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"Reply to statement relative to persecution of evangelical Armenians in Turkey"




Philander Chase, Archbishop of Constantinople, Armenian Church, Patriarch of Constantinople, Armenia, Turkey, Constantinople, Protestant Church, Orthodox Church, evangelicals, persecution, Christianity


Reply to a “Statement relative to the persecution of evangelical Armenians in Turkey.”

A printed paper has lately come into my hands, entitled “Statement relative to the persecution of evangelical Armenians in Turkey.” It is therein represented that since A.D. 1831 certain persons have been sent as missionaries to the Armenian Nations that their desire was not to “proselyte” but to “preach the Gospel;” that “thousands of Armenians have been enlightened by them;” that “the Heads of the Armenian Church have prohibited the people from reading their versions of the Scriptures and other books and attending their schools;” that “this being insufficient, within the last four or five years men have been persecuted, banished, imprisoned, with chains and bastinadoed,” and that lately “all the evangelical Armenians have been excommunicated, driven out of their own houses, robbed of their goods, turned out of their business, prosecuted for false debts, their houses mobbed, four of them imprisoned and all threatened with exile.”

Now I, as Archbishop and Patriarch of the Armenian Nation, feel it to be my duty to rule and guard my Church according to the commands of God, and to preserve it from unjust calumnies, I ask, therefore, who among the Armenians are to be styled “evangelical” and who rejecters of the Gospel? When, since we have been a Christian people, has the Armenian Church over forbidden her members to read the Gospel? Has there been a day that the Gospel has not been read before the congregations with the greatest reverence? Or when has our Church rejected its ordinances or ceased to act in accordance with its prcepts[sic]? I ask again, what besides excommunication have I inflicted upon those who have blindly separated from her? What other resource do I possess for her preservation, or in what other manner could I guard her from those who, daily finding some new way and teaching some strange and perverted doctrine, openly calumniate the Church of Christ? Let whosoever will, distribute the Gospel; whosoever will, let him read it? Who indeed can prevent him? For our part, we command the reading of the Gospel. But is it no sin to revile the Church of Christ by calling it a “temple of idols,” as these men do? Is the propagation of falsehood a distribution of the Gospel? Some of these men go about with staves in their hands calling themselves “Bishops” in derision of the clergy. They intrude into houses where they are not wanted, and claim the right to teach and preach as if they were Priests. Is this according to the Gospel? Heb. XIII.17.V.4. They despise the Sacrament of Baptism, and say it is “a mere sign.” Is this according to the Gospel? Mark XVI.16. Acts II.38. They speak slightingly of the Sacrament of Holy Communion, and say it is unnecessary to receive it.” Is this according to the Gospel? Cor XI.24.25.26. They “subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not for filthy lucre’s sake.” They seek to divide the Church, contrary to all the commands of Christ and his Apostles. And this they do because they are paid by the missionaries for doing it. Is this according to the Gospel? John XV.12.XVII.21.2 Cor.I.10. Til. I.11.

As the calumnies contained in this paper of the missionaries affect his Royal Highness the Sultan, it is less necessary for me to confute them. We are faithful subjects of His gracious Highness. The Empire and the laws are his. Certainly then to calumniate his laws is to accuse him. He has established security for all throughout his kingdom, forbidding injuries to the life, honour, religion and property of his subjects. How strange then that readers of the Gospel should suffer oppression, and this, too, as the missionaries say, “with the connivance and aid of some of the Turkish authorities.”

Again, are there in Constantinople no Ambassadors-Representatives or Powers which love justice--to take cognizance of the alleged oppression? Are we in the deserts of Heathenism? These men should learn the value of their own souls and beware of spreading falsehoods to the injury of their consciences and of calumniating a Church which in her books and preaching recognizes Christ alone as her Head and is founded upon Christ alone as her Hope. I know not with what spirit they must be moved, to write as they have done and call upon the benevolent for sympathy, labouring to excite their grief and to convince the Christian world of the truth of their misrepresentations. Since the Holy Gospel is not the promoter of such hostility, I cannot doubt that making the cause of the Gospel a pretext, they only desire to excite disturbance, thus dishonoring and making void the Gospel under cover of the Gospel itself.

