Patriarch of Constantinople

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The Patriarch of Constantinople is the Ecumenical Patriarch, the "first among equals" in the Eastern Orthodox Church. In this capacity he is first in honor among all the Orthodox bishops, presides over any council of bishops in which he takes part and serves as primary spokesman for the communion, but has no jurisdiction over the other patriarchs or the other autocephalous Eastern Orthodox churches.

The Ecumenical status accorded him within Eastern Orthodoxy has on occasion been a source of controversy with the Republic of Turkey, which under its laws regarding religious minorities officially recognizes him as only the "Patriarch of Fener" (Fener is the district in Istanbul where his headquarters are located).

His titular position is Patriarch of the Orthodox Church of Constantinople, one of the sixteen autocephalous churches and one of the five Christian centers comprising the ancient Pentarchy. In his role as head of the Orthodox Church of Constantinople, he additionally holds the title Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome. His official title is "His Most Divine All-Holiness the Archbishop of Constantinople New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch".

As Constantine the Great had made Byzantium "New Rome" in 330, it was thought appropriate that its bishop, once a suffragan of Heraclea, should become second only to the Bishop of Old Rome. For many decades 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 refused to confirm this canon, a very unusual and controversial step, as Ecumenical Councils were considered binding on all Christian churches. Nonetheless, the prestige of the office 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, appellate jurisdiction over canon law decisions by the other patriarchs; and equality with 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.

After the fall of Constantinople, the Ottoman Sultan claimed the right of appointment; the modern Turkish state requires the Patriarch to be a Turkish citizen but allows the Synod of Constantinople to elect him.

The current Patriarch is Bartholomew I.

See also

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