LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Memoirs of the Affairs of Greece
Chapter XIX

Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XIII
Chapter XIV
Chapter XV
Chapter XVI
Chapter XVII
Chapter XVIII
‣ Chapter XIX
Chapter XX
Chapter XXI
Chapter XXII
Chapter XXIII
Chapter XXIV
Chapter XXV
Chapter XXVI
Chapter XXVII
Chapter XXVIII
Chapter XXIX
Chapter XXX
Chapter XXXI
Chapter XXXII
Chapter XXXIII
Chapter XXXIV
Chapter XXXV
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Religious observances—Fasts—Prejudices—Greek clergy.

Mention has already been made of the habitual frugality and simplicity of living, that distinguish the Greeks; and of the extraordinary voracity, displayed during the festivals of their church. During the better half of the year, obliged to observe the fasts it prescribes, and which are far more rigid than those of the Catholics—fish, eggs, milk, and in fact every produce of red-blooded animals, being interdicted—a piece of Indian corn bread, baked under the embers, a dozen pickled olives, a few raw onions, or boiled wild herbs, amply satisfy the appetite of a Greek. He is never embarrassed for his meals; and, as Tournefort quaintly remarks, “will grow fat, where an ass might die of hunger.” This is literally true; because the latter eats the leaves only, while the former cooks root and all.

No country can produce more savoury edible plants, and no nation is better acquainted with the virtues and properties of the various vegetables. At the end of a day’s march, it is a singular sight for a new comer, to see the Greek soldiers spreading themselves all about the fields to botanize, as they say. For while they are all stooping towards the ground, collecting herbs, their fleecy capote makes them appear exactly like a flock of sheep grazing. After filling their handkerchiefs with roots, frequently fifteen or twenty different species, they form a general
mess; and, after boiling them, sit down in circles to enjoy this simple fare.

The Greek religion, among the common people, is entirely a religion of the stomach; for superstition, which constantly presides at his board, teaches that the orthodox use of food is the chief thing necessary to arrive at salvation; that it is equally his duty as a christian, who wishes to please the saints, the panagia, and Christ, to fast at the appointed epochs, and to gorge himself, as much as possible, with the various viands under which the tables literally groan at their celebration of festivals. The appetite is with them in ratio with their devotion; and were a Greek to die of an indigestion, produced by inordinate gluttony, he would be considered a martyr, and die with as much assurance of going to heaven, as the Mahomedan, who falls in battle, of being immediately transported into the arms of the houris.

Fasting is looked upon by the Greek as a sacrament, which even divine justice cannot violate. Let no one accuse me of exaggeration; for so strictly convinced is a kleftes of the all-atoning power of fasting, that no consideration will induce him to break it; though, on the very same day, he will, without hesitation, commit the most dreadful atrocities.

Macri most religiously observed every fast in the year. The Greeks retain in their religion various Jewish ceremonies: they consider it a sin, for instance, to eat the flesh of an animal that has been smothered, as fowls and pigeons frequently are by us. This prejudice is so deeply rooted, that, after shooting a bird or hare, they cut the throat of the animal, and refuse to eat it afterwards unless it bleeds. The horror, they entertain for the land tortoise, is invincible. Nothing can induce them even to touch
that animal. They never perceive it without spitting, in sign of the great disgust its sight creates. Some Europeans, who came to see me while at Cerasovo, had caught several on the road. One of them, a German, whom long experience and necessity had rendered proficient in the art of killing and cooking that animal, announced a grand treat, and was preparing to execute his promise, when my hostess hastened with the assistance of her neighbours to remove all her kitchen apparatus; and, on the arrival of her husband, such an outcry was raised against us, that we deemed it prudent to leave the house, and cook in the open air. Notwithstanding our assertions, that its broth was more delicate than that of the finest capon, and the ragout, prepared with its flesh, excellent, we could not prevent the country people from looking upon us, as the most impure beings they had ever met with; and, for several days, they kept aloof from us, as if we laboured under some infectious complaint.

Most of the Greeks, who had travelled, or received some education, were far from being so bigoted as their brethren. They were, indeed, the first to ridicule the endless mummeries of their church; and it may be perceived, on perusing the Provisory Constitution of Greece, that the representatives of the nation, rather sought to reduce the authority of the clergy still more, than to augment them. Since the revolution the power of the upper clergy had almost entirely ceased. For the Turkish principles they always professed; their love of ostentation; the numerous instances of injustice of which they were charged; and the scandalous immorality of their conduct had, for a long time, alienated the affection of their flocks: while their illiberal opinions, and the enmity they, at first, manifested to the revolution, drew upon them
the universal contempt of the better-informed part of the nation. And here it may not be improper to enter a little deeper into this important subject.

The Greek clergy is divided into two classes, the monastic and the secular: the former (ιερόμόναχοι) are, from their youth, entirely educated in convents; and, after making vows of perpetual celibacy, are admitted into holy orders. All the learning, wealth, and dignities of the church, were in their absolute power, and, by means of these three omnipotent engines, they had, at all times, maintained a powerful authority over the people. The latter class, called κοσμοπάπαδες, entered into holy orders after marriage. The only education, required of them, was the being able to read the liturgy in Greek. It mattered little whether they understood it or not; that was no business of theirs. They lived among the people, as curates formerly did in the poorer parts of North Wales; but their profits were so small, that to maintain themselves and families, they were in villages fated to depend chiefly on their manual exertions; and they never could aspire to further advancement. Their poverty and ignorance could procure to them little influence over the people; for they stood almost exactly on the same level in temporal matters: they were, therefore, mere passive tools in the hands of the upper clergy.

