The Position of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the Orthodox Church (1924)

Bust of Patriarch Christophoros II of Alexandria

The remarkable article that follows was written by then-Metropolitan Christophoros of Leontopolis (future Patriarch Christophoros II of Alexandria) in 1924, and was published in Paintanos, an official organ of the Patriarchate of Alexandria, and then translated into French and published in the journal Échos d’Orient in 1925 (see the French version here). The article was written at a pivotal moment in Orthodox history, when the centuries-old order had just died a violent death, and Orthodoxy was entering a dangerous and uncertain future. (For lots more on this period, see the article, “The Nine Years that Almost Destroyed the Orthodox Church.”)

In May 1919, the Greek Army invaded Turkey, setting off the ill-fated Greco-Turkish War. The Greeks, led by their Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos, were earnestly pursuing the “Megali Idea” (“Great Idea”) — the dream of a new Byzantine Empire, complete with the recapture of Constantinople. The war that followed was a disaster for the Greeks: the Turks won decisively, a pro-Venizelist revolution overthrew the Greek King, and the Treaty of Lausanne provided for a “population exchange” — the forced removal of Greeks from Turkey and Turks from Greece. The Ecumenical Patriarchate suddenly lost virtually its entire flock.

The war also marks the formal end of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of the secular Republic of Turkey. The new Turkish government immediately decreed that any candidate for a religious election in Turkey must be a Turkish citizen — a law directly targeting the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

During this period the Ecumenical Patriarchate was led first by a locum tenens — the powerful Metropolitan Dorotheus of Prusa — and then by the larger-than-life Patriarch Meletios Metaxakis, a close ally of Prime Minister Venizelos. In his 20-month tenure as Ecumenical Patriarch, Meletios called a “Pan-Orthodox Congress,” introduced the New Calendar, established a bunch of new autocephalous and autonomous churches, took control over the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, and promulgated a new interpretation of Canon 28 of Chalcedon: the “barbarian lands” theory, according to which all territories not part of another Orthodox Church belong to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. By 1924, Meletios had been forced out by the Turks (but not before attempting to move the Patriarchate to Mount Athos or Thessaloniki), his immediate successor Gregory VII died that November, and shortly after this article was published, Gregory’s successor Constantine VI was deported by the Turkish authorities.

It was in this context — in the aftermath of the Greco-Turkish War and the reign of Meletios, when the Greek community was still deeply divided between Royalists and Venizelists — that the future Patriarch Christophoros wrote his article. The article is very obviously an anti-Meletios, anti-Venizelist polemic. As an historical document, it is amazing in many respects. It bears witness to the fact that the modern “barbarian lands” interpretation of Canon 28 was only two years old when the article was written — i.e., developed during the tenure of Meletios. It shows an early stage in the development of Alexandria’s claim to “All Africa.” Christophoros’s article predates the beginning of the conversion of native sub-Saharan Africans to Orthodoxy, yet even at this early date he claims much of the African continent for his Patriarchate. Ironically, it was Meletios himself who — after becoming Patriarch of Alexandria in 1926 — received the first of these African converts and added “All Africa” to his title. Christophoros’s perspective on the Turks is much more sympathetic than what we would today associate with a mainstream Greek position, and while one might take issue with it, it is important evidence that not all of the Greek world held a single perspective on the matter a century ago.

Just a year after this article was published, Meletios was elected Patriarch of Alexandria — beating out, among others, Christophoros himself. Meletios held the position until his death in 1935 (although from 1931 on, he was actively attempting to have himself elected Patriarch of Jerusalem). Meletios’ election was a nightmare for Christophoros, who clashed with Meletios throughout the latter’s Patriarchate. Then, in 1939, Christophoros himself became Patriarch of Alexandria. He would emerge as a pro-Russian rival to the pro-American Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, and the two would battle for years to come (Christophoros reigned until his death in 1967, and Athenagoras was EP from 1948 until his own death in 1972). Christophoros was also the Patriarch who oversaw the rapid growth of Orthodoxy in sub-Saharan Africa; if Meletios is the father of the modern Ecumenical Patriarchate, then Christophoros arguably holds the same role in the history of the Patriarchate of Alexandria.

Many thanks to Sam Noble for translating this document into English.


The Position of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the Orthodox Church

In the issue of Paintanos before last (p. 612), we promised to treat particularly the anti-canonical encroachments of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the territories of the autocephalous churches. The reason for these studies of this question is the tendency that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has had over the past two years to desire to extend its spiritual jurisdiction over every ecclesiastical territory or every community which, for one reason or another, was or appeared to be deprived of regular spiritual government and oversight, which one describes as “Churches of the Diaspora.” Other tendencies of the Ecumenical Patriarchate aiming at general domination in the Church have also given us occasion to research this issue in detail.

