The church of Coru , Past and present

Η εκκλησία της Κέρκυρας στην ιστορία και το παρόν

The church of Coru , Past and present


The Holy Metropolis of Corfu, Paxoi and Diapontian Islands covers the insular group of north-western Greece, that is the islands of Corfu, Paxoi and Antipaxoi, and those northwest and north of Corfu, Othonoi, Ereikousa and Mathraki. In the mid-eighteenth century the Great Protopappas Spyridon Voulgaris II (1749-1760) already signed as “by the mercy of God Great Protopappas of the city and island of Corfu and the islands around:. In 1799 Paxoi made an unsuccessful attempt to gain ecclesiastical independence and an independent Bishopric of Paxoi was created under British protection (1824 and again in 1871). On 8th January 1900, however, Corfu and Paxoi were united ecclesiastically into the Archbishopric “of Corfu and Paxoi”. The phrase “and the Diapontian Islands” was added to the title later.

Political History: With the establishment of Christianity in the Roman Empire (4th century AD), Corcyra became part of the Empire of New Rome (Romania): it subsequently belonged administratively first to the province of Old Epirus and later to the thema of Cephalonia.The islnad’s many historical adventures, that is the continual succession of conquerors until 1864, are due to its strategic geographical position.

In 1147, Corfu was captured by the Normans (Roger II), but with the help of Venice-at that time an ally of “Byzantium”-it was soon returned to the Empire of New Rome (1149). The Norman fleet captured the island again for a short interval in 1185, while in 1199 Corfu came under the rule of the Genovese pirate Vetrano. With the partitioning of the “Byzantine” territories (partitio Romanae) by the Franks of the Fourth Crusade (sack of Constantinople 12th April 1204), Corfu became a possession of Venice (1st Venetian Occupation, 1206 onwards). In 1207 the entire island group was granted as a feudatory to ten Venetian nobbles, while Venice retained special trading privileges.

Between 1214 and 1386 Corfu changed hands several times. The first Venetian Occupation was interrupted in 1214, with the island’s annexation to the Greek Despotate of Epirus, which lasted until 1259. In that year the despot, Michael II Doukas, gave Corfu as a dowry to the King of thr Two Sicilies, Manfred. On 26th February 1266, however, Charles d’Anjou, with the support of the papal forces, defeated Manfred at Benevento. He was slain and Charles not only became King of the Two Sicilies but also, with the treaty of Vittebo (27th May 1267), Lord of Corfu and all the rest of his rival’s possessions. The Frankish knights ceded the island to CHarles, and a new period, tryly “the beginning of sorrows” (Matthew 24,8) was ushered in for Corfu and its Church.

Just as the Corcyraians had freely received the Romans in 229 BC, so in 1386 the Corfiots, on account of a comparable situation in the Adriatic, voluntarily hoisted the Venetian flag (20th May 1386). The island was captured on 9th June 1386. So commenced the Second Venetian Occupation, which lasted until 1797, leaving its distinctive stamp on all aspects of Corfiot society. At the Corfiots’ request, the Venetian Governor of the island continued to be called Bailus (Baile e Proveditor Generale). However, from the beginning of the seventeenth century a new supreme civil and military commander, superior to the bailus, was sent by the Serenissima, with the title of Proveditor Generale da mar. He was one of the most senior officials of Venice, up until the end of its sovereignty. Venetian commanders with the same title also existed in Nafplion (Napoli di Romania), the Morea (Regno di Morea) and Dalmatia, but the Proveditor of Corfu was the most powerful.

Corfu’s strategic position did not go unnoticed by the Ottoman Turks, who made several attempts to capture the island during the Venetian Occupation. There were three large-scale assaults: in 1537 (under Suleiman the Magnificent), in 1571, shortly before the naval battle of Lepanto (Naupaktos), and in 1716. In this last venture the Turkish fleet was completely destroyed by a raging storm (11th August 1716), which the islanders attributed to their patron saint, the miracle-worker Spyridon.

Followin Napoleon Bonaparte’s conquest of Venice (1791, Treaty of Campo Fornio), the representative of the French Republic, General Gentili, captured the Ionian Islands (30th June 1797). After the battle of Abukir Bay (1799), the Russian- Turkish fleet took Corfu (20th February 1799) and set up the semi-autonomous “Septinsular Republic” the first Greek state in modern times. However, with the Treaty of Tilsit (1807), Russia resigned its rights over the Ionian Islands to (imperial) France. The second French Occupation lasted from 8th August 1807 until 26th June 1814, when Corfu was handed over to the British. The Ionian islands became a British protectorate (with Corfu as capital) subject to the Colonial Office until 1864. After a protracted struggle and much bloodshed, it was decided to cede them to the kingdom of the Hellenes (Treaty of London, 1863), with which they were formally united on 21st of May 1864. Paxoi and the smaller islands have shared Corfu’s fate throughout its long and turbulent history.


