The Græco-Russian Church is perhaps the most important element of the politico-religious complications in which Europe is at present involved. It is, moreover, not a fortuitous cause of these complications, but has been growing during centuries, until it has reached its present magnitude, though its action upon Turkey may have been prematurely brought into play by accidental circumstances. It comprehends within its pale about 50,000,000 of souls, whilst it exercises an immense influence upon 13,000,000 of Turkish, and a considerable one upon more than 3,000,000 of Austrian subjects, professing the tenets of that church, though governed by separate hierarchies. To this number must be added the population of the kingdom of Greece, amounting to about 1,000,000: so that the whole of the followers of the Eastern Church may be computed in round numbers at 66,000,000 or 67,000,000 of souls.
The Russian Church differs from other Greek churches, not in her tenets, but in her government. From the establishment of Christianity in Russia, towards the end of the tenth century, to the capture of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453, the Russian Church was governed by a metropolitan, consecrated by the Patriarch of Constantinople. After this event, the metropolitans were consecrated by the Russian bishops till 1588, when a patriarch of Russia was instituted by that of Constantinople, who had arrived at Moscow, in order to obtain pecuniary assistance for his church. The patriarch enjoyed considerable influence, which modified in some respects the despotic authority of the Czar. It was Peter the Great who abolished this dignity in 1702, after the death of the Patriarch Adrian, and declared himself the head of the Russian Church.
He introduced several regulations to restrict the power of the clergy, and to improve their education. It appears that the violent reforms by which that monarch tried to introduce the civilization of western Europe amongst his subjects, had produced an intellectual movement in their church, but which, not squaring with the views of the imperial reformer, was violently suppressed by him. Thus, in 1713, a physician called Demetrius Tveritinoff, and some other persons, began to attack the worship of images, and to explain the sacrament of communion in the same sense as has been done by Calvin.
These reformers were anathematised by the order of the Czar, and one of them was executed in 1714. Next year, 1715, a Russian priest, called Thomas, probably a disciple of the above-mentioned reformers, began publicly to inveigh against the worship of saints and other practices of his church, and went even so far as to break the images placed in the churches. He was burnt alive, and nothing more was heard afterwards of such reformers. The Russian clergy regained their influence under the reign of the Empress Elizabeth, 1742-62, a weak-minded, bigoted woman, who was continually making pilgrimages to the shrines of various Russian saints and miraculous images, displaying on those occasions such a splendour and such munificence to the objects of her devotion, that the finances of her state were injured by it. Elizabeth’s nephew and successor, Peter III., Duke of Holstein, who, for the sake of the throne, had passed from the Lutheran communion to the Greek Church, entertained the greatest contempt for his new religion. This half-crazy, unfortunate prince, instead of trying to reform the Russian Church by promoting a superior information amongst her clergy, offended the religious prejudices of his subjects by an open disregard of the ordinances of that church, and his projects of violent reforms. He not only did away with all the fasts at his court, but he wished to abolish them throughout all his empire, to remove the images and candles from the churches, and, finally, that the clergy should shave their beards and dress like the Lutheran pastors. He also confiscated the landed property of the church. Catherine II., who observed with the greatest diligence those religious rites which her husband treated with such contempt, and who greatly owed to this conduct her elevation to the throne, confirmed, however, the confiscation of the church estates, assigning salaries to the clergy and convents who had been supported by that property. She made use of the influence of the Græco-Russian Church for the promotion of her political schemes in Poland and in Turkey; yet, as her religious opinions were those of the school of Voltaire and Diderot, which believed that Christianity would soon cease to have any hold upon the human mind, she seems not to have been fully aware of that immense increase of power at home and influence abroad which a skilful action upon the religious feelings of the followers of that church may give to the Russian monarchs. This policy has been formed into a complete system by the present Emperor, and it was in consequence of it that several millions of the inhabitants of the ancient Polish provinces, who belonged to the Greek United Church, i.e., who had acknowledged the supremacy of the Pope by accepting the union concluded at Florence in 1438, were forced to give up that union, and to pass from the spiritual dominion of the Pope to that of the Czar. This wholesale conversion was necessarily accompanied with a good deal of persecution. Those clergymen who had refused to adopt the imperial ukase for their rule of conscience were banished to Siberia, and many other acts of oppression were committed on that occasion, but of which only the case of the nuns of Minsk has produced a sensation in western Europe. The same system of religious centralization has also been applied to the Protestant peasantry of the Baltic provinces, many of whom were seduced by various means to join the Russian Church; and this policy continues to be vigorously prosecuted in the same quarter, as may be seen by the following extract from the Berlin Gazette of Voss, reprinted in the Allgemeine Zeitung of the 12th March of this year, 1854:—
Emissaries travelling about the country succeeded by every kind of cunning, and by holding out prospects of gain and other advantages, to convert people from Lutheranism to the Greek Church. All the children, under seventeen years must follow the religion of their father as soon as he has entered the orthodox church. Whoever has received the anointment can no longer return to his former creed, and those who would try to persuade him to do it would be severely punished. It is even forbidden to the Protestant clergy to warn their congregations from going over to the Greek Church by drawing their attention to the difference which exists between the two religions. A great number of Greek churches have been built in the Baltic provinces, and already, in 1845, it was ordered that the converts to the Greek Church should be admitted into every town; that those peasants who would leave their places of residence in order to join a Greek congregation should be allowed by their landowners to do so; and, finally, that the landowners and Protestant clergymen who would oppose in any way the conversion to the Greek Church of their peasantry and congregations, should be visited with severe penalties. These penalties, directed against those who would attempt to induce any one, either by speeches or writings, to pass from the Greek Church to any other communion, have been specified in a new criminal code. They prescribe for certain cases of such a proselytism corporal chastisement, the knout, and transportation to Siberia. It is also well known that the Protestant missionaries, who had been labouring in various parts of the Russian empire for the conversion of Mahometans and heathens, have been prohibited from continuing their pious exertions. And yet, strange to say, there is a not uninfluential party in Prussia, which, pretending to be zealously Protestant, supports with all its might the politico-religious policy of Russia, and is as hostile to Protestant England as it is favourable to the power which is persecuting Protestantism in its dominions. On the other hand, it is curious to observe in this country some persons of that High Church party which affects to repudiate the name of Protestant, and with whom churchianity seems to have more weight than Christianity, showing an inclination to unite with the Græco-Russian Church; and I have seen a pamphlet, ascribed to a clergyman of the Scotch Episcopal Church, positively recommending such a union, and containing the formulary of a petition to be addressed by the Episcopalians of Great Britain to the most holy Synod of St Petersburg, praying for admission into the communion of its church. I would, however, observe to these exaggerated Anglo-catholics, who chiefly object to the ecclesiastical establishment of England on account of its being a State Church, that the Russian Church is still more so, and that the most holy synod which administers that church, though composed of prelates and other clergymen, can do nothing without the assent of its lay member, the imperial procurator, and that a colonel of hussars was lately intrusted with this important function. The Greek Church being opposed to Rome, some Protestants sought to conclude a union with her in the sixteenth century; and the Lutheran divines of Tubingen had for this purpose a correspondence with the Patriarch of Constantinople, between the years 1575 and 1581, but which did not lead to any result, as the Patriarch insisted upon their simply joining his church. The Protestants of Poland attempted in 1599 a union with the Greek Church of their country, and the delegates of both parties met for this purpose at Vilna; their object was, however, frustrated by the same cause which rendered nugatory the efforts that had been made by the divines of Tubingen for this purpose, the Greek Church insisting upon their entire submission to her authority. It is true that some learned ecclesiastics of the Græco-Russian Church are supposed to entertain Protestant opinions, but this is entirely personal, and has no influence whatever on the systematic policy of their Church, which hates Rome as a rival, but Protestantism as a revolutionary principle. One of the ablest and most zealous defenders of the Roman Catholic Church in our times, and whom a long residence in Russia had made thoroughly acquainted with her church, Count Joseph Demaistre, is of opinion that this church must finally give way to the influence of Protestantism; and I think that this might be really the case if the Russian Church enjoyed perfect liberty of discussion, which she is very far at present from possessing. I believe, however, that such a contingency is very possible with those Eastern churches that are not under the dominion of Russia, if they were once entirely liberated from Russian influence and brought into contact with Protestant learning. Such a revolution would be most dangerous, not only to the external influence of Russia, but even to her despotism at home, because a Protestant movement amongst the Greek churches of Turkey would sever every connection between them and Russia, and very likely extend to the last-named country. It is therefore most probable, as has been observed by the celebrated explorer of Nineveh, Layard, that the movement alluded to above, which has recently begun to spread amongst the Armenian churches of Turkey, was not without influence on the mission of Prince Menschikoff and its consequences.
