|January 2007 saw the publication of a detailed academic study of the Patriarchal and Synodical Act of 1928, the formal instrument by which the Oecumenical Patriarchate assigned on a provisional basis to the autocephalous Church of Greece the administration of its dioceses in the “New Lands” - the territories acquired by the Greek state following the 1912-1913 Balkan Wars. The author, Metropolitan Demetrios of Sebasteia, a bishop of the Oecumenical Patriarchate and Director of the Private Patriarchal Office in the Phanar, has conducted extensive research into previously unpublished archives from 1927-2004 and examines how the Act has been implemented by the Church of Greece. |
Following the 1912-13 Balkan Wars, the areas of Epirus, Macedonia and western Thrace, together with the islands of the northern and eastern Aegean, were incorporated within the borders of Greece. As a result of this, and particularly following the upheavals in the region in the early 1920s and the influx of refugees from Asia Minor into northern Greece after 1922, the Oecumenical Patriarchate began to face considerable difficulties in administering its dioceses in these areas (the dioceses of the “New Lands”). It accordingly took the decision in 1928 to assign provisionally the ecclesiastical administration of the New Lands to the autocephalous Church of Greece, which was the ecclesiastical authority for most of the regions which had constituted the Greek state prior to 1912. The Patriarchal and Synodical Act of 1928 gave formal effect to this decision: the Oecumenical Patriarchate retained its supreme canonical authority and rights over the dioceses of the New Lands, even though they were now to be administered in practice by the Holy Synod of the autocephalous Church of Greece. Metropolitan Demetrios details the struggles the Oecumenical Patriarchate has had in facing obstructionist tactics by the Church of Greece, which has not complied with certain of the provisions of the Patriarchal and Synodical Act and appears to have been working to an agenda aimed eventually at the gradual assimilation of the Patiarchate’s dioceses in the New Lands into its own jurisdiction.
Metropolitan Demetrios of Sebasteia The Patriarchal and Synodical Act of 1928: Why the full implementation of its provisions has been obstructed.
The background – based on sources in the Patriarchal Archive – to the Oecumenical Patriarchate’s struggle to retain its canonical rights over its dioceses in the “New Lands” in Greece
Athens, Stamoulis Publishing co.,
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About the author:
His Eminence Metropolitan Demetrios of Sebasteia, son of Constantine and Zoi Komatas, was born in Constantinople on 26th October 1952. He studied at the Theological School of Halki (1968-1971), the Theological School of the University of Thessalonica (1972-1975) and at the Anglican college Oak Hill, in London (1980-1981).
He was ordained deacon in 1974 by the late Metropolitan Meliton of Chalcedon, and for fifteen years (1975-1990) served in the Patriarchal Court of the late Patriarch Demetrios. By 1990, he had become the Great Archdeacon of Constantinople, and on 2nd October of that year he was elected Metropolitan of Sebasteia by Patriarch Demetrios and the Holy Synod of Constantinople. He was ordained bishop on 4th November 1990.
In 1991, when His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew was elected to the Ecumenical Throne, he called upon Metropolitan Demetrios to be the Director of his Private Office.
Metropolitan Demetrios also serves periodically as a member of the Holy Synod of Constantinople and on a number of Synodical committees. He has taken part in many ecclesiastical missions throughout the world, including the United States, Australia and Greece, and recently he participated in two Inter-Orthodox Synods: the Pan-Orthodox Synod for the Patriarchate of Jerusalem (24th May 2005), and the enlarged Synod of Geneva which was assembled to deal with the Church of Cyprus(17th May 2006).
The Balkan Wars of 1912-1913 resulted in a considerable territorial expansion northwards of the Greek State, to include regions which had until then remained within the Ottoman Empire. In ecclesiastical terms, these areas included dioceses(1) which had historically been under the jurisdiction of the Oecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Since the Balkan Wars, these have been known as the dioceses of the New Lands(2).
The Greek State indicated to the Oecumenical Patriarchate as early as 1914 its desire that these dioceses should be transferred ecclesiastically by an official Patriarchal Tomos (charter) to the jurisdiction of the autocephalous Church of Greece, following the precedent of the transfer to the autocephalous Greek Church of the dioceses of the Ionian Islands (in 1866) and of Thessaly (in 1882) which had also belonged to the Oecumenical Throne.
