Missionary Politics in Late Ottoman Palestine

The Stance of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem

In: Social Sciences and Missions
Konstantinos Papastathis Leiden University

Search for other papers by Konstantinos Papastathis in
Current site
Google Scholar
Full Access


The aim of the paper is to elaborate on the Jerusalem Orthodox Patriarchate’s missionary work in late Ottoman times, paying special attention on its incapacity to counteract the activities of its rivals within the religious market of Palestine. In particular, the article addresses the following research questions: What was the extent of the Patriarchate’s missionary activity, and its stance vis-à-vis the work of the other Church missions, i.e. the Roman-Catholic, and Protestant? Was its policy effective; and if not, why? Overall, the article argues that neither the missionary enterprise nor the blocking of the western missions’ conversion activities were at the top of the patriarchal agenda. It is suggested that the causes of this stance were mainly: a) the financial and political disadvantageous position of the institution; b) the centrality of the custodianship of the Holy Places as the primary aim of its function; and c) the development of Greek nationalism as the nodal point of the discourse.


The aim of the paper is to elaborate on the Jerusalem Orthodox Patriarchate’s missionary work in late Ottoman times, paying special attention on its incapacity to counteract the activities of its rivals within the religious market of Palestine. In particular, the article addresses the following research questions: What was the extent of the Patriarchate’s missionary activity, and its stance vis-à-vis the work of the other Church missions, i.e. the Roman-Catholic, and Protestant? Was its policy effective; and if not, why? Overall, the article argues that neither the missionary enterprise nor the blocking of the western missions’ conversion activities were at the top of the patriarchal agenda. It is suggested that the causes of this stance were mainly: a) the financial and political disadvantageous position of the institution; b) the centrality of the custodianship of the Holy Places as the primary aim of its function; and c) the development of Greek nationalism as the nodal point of the discourse.

1 Introduction

Christianity claims to be, by definition, the true and authentic word of God, which should be transmitted to all nations.1 The dominance of Pauline theology established universalism as a core feature of the Church, defining in principle the salvation of all people as the Church’s mission: ‘You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’2 The effect of this thesis was the definition of the Church’s extension as its primary aim; missionary work became an organic element of its raison d’ être.3 Overall, from a theological perspective the missionary work is founded on: a) the motive of conversion; b) the eschatological motive; c) the motive of plantation ecclesiae (church planting); and d) the philanthropic motive. However, mission has had a social significance in the sense that it produced political effects via contributing to the establishment and legitimization of new power relations. The ‘impure’ motives of missionary work might be categorized to be: a) the imperialist motive; b) the cultural motive; c) the romantic motive; and d) the ecclesiastical colonialism motive.4 In this regard, there exist different conceptions of ‘mission’ within the family of Christian denominations, directly related to the historical, social, and theological specificities of each group as well as the context within which each one of them was established and developed in time and space.

As far as Eastern Orthodox theology is concerned, mission is conceptualized basically in ecclesiological terms. It has a soteriological character, in the sense that salvation is identified with the escape from the material existence, the detachment from the worldly things; as such missionary work should not be identified with a form of charity (i.e. the material aspect), but via the acceptance of the word of God in spiritual communion (i.e. within the liturgy).5 The conceptualization of missionary work is also related to the Eastern political theology as well. The gradual institutionalization of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire signified a full-scale change of the ecclesiastical perception of the ‘political’. The Church adapted its discourse to the imperial ends, incorporating the Christian faith as an integral part of the hegemonic ideology, as well as rendering its instructional structure as a mechanism for the construction of the social consensus. By defining the state structures as the legitimate manner of governance, the church political doctrine was identified with the imperial power.6 Within this context, mission became a state objective; it was related to foreign policy, and came under the control or at least influence of political authorities, e.g. the mission of Cyril and Methodius or the Christianisation of Russia.7 This might explain the inability of the Eastern Orthodox Church to support any missionary project within the Ottoman Empire, i.e. after the decline of Byzantium.

The division of the united Church into competing denominations, each one of them claiming to represent the true faith, created an antagonism between them. An indicative example of this power game was the struggle between the various religious and political agents operating in Palestine in late Ottoman times. On the one hand, there was a large number of denominations with a strong ‘local’ character and an ‘established’ status, i.e. with deep historical roots and an indicative pool of faithful, which had a quasi-independent administrative operation as the institutional representatives of their faith group in the periphery in relation to their superior at the institutional hierarchy in the religious metropolis. The institutions under this category were: the Eastern Orthodox Church; the Oriental Orthodox churches (i.e. Coptic, Armenian, Syriac, and Ethiopian); the Roman Catholics, the so-called Latin; and the Eastern Catholic Churches (i.e. these in communion with Rome but still maintain Eastern liturgies, such as the Greek Catholic, also known as Melkite, the Maronite, the Armenian Catholic, etc.). On the other hand, there were the ‘external’ religious institutions, such as the Anglican and Prussian missions, which organized an extended network of schools and charity institutions. Under the capitulation regime, other state powers, such as France, exercised protective rights over its co-religionists within the Ottoman Empire, which practically allowed the creation of an ‘imperia in imperio’ state of affairs. Moreover, the Russian mission was established in order to counteract the missionary work of the non-Orthodox institutions, but also to promote the Russian imperial interests in the Levant; thereby, the Russian presence had an ambiguous character in relation to the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, namely the local institutional establishment. On the one hand, Russia was an extremely strong factor for the effective handling of the other denominations’ missionary work and the diplomatic protection of the Orthodox custodianship rights over the Christian Holy Places. On the other hand, the Russian penetration, being an exponent of the development of the Arab Orthodox cause, was viewed as a threat for the Greek dominance within the Patriarchate.

