History of the Eastern Orthodox Church under the Ottoman Empire

Stavronikita monastery, South-East view.

In AD 1453, the city of Constantinople, the capital and last stronghold of the Byzantine Empire, fell to the Ottoman Empire. By this time Egypt had been under Muslim control for some seven centuries. Jerusalem had been conquered by the Umayyad Muslims in 638, won back by Rome in 1099 under the First Crusade and then reconquered by Saladin's forces during the Siege of Jerusalem in 1187. It was conquered by the Ottomans in 1517. Orthodoxy, however, was very strong in Russia which had recently acquired an autocephalous status; and thus Moscow called itself the Third Rome, as the cultural heir of Constantinople. Under Ottoman rule, the Greek Orthodox Church acquired power as an autonomous millet. The ecumenical patriarch was the religious and administrative ruler of the entire "Greek Orthodox nation" (Ottoman administrative unit), which encompassed all the Eastern Orthodox subjects of the Empire.

Isolation from the West

As a result of the Ottoman conquest of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, and the Fall of Constantinople, the entire Orthodox communion of the Balkans and the Near East became suddenly isolated from the West. The Russian Orthodox Church was the only part of the Orthodox communion which remained outside the control of the Ottoman Empire.

It is, in part, due to this geographical and intellectual confinement that the voice of Eastern Orthodoxy was not heard during the Reformation in sixteenth century Europe. As a result, this important theological debate often seems strange and distorted to the Orthodox; after all, they never took part in it and thus neither Reformation nor Counter-Reformation is part of their theological framework.

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