From Antiquity until 1267

Founding of the Church: Even in pre- Christian times Corfu was distinguished for its piety. The deity Apollo was especially honoured, as “boundlessly strong and miraculous”. But “when the fulness of the time was come” (Galatians 4,4) for Corfu, the mythical god of light faded out before the “Sun of justice”, the Lord Jesus Christ. Tradition relates that the Christian message was preached on Corfu by the disciples of the apostle Paul, Jason (Bishop of Iconium) and Sosipatros (Bishop of Tarsus) (see Acts 17, 5-9 and Romans 16, 21). The island’s ruler at that time, Kerkyllinos, is said to have had a daughter, Kerkyra, who became a Christian and was martyred by her father along with fellow- believers. Kerkylinos’s successor, Datianos, was converted to the new faith. He was baptized by Jason and took the name Sebastian. Sosipatros was martyred by fire, while Jason continued his missionary activity and passed away peacefully.

Their commemorative feast day was established at an early date, together with that of Saint Kerkyraq all three are honoured on 29th April. Jason is said to be the founder of a church dedicated to Saint Stephen. The relics of these two bearers of Christianity to Corfu are nowadays housed in the church named after them. The claim that Corfu is the Melita mentioned in Acts (28,1), where Paul was shipwrecked while voyaging from Crete is without basis. In local tradition Christianity was proclaimed on Paxoi by the apostles Crispus and Gaius (of the Septuagint). The latter is said to be buried beneath the sanctuary in the church of the Holy Apostles, in the island’s capital which bears his name. (Gai/Gaios).

The apostolic origin of the Church of “Corfu and Paxoi” is grounded in local lore. Christianity was slow in spreading to the conservative countryside, which was resistant to all manner of change. Indeed pockets of paganism persisted there until the late third century AC (on Mount Istoni, for example). Only in the fourth century was the new faith universally established by Constantine the Great.

In the Empire of New Rome (-1204): As a political and an ecclesiastical entity, Corfu was included, until 732, in the diocese of Eastern Illyricum (Balkan peninsula excluding Thrace), the capital of which was Salonica and the ecclesiastical centre Rome. The local Church was subject to the jurisdiction of the Metropolis of Nikopolis (in Epirus), with the Exarch of Salonica. Corfu followed the induction of the Church of Eastern Illyricum to New Rome (Iconomachy, Leon Isaurus), in 732, and it Church was promoted to a metropolis in the tenth century (the first incumbent was probably Arsenios). According to the Notitiae Episcopatuum, Corfu periodically occupied 51st or 48th position as an “autocephalous” Archdiocese and 73rd, 75th, 58th and 89th position as a metropolis.

The Church of Corfu maintained close ties with Constantinople and repeatedly received its favour. Chrysobulls of the Comnenos and Angelos dynasties (1081-1204) granted it various privileges and gifts.

In the vortex of changes of regime (1204-1267): The intervention of the Despotate of Epirus (1214-1259) proved beneficial to Corfu. A chrysobull of Despot Theodoros (1214-1230) ratified the privileges granted by the Comnenoi and the Angeloi. A chrysobull of 1264 granted privileges to the “Holy Order”. No essential change occurred in the Church of Corfu during this period, which was truly transitinal, a prelude to its imminent “Babylonian bondage”.

Frankish Occupation- Latin Occupation (1267-1797)

The presence of the Angevins on Corfu was associated with a very important change in the life of the local Church. Charles, a fervent supporter of the papacy and acting in accordance with the pontiff’s will, abolished the Orthodox bishop, recognising the Catholic faith as the “prevailing” religion. For the pastoral care of the people, who stubbornly denied submission to Rome, the office of Great Protopappas- woithout precedent in Christendom- was instituted. This decision has rightly been characterised as a “momentous event”. The protests of the Corfiots (who asked for a local bishop at least), and of the ecumenical Patriarch of the day, Joseph I, fell on deaf ears. The abolition of the Orthodox bishop was a painful intervention in the sacra interna of the local Church. The epithet Great was a philological device to appease the reaction of the Orthodox flock. What is important is that the institution of Great Protopappas was extended to all the regions of fragmented ROmania (“Byzantium”) under Latin rule.

The Venetians (from 1386) did not alter this new ecclesiastical system, for it not only ensure good relations with the Pope, but was also to their own advantage, A chrysobull of the year 1287 regulated relations between the Venetian Republi and the Corfiots but made no provision for their Church.