I have said above that the mutual position of the Græco-Russian and Roman Catholic Churches towards one another is that of two rivals. The dogmatic difference between them turns upon some abstruse tenets, which are generally little understood by the great mass of their followers, whilst the essential ground of divergence, the real question at issue, is, whether the headship of the church is to be vested in the Pope, in the Patriarch of Constantinople, or in the Czar. The Pope has allowed that portion of the Greek Church which submitted to his supremacy at the council of Florence in 1438, to retain its ritual and discipline, with some insignificant modifications. The Roman Catholic Church considers the Græco-Russian one in about the same light as she is regarded herself by that of England. She acknowledges her to be a church, though a schismatic one, whose sacraments and ordination are valid, so that a Greek or Russian priest becomes, on signing the union of Florence, a clergyman of the Roman Catholic Church exactly as is the case in the Anglican Church with a Roman Catholic priest who renounces the pope. The Græco-Russian Church does not, however, return the compliment to the Roman Catholic one, any more than the Catholic does it to that of England; because a Roman Catholic priest who enters the Græco-Russian Church not only loses his sacerdotal character, just as is the case with an Anglican clergyman who goes over to the communion of Rome, but he must be even baptised anew, as is done with Christians of every denomination who join that church, whether Jews or Gentiles.
The system of reaction which the Roman Catholic Church has been pursuing for many years, with a consistency, perseverance, and zeal worthy of a better cause, and not without considerable success, has created just alarm in the minds of many friends of religious and civil liberty. This feeling is but too well warranted by the open hostility which the promoters of that reaction, having thrown away the mask of liberalism, are manifesting to the above-mentioned liberties. I shall, moreover, add, that the political complications in which Europe is now involved may be taken advantage of by the reactionary party in order to advance its schemes, whilst the public attention, particularly of this country, will be absorbed by the events of the present war; and therefore I think that all true Protestants should, instead of relaxing, increase their vigilance, in respect to the movements of the ecclesiastical reactionists. But the dangers which threaten from that quarter are, at least in this country, of a purely moral character, though they are doing much mischief in families, and may throw some obstruction into the legislative action of the government. They must therefore be combated with moral and intellectual means,—with spiritual, and not carnal weapons,—and they may be completely annihilated by a vigorous and skilful application of such means. The Pope of Rome, though claiming a spiritual authority over many countries, cannot maintain himself in his own temporal dominion without the assistance of foreign powers, and is obliged to court the favour of secular potentates, instead of commanding them, as had been done by his predecessors. The case is quite different with the Imperial Pope of Russia, who commands a million of bayonets, and whose authority is supported, not by canon, but by cannon law, and not by bulls, but by bullets. The material force which he has at his disposal is immensely strengthened by his spiritual authority over the ignorant masses of the Russian population, upon whose religious feelings he may act with great facility, because his orders to the clergy are as blindly obeyed as his commands to the army; and it is with the object of extending and consolidating this authority over all his subjects without exception that those measures of persecution and seduction against the Roman Catholics and Protestants, which I have mentioned above, have been adopted. The probable consequence of this religious centralization, and the condition of the church whose exclusive dominion it is sought to establish in Russia, have been sketched in the following graphic manner by an accomplished German writer, who, having resided many years in Russia, and being thoroughly acquainted with the language of that country, may be considered as one of the most competent judges on this subject:—
He who, with attentive ear and eye, travels through the wide empire of the Czar, surrounding three parts of the world with its snares, and then traces the sum of his contemplations, will tremble in thought at the destiny which the Colossus of nations has yet to fulfil. He who doubts of the impending fulfilment of this destiny knows not history, and knows not Russia.
However different in origin and interest the strangely mixed hordes may be which constitute this giant realm, there exists one mighty bond which holds them all together,—the Byzantine Church. Whoever remains out of it will soon be forced into it; and ere the coming century begins, all the inhabitants of Russia will be of one faith.
Already that great net, whose meshes the Neva and the Volga, the Don and the Dnieper, the Kyros and Araxes, form, inclose a preponderating Christian population, in whose midst the scattered Islamitish race, the descendants of the Golden Horde, are lost like drops in the ocean. What a marvellous disposition of things, that the Russian empire, whose governing principle is the diametrically opposite of the Christian law, should be the very one to make of Christianity the corner, the keystone of its might! And a no less marvellous disposition of things is it that the Czar, in whatever direction he stretches his far-grasping arms, should find Christian points of support whereon to knit the threads of fate for the followers of Islam, artfully scattered by him—that he should find Armenians at the foot of Ararat, and Georgians at the foot of Caucasus!
But of what kind is this Christianity, that masses together so many millions of human beings into one great whole, and uses them as moving springs to the manifestations of a power that will sooner or later give the old world a new transformation?
Follow me for a moment into the Russian motherland, and throw a flying glance at the religious state of things prevailing there.
See that poor soldier, who, tired and hungry from his long march, is just performing his sacred exercises, ere he takes his meal and seeks repose.
He draws a little image of the virgin from his pocket, spits on it, and wipes it with his coat sleeve: then he sets it down on the ground, kneels before it, and crosses himself, and kisses it in pious devotion.
Or enter with me on a Sunday one of the gloomy image-adorned Russian churches. If the dress of those present is not already sufficient to indicate their difference of station, you may readily distinguish them by the manner in which each person makes the sign of the cross. Consider first that man of rank, as he stands before a miracle-working image of a Kazanshian mother of God, bows slightly before it, and crosses himself notably. Translated into our vernacular the language of this personage’s face would run in something like the following strain:—I know that all this is a pious farce, but one must give no offence to the people, else all respect would be lost. Would the people continue to toil for us, if they were to lose their trust in the assurances we cause to be made to them of the joys of heaven?
Now look at that caftan-clad fat merchant, as, with crafty glance and confident step, he makes up to the priest to get his soul freed from the trafficking sins of the past week.
He knows the priest, and is sure that a good piece of money will meet with a good reception from him; that is why he goes so carelessly, in the consciousness of being able to settle in the lump the whole of his sinful account; and when the absolution is over, he takes his position in front of the miraculous image, and makes so prodigious a sign of the cross, that before this act all the remaining scruples of his soul must vanish away.
Consider, in fine, that poor countryman, who steals in humbly at the door, and gazes slyly round him in the incense-beclouded spaces. The pomp and the splendour are too much for the poor fellow.
God, he thinks, but what a gracious lord the Emperor is, that he causes such fine churches to be built for us poor devils! God bless the Emperor! And then he slips timidly up to some image where the golden ground and the dark colours form the most glaring contrast, and throws himself down before it, and crosses the floor with his forehead, so that his long hair falls right over his face, and thus he wearies himself with prostrations and enormous crossings, until he can do no more for exhaustion. For the poorer the man in Russia, the larger the cross he signs and wears.