It should be noted in this respect that the late Ottoman times, as the transitory period to modernity of Palestine’s traditional social setting, was extremely critical for the Orthodox Church. The Tanzimat reforms opened the way to the articulation of a new nation-centred discourse, a major feature of which was the controversy between the clergy and the laity for the institution’s administration and the participation to the patriarch’s election. In conjunction, the gradual development of the Arab national idea weakened the loyalties to the religious bureaucracy, threatening its institutionalised status as the political head of the millet (i.e. the communal group under Ottoman Law structured on the basis of religious belonging). Moreover, the internal strife for religious power between opposing factions within the hierarchy, as well as the problematic financial management, put the Patriarchate in a vulnerable position in comparison to its Church competitors, namely the Missions that started operating in Palestine under the protection of the foreign state powers. At the same time, the question of the custodianship of the Holy Places was continuously under dispute on the ground between the various Churches, despite its official ratification by the international community after the Crimean War (Paris Peace Conference, 1856; Berlin Treaty 1878).

Within this context, the Patriarchate of Jerusalem faced certain obstacles in conducting missionary activity in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. From a legal perspective, the missionary enterprise to the Muslim populations within the Ottoman Empire was forbidden. The Jerusalem Patriarchate, therefore, had to direct these activities towards the other Christian and the Jewish populations. At the same time, the Latin and Protestant Churches were, from the mid-nineteenth century, extremely active in this field. In fact, their work was directed towards the local Christians, the majority of whom belonged to the Orthodox Church. This resulted in a significant portion of this group being converted to the Catholic and Melkite Churches. There is no solid demographic evidence with regard to the whole of the Palestinian region in Ottoman times, but according to the 1922 census, the Orthodox congregation had 33,369 members, comprising 45 % of all Christians.8

That being said, the topic of this article is the contextual analysis of missionary policy of the Jerusalem Patriarchate, the causes of its low effectiveness, as well as the discourse of the actors involved in its articulation. In particular, the article addresses the following research question: What was the extent of the Patriarchate’s missionary activity and its stance vis-à-vis the work of the other Church missions, i.e. the Roman-Catholic and Protestant? Was its policy effective; and if not, why?

The archival material consulted is original and derives from a variety of sources: a) records from the British National Archives, the Greek Foreign Ministry, and the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem; b) official Church documents and other material published in the various orthodox journals and gazettes and c) secondary literature. The modern history of the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem has been the topic of many interesting studies, major reference works of which certainly were the two valuable Reports of the Mandatory Authorities on the affairs of the Patriarchate.9 However, while the contribution with regards to the Mandatory period are numerous (e.g. S. Roussos,10 L. Robson,11 N. Haiduc-Dale,12 K. Papastathis13), the research interest in the late Ottoman times is limited. E. Kedourie and D. Tsimhoni studied the construction of a communal lay sense of belonging, which was overdetermined by its opposition to the authority of the Greek upper clergy, linking it with the overall development of nationalism in the Middle East after the Young Turks revolution.14 D. Hopwood, Th. Stavrou and D. Vovchenko elaborated on the role of the Russian diplomatic and missionary enterprise in the development of the Arab Orthodox identity.15 I. Katz and R. Kark examined the factors behind the patriarchal investment in landed property in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries,16 and explored the impact of the patriarchate’s land holdings and property management on the relations between the Greek clergy and its Arab Orthodox congregation.17 M. Mack et al. worked on the matrimony and baptism records of the Patriarchate exploring the communal affiliations and the transitions of identity from 1900 to 1940.18 K. Papastathis and R. Kark contributed a series of publications on the property management and the administrative function of the Church and its links with the Arab Orthodox cause.19 Last but not least, Salim Tamari pointed to the social class dimension of the lay struggle, arguing that the expansion of the movement was the outcome of the economic emancipation in late Ottoman times of the developing lay bourgeoisie from dependency on the Church’s resources for accommodation, food and education.20 However, the missionary policy of the Orthodox Patriarchate has not been so far the topic of a scholarly analysis. The present article is a first endeavour to explore this multidimensional question, paying special attention to the political and communal issues at stake that dominated the social landscape, the generated discourse by the antagonistic agents, as well as the religious agenda (s) of each player involved into this power game for cultural control that was developed in Palestine within the period under discussion.

The method for elaborating the material is built on the historical-critical paradigm, i.e. the idea that the political and social conditions worked as principal factors for the articulation of the missionary policy-making under discussion. The paper is divided in three parts. The introductory section explains the article’s thematic, the research question, and the sources used for the analysis. Moreover, it makes a short reference to the scholarly works on the Jerusalem Patriarchate within the historical period under discussion. The second part reflects on the positioning of the Jerusalem Patriarchate on the question of missionary enterprise, focusing on the factors that influenced its structure and effectiveness. Furthermore, it elaborates on the Patriarchate’s strategy to counteract the missionary work of the other church institutions, a major effect of which was the conversion of the Orthodox population of the Holy Land to their creed. The last section summarises the conclusions and points out possible paths for further research on the question of Orthodox missionary in the Middle East.

