Page:The Greek and Eastern churches.djvu/301

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LIFE AND LETTERS IN THE BYZANTINE CHURCH

a difference from the Western canonical arrangement, which confines this rite to the bishop. Penance is enacted, but it never developed in the East to the elaborate proportions and with the mechanical devices which gave rise to the sale of indulgences in the West. The priest tells the penitent that he is a sinner himself, he cannot forgive; only God forgives. Nevertheless he pronounces absolution. The Eucharist is treated equally in both churches as the most sacred office of religion. Ordination can only be conferred by a bishop, and throughout the hierarchy the inferior is ordained by his superior. Marriage is a sacrament carefully guarded by the Church. The higher clergy may not marry after ordination. Bishops may not have wives at all, and therefore the episcopate is mainly supplied by monks. Presbyters are married before ordination and retain their wives for life; but if one becomes a widower he may not take a second wife. Second marriages among the laity are permitted, or rather condoned, but not favoured. Third marriages are forbidden and treated as sinful. Unction is practised not so much as the viaticum, known as "extreme unction," but for the benefit of the sick who may be restored.

The government of the Church is maintained without material alteration in a settled hierarchical form. But the pre-eminence of the patriarch of Constantinople becomes more pronounced in his own provinces, and less effectual elsewhere. This twofold development was wholly due to political causes. The weakening of the Byzantine government gave greater scope and wider range to the authority of the Church. Next to the accession of a new emperor the most important event in Constantinople was the election of the patriarch. We now find patriarchs rebuking and even defying the throne with a force and a freedom hitherto unknown in the East, and more like the spirit of the great ecclesiastics of Rome. On the other hand, the absorption of Syria and Egypt into the realm of the caliphs and sultans made the patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem prisoners in their own cities, and cut them off to