This description of the religious state of the Russian people, given by a writer who is not very partial to their country, may be perhaps suspected of exaggeration, or considered as being too much of a caricature; I shall therefore give my readers the observations which have been made on the same subject by another German author, Baron Haxthausen, a great admirer of Russia, who travelled over that country in 1843, under the patronage of the Emperor, in order to study the state of its agriculture and industry, as well as the social condition of the working-classes.
A foreigner is struck, says the Baron, by the deep devotion and the strict observance of the ordinances and customs of the church shown by Russians of rank and superior education. I had already, at Moscow, an opportunity of seeing it. Prince T., a young, elegant Muscovite dandy, conducted me about the churches of the Kremlin, and almost in every one of them he knelt down before some particularly venerated object,—as the coffin of a saint, the image of a Madonna,—and touched the ground with his forehead, and devoutly kissed the object in question. I observed the same thing at Yaroslaf. Madame Bariatynski (the wife of the governor) and another lady conducted me about the churches of that city, and as soon as we entered one of them, both these ladies approached an image of the Virgin, fell down before it, without any regard to their dresses, touched with their foreheads the ground, and kissed the image, making signs of the cross; and these were ladies belonging to the highest society, and of the most refined manners. Madame Bariatynski had been a lady of the court, and the ornament of the first drawing-rooms of St Petersburg. Her mind is uncommonly cultivated, and she has a thorough knowledge of French and German literature; and, indeed, when we were walking to see these churches, along the banks of the Volga, she discussed, in an animated and ingenious manner, the matchless beauty of Goethe’s songs, and recited from memory his Fisherman. Even in the strictest Roman Catholic countries, as, for instance, Bavaria, Belgium, Rome, Munster, such public demonstrations of piety are not to be met, except in some exceedingly rare cases, with women, but never with men. The educated classes have in this respect separated from the lower ones. Even people who are very devout consider such excessive manifestations of piety as not quite decent, nay, though they dare not confess it, they are in some measure ashamed of them. In Russia the case is different. There are perhaps as many freethinkers, and even atheists, as in western Europe, but even they submit, at least in public, and when they are in their own country, unconditionally, and almost involuntarily, to the customs of their church. In this respect, no difference whatever may be observed between the highest and the commonest Russian; the unity of the national church and of the national worship predominates everywhere.
It is almost superfluous to observe that a church which has such a hold on the national mind of Russia must be a powerful engine in the hands of her Imperial Pope, whose political authority is thus immensely strengthened by the influence of religion. But I think it will be, perhaps, not uninteresting to my readers to compare this baptised idolatry of the modern Russians with that which had been practised by their unbaptised ancestors about a thousand years ago, and the following account of which is given by Ibn Foslan, an Arabian traveller of the tenth century, who saw Russian merchants in the country of the Bulgars, a Mahometan nation who lived on the banks of the Volga, and the ruins of whose capital may be seen not far from the town of Kazan:—
As soon as their (Russian) vessels arrive at the anchoring place, every one of them goes on shore, taking with him bread, meat, milk, onions, and intoxicating liquors, and repairs to a high wooden post, which has the likeness of a human face carved upon it, standing surrounded with small statues of a similar description, and some high ones erected behind it. He prostrates himself before this wooden figure, and says, O Lord, I have arrived from a distant country; I have brought with me so and so many girls, so and so many sable skins; and when he has enumerated all his merchandise, he lays before the idol the things which he has brought with him, and continues his prayer, saying, Here is a present which I have brought thee, and I wish thou wouldst send me a customer who has plenty of gold and silver, who will not bargain with me, but purchase all that I have to sell at my own price. When his commerce does not prosper, he brings new presents to the idol, and when he meets with some new difficulties he makes gifts also to the small statues, but when he is successful he offers oxen and sheep.
Kissing constitutes the principal part of the Russian worship of images and relics, and is most liberally bestowed on those objects of adoration, whilst I believe that the Roman Catholic Madonnas maintain a more dignified state, and do not allow such familiarities to their worshippers, unless on some particular occasions or to some privileged persons. The Emperor himself sets the example of this pious osculation, a striking instance of which occurred in the summer of last year, 1853, under circumstances which deserve a particular notice.
I have said above, that several millions of the followers of the Greek United Church had been forced by the present emperor to transfer their spiritual allegiance from the Pope to himself. Several of their churches contain miraculous images of the Virgin, of more or less repute, and which were obliged to share the fate of their worshippers, and to become schismatics as much as the latter. Their vested rights have not been, however, injured in any way by this revolution, because they continue to be worshipped, and to work miracles as they did before, or, what is the same thing, they are fully authorised to do so. The Russian government followed on this occasion its usual line of policy, which is to promote those who have joined it, forsaking their former party; and thus one of the most distinguished of these miracle-working converts, the Madonna of Pochayoff, a little town in Wolhynia, was transferred from her provincial station to Warsaw, and placed there in a newly built Russian cathedral, probably with the object of inducing the Roman Catholic inhabitants of that capital to imitate an example set to them in such a high quarter, and to acknowledge the spiritual authority of the Czar as much as they are obliged to submit to his temporal dominion. When the emperor was going last year to Olmutz, in order to persuade the Austrian court to support his policy in Turkey, he passed through Warsaw, and repairing, immediately after his arrival in that city, to the Russian cathedral, kissed the above-mentioned miraculous image of the Madonna of Pochayoff with such fervour that it produced quite a sensation upon all those who were present, and was noticed in the newspapers as a proof of the autocrat’s piety. Yet whether this Madonna, notwithstanding her outward conversion to the Græco-Russian Church, remains a Romanist at heart, or whether, for some other reason, she could or would not support the views of her imperial worshipper, the result of the Czar’s voyage to Olmutz proved that the caresses which he had bestowed upon the Madonna in question were love’s labours lost. It may be also observed, that the emperor himself seems not to have been quite sure of the effects of his pious addresses to the now schismatic Madonna of Pochayoff, because it is well known that this man, who, as I have said above, had torn from the spiritual authority of the Pope, by a violent persecution, many millions of souls, knelt during his visit to Olmutz, with all the marks of deep devotion, at a Roman Catholic high mass; whilst the Prince of Prussia, who was also present on that occasion, stood by without taking a hypocritical part in a worship which was contrary to his religion.
This image-kissing propensity of the Russians was the cause of a tragical event during the plague at Moscow in 1771. It usually happens during a public calamity that rumours of a wild and absurd nature are circulated amongst the ignorant part of the population, and it was thus that, when the pestilence was raging in the above-mentioned capital, a report was spread that an image of the Virgin, placed at the entrance of a church, had the power of preventing infection. Thousands of people repaired to the miraculous image, and endless processions were wending along the streets towards the same object of adoration, which was overloaded with rich offerings by its worshippers, and adorned with costly jewels. As was to be expected, this superstitious practice, instead of preventing the infection, powerfully contributed to its increase; because the kisses which the crowd lavishly bestowed on the miraculous image could not but propagate the disease. The Archbishop of Moscow, Ambrose, an enlightened prelate, in order to stop this mischief, removed the image from the place where it had been exposed into the interior of the church; but this wise measure produced a violent riot, and an infuriated mob rushed into the sanctuary and murdered the venerable old man at the foot of the altar, where he was officiating, dressed in his pontificals.
