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Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople

As Archbishop of Constantinople and New Rome, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople occupies the First Throne of the Orthodox Christian Church and presides in a fraternal spirit among all the Orthodox Primates. The Ecumenical Patriarch has the historical and theological responsibility to initiate and coordinate actions among the Churches of Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, Russia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Cyprus, Greece, Poland, Albania, The Czech Land and Slovakia, Finland, Estonia, and numerous archdioceses in the old and new worlds. This includes the convening of councils or meetings, facilitating inter-church and inter-faith dialogues and serving as the primary expresser of Church unity as a whole.

The Greek Orthodox population of Turkey diminished sharply in the 20th century as a result of the 1923 population exchange, of anti-Greek riots in 1955 that prompted many to flee, and of expulsions in 1964-65; the latter two developments were related to the Cyprus issue. Only about 3,000 Greeks reside in Istanbul today. The seat of the Ecumenical Greek Orthodox Patriarch is in Istanbul. The Turkish Government does not recognize the ecumenical or international personality of the Greek Orthodox Church in Turkey and defines it instead as a Turkish national church. This is because of Turkish concerns about possible extraterritoriality, analogous to Vatican City. Turkey also insists that the Patriarch be a Turkish citizen.

In the grand ecclesiastical traditions of Origen, Athanasius, Basil, the Gregorys, and of John Chrysostom, this Church possesses a magnificent heritage from the Past. As a title, the phrase "Ecumenical Patriarchate" dates from the sixth century and belongs exclusively to the Archbishop of Constantinople. A rival to the papacy developed in the Oecumenical patriarchate of Constantinople, which at the Council of Constantinople in 381 was recognized as taking precedence over the other eastern bishoprics and ranking next to that of Rome, "because Constantinople is New Rome." The Greek word "Oecumenea" actually is a reference to the East Roman, or Byzantine, Empire, and the Patriarchate of Constantinople retains this title today.

Following the establishment of Constantinople (the ancient city of Byzantium) as the state capital of the Roman Empire in the early part of the fourth century, a series of significant ecclesiastical events saw the status of the Bishop of New Rome (as Constantinople was then called) elevated to its current position and privilege. The Church of Constantinople is traditionally regarded as being founded by St. Andrew, the "first-called" of the Apostles. Theodosius I, as early as the Second (Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (381), had the decision made that New Rome should take precedence immediately after old Rome. The 3rd canon of the Second Ecumenical Council held in Constantinople (381) conferred upon the bishop of this city second rank after the Bishop of Rome. This was the first expression of the theory that Constantinople should be supreme among the Churches of the Eiist.

The first to attempt to translate this thought into action was John Chrysostom. As he undertook the campaign against Alexandria, so he was also able to bring the still independent Church of Asia Minor under the authority of Constantinople. On a missionary journey he made the See of Ephesus, founded by St. John the Apostle, a suffragan of his patriarchate. The defeat of Alexandria at the Council of Chalcedon established the supremacy of Constantinople. The 28th canon of the Fourth Ecumenical Council held in Chalcedon (451) offered Constantinople equal ranking to Rome and special responsibilities throughout the rest of the world and expanding its jurisdiction to territories hitherto unclaimed.

In 861 AD, during the Council in Constantinople, Patriarch Ignatius called upon the double apostolicity of the Ecumenical Throne, when the Papal Delegation was promoting the apostolicity of the throne of Rome. As it is recorded in the canonical collection of Cardinal Deusdedit (11th cent.), from the Latin translation, St. Ignatius then said, " And I hold the throne of Apostle John, and of the First-Called Apostle Andrew." However, the primacy of the bishop of Constantinople in the eastern church was challenged by the older patriarchates of Ephesus, Antioch and Alexandria, all of which had been apostolic foundations, while the claims of Constantinople to that honor were more than dubious.

Between 381 and 451 the bishops of Alexandria successfully disputed the doctrinal authority of the see of Constantinople, but at the council of Chalcedon (451 A. D.) Pulcheria and Marcian reasserted the primacy of the patriarch of the capital. At this time also the bishopric of Jerusalem was recognized as a patriarchate. The patriarch of Constantinople was now placed on an equality with the pope, a recognition against which the Pope Leo protested in vain. However, the patriarchs of Constantinople never acquired the power and independence of the popes. Situated as they were in the shadow of the imperial palace, and owing their ecclesiastical authority to the support of the throne, they rarely ventured to oppose the will of the emperor. Under Justinian the patriarch held the position of a " minister of state in the department of religion."