I. Tendencies of the Ecumenical Patriarchate toward supremacy.

What must first draw attention is that these tendencies of the Ecumenical Patriarchate appeared as soon as it entirely lost– on account of our many sins, we, the shepherds of the Church of Christ– the eparchies “of Pontus, Asia, and Thrace” that the canons of the Ecumenical Councils granted it, a loss sustained following the war in Asia Minor between Greece and Turkey, which left the shepherds of these dioceses without flocks. For these pastors without flocks, they split in two or three the main ecclesiastical territories that remained, such as those of Chalcedon, Derkos, Rhodes and Chios, as well as certain dioceses of Macedonia and Epirus; moreover, they created new eparchies: these were the archdioceses of Western and Central Europe (Thyatira and Hungary), the Archdiocese of America with three bishops, the Archdiocese of Australia and Oceania, and a few others which are still being planned. But, apart from the necessity of placing idle bishops, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, ruined as it was by the predecessor of the current patriarch on account of his character and his ignorance of governing the Church according to the holy canons, has demonstrated in recent years ambitious views, desires for conquest and a tendency toward supremacy in the Church, sentiments that are entirely contrary to the democratic and federal spirit of the governance of the Eastern Orthodox Church, which evince the desire to obtain within the Church a primacy that is, so to speak, papal. Thus, at a time when the Russian Church, subject to trial, was fighting for her very existence, parallel to activities by the Catholic Church to attract Orthodox Russians to Catholicism, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, under Meletios, did not hesitate to annex Russian eparchies located outside of Soviet Russia. As examples of such annexations, we can cite the ecclesiastical territories of Poland, Finland, Estonia and Czechoslovakia. Most recently, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, under Gregory VII, has tried to annex the communities of Eastern and Southern Africa.

Patriarch Photius of Alexandria (1900-1925)

Just as the intrusions of the Ecumenical Patriarchate into Russian ecclesiastical territories were anti-canonical– and the Patriarchate of Russia has started to denounce them to the universal Church– so too, and for the same reasons, was its intrusion into the communities of Eastern and Southern Africa anti-canonical. And, in effect, even if we set aside the fact that these territories neighbor the Patriarchate of Alexandria, a proximity that would render absurd any spiritual dependence coming from the outside, even if we pass over in silence this other fact that under the title “of Ethiopia” that the Patriarch of Alexandria bears, the entire land of Ethiopia must be understood, that which is found in Africa and not only within the territory of the Kingdom of Abyssinia– territory that today is smaller, tomorrow greater, and one day perhaps non-existent– the fact that from the first days of his accession to the patriarchal throne, the current Patriarch of Alexandria, at the very moment when Orthodox were settling in South Africa, sent a priest there for the spiritual needs of the Christians and, subsequently and repeatedly, other priests were sent to eastern and southern Africa to visit and console the Christians there– is not this fact, we say, evident proof that the Orthodox communities of Africa spiritually depend on the Patriarchate of Alexandria? If, later, it is true, the Church of Greece sent her priests at the request of the Christians of free Greece settled there and if the Patriarchate of Alexandria, either because of a lack of priests or for other reasons, neglected to protest and recover her rights to these countries, this certainly does not mean for any reasonable person who thinks according to the basis of the Church’s canons that these rights have expired.[1]

The papal aims, so to speak, of the Ecumenical Patriarchate were manifest more clearly again this year, in two ecclesiastical affairs: 1) the question of the calendar and 2) that of convoking an ecumenical council or a great local council.

1. The calendar question. Everyone knows that there was a discussion between the autocephalous Orthodox churches over the possibility or not of replacing the Julian calendar with the Gregorian calendar and that there was absolutely no necessity for making a hasty and individual decision about this question. The three patriarchs of the East, who had serious arguments opposing the acceptance of the Gregorian calendar by the Orthodox Church, fraternally asked the Ecumenical Patriarchate to defer any decision on changing the calendar, at least until the convocation of an ecumenical council or a great local council, which could decide. Moreover, it is certain that, in addition to the eastern patriarchates, the other autocephalous churches, with the exception of the Church of Greece, desire an agreement and joint decision of all the Orthodox churches and that it is only in this manner that they would agree to replace the old calendar with the new; it seemed almost certain that the dominant opinion was that the decision should be taken in common by the churches gathered in council. Suddenly and against all expectation, the Ecumenical Patriarch’s entourage, as though seized by inspiration, telegraphed the primates of the autocephalous churches to confirm this decision. The brother patriarchs, equal in honor, attempted, with repeated telegrams, to recommend suspending any decision, but they had no effect. The Ecumenical Patriarchate and only the Church of Greece adopted the new calendar definitively in their territories. Later, through indifference toward ecclesiastical matters, thoughtlessness and snobbishness, the Church of Cyprus joined them.