It is probably the same image of which Bodenstedt, whose account of the Russian Church I have quoted above, relates the following anecdote. After having spoken of the usurpations of Russia beyond the Caucasus, under pretence of protecting the Christian population of those parts, he says:—
The Russian policy, which conceals its grasping claws under the cloak of religion, may be not inaptly compared to a lady well known at Moscow, who, to the great edification of the bystanders, kissed the miraculous Madonna, situated close to the Kremlin, with so much fervour, that the most costly diamond of the jewels with which this image is covered remained in her mouth. And he adds, in a note, The thing was afterwards discovered, and the writer of this was himself present when this lady, the wife of a Russian general, was obliged publicly to crave the forgiveness of the image for this act of desecration. It is said that when this noble lady was judicially examined about this affair, she pleaded in her defence that having loved and worshipped the image in question devoutly during many years, she believed herself entitled to a little souvenir from the Madonna. The Russian lady of rank seems not to have been so ingenious as the Prussian soldier, whose story I have related. And it must be remarked that the Russian images expose their worshippers to the temptations of mammon much more than the Roman Catholic ones; because, whilst the latter are often valuable as objects of art, the former have usually silver or golden garments, often set with precious stones, which entirely cover the painting except the face, generally by no means a model of beauty. The gifts which the Russians bestow on their images are immense, and the most celebrated place for the accumulation of such treasures is the convent of Troitza, or Trinity, situated about fifty English miles from Moscow, and considered as a kind of national sanctuary of Russia. Baron Haxthausen, whom I have quoted on says that the value of sacred vases and ornaments accumulated in that place surpasses all that may be seen of this kind any where else, without even excepting Rome and Loretto; and he thinks that the quantity of pearls contained in those ornaments is perhaps greater than is to be found in the whole of Europe.
The grave of St Sergius, the founder of that convent in the fourteenth century, is adorned with gold and precious stones, and the silver canopy over it is said to weigh 1200 pounds. The most remarkable object contained in that convent is, however, the image of that saint which accompanied Peter the Great during all his campaigns, and on which are inscribed the names of all the battles and stormings of towns at which it had been present. I do not know whether this image had a part in other expeditions of the Russian army, but I have read this year in the newspapers that when a division of grenadiers was passing through Moscow, on their way to Turkey, the Archbishop of that capital addressed them, firing their zeal for the religious war in which they were going to take part, and after having blessed them with the image of St Sergius, the same to which I alluded above, gave it them as a companion of their expedition. The allied troops must therefore be prepared to encounter that bellicose saint somewhere on the Danube, unless he has been ordered to the shores of the Baltic for the defence of the capital. The custom of taking with them images considered as miraculous, during a campaign, was followed by the generals of the Greek empire on many occasions. Thus it is related by a Byzantine writer, that in 590 Philippicus, a general of the Emperor Mauritius, when going to engage the Persians in battle, took an image which was not made by the hands of man, and carried it about the ranks of his army, in order to purify his soldiers, and that he gained, after this ceremony, a complete victory. It must, however, be remarked that when Philippicus was replaced by another general, called Priscus, the latter, relying too much on the protection of the image which was not made by the hands of man, diminished the rations of the soldiers, and gave them other causes of offence; they revolted, and when Priscus, in order to subdue the riot, paraded the image in question, the mutineers threw stones at it. I don’t know exactly how this business ended, but it is said that the Greek generals usually liked to have an image of the kind alluded to, in order to appease their troops in cases of mutiny and discontent; and I believe that, considering the gross ignorance and superstition of the Russian soldiers, the image of St Sergius may do good service in similar cases, and for which these soldiers have but too many reasons. The Greek emperors also sometimes provided with miraculous images the ambassadors who were sent on important missions. I don’t know whether the Russian diplomacy, which has performed so many wonders, has ever had recourse to the assistance of such images, or to that of any supernatural agency.
The miraculous images of the Græco-Russian Church are generally considered as not made by the hands of man, whilst those of the Roman Catholic Church are usually believed to be painted by St Luke. The most celebrated Madonnas of Russia, as those of Kazan, Korennaya, Akhtyrka, &c., are believed to have dropt from heaven, in the same manner as the Diana of Ephesus, and other Greek idols of repute. They are called yavlenneeye icony, i.e., revealed images, and their number is considerable, though all of them do not enjoy an equal reputation for miraculous powers. The number of images of various descriptions is, I think, much greater in Russia than in any other country, and they are called by the common people, not images, icony, but gods, boghi; and many of their worshippers are so ignorant, that they take every kind of picture or engraving for the boghi, and devoutly cross themselves before them. A German officer of engineers, in the Russian service, related to the author that he had a Russian servant, a young lad of a very devout disposition, who pasted every engraving which he could lay hold on, upon the wall over his bed, in order to address his prayers to them. This officer once missed some plates, containing mathematical figures, which had dropt from a book of geometry, and he found afterwards that his pious servant, having picked them up, gave them a place in his pantheon. If this strange divinity had been found amongst the objects worshipped by that poor lad by some very profound foreign traveller, unacquainted with the Russian people, it is more than probable that he would have taken it for a mystical object of adoration, and written a learned dissertation to explain its emblematic sense.
Every household in Russia has its own little sanctuary, consisting of one or more images, ornamented according to the means of the owner, and placed in a corner opposite to the principal door. Every one who enters the room makes a sign of the cross, bowing to these penates, the place under whose shrine is considered as the seat of honour, reserved at meals for the father of the family, or the most respected guest.
The Russians are great exclusives in respect to their images, and every believer has at least one of them stuck on the wall near his sleeping place, for his especial use and comfort; whilst people who are continually moving about, as carriers, pedlars, soldiers, &c., have their pocket divinities with them; and the description of the devotional exercises of a Russian soldier, given on is by no means a caricature. This exclusiveness was much greater before the reforms introduced by the Patriarch Nicon in the seventeenth century than it is at present. Contemporary travellers relate that people brought into the churches their own images, trying to get for them on the walls of the church the place which they considered the best; and thus it often happened that these images, being placed opposite to the altar, people in praying to them turned their backs to the officiating priest, which generally produced great confusion, and disturbed the performance of divine service. There was a very great competition amongst those people in ornamenting their images as showily as possible; and as the sanctity of an image was increased, according to the opinion of those baptised idolaters, in proportion to the richness of its ornaments, it often happened that a poor man, who could not afford to trim up smartly his own image, addressed his prayers to that of his richer neighbour. Such an adoration, however, was considered as contraband; and when the lawful owner of the image caught one of those pious interlopers, he not only sharply rebuked him, but frequently gave him a sound thrashing, saying that he did not go to the expense of decorating his image that another should obtain its favours.
Scandalous scenes of this description have been abolished in the established church by the reforms of the Patriarch Nicon, alluded to above, but something very like it may still be witnessed in the churches of the Raskolniks, who have separated from the established church on account of those reforms. These people often bring their own images to the churches to pray before them, and it frequently happens amongst the boys who worship in this way, that some of them, perceiving that their neighbour has a finer image than their own, they steal it from him, substituting that which belongs to them. This produces quarrels and fighting amongst these boys, who reproach one another, saying, You So-and-so, you have stolen my fine image which cost my father two roubles, and left me this wretched one, which is not worth fifty copecs, i.e., half a rouble. These scenes would be ludicrous if they were not positively blasphemous, because these images are called on such occasions, as is always done, by the name of gods, boghi.
It has been observed by some travellers in Russia that the image-dealers of that country do not sell their wares, but, by a kind of legal fiction, exchange them for a certain sum, and that consequently they are disposed of at a fixed price. This is, however, not the case, and the image-dealers of Russia make no exception to the other merchants of that country, who generally ask for their goods the treble of their value, and a reasonable price can only be obtained by hard bargaining. Only consecrated images, i.e., those which have been sprinkled by a priest with holy water, cannot be, I think, made an object of traffic.