The following year, 1915, the Oecumenical Patriarchate (Germanos V was Patriarch) indicated that in principle it was in favour of this proposal. It did not, however, wish to transfer these dioceses hastily, or to write a blank cheque, as the Greek Government was then suggesting, and it was not prepared to make the transfer without the essential prerequisite: the drafting and promulgation of a Patriarchal and Synodical Tomos formally handing over the jurisdiction of these dioceses.
This, however, was not possible at that time, because there had been no international agreement formally to define the new frontiers of the Greek State, and Greek sovereignty over the Aegean islands, Northern Epirus and the territory of Mount Athos was then a matter of international dispute.
Subsequent developments, in particular the First World War and the bitter division amongst Greeks in 1916 and 1917 resulting from the rift between King Constantine I and Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos, as well as a three-year vacancy of the Oecumenical Throne from 1918 until 1921, led to the postponement of the search for a solution to the jurisdictional problem posed by these dioceses.
The events of 1922-23, known to Greeks as the Asia Minor Catastrophe, when the defeat of the Greek forces in Asia Minor was followed by the expulsion of almost the entire Greek Orthodox population of Turkey outside the City of Constantinople(3), had very major consequences for the Oecumenical Patriarchate as an institution. Hundreds of thousands of people had to abandon their ancestral homes and arrived in Greece as refugees. Within a very short period of time, the whole diocesan structure of the Oecumenical Patriarchate in Asia Minor had been destroyed, and many of the distressed Christians who had been living there were now resettled in the dioceses of the Oecumenical Throne within the New Lands acquired by the Greek State in 1912 and 1913.
All this changed the situation radically. Everyone involved in the search for a solution for the dioceses in the New Lands, and particularly the Oecumenical Patriarchate, agreed that under such conditions it was impossible to transfer them to the jurisdiction of the Church of Greece, with the Patriarchate left, as a consequence, with no ecclesiastical territory and no flock beyond the limits of the City of Constantinople. The Patriarchate has never ceased to regard the people of its dioceses in the New Lands as an essential part of its flock, and on many historical occasions it has made sacrifices in order to care for them and support them. The faithful in the dioceses of the New Lands have always and still do express their gratitude to the Patriarchate, which they regard as their Mother Church.
Because of the exceptional conditions prevailing in the wake of the 1922-23 upheavals in the region, which made communication between the Patriarchate and the faithful in the New Lands impossible, the Oecumenical Patriarchate agreed that it was necessary to assign the administration of its dioceses there to the autocephalous Church of Greece. But it did so with the categorical condition that it would maintain its sovereign jurisdiction over these dioceses, in the hope that the situation would at some stage in the future improve - as is now beginning to happen 78 years later.
The Greek State supported the Patriarchate’s position. This was of decisive significance for the course of ecclesiastical affairs in Greece, and consequently, during the negotiations which took place during 1927 and 1928, the Oecumenical Patriarchate communicated principally with the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Ministry, however, was in continuous communication with the then Archbishop of Athens, the distinguished academic Chrysostomos Papadopoulos (1923-1938).
Before final agreement was reached in 1928, two principal solutions were proposed for this problem of the dioceses in the New Lands:
The first was the work of an advisory committee which the Greek Government set up in October 1926 to study the problem systematically. The committee members were seven Metropolitans in Greece who were under the jurisdiction of the Oecumenical Patriarchate, and a Law professor. They recommended the creation of a separate Synod in Thessaloniki comprising all the Metropolitans of the New Lands. The Synod would function autonomously, but would be spiritually under the Oecumenical Patriarchate. The Patriarchate would assign the administration of these dioceses to the Synod, which would act as trustee – under certain conditions. The Patriarchate would nevertheless preserve its basic canonical rights.
The second proposal came directly from the Oecumenical Patriarchate in June 1927. It was consistent with Canon Law and the Tradition of the Orthodox Church and proposed five regional synods representing five themes(4). Each of these five themes – Thrace, Macedonia, Epirus, Crete and the Aegean Islands - would become self-governing on the basis of a Patriarchal statute, but the supreme canonical rights of the Oecumenical Patriarchate over these themes would be retained.