2. The convocation of an ecumenical council or a great local council. The other question where the papal tendencies of the Ecumenical Patriarchate have been manifest in an obvious way has been, as we have said, that of the convocation of an ecumenical council or a great local council. Who among those who are interested in ecclesiastical questions and follow them closely does not remember the unseemly way that the people of the Ecumenical Patriarchate behaved? The three patriarchs of the three ancient patriarchates had decided to convoke an ecumenical council or a great local council in Jerusalem during the course of the year. After study and discussion by all the local churches, this council was to make decisions not only about the question of the calendar and the related question of Pascha, but also about several other questions that trouble the entire Orthodox Church and whose immediate solution is, in the opinion of all, necessary. The three patriarchs decided to write and in fact did write to their brother in Christ, the Ecumenical Patriarch, to ask him to convoke the council. They did so not because each one of them does not have the same honor, dignity and influence in the Church as the Ecumenical Patriarch, but because, in the absence of an Orthodox emperor, who had the right in the ancient Church to convoke a general council, it was necessary to raise the prestige of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, especially when it was humiliated in every way. It is for this reason that the three patriarchs wrote to the Ecumenical Patriarch to ask him to convoke the council in Jerusalem, as they proposed to him, even though they themselves or one of them was able to convoke it. How did the people of the Ecumenical Patriarchate respond to this entirely fraternal graciousness on the part of the three patriarchs? First of all, they did not think to answer until three months had passed; second, they did not agree with the decision of the three patriarchs to convoke the council during the year because they did not see the necessity to rush the convocation because they decided to gather the council the next year, the anniversary of the convocation of the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea, as the pan-Orthodox convention had fixed it. Even through they did not see the necessity at the Ecumenical Patriarchate to convoke the ecumenical council that year, they nevertheless, it is said, appointed a commission charged with determining the questions to discuss at the council the next year. As for the list of questions to discuss proposed by the letter of the three patriarchs, they did not, it seems, deign to take it into consideration, since the Ecumenical Patriarch’s letter does not mention it, surely so that the three patriarchs would not have the audacity to believe that they also have the right to govern the ensemble of the Holy Churches of God or even to be concerned with it!

II. The conduct of the Ecumenical Patriarchate is contrary to the canons and practice of the Church

One who has reviewed the facts that we have just presented could reasonably wonder: Where do the people of the Ecumenical Patriarchate get the audacity to claim supremacy in the Church, to busy themselves hastily with placing under their jurisdiction every ecclesiastical territory without a leader, to intervene frequently in territories granted by the canons and logic itself to other autocephalous churches, to desire that in general ecclesiastical questions their opinion predominates without scrutiny, even if the other patriarchs and the majority of the autocephalous churches are of a contrary opinion? As we have at our disposal two sources of ecclesiastical law, the canons of the Church and her practice, we will resort to them to determine to what degree the Ecumenical Patriarchate has the right to claim to be superior to the other patriarchates, as we have described above.

Map of the jurisdictions of the five Patriarchates in the time of St Justinian, depicted on a map from 1800. The jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, including Pontus, Asia, and Thrace, is in green. (click to enlarge)

