Religion Wiki

The Ecumenical Patriarch (Greek: Η Αυτού Θειοτάτη Παναγιότης, ο Αρχιεπίσκοπος Κωνσταντινουπόλεως, Νέας Ρώμης και Οικουμενικός Πατριάρχης) is the Archbishop of Constantinople - New Rome - ranking as primus inter pares (first among equals) in the Eastern Orthodox communion, which is seen by followers as the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

The Ecumenical Patriarch has been historically known as the Greek Patriarch of Constantinople, as distinct from the Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople and the ancient Latin Patriarch of Constantinople. The current holder of the office is Bartholomew I.

The Turkish government recognizes him as the spiritual leader of the Greek minority in Turkey, and refer to him as the Greek (lit. Roman) Orthodox Patriarch of the Phanar (Turkish: Fener Rum Ortodoks Patriği). The Patriarch was subject to the authority of the Ottoman Empire after the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, until the declaration of Turkish Republic in 1923. Today, according to the Turkish law, he is subject to the authority of the Republic of Turkey and must be a citizen of Turkey to be elected Patriarch.

The Patriarch of Constantinople has been designated the Ecumenical Patriarch since the sixth century.[1] The exact significance of the style, which has been used occasionally for other prelates since the middle of the fifth century, is nowhere officially defined, but the title has been attacked in the West as incompatible with the claims of the See of Rome.[1]


In this capacity he is first in honor among all the Eastern Orthodox bishops, presides in person or through a delegate over any council of Orthodox primates and/or bishops in which he takes part and serves as primary spokesman for the Orthodox communion, especially in ecumenical contacts with other Christian denominations. He has no direct jurisdiction over the other patriarchs or the other autocephalous Orthodox churches, but he, alone among his fellow-primates, enjoys the right of convening extraordinary synods consisting of them and/or their delegates to deal with ad hoc situations and has also convened well-attended Pan-Orthodox Synods in the last forty years.

In addition to being the spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide, he is the direct administrative superior of dioceses and archdioceses serving millions of Greek, Ukrainian, Carpatho-Russian and Albanian Orthodox in North and South America, Western Europe (where his flock consists mainly of the Greek, Slavic and other Balkanic diaspora), Australia and New Zealand, Hong Kong, Southeast Asia, Korea and portions of modern Greece.

His actual position is Patriarch of the Orthodox Church of Constantinople, one of the fourteen autocephalous and several autonomous churches and the most senior (though not oldest) of the four orthodox ancient primatial sees among the five patriarchal Christian centers comprising the ancient Pentarchy of the undivided Church. In his role as head of the Orthodox Church of Constantinople, he also holds the title Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome.[2]

He should not be confused with the Latin Patriarch of Constantinople, an office that is now extinct, and created after the Latin capture of Constantinople in 1204, during the Fourth Crusade. That office became effectively redundant after the city was recaptured by the Byzantine Greeks, half a century later. Thus he is also known, outside Orthodoxy, as the Greek Patriarch of Constantinople. His official title is "His All-Holiness the Archbishop of Constantinople New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch".

Both Political and Administrative, The Patriarch had been bound to the Ottoman Empire from the Turkish conquest of Istanbul (Constantinople) in 1453, until the declaretion of Turkish Republic in 1923. From 1923, according to the Turkish Laws, he is bound to the Republic of Turkey and located under the sub-province governor of Istanbul's islands. Only independency of the Patriarch is religious, and technically Ecumenical Patriarch is not Ecumenical.

Role in Orthodox episcopacy

The current Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I.

The Ecumenical Patriarch has a unique role among Orthodox bishops, though it is not without its controversy. He is primus inter pares ("first among equals"), as he is senior among all Orthodox bishops. This primacy, expressed in canonical literature as presbeia ("prerogatives"), grants to the Ecumenical Patriarch the right to preside at pan-Orthodox synods.

Additionally, the canonical literature of the Orthodox Church grants to the Ecumenical Patriarch the right to hear appeals in cases of dispute between bishops. However, whether these canonical rights are limited only to his own patriarchate or are universal throughout the Orthodox Church is currently the subject of debate, especially between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Moscow Patriarchate.

Historically, the Ecumenical Patriarch has heard such appeals and sometimes was invited to intervene in other churches' disputes and difficulties. Even as early as the time of St. John Chrysostom (5th century), Constantinople was instrumental in the deposition of multiple bishops outside its traditional jurisdiction. This still occurs today, as when in 2006 the patriarchate was invited to assist in declaring the Archbishop of the Cypriot Orthodox Church incompetent due to his having Alzheimer's disease.[3] Additionally, in 2005, the Ecumenical Patriarchate convoked a pan-Orthodox synod to express the Orthodox world's confirmation of the deposition of Patriarch Irenaios of Jerusalem.[4] In 2006, the patriarchate was invited to hear the appeal of a Russian Orthodox bishop in the United Kingdom in a dispute with his superior in Moscow, though the result of that appeal and the right to make it were both rejected by the latter.[5]

The Ecumenical Patriarch has no direct jurisdiction outside the Patriarchate of Constantinople granted to him in Orthodox canonical literature, but his primary function regarding the whole Orthodox Church is one of dealing with relations between autocephalous and autonomous churches. That is, his primary function is one of Church unity.