The first proposal did not generate a positive response and was seen as unacceptable to the Greek people, both in Old Greece(5) and in the New Lands.
As for the second proposal (the one devised by the Oecumenical Patriarchate suggesting administration by five themes), the Greek Government came back with its own counter-proposal.
Writing to the Oecumenical Patriarchate in November 1927, the Government suggested that the Patriarchate should assign the administration of the dioceses of the New Lands to the autocephalous Church of Greece as trustee, with the Patriarchate nevertheless retaining its supreme canonical rights, which it specified as:
a)The Oecumenical Patriarchate was to ratify the election of Metropolitans in the New Lands.
b)The name of the Patriarch was to be commemorated during the Divine Liturgy by the Metropolitans of the New Lands.
c)The Patriarch would continue to be the supreme ecclesiastical appeal judge: that is to say he would retain the έκκλητος, the authority bestowed by Oecumenical Councils on the Oecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople to be the final judge for appeals by Metropolitans against verdicts delivered upon them.
The Greek Government made it clear that the Patriarchate could make some modifications to these proposals on the retention of its essential rights.
This counter-proposal was in fact drafted personally by the Archbishop of Athens, Chrysostomos Papadopoulos, who was acting without the direct knowledge or the cooperation of the Metropolitans of the autocephalous Church of Greece.
The Oecumenical Patriarchate studied the Greek counter-proposal closely and agreed to implement it as the basis for a resolution, provided that the Patriarchate retained its supreme canonical rights over the dioceses, as this had been specified in the two original proposals.
So during a meeting of the Holy Synod of Constantinople on 17th January 1928, the Patriarchate drew up and sent to Athens the draft of a Patriarchal and Synodical Act, which was accepted by the Greek State.
Unfortunately, however, the latter did not then wait for the final official version of the Patriarchal and Synodical Act before proceeding to introduce legislation. Instead, it accelerated the process. Greece was then in the throes of a change of Government, and Law 3615 was enacted on 10th July 1928. It was entitled: Concerning the ecclesiastical administration of the Dioceses of the Oecumenical Patriarchate in the New Lands of Greece.
This law clearly states that the Oecumenical Patriarchate is to retain its supreme canonical rights over the dioceses of the New Lands, but it does not define these rights even though the Greek State had previously accepted them.
The delay in promulgating the final version of the Patriarchal and Synodical Act until after the enactment of the Greek State Law provoked recriminations within the Patriarchate. According to verbal tradition, Patriarch Basil III (1925-1929) had intended in some way to help Archbishop Chrysostomos I of Athens personally: the Patriarch had a high regard for the Archbishop, who had been his pupil in Constantinople between 1885 and 1887.
Thanks to the persistence of the hierarchy in Constantinople, the Patriarchal and Synodical Act entrusting the administration of the dioceses of the Oecumenical Throne in the New Lands to the autocephalous Church of Greece was finally drafted and promulgated on 4th September 1928. We should stress that, although the Greek State had already enacted the Law, it had pressed strongly for this Patriarchal Act, precisely because it recognised that without it there was no ecclesiastical justification for the autocephalous Church of Greece to administer the dioceses of the Oecumenical Patriarchate.
The 1928 Act states clearly that because of the exceptional conditions – which then prevented direct communication between the Patriarchate and its dioceses in the New Lands – the Oecumenical Patriarchate grants in trust, in other words provisionally, the administration of its dioceses in the New Lands to the autocephalous Church of Greece, and that it retains its supreme canonical authority over them.
