The Ecumenical Patriarchate on the Eve of War, 1840-1852

The great Ecumenical Patriarch Gregory VI was deposed by the Ottoman authorities in 1840. After this, next few Ecumenical Patriarchs came and went in rapid succession: after a year on the throne, Anthimus IV was deposed by the Sultan and replaced by Anthimus V, who lasted a year himself before dying. His successor was Germanus IV, elected in June 1842. The decade that followed was action-packed: numerous patriarchal succession crises, the establishment of the Halki theological school, the famed Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs, the beginning of what would become the Bulgarian Schism, the autocephaly of the Church of Greece, and an Orthodox-Catholic standoff in the Holy Land that would prove to be a prelude to the Crimean War.

Ecumenical Patriarch Germanus IV

In April 1843, the Ottoman Grand Vizier ordered that a meeting of Orthodox clergy and laity be held at the Phanar to review the accounts of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The real purpose of the meeting, however, was to create an 18-member committee of powerful laymen to administer the financial and other temporal affairs of the Patriarchate. Things quickly got out of hand, as the committee attempted to insert themselves into strictly ecclesiastical matters, claiming that they should join the Holy Synod in hearing accusations against bishops. Within weeks, Patriarch Germanus dissolved the lay committee efforts, and the laymen appealed to the Ottoman government, which didn’t take any immediate action.

The next year, October 1844, the theological school at Halki was established. A couple months later, the Jerusalem patriarchal succession crisis broke out, as the Holy Synod of Jerusalem tried to elect its own Patriarch while Ecumenical Patriarch Germanus insisted that this be done by Constantinople, as had been the case since the 17th century. Germanus lost the battle and Jerusalem reasserted its independence.

While this was happening, a faction within the Ecumenical Patriarchate, supported by the Ottoman state, had been making efforts to overthrow Patriarch Germanus. Out of fear of Russian reprisals (the Russians were staunch defenders of the Ecumenical Patriarchate), the Ottoman government would not directly order the deposition of Germanus, but by April 1845, his position had become untenable, and, under heavy pressure from the Ottoman foreign minister, Germanus submitted his “voluntary” resignation. Some hoped that the former Patriarch Gregory VI (who was still very young, just 47 years old) might return to the throne, but the Ottoman foreign minister – without even bothering with the pretense of non-interference – ordered that all previous Patriarchs, as well as a number of pro-Russian candidates, were ineligible for election. Instead, Meletius of Cyzicus was elected, becoming Patriarch Meletius III.

The new Ecumenical Patriarch reigned for just eight months before his unexpected death at the end of 1845. Once again, many in the Patriarchate hoped that Gregory VI would be re-elected, but once again, the Ottoman government issued an order excluding former Patriarchs from eligibility, and it pre-approved three candidates. When two of them recused themselves, the Ottomans declared Anthimus VI winner by default, becoming the sixth Ecumenical Patriarch in the past six years. Later, it came out that Anthimus had paid an enormous bribe to secure the patriarchal throne. This Ottoman interference dismayed the Russian embassy and strained relations between the two empires.

Just weeks after Ecumenical Patriarch Meletius died, Patriarch Hierotheos of Alexandria also died. The Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate held an election to choose Hierotheos’s successor. They elected one of their members, Artemios of Kyustendil — a direct violation of Alexandrian autocephaly. The faithful of Alexandria and the Egyptian government rejected Artemios, and the Ottoman government gave in to the pressure and refused to confirm him. The Russian embassy protested that the Ottomans had violated the authority of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The dispute dragged into 1847, when, finally, the Egyptian government arranged for a local election in Egypt, and the return of the patriarchal residence from Constantinople to Alexandria.


Ecumenical Patriarch Anthimus VI

In March 1847, while both the British and Russian ambassadors were away from Constantinople, the Ottoman government summoned Patriarch Anthimus and several key bishops and laymen to a meeting, ostensibly to give the Orthodox leaders a new berat, which acknowledged the privileges of the Orthodox but also chastised the Patriarchate for its internal problems and the behavior of its hierarchs. The Ottoman foreign minister ordered the Patriarch to convene a council of bishops and laity to begin a process of reform within the Rum millet. Patriarch Anthimus resisted any lay involvement, provoking protests from the lay leaders and irritation from the Porte, which ordered Anthimus to cooperate with the laity.