1. The Canons of the Church. What do the canons say?

All those who know even a little of the history of the Church know that Byzantium, before becoming Constantinople, the Queen City, the New Rome, was only, from an ecclesiastical point of view, a modest bishopric under the Metropolis of Heraclea. After the establishment of Constantinople and its proclamation as capital of the Roman Empire, the need was gradually felt to honor it from the ecclesiastical point of view. Thus we see Canon 3 of the Second Ecumenical Council giving the bishop of Constantinople “primacy of honor after the bishop of Rome, because it is the new Rome.” After this canon, on account of the fact that the bishop of Constantinople, because of his frequent relations with the high political authorities of the empire, was considered an important and influential figure and that it was natural that all the bishops and all the people who needed the power of the state came to him, the bishop of Constantinople, apart from his ecclesiastical territory, started to intervene by necessity in the ecclesiastical affairs of other eparchies, metropoles and even exarchates. Most of the time, these issues were relayed to the bishops of Constantinople by the civil authorities of the capital. Thus Saint John Chrysostom went so far as to depose and ordain even the exarches in the provinces of Asia Minor and Anatolius, together with the permanent synod around him, deposed and installed bishops even in the Metropolis of Tyre, which was under Antioch. With time, in order to legitimize the most reasonable interventions, it was deemed natural and just that, just as the Churches of Rome, Alexandria Antioch and Jerusalem, to whose rank Constantinople had been raised, had large ecclesiastical jurisdictions, so too were comparable territories granted to the bishop of Constantinople, since, moreover, albeit without canonical recognition, he already intervened, as bishop of the capital, in the affairs of the Eastern bishops; no opposition to this concession appeared. Thus, in its Canon 28, the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon, after having confirmed Canon 3 of the Second Ecumenical Council, added that “the metropolitans of the dioceses of Pontus, Asia and Thrace and the bishops of these dioceses established among the barbarians, shall be ordained by the Most Holy See of the Most Holy Church of Constantinople.” After this canon, which the bishop of Rome and those around him protested at the time and still protests, with the goal of raising the prestige and power of the bishop of Constantinople and his actual position within the Church, we have Canon 36 of the Ecumenical Council in Trullo, where we read: “Renewing the enactments by the 150 Fathers assembled at the God-protected and imperial city, and those of the 630 who met at Chalcedon; we decree that the see of Constantinople shall have equal privileges with the see of Old Rome, and shall be highly regarded in ecclesiastical matters as that is, and shall be second after it. After Constantinople shall be ranked the See of Alexandria, then that of Antioch, and afterwards the See of Jerusalem.” Such are the facts and such are the canons by which the bishopric of Constantinople was enlarged and honored equal to those of Rome, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. The principle reason is Constantinople’s elevation to the rank of the capital of the Roman Empire, “honored with the emperor and the Senate;” the spiritual jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, according to the canons of the Church, did not extend beyond the dioceses of Pontus, Asia (today, Asia Minor) and Thrace, including the barbarian nations found in those dioceses, such as the Alans and the Russians; the former, neighbors of the Diocese of Pontus, and the latter, neighbors of that of Thrace (Rhalles-Potlis vol. 2, p. 283).[2]

2. The Practice of the Church. But does history, particularly after the schism, provide some facts from which one might conclude that a right of supremacy over the other patriarchates was granted to the Ecumenical Patriarchate? In this history of the Eastern Orthodox Church, after the schism, the Ecumenical Patriarch appears first in dignity, the Pope of Rome set aside, and he is without a doubt in the first rank everywhere; he has prosperity, wealth, glory; he counts on his territory six hundred bishops in the time of Photios, and later perhaps even more, since, after the pretense of the emperors, the civil provinces of the Greek Empire of the East, which depended from an ecclesiastical point of view on the Church of the West, were all placed under the spiritual authority of the Ecumenical Patriarch. The honors that granted to him are extraordinary and almost royal; the emblems of the empire are almost those of the patriarchate; the patriarch has his court and his officers, just like the emperor; he is called “ecumenical,” just like the emperor. He is naturally at the head of all religious life and activity in the empire; religious life, as we know, is the characteristic note of the Byzantine period; at every civil or military gathering of the empire, the patriarch participates with the same honors as the emperor. At feasts and triumphs, in trials and sorrows, in the defeats of the Byzantine Empire, the patriarch is always present. If such radiance, such glory and such influence were accompanied by a frivolous plan, there is no doubt that we would have in the east another pope desiring to the submission apart from bishops and patriarchs, even emperors, and to accord himself civil and religious authority. This is what we have seen to a certain degree in Russia. But among us, in the East, this has never been seen. The Ecumenical Patriarchate, conforming to the order established by the holy canons, despite the radiance surrounding him, never had such strong pretenses. And, with regard to the patriarchs, his brothers, he never wanted to take on a haughty air at that period, when the patriarchs of the East were humiliated before the world, having almost no flock or shepherds. In general ecclesiastical questions, he asked the opinions of the other patriarchs as before, an opinion that had just as much weight as that of the Ecumenical Patriarch. It is true that from the beginning of that period, since general councils were not convened, the Ecumenical Patriarchate issued canonical decrees that replaced the holy canons in the Church, in the measure that they were not contrary to those of the ecumenical councils; but these decrees were decided and promulgated by the permanent council gathered around the Patriarch of Constantinople, in which patriarchs staying in Constantinople ordinarily took part. These canonical decrees were not imposed on the other patriarchs when they did not take part in the permanent council, but they were willingly welcomed because they were truly wise, inspired and beneficial for the life and salvation of the Christian people. In general, everywhere and always, every time that the Ecumenical Patriarch entered into relations with one of the other patriarchs or with all of them at once, the relations were cordial, full of esteem, mutual respect and fraternal solidarity. These fraternal relations were particularly manifest every time that it was necessary to teach a lesson to papal egotism. Even under the Turkish regime, when the Christian empire had disappeared and the Ecumenical Patriarch took hold of the government of the nation for ecclesiastical and civil affairs and the defense of the interests of families and the nation, even then the Ecumenical Patriarch not only did not scorn the other patriarchs, but rather, on the contrary, we see certain ones of them who resided almost permanently in Constantinople or the Ecumenical Patriarch’s territory making collections for their immiserated patriarchates and being seated next to the Ecumenical Patriarch in the permanent councils of Constantinople. At these assemblies, apart from canonical decrees, doctrines of the faith were formulated that were adopted by all the patriarchal sees (see the response of Jeremias II to the Protestants). We have, moreover, the example of the council held at Bethlehem, presided over by Patriarch Dositheos of Jerusalem, which formulated a dogmatic teaching to which the other patriarchs rallied and to which the entire Orthodox Church still rallies today.