There is archival material peraining to the institution of the office of Great Protopappas (documents begin in 1604). The head of the Corfiot Church was elected by a caucus of lay eclectors and the elders of the Holy Order (Canonici), representing the clergy. The caucus of lay eclectors was made up of the members of the Venetian administration (Clarissimo Regimento), the Bailus, the Proveditor Generale, two counsellors (Consilieri),three judges (Guidici Annali) and 30 Corfiot noblemen (Nobili), elected for this purpose by the Council of “one hundred and fifty”.
The term of office was five yearsm with the possibility of re-election, In practice the incumbency was for life. SInce the majority of eclectors were nobles, the Protopappades belonged, as a rule, to the aristocratic class. The act of election eas ratified by the Bailus and the Proveditor Generale. The usual title the Protopappades assumed was: “We through the Serenissima Ducal Authority of the Venetians (or: by the mercy of God and the grace of the Serenissima etc.) Great Protopappas of the City and the Island of Corfu”. The Ecumenical Patriarch, moreover, addressed the Great Protopappades in the following manner: “All reverend and of the Metropolis of the Corfiots Great Protopappas and President”. A Corfiot embassy to Venice (1582) requesting that the Great Protopappas be given the title of assistant bishop was to no avail. However, already in 1574 the Great Protopappas Alexios Rartouros signed as: “His Eminence chorepiskopos of COrfu”, which enterprise the Serenissima regarded as a “dangerous innovation”.

The installation of the Great Protopappas took place with much pomp and ceremony, being of the nature of an investiture in which the state was involved. The Proveditor Generale received the newly-elected incumbbent in audience, in his palace, investing him in a scarlet cloak and handing him the crosier and wide-brimmed hat. The Great Protopappas took the obligatory vow and offered a prayer for Venice, the authorities, the clergy and the laity, which chanted the “Εισ πολλά έτη Δέσποτα¨. The priestly secretary (hierogrammateus) was elected from the ranks of the aristocracy, in a secret ballot held in the palace. The great Protopappas was borne on the shoulders of four men to the cathedral, where he celebrated a Te Deum and was enthroned. He had all the administrative powers of a bishop but without episcopal ordination. He was the spiritual ethnarch of the people of COrfu, granting permits for ordination, consecrating churches and meting out justic under canon law.

The Church was governed by the Great Protopappas himself, and through his representatives, the “secondary” protopappades in the nine “departments” of the diocese. Visits by the Great Protopappas was assisted by a number of priestly officials who formed a kind of “court”: a) the sakellarios. Just one for the whole local Church, he stood in for the Great Protopappas when he was basent, enjoying all his priviledes and having the right to a front seat before all other office-holding protopappades: b) the Ecclesarchis responsible for the sermon c) the Chartophylakas, responsible for legal mattersq d) the Head of the monasteries, e) the Archimandrite, responsible for confession and spiritual ministrations: f) the Hieromnemonq g) the Protpaseltes of chief cantor, resposnible for keeping the musical tradidion of chanting alive.

Associated with the institution of the protopappas was the existence of the Holy Order. This comprised 32 priests of the town, to whom Charles d’Anjou had granted the right of participation in the election of the Great Protopappas. The Order’s roots should be sought in the closing centuries of Byzantium (Manuel Commenos 1143-1180). Its head was known as the Prior, in accordance with Western models, and there was also a secretary. In 1535 the members of the Order were limited to 20. The Venetian administration granted it new privileges and distinctions. Membership was for life, though resignations were accepted if reasons were sufficiently serious.

One particular characheristic of Corfu- not unusual in the Heptanese- is the large number of churches there. The Ionian islands were- and are- littered with churches and chapels. In 1675, in the town of Corfu alone, there were 21 functioning churches. In the 1755 census of the island there are 571 entries, not including the cahpels, of which were many. There were 39 churches on Paxoi in 1686, 45 in 1739 and 51 in 1781. The churches were classified as belonging to “confraternities” (confraternita), private donors (juspatronato privato), public patrons (juspatronato pubblico) and monasteries. The large number of privately owned places of worship is due to the fact that after 1504, Venice responded to vehement protests by exempting churchs from all taxation. Thus land-owners built churches and endowed them with a large property, which their children inherited together with the church. The privately-owned churches were also used as eikterioi oikoi and family cemeteries. It was very easy to build new churches or renovate old ones. The public churches and their properties belonged to the state and were frequently offered to citizens or clerics (as a reward for services to the State). The “confraternal” churches- the most important group- were vicarages and contituted a small community, the nucleus of the parish. The principal kind of church during the Venetian occupation, they operated as “companies” and it is not known when they first appeared. A decree of 9th May 1584 entrusted the Great Protopappas with the supervision of private churches and monasteries. Analogous decrees were issued in 1622, 1646 and 1721. The most important of all was that of Proveditor. A Sagredo (26th July 1754), the so-called “Sagredian law”, which was to affect ecclesiastical affairs until the twentieth century. There were monasteries and convents on Corfu, all coenobitic houses.