2 The Jerusalem Orthodox Patriarchate as a (Non-)Missionary Actor

The Patriarchate’s missionary activities were extremely limited, if not completely absent, during the historical period under discussion. In fact, following a broad definition of a religious mission as an organized religious enterprise in an alien social and cultural environment with the aim of proselytizing through the performance of religious services, educational institutions, and charity, the sources do not reveal any such work performed by the Patriarchate either within its jurisdiction (i.e. Palestine and Transjordan), or to other parts of the globe. It might plausibly be argued that the Patriarchate had no reason to organize a mission because it was already an established institution within Palestine, having a large congregation under its supervision and having reached a modus vivendi with the other ‘local’ Oriental Churches. Instead, of major importance would be the retention of its congregation from conversion to other churches. However, judging from the success of the Latin and Protestant missions, as well as the large-scale conversion of the Arab Orthodox to the Melkite Church, it seems that it was beyond the Patriarchate’s power to overcome this problem. It is not that it made no effort to do so, but rather that these efforts were not sufficient.

On the other hand, the Arab parochial clergy neither established a structured mechanism for proselytism, nor did it officially criticize the Patriarchate for its failure to effectively counter-attack the conversions to the Catholic and Protestant denominations. The main reason for this was that the Arab clergy did not form a distinctive body within the church operating autonomously from the Patriarchate, but it was under its rule. In short, it could not proceed to a missionary enterprise without the consent of the patriarch, under whose control and power the mission would be. For the same reason, it could not officially and openly criticize the patriarch, because in that case these clergymen would be defrocked. The onus, therefore, for articulating a discourse decrying the Patriarchate’s impotence to protect the community from conversion came from within the laity. However, the starting point of this critique was not the loss of the flock per se, but the dominance of the Greek element within the Church at the expense of the native community. Therefore, it was related to the construction of the overall Arab Palestinian national movement. Within this context, the conversion of the indigenous Orthodox to other creeds, as a religious issue, was considered to be one of the side-effects not the cause, of the dispute. This is why it had a secondary place in their argumentation against the Greek hierarchy. It is characteristic that, whenever the community put on the table its claims, addressing the question of proselytism was not part of the agenda. The only reference made had an indirect character, as part of the claim for more schools, i.e. the creation of schools as an instrument for addressing the proselytism of Orthodox pupils.

A powerful tool of missionary work is by all means the supply of high quality knowledge, schooling establishments or other benefits (e.g. scholarships) to a heterodox population in demand for such facilities. The first step in losing the Jerusalem Church its congregation, therefore, was the admission of Arab Orthodox pupils to the foreign Missionary schools. As a result, the issue at stake for the Patriarchate was the establishment in the schooling market of a large and functional Orthodox education network as a deterrent against its competitor. However, the number of schools under its supervision in Palestine and TransJordan fluctuated depending upon the finances of the institution. Dowling estimated the number to have reached sixty-five boys’ schools and eighteen girls’ schools,21 but the operation of at least some of these was just on paper,22 while most of the teachers were untrained parish priests. An important source for the Christian education landscape in the early twentieth-century Palestine is the report of Meletios Metaxakis, who served as Commissioner of the Patriarchate. The number of schools in 1904 (thus, at a late stage) was approximately 80, operating in 62 towns and villages and with 155 instructors. At the beginning of the academic year, the number of students reached 4,500, but approximately 800 stopped attending classes.23 This might have been due to social/economic reasons, but it might also indicate that the quality of the education provided was low, and students might have switched schools. For Metaxakis, the extension of the schooling network was considered to be problematic for two main reasons: a) financial difficulties; and b) a lack of human capital. Moreover, dissention among the local populations was another factor. The budget for schooling at the beginning of the century (1902–1905) was approximately 6,000 Ottoman lira per year.24

At the same time, the Latin schooling network in Palestine comprised 92 schools, with 260 teachers for 2,400 students, while the congregation numbered approximately 22,500 members. While the number of Protestants was approximately 3,500, this mission operated 89 schools, with 218 instructors teaching 5,250 pupils.25 Although these numbers might not be perfectly accurate, they demonstrate that the missions’ schools were better organized, staffed, and financed, and that an important number of Orthodox were educated in these missionary networks (Metaxakis’ estimate is approximately 3,00026).

The means used by the Patriarchate to stop this flow were both religious and legal. It threatened families that sent their children to non-Orthodox schools with punishment, which was ‘soft’ and without excommunication however.27 The other method was the strict supervision of the implementation of an order issued by the Ottoman administration, according to which the Protestant mission could not create a school in a town or village where there were no faithful. According to Metaxakis, this impediment was overcome by ‘convincing’ a number of residents to register nominally as converts until the school was established, after which they could return to their original Church.28 In short, both means employed to counteract the problem were ineffective. The establishment of well-organized schools seemed to be the only solution. This was beyond the power of the Patriarchate at that time. In short, the state of affairs was more or less irreversible. The reasons for this state of affairs were varied and related to the political, social, and economic landscape of late Ottoman times, as well as to the operation of the Jerusalem Church as an institution per se.