This unique role often sees the Ecumenical Patriarch referred to as the "spiritual leader" of the Orthodox Church in some sources, though this is not an official title of the patriarch nor is it usually used in scholarly sources on the patriarchate. Such a title is acceptable if it refers to this unique role, but it sometimes leads to a belief that the office is thus the equivalent of an Orthodox papacy, an impression sometimes given from unqualified references in the press.

In 2007, the Patriarch gave his approval to the Declaration of Ravenna, a Catholic–Orthodox document re-asserting that the bishop of Rome is indeed the Protos, although future discussions are to be held on the concrete ecclesiological exercise of papal primacy.[6] According to "Subsistit in" in Lumen Gentium, the Patriarch is a validly consecrated bishop in Roman ecclesiology, and there is merely an imperfect ecclesial communion between Constantinople and Rome, which exists nevertheless and which may be improved at some point in history.

Environmental work

Because of the work of Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios, who established September 1 as the day for the protection of the environment,[7] and especially the ongoing work of the current Patriarch, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has been given the title, "Green Patriarch". Thus, the person of Bartholomew and by extension the position of the Ecumenical Patriarch is now being viewed as a religious spokesperson on environmental issues and the "green" spiritual leader in the world.[8]

Early history

The (arch)bishopric of Constantinople has had a continuous history since the founding of the city in 330 AD by Constantine the Great. After Constantine the Great had enlarged Byzantium to make it into a new city named after himself in 330, it was thought appropriate that its bishop, once a suffragan of Heraclea Pontica and traditionally a successor of St Andrew the Apostle, should become second only to the Bishop of Old Rome. Soon after the transfer of the Roman capital, the bishopric was elevated to an archbishopric.[9] For many decades the heads of the church of Rome opposed this ambition, not because anyone thought of disputing their first place, but because they defended the 'Petrine principle' by which all Patriarchates were derived from Saint Peter and were unwilling to violate the old order of the hierarchy for political reasons.

Throne room inside the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The Gospel is enthroned on the dais; the Patriarch sits on the lower throne in front.

In 381, the First Council of Constantinople declared that "The Bishop of Constantinople shall have the primacy of honour after the Bishop of Rome, because it is New Rome" (canon iii). The Patriarchs refused to confirm this canon. Nonetheless, the prestige of the office continued to grow not only because of the obvious patronage of the Byzantine Emperor but because of its overwhelming physical and geographical importance. In practice, the Bishop of Rome eventually acknowledged this situation.

The Council of Chalcedon in 451 established Constantinople as a patriarchate with ecclesiastical jurisdiction over Asia Minor (the dioceses of Asiane and Pontus) and Thrace as well as over the barbaric territories, non-converted lands outside the defined area of the Western Patriarchate (Old Rome) and the other three patriarchates, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, gave it appellate jurisdiction extraterritorially over canon law decisions by the other patriarchs and granted it honours equal to those belonging to the first Christian see, Rome, in terms of primacy, Rome retaining however its seniority (canon xxviii). Patriarch Leo I refused to accept this canon, basing himself on the fact that it was made in the absence of his legates. In the 6th century, the official title became that of "Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome, and Ecumenical Patriarch."[9]

The current Patriarch (since 1991) is Bartholomew I who has become better-known than any of his predecessors in modern times as a result of his numerous pastoral and other visits to numerous countries in five continents and his setting up of a permanent bureau at the EU headquarters, in addition to enhancing the long-established Patriarchal Centre in Chambesy, Switzerland and also his ecological pursuits which have won him the epithet of "the Green Patriarch."

Ottoman ethnarchy

File:Phanar Greek Orthodox College Istanbul.jpg

Phanar Greek Orthodox College near the Church of Saint George, seat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate

When the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453, the Patriarchate had ceased to function. The office of Patriarch was eventually bestowed in 1454 to the illustrious Byzantine scholar-monk George Scholarius, who was well known for his opposition to union with the Latin West and took the name of Gennadius II, by the conquering Islamic Ottoman ruler, Sultan Mehmed II, who wished to establish his dynasty as the direct heirs of the Eastern Roman Emperors, and who adopted the imperial title Kayser-i-Rûm "Caesar of Rome", one of his subsidiary titles but a most significant one.

The Patriarch was designated millet-bashi (ethnarch) of the Millet of Rum (Turkish for Rome, i.e. Byzantium), which included all Orthodox Christians under Ottoman rule, regardless of their nationality (ethnicity) in the modern sense. This role was carried out by ethnic Greeks at their great peril, in the midst of enormous difficulties and traps and inevitably with mixed success. Several incumbents of the patriarchal throne were summarily executed by the Ottoman authorities, most notably Patriarch Gregory V on Easter Monday 1821 as partial retribution for the outbreak of the last and only successful Greek Revolution.