The Act goes on to analyse this authority, detailing the conditions under which the Oecumenical Patriarchate assigns the administration of its dioceses and specifying:
1)how the Metropolitans of the New Lands are to participate in the Holy Synod and the other administrative bodies of the autocephalous Church of Greece (clauses 1, 2, 3 and 4);
2)the process by which these Metropolitans are to be elected and the right of the Oecumenical Patriarch to propose candidates and to ratify the list of candidates to become Metropolitans (clause 5);
3)the Patriarch’s position as the final ecclesiastical appeal judge, that is to say as the ultimate, unappealable judicial authority (clause 6);
4)the obligation on the autocephalous Church of Greece (a) to notify the Oecumenical Patriarchate when these sees become vacant and when they are filled, (b) to send the Patriarchate the minutes of the election of each new Metropolitan, and his confessions of faith and of allegiance to the Oecumenical Patriarchate and (c) to inform the Patriarchate when it invites these Metroplitans to take part in the Holy Synod of Athens, as well as the obligation on the Metropolitans themselves to inform the Oecumenical Patriarchate when they take up their pastoral duties (clause 7);
5)the requirement for the annual reports of the Metropolitans of the New Lands to be sent to the Oecumenical Patriarchate (clause 8);
6)the obligation on the Metropolitans of the New Lands to commemorate the name of the Patriarch during the Divine Liturgy (clause 9);
7)the retention of the canonical authority of the Oecumenical Patriarchate over the Patriarchal and Stavropegiac Monasteries(6) in the New Lands (clause 10).
Unfortunately the Church of Greece did not wait, as it clearly should have done, for a definition of those rights of the Oecumenical Patriarchate which were to be retained. It would have preferred a Patriarchal Act which merely endorsed what the preceding civil law had said, without clearly specifying the points which had already been accepted by the Greek State. For this reason, when it finally received the Patriarchal Act, the Church of Greece declared in writing that it had a number of reservations.
Between November 1928 and August 1929 there was an exchange of correspondence between the Oecumenical Patriarchate and the Church of Greece to clarify these points. Finally, Archbishop Chrysostomos of Athens wrote to the Oecumenical Patriarch Basil III on 28th May 1929, stating that the Church of Greece accepted the terms of the Patriarchal and Synodical Act of 1928 with only minor variations on certain points. It was in this exchange of correspondence that it was agreed that the Holy Synod of Athens would be commemorated along with the name of the Patriarch during the Divine Liturgy in the churches in the New Lands.
Consequently, the spiritual and canonical jurisdiction of the Oecumenical Patriarchate has been retained in the dioceses in the New Lands, as a result of a special ecclesiastical arrangement with the Church of Greece, an arrangement which has been recognised throughout by the Greek State.
Although the conditions on which it was obliged to administer the dioceses of the New Lands had thus been clearly defined, the Church of Greece proved obstructive right from the start and systematically tended to ignore them.
During the period between 1940 and 1949, when the rule of law broke down in Greece as a result of the German occupation and the subsequent civil war, it became impossible to adhere to these conditions. Afterwards, however, the Church of Greece attempted by every possible means to cause the terms of the Patriarchal and Synodical Act of 1928 to lapse. Its ulterior aim was to encourage Constantinople gradually to disregard its canonical rights over the dioceses of the New Lands and consequently to neglect the fact that the ecclesiastical settlement imposed by the conditions prevailing in the aftermath of the Treaty of Lausanne was essentially a provisional rather than a permanent one
The Oecumenical Patriarchate, however, never allowed its canonical rights over these dioceses to lapse. Each of the Patriarchs who followed Basil III consistently upheld them.
Photios II (1929-1935), wrote to Chrysostomos Papadopoulos, Archbishop of Athens, underlining the provisional nature of the ecclesiastical settlement of 1928. Before the final version of the 1931 Charter of the Church of Greece was promulgated, Patriarch Photios was successful in his efforts to prevent the Church of Greece from violating the canons by seeking to acquire jurisdiction over the Greeks of the Diaspora(7) as well as over the Church of Crete(8).
Patriarchs Veniamin (1936-1946) and Maximos V (1946-1948), in spite of the critical periods during which they were Patriarch, took specific initiatives to protect the rights of the Oecumenical Patriarchate. Patriarch Veniamin defended the institutional basis of the dioceses of the New Lands, and Patriarch Maximos V resisted encroachment by the Church of Greece on the rights of the Oecumenical Throne over the Stavropegiac Monastery of Haghia Anastasia in Chalkidiki in Northern Greece.