Such is thus the position of the Ecumenical Patriarchate relative to the other patriarchates according to the holy canons of the Eastern Orthodox Church. It is purely fraternal. The four patriarchs are equal in dignity, in no way is one inferior to another. Each of them moves and acts within his own sphere, having as the rule for his action to deviate in nothing from the dogmas of Orthodoxy and from the order established by the holy canons and holy traditions. And, if there arose a transgression either against dogma, against the holy canons, or against ecclesiastical discipline, all the patriarchs intervened together. In general ecclesiastical questions, the patriarchs acted together and only decisions taken in common had the force of law in the Church. Thus was the case in the quarrel between Pope Nicholas of Rome and the Patriarch Photius; the latter, in an encyclical, denounced the pope to the three other patriarchs. There was the same joint action on the part of the four patriarchs during the Council of Florence. Likewise, when the Church of Russia was established as a patriarchate and when the Bulgarians were declared to be schismatic, all the patriarchs considered it indispensable to gather and take a common decision.[3]

III. Reasons for the current behavior of the Ecumenical Patriarchate

We ask once more:

What has the Ecumenical Patriarchate been able to decide in recent years? To depart from the good line of conduct that he had been following up to the present. To seize every country considered to be without a (religious) leader and to annex it to his own ecclesiastical territory. To interfere in the territories of the other autocephalous churches. And finally, to want, himself alone– that is, without the counsel of the other patriarchs– to pronounce on religious issues of a general nature and, in the case of disagreement with the other patriarchates, to desire that his opinion predominates and that it alone prevails.

The explanation for the change of tactics indicated above and followed from the start by the Ecumenical Patriarchate was already suggested at the beginning of this study. On the one hand, during the last European war and particularly since the armistice, the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s awkward and public interference in politics as representing subjugated Hellenism; on the other hand, after this interference, the point to which the Ecumenical Patriarchate was reduced to see Meletios ascend the holy throne of Chrysostom and finally, following this political intervention and this elevation of Meletios, the loss of large ecclesiastical territories in Asia Minor, Pontus and Thrace, renowned for their richness and abundance in all things, and the abolition of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s privileges, such are the three reasons for the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s change in tactics, which have rendered it unrecognizable in recent years.

Let us examine these causes in detail.

Metropolitan Dorotheos of Prusa, Locum Tenens of the Ecumenical Patriarchate from 1918-21

