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a short history of the ecumenical patriarchate of constantinople

First among equals in the eastern orthodox church

Dino Geanakoplos
Professor of Byzantine History and Orthodox Church History,
Yale University


The Five Great Christian Sees: The PENTARCHY

The Five-Phase History of the Patriarchate

First Phase: The Formative Period

Second Phase: Photios, the Greatest Patriarch


Third Phase: The Last Byzantine Centuries

Fourth Phase: "The Tourkokratia"

Fifth Phase: The Modern Period

About the author

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Five-phase history of the patriarchate

The history of the patriarchate of Constantinople may, for the sake of convenience, be divided into five broad periods: 1) that extending from 330 A.D., the founding of Constantinople by Constantine, to the end of the Iconoclastic struggle in the so-called "Triumph of Orthodoxy" in 843 -- an event still celebrated today as the Feast of Orthodoxy; 2) that beginning in 843 and ending with the fall of Constantinople to the Latins in the Fourth "Crusade" of 1204, followed by an occupation of half a century;3) that extending from 1261, the recovery of Constantinople from its Latin conquerors by the Byzantine Emperor Michael Paleologos, to the final fall of the capital to the Ottoman Turks in 1453;4) the so-called Turkokratia, from the beginning of the Turkish occupation in 1453 to the declaration of Greek independence in 1821, or rather 1833, when the Church of Greece declared its autonomy from the Patriarchate as an "autocephalic" church, and5) the modern period from 1833 to the present day.

Because of its leading historical role, notably in the formation and crystallization of Christian dogma and traditions, and no less in presenting them in the face of continual dangers, the Patriarchate of Constantinople in the person of its chief officer, the Patriarch, has acquired the title among the Orthodox church hierarchy (that is among the present-day Russian, Bulgarian, Serbian, Rumanian, Syrian, etc. churches) of "First among equals."

Yet, unlike Rome, his hegemony is today far less (if at all) one of actual jurisdiction over the other Orthodox patriarchates and autocephalous churches (which arose in some cases after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 in Russia, Serbia, Rumania, Bulgaria, Georgia, etc., Cyprus however being autocephalic, or independent, since the very early church). His is rather a spiritual authority, and as such the Patriarch is looked up to by all with deep devotion and respect as upholder of, and principal connecting link among all the sometimes rather disparate Orthodox churches. Bearing this fundamental consideration in mind, let us now look, if only rapidly, at the past history of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

Next -- first phase: the formative period

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