The following month, Patriarch Anthimus invited the lay leaders of the Patriarchate to a meeting, where he presented them with a 15-point reform agenda that continued to minimize lay involvement in the Patriarchate, and, on the contrary, “dismantled all the checks put in place since the early 1700s against the dictatorial power of the patriarch.” In response to this open act of defiance, the Ottoman government did next to nothing, with the Sultan merely “reprimanding” the Patriarch, with no practical consequences. All of this was out of fear of reprisals from Russia, which at this point was the consistent defender of the privileges of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

In 1848, perhaps the best-remembered moment of Anthimus’s patriarchate occurred, when he, along with the Patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, issued the “Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs,” condemning the Filioque as heresy, declaring the Roman Catholic Church to be heretical, schismatic, and in apostasy, repudiating Ultramontanism and referring to the Photian Council of 879-880 as the “Eighth Ecumenical Council.”

The same year, on October 18, 1848, the hierarchs of the Ecumenical Patriarchate ejected the three laymen who had been appointed to the Holy Synod by the Ottoman authorities a year earlier. Six days later, the Ottoman government was presented with a petition from Orthodox clergy and laity, accusing Patriarch Anthimus of tyrannical behavior and calling for an audit of the Patriarchate’s finances. The Ottomans ordered that Anthimus be deposed and placed under house arrest pending an investigation. At the election to replace Anthimus VI, the Ottomans, in a shift from its recent policy, allowed former Patriarchs to be eligible. Yet, for reasons unclear to me, the popular Gregory VI was not elected. Instead, the winner was the former Patriarch Anthimus IV, who had previously been Patriarch in 1840-41. After Anthimus IV’s election, the Ottoman government renewed its efforts to reform the Orthodox community, ordering the creation of a committee that was dominated by laymen. Anthimus IV did not object and allowed the committee to meet before quietly dissolving it.


Ecumenical Patriarch Anthimus IV

During this second reign of Anthimus IV, several important events took place. In 1849, the Sultan authorized the establishment of a Bulgarian parish in Constantinople. This would prove to be an early step toward what would become the “Bulgarian Schism,” although for now the parish was under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

At the end of 1849, a the Greek ambassador to Turkey died, and the Sultan granted Patriarch Anthimus permission to participate in the funeral. This signaled a shift in both Ottoman and Patriarchal policy toward Greece. In February 1850, King Otho of Greece decided to award Patriarch Anthimus the Order of the Holy Savior, and he sent an archimandrite from the Church of Greece to deliver the honorary cross. The Greek envoy also brought a letter from the Holy Synod of Greece to the Patriarch. This was a very subtle attempt to get the Patriarch to acknowledge the Greek Holy Synod as a legitimate institution. But, as Fr Theocletos Pharmakides wrote shortly afterward, “Anthimus was too astute a politician to be entrapped by arts in which he himself knew no superior.” With the Sultan’s permission, Anthimus accepted the honor from King Otho, but he refused to so much as touch the letter from the Holy Synod, saying that “he knew nothing about a Church of Hellas.”

Ultimately, though, both sides wanted to find a way to normalize the situation. The Greek Synod sent additional letters, and in June Patriarch Anthimus called a meeting of the Holy Synod of Constantinople, which concluded with the decision, “It seemed good to the Great and Holy Synod to free the metropolitan, archiepiscopal, and episcopal sees at present forming the Hellenic realm, dependent until now upon the most holy Oecumencial See of Constantinople, from such dependence in the future, and to proclaim them an independent Church on certain most just and necessary conditions.” Notably, the Patriarchate claimed that the Church of Greece had, up to that very moment, remained dependent upon the Patriarchate.

On June 28, 1850, the Ecumenical Patriarchate issued a tomos of autocephaly to the Church of Greece, signed by not only the Patriarch Anthimus but also five of his predecessors as well as the Patriarch of Jerusalem, along with thirteen other bishops. In addition to recognizing Greece’s autocephaly only from that point forward, the tomos imposed certain conditions on the Church of Greece: the Ecumenical Patriarch must be commemorated at the Divine Liturgy and must be the provider of Holy Chrism, and the Church of Greece must submit all important questions to the Ecumenical Patriarchate.


In 1851, the Ottoman government again attempted to begin a process of reform in the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Patriarch Anthimus instructed his bishops to conduct a census of their eparchies with the aim of taxing the Orthodox people to pay down the Patriarchate’s debts and facilitate any new reforms. The resulting public outcry led the Ottoman government to abandon its reform agenda yet again. On December 15, Sultan Abdulmecid made “a gesture of great favor and good will” toward the Orthodox community, attending the wedding of the daughter of a leading Orthodox dignitary in Constantinople. The Sultan remained standing throughout the ceremony, “saying that he had taken an oath never to sit down on occasions at which the name of the Lord was mentioned.”