The patriarchate’s intervention in politics. At the end of the European war, precisely after the armistice, Turkey, allied with the defeated Central Powers, was itself likewise defeated. It thus suffered all the consequences of its defeat, among them to see the state’s capital, Constantinople, occupied by the allied armies. During this occupation, the city was administered by the allies and the Turkish government found itself under their direct control. At that time, the distraught Turks were convinced of the imminent dissolution of their country. They expected to see their Greek fellow-citizens share in their misfortune. In all circumstances, happy or sad, in which the Turkish empire found itself, the Greek element, at least through its official representatives, which were the patriarchate and the bishops, followed by the mixed councils and the demogeronties, always showed that they were not only subject to the laws, but also that, even if only in appearance, they were concerned with the well-being of Turkey, which they considered as their own fatherland, which it in fact was. In return for the loyal conduct of the Greek race in Turkey and the concern that it showed for the state, almost always, but especially in recent years, before the proclamation of the constitution, we, the Greeks, have been the object of our masters’ favor. We have been left free to practice our religion and to cultivate our language. We have been at the head of every civilizing movement and we drew the greatest advantages from it. The country’s commerce, industry and shipping were in our hands. We enriched ourselves and we had almost subjugated the Turkish people from an economic perspective. There were Greek ministers in Turkey and Greek ambassadors to the European courts. We were only persecuted when, having become instruments of foreign interests in Turkey, we rose up against the established order of things and we rebelled. Thus we were persecuted and our race was threatened with extermination in 1821, during our nation’s uprising in favor of liberty.

Nevertheless, while what the Turks expected of us was, as we have said, just a bit of sympathy at the time of their defeat in the European war, they immediately saw us openly taking the side of the Allies and of Greece. Without any prudence and completely contrary to the tactic followed until then, the Patriarchate, the bishops and the archons of the nation identified the interests of the Greeks of Turkey and of the Patriarchate with those of Greece and the Allies. And if that was not enough, the Ecumenical Patriarchate broke all relations with the Turkish government which it despised; it declared everywhere that it was ready to take possession of Hagia Sophia. It had a Cretan guard come from Greece for the Patriarchate. It displayed on its buildings the flag with the two-headed eagle. It did everything to show its hatred toward the Turks, against whom it was somehow taking revenge. We saw this disdain, this hatred and this vengeance of the Patriarchate toward the Turks during the mission of the locum tenens at the time, Metropolitan Dorotheos of Bursa, to Paris, London and Athens. He presented himself to demand the dissolution of the Turkish Empire and to claim on behalf of Greece the provinces of Asia Minor, Pontus and Thrace, which were inhabited by Greeks. He gave interviews in which he accused Turkey of being a barbarous, bloody and worn-out nation.

Asia Minor, starting with Smyrna, had only just been occupied by the Greeks when the bishops and main figures of the place started to agitate the Greek element against the Turkish element with inopportune protests. We ourselves were eyewitnesses in Constantinople and Asia Minor of this contempt by our own, great and small, toward the Turks and we admit that, only perhaps because we see things more clearly from the outside, we have not the justification for such conduct on the part of our leaders against the Turks and when we had learned that the Patriarchate had broken relations with the Turkish government, we did not find out of place the question that we asked the locum tenens in Constantinople:

“Why, Your Holiness, did you break off relations with the Turkish government?”

“Because Turkey doesn’t exist anymore,” he replied.

“If Turkey should not exist in the future, how would it harm you,” we said, “to continue to be on good terms with the Turks and to maintain your relations with their government, inasmuch as it has not been dissolved by the powers? But if, God forbid, it happens that Turkey exists in the future, what will be the situation of the Greek element with the Turks, after so many provocations on your part?”

To this question, the late locum tenens said nothing. Such a dialogue took place between us at the metropolis of Athens in 1919, in the presence of Meletios himself. If, after the armistice, in Constantinople and Asia Minor, we had not been more chauvinistic than our compatriots from Greece, if we had kept an ever so slightly feigned neutrality, surely after the victory of the Turks, after our disastrous defeat in Asia Minor, the Patriarchate would not have lost its privileges and the populations would not have been exchanged, and even if some misunderstandings had taken place during the war between Greece and Turkey, they would have gone away with time. In any case, there would have been incomparably fewer evils for Hellenism in Turkey than those that it endures today.

Ecumenical Patriarch Meletios II

The Election of Meletios.