The orthodox Russians have no less veneration for fine churches than for splendidly adorned images, and the well-known German dramatic writer Kotzebue gives in the relation of his forced voyage to Siberia, under the Emperor Paul, a characteristic trait of this disposition. The titulary counsellor Shchekatikhin, who conducted him to the place of his exile, Kurghan, in the south of Siberia, showed a great reverence to all the churches which they passed by. Whenever they passed a fine church constructed of solid masonry, he doffed his cap and crossed himself most fervently, whilst he treated very cavalierly all those which were built of wood, making a hardly perceptible sign of the cross in their honour. This national propensity to treat respectfully the great and disdainfully the little, of which M. Shchekatikhin’s piety was such a characteristic exemplification, has been, in its application to churches, described by the great admirer of Russia, Baron Haxthausen, whose account of the devotional practices observed by the upper classes of that country I have given above, in the following manner:—
We saw, in most part of the villages on our road, fine new churches built of stone or brick; but in one of them, called Novaya, I saw for the first time an old wooden church, built of logs, and covered with boards and shingles, such as they generally had been every where in Russia. These wooden churches continually disappear, being replaced by those constructed of masonry. The Russian peasantry consider it a particular honour to have in their village a church of stone or brick. To leave a village with a church of stone in order to settle in a place which has but a wooden one, is considered as a degradation, and the inhabitants of the former would hardly intermarry with those of the latter. The villages which have only a wooden church, therefore, do all that they can in order to rise to an equal grade with those who have one of stone or brick. This shows how the pride of rank pervades the mind of the Russians in every form of life, and in every class of the population. In cases of this kind, no promotion but only a sum of money is required in order to obtain the desired rank. It may be purchased by constructing a church of stone or brick. Such a church costs ten, twenty, or thirty thousand silver roubles (six roubles equal to one pound); but nothing is more easy than to get this sum. A dozen of stout fellows disperse in various directions, to collect by begging the sum required for the construction of the projected church, which is done without any expense, as the collectors are hospitably received in every house. As soon as the necessary sum is obtained, the village petitions the government for a plan and for an architect, because the plan of every such church must be approved at St Petersburg. Thus, in a few years, a fine church is built, constructed in the modern style, and the rank of the village rises in its own and in its neighbours’ opinion.
Such things cannot be done in Western Europe, partly because an active religious feeling amongst the people disappears more and more, and partly on account of the great fluctuation of their ideas, and want of stability in their opinions. With the Russian it is quite otherwise. This nation has no political ideas: but two sentiments pervade its whole being—a common feeling of nationality, and a fervent attachment to the national church. Whenever these two feelings take hold of the Russian’s mind, he is ready willingly to sacrifice without a moment’s hesitation his life and property.
It is these two national feelings that the Emperor Nicholas is now trying to excite to the utmost pitch, and there can be little doubt that if he succeeds in his object there will be a hard struggle between barbarity and civilization, though the final triumph of the latter, to the advantage not only of the victors, but also of the vanquished, cannot be doubted for a moment. I must, however, return to Baron Haxthausen, who continues his account of the Russian village churches, saying,—
It must not be forgotten, in order to understand how such large collections for a church of some obscure village, and made for the most part amongst the peasants, are obtained, that giving is as much in the Russian character as taking. Nowhere property hangs upon such loose threads and changes hands with such rapidity as in Russia. To-day rich, to-morrow poor. People earn and squander away almost simultaneously; they cheat and are cheated; they steal with one hand, and give away with the other. The common Russian sets not his heart on any kind of property; he loses with perfect equanimity what he had just earned, in the hope of getting it again to-morrow.
The Russian is, moreover, naturally good-hearted, charitable, and liberal. A shopkeeper who had perhaps just cheated his neighbour of the value of 20 copecs, without feeling any qualms of conscience on the subject, will give one moment after it a rouble for the construction of a church in some village to which he is a perfect stranger.
Thus, what Cicero said of Catiline, Sui profusus alieni cupiens, is applicable, not only to individuals, but also to nations, whose actions are swayed by feeling without being regulated by principle. It is almost superfluous to observe that a nation thus disposed, and with whom superstitious practices have a greater weight than religious principles, may be easily precipitated into the most violent and dangerous courses, which to accomplish seems now to be the object of the Emperor of Russia.
The Græco-Russian Church has an immense number of relics of saints, to which all that Calvin has said of those of the Roman Catholic Church is applicable. I have given, in a note to his treatise on this subject, an account of St Anthony’s relics in Russia, as a counterpart to those which the same saint possesses in western Europe. There are, indeed, many relics to the exclusive possession of which both these churches lay an equal claim, each of them representing her own as the only genuine, and that of her rival as a spurious one. The most celebrated of these disputed relics is the holy coat of Treves, and that of Moscow. It is well known what a noise the former of these produced in 1844, when an immense number of pilgrims came to worship it; and it is pretended that it had been found by the Empress Helena, with the true cross, and presented by her to the town of Treves. The coat of Moscow was given as a present to the Czar by a Shah of Persia, and its genuineness was established by a Russian archbishop, who asserted that, when he passed through Georgia on his return from Jerusalem, he saw in a church of that country a golden box placed upon a column, and which, as it was told to him, contained the coat without a seam of our Lord. This statement was corroborated by an eastern monk, then at Moscow, who related that it was generally believed in Palestine, that when the soldiers cast lots for the possession of that coat, it fell to the part of one of them, who, being a native of Georgia, took it with him to his native land. These statements were sufficient to establish the authenticity of the relic, which consequently was licensed to work miracles and worked them.
The most celebrated collection of relics in Russia is found in the town of Kioff, on the Dnieper, and where the bodies of many hundreds of saints are deposited in a kind of crypt called Piechary, i.e., caverns. The chronicles relate that the digging of this sacred cavern was commenced in the eleventh century by two monks called Anthony and Theodosius, who had come from the Mount Athos, for their own and their disciples’ abode. It was gradually extended, but the living established themselves afterwards in a convent above ground, leaving to the dead the part under it. This statement is considered to be authentic, but the numerous bodies of the saints with which the long subterranean galleries of that cavern are filled, have never been satisfactorily accounted for. It is the opinion of many, that the nature of the soil is so dry, that, absorbing all the moisture, it keeps the dead bodies which are deposited there in a more or less perfect state of preservation; and it is said that an enlightened archbishop of Kioff proved it by a successful experiment, putting into that place the bodies of two women, who had been confined as prisoners in a nunnery for their many vices. Be it as it may, Kioff is the resort of an immense number of pilgrims, who arrive from all parts of Russia, to worship the bodies of the saints, and the riches accumulated by their pious donations at that place are only second to those of Troitza (p. 181).
The shrines of Jerusalem, which attract crowds of pilgrims from all parts of the Christian world, had been for a long time a subject of dispute between the Latins and the Greeks, and it is well known that the politico-religious complications in which Europe is at present involved have arisen from the claims of Russia relating to those shrines. It will, therefore, I think, be not uninteresting to my readers to see the devout manner in which these shrines are worshipped by the pilgrims of the Græco-Russian Church; and I subjoin the two following accounts of this subject, written at an interval of a century and a half, in order that my readers may be able to judge for themselves whether the progress of civilization during this period has had much influence on the pilgrims alluded to above.
The first of these accounts is an extract from the diary of an English clergyman, the Rev. Henry Maundrell, a Fellow of Exeter College, Oxford, and chaplain to the English factory at Aleppo, who visited Jerusalem in the year 1697:—
Saturday, April 3d.—We went about mid-day to see the function of the holy fire. This is a ceremony kept by the Greeks and Armenians, upon a persuasion that every Easter Eve there is a miraculous flame descends from heaven into the Holy Sepulchre, and kindles all the lamps and candles there, as the sacrifice was burnt at the prayer of Elijah.—(1 Kings 18.)
