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The Orthodox Church / The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople

The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople

Number of faithfulapprox. 4 million, mainly in the global diaspora
Title of First HierarchArchbishop of Constantinople, New Rome, and Ecumenical Patriarch
See of the First HierarchIstanbul (Turkey)
Current incumbentBartholomew (Archodonis), born 1940, in office since 1991
Bishops and dioceses161 bishops; 92 dioceses
Liturgical LanguageGreek or local languages
CalendarMixed Calendar (Gregorian/Julian)
Presence in Austriaapprox. 30,000 believers; 1 bishop (metropolitan) based in Vienna; 13 parishes, 17 priests, 2 deacons
Presence in Germany

approx. 470,000 believers; 6 bishops (metropolitan and 5 vicar bishops), see in Bonn; 65 parishes, 74 priests, 1 deacon

The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople ranks first among the Orthodox Churches. This honorary preeminence of the Church of Constantinople is based on Constantinople's position as the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire (330-1453). The new imperial capital, founded on the territory of the Greek city of Byzantion, was also known as "New Rome". In the "Byzantine Empire", with its administrative center in Constantinople, Christianity played a significant role that shaped the state and its culture. All ecumenical councils of the first millennium took place in its territory and the emperors supported the implementation of their decisions. The construction of the Hagia Sophia (inaugurated in 537) was an expression of Constantinople's self-consciousness as the center of Christianity at the time. Accordingly, the patriarchs of Constantinople have used the title "Ecumenical Patriarch" since the 6th century.

During the 7th century, the Arab advances weakened the Byzantine Empire but also strengthened the Church of Constantinople in comparison to the other early church patriarchates. In the period that followed, the model of Constantinople increasingly influenced the theology and liturgy of the Eastern Churches. Even in the Ottoman Empire (1453-1923), the supremacy of the Church of Constantinople remained with the Patriarch acting as the "ethnarch" of all Orthodox in the empire. As such, his sphere of influence grew well beyond the confines of the original patriarchy. At the same time, he was also responsible for collecting taxes, which made him more and more a representative of the Ottoman rulers in the eyes of the faithful. During the events of the wars of independence, which gradually led to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century, the independent (autocephalous) regional churches emerged and broke away from the jurisdiction of Constantinople.

In the Turkish state (since 1923), the Patriarchate of Constantinople lost its secure legal status and had to suffer constant reprisals from the Turkish authorities. In addition, its position in the Turkish state was further weakened by the population exchange agreed with Greece, through which a large part of the Greek population of Asia Minor resettled in Greece. With the state-ordered closure of the Halki Theological School in 1971, the Ecumenical Patriarchate also lost its internationally renowned training center.

Only a few thousand Orthodox Christians belonging to the Ecumenical Patriarchate remain in Turkey today, however all Greek Orthodox believers in the worldwide diaspora are under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Constantinople, which to a certain degree safeguards the Patriarchate's human and financial resources. The dioceses of the so-called "New Lands" in northern Greece are also formally subject to the spiritual supremacy of the Ecumenical Patriarch but administratively belong to the Church of Greece since 1928. The see of the Ecumenical Patriarchate is in Phanar (Turkish: Fener), a district of Constantinople (today Istanbul) that used to be inhabited mainly by Greeks.

Despite the fact that his possibilities for action are restricted by the state, the Ecumenical Patriarch is still regarded as the honorary head of the worldwide Orthodox Church. The Patriarchate of Constantinople played a leading role in the ecumenical movement of the 20th century. It is one of the founding members of the World Council of Churches and the personal encounters between Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI (first in Jerusalem in 1964) paved the way for the ecumenical/bilateral dialogue between Orthodox and Catholics. In addition, the Ecumenical Patriarchate is also committed to the dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the world religions. Patriarch Bartholomew, who has presided over this church since 1991, has made a name for himself as the "Green Patriarch" for his commitment to environmental issues.


  • Patriarch Bartholomaios, Begegnung mit dem Mysterium. Das orthodoxe Christentum von heute verstehen, Paderborn 2019.
  • J. Chryssavgis, The Ecumenical Patriarchate today, London 2014.
  • Metropolit Maximos von Sardes, Das ├ľkumenische Patriarchat in der Orthodoxen Kirche, Freiburg i.Br. 1980.