Transitional foreign rule (1797-1814)

Although the Republican French came to Corfu as liberators preaching religious tolerance, they did not respond to the Corfiots’ standing demand, that is the reinstatment of their episcopal throne. In 1780 they had requested the recall of the great Corfiot bishop Nikephoros Theotokis. Their demand was met in 1799, on the initiative of the Russian Admiral Uzakoff. The election was set for 7th June 1799, with the participation of all the clergy. New moves to recall Nikephoros Theotokis failed. During the third ballot, John- Baptist Vervitsiotis- Kigalas was elected, taking the name Hierotheos. He was ordained on the 2nd of February 1800. After 532 years, Corfu once again had a bishop.

In 1803, the Second Constitution of the Septinsular Republic was voted in, article 4 of which stipulated that “The Greek Orthodox Faith is the dominant religion of the Dominion. The Roman Catholic religion is accepted and protected. All other worship is tolerated. This model would be followed by all subsequent Greek constitutions. As an outcome of article 113, the ecclesiastical Statute was voted on 8th September 1802 (“Ecclesiastical edict concerning the Orthodox Clergy of the Septnsular Republic”), probably drawn up by Ioannis Kapodistrias, the then young Secretary of State, who is also consignatory to the text. It regulates the judicial authority of the metropolitans, defines the institution of the great oikonomoi (the great oikonomos- one on each island- replaced the sakellarios of the period of the Protopappas) and codified the procedure of the Church Court, together with questions of worship and internal ecclesiastical order. The Cephalonian hieromonk Chrysanthos Kephalas was appointed first Great Oikonomos of Corfu. Other important decisions were the publications of the “Catechism of the Orthodox Church”, which Kapodistrias commisioned the Cephalonian cleric Germanos Karousos to compile, and a small book of family prayer.

In 1807, the imperial French abolished the 1803 Constitution. Of the French legislation concerning ecclesiastical affairs on Corfu and the other islands, the most important was the new Statute of 1811: “Edict of the Churches and Clergu of the Greeks of the Ionian Islands” (18th September 1811). Its 11 chapters and 114 articles were based on the Sagredian Law and it adopted a special governmental authority for Church affairs, “the Magistracy of Ecclesiastical lands” (“Archive of Religion”) while also regulating the internal life of the ecclesiastical body and its relationship with the civil regime. The tendencies towards a state-church are obvious.

British Rule (1814-1864)

The Constitution of 1817 (under High Commissioner Maitland) (on ecclesiastical matters, Section II, chapter 50) was of significance for the entire Ionian Church. The decision to appoint seven bishops, one for each islands, was of institutional character. The Bishop of Corfu, like his fellows on the larger islands (Cephalonia, Lefkada, Zakynthos and Kythera) was called metropolitan, while those of Ithanka and Paxoi were bishops. One of the metropolitans was appointed head of the Ionian Church, holding the office for one year and bearing the title Exarch. The thrones were finally fulled in 1824. Of considerable importance was the Act of the Second Parliament (3rd May 1825), which ratified the “Ecclesiastical Ordinance” (Statute referring to the whole of the ecclesiastical body) and held sway- with some necessary additions- throughout the entire period of British “protection”. However, the Sagredain Law continued to be observed, and primarily the Statute of 1811, A Lwa of the Fourth Parliament (31st May 1833) concerned the election of the bishops and covered the gap. A cata;pge of the local Inspector of Corfu at that time, Makarios, lists 844 churches in 1820 (41 in the town, 800 in the villages and three demolished ones), while a few years lates (1826), Emmanuel Theotokis also speaks of 800 churches. Paxoi had 61 churchse in 1825.

In the Greek State

Shortly after the Union (1864), the subject of the “assimilation” of the Church of the Heptanese, subject to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, was brought before the Second National Assembly (17th November 1864). The supporters of the ecumenical- Roman idea (eg. Georgios Typaldos- Iakovatos) considered assimilation as contravening article 3 of the Treaty of London (29th March 1864), which recognised the existing Ionian legislation. The supporters of the narrow national idea, such as the Corfiot Metropolitan Athanasios, sided in favour of assimilation. The latter prevailed.