Athenagoras, who was Patriarch for twenty four years (1948-1972), systematically monitored the uncanonical behaviour of the Church of Greece in dealing with the Oecumenical Patriarchate’s rights over the dioceses of the New Lands. To ensure that these rights continued to be scrupulously respected, he sent numerous strongly-worded Patriarchal letters to the Church of Greece and to the various Greek Governments which held office during the years he was Patriarch. He also sent Patriarchal delegations on five occasions to the Church of Greece(9) with the specific mandate to discuss inter alia the necessity to comply with the terms of the 1928 Act.
On this question of compliance with the Act, Patriarch Athenagoras was faced with what was almost tactical obstructionism by four Archbishops of Athens (Spyridon – 1949-1956; Theoklitos - 1957-1962; Chrysostomos II - 1962-1967 and Ieronymos – 1967-1973). Archbishop Dorotheos (1956-1957) was an exception, as he showed willingness to cooperate on the issue, but he was Archbishop for only 16 months. Archbishop Ieronymos, who was appointed by a seven-member Synod during the dictatorship of the Colonels, went as far as attempting formally to abolish the Patriarchal and Synodical Act of 1928. Owing to the vigilant stand taken by the Oecumenical Patriarchate, however, he did not finally succeed in this endeavour.
This stand was maintained during the period of Patriarch Demetrios (1972-1991), who made it clear at the time (1973) to both the Greek Church and the Greek State that the Oecumenical Patriarchate would make every sacrifice necessary to defend its canonical authority over the historic dioceses of the New Lands.
As a result of that ecclesiastical crisis, Ieronymos resigned as Archbishop of Athens in December 1973.
Ieronymos’ successor in Athens, Archbishop Seraphim (1974-1998) made a number of attempts to regularise the fraught relations between the Church of Greece and the Oecumenical Patriarchate, and he was instrumental in enabling ecclesiastical life in Greece to return to canonical normality. He achieved this by insisting on the obligation to abide by all the provisions of the Patriarchal and Synodical Tomos of 1850 (the original founding Charter of the autocephalous Church of Greece) and of the 1928 Act, and by pressing for these provisions to be included in the two key documents governing Church-State relations in post-1974(10) Greece: namely the Greek Constitution and the Charter of the Church of Greece.
The Patriarchate’s persistence and the fact that Archbishop Seraphim was willing to cooperate with Constantinople ensured that both the Patriarchal and Synodical Tomos of 1850 and the Patriarchal and Synodical Act of 1928 were incorporated within the 1975 Greek Constitution (which is still in force) and in the new Charter of the Church of Greece (which was ratified by the Greek Parliament in 1977).
The 1928 Act then began to be applied effectively until the leadership of the Church of Greece came under the influence of a nationalistic mentality which is alien to the history and tradition of the Orthodox Church. Such attitudes have always been prevalent in the minds of many of the leaders of the Greek Church, who have unfortunately never accepted that the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Oecumenical Patriarchate should operate within the borders of Greece.
So in 1992, when the present Oecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios (elected in 1991) moved to defend the rights of the Oecumenical Throne as defined by the Patriarchal and Synodical Act of 1928 - rights which were being rapidly eroded as a result of their being ignored by the Church of Greece - he was met by a fierce reaction from that Church and behaviour which was ecclesiastically improper.
Fortunately, thanks to the decisive stand taken – as always - by the Oecumenical Patriarchate, together with the goodwill and long-term vision of Archbishop Seraphim of Athens, there was no new ecclesiastical crisis then or at any point up until Archbishop Seraphim’s death in 1998.
But crisis was not avoided once the new Archbishop of Athens, Christodoulos, was elected - on 28th April 1998. From as early as October 1998, a deliberate move was made to change the commemoration of the name of the Patriarch in the Liturgy, and an intense desire to abolish in practice some of the clauses in the 1928 Act became apparent, relying on certain controversial interpretations of canon law which had set precedents on various occasions without the knowledge of the Oecumenical Patriarchate.
In an exchange of correspondence with the new Archbishop between 1999 and 2003, the Oecumenical Patriarchate attempted to make it clear that it would not tolerate faits accomplis intending to damage its canonical authority over its dioceses in the New Lands and to diminish its ecclesiastical influence.