The causes of the schism with the West included the doctrine of the Filioque, a difference in Eastern and Western teaching on the subject of human liberty, the differences in discipline which were brought to the surface by the condemnation of Roman practices in the Council of Trullo ; but, above all, the overbearingness of the Popes in their attempts to subject the Eastern Church to themselves. These being the reasons of the schism, an occasion was found in the deposition of Ignatius from the patriarchal throne of Constantinople and the elevation of Photius. Nicholas I was at that time the Pope, and acting upon the principles of the decretals of Isidore, which had a short time before been forged, he claimed the right of settling the dispute between the two claimants for the patriarchal throne of Constantinople, and declared Photius deposed. In the year 867 Photius published an encyclic letter, in which he put together all the grievances which the Easterns had against the Westerns, and at the head of a thousand bishops excommunicated Nicholas just as Nicholas had excommunicated him. Thus the schism was more than begun.

There came a crisis in the year 1054, the traditional date of the great schism. The major problem in the dispute was the Roman claim to primacy in arbitrating all matters of faith, morals, and administration. The Greek East, which knew of no precedent for this claim, had refused to accept it. The Orthodox position toward the Roman claims can be found in the answer of Niketas, archbishop of Nikomedia, to Anselm, bishop of Havelberg, in the twelfth century. To several accusations of Anselm's, Niketas responded as follows: "My dearest brother, we do not deny to the Roman Church the primacy amongst the five sister patriarchates [Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem], and we recognize her right to the most honorable seat at an ecumenical synod. But, she has separated herself from us by her own deeds, when through pride she assumed a monarchy which does not belong to her office."

With the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, the Greek Orthodox Church became a "nation" under the Turks. The vigorous Sultan Mahmud II, recognizing the fact that as a Muhammadan he could not do justice to his Christian subjects, transferred the ecclesiastical and civil oversight (rumi melleti) over all Christians to the Patriarch of Constantinople, after the taking of this city in 1453. The constitution of the synod was not interfered with, nor was its jurisdiction suppressed. Existing churches were recognized as the property of Christians, and the Church was allowed to hold property herself. Bishops were acknowledged as judges between Christians, and could only themselves be accused before the Divan. The strange result followed that the Patriarch and the higher clergy thus obtained greater power personally than that which they had before enjoyed.

Nevertheless, the Church soon found that it was subject to hard taskmasters. Churches were taken possession of or pulled down, Santa Sophia was turned into a mosque, and at last the Patriarch felt himself obliged to resign his office. Many patriarchs and other clerics of the Orthodox Church who refused to obey the whim of the sultans were dethroned or exiled or in most cases put to death. A few cases may suffice to substantiate this point. Joachim I (1504) was dethroned; Cyril Loukaris (1638), Cyril Kontaris (1639), Parthenios (1504), Parthenios III (1657), Gregory V (1821), and others were put to death. Neophytos (1707) was thrown into the galleys, and several others, such as Jeremia II (1769), Anthimos III (1824), Chrysanthos (1826), and Agathagelos (1830) were exiled.

The Sultans set up and pulled down the Patriarchs as they pleased, and demanded rich presents of each new Patriarch. He was made the spiritual and temporal Chief of all the Orthodox Christians in the Sultan's dominions. Separate courts were set up for Christians, since the Sultan recognized that they could not be expected to submit to the laws of the Koran. Thus was organized an empire within an empire, with the Patriarch at its head. A separate Patriarch was appointed for the Armenians, and later similar separate organization was granted to Syrians, Copts, Catholics, Protestants and other bodies. But the most important Ottoman religious functionary outside the Moslem faith was the Greek Patriarch at Constantinople.

In the seventeenth century there were no less than fifty changes of Patriarch in seventyfive years. Every new Patriarch was obliged to give money, and this he obtained from the bishops under him, and the bishops from the inferior clergy. The result was that the leaven of demoralization and simony spread throughout the whole Church. Selim I, in 1520, having learnt from the Chief Mufti that it was a good thing to convert his Christian subjects to Islamism, decreed that all the churches should be turned into mosques, Christian worship suppressed, and all Christians who did not accept Islamism put to death. He was, however, induced to withdraw this decree, substituting for it an order that all the churches in Constantinople should be turned into mosques, and that Christians should build new churches of wood.