After ecclesiastical assimilation, the implementation of the clauses “concerninge churches” constituted a serious issue. The Corfiots initially expressed resistance to the legislative assimilation and change of the status of their Churches. The Greek State understood the Corfiots’ different conception of the parish (negation of the intervention of the municipal council, that is non-parishioners, in the election of church councils). The problem was only resolved with the Supplementary Law 220/1940. “Concerning the holy churches and vicarages of the Heptanese”,in which the special nature of these islands is accepted. Today three confaternal churches have remained on Corfu.

The Struggle for Continuity

Dialogue with Western provocation

After the Fourth Crusade (1204), and particularly with the arrival of the Angevins, the Church of Corfu assumed the role of leader of the nation, struggling for the existence of the Orthodox congregation and its historical continuity. And thougj its political ties with the centre of the nation (Constantinople) were severed, its spiritual and cultural relations with the Byzantine capital, and with the rest of the nation, remained very much alive.

The West, with its ecclesiastical-political representation on the island, acted on the basis of certain historical constants: A) its total (theological, political, cultural) differentiation from the Orthodox East: b) its pronounced prejudice against the Orthodox world, grounded in the policy of Charlemagne (8th-9th century) and his successors: c) its ardent desire to subjugate and absord the “Byzantine” Empire (landmarks in this policy 1204, 1439- Florence- and the Latin Occupation of the East). This is the historical perspective in which developments on Corfu should be interpreted.

State interventions: With the Angevins, the West’s intentions towards the Orthodox- Greek world were revealed. Henceforth Corfu was to experience the harshest Latin Occupation of all the regions of enslaved Romania. Charles d’Anjou functioned as an instrument of Rome (the Pope). The gross intervention in the structure of the Orthodox ecclesiastical body aimed at its gradual disintegration and dissolution. Corfu was one of the first victims of papal intolerance which, through the political regime, perpetrated acts against the Orthodox that not even the “barbarian” Ottomans dared try: from 1267 until 1799 the only bishop of the island was the Latin one, bearing the title, from the outset, of Archiepiscopus Corphiensis. Rome’s secret desire was to impose Catholicism by all means. The hurisdiction of the Orthodox clergy was restricted to purely spiritual matters (baptism, marriage, divorce, worship). Mainly, however, its control was sought in order to weaken and curb its role as a leader of the nation.

The Venetians followed the same policy as the Angevins, as did mutatis mutandis all subsequent foreign masters. The two aspects of Venetian policy, towards papal authority an towards the Orthodox element, were balanced around the axis of the “political interest of the Republic”. Towards Rome the well-known Venetian principle: semo Venenziani e poi christiani (nationalism) applied. Towards the Orthodox, and mainly the centre of their national leadership, the avoidance of ioppotrtune challenges was applied. This explains the refusal to meet papal demands from time to time, as well as the selective acceptance of Orthodox petititions. Noteworthy is the fact that the Latin bishops of Corfu were Venetians, as a rule.

The common origin ensured fidelity. The Pope, was only responsible fore their appointment: he, together with the Ecumenical Patriarch, was always kept at a safe distance from Venetian interests. In its documents Venice spoke of the Corfiots as “beloved children”, but at the same time cautioned respect of Latin privileges. Moreover, interventions in the Orthodox community were made with every delicacy, yet every Orthodox move was under the permanent and total control of the administration.

And these sacra interna did not remain inviolate, since formally everything was allowed, so long as it posed no threat to civil authority. It is a fact that from the seventeenth century onwards (loss of Cyprus 1571, of Crete 1669, the Peloponnese 1751) Venice maintained a more amircable stance towards the Orthodox element, in order to secure its last outpost in the Mediterranean. There were, however, instances in which Venetian “tolerance” was inert, such as the failure in awarding the title of Chorepiskopos to the Great Protopappas (1582), in order to aavoid increasing his prestige and power.

At the same time, however, the papal Exarch was denied control of the Holy Order (1463). The reasons for the obstruction of ordinations were more practical than punnitiveq by limiting the number of privileged persons, the number of work hands was increased. Last, the (obligatory) participation of the Orthodox clergy in Venetian festivals simply confirmed the relationship of dependanve and manifested the demanded allegiance.

The arrival of the French Republic on the island was of tremendous importance for the whole of the Orthodox East. This was the first practical meeting of the Greek world with post-revolutionary and enlightened Europe. The reception of the French, in the person of General Antoine Bonavit Gentils, was triumphant, in anticipation of universal (ecclesiastical and national) restoration. The (dubius) ruse of the Great Protopappas appearing before the general holding the Odyssey was designed to express the glorious ancestry of the Corfiot people. The initial enthusiastic participation in the work of the Republic (the Great Protopappas and the Latin bishop were both appointed members of the “Provisional Municipal Council”) and the democratic moves on the side of the clergy (they requested defeudalization of her Church and wore the tricoleur cockade), quickly evaporated into disillusionment.