Unfortunately the death of Metropolitan Panteleimon of Thessaloniki in July 2003 and the events which followed set the scene for a new ecclesiastical crisis. The Oecumenical Patriarchate demanded, as it was entitled to do, that, in proceeding to select a successor to Metropolitan Panteleimon, the Church of Greece should follow the provisions of clause 5 of the Patriarchal and Synodical Act of 1928, but the Church of Greece stubbornly refused to do so. In spite of strenuous efforts to avert it, crisis became inevitable after the “election” – as a fait accompli – on 26th April 2004 of new Metropolitans of Thessaloniki, Kozani and Eleftheroupolis, in spite of the refusal of the Oecumenical Patriarchate to ratify these appointments.
Patriarch Vartholomaios immediately summoned an extraordinary enlarged Synod(11) consisting of 40 Metropolitans under the jurisdiction of the Oecumenical Throne, which convened on 30th April 2004. This Synod, for the first time in the history of relations between the Churches of Constantinople and Greece, resolved to break communion in worship and administration with Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens and not to recognise the “elections” which had taken place to fill the vacant sees in the New Lands.
Turmoil ensued in the Church of Greece as well as in the Greek Government, which sent delegates to the Phanar to try and find a resolution to the crisis. The Patriarchate explained that the way to resolve this would be for the Holy Synod of the Hierarchy of the Church of Greece to pass a resolution affirming that it would henceforth respect and observe the Patriarchal and Synodical Tomos of 1850 and all of the provisions of the Patriarchal and Synodical Act of 1928.
The Church of Greece held an extraordinary meeting of the Holy Synod of its Hierarchy on 28th May 2004 when it demonstrated a sense of responsibility by passing a resolution affirming that it did indeed adhere to the 1850 Tomos and to all of the provisions of the 1928 Act.
On 4 June 2004, the Oecumenical Patriarchate passed a resolution during a new meeting of the above-mentioned enlarged Holy Synod regularising its relations with the Archbishop of Athens. It also showed exceptional goodwill and generosity by accepting the uncanonically held elections of the three Metropolitans, in the hope that in future there would be no calling into question of its sovereign jurisdiction over the 36 dioceses in the New Lands.
(1)In Greek Orthodox usage, a diocesan bishop is known as a metropolitan (μητροπολίτης), and the district over which he presides is termed a metropolis (μητρόπολις). In this abstract, metropolitan is employed for the diocesan bishop, but the more familiar English term diocese is used, rather than metropolis.
(2)The New Lands include Epirus (excluding Arta), Ellasson in Thessaly, Macedonia, Western Thrace and the islands of the Northern and Eastern Aegean (excluding the Dodecanese islands, which did not become part of Greece until after the Second World War, and which have remained ecclesiastically under the jurisdiction and administration of the Oecumenical Patriarchate).
(3)At an international convention signed in Lausanne in 1923 the expulsions were formalised as an exchange of populations between the Greek Orthodox then living in Turkey and Muslims living in Greece.
(4)A theme is an ecclesiastical term meaning a district or region.
(5)The areas lying within the pre-1912 borders of Greece.
(6) A Stavropegiac monastery is not subject to the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan of the diocese in which it is situated, but comes directly under the authority of the Oecumenical Patriarch, whose name is commemorated during the liturgy there rather than that of the Metropolitan of the diocese. The principal monasteries on Mount Athos are Patriarchal and Stavropegiac foundations, as are certain other monastic houses in Greece and elsewhere.
(7)The Greek Orthodox of the Diaspora come under the jurisdiction of the Oecumenical Patriarchate.
(8)The Church of Crete is a semi-autonomous province of the Oecumenical Patriarchate and does not fall within the jurisdiction of the autocephalous Church of Greece.
(9) July 1950, September 1950, August 1952, January 1957 and March 1960.
(10)Parliamentary democracy was restored in Greece in 1974.
(11)The Holy Synod of Constantinople, which is the permanent executive body of the Oecumenical Patriarchate, consists of some 12 Metropolitans, with the Patriarch presiding. Given that the hierarchy of the Patriarchate is now based in dioceses all around the world, Patriarch Vartholomaios has, in exceptional cases where decisions of lasting significance have to be taken, invited a larger grouping of Metropolitans from the churches under his jurisdiction to join an extraordinary enlarged Synod. The Synod which met in the Phanar on 30th April 2004 was one such enlarged Synod.