The “Bulgarian Question” and the 1872 Council of Constantinople, Part 5

This article is the fifth in a six-part series on the 1872 Council of Constantinople. In this installment, we learn about the aftermath of the Council. The one bishop who refused to sign the Council’s decree was the Patriarch of Jerusalem, and when he returned to Jerusalem, he was deposed by his Holy Synod. This led to an international incident involving the Ottoman Empire, Russia, Greece, and even Germany. From the Methodist Quarterly Review, July 1873.


Patriarch Kyrillios (Cyril) II of Jerusalem

The excommunication of the Bulgarians by the Holy and Grand Council of Constantinople, in September, 1872, (see “Methodist Quarterly Review,” January, 1873, p. 148,) soon created new troubles. The Greeks of Turkey and Greece gave to the decree of excommunication a fanatical support. The refusal of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Kyrillos, to sign the decree, called forth on the part of the clergy and the people of his patriarchate the greatest indignation. A synod of bishops of the patriarchate of Jerusalem at once met in Jerusalem, admonished their Patriarch to submit to the declaration of the Council, and when he definitively refused, deposed him from office. The following translation of his official decree of deposition is a very interesting contribution to the recent history of the Greek Church:

To-day, Tuesday, November 7, of the year 1872, in the twelfth hour, all the episcopal members of the Holy Synod of Jerusalem, after assembling in the hall of the synodal sessions of the monastery of the Holy Sepulcher, and after taking into consideration the last definitive answer of his Holiness, the Patriarch, Kyrillos II., relative to the acceptance of the resolution of the Grand and Holy Council legally and canonically convoked at Constantinople — by which resolution phyletism (that is, the distinction of races and nationalities in the Church) was rejected and condemned, and all who approved this phyletism, and who, inspired thereby, have held up to this day illegal and clandestine meetings, were declared to be schismatics — have unanimously decreed and do decree as follows:

In consideration that his Holiness — trampling under foot all that he had written in his synodal letter of January 24, 1869, to the Grand Church — not only acted arbitrarily in Constantinople and refused to join in the recognition of the Grand Council, but that he also, in Jerusalem, obstinately, and without sufficient reason, opposed to the invitations and prayers addressed by us to him the refusal to submit with us to the resolution of the Grand Council;

In consideration of all this, we consider him as having incurred the ecclesiastical censures which are expressly contained in the said resolution of the Grand Council, and as being, de facto, schismatic. And we find ourselves in the sad and painful necessity to take back the oath of submissiveness and obedience taken by us toward him, and henceforth to break off all connection and communion with him, and we shall never more perform any function with him, or in any respect act with him, and we shall no longer recognize him as head, and as our lawful and canonical shepherd. In confirmation of which the present act has been compiled and entered into the great book of the Patriarchal Throne of Jerusalem. Moreover, copies of this act have been sent to the Grand Church and to all independent Orthodox Churches.

Both the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Turkish Government, which was likely notified of the resolution of the Council of Jerusalem, recognized the deposition of the Patriarch and gave permission for the election of a new Patriarch. But before this took place Jerusalem was the scene of considerable agitation. The deposed Patriarch refused to recognize the lawfulness of his deposition, and declared his intention to celebrate, on November 23, vespers in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The clergy and the monks refused to assist him. From the surrounding country an excited crowd of adherents of the Patriarch, led by the Russian dragoman, invaded Jerusalem, spreading considerable alarm among the opponents of the Patriarch. Police soldiers entered the cells of the monks in order to drag them before the Patriarch. As the monks offered resistance the state of siege was declared, and the monks shut up in the monastery of the Holy Sepulcher. The Patriarch, in the evening, and again on the next day, repaired to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, attended by the Russian and Greek consuls.

When the consuls of the other Powers asked the Governor of Jerusalem for the cause of this uncommon movement, he replied that the Greeks wished to protect the Patriarch who had been deposed by his clergy, and that he (the Governor) regarded it as his duty to support the Patriarch against the revolutionary clergy. The Consul-General of Germany replied that the Governor seemed to him to exceed his powers, for the organic statutes of the Patriarchate provided for the election of the Patriarch by the clergy who, therefore, had also the power to depose him, while the laity were nowhere mentioned. The Governor then confessed that he was not free, and that the Russian consul had threatened him with deposition in case he should fail to support the Patriarch. Appeal was then made to the Turkish government; the consuls reported to their Governments, and the clergy elected a deputation to go to Constantinople. The Porte, in agreement with the Patriarch of Constantinople, instructed the Governor of Jerusalem by telegraph to protect the clergy, and no longer to recognize Kyrillos as Patriarch. The Greek Government at once deposed the Greek consul, and the Porte forbade all the newspapers to publish any more polemical articles on the question, and ordered the deposed Patriarch to take up his abode in the little island Prinkipo, in the sea of Marmora.

The bishops who had signed the decree of deposition were the Archbishop of Gaza and the Bishops of Lydda, Neapolis (Nablus), Sebasta Tabor, Philadelphia, Jordan, and Tiberias. They then elected the Archbishop of Gaza Patriarch of Jerusalem. The bishops and archimandrites who at first sided with Kyrillos soon deemed it the safest to declare their submission, which they did in the following letter to the Patriarch of Constantinople:

To his Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Anthimos, Jerusalem, December 10, [N.S. 22,] 1872.

We, the undersigned, the Metropolitans Agapios of Bethlehem and Niphon of Nazareth, and the Archimandrites Yussuf, Chrysanthos, Joseph, Gregorios, and the Protosyngels Daniel, Gabriel, and the others of our party among the monks of Mar Saba, [a monastery not far from the Dead Sea,] have for a moment sided with the ex-Patriarch, Kyrillos, and have, by our telegram of November 27, [N.S. December 9,] protested against the resolution of the Synod of Jerusalem. But having already repented, we implore the indulgence of the Church and humbly pray for pardon, as we recognize all the resolutions of the Synod of Jerusalem, and turn away from Kyrillos.”

The Russian Government soon gave another proof of its sympathy with Kyrillos and with the Bulgarians by laying embargo upon all the property of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem which is situated within the territory of Russia. The property embraced about thirty estates, situated in the best districts of Bessarabia, and yielding an annual rent of 200,000 rubles. At the same time the Russian ambassador in Constantinople must have interceded in behalf of the deposed Kyrillos with great energy, for the Turkish Government not only set him free after a few weeks, but also asked his pardon for the injury done him.

In Constantinople, in the meanwhile, the Ecumenical Patriarch had in November prevailed upon the Turkish Government to ask the Bulgarian Exarch to make propositions with regard to a change in the clerical dress of the Bulgarian clergy, so as to distinguish them from those in ecclesiastical communion with the Patriarch of Constantinople. The Exarch was afraid that the abandonment of a dress which the mass of the people looked upon as an integral part of the clerical dignity might be injurious to the interests of the Bulgarian Church, and he therefore refused to make the demanded change.


I’ll be a guest on Kevin Allen’s live call-in show “Ancient Faith Today,” on Ancient Faith Radio, this Sunday, December 9. The topic is “ethnocentrism.” The show begins at 5 PM Pacific / 6 Mountain / 7 Central / 8 Eastern, and you can listen live at this link: You can also download the show after it’s finished and listen later. If you do listen live, feel free to call in with a question. I’d love to hear from some of our readers!

Leave a Reply