The children of the French Revolution showed their true face: confiscation of monastic property, ban on bell-ringing, seizure of church plate and explicitlyy anti- Orthodox actions such as the attempted imposition of the new religion of “Theophilantrhopism”- with marginalization of CHristianity- moves for the revival of ancienct idolatry and the Olympic Games- that is affirmation of pagan antiquity as a whole- and, even more scandalous for the Corfiots, the decision to transfer the sacred relic of Saint Spyridon,with which Corfiot consciousness was identified, to a storeroom. The last move was the last straw for the folk soul, and brought about a wholesale reversal of sympathies. The positive repercussion of the anti-French Patriarchal encyclicals (Saint Gregory V) and of the Great Protopappas, after the withdrawal of the French, confirms the general displeasure.

British policy was not unlike that of Venice, but proved more intransigeance in cases of disobedience. The permanent concern of the governorns was to clamp down on any liberationist-unionist moves. The British were all too familiar with the social dynamic of Orthodoxy, which was to become (from 1849 onwards) the banner of the radical cause. Favouritism shown to angophile prelated (decoration with medals etc.) failed to disrupt the bhavioural codes of the broad mass of the clergy and the laity. Nor, moreoved, did the constitutional equalizing (1817) of the religion of the “Protectors” with Orthodoxy prove effective. The wind of national restoration was blowing strong and the overwhelming majority of clerics were progragonists in the national demands (Metropolitan Athanasios). The virtually unknown attempt of the “protection to achieve autocephaly of the Heptanesian Church (1831 and 1836), was part of British policy moves to cul all communication with the centre of the nation and to wipe out its influence.

Latin subversion: The privileged position of the Latin Church lasted until 1797. Its machinations against the Orthodox element were persistent, since the latter showed no inclination to submit to the Pope. The Catholic attitude towards the Orthodox in the Latin-occupied regions was defined by the Fifth Synod of LAteran (1215: beginning of the Uniates), and the Uniate decisions of the unificatory Synod of Florence (1428/39), which the rulers endeavoured to impose. The Latin overtly Uniate- argument was that the existence of two heads on the same body is something monstrous. The Corfiots demonstrated, for six centuries, that no “hybrid” beast existed on Corfu, just “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church”, that is the Orthodox, clearly distinguishable from its Western counterfeit. Incessant pressures were applied in an attempt to thwart popular resistance: seizure of Church property and sacred relics, refusal to allow ordination of Orthodox clerics, attempted introduction of the Inquisition and the Gregorian calendar, creation of the Great Protopappas and the Orthodox clergy (the documents speak time and again of “summoning the head” before the Latin bishop). One of the most acute characteristics of the period of Latin Occupation for the Church of Corfu was the compulsory participation in Latin feasts (commonicatio in sacris). However, despite the relentless pressure, intercommunio (mutual participation in the holy sacraments) was not achieved. The strong reactions from time to time were intended to restrict arbitraty acts. Some of Rome’s concessions’ on matters of worship (eg. the Latins to celebrate Easter according to the Eastern calendar) in the end turned in its favour, since the avoidance of rivalry facilitated propagandist activity.

Latin propaganda was developed methodically in the East, for the sole purpose of proselytism (indirect subjugation). The principle of propagation difei per scientas was applied in particular, through th Uniate “Greek College” of Saint Athanasios, in Rome (from 1576) and the activity f=of monastic orders, primarily the Jesuits. The mission was the scheme of propaganda in the East. Sermons, pamphlets and commentaries were the basic weapons of Latin propaganda on Corfu as well. This explains why relations with the Latin element were always tense there, even after the end of Latin Occupation, on account of Papal, as well as Italian policy (see eg. 1923 and 1940). The attempth by the Latin bishop Nicholson (1848) to revive the title of archiepiscopus corcyrensis again alluding to Angevin domination ) was vigorously opposed by Metropolitan Athanasios (POlitis), who gave the subject the correct dimensions for the nineteenth century (nationalist). The antagonism continued until recent times (Metropolitan Methodios Kontostanos), to retreat significantly in the framework of ecumenical relations and inter-Christian dialogue.