As those parts of Turkey in which Christianity prevailed broke away from the Turkish yoke and were organized into independent states, they asserted at the same time their ecclesiastical independence of the Patriarch of Constantinople, and strove to build up national Churches among themselves. Thus autonomous Churches were founded in Greece, Montenegro, Servia, Roumania, Hungary, etc. Even within the dominions of Turkey, the Patriarch of Constantinople had not sufficient power nor prestige to maintain papal authority over the churches of his creed. The Patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem looked back upon an equally glorious ecclesiastical past, and enjoyed so great a prestige on account of the holy places lying in their territory, that they became autonomous and independent of Constantinople in nearly every respect. Even the small Orthodox Greek Church of Cyprus and the " archbishopric" of the fifty monks of the Sinai Monastery became autonomous.

The obstinacy of the Constantinople Patriarchate on the one hand, which refused to accede to the just demands of the Bulgarians, and, on the other hand, the backing up of the latter by the Russian government, led, in 1870, to the issuing by the Sultan of a firman declaring the Bulgarian Church practically independent of the Patriarch, and conferring upon it an autonomous " Exarchate." Although the Patriarch replied by excommunicating the Bulgarian Church, thereby forcing it into a kind of schism, the latter maintained its autonomy.

Similar difficulties confront the Patriarchates of Antioch and Jerusalem. It is true that in these districts Greek was originally the language of the church services, of culture and of trade, and that the Fathers of this region were without exception Greeks. Yet, after the Arabian conquest in the middle of the seventh century, language and civilization underwent a complete change. The native population, including the Christians, adopted the Arabic language, so that even Greek families, which immigrated in former centuries, speak Arabic, though perhaps in the family circle Greek is spoken and understood. Alexandria lost the greater part of her congregations as far back as the sixth century, when nearly the entire Egyptian Church seceded to Monophysitism. During fourteen centuries of Muhammadan oppression, their number has further declined, so that by 1900 there were only 10,000 native members.

After a time European intervention, and the sympathy of the Russians for their fellow-religionists, made some improvement in the treatment of the Christians: but it is surprising that under such a system there was found even one Patriarch willing to die the death of a martyr, and another who exhibited the courage, piety, and learning of Cyril Lucar. It was the Greek insurrection which led to the martyrdom of Gregory V. On Easter Day, April 23, 1821, he was seized immediately after the Christian service and strangled in front of the patriarchal residence. After his body had remained hanging for three days, it was delivered up to the Jews, who dragged it through the streets and then cast it into the sea.

In October 1901 Joachim III, the new Patriarch of Constantinople, was restored after seventeen years' retreat on Mount Athos. In 1920, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople issued an Encyclical Letter which laid out a policy which would shake the Orthodox world. Called "To the Churches of Christ Wherever They May Be" the Encyclical was issued during a chaotic period in which the Western powers were exercising considerable influence in the former areas of the Empire.

In 1924 Patriarch Gregory IV of Constantinople caused a schism in his own Church by introducing the new calendar. The new calendar, together with the new Paschalion, was specifically condemned by Great Pan-Orthodox Councils in 1583, 1587, 1593 and 1756 and, according to the decisions of this Councils, all those who accept these novelties are anathematized and separated from the Church. In 1924, by introducing the new calendar, the Greek Church came under this anathema. It separated itself (through its hierarchy, of course) from other Orthodox churches that continued to follow the patristic calendar.

Since the government-provoked riots against the Greek Orthodox minority in 1955 - when the community numbered around 100,000 - the Church was reduced to its present day remnant of 3,000 believers or less. The Ecumenical Patriarchate, with jurisdiction over the Greek Orthodox of Western Europe, North and South America, Australia, and several islands of Greece, has a membership of approximately five million faithful. The ecumenical patriarch, who heads it, is respected by all Orthodox as the first among equals and serves as the strongest link of unity among all Orthodox.

A Latin patriarchate was established at Constantinople in 1203, in consequence of the crusades. The occupant received a rank next to the pope. When Constantinople, in 1453, became the residence of the sultan, the Latin patriarchs transferred the seatofthe patriarchate to Venice, and sent to Constantinople as their representative a vicar, who for a long time .was only a monk. When the Catholics, in consequence of their increasing number, applied for a bishop, the Propaganda prevailed upon the patriarch to appoint an assistant bishop for Constantinople, and to pay him a regular salary. This bishop sometimes called himself patriarchal vicar, sometimes suffragan of the patriarch. After some time, the Propaganda found it necessary to appoint, in its turn, an apostolical patriarchal vicar. When, after the middle of the 17th century, the patriarch took up his residence at Rome, and the patriarchate of Constantinople became a mere title, which was conferred upon a prelate residing in Rome, the apostolical ricar was invested with full jurisdiction over all Catholics of the Latin rite. The population of his diocese, which extends over Thrace and the opposite coast of Asia Minor, was estimated in the year 1900 at about 15,000.



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