The speed with which the foolish and mean-spirited chauvinism of the Patriarchate and the grandees of the nation was manifested, completely unnecessarily, their hatred and scorn towards Turkey had reached the point that when it came time to elect a patriarch of Constantinople, they elected him on the basis of statutes that were completely different from those that were recognized for the election of the patriarch, statutes that the Turkish government had neither seen nor approved, and they did not announce the election, even as a courtesy, to the government in order to have it recognize it. That was also a mistake. But what was the greatest challenge to the dignity and honor of the Turkish government was the election as patriarch of Meletios, a character known to be a garrulous braggart, a creature of a political faction famous in Greece. Meletios was less desirable than anyone for the Turks because, always and everywhere obliged to be an outspoken partisan of the political faction that had raised him to power, instead of fulfilling his ecclesiastical functions, he could not do anything else but politics, just as he had done until then. And the Turks weren’t wrong. At his reception, upon his arrival in Constantinople, the emblems of the Byzantine Empire were coyly displayed. His enthronement speech could be called by any other name than that of a speech by a churchman. Later, acting in concert with those who had the same opinions as him in Constantinople, he organized in broad daylight the famous “Defense” which, it is a known fact, took an active role in Greece’s war operations. All of us, and with us the Turks, noticed that the Patriarchate, especially under Meletios, completely ignoring its mission and its ecclesiastical duties, played politics and nothing but politics. The preaching given from the pulpit of all the churches of the Ecumenical Patriarchate was no longer concerned with the truths of the Gospel, but only with the triumph of the party that had had Meletios named patriarch and the continual cultivation of the fanaticism that the Greek population of Turkey harbored against the opposing party and against the Turks. One felt obliged to bedeck the holy temples with Greek flags and Greek colors; even the portrait of Venizelos occupied a visible place in the churches. Everywhere, at that time, Venezilos was mentioned in the petitions of peace instead of the king. For these reasons, although certainly despite himself and following his incurable blindness, Meletios contributed more than anyone else, by his activity in Asia Minor, to the victory of the Turks. He was nevertheless very unsympathetic to them because greatly despised them and because, during the allied occupation, he himself played an active part in in the direction of politics in Greece. It is also a notorious fact that, in the discussions of the Treaty of Lausanne, Ismet Pasha formally and categorically requested that Venizelos remove Meletios from Constantinople. After the Turkish victories in Asia Minor, we know with what servility Meletios strove to play politics in favor of the Turks to maintain his throne as much as possible and how, despite the warnings of the Greek government and of Venizelos himself, he refused to resign and how he was forced to depart from Constantinople.

Meletios’ sojourn in Constantinople and the conduct of the locum tenens Dorotheos were to a large degree the cause not only of the Asia Minor disaster, not only of the abolition of our nation’s privileges in Turkey, but also of the whole series of tribulations experienced by the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Greek population of Turkey that remained after the massacres, emigration, and the population exchange. With the exception of the Archbishopric of Constantinople and the surrounding eparchies, apart from the eparchies of the Dodecanese and the not yet liberated metropoles of Greece, the eparchies of the whole of Asia Minor, of Pontus and of current Turkish Thrace have been struck out and are lost forever to Hellenism and especially to the unfortunate Ecumenical Patriarchate which, because of this and because of the implacable vengeance of the Turks, great and small, finished by losing all its erstwhile splendor, life and vigor. Today, it is no different from a parish church of Constantinople, with its council, offices, and rooms for the priests who are found within it. The Turkish government very ostentatiously despises the patriarchate and the patriarch, to whom it gives no more respect than to that of a religious leader, a bash-papas. It deems it contrary to its dignity to be concerned with his affairs and directs them to the head of the neighborhood or to the police commissioner of Fener. Moreover, the Patriarchate has become poor in recent times. Deprived of all the revenues it derived from various resources on account of the war, on account of the poverty of the archdiocese’s flocks, and on account of the loss of all its eparchies, it is unable to maintain itself or to maintain the various educational and charitable establishments that it had maintained and it is finding itself obliged to close them one after the other. For its own maintenance and for its entertainment expenses and for those of the bishops, it has been obliged to resort to support from the Greek government. Today the latter provides everything that is necessary for that maintenance and entertainment expenses, but in exchange for that assistance, it has subjugated the Patriarchate which does nothing unless the head of the Ecclesiastical Affairs section at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has approved it beforehand.[4]