One principal reason is that the very existence of the Patriarchate is related to the Holy Places. Specifically, the Orthodox Patriarchate is considered to be the oldest Christian institution in Palestine, representing the direct continuation of the local community with the ancient Church.29 From the sixteenth century onwards, the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre was established as the ruling authority of the Jerusalem Church, reforming its administrative structures in accordance with the monastic tradition. According to the dominant paradigm, this was because the primary duty – the imagined raison d’ être – of the Brotherhood was the protection of the extensive Orthodox rights and privileges in the Holy Places, which, according to Church officials, were threatened by the usurping tendencies of other competing denominations, mainly the Latin and Armenian Churches.30 In short, since the central aim of the institution was the custodianship of Orthodox rights, missionary work was not a top priority in its agenda. In contrast, this made necessary the creation of alliances with other religious players such as the Anglican Church, which had no claim over the sanctuaries, in order to counteract the Latin Church, which was considered to be the prime ‘enemy’. Establishing an alliance entails a give and take between two partners, which might explain why the Patriarchate did not practically place any serious impediment whatsoever on the admission of Orthodox pupils to the Anglican schooling network.

Another important reason for the absence of missionary work might have been the dominance of Greek nationalism within the Patriarchate. From the mid-nineteenth century, the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre underwent a nationalization process, i.e. the gradual transformation of the religious organizational structures of the Church from a non-ethnic, religious representation to a nation-based religious affiliation, resulting in the fragmentation of the previously ‘ecumenical’ Orthodox whole into an ethnic-based religious body,31 and the fostering of the so-called Greek character of the Patriarchate.32 Contrary to the patriarch of Constantinople Joachim III, for whom the Church was not identified with the Greek nation-state,33 for the hierarchy of the Jerusalem Church, the term ‘Rum’ was synonymous with ‘Greek’. In effect, the various legal decrees of the Porte, which referred to the institution as the ‘Rum-patriarchate’, were actually institutionally establishing the Greek character of the Brotherhood.34 Consequently, the Patriarchate of Jerusalem was perceived by the religious establishment at that time as a Greek institution, to the exclusion of every other ethnic community.35

This meant that the target audience of missionary work, i.e. the non-Greek populations of the empire, would not only have to accept the loss of their religious belonging, but of their ethnic identity as well, and its replacement by a Greek one, at a time when the self-determination process of the various ethnic groups within the empire was developing. In contrast to the other missions, which contributed to the construction of a separate collective identity for the Christian populations vis-à-vis the dominant Ottoman one (namely that of the Arab Christian), the Orthodox Patriarchate constructed a historical scheme according to which the Orthodox Christians in Syria and Palestine should not be regarded as Arab, but rather as populations with Greek ethnic origins but that speak Arabic, i.e. arabophones.36 However, having denounced their supposed Greek identity, this population actually represented the hostile other, positioned against the reproduction of the Greek establishment’s power. As such, they neither had the right to intervene in patriarchal affairs, nor to put forward any claim over the Greek national property. Within this context, the potential development of missionary work instead became a process of Hellenization of the local Christians. However, neither side was particularly interested in this. On the one hand, the Patriarchal officials articulated an orientalist discourse with regard to the local Christians represented in essentialist terms as untrustworthy, ignorant and unreliable,37 who did not contribute to but only had gains from the Patriarchate.38 Their admission, thus, to the hierarchy formed a potential threat for religious purity. This stereotyped corrupting portrayal, therefore, instrumentally worked in turn as a legitimizing factor for further developing the alleged Greek cultural supremacy within the institution.39 On the other hand, this stigmatization of the Arab Orthodox produced a reverse image for the Greek rule, defining it as a threat to their ethnic homogeneity. Moreover, it made self-evident that the potential conversion of the local Christians to an alien national movement, would not change their secondary status compared to Greek nationals.

A third reason was that the Orthodox missionary work was to a certain extent identified with the State as such. In practical terms, this meant that missionary work was either part of the overall policy-making of the imperial power (e.g. religion as an instrument for foreign policy), or depended on the imperial force for the suppression of the other religious groups in the interior. In effect, within a non-Orthodox political environment, the Orthodox Church did not have the political means to effectively proceed with a missionary enterprise. This was because missionary work in general, and within the Ottoman Empire in particular, would involve certain activities, related to both the internal and external operation of the institution. The first and probably most important endeavour in terms of social visibility was the establishment of schools, charity institutions, and scholarships, and the creation of various facilities for the community. In this respect, it would have to encounter the opposition of the defending Church officials, who would of course try to prevent the conversion of their co-religionists. Moreover, it would face the opposition of the competing missions, which were operating within the same religious ‘market’, and looked to convert the same target audience.

This might have also caused the potential opposition of local authorities (i.e. in Palestine) that might be suspicious of the missionary group as serving alien interests or as disturbing the existing modus vivendi, or social equilibrium, between the various religious groups. In other words, the Orthodox missionaries would have faced the possibility that their work might disturb the power relations within the social body due to the creation or further development of certain social networks, which would fuel the competition with other rival religious groups. Thus, missionary activities presented a potential threat to social peace and public order, causing the opposition of the central authorities in Constantinople, which would have to deal with the reaction of the particular Church and the communal elites in defence on a domestic level. Moreover, the Porte would have to handle the possible interventions of the local Church’s protective power at a diplomatic level (e.g. Catholics converted to Orthodox). For a Church to overcome the aforementioned problems and effectively develop missionary work, it had to meet certain conditions.

