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Position of the British Church in Constantinople

From Colonial Church Chronicle and Missionary Journal, Vol. IV (October, 1850), pages 139-141.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia, 2007


IT gave us sincere pleasure to read in the letter of our esteemed correspondent, A. C. C. (page 74), that there is a prospect of Bishop Southgate's speedy return to Constantinople. The Christian zeal which stimulated his former labours, the sound judgment which [139/140] directed them, the faith with which he was laying foundations deep, the loving spirit of his intercourse with individual inquirers, the firmness and meekness with which he long bore discouragements painful to all true hearts to hear of,--these seemed to Christians, who were watching his work, so many unmistakeable tokens, that He who alone giveth the increase would surely bless that work with abundant fruits in His own good season. It was an honour to the American Church that she had there occupied ground which we in our faithlessness had neglected; that she, in her early years, had set up a standing witness which forced on the incredulous Mahometan the conviction, that the masters of the world really worship God and believe in a Saviour, and which awakened fallen Christian communities to a sense of the existence of a Church scarcely less ancient, and much more Scriptural, more truly Catholic than their own. This the American Church has done at Constantinople, whilst we seem to have scarcely discovered that there is any work there which we, for Christ's sake might do. A correspondent of our own formerly (Vol. III. 261) drew attention (we have yet to learn with what effect) to the call which there seems to be for a mission to the Mahometans We now wish to direct the thoughts of our readers to a more humble aim--men of weak faith will deem it more practical--the improvement of the very unsatisfactory position of our Church there.

We remember seeing a reprint of the first Report of the Society of the Propagation of the Gospel, in which the British factory at Constantinople was set down as an honourable exception,--being well supplied as to its spiritual wants, "by our worthy merchants that trade or live there." What is the state of the case now? Our merchants there have not decreased either in wealth or in numbers during the last 150 years. There is still a single Chaplain there; not inferior, we believe, in zeal or in ability to any who have occupied that post before him. But he is a solitary Priest; and, still worse, at present without a church to worship in. We have been favoured with a sight of some letters recently received from a resident in Constantinople, a few extracts from one of which will state the case more forcibly than any words of our own:--

"While the Greek, and Roman, and Armenian Churches proclaim their vitality, and retain their hold upon their members, by the regular performance of their services with all their varied ceremonies, in large, and appropriate, and substantial buildings, of which there are several belonging to each communion, the English Church has not had for some years one single building dedicated to the service of God. The small chapel which was attached to the palace of the ambassador escaped the fire by which that was destroyed, but was afterwards laid in ruins by another. The palace has now been rebuilt at a cost of already, I believe, something like 70,000l. without its furniture. The large blocks of hewn stone for the stables and outbuildings are lying there just ready to be put together, and when these are all finished, then the chapel is to thought of. Of course, you would suppose it would be in the same costly style at least as the [140/141] stables,--but no, not a bit of it; the old, rough, unsightly walls, which have not the least ecclesiastical character about them, and unfortunately have not yet fallen down, are here to be retained; and, the whole arrangement of the interior, which will be notoriously too small, is to be left to the pleasure of the Palace architect, who being by profession, I believe, a Romanist, but in reality, I am told, attending no service at all, is not quite the person to have the fitting up of an English chapel. But it seems generally agreed here, that in any case, with so large a number of English residents, we ought to have a church altogether independent of the ambassador's private chapel."

This subject should be urged upon the British Church, not only (although chiefly) for the sake of the British residents in Constantinople--others also are entitled to consideration. It is well known, that there now exists among the Greeks a very general desire to learn what the doctrines of the English Church really are. Several instances have lately occurred which fully substantiate the following General observation of the writer before quoted:--

"It has been represented to me, again and again, by those who ought to know, that there is in certain communions an almost universal distrust of their present religious systems, and an extreme anxiety, among at least the educated, for something better; and that such persons have an eye especially to the Church of England. My feeling is, that it is not right to encourage such persons to forsake their own branch of the Church: but rather to urge them to agitate (if one may use such a word) for the reform of the abuses which exist among themselves; and so to look forward, if it may be, to the mutual recognition of whole branches of the Catholic Church."

But to turn from these degenerate Christians to the Infidels, who constitute the large majority of the population of Constantinople. For the last 300 years our Church has been used to pray for them by name: but, where the Church is brought into actual contact with them, what aspect does she wear?

"I have heard that the Turks have been in the habit of saying of the English lately, that they have no Priest, no Church, no Religion. And really there are a great number of English residents who seem to have lost all interest in religion, and never to attend public worship at all. . . . Sometimes they have been for months together without even the possibility of partaking of the means of grace."

We have now laid this case before our readers. Who is there, with the heart and the means to act in the matter? who first of the thousands who are annually deriving wealth or enjoyment from this city? Is it not strange, that with such facts before us, we can offer so quietly our annual prayer on Good Friday, that all "Turks and Infidels" may be fetched home to the flock of Christ?

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