Reason in Exile: The War for Orthodox Christendom

  • Jack Fairey
Part of the Histories of the Sacred and the Secular 1700–2000 book series


In the spring of 1854, a wave of martial religiosity such as Europeans had not seen since the great wars of religion of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries swept over the continent from Britain to Russia and the Ottoman Empire. ‘It seemed’, recalled one French observer, ‘as though all the religious fervour left in the world had become concentrated on the Eastern Question’.3 The crisis at the centre of this religious ferment began a year earlier. At the beginning of 1853, Tsar Nicholas I had astonished the world by making an abrupt demand that the Ottoman sultan provide him with binding guarantees that the ancient rights and privileges of the Orthodox Church in the Ottoman Empire would remain unchanged, without exceptions and in perpetuity. This unexpected intrusion into Ottoman religions affairs had taken Sultan Abdülmecid aback, but he reassured ‘his brother’, the tsar, that there were no plans to abrogate any of the privileges of the Orthodox Church. He conspicuously refused to sign any formal engagement to this effect, however. A written guarantee, he objected, would turn concessions that the Ottoman dynasty had made of its own free will into capitulations imposed by a foreign power. The Russian government rejected this answer and had retaliated by withdrawing its entire embassy from Istanbul.


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© Jack Fairey 2015

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  • Jack Fairey

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