The first condition was the existence of human capita, i.e. clergyman who were numerous, inspiring/charismatic, and well-educated, so as to articulate and successfully implement a strategic and long-term plan of missionary work. However, the number of Brotherhood members was limited, and these were committed to serving either in the Holy Places under joint custodianship with the other denominations (many Brotherhood representatives were needed to effectively protect Orthodox rights at a time when the status quo agreement was, at least on the ground, under dispute by all parties involved), or in the various monasteries of the Patriarchate within its jurisdiction (e.g. Mar Sabba), the functioning of which required a significant number of monks. Moreover, the Patriarchate was both a religious and a political organization, being, under the Millet system, responsible for some important social functions such as the communal courts. In effect, it had to be served by numerous and highly qualified personnel in order to manage its administrative work. For instance, Meletios Metaxakis was at the same time Chief-Secretary, i.e. the most important administrative office in the institution, and Commissioner for Education, i.e. probably the most important office for counteracting the various educational activities of the foreign Missions. In addition, the staffing of the various dependencies of the Patriarchate outside Palestine (Constantinople, Smyrna, Moscow, Athens, etc.) with experienced and competent officers was necessary for effective political lobbying, as well as for the assembling and maintenance of financial support.

The second requirement for an effective missionary work was the dominance of a strong sense of belonging as a unified whole within the Church institution, as well as the submission of its members to the undisputed agent of power, in this case the Patriarch, and competent religious officials for missionary policy making. The Brotherhood was always divided into antagonistic factions competing for religious power and/or serving diverse political objectives however. More specifically, apart from the personal aspirations of certain religious figures, two main ideological issues were at stake, on the basis of which the opposing camps were structured: a) the relationship with Russian diplomatic and Church representatives and the degree of their penetration into the Holy Land’s affairs; and b) the close attachment or loose adherence to Greek religious ethno-centrism, i.e. the idea of the exclusively Greek national character of the Orthodox Church. The common denominator of these two issues was the development of the Arab Orthodox movement,40 and more specifically, the question of how to address their claims for the laicization of Church administration and the admission of the indigenous Orthodox to the Brotherhood. The response to these claims could either involve an aggressive decline or their partial acceptance without disputing the Greek character of the institution. From 1872 until 1897, all five Patriarchs (Cyril II, Prokopios II, Hierotheos, Nicodemos and Gerasimos) were either deposed after fierce opposition from within, or forced to resign. Patriarch Damianos (1897) was deposed twice, but he finally regained his power due to his clever political manoeuvring. In brief, internal cohesion and allegiance to the Brotherhood’s leadership, two important criteria for the implementation of a fruitful missionary policy, were not met in the historical period under discussion.

Another important requirement for the Patriarchate to overcome the probable obstacles within its missionary work was by all means the broad availability of economic recourses. In brief, the availability of a regular income that would allow the creation of local networks and the establishment of institutions (e.g. schools, scholarships), as well as allow for the bribing of the Ottoman administration, either to subdue reactions to the missionary work or to bring state officials over to the Orthodox side against its potential rivals. Moreover, it was necessary to be working within a rationally structured financial operation that would follow standardized norms and procedures and was controlled and managed by a well-defined chain of command. However, the patriarchal finances were far from being stable, since the flow from its main sources of income (namely, pilgrims’ donations and fundraising outside Palestine, external funding, e.g. from Russia, and property exploitation, e.g. farming or renting/leasing of the extended vakf/waqf, i.e. religious and/or charitable endowments under Islamic Law, usually real estate property of the Patriarchate either in Palestine or outside), was to a large extent dependent on the activities and policy making of external agents that served their own objectives, sometimes in competition to those of the Patriarchate. For instance, the properties in Wallachia were seized by Prince Alexandru Cuza (1863), and the income from the large estate in Bessarabia was sometimes blocked by Petrograd, because in practice, the Patriarchate did not comply with Russian claims. Moreover, the arrival of Russian pilgrims was subject to Russo-Turkish relations, which were not always cordial. As regards the patriarchal real estate in Palestine, it should be noted that at that time, the income from property management was not very high. Moreover, there was continuous controversy within the congregation regarding its administration, and a portion of it was the private property of individual monks, complicating matters further.41 The occasional inability of the Patriarchate to cover its financial needs led the Patriarch to contract loans with heavy interest rates, which in turn further fuelled its financial reliance on others. Moreover, the centralized administration of the institution, due to the absolute power of the Patriarch together with the operation of clientelism networks within the institution,42 rendered the rational regulation of its finances impossible. Thus, the influence of external factors in its financial administration, as well as arbitrary management on the part of its officials, made the Patriarchate vulnerable. As such, it would have been extremely difficult to effectively implement a missionary project.