Protestant penetration: During the period of Brisith “protection”, Protestant missionaries came to Corfu, as part of a mere general plan to make the CHurch of the new Greek state a non-Conformist one. Mainly from Britain and America, they represented Calvinist Presbyterian branches of the labyrinthine Protestant family. The Baptists were particularly active in Corfu, as well as the British and Foreign Bible Society, whose translations of the Scriptures aided the missionaries in their task. In 1819, the Ionian Bible societry was founded, vice-president of which was Metropolitan Makarios. The people were suspicious of Protestan moves, which moreover, they associated with the activity of the Theological School and the Seminary (there was a proven pro-Protestant tendency when N. Vamvas was director, 1826-1835). The few Protestants on Corfu today are considered to be mainly the fruit of Protestant proselytising activity in the nineteenth century.

The dialectics of reality

The state of the clergy and the laity: There are occasional references to the state of the cleergy in the archival material. Even though these basically concern situations which were not the norm, there is no doubt that there were shortcomings, especially duringe the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the most critical period for the history of Corfu. Comparable phenomena are, of course observed in the rst of Greece, as well as in Western societies. Only rarely were the qualifications of candidates to the priesthood examined, formal education was rudimentrary, literate persons were few, usually members of the aristocracy. Encyclicals concerning the integrity and behaviour of clerics were issued until the nineteenth century. In 1681 the Great Protopappas CHristodoulos Voulgaris published a book entitled “Christian Teaching” in order to instruct the clergy (explanation of the Divine Liturgy). Motives for joining the priesthood were not necessarily religious, since wearers of the cloth were exempt from civil obligations and fatigues. Nevertheess, the number of clerics was always large. In 1738 there were 294 and in 1759, together with “readers”, 630. In 1826, there were 315. Their economic situation was, however, grave, on account of the lack of benefices. Most priests also worked as farmers, tutors or notaries. The monks were in a somewhat better position, on account of the monasteries’ incomes. Unseemingly conduct and cases of scandal were not rare. There were, moreover, encyclicals relating to the behaviour of the laity, particularly with regard to paganistic customs (Carnival time) and moral improprieties. The fact that the need to publish a Catechism was perceived under the Septinsular Republic, for the religious instruction of the people, confirms these observed deficiencies. However, the customary piety, centred on church worship, proved strong enough to keep alive the Corfiot congregation’s awareness of the difference between it and the incomers and the superiority of its ecclesiastical tradition. As a result a vital sense of the value of Orthodoxy was preserved,evidenced by the rareness of conversion to Catholicism,as well as by the Corfiots’ attitude to the Protestants in the nneteenth century.

Centifugal tendencies: There is no doubt that the pastoral work of the Church was hindered by the structure of Corfiot society. The local aristocracy was bolstered by the Western feudal system (introduction of the “Assisi”) and pre-existing economic inequalities were saturated (superficially) by the Frankish feeudal spirit (racial character) with obvious ramifications. The attitude of the Corfiot nobility towards Saint Cosmas the Aetolian (1777) is indicative of their mentality. Feudal influences also infiltrated to the Church (aristocratic identity of the Great Protopappades). The Holy Order was to assume a counter-balancing role, since its membership was drawn from the burgher class, the democratic element in the ecclesiastical body. Cultural alienation was transmitted to Corfiot society via the nobles, who were usually Western-educated and integrated with the foreign element. The broad mass of the populance was closer to the Greek (Orthodox) tradition, though there were exceptions on both sides (eg. Ioannis Kapodistrias was an aristocrat with a keen sense of Greek Tradition). Western religious influences were not lacking, such as the circumstantial use of sprinkling with holy water in the baptism, in the eighteenth century, which ceased after the intervention of the Patriarch. However, we cannot speak of wholesale or even widespread loss of allegience to Orthodoxy, as the continuous anabaptizing of Catholics after 1797 demonstrated.

The most important case was the receiving into the Orthodox faith, in normal baptism and indeed at his own request, of Count Guilford, founder of the Ionian Academy (1791). The very few converts to Catholicism or Protestantism (in the nineteenth century), or the case of a heretic, such as Ioannikios Kartanos (sixteenth century) do not denote an interruption of the Orthodox tradition on the island. Western influences on the clergy and the laity did not manage to create a rift in the continuity of ecclesiastical life. For this reason, the accusations levelled against Corfiots by Athonite monks in the sixteent century cannot be generalized. However, equally excessive is the view that Corfiots did not adopt Frankish mores and ideas, even by absorption.