In the 19th century, the rising tide of nationalism and secularism among the Balkan Christian nations led to the establishment of several autocephalous national churches, generally under autonomous Patriarchs or Archbishops, leaving the Ecumenical Patriarch only direct control over the ethnically Greek-originated Orthodox Christians of Turkey, parts of Greece and the archdioceses in America, Asia, Africa and Oceania where growing Greek and other migrant communities have gradually constituted a significant orthodox diaspora. Turkish and Armenian Orthodox Christians in Turkey have independent Churches.

Mount Athos

The monks of Mount Athos form an autonomous monastic community that recognizes the Ecumenical Patriarch as their only head and bishop. The EU treats this "Athonite Republic," or "Autonomous Monastic State of the Holy Mountain," as part of Greece, a member state.

Issues of religious freedom

The modern Turkish state still requires the Patriarch to be a Turkish citizen (though nearly all Greek Orthodox have left Turkey; see Population exchange between Greece and Turkey and Istanbul Pogrom) but allows the Standing Synod of Metropolitan Bishops to elect the Patriarch.[10] Since the establishment of modern Turkey, therefore, the position of the Ecumenical Patriarch has been filled by ethnic Greeks, who must be Turkish citizens by birth.

Human rights groups and Christian governments have long protested against conditions placed by the secular government of Turkey on the Ecumenical Patriarch, a religious entity.[11] For example, the Ecumenical status accorded him within Eastern Orthodoxy, and recognized previously by the Ottoman governments, has on occasion been a source of controversy within the Republic of Turkey, which under its laws regarding religious minorities officially recognizes him as only the "Patriarch of the Phanar" (Phanar is the district in Istanbul where the patriarchate is located) and the spiritual leader of the dwindling Greek orthodox community of Turkey. This policy results in problems in the function of the Patriarchate, since clergy coming from abroad are not eligible to apply for residence and work permits.[12] At the same time, the Turkish government has promoted a rival Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate, whose congregation however has remained limited.[12]

Expropriation of Church property and the closing of the Orthodox Theological School of Halki are also cited by human rights groups. Lewis D. Eigen[13] and others however have observed that the closing was aimed by the Turkish secularists at the Moslem radicals who would preach hate and terror if allowed to control their own religious seminaries. The Christians were caught in the "crossfire." However, in 2004 Patriarch Bartholomew, with the help of Turkish Government, succeeded, after eighty years, to alter the composition of the twelve-member Standing Synod of Metropolitan Bishops in Constantinople so that it can include six bishops from outside Turkey. He has also been convening biennially in Constantinople convocations of all bishops in his jurisdiction.

It is claimed that the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople has been the target of attacks on occasion from 1993 to 2004, including desecration of patriarchal cemeteries and personal assaults against the Ecumenical Patriarch.[14]

Recent News Coverage

December 20, 2009 Featured on CBS' 60 Minutes in a segment entitled "The Patriarch Bartholomew" [1]

See also

Notes and references

  1. 1.0 1.1 "Oecumenical Patriarch." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005.
  2. Website of BARTHOLOMEW, Archbishop of Constantinople New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch, web:
  3. Constantine Markides: AG investigates church sex scandal. Retrieved on 2006-11-28.
  4. BBC online: Orthodox leader demoted to monk. Retrieved on 2006-11-28.
  5. Ecumenical Patriarchate: Press Release for the election of Bishop Basil of Amphipolis. Retrieved on 2006-11-28.
  6. Divided in Ravenna, Russian and Estonian Orthodox to talk
  7. and and also see
  8. See:
  9. 9.0 9.1 "Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople", Encyclopædia Britannica 2005 Deluxe Edition CD-ROM.
  10. Ecumenical Patriarchate website: Biography of Patriarch Bartholomew I. Retrieved on 2006-11-28
  11. EU Turkey Civic Commission: EU Draft Report on Turkey's Progress Towards Accession 2006/2118 (INI). Retrieved on 2006-11-28
  12. 12.0 12.1 Greek Foreign Ministry - Ecumenical Patriarchate
  13. Lewis D. Eigen, Turkish Discrimination Against Christian Schools–Or Is It?, Scriptamus, 2009,
  14. Human Right Internet: The United Nations Human Rights System. Retrieved on 2006-11-28

Sources and external links


The Pentarchy
Rome (42-present) | Constantinople (330-1453) | Alexandria (43-692) |
Antioch (37-546) | Jerusalem (33-70)

bg:Вселенски патриарх et:Konstantinoopoli oikumeeniline patriarh eo:Patriarko de Konstantinopolo ko:콘스탄티노폴리스 총대주교 hr:Carigradski patrijarhat id:Patriark Konstantinopel mk:Цариградска Патријаршија ja:コンスタンディヌーポリ総主教庁 nn:Det økumeniske patriarkat i Konstantinopel pt:Patriarca Ecumênico de Constantinopla ru:Константинопольский Патриарх sr:Васељенска патријаршија fi:Ekumeeninen patriarkka uk:Константинопольський патріархат zh:君士坦丁堡牧首