It should also be noted that, within the context of the then diplomatic power game, missionary work was actually subject to the protection of a state power. However, the Brotherhood’s members were Ottoman ‘subjects’, not ‘foreign’ citizens. As such, they were not protected on a diplomatic level as nationals with special privileges in accordance with the capitulations regime. Of course, Russia had the status of diplomatic protector of the Orthodox Church within the empire. However, St. Petersburg followed its own agenda in this regard, establishing missionary and Church institutions in order to create politico-religious strongholds with social influence in the empire. These were actually antagonistic to the Orthodox Patriarchates’ administration, in the sense that St. Petersburg was aiming either for its substitution or subordination under Russian control. In practice, therefore, the potential missionary activities of the Patriarchate would have been subject to Ottoman administration. While the foreign mission would have had relatively free reign to act, as a protégé, the mission organized by the Patriarchate might probably have faced various obstacles. In short, from a political perspective, patriarchal missionary activation would have been at a disadvantage from the start.

The last substantial precondition for addressing the possible drawbacks of a mission was the operation of a centralized religious governance, which would have the authority to assign and successfully implement a missionary strategy. However, the fragmentation of the Orthodox Church in diverse religious organizations, which competed for religious power between them and were divided in opposing blocs on the basis of national criteria, did not allow for a well-organized missionary endeavour. To this, we should add the canonical obstacles or counter-arguments for Jerusalem church to attempt a mission, namely under whose authority the converted populations would be. This is because of two main factors: a) the ethno-linguistic identity of the converted population; and b) the territorial jurisdiction of the church institution. In this regard, it should be noted that the second canon of the Second Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (381) forbids any interference whatsoever of a Church institution in the affairs or the territories within the jurisdiction of another.43 Within this context, was it possible for the Jerusalem Patriarchate to organize a mission in south-east Asia Minor with the aim of converting Nestorians or Armenians Christians? And if this enterprise was successful, under whose religious authority this population would be under: the Jerusalem Patriarch, as the head of the Mission, or the Patriarch of Antioch, as the canonical authority of the territory under discussion?

3 Concluding Remarks

This research suggests that the blocking of the western missions’ conversion activities was not at the top of the patriarchal agenda. The missionary work carried out by the Orthodox institution was rather limited in fact, mainly due to the lack of financial and political support. Moreover, the lack of human capital, the divisions within the clergy, the administrative structure, and the national dispute between the Greek hierarchy and the Arab congregation were important factors that minimized the possibility of a successful missionary enterprise. At the same time, the conversion of the Arab orthodox community was not viewed by the Patriarchate as its main ‘battle field’ with the other denominations, but rather the Holy Places question and the institutional commitment to preserve Orthodox custodianship rights. This article, however, in no case covers the theme of Orthodox missionary work in the Middle East within the period under discussion. A lot of research should be done to further explore the diverse aspects of this broad thematic, such as the role of cultural diplomacy, the Ottoman state policy-making, or the intra-Orthodox Church relations. It is also interesting to note the broad spectrum of archival sources to be used towards this direction. The disclosure of state archives, such as these in Greece, Russia and Turkey, as well as the digitization and translation of rare published sources and collections of documents might be of great value. Not to mention that the possible granting of access to the Church archives would give in the future a further boost in research. In brief, it seems that the door is open for the creation of a new sub-field in the historiography of the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem. This article has contributed some initial steps towards this development.


MT 29:19.


Acts 1:8.


Weber, (1965), pp. 259–260.


Bosch, (1991), p. 5.


Ibid., pp. 195–218.


Canning, (1996), pp. 3–15; Runciman (1977), pp. 5–50; Nicol, (1988).


Stamoolis (1986).


Barron, (1923).


Bertram and Luke (1921); Bertram and Young (1926).


Roussos, (2004); Roussos, (1995).


Robson, Colonialism and Christianity (2011), 16–43, 75–100; Robson, Communalism and Nationalism. (2011).


Haiduc-Dale, (2013); Haiduc-Dale, (2015).


Papastathis, (2013); Papastathis and Kark, (2014); Papastathis, (2007); Papastathis (2017a); Papastathis (2016a).


Kedourie, (2004); Tsimhoni, (1978).


Hopwood (1969); Stavrou (1963); Vovchenko (2013).


Katz and Kark, (2007).


Katz and Kark, (2005).


Mack, Dalachanis, and Lemire (2018).


Papastathis and Kark, (2016).


Tamari, (2014).


Dowling, (1909), p. 43.


Hopwood, (1969), p. 141.


Metaxakis, (1905), p. 605.


Metaxakis, (1905), p. 606.


Metaxakis, (1905), p. 608.


Metaxakis, (1905), p. 609.


Metaxakis, (1905), pp. 607–608.


Metaxakis, (1905), p. 609.


O’Mahony, (2000).


Papadopoulos, (1910); Miliaras (2002).


Papastathis, (2016b), p. 40.


Miliaras, (1921).


Kardaras, (1998); Kofos, (1986).


Patriarchate of Jerusalem, (1937).


Themelis, (1911), 80–81; Matalas (2007), 116.


Karolides (1909); Metaxakis, (1909).


Hopwood (1969), 37–41.


Greek Foreign Office Archives (hereafter GFOA), File 39 (1923): Archimandrite Hippolytus Michalidis, ‘Memorandum on the Arab Orthodox Conference in Haifa’.


