The Patriarch of Constantinople is the Ecumenical Patriarch, the "first among equals" in the Eastern Orthodox Communion. In this capacity he serves as spiritual leader and primary spokesperson for the Communion (hence "first"), but has no official authority over the Patriarchs or over the other fifteen of the sixteen autocephalous Eastern Orthodox churches (hence "among equals").
His titular position is Patriarch of the Orthodox Church of Constantinople, one of the sixteen autocephalous Churches, and he is one of the original four Eastern Orthodox patriarchs. In his role as head of the Orthodox Church of Constantinople, he additionally holds the title Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome. He should not be confused with the Latin Patriarch of Constantinople.
As Constantine the Great had made Byzantium "New Rome" in 330, it was reasonable that its bishop, once the humble suffragan of Heraclea, would become second only to the Bishop of Old Rome. For many centuries Roman popes opposed this ambition, not because anyone thought of disputing their first place, but because they were unwilling to change the old order of the hierarchy. In 381, however, the First Council of Constantinople declared that: "The Bishop of Constantinople shall have the primacy of honour after the Bishop of Rome, because it is New Rome" (can. iii).
Popes Damasus and Gregory the Great refused to confirm this canon, a very unusual and controversial step, as Ecumenical Councils were considered binding on all Christian churches. Nonetheless, the position of Constantinople continued to grow under the patronage of the Byzantine emperor.
The Council of Chalcedon in 451 established Constantinople as a patriarchate with jurisdiction over Asia Minor and Thrace and gave it the second place after Rome (can. xxviii). Pope Leo I refused to admit this canon, claiming it was invalid since it was made in the absence of his legates, again a controversial position.
Within Roman Catholic administration, it was not until the Roman Catholic Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 that the Latin Patriarch of Constantinople was recognized as having such status; in 1439 the Council of Florence (not recognized by the Orthodox Church as ecumenical) gave it to the Greek patriarch.
Aft the fall of Constantinople, the Ottoman Sultan claimed the right of appointment, but the modern Turkish state simply requires the Patriarch to be a Turkish citizen and allows the Synod of Constantinople to elect him.
The current Patriarch is Patriarch Bartholomew I.
- Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople http://www.patriarchate.org
Last updated: 02-10-2005 22:45:56