Three different aspects will be briefly discussed in my paper starting from current opinions and stereotypes that raise three major questions: does there exist a specific political unit called "Orthodox Europe?"; did the Church and State collaborate permanently in this part of our continent?; is Orthodox traditionalism hostile to political pluralism?
It is often stated nowadays that Eastern Europe went on a separate way after the Great Schism of 1054 and it is quite fashionable to discuss political matters in more sophisticated terms that would appeal to religious feelings; the advantage is that references made to religious attitudes apparently offer a greater solidity to the arguments exposed by historians, politicians, or journalists. The civil war in Yugoslavia has encouraged such a procedure and mostly journalists and specialists in "strategic studies" recur to formula that would transform the conflict between Croatians and Serbs into a war between Catholic and Orthodox Europe. The religious explanation is adorned with social interpretations that make "Orthodoxy" responsible for the "communitarian" way of life which can be encountered only in the Eastern part of Europe and which does not find palatable the ideas of human rights. The main objections to such explanations is that religious labels will not shed light on complex political phenomena and that it is difficult to suppose that after half a century of atheism, people in Eastern Europe would solve social and political matters by falling back on religious beliefs. No political actions have been taken in common by governments existing in the so-called "Orthodox Europe" except the wishful thinking of some researchers.(1) The good relations, for example, between Serbia and Romania or Greece and Romania have political and cultural reasons: no armed conflict opposed them and they lived in the same empire for centuries. If there does exist a certain feeling in Serbia, Bulgaria, and Greece that contemporary problems might be solved in common, it is because for a long period the Balkan people believed that Russia was able to defend them against the Ottomans and to set up a regime that would combine freedom with tolerance, and solidarity with respect for one's beliefs.(2) In this sense, one may speak today of a philo-Russian movement, but not of an Orthodox alliance. "Orthodox Europe" is not a political unity: it may designate, at the most, a part of the continent that maintained a specific cultural and religious legacy.
It has been often affirmed that the Orthodox Church has always been under the control of the state and that a "cesaropapism" was characteristic of Eastern Europe. But reputed byzantinists like Hans Georg Beck(3) demonstrated that this label covers a dramatic tension between Church and State that was never solved: neither the emperor of Byzantium, nor the sultan, did control the Church, although the political power tried often to limit the influence of the Church. But this does not mean that the political power imposed its will on the Church in South East Europe.(4) "A symphonic dyarchy of imperium and sacerdotium remained the Byzantine ideal for a millennium and the Russian ideal for seven centuries."(5) The real problem was raised when the modern states created a new ministry which put under control the activity of the Church: the department for religious problems was created in Romania in the first half of the 19th century and so it happened also in other Balkan countries.(6) The national state asked the Church to support its policy and to give a national character to its activity a gesture that increased its political role and diminished its religious one. As well before the 19th century as after, the separation of the two powers - the spiritual and the temporal - did not allow an intermingling of ideas that would imbue political programs with religious concepts and feelings. The secular power was supposed to enforce justice and order as commanded by the divine will, while the spiritual power had to offer men the best way for saving their souls. …