Papastathis (2017b), 48–53.


Al-Aḥad- Eshshafi (1893); Roussos, (1995); Roussos, (2003).


Katz and Kark, (2007): 394, 396; Papastathis and Kark, (2016): 266–272.


Papastathis (2016a): 9.


Schaff, and Wace (1899): 373.


  • Astafieva, Elena. (2003), La Russie en Terre Sainte: Le cas de la Société Impériale Orthodoxe de Palestine (1882–1917). Cristianesimo nella Storia 24 (1), pp. 41–68.

  • Barron, J.B. (1923). Palestine: Report and General Abstracts of the Census of 1922. Government of Palestine.

  • Bertram, Anton, and Luke, Hurry C. (1921). Report of the Commission Appointed by the Government of Palestine to Inquire into the Affairs of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. London: Oxford University Press.

  • Bertram, Anton, and Young, John W.A. (1926). The Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem: Report of the Commission Appointed by the Government of Palestine to Inquire and Report upon Certain Controversies between the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the Arab Orthodox Community. London: Oxford University Press.

  • Bosch, David. (1991). Transforming Missions: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Missions. New York: Orbis.

  • Canning, Joseph. (1996). A History of the Medieval Political Thought 300–1450. London and New York: Routledge.

  • Dowling, Theodore Edward (1909). The Patriarchate of Jerusalem. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

  • Haiduc-Dale, Noah. (2015). Arab Christians in British Mandate Palestine: Communalism and Nationalism, 1917–1948. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

  • Haiduc-Dale, Noah. (2015). Rejecting Sectarianism: Palestinian Christians’ Role in Muslim-Christian Relations. Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations 26, pp. 75–88.

  • ʿA. al-Aḥad-Eshshafi (1893), Lamḥa taʾ rīkhīya fī akhawīya al-qabr al-muqaddas al-yūnānīya. Beirut [translated by Michel Najim (1996), An Historical Glance at the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher. California].

  • Hopwood, Derek. (1969). The Russian Presence in Syria and Palestine, 1843–1914: Church and Politics in the Near East. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

  • Kardaras, Cristos. (1998) Ioakeim III-Char. Trikoupis. I antiparathesi. Apo tin anekdoti allilografia tou Oikoumenikou Patriarchi (1878–1884). Athens: Trochalia.

  • Karolides, Pavlos. (1909). Peri tis ethnikis katagogis ton orthodoxon christianon Syrias kai Palaistinis [On the ethnic origins of the Orthodox Christians of Syria and Palestine]. Athens: P.D. Sakellariou Press.

  • Katz, Itamar, and Kark, Ruth. (2007). The Church and Landed Property: the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Middle Eastern Studies 43, pp. 383–408.

  • Katz, Itamar, and Kark, Ruth. (2005). The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem and its Congregation: Dissent over Real Estate. International Journal of Middle East Studies 37, pp. 509–534.

  • Kedourie, Elie. (2004). Religion and Politics. In Elie Kedourie, ed., The Chatham House version and Other Middle Eastern Studies. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, pp. 317–342.

  • Kofos, Evaggelos. (1986). Patriarch Joachim III (1878–1884) and the Irredentist Policy of the Greek State. Journal of Modern Greek StudiesIV (2), pp. 107–120.

  • Mack, Merav, Dalachanis, Angelos, and Lemire, Vincent. (2018). Matrimony and baptism: changing landscapes in Greek (Rum) Orthodox Jerusalem (1900–1940) British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 45 (3), pp. 443–463.

  • O’Mahony, Antony. Palestinian-Arab Orthodox Christians: Religion, Politics and Church-State Relations in Jerusalem, c. 1908–1925. Chronos: Revue d’ Histoire de l’ Université de Balamand 3 (2000), pp. 61–91.

  • Matalas, Paraskevas. (2007). To Patriarcehio Hierosolymon kai i Ellinorthodoxia [The Patriarchate of Jerusalem and Hellenorthodoxia]. in Moraiti School (ed.), Orthodoxia, Ethnos kai Ideologia [Orthodoxia, Nation and Ideology]: Athens, Moraiti School, pp. 113–121

  • Metaxakis, Meletios. (1905). Ai Scholai tou Ierou Koinou toy P. Taphou kata to Scholikos Etos 1904–1905 [The schools of the Holy Convent of the Holy Sepoulcher for the year 1904–1905]. Nea Sion 2 (1905), pp. 581–611.

  • Meletios Metaxakis, Meletios (1909). Ai Axiovseis ton Arabofonon Orthodoxon tis Palaistinis [The demands of the arabophone Orthodox of Palestine]. Constantinople: Patriarchal Press.

  • Miliaras, Kallistos. (2002 reprint) Oi Agioi Topoi en Palaistini kai ta ep’ auton dikaia tou ellinikou ethnous [The Holy Places of Palestine and the Rights of the Greek Nation over them]. Thessaloniki, University Studio Press.

  • Miliaras, Kallistos. (1921). Character and Composition of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. In Anton Bertram and Harry C. Luke, eds., Report of the Commission. London: Oxford University Press, pp. 284–291.

  • Nicol, D.M. (1988). Byzantine Political Thought. in J.H. Burns (ed.), The Cambridge History of Medieval Political Thought, c. 350–c. 1450. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 51–79.