The insulation of the hierarchy from the rest of society, the total separation and even opposition of their interests, inevitably gave rise to an aristocratical influence which imposed a yoke on the neck of the Greek, almost as oppressive as that of the pasha. In order to conciliate the protection of the Turkish authority,the bishop made them handsome annual presents, which naturally came from his flock. Having thus tacitly purchased impunity, he could indulge
his rapacious inclinations uncontrolled; or, if ambition tormented him, accumulate sums, which might procure him from Constantinople the nomination to a wealthier see; and even to the dignity of patriarch; places always given to the highest bidder. The prelates affected, besides, a pomp and ostentation, little becoming the humble followers of a crucified redeemer. Whenever they appeared in public, they were accompanied by a train, only inferior to that of the pasha himself. Their conduct and that of the monks in general were highly immoral; and, not to mention others, the archbishop of Arta and Papaflessa, the bishop of Modon and Coron, were openly guilty of the most flagrant crimes.

The hierarchy had so intimately interwoven its interests with those of the existing government; and was so well aware, that any change in it would materially injure, if not entirely paralyze, its power; that the members of it were always most decidedly opposed to an insurrection of the Greeks; and, by inculcating submission to existing authorities as a christian duty, they trusted to perpetuate the lethargy that, during so many ages, had sealed up the eyes of the nation.

The Hetareia, far from attempting to make proselytes among men of this class, scrupulously concealed from them all their plans. They were aware, that, whilst the true followers of the gospel are favourable to liberty; and the diffusion of happiness through the medium of knowledge; the bigoted priests of superstition cling to a reign of tyranny and ignorance. They knew, that their minds were so governed by selfishness, that, brilliant as the picture might have been made of the future glory and prosperity of their regenerated nation; of the triumph
of the cross; and the unshackled profession of christianity, they could never be prevailed upon to quit a certainty for an uncertainty, or to sacrifice their interests to those of their flock. The Hœtareia expected to meet in the clergy the principal obstacle to the accomplishment of their wishes.

In fact, as soon as the Turkish authorities in Peloponnesus began to entertain apprehensions, on hearing the news of the insurrection in Moldavia and Wallachia, the presence of a Russian army on the banks of the Pruth, the disturbances at Constantinople, and the discontent of the Greeks throughout the empire, they felt the necessity of adopting measures to prevent disturbances in the peninsula; and, in order to deliberate on this question, they judged it expedient to assemble their most trust-worthy counsellors; viz. the principal dignitaries of the Greek church, and the primates.

So little aware had these persons been of a revolution being on the point of bursting out in their country, that they unsuspectingly went to Tripolitza; and were proposing the readiest means of disarming the people, and of lessening the daily increasing number of kleftes, when the explosion took place.

Germanos, bishop of Patras, was on his way to the assembly; when he received information of the massacre of the patriarch, of the first dignitaries of the Greek church, at Constantinople, and of part of the whole Greek population in that city. He immediately changed his direction; and concluding that the Turks in Peloponnesus would follow the example of their sultan, and that the extermination of the heads of the clergy and every individual of note was decreed, despair pointed out to him, as the sole expedient, to unfurl the standard of the cross,
and without delay to make every man of influence in the country aware of the conspiracy, formed against their religion and lives.

This intelligence spread over the Morea with the rapidity of lightning. Every where the clergy, seeing no alternative, between death, spoliation, persecution, and exile, or open revolt, shaking off their apathy, employed all the influence and eloquence they would otherwise have used to smother the rising flame of liberty, in order to produce a more rapid and general conflagration.

Zaimi of Calavrita, Londo of Vostitza, the Petimeras, obeyed instantly the call of their country. The bishops of Helos, of Modon, numerous hegoumeni, and monks, placed themselves at the head of armed bodies of peasants, whose ardour they increased by the hopes of Turkish spoils; and by representing the war not only as one for independence, but for the defence of their faith and their own existence. They reassured the timid by showing how easy their triumph would be, since Russia was coming to their assistance.

The Mainots, who were at all times in arms, instantly obeyed the signal. Colocotroni and all the former capitani of kleftes, whom the fate of war had compelled to abandon the Morea, presented themselves to the old companions of their dangers. The name of this celebrated leader operated like magic on the whole population; and, in less than a week, every province had risen in arms. Thus, the class, which, according to all human probability, was to prove most hostile to the insurrection, from unforeseen circumstances, became its principal support.

Without this coincidence, the revolution never could have taken place. The clergy only were able to destroy the spell, which had so long held in chains
the energies of the people. Their persuasions only could dissipate the hesitation, and rouse the timidity of the Moriot. More miraculous than the dragon’s teeth, their words at once started the armed legions from every part of the land; and this proves, that the Greek insurrection owed its origin not, as most writers have asserted, to preconceived plans and fortunate combinations, but to casualties which could not have been foreseen.