The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople

The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople



A role in dialogue


For the past several years as the then Executive Director and now the Founding Father of the Orthodox Christian Network (OCN)  I had the privilege to work with several teams of professionals covering the 50th Anniversary Gathering of the lifting of the Anathema’s celebrated in Jerusalem where the Ecumenical Patriarch His All Holiness BARTHOLOMEW as well as His Holiness Pope FRANCIS gathered together in brotherly love and respect at the Holy Sepulcher as well as the visit of Pope Francis to Istanbul when he visited the Patriarchate on the occasion of the Thronal Feastday Celebration of the First-called Apostle Andrew.  It was an uplifting experience that millions followed through the media.  I was struck by the faith and determination of each prelate.

The world now waits for another milestone in the history of Christianity to take place.  The Holy and Great Council meeting will take place in June as announced on the beautiful island of Crete. This is a long awaited and long planned for Council.  Although it is not another Ecumenical Council it certainly will be an historical gathering of Orthodox prelates from throughout the world. There is no doubt that media outlets will be interested in this event.  More and more people are becoming aware of the history of the Orthodox Christian Church and the importance Her teachings bring to their own Christian faith commitment.  For that matter, Christianity itself has become a front and center issue today with the large scale persecution of Christians in the Middle East.  It makes sense that all Christians should unite against this scourge and stand tall against those who wish to deny a gift bestowed on all that is of our own free will to worship God as we choose.  This is why I say this year will be a pivotal one for Christians.


Just this week the world learned of another event which is the meeting of His Holiness Patriarch Krill of Moscow and His Holiness Pope FRANCIS in Cuba.  Why Cuba, no one has really been able to answer this question except that both prelates schedules seem to have lined up for the event?  This is however a good step in removing some of the mistrust that has grown throughout the centuries and we should all welcome such meetings.  Let’s face it you cannot have dialogue unless you speak to someone.   As one of the Patriarchs of the Holy Orthodox Church His Holiness Kirill will follow in the footsteps of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch BARTHOLOMEW who was the first Patriarch to meet with the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in many centuries.  The Ecumenical Patriarch is recognized worldwide and through sacred Church history as the First amongst equals within the Orthodox world for good reason as you will see if you read further down in this article.


How the Orthodox Church is structured


It is important this year, which could be for Orthodox Christians more important than any since the 8th century to learn the structure of the Church of the Fathers and to learn how it functions within the teachings of the faith.  Let’s just put it this way, “we do not make it up” as issues come along according to today’s prevailing winds nor are decision made according to new forms of qualification due to size of one’s congregation or influence of any government no matter what country attempts to do so for we know from history that many have tried to do so and have eventually failed.  The Church is guided by the Holy Spirit and been so since its inception.  I know this will be difficult for our world today to comprehend since we choose many times to worship the spectacular rather than the sacred but is just the way it is.  Thank God for all of us that it is so!  The text below is taken directly from the website of the Ecumenical Patriarchate itself.  I advise all who want to follow these historical times to read this carefully and direct your questions to those in the know..

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. 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. Less than a century later, 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.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate holds an honorary primacy among the autocephalous, or ecclesiastically independent, Churches. It enjoys the privilege of serving as “first among equals.” It is also known as the “Roman” Patriarchate (hence the Turkish phrase: Rum Patrikhanesi), recalling its historical source as the Church of New Rome, the new capital of the Roman Empire, transferred in 330 from Old Rome to Byzantium by Constantine the Great. The first bishop of the city of Byzantium was St. Stachys (38–54), a disciple of the Apostle Andrew. In 330, Byzantium was renamed Constantinople and New Rome, while its bishopric was elevated to an archbishopric. The Metropolitan of Heraclea, to whom Byzantium was formerly subject, now came under the jurisdiction of Constantinople and enjoyed the privileges of the latter’s most senior see.


