Frequently Asked Questions about the Ecumenical Patriarchate

Last updated on Monday, November 20, 2006

Q. What is the Ecumenical Patriarchate?

A. The Ecumenical Patriarchate is the honorary and spiritual centre of the Orthodox Church throughout the world, tracing its history to the Day of Pentecost and the earliest Christian communities founded by the Apostles of Jesus Christ.

Q. What is the origin of the title "Ecumenical Patriarch?"

A. The title "Ecumenical Patriarch" dates from the sixth century and belongs exclusively to the Archbishop of Constantinople. But his role was defined as early as the 4th century. At the 4th Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451), the Archbishop of Constantinople was given "equal privileges" to the Bishop of Rome.

Q. Why is the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul?

A. In 330, the Roman Emperor Constantine transferred the imperial capital to the small city of Byzantium, renaming it Constantinople or "New Rome." Due to its political and historical importance, the city quickly assumed political and ecclesiastical prominence, with all of the (seven) Great Councils of the early Church held either in or near Constantinople.

Q. What is the role of the Ecumenical Patriarch among Orthodox Churches?

A. The Ecumenical Patriarch presides in historical honor among all Orthodox Primates, as "first among equals." He also traditionally serves as the focal point and spokesman for Orthodox Church unity, convening inter-Orthodox councils, as well as inter-Church and inter-faith dialogues.

Q. What is the order of the Orthodox Patriarchates?

A. The most ancient Patriarchates, in an order of seniority already established by the 5th century, comprise Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. In the 16th century, the Ecumenical Patriarch raised the Church of Moscow to the rank of Patriarchate, as occurred earlier with the Church of Serbia in the 14th century as well as later with the Churches of Romania in the 19th century and Bulgaria in the 20th century.

Q. What other concerns comprise priorities for Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew?

A. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has provided support for countries, which were long under the oppression of the Iron Curtain. He has visited Moslem nations, previously never visited by Christian heads of Churches, advocating religious tolerance. Moreover, his pioneering initiatives for the preservation of the natural environment have earned him the title "Green Patriarch."

He organized five environmental seminars at Halki in co-sponsorship with His Royal Highness Prince Philip (1994-1998). He also established the Religious and Scientific Committee, which has organized six international, interfaith and interdisciplinary seaborne symposia to date: Patmos and the Mediterranean (1995), the Black Sea (1997), the Danube River (1999), the Adriatic Sea (2002), the Baltic Sea (2003), and the Amazon River (2006).

Q. What is the relationship of the Hagia Sophia (or the Holy Wisdom) to the Ecumenical Patriarchate?

A. Hagia Sophia is one of the architectural wonders of the early Church. It housed some of the most magnificent mosaics, some of which survive to this day, and was the center of impressive liturgical worship. It was here that Prince Vladimir in the 10th century sent his envoys to witness the liturgy, as a result of which all of Russia was Christianized. Converted to a mosque in 1453, today it is a museum.

Q. When was Bartholomew I elected Ecumenical Patriarch?

A. In October, 1991. Patriarch Bartholomew (b. 1940) was elected the 270th Archbishop of the historic throne of Constantinople, the Byzantine name for present-day Istanbul.

Q. What language is used in the services and other scheduled events?

A. While His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew is fluent in seven modern languages, the formal language of the services is in fact the Greek of the New Testament. It is the same language adopted by the Church Fathers and used in official texts of the Orthodox Church through the centuries.

Q. How many Orthodox Christians are there world-wide?

A. 300 million. Geographically, its primary area of distribution lies along the coast of the (northeast) Mediterranean, in Eastern and Northern Europe, as well as in the Middle East. But the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate is worldwide.

Q. What is the status of the relationship between the Orthodox Church and Roman Catholic Church today?

A. Since the time of Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI, the two Churches embarked on a "dialogue of love," which has expanded into a "dialogue of truth" since 1980. Today, an international theological dialogue discusses areas of agreement and division.

Q. What happened in 1054?

A. That year marked the official division, known as the "great schism" between the two Churches, the result of a gradual estrangement over centuries for cultural, political and theological reasons.

Q. What happened in the Fourth Crusade?

A. In 1204, the 4th crusade pillaged Constantinople, leaving indelible scars in the memory of Eastern Christians with regard to the Western Church. In a gracious gesture of love, the late Pope John Paul II formally apologized for this lawless sacking.




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