Freeing itself as much as possible from the tutelage of the Greek government, a tutelage caused by the patriarchate’s penury, being able to free in the future metropoles located in the new regions of Greece and, without seeing the number of eparchies inscribed on its lists diminish, finding as much as possible a place for the bishops without dioceses: such are the reasons that the Ecumenical Patriarchate saw for needing to seek out other countries in order to establish new ecclesiastical provinces and establish bishops there. Looking hard, it remembered the Greek Orthodox communities of America, those of western and central Europe, as well as those of Australia which it previously, when it was in a state of prosperity, granted to the Church of Greece. This tendency of the people of the Ecumenical Patriarchate even brought them into eastern and southern Africa. If, for the communities of America, Europe and Australia, there was no protest against their occupation because they are located outside the boundaries of all the autocephalous Orthodox churches, and if there has not been any complaint until today, at least for the communities of eastern and southern Africa, the Patriarchate of Alexandria, into whose jurisdiction the Ecumenical Patriarchate has crept, makes its protest heard. The people of the Church of Russia also protest against the extension of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s spiritual jurisdiction onto territories truly under the Patriarchate of Russia, an extension caused by this veritable megalomania whose first and most dangerous manifestation we find under the reign of Meletios. The three patriarchs of the East also protest because the Ecumenical Patriarchate, either once more out of megalomania or at the request of Athens, from which it cannot remove itself on account of its economic subjugation, in the question of the calendar and that of an ecumenical council or a great local council demanded by the patriarchs of the east, contemptuously despised and continues to despise the opinion and will of the latter and has completely closed ranks behind the opinion of the Greek government. As we have seen in detail, neither the canons nor the practice of the Church have given the Ecumenical Patriarch any special and more elevated rank, any greater dignity than that of the other patriarchs. As the eparchies granted to the Ecumenical Patriarchate no longer exist, as a result of events, the three patriarchs and all the autocephalous churches recognize the need for it to extend its jurisdiction into the churches of the diaspora which are found outside the jurisdiction of the other autocephalous churches, willingly conceding to it these churches of the diaspora in a spirit of fraternal affection and gratitude for the generousness that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has shown toward them in ancient times; the patriarchates also willingly grant that of Constantinople the “primacy of honor” given to it by the canons. However, after the brotherly disposition of the autocephalous churches, would it not be impertinent on the part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to want to interfere as well within the territories of the autocephalous churches?[5]

Moreover, would it not be against all logic, at a moment when the Ecumenical Patriarchate is undergoing an ordeal and the enemy of all good has deprived it of all its ancient glory and humiliated it before the world? Would it not be completely unreasonable to claim a papal primacy in the Church and inconsiderately disdain every opinion coming from the three eastern patriarchates?


Metropolitan of Leontopolis


[1] The Ecumenical Patriarchate, according to the canons, has no right over “Orthodox colonies that are dispersed and located outside the boundaries of the sister autocephalous Orthodox churches,” contrary to what was formulated in a recent letter by the Ecumenical Patriarch to the Patriarch of Alexandria. The Ecumenical Patriarch, in the Tomos of 1908, by which he granted spiritual oversight of the churches of the diaspora to the Church of Greece, formulates the same claim in these terms: “It is clear that neither the very holy Church of Greece, which our patriarchal throne has made autocephalous with defined boundaries, nor any other church has been able to extend its spiritual authority canonically beyond its own borders. It has only been granted to our very holy Ecumenical, Apostolic and Patriarchal See to ordain the bishops of the barbarian countries that are located outside the defined ecclesiastical territories and to have the right to exercise supreme spiritual oversight over churches abroad” (Ecclesiastikos Pharos vol. 1, p. 504). In the Proceedings and Decisions of the pan-Orthodox Conference of Constantinople (p. 175), we read that Meletios himself, relying on Canon 28 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, is of the opinion that “jurisdiction over all the bishoprics of the territories located outside the empire and are called barbarian countries” is given to the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

[2] In his study on the “Rights and Privileges of the Ecumenical Patriarch,” (Ekklesiastikos Pharos vol. 20, pp. 11, 12, etc.), Archimandrite Kallistos claims that Canons 9 and 17 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council grant the Ecumenical Patriarch supremacy over the other patriarchs. Read the Pedalion (p. 108 in the 1841 edition), where Archimandrite Kallistos’ claims are convincingly refuted.

[3] Archimandrite Kallistos, in the study mentioned above (Ekklesiastikos Pharos vol. 20, pp. 5-34) took care to gather numerous examples of interventions by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the territories of other patriarchates. But these interventions, not based on the holy canons and on the generally democratic spirit of the government of our Church or inspired by the circumstances for a greater good, should be considered arbitrary actions by patriarchs or emperors.

[4] None of these misfortunes of Hellenism in Turkey and of the Ecumenical Patriarchate would have happened if they had not made the mistake of deposing, after a riot, Patriarch Germanos V. He was forced to resign precisely because he had been accused of having very good relations with the Turks, the wisdom of which the future would fully confirm.

[5] The title “ecumenical” held by the Patriarch of Constantinople, with which so many have been concerned, among others Archimandrite Kallistos (op. cit., pp. 15-17), as having a special significance, has the same value as the title “Judge of the Universe” held by the Patriarch of Alexandria, who is even the pope of the East. (Cf. Paparrigopoulos, History, vol. 3, p. 199).

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