Coming to the church of the Holy Sepulchre, we found it crowded with a numerous and distracted mob, making a hideous clamour, very unfit for that sacred place, and better becoming bacchanals than Christians. Getting, with some struggle, through this crowd, we went up into the gallery, on that side of the church next the Latin convent, whence we could discern all that passed in this religious frenzy.
They began their disorders by running round the Holy Sepulchre with all their might and swiftness, crying out as they went, Huia! which signifies This is he, or, This is it, an expression by which they assert the verity of the Christian religion. After they had by their vertiginous circulations and clamours turned their heads, and inflamed their madness, they began to act the most antic tricks and postures, in a thousand shapes of distraction. Sometimes they dragged one another along the floor, all around the sepulchre; sometimes they set one man upright on another’s shoulders, and in this posture marched round; sometimes they turned men with their heels upwards, and hurried them about in such an indecent manner as to expose their nudities; sometimes they tumbled round the sepulchre, after the manner of tumblers on the stage. In a word, nothing can be imagined more rude or extravagant than what was acted upon this occasion.
In this tumultuous frantic humour they continued from twelve to four of the clock, the reason of which delay was because of a suit that was then in debate before the cadi betwixt the Greeks and Armenians, the former endeavouring to exclude the latter from having any share in this miracle. Both parties having expended (as I was informed) five thousand dollars between them in this foolish controversy, the cadi at last gave sentence that they should enter the Holy Sepulchre together, as had been usual at former times. Sentence being thus given, at four of the clock both nations went on with their ceremony. The Greeks first set out in a procession round the Holy Sepulchre, and immediately at their heels followed the Armenians. In this order they compassed the Holy Sepulchre thrice, having produced all their gallantry of standards, streamers, crucifixes, and embroidered habits on this occasion.
Toward the end of this procession, there was a pigeon came fluttering into the cupola over the sepulchre, at the sight of which there was a greater shout and clamour than before. This bird, the Latins told us, was purposely let fly by the Greeks to deceive the people into an opinion that it was a visible descent of the Holy Ghost.
The procession being over, the suffragan of the Greek patriarch (he being himself at Constantinople), and the principal Armenian bishop, approached to the door of the sepulchre, and cutting the string with which it was fastened and sealed, entered in, shutting the door after them, all the candles and lamps within having been before extinguished in the presence of the Turks and other witnesses. The exclamations were doubled as the miracle drew nearer its accomplishment, and the people pressed with such vehemence towards the door of the Sepulchre, that it was not in the power of the Turks set to guard it with the severest checks to keep them off. The cause of their pressing in this manner is the great desire they have to light their candles at the holy flame, as soon as it is first brought out of the Sepulchre, it being esteemed the most sacred and pure, as coming immediately from heaven.
The two miracle-mongers had not been above a minute in the Holy Sepulchre when the glimmering of the holy fire was seen, or imagined to appear, through some chinks of the door, and certainly Bedlam itself never saw such an unruly transport as was produced in the mob at this sight. Immediately after came out the two priests, with blazing torches in their hands, which they held up at the door of the Sepulchre, while the people thronged about with inexpressible ardour, every one striving to obtain a part of the first and purest flame. The Turks in the meantime, with huge clubs, laid on them without mercy; but all this could not repel them, the excess of their transport making them insensible of pain. Those that got the fire applied it immediately to their beards, faces, and bosoms, pretending that it would not burn like an earthly flame; but I plainly saw none of them could endure this experiment long enough to make good that pretension.
So many hands being employed, you may be sure it could not be long before innumerable tapers were lighted. The whole church, galleries and every place, seemed instantly to be in a flame, and with this illumination the ceremony ended.
It must be owned that those two within the sepulchre performed their part with great quickness and dexterity; but the behaviour of the rabble without very much discredited the miracle. The Latins take a great deal of pains to expose this ceremony as a most shameful imposture, and a scandal to the Christian religion, perhaps out of envy that others should be masters of so gainful a business; but the Greeks and Armenians pin their faith upon it, and make their pilgrimages chiefly upon this motive; and it is the deplorable unhappiness of their priests, that having acted the cheat so long already, they are forced now to stand to it, for fear of endangering the apostasy of their people.
Going out of the church after the event was over, we saw several people gathered about the stone of unction, who, having got a good store of candles lighted with the holy fire, were employed in daubing pieces of linen with the wicks of them and the melting wax, which pieces of linen were designed for winding sheets; and it is the opinion of these poor people that if they can but have the happiness to be buried in a shroud smutted with this celestial fire, it will certainly secure them from the flames of hell.—(P. 127, et seq., eighth edition, 1810.)
Many people may, however, believe that scenes of such an outrageous description as that witnessed by Maundrell might have happened in his time, viz., 1697, but that their repetition is quite impossible in our own enlightened age. The following account of the same scenes by Mr Calman, whose veracity is attested by a high authority, and who had an opportunity of seeing it only a few years ago, which has been reproduced in a little, and now particularly interesting book, The Shrines of the Holy Land, may enable my readers to judge of the influence which the boasted march of intellect has produced on the Græco-Russian pilgrims, who assemble every Easter at Jerusalem.
To notice all that was passing, says Mr Calman, within the church of the Holy Sepulchre during the space of twenty-four hours, would be next to impossible, because it was one continuation of shameless madness and rioting, which would have been a disgrace to Greenwich and Smithfield. Only suppose for a moment the mighty edifice crowded to excess with fanatic pilgrims of all the Eastern Churches, who, instead of lifting pure hands to God, without wrath and quarrelling, are led, by the petty jealousy about precedency which they should maintain in the order of their processions, into tumults and fighting, which can only be quelled by the scourge and whip of the followers of the false prophet.
Suppose, farther, those thousands of devotees running from one extreme to the other, from the extreme of savage irritation to that of savage enjoyment, of mutual revellings and feastings, like Israel of old, who, when they made the golden calf, were eating and drinking, and rising to play. Suppose troops of men stripped half naked, to facilitate their actions, running, trotting, jumping, galloping to and fro, the breadth and length of the church, walking on their hands with their feet aloft in the air, mounting on one another’s shoulders, some in a riding and some in a standing position, and by the slightest push are all sent to the ground in one confused heap, which made one fear for their safety.
Suppose, farther, many of the pilgrims dressed in fur caps, like the Polish Jews, whom they feigned to represent, and whom the mob met with all manner of insult, hurrying them through the church as criminals who had been condemned, amid loud execrations and shouts of laughter, which indicated that Israel is still a derision amongst these heathens, by whom they are still counted as sheep for the slaughter.
About two o’clock on Saturday afternoon, the preparations for the miraculous fire commenced. The multitude, who had been hitherto in a state of frenzy and madness, became a little more quiet, but it proved a quiet that precedes a thunderstorm. Bishops and priests, in full canonicals, then issued forth from their respective quarters, with flags and banners, crucifixes and crosses, lighted candles and smoking censers, to join or rather to lead a procession, which moved thrice round the church, invoking every picture, altar, and relic in their way to aid them in obtaining the miraculous fire.
The procession then returned to the place from whence it started, and two grey-headed bishops, the one of the Greek and the other of the Armenian Church, were hurled by the soldiers through the crowd, into the apartment which communicated with that of the Holy Sepulchre, where they locked themselves in; there the marvellous fire was to make its first appearance, and from thence issue through the small circular windows and the door, for the use of the multitude. The eyes of all—men, women, and children—were now directed towards the Holy Sepulchre with an anxious expression, awaiting the issue of their expectation. The mixed multitude, each in his or her own language, were pouring forth their clamorous prayers to the Virgin and the saints to intercede for them on behalf of the object for which they were assembled, and the same were tenfold increased by the fanatic gestures and the waving of the garments by the priests of their respective communions, who were interested in the holy fire, and who were watching by the above-mentioned door and circular windows, with torches in their hands, ready to receive the virgin flame of the heavenly fire, and carry it to their flocks.