The missionaries are unquestionably right in saying that those who have not the Gospel should be brought to the knowledge of it. In this we agree; it is the duty of us all; for the foundation of the Christian faith is Holy Scripture. But it is not to be done in a way which destroys the Gospel. Because one reads the Gospel as his creditor therefore not to claim from him his due? Is a landlord a persecutor because he will not retain a tenant who does not pay his rent, or whom he does not desire, though he declare himself a reader of the Gospel? How can men be angry and indulge in falsehoods at such just proceedings? Or are such creditors and landlords to be accounted rejecters of the Gospel?

The missionaries in fifteen years have gained about sixty partizans, including men women and children. It appears therefore most astonishing that they multiply these to “thousands.” But if we consider well we shall see that they are obliged to make such statements; for they know well that were they to tell the plain truth, every one would be surprised, and their supporters, changing their minds, would say, “Ye are idle.” But where are the thousands of whom they speak? Where, in the whole Turkish Empire, are they to be found? Who will show these multitudes to him who desires to see them? They say that “not a few,” oppressed by the dangers of poverty, have returned to their obedience to the Patriarch. Yet if there also were numbered with their partizans, they could only reckon some two hundred persons. Forty eight alone have been excommunicated. And have those who have returned, indeed come back from danger of poverty? It is certain that conviction and a love of their Church have brought them back; for they have affirmed under their own signatures that they were seduced to wander. I have also learned the motives of those whom they affirm to be persecuted. They have themselves told me. “We receive from the missionaries four times as much as we did from our nation. We gain an easy livelihood. How then shall we return to our Church and poverty/” I was sad and silent at their departure, for I saw that they were actuated by pecuniary motives. The truth is that so far from being persecuted, they who were themselves servants have begun to have servants of their own. A tailor, for example, whose former gain were perhaps half a dollar a day, has now, by the aid of the missionaries, in this new and lucrative profession of “disseminating the Gospel,” become a merchant. It is not idle for them to affirm that they are now compelled to support the excommunicated? Was not such the case before the excommunication? The effect of this act seems to have been that they who before could only afford to live in a small hired room, now reside in large and comfortable houses provided by the missionaries. If others also who now live upon dry bread, find a table prepared for them, will they not say, “Alas, our property has been taken away. We have been beaten. They threaten to kill us. We are Protestants.” If among their partizans the missionaries can show one who possesses a competency of his own, or who is of respectable standing in his nation, it shall suffice.