Resistance to provocation: Despite oppression, humiliations and extraneous influences, the Orthodox flock of Corfu remained faithful to its tradition. It is also curious that the largely uneducated Orthodox priests, who roused the sarcastic and contemptuous comments of foreigners (as epitomized, for example in the saying “ignorante comme un papa graco”) succeeded in keeping their flock within the fold of Orthodoxy. As in the whole of the East, so on Corfu, notwithstanding the noted failings, the clergy never forgot its mission as leader of the nation. The Great Protopappas Aloisios Kapadokas (1760-1780) put on his seal the double-headed eagle, directly responding to the course of political events. Latin pressure on the Orthodox met with unceasing efforts to enhance the prestige of the institution of Protopappas (life-long incumbency, splendid vestments, special arrangement of the celebration of the liturgy, and so on), so that he was, in effect, on a par with a bishop. Furthermore the constant communication and enduring links with the Ecumenical Patriarchate (correspondence, remembrance of the Patriarch), despite Venetian objections from time to time, ensured that unity-so essential in such circumstances- was maintained with the centre of the nation. The institution of the Protopappas proved to be a unifying factor for the entire body of the Church.

The ministerial work of the clergy of Corfu made significant overtures towards the Hebrew minority in the nineteenth century. The island’s Jewish population, which numbered as many as 6000 under the Venetians, accepted the support of Metropolitan Athanasios who, as a worthy shepherd of his flock, put an end to all earlier animosity. The same cannot be said, however, with regard to free masonry, which developed on the island under British rule. From two typical instances (secret anti-masonic report by the Professor of Theology at the Ionian Academy, in 1839 and a special anti-masonic publication by the eminent Corfiot cleric Arsenios Pandis) it is deduced that the Church of Corfu as a whole did not view free masonry as a system compatible with Orthodox identity.

The social contribution

Social dynamics: Despite intrinsic difficulties, the Church was able to iron out existing social differences in the context of the parish. The church was the centre of community life and a positive force in forging relations of brotherhood and collective consiousness. Unity was more apparent in the villages, where the social dynamic of the Church was more keenly felt (festivals, patronal feasts, social events, such as baptisms, weddings, funerals). The saints were the unifying factors par excellence, and above all Saint Spyridon, the “absolute” spiritual centre of Corfiot society. In 1456, when he was brought to Corfu, he was promoted as patron saint of the island, replacing other protectors, such as Saint Athanasios and Saint Arsenios. From the sixteenth century litanies for his holy relic began. “The history and life of Corfu are intextricably linked with the venerable relic of the holy Spyridon”, who proved to be the foundation of popular piety and the living contact of the Corfiot people with their Maker. At the same time, the entire spectrum of religious art, though not immune to external-unavoidable- influences, became an “eloquent book” preserving the historical memory of the flock.

Educational ministry: The contribution of the clergy in the area of education was inversely proportionate to the education of the clergy itself. Whereas the “nobility”, compromised to the situation, showed very little interest in Hellenic education and the cultivation of the Greek language (Italian was the official language of the state until the nineteenth century), clerics were distinguished as tutors (this role of the clergy became an institution in the Heptanese). Moreover, Venetian policy towards the promulgation of Greek education was clearly negative, since the Serenissima’s aim was the gradual political and religious assimilation of the island’s inhabitants. ON the contrary, Latin efforts in the sphere were vigorous. Catholic clerics and missionaries (Jesuits, Augustinians, Franciscans) taught “at home”, in scholls or in their monasteries, attracting the sons of aristocratic families destined to serve in the local administration.

In the sixteenth century the first educational efforts of the Corfiot community began, with the founding of the first private schools, in which the presence of the Church was strong. The hieromonks Benjamin Klapatzars, Jeremiah Kavvadias and Nikephoros Theotokis were renowned as private teachers (eighteenth century). Indeed, N. Theotokis (1800) taught natural sciences “after the European systems” and he and the erudite Corfiot Eugenios Voulgaris (1806) became pioneers of the Greek Enlightment in the field of education. A Theotokis school was founded, the “Koinon Phrontesterion” in which the natural sciences were taught and Catholic propaganda was vehemently confuted. Thus, the clergy and the Corfiot Church led the way in the European reorientation of Greek Education.

There are since 1791, founded the Ionian Academy, the first Greek University modelled on European lines (lessons officially inaugurated on 29th May 1824). Its first faculty was of Theology, to which the Seminary was added in 1828, for the training of the clergy. However, the Seminary and the University closed after the Union (1865). The faculty was reformed and operated intermittently (1874-1894), 1923 et seq.) to close finally in 1930.

Dispensation of justice: Research in the Archives of Corfu has revealed the highly beneficial role of the Church in administering justice. The Church judiciary was organised on the basis of pertinent “Byzantine” tradition and customary lwa, in the sixteenth century. The seat of the courf was the city of Corfu, its president the Great Protopappas and its members clerics in high office. The procedural system it applied was pioneering. Its responsibilities extended to family law and social life (dealing with lax morals, private law relations etc.) Surviving archival testimonies confirm the use of the institution in a manner with contributed to the cohesion and continuity of Corfiot society.