In about twenty minutes from the time the bishops locked themselves in the apartment of the Holy Sepulchre, the miraculous fire made its appearance through the door and the two small windows, as expected. The priests were the first who lighted their torches, and they set out on a gallop in the direction of their lay brethren; but some of these errandless and profitless messengers had the misfortune to be knocked down by the crowd, and had their firebrands wrested out of their hands, but some were more fortunate, and safely reached their destination, around whom the people flocked like bees, to have their candles lighted. Others, however, were not satisfied at having the holy fire second hand, but rushed furiously towards the Holy Sepulchre, regardless of their own safety, and that of those who obstructed their way, though it has frequently happened that persons have been trampled to death on such occasions.
Those who were in the galleries let down their candles by cords, and drew them up when they had succeeded in their purpose. In a few minutes thousands of flames were ascending, the smoke and the heat of which rendered the church like the bottomless pit. To satisfy themselves, as well as to convince the Latins, the pilgrims, women as well as men, shamefully exposed their bare bosoms to the action of the flame of their lighted candles, to make their adversaries believe the miraculous fire differs from an ordinary one in being perfectly harmless.
The two bishops, who a little while before locked themselves in the apartment of the Holy Sepulchre, now sallied forth out of it. When the whole multitude had their candles lighted, the bishops were caught by the crowd, lifted upon their shoulders, and carried to their chapels, amidst loud and triumphant acclamations. They soon, however, reappeared at the head of a similar procession to the one before, as a pretended thank-offering to the Almighty for the miraculous fire vouchsafed.—(P. 121, et seq.)
It appears, by comparing these two narratives of one and the same thing, though separated by a distance of a hundred and fifty years, that the only difference which will be found between them is, that in the time of Maundrell, 1697, the miraculous fire was produced in about one minute’s time, whilst the performance of the same trick required twenty when it was observed by Mr Calman. And, indeed, it has been justly observed by both these writers, that the exhibitors of the miraculous fire, having continued so long to practise this imposture, cannot leave it off without ruining their authority and influence over those whom they have thus been cheating for many centuries. This circumstance has been most pointedly expressed by the author of the work from which I have extracted Mr Calman’s description of this pious, or rather impious, fraud, and who says:—
Had it been an occasional miracle, as time had rolled on, and truth had more and more illuminated the human mind, the practice might have been gradually discontinued. As the priests had grown more honest, and the people more enlightened, they might have mutually consigned these pious frauds to the oblivion of the darker ages; and if the blush of shame had risen up at the memories of the past, the world would have respected them the more for their honesty of purpose.
But an annual miracle, always of the same specific kind, exhibited on the same spot, and at the same hour,—an annual miracle,—at what point of time should this be discontinued? and, if discontinued, would it not be manifest either that heaven had forsaken its favourites, or that all the past had been delusion and imposture?—(Pp. 127, 128.)
And it is the authority of a church supported by such impious and shameful impostures as this miraculous fire that a number of Anglicans, including several dignitaries of the church, are anxious of preserving against Protestant encroachments, and protest against the existence of the Protestant bishopric of Jerusalem, for fear that it might injure the faith of the pilgrims, and put an end to such sacred juggleries as the one described above, which outrivals the most superstitious practices of ancient or modern Paganism! And it is for the predominance of this same church that the autocrat of Russia has now plunged Europe into a war which may prove one of the bloodiest that modern times have witnessed, and proclaimed a Græco-Russian crusade against the Ottoman Porte and its Christian allies! This last-named circumstance may, I think, render it not uninteresting to my readers to know the manner in which this question is viewed by Russians of elevated rank and superior education. I would therefore recommend to their attention a little pamphlet recently published in English by an accomplished Russian, who had studied at the University of Edinburgh, and had enjoyed friendly intercourse with the most eminent characters of that learned body, leaving with all those who had known him a most favourable impression of his personal character and talents. His opinions, therefore, are not those of an ignorant fanatic, or a hireling of the Government, but must be considered as an expression of those entertained by the upper classes of Russian society. He compares in this pamphlet the position of Russia towards the followers of the Eastern Church in Turkey, to that of England towards the Protestants of other countries, saying:—
You translate the Bible into all living languages, not excluding the Turkish idiom, and you distribute the holy volumes to the shopkeeper of Constantinople, and to the shepherd who tends his camels amidst the ruins of Ephesus. We are not as laborious propagators of the faith; but yet we would fain intercede in favour of the Turk when your copy of the Bible has converted him to the Christian faith, and who, by the law of the land, must have his head cut off for this transgression. Mark that the obligation is much more binding on us than it is on you, and not the less binding from the job having been begun by yourselves. The Turks are spread amongst the Greeks and surrounded by them. There are ten thousand chances to one, that if the Moslem be converted at all, it is to that creed of which the church stands in his immediate eye, and that creed is ours. But, strange to say, it is because of that very chance that we are to be prohibited from meddling in the matter. With the French and with the English the case is far different. They, indeed, we are told, claim the right of protection only over thousands; but you claim that same right over millions, and, therefore, you shall not have it. The question you may, however, say, is not fairly put, for should a Turk be converted, and on the point of losing his head, we are ready to interpose with our authority, even though it be to the Greek Church that he should have turned. Well! but place yourselves for a moment in our situation. Are we to leave to you the work which has been done in our vineyard, and not stand up for those who have embraced the cross, merely because there are millions in that realm who embrace it? The case stands equally the same with regard to the far greater number of human beings who are born and have grown up in the profession of our faith. Without attempting to prove that they are exposed to constant cruelty and oppression, a fact which has been strenuously denied without the denial having ever been proved, it is abundantly known, and an indisputable fact, that the Greeks are in a state of continual bondage, deprived of the dearest rights of men, condemned, in a religious point of view, to a state of thraldom such as exists in no other part of the world, inasmuch as the supreme head of their church is installed in his dignity, maintained in the same, or deposed by a sovereign professing a faith hostile to his own. Is such a state of things to be tolerated by those who are its victims? and is not this in itself a hardship greater than any other that can be imagined? The English have given us, in a period, it is true, of greater zeal for their faith, an example of active sympathy manifested by them towards their brothers in belief, subjects of a neighbouring and powerful sovereign. The case was not as urgent as the one to which I compare it, inasmuch as the Huguenots of France were not the subjects of a Mussulman sovereign. But this, perhaps, will be brought home as an argument against me, for such is the hatred of sects proceeding from the same faith, that England would, perhaps, have borne more meekly the hardships endured by the Calvinistic brethren, if they had been subjected thereunto by a Soliman, and not by him who styled himself the most Christian king of France. However this may be, it is said at present that, whether oppressed or no, the Greeks never solicited our intervention. To this it may be answered, that the whole difficulty would have been solved by the very fact of the solicitation, for had they had the courage and the means to send a similar and unanimous message to the Emperor of Russia, they would have had the strength and unanimity required themselves to strike the blow, and make all intervention useless. The fact of their having not risen as a man in their own cause, is a sufficient explanation for their want of boldness in soliciting their deliverance at the hands of a foreign state. But laying aside the question of the subjects of the Ottoman empire professing the Greek faith, to speak of the much more vital interest of the faith itself, professed as it is by ourselves, let it be permitted to me to submit to your candid decision, if the work of defending that faith does not belong pre-eminently to us, and neither to the English nor the French. We tolerate in the whole extent of our empire both the Roman Catholic and the Lutheran communions of faith; we have millions of subjects professing both creeds; we build churches for them. Long before the Roman Catholics were emancipated in England, the posts of the highest honour, of the greatest confidence, and of the largest perquisites in the army, the senate, and the supreme council of the empire, were opened indiscriminately by us to men professing the Greek, Roman, or Lutheran creeds. Is it because of our tolerance with respect to sects not our own, that we are condemned to be indifferent to the hardships of those of our own faith? Are we not only to allow your church to stand unmolested within our own realm, but also to allow our own church to fall in ruins within the limits of a neighbouring state? If so, you condemn our toleration, you call it indifference and disbelief.—(P. 9, et seq.)