They have also incited some miserable men to come to me, who have spoken in the most insulting and dishonourable manner to my very face. Was this for any other object than to anger me and provoke me to inflict some punishment upon them, that they might thus render their calumnies true? Thus they succeeded in doing with the Bishops of Trebizond, Nicomedia and Erzeroom, which when we had learned, we commanded them to be patient and not to suffer themselves to be excited to anger. It is the duty of my office to possess an enlarged and patient heart. For the endurance of these reproaches Christ my Lord will say to me at the last, ‘Blessed art thou.’ For myself, therefore, I greatly rejoice, although I cannot but grieve deeply for those who utter them. I have neither myself ‘driven any one from his own house,’ nor caused him to be driven out. I have neither “imprisoned” any one, nor caused him to be imprisoned. I have neither “loaded any one with chains,” nor confined him in the stocks, nor subjected him to any species of torture, not have I ever caused such evils to be inflicted. I have neither seized, nor caused to be seized the property of any one. I have neither banished nor “threatened to banish” any one. I know that to inflict such things on any man would be an outrage on humanity and civil rights; but not to speak of that, the Gospel itself is a proof that such things are contrary to it, for it saith, “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.” Matt. VII.12. I have done nothing but excommunicate the refractory and disobedient. Reviling the Church, separating from its communion, and despising its ministry. I have publicly cut them off from that which they had already abandoned. I have done nothing more. I have banished them from the Church in which they would not remain in peace, and thus I did only after repeated admonitions and earnest entreaties to them to return. What else could I do according to the Canons of the Church or the law of the Gospel? Matt XVIII.17, Rom. XVI.17, Gal. V.12. If any of them have suffered inconvenience from the loss of friends and of reputation in their own nation, because they have abandoned it, this is not my doing, nor could I prevent it. It is the consequence of their own act. It is so in every community. If a man violates its laws and reviles it, he is no longer esteemed a friend by the members of that community. I have only excommunicated those who would not remain with us. And now how is it in this city? Are they not going freely about like other men? Are they not to be seen daily in the streets, going whithersoever they will, and doing what they will? Is there one suffering persecution of any sort? Is there one in prison? True, “four men,” partizans of the missionaries, were imprisoned. But they were imprisoned purely for civil causes, as others are imprisoned often. I, however, had nothing to do with it. Only I was glad when they were released, because I knew it would be the occasion of slander. For so it is, if a partizan of the missionaries is charged with debt, they say it is false debt, (though it be ever so true,) because, as they say, he is an “evangelical.” Can these things be worthy of “enlightened” men who wish to “disseminate the Gospel?” They say that they “have actually taken upon themselves the support of one or two hundred persons.” This is false. They cannot point out one hundred persons connected with them. How should they when only forty eight have been excommunicated? How plain is their equivocation here; for do they not know exactly how many they “have actually taken upon themselves” to support, that they should say “one or two hundred?” They say these men are “Protestants, and are made to suffer as Protestance.’ This too is false. What have I to do with their name? they are members of the Armenian community. I know them in no other character. They are excommunicated because they would not live in quiet in their nation and their Church. Besides, I have inquired diligently and find that Protestant Churches do not suffer such men. Are these things which I have mentioned, approved by Protestants? The missionaries say that they “suffer with the very name of Protestant.” This too is false. They have suffered excommunication and nothing else from my hands, and this they have suffered with the name of “schismatical Armenians.” Is the “name of Protestant” to be found in any act or writing of mine? I have never given it to them because I know that they differ from Protesant Christians in England and other countries. And they too declare that they are not Protestants, and have so declared in a letter addressed to me, which also they have printed.

And now why do these missionaries thrust themselves into a Church which acknowledges Christ as its only Head, and receives the Holy Scriptures and the Faith of the Universal Church? Why do they treat us as if we were heathen? They say we do not approve their books or their schools. Have they ever asked us to approve them? Have they not come among us and established schools and printed books as though there were no Patriarch in our Church, no Bishops, no Ministers? Have they not kept themselves aloof from those who are the Pastors of the flocks, and abused them from the beginning and spoken all manner of evil against them? Have they not sought to separate our people from the Church, and have not all those who have joined them become even as themselves in reviling and denouncing the Church? Have they not created disturbance wherever they have gone, and introduced discord into families? Is this to “preach the Gospel?” We neither approve such men nor their labours, nor do we believe Protestant Christians will approve of them when they come to be informed concerning what they are doing. Far better would it have been if their labours for the last fifteen years had been given to the heathen. Is it not a sin that those poor people who, from love of money or from ignorance of their Church, have been seduced from it, should, like a storm shaken vessel, be tossed upon the dangerous waves of doubt, ever inquiring for the truth and let, even to the end of their lives, in restless uncertainty? I now leave the whole matter to the judgment of intelligent men and good Christians, entreating them, in every Christian nation, to make themselves acquainted with the truth of these things, and to labour for the unity and welfare of the Church: and for them, (as well as for those who have erred. That they may be brought back into the right way,) I shall ever sincerely pray.

[Armenian writing]

Matthew, Archbishop,

Patriarch of Constantinople

Letter to Philander Chase



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