The Buildings of the Ecumenical Patriarchate


Except for a small portion of the patriarchal library, all of the buildings at the Phanar have been reconstructed over the last two centuries. The buildings situated on the western side of the Ecumenical Patriarchate are divided into two groups. The first group was constructed by Patriarch Constantine V (1897–1901), toward the end of the nineteenth century. Access to these edifices is by a long stairway. This group of buildings is called the Constantiniana and houses the rooms of the clergy. It is linked internally to the second group by an iron bridge.

The second group of buildings was constructed in stone as a patriarchal residence by Patriarch Joachim III in 1879, during his second tenure (1878–84). This group is called the Evgenidion because the project was sponsored by a benevolent banker and businessman, Efstathios Evgenidis (d. c. 1913-14). The two buildings of this group housed the offices of the Ecumenical Patriarchate from the time of Patriarch Benjamin (1936–46) until recently.

The Tower and Adjoining Edifices

Three buildings are located on the eastern side, behind the patriarchal church. Among them, the tower or “the house built with stone, as it was named by Athanasios Ypsilantis,” whose family had come to Constantinople from Trabzon in the late seventeenth century. This eighteenth-century post-Byzantine edifice is characterized by its remarkable architecture and design. The first floor, known as the Myrrhophylakion, stores the holy myrrh after it has been consecrated. The significance of the Holy Myrrh is described below. The second floor houses the archives and is known as the Archiophylakion, a remarkable repository of patriarchal documents and files. The third floor contains the treasury (the Skevophylakion or Thesaurophylakion) and the sacristy (or Kemeliophylakion) of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The treasures housed in this building include unique icons dating to the sixteenth century, patriarchal vestments dating to the seventeenth century, and precious vessels dating to the eighteenth century.

The wooden conference building of the Mixed Ecclesiastical Council adjoins the tower. This edifice was constructed toward the end of the nineteenth century, during the first tenure of Patriarch Joachim III (1878–84). The first floor houses the office of the archivists and librarians of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The second floor serves as a dormitory for the clergy of the patriarchal court.

A third, stone building also adjoins the tower. The first floor of this edifice was used for the patriarchal printing offices, which operated from the seventeenth century until 1964. The second floor contains the treasures of the patriarchal library, which was recently refurbished in 2003 through the generosity of Theodore Papalexopoulos, Archon Maistor (or dean) of the Great Church of Christ. Its treasures include two gospel manuscripts dating to the early twelfth century.

The Patriarchal Chapel

A small, private chapel exists near the personal quarters of the patriarch on the third floor of the Evgenidion building in the Ecumenical Patriarchate. It is dedicated to St. Andrew, the first-called of the Apostles and founder of the Church of Constantinople. The furnishings for this chapel were provided during the second tenure of Patriarch Joachim III (1901-12) by the generous gifts of Efstathios Evgenidis. The icons were painted on Mount Athos, Greece, a peninsula in Northern Greece dedicated for over one thousand years to the monastic life and home to twenty male monasteries under the spiritual jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

This chapel is used for special services, as foreseen by the Patriarchal protocol, as well as for daily personal prayer, particularly evening prayers, by the patriarch.

The Pavilion of the Holy Myron

A wooden, decorated pavilion is located in the courtyard. This is the site where the holy myron (myrrh), is prepared in special boilers during the days of Holy Week. When the amount of holy myrrh decreases and necessitates renewal, it is prepared in a series of formal rituals, commencing on Palm Sunday and culminating on Holy Thursday with a liturgical procession of all the hierarchs of the Ecumenical Throne.

According to ancient and sacred tradition, holy myrrh is officially and solemnly consecrated by the Ecumenical Patriarch, whereupon it is distributed to the various Churches throughout the world for use during the sacraments of Baptism and Chrismation (similar to Confirmation in the West), as well as for dedication of churches. It also constitutes a fundamental and profound sign of common faith and unity. His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has consecrated holy myrrh in the Holy Weeks of 1992, 2002, and 2012. 