It is perfectly true that there are in Russia several millions of Protestants and Roman Catholics, and that many of the highest offices, civil as well as military, are occupied by them; for it is well known that the most efficient servants of the Russian government are chiefly foreigners, either by birth or extraction. This tolerance, however, is always getting more and more restricted; and I have alluded above to the persecution of the Greeks united with Rome, as well as the systematical proselytism by force and fraud amongst the Protestants of the Baltic provinces. The author says that a Mahometan who becomes a convert to Christianity must lose his head by the laws of Turkey, but he does not tell us what fate awaits a follower of the Greek Church in Russia who would become a Roman Catholic or a Protestant. M. de Custine relates, in his well-known work on Russia, that a Russian gentleman, who enjoyed a high social position at Moscow, published a work, which the censor allowed in an unaccountable manner to pass, maintaining that the influence of the Roman Catholic Church is much more favourable to the progress of civilization than that of the Græco-Russian one, and that the social condition of Russia would have been much more advanced by the former than it has been by the latter. This work produced a great sensation, and the punishment of the author of such a blasphemy was loudly demanded by the orthodox Russians. This affair being submitted to the Emperor, he declared that the author was insane, and ordered to treat him accordingly. The unfortunate individual consequently was put into a madhouse, and though perfectly sane, was subjected to the most rigorous treatment as a lunatic, so that he nearly became in reality what he was officially declared to be, and it was only after several years of this moral and physical torture that he was permitted to have a little more liberty, though still retained in confinement.
I do not know what has become of this unfortunate man, but the truth of this nameless act of tyranny has been fully admitted by Mr Gretsch, who wrote, by the order of the Russian Government, an answer to the work of Custine. He says that the individual in question, a Mr Chadayeff, having committed an action which the laws of Russia punish with great severity, the Emperor Nicholas, desiring to save the culprit from the penalty which he had incurred, ordered, by an act of mercy, to treat him simply as a madman.
Now, I think that the penalty of physical death, inflicted by the Turkish law on the converts from Mahometanism to Christianity, may be considered as humane, if compared to the murder of soul and intellect by the slow process of a moral and physical torture, to which a man has been subjected in Russia for his religious opinions; and if such an atrocious punishment was inflicted by an act of imperial mercy, as a mitigation of the severity of the law, what would it have been if the letter of that law had been fulfilled? Ferrea jura, insanumque forum.
If, according to the opinion of the Russian writer, his countrymen have a right of interfering in behalf of the followers of their church in Turkey, on account of the community of their faith, the same right is possessed by Great Britain and other Protestant States, as well as by France and other Roman Catholic powers, to interfere in behalf of their brethren in the faith who are oppressed by Russia. With regard to the observation of the same author, that the Greeks are in a continual state of bondage, deprived of the dearest rights of men, condemned, in a religious point of view, to a state of thraldom such as exists in no other part of the world, inasmuch as the supreme head of their church is installed in his dignity, maintained in the same, or deposed, by a sovereign professing a faith hostile to his own, I must remark that he has forgotten, in saying that such a state of thraldom exists not in any other part of the world, to add, except in Russia, because all the Roman Catholic bishops and other dignitaries of their church, as well as the Protestant superintendents, presidents of consistories, &c., are installed in their dignity, maintained in the same, or deposed, by a sovereign professing a faith hostile to their own. And his question, Is such a state of things to be tolerated by its victims? and is it not in itself a hardship greater than any other that can be imagined? is as much applicable to the Protestants and Roman Catholics of Russia as it is to the Christians of Turkey.
The Russian, Quondam Civis Bibliothecæ Edinensis, carries his zeal for the orthodox Greek Church so far as to recommend its adoption to the English:—
Do you not see every day, in your own country, the encroaching action of the See of Rome? And here I cannot refrain from exclaiming, how strange it is to see every day converts in crowds passing from the Protestant to the Roman faith, and not pausing for a moment to reflect if they have not a smaller space to cross, and a safer haven to come to in the bosom of the Græco-Catholic Church, the same as that of Rome, minus the anti-apostolic double procession of the Holy Ghost, minus an infallible pope, minus the sale of indulgences, and last, though not least, minus the arbitrary exclusion of the blood of Christ from the holy communion given to laymen! Is it not strange, that on the moment of abjuring your reformations, you should fly into the arms of a church which has introduced reformations of its own, and not appeal to that one church which professes with evident truth to have admitted no changes at all, and kept intact the purity of her tradition? But, again, this is no theological disquisition. Witnessing, however, as I said above, in your own kingdom, the daily increasing influence of the Roman See, you can surely understand how legitimately jealous we must be of the same influence extending within the precincts of our sheepfold. And, therefore, not only is our faith to be preserved unmolested, but the saving deed is to be done by us, and not through the agency of English and French ambassadors or fleets, to be achieved in the name of the faith we profess in common with our Greek brethren, and by no means stipulated in the name of universal freedom of thought. I think I have said enough to prove the vital and cordial interest which Russia cannot but take in the cause of her own church, and of those who profess it in Turkey, and the paramount necessity she is under of making that cause her own.—(P. 12, et seq.)
If the Russian author is so anxious to convert the British Protestants to the Græco-Russian, or, as he calls her, Græco-Catholic Church, he may translate her controversial works into English, and build places of worship where image-kissing, prostration, incense, and holy water, may be exhibited for the edification of the British heretics, ad libitum. Nobody will interfere with their ceremonies, not even with their preachings against Protestantism, because its disciples in Great Britain are satisfied with defending their religion by spiritual weapons, and do not resort to material arms, except in repressing either public or private acts of violence. As regards the dogmatic pre-eminence of his church over that of Rome,—her rejection of the anti-apostolic double procession of the Holy Ghost,—which has been, I think, retained by the English Church, &c., I leave this subject to the decision of theologians, but shall only observe that the worship of images, relics, and other pagan practices, which I have described in this chapter, do not prove much in favour of the purity of her tradition. I would also ask whether it is in accordance with this tradition that the Russian clergy, notwithstanding all their claims to apostolic succession, are governed by the Czar, who sometimes delegates for this purpose a colonel of hussars, which office, I believe, was never known, even in the most militant of churches? It has been, indeed, well said by the Marquis de Custine, that the Russian clergy are but an army wearing regimentals somewhat different from the dress of the regular troops of the empire. The papas and their bishops are under the direction of the emperor, a regiment of clerks, and that is all. It is in order to extend the advantages of this military organization to the Christians of Turkey that Russia, according to the opinion of our author, is under the paramount necessity of making their cause her own. All that I say is, that she felt the same necessity of making the cause of the Greeks and Protestants of Poland her own, and that she ended by making the same thing with their country.
The politico-religious complications into which Europe has now been thrown by the ambition of Russia have induced me particularly to dwell upon the means which the church of that country offers for the promotion of the political schemes of its rulers. With regard to the superstitious practices borrowed from Paganism, and peculiar to that church, the most remarkable is, perhaps, that heathen custom called parentales, mentioned before, and which may be found in different parts of Russia. People assemble on Monday, after the Easter week, in churchyards, where they eat and drink to great excess, in commemoration of their deceased relatives. There are many other similar practices, as, for instance, that of providing the dead body with a kind of passport or written testimony of his religious conduct, &c., probably imported with the Christian religion by the Greek Church, because at the time of the conversion of Russia, this church had already introduced painted though not carved images, to which allusion has been made on p. 12 of this Essay.