the church and the schism with Rome, etc.. When Louis Shaikho the editor of the Arabic Catholic monthly al-Mashriq [The Orient] which appeared in Beirut, visited it towards the end of the 19th century, he gave a list of 36 books in Arabic that were printed there until his visit, most of which were translations from the Greek. [This number was very small compared with the output of the Franciscan Press which printed between 1847 and 1888, 408 books the greater part of which were in Arabic].
- Like the foreign missions, Kyrillos cared also for philanthropic undertakings especially in the field of health care but on a much modest scale than they had done. First he employed in 1847 a Russian physician (Dr. Rafalovich) who treated patients in a clinic at the Greek convent in Jerusalem, where he also opened a pharmacy. His services and the dispensed medicine were free of charge. But towards the end of his tenure, Patriarch Kyrillos established a hospital inside Jaffa Gate in the old city. It had 40 beds and treated Greek, Arab, and Russian patients. It was opened in March 1871 a year and a half before his deposition. We do not know for how many years it functioned after him, but it does not seem for long;
- In addition to these measures of reform for which the Patriarch Kyrillos is deservedly well remembered, many churches in towns and villages were redecorated and renovated. However, in order to study in which towns and villages these churches were found and to evaluate the expenses, one needs to do research in the archives of the Patriarchate.
In addition to all this, the Patriarch Kyrillos served the church in another field and that was the large investment in property. We have stated above that since the early 1840s the Brotherhood enjoyed much income, derived both from its property in the Northern Orthodox countries (Russia and Romania in particular) and from the influx of pilgrims to the Holy places a matter which enabled him to implement his program of modernization. However, the surplus of this income was invested in buying property and real estate for the Patriarchate. Much of this property was bought in Jerusalem and was registered in the records of the shari'a court of Jerusalem which are available for researchers. After the introduction of the Tabu system (i.e. after 1869) they were registered in the Tabu records. Similarly those properties that were bought in other towns were registered in the same way.
The Deposition of Kyrillos
All our sources about the Patriarchate in the 19th century agree that Kyrillos contributed greatly for the modernization of the Orthodox church and community. But his relations with the Brotherhood and the Synod were marked with much tension. First of all the fact that he took up his residence in Jerusalem instead of Istanbul was not well accepted by the Brotherhood. Moreover, he ruled the Patriarchate in an autocratic manner which made his relations with the Synod very strain. And thirdly, his measures of modernization did not meet with enthusiastic support by many members of the Brotherhood. Indeed because these measures were initially recommended by the Russian Mission, many of them were uneasy about his good relations with this mission and with the Russian consulate.
But it seems that his good relations with the Russian mission were a matter of expediency. Much of the income of the Patriarchate came from Russia either by donations or due to the ever increasing number of pilgrims coming each year from there. But still most of the members of the Brotherhood were suspicious of the Russian intentions.
Finally matters reached into a crisis in 1872 as a result of the question of the Bulgarian church. After the establishment of an independent Bulgarian church in 1870, a convention of the Greek Patriarchs of Antioch (Damascus) Alexandria, Jerusalem and the Archbishop of Cyprus was convened by the Oecumenical patriarch in Constantinople to declare the Bulgarian church schismatic.
But Kyrillos disagreed with the other Patriarchs and refused to indorse their decision fearing that this would deprive the Patriarchate of Jerusalem from much of its income coming as mentioned from Russia. But his enemies accused him of sacrificing the interest of the Greek Church for the sake of appeasing Russia and for the sake of Russian interests.
Upon returning to Jerusalem in November 1872, Kyrillos encountered the animosity of the Brotherhood. Even before his arrival the members of the Brotherhood held a meeting and decided to indorse the decision of the convention and sent a telegram to Istanbul expressing their approval of its acts contrary to the position of Kyrillos. Finally, when Kyrillos refused to accept the dictate of the Synod the Synod decided to depose him [late Nov.1872].
On December 18 the Porte recognized the deposition of Kyrillos. On the same day the Mutessarrif [Governor General] Nazif Pasha sent him escorted by Police to Istanbul. Following that the Synod elected Prokopios, the Bishop of Gazza, as a new Patriarch in his Place. In response the Arab Orthodox population of Jerusalem rose up against the Synod and the Brotherhood and besieged the Greek convent for several days.
The Synod accused the Russian Consul of instigating these riots. At the end the Arab community sent a delegation to Istanbul to convince the Porte to restore Kyrillos but their pleadings on behalf of the deposed Patriarch were rejected and the mission failed. For half a century after that many orthodox Arabs who remembered Kyrillos regretted very much his deposition and humiliation.
The Patriarch Kyrillos II (1845-1872)
Modernization of the Greek-Orthodox
Church of Jerusalem
Prof. Butrus Abu-Manneh