The New Patriarchal Buildings

Some of the most important buildings of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the Phanar included of a group of edifices, which were destroyed by an electrical fire in 1941. The fire, caused by a faulty electrical circuit, deprived the Ecumenical Patriarchate for over forty-six years of vital space, which housed the main offices. This group of edifices contained a four-story complex constructed by Patriarch Germanos IV (1842-5, 1852-5) and later renovated by Patriarch Joachim III. The complex consisted of a ground floor, a mezzanine floor, two floors of office space, an adjoining building, as well as two buildings for clergy known as Papadika.

In response to successive applications of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Turkish government granted permission for the reconstruction of the buildings destroyed by fire. This reconstruction occurred between 1985 and 1987, during the tenure of Patriarch Demetrios (1972–91), largely through the generosity of Panagiotis Angelopoulos, who was subsequently awarded the title of Archon Megas Logothetis and Grand Benefactor of the Great Church of Christ. In this way, Mr. Angelopoulos rightfully joined the ranks of the other grand benefactors of the Church, Pavlos Stefanovich Skylitsis and Stefanos Skylitsis, Stefanos Mavrokordatos of the renowned Mavrokordatos family, as well as Efstathios Evgenidis and Leonidas Zarifis (1840-1923), making it possible for the Ecumenical Patriarchate to regain its original and proper glory.

The most important building in the entire complex is the patriarchal house, which was originally constructed in the eighteenth century, in the typical Turkish architectural style of the time. The restoration respected the original design, with modifications permitted only to the interior of the building, which was officially opened on 17 December 1989, during the tenure of Patriarch Demetrios. In addition to the expenses for the buildings mentioned above, the grand benefactor, Mr. Angelopoulos, sponsored the complete furnishings in the buildings which formerly housed the patriarchal offices, the renovation of both the interior and the exterior of the patriarchal church of St. George, and a well that is situated in the courtyard of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

The main entrance to the new patriarchal house boasts three contemporary, yet creative mosaic panels. The first depicts the enthroned Christ holding the Gospel and blessing those who enter. To his right, on a second panel, stands St. Andrew, “first-called of the Apostles” and founder of the church of Constantinople; St. Andrew is portrayed handing the Gospel to his successor, St. Stachys, first bishop of the Bosphorus. A third panel shows Sultan Mehmed II (r. 1444–6 and 1451–81) in his encounter with Gennadios Scholarios, first Ecumenical Patriarch after the fall of Constantinople in 1453; the sultan is offering a pastoral staff and a firman (imperial edict) to the patriarch, transferring privileges to the leader of the Orthodox Christians.

The new complex of buildings houses the various offices of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The main floor contains the formal entrance and comprises the offices of the patriarchal assistants and clergy, certain meeting rooms, and a dining hall for lay employees of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The first (or mezzanine) floor contains the offices of the grand archdeaconry, as well as a dining hall for the clergy and lay members, together with official guests, of the patriarchal court. The second floor consists of a reception room for various functions, called the “chamber of the Virgin Mother,” a sitting room for bishops, known as the “chamber of hierarchs,” as well as the offices of the chief secretariat of the Holy Synod. The third and top floor houses the office of the patriarch and the private patriarchal office; the formal reception hall of the Ecumenical Patriarch, called the “chamber of the throne”; the “chamber of the patriarchs,” with portraits of former patriarchs; the conference room of the Holy Synod, as well as the formal patriarchal dining room.

A second group of central buildings houses the grand chancellery, whose main office is situated on the third floor of the new complex, as well as three floors containing the living quarters of the patriarchal court as well as dormitories for other clergy, several guest rooms for visitors, and an apartment for visiting hierarchs.

The Gate of Patriarch Gregory V

Facing the patriarchal house is the gate of Patriarch Gregory V, who was martyred on Easter Sunday, 1821 (April 10), together with other members of the Holy Synod, only weeks prior to the declaration of the Greek War of Independence. Accused of conspiring with Greek revolutionists, Patriarch Gregory was hanged from this gate, which has remained closed out of reverent memorial to the hierarch, whose remains are preserved to this day in the cathedral of Athens, Greece.

It is also said that, during that period, the icon screen in the patriarchal church was painted black as a sign of mourning. It was only recently restored to its former beauty, with the addition of gilding in 1994.