  • Papadopoulos, Chrysostomos. (1910). Historia tis Ecclesias Hierosolymon [History of the Jerusalem Church]. Alexandria: Patriarchate of Alexandria Press.

  • Papastathis, Konstantinos. (2013). Church Finances in the Colonial Age: the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem under British Control, 1921–1925. Middle Eastern Studies 49, pp. 712–731.

  • Papastathis, Konstantinos. (2007). Constantinople and Jerusalem: the Delegation of Bishop Anthimos in the Holy Land, 1921. Chronos: Revue d’ Histoire de l’Université de Balamand, 15, pp. 7–29.

  • Papastathis, Konstantinos. (2017a). Greece in the Holy Land during the British Mandate: Diplomacy and Religion. Jerusalem Quarterly 71, pp. 30–42.

  • Papastathis, Konstantinos. (2017b). Constructing the ‘intra-communal out-group’: the Greek religious imperialism and the Arab Orthodox ‘quantité négligeable’. In Andreas Schmoeller, ed., Middle Eastern Christians and Europe: Diasporas – Relations – Entangled Histories, Zürich: Lit, pp. 43–57.

  • Papastathis, Konstantinos. (2016a). Religious Politics in Mandate Palestine: The Christian Orthodox Community Controversy in the Thirties. British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 43 (3), pp. 259–284.

  • Papastathis, Konstantinos. (2016b). Secularizing the Sacred: the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem as a Representative of Greek Nationalism in the Holy Land. In Theophanis Stavrou (ed.), Modern Greek Studies – Yearbook 2014/15. University of Minnesota.

  • Papastathis, Konstantinos, and Kark, Ruth. (2014). Colonialism and Religious Power Politics: The Question of New Regulations within the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem during the British Mandate. Middle Eastern Studies 50, pp. 589–605.

  • Papastathis, Konstantinos, and Kark, Ruth. (2016). The Politics of Church Land Administration: the Case of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem in Ottoman and Mandatory Palestine. Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 40 (2), pp. 264–282. Patriarchate of Jerusalem. (1937). Refutation of the Allegations put forward by Sir Anton Bertram against the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Jerusalem: Greek Convent Printing Press.

  • Robson, Laura. (2011). Colonialism and Christianity in Mandate Palestine. Austin: University of Texas Press.

  • Robson, Laura. (2011). Communalism and Nationalism in the Mandate: the Greek Orthodox Controversy and the National Movement. Journal of Palestine StudiesXLI, pp. 6–23.

  • Roussos, Sotiris (2004). Patriarchs, Notables and Diplomats: the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem in the Modern World. In Antony O’Mahony, ed., Eastern Christianity: Studies in Modern History, Religion and Politics. London: Mellisende, pp. 372–387.

  • Roussos, Roussos. (1995). How Greek, how Palestinian? The Patriarchate of Jerusalem in the mid-War Years. Sobornost 17, pp. 9–18.

  • Roussos, Sotiris. (1995). The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and Community of Jerusalem. In A. O’Mahony, G. Gunner and K. Hintlian, eds., The Christian Heritage in the Holy Land. London: Scorpion Cavendish, pp. 211–224.

  • Roussos, Sotiris. (2003). The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and Community of Jerusalem: Church, State and Identity. In A. O’Mahony, ed., The Christian Communities in Jerusalem and the Holy Land: Studies in History, Religion and Politics. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, pp. 38–56.

  • Runciman, Steven. (1977). The Byzantine Theocracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Schaff, Philip, and Wace, Henry. (1899). A Selected Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church [Second Series] (Vol. XIV: The Seven Ecumenical Councils of the Undivided Church. Their Canons and Dogmatic Decrees). Edinburg: T&T Clark.

  • Stavrou, Theophanes G. (1963). Russian Interests in Palestine, 1882–1914: a Study of Religious and Educational Enterprise. Thessaloniki: Institute for Balkan Studies.

  • Tamari, Salim. (2014). Issa al Issa’s Unorthodox Orthodoxy: Banned in Jerusalem, Permitted in Jaffa. Jerusalem Quarterly 59, pp. 16–36.

  • Themelis, Timotheos (1911). Anaskevi peplanimenon theorion en ti Historia tis Ecclesias Hierosolymon. Jerusalem: Greek Convent Printing Press.

  • Tibawi, Abdul L. (1966). Russian Cultural Penetration of Syria-Palestine in the Nineteenth Century. London: Luzav and Co.

  • Tsimhoni, Daphne. (1978). The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem during the Formative Years of the British Mandate in Palestine. Asian and African Studies 12, pp. 77–121.

  • Tsimhoni, Daphne. (1978). The Arab Christians and the Palestinian Arab National Movement during the Formative Stage. In G. Ben-Dor, ed., The Palestinians and the Middle East Conflict. Tel Aviv: Turtledove Pub., pp. 73–98.

  • David Vovchenko, David. (2013). Creating Arab Nationalism? Russia and Greece in Ottoman Syria and Palestine (1840–1909). Middle Eastern Studies 49, pp. 901–918.

  • Weber, Max. (1965). The Sociology of Religion. London: Methuen.

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 457 136 2
Full Text Views 47 27 3
PDF Views & Downloads 51 23 4