In January 1852, the Ottoman government granted several key concessions to the Roman Catholics in the Holy Land, which scandalized the Sultan’s Orthodox subjects and worsened the already frayed relations between the Ottoman and Russian Empires. For the rest of the year, France and Russia both applied pressure on the Porte – France in favor of Roman Catholicism, Russia in favor of Orthodoxy. In May, the French shocked everyone by sending an 80-gun ship up the Bosphorus. This and other French provocations led the Russians to become more and more forceful about its own claims as protector of Orthodoxy.

Patriarch Anthimus IV’s second term ultimately ended badly: in November 1852, Anthimus, dogged by charges of corruption and ineptitude, was deposed for the second time. As seemed to be the case in every Patriarchal election in this era, many hoped that the former Patriarch Gregory VI would be reelected – not the least of whom were the Russians, who privately lobbied on Gregory’s behalf. In addition to being friendly with Russia, Gregory was widely viewed as the one competent and pious candidate in the running. For all those reasons, the British lobbied against Gregory to the Ottoman authorities, who responded by declaring all former Patriarchs to be ineligible and sending a government official as an “observer” to the electoral process.

In the midst of that electoral process, the electors, realizing that there was no way they could get Gregory VI onto the throne, attempted to elect another former Patriarch, Germanus IV (who had been forced to resign seven years earlier), and hope that the Ottoman authorities would sign off on it despite their ban on former Patriarchs. Realizing what was happening, the Ottoman official observing the election declared it to be invalid. Things got chaotic after that: the defiant metropolitans ignored the official and started signing a petition to the government, announcing Germanus’s election, and stamping it with their official seals. The Ottoman official tried to snatch the petition from the metropolitans’ hands, and they grabbed it back. The observer then tried to order the room to be cleared so that he could declare the meeting invalid due to lack of a quorum; the Grand Logothete of the Patriarchate reacted by blocking the door with his body and preventing anyone from leaving. The whole mess was a gigantic embarrassment to the Ottoman government, which ended up sheepishly accepting Germanus’s election.

Shortly after his election, on December 11, Patriarch Germanus sent an appeal for help to the Holy Synod of Russia, and, by extension to the Tsar:

An unexpected calamity has burst upon the Church of the East, plunging the Orthodox people of the Lord into the abyss of despair: it forces us to make recourse, with tears in our eyes, to the fraternal aid of the Most Holy Directing Synod and to implore through it the mercy of the Monarch and Emperor crowned by God. It is in that mercy that the people of the Orthodox East have always found refuge in supreme moments of danger and been saved from their pursuers by the victorious arms of Orthodox Russia… In the East, the Papists have snatched from the Orthodox their ancient triumph, while in the West the humiliation of all Orthodoxy is being celebrated… It is thus with tears in our eyes that we raise our voice on behalf of the vilified Orthodox Church… How long will the Orthodox Church bear the injustices of the Papists? How long will the People of the Lord cry out to the great Emperor and their voice not find answer? How can that invincible Monarch suffer Orthodoxy to be thus cast down and trampled under foot by the Papists?

Tsar Nicholas I was not deaf to the Patriarch’s cries, and he immediately began making plans for action.


Main Sources

I am especially grateful for the work of Jack Fairey, whose book The Great Powers and Orthodox Christendom: The Crisis over the Eastern Church in the Era of the Crimean War is a must-read for anyone interested in this period. My other main sources are as follows:

Χαμχούγιας, Χρήστος (2006, Αριστοτέλειο Πανεπιστήμιο Θεσσαλονίκης (ΑΠΘ)), Ο Οικουμενικός Πατριάρχης Κωνσταντινουπόλεως Γρηγόριος ΣΤ’ ο Φουρτουνιάδης εν μέσω εθνικών και εθνοφυλετικών ανταγωνισμών

Lora Gerd, Russian Policy in the Orthodox East: The Patriarchate of Constantinople (1878-1914) (De Gruyter Open, 2014).

Jack Fairey, “‘Discord and Confusion… under the Pretext of Religion’: European Diplomacy and the Limits of Orthodox Ecclesiastical Authority in the Eastern Mediterranean,” The International History Review 34:1 (March 2012), 19-44.

Orlando Figes, The Crimean War: A History (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2010).

Charles A. Frazee, The Orthodox Church and Independent Greece 1821-1852 (Cambridge University Press, 1969).

Fr Theocletos Pharmakides, “The Ecclesiastical Independence of Greece,” Methodist Quarterly Review (Oct. 1857).

Dimitrios Stamatopoulos, “Meletios III of Constantinople” in Encyclopaedia of the Hellenic World.

Dimitrios Stamatopoulos, “Orthodox Ecumenicity and the Bulgarian Schism,” in Etudes Balkaniques LI/1: Greece, Bulgaria and European Challenges in the Balkans (Sofia: Institut d’Etudes balkaniques & Centre de Threcologie, 2015), 70-86.

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