After the Great Schism


As a title, the phrase “Ecumenical Patriarchate” dates from the sixth century and belongs exclusively to the Archbishop of Constantinople. The Great Schism of 1054—in fact the culmination of a gradual estrangement over many centuries—resulted in formal separation between the Churches of the East and the West, granting Constantinople sole authority and jurisdiction over the Orthodox Churches throughout the world.

After the capture of Constantinople by the Latins during the Fourth Crusade (1204), the Ecumenical Patriarchate was transferred to Nicaea (1206), but Emperor Michael VIII Palaeologos restored it to Constantinople when he recaptured the city in 1261. When Constantinople became the capital of the Ottoman Empire in 1453, the Ecumenical Patriarch (at the time, Gennadius II) was recognized as Ethnarch of the Orthodox peoples, with increased authority over the Eastern Patriarchates and the Balkan Churches, as well as farther afield.


A symbol of unity and growth


From that time, the Ecumenical Patriarchate became a symbol of unity, rendering service and solidarity to the Eastern Churches. In difficult periods, the Ecumenical Patriarchate was consulted for the resolution of problems. Frequently, patriarchs of other Churches would reside in Constantinople, which was the venue for meetings of the Holy Synod that was chaired by the Ecumenical Patriarch.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate also sponsored missionary growth through the centuries, the most notable of which was the conversion of the Kievan Rus in the tenth century and the most recent of which was the missionary work in Southeast Asia in the last century. This pastoral role and responsibility has earned the characterization of the Ecumenical Patriarchate as “the golden beacon of Orthodoxy, preserving the unwaning brilliance of Christianity.”

Currently, the Ecumenical Patriarchate is actively engaged in diverse ecclesiastical activities and ministries. It has historically proved to be a dynamic leader in the ecumenical movement, fully participating in the World Council of Churches from its inception, as well as in local ecumenical bodies instituting and chairing bilateral theological dialogues with non-Orthodox Christians but also with other monotheistic faiths.

Photo Credit: Nikolaos Manginas



OCN offers videos, podcasts, blogs and music, to enhance Orthodox Christian life.  Our blog, The Sounding,   supports the well-being of our readers by providing well-written, positive, and thought-provoking Orthodox content and fostering discussion of its application to life.

The Orthodox Christian Network (OCN) is a commissioned agency of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops.  Our mission is to comfort, inspire, and inform Orthodox Christians and seekers around the world using digital media. OCN is not underwritten financially by any one organization, jurisdiction, or individual. Rather, OCN is supported entirely by parish and personal donations. Please remember OCN in your parish’s charitable giving. The Orthodox Christian Network is a 501(c)(3) corporation.


Much like public radio, the Orthodox Christian Network relies on the support of our listeners.  Anonymous donors have issued a $20,000 matching challenge in honor of OCN’s 20th Anniversary! For every $1 you give, $2 will be donated! You can send your gift by direct mail, over the phone, or on our website. 

OCN Spark is here!   Our Spark app is an Orthodox Christian News portal that allows you to take action.  Spark provides daily devotions, live Bible study, and you can read and learn about events going on in the Orthodox Christian world and persecuted Christians.  In addition to making it easy to share news and articles with friends, Spark allows you make prayer requests for those who are suffering.  Click here to download OCN Spark from iTunes.

Posted by the Orthodox Christian Network. OCN is on Social Media! Follow us on Twitter,    Facebook, YouTube,  Google+,   and  Pinterest 

About author

Fr. Chris Metropulos

Shaped by a life of service to Christ’s Church, Fr. Christopher has dedicated himself to using all the tools God has placed at his disposal to spread the light of Orthodoxy across America. As Founding Father and host of the Orthodox Christian Network (OCN) and the “Come Receive The Light” national Orthodox Christian radio program, he shepherds a dynamic and rapidly expanding ministry bringing joy, hope, and salvation in Jesus Christ to millions of listeners on Internet and land-based radio around the world in more than 130 countries. Fr. Christopher is the former President of Hellenic College Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology and Parish Priest of Saint Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.