The Haghia Yorgi (Ste Georges church) of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Fener.
As far as I remember, I was always intrigued by the "Ecumenical" Patriarchate of the Orthodox Church based in Istanbul. So often I would read or hear on the news: ''The Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras today had a meeting with the Pope'' or ''Athenagoras today met with this or that president''.
But who is this enigmatic Patriarch and his Patriarchate? I would always ask. Questions puzzling me at my tender age... To make the matters even more complicated, the Armenian translation of the Patriarchate’s title contains the word ''Diyezeragan'', a vague translation of universal/ ecumenical/Cosmopolitan. hardly an easy job to describe!
Moreover, the Greek word ‘’Ecumenical’’ has always sounded a bit funny to me. The sight of an old and bearded Greek Patriarch residing in Istanbul where there are almost no Greeks left added to the puzzle. Therefore, visiting the Holy See of the Ecumenical Patriarchate was very exciting to me to learn and understand more.
Since the Byzantine Empire and the Ottoman conquerors, this original Orthodox Patriarchate has always been present. When Constantinople became the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, a series of church councils and events elevated New Rome’s (Constantinople) Bishop to its current position of Patriarch. The Fourth Ecumenical council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D. confirmed the Patriarchate as only second in importance to the Bishop (Pope) of Rome. (Note:Chalcedon or today's Kadikoy is situated on the Asian side of the city. Kaghketon in Armenian).
The Great Schism, or the division of the Eastern Orthodox and Latin west in 1054 AD, established the Constantinople Patriarch as de facto leader of the Orthodox Church. Subsequently numerous pan-Orthodox meetings and synods were held under the auspices of the Ecumenical Patriarch. Naturally with the fall of the Byzantine Empire naturally the Patriarchate was greatly weakened remaining under Ottoman rule, and It was literally expelled from the Haghia Sofia by the Ottoman conquerors. The orphaned, unwanted and homeless Patriarchate then wandered from one host church to another for long decades. It finally established in its present location in 1599 AD, 146 years after the conquest. since that date the Church of Saint Georges and the adjacent Patriarchate buildings have since been the headquarters. They are located on a hill on the south shore of the Golden Horn (European side of the city) in the Fener (Phanar) district about 7 km west of Haghia Sofia and the Topkapi. The Phanar district at the time was mostly inhabited by non Turks, mostly Greeks and Jews, and was therefore a rather logical choice.
Despite of all these historical hardships and setbacks, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has always managed to hold on to a great prestige, some real power and considerable moral authority in the Christian church worldwide. After the Ottoman conquest, naturally the Patriarchate lost more and more power and authority to other arising and independent minded rival Patriarchates such as Athens and Moscow. Much maligned, sometimes ridiculed and weakened, but the Ecumenical Patriarchate is still respected as the ''First among equals'', a brilliant formula in order to preserve a semblance of ''peace'' among all the rival Orthodox Patriarchates and their flocks. The relationship with the emerging rival Patriarchates in the Orthodox world has not been easy, but nobody seriously questions Ecumenical Patriarchate's moral authority which is deeply anchored in history and geography.
On the other hand, the relationship of the Patriarchate with the successive Turkish governments has also been consistently tense throughout the ages. It is to be noted that the Turkish authorities recognise the Patriarchate by the minimalist "Patriarchate of Phanar" title, sounding like a mere ''neighbourhood'' institution and not much more. The Turkish government officially does not recognize the wider importance of the Patriarchate, nor does it recognise any of its supposed jurisdictions outside its limited and local territory. The Patriarchate is considered an authority over the very small flock of around 2500 Greeks residing in Istanbul, that is not much more than a simple "Milletbashi", the spiritual leader of a local millet (nation or ethnic group).
The Theological college near the Patriarchate in Fener, Istanbul.