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The Armenian Patriarchate Of Constantinople

By Abba Seraphim

he Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople is today one of the smallest Patriarchates of the Oriental Orthodox Church but within living memory it exerted a very significant political rôle and today still exercises a spiritual authority which earns it considerable respect among Orthodox churches, both Chacedonian and non-Chalcedonian. Despite a huge diminution in the number of its faithful, it is still the largest Christian community in Turkey.

The concept of the Millet

hen Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453 the Ottoman Sultans, following the precedent set by the Arab Caliphs after the conquest of Palestine, Syria and Egypt, did not interfere with the religious and communal organisation of their non-Moslem subjects. On the contrary, they officially recognised the religious chiefs, whether Patriarchs or Grand Rabbis, as the heads of their respective communities or millets. The sultans confused nationality with religion, or rather treated religion as the criterion of nationality. Thus the Oecumenical Patriarch was invested with delegated authority over the Greek or Roman nation (called Rum-milleti), which included all members of the Eastern Orthodox Church under Ottoman rule, regardless of their race - whether Greek, Serb, Bulgar or Vlach (Slavs from Wallachia) - who were all lumped together under the designation 'Rum'. 

Sultan Mehmet II conquered a depopulated and plundered city which needed transforming into the capital of the Ottoman Empire. Not only were Turks brought in as the conquering élite, but settlers from every corner of the Empire, including enslaved Greeks from the newly captured Aegean islands, Jewish refugees from the Spanish Inquisition and Armenians from Anatolia and the city of Kaffa in the Crimea. Each nationality established its own quarter, the Armenians3 settling at Sulumanastir (Psamathia, later Samatya, recently Kocamustafapasa).

The Armenian Patriarch (1720)

n 15th century documents the Armenian population is given as less than two thousand in Constantinople and three hundred in Galata but their number continued to grow steadily from the reign of Murad III (1574-1595). After the capture of Erivan and Tabriz, they immigrated from the regions of the Iranian border and, at the beginning of the seventeenth century from the Caucasus. During the Celali insurrections in Anatolia, they had to leave their homes and take refuge in Constantinople. In 1673 there were 8,000 Armenian households in the city, most of them on the Marmara shores, but there were also Armenian quarters in Balat, between Topkapi and Edirnekapi, near the walls, and in Üsküdar (Scutari), while small groups mixed with the Greeks in the Bosphorus villages. During the reign of Murad IV (1623-1640) there was an order of the Council of State that the Armenians should be sent home, but this was probably never enforced. They were expert builders, stone cutters and traders and had a strong hold on eastern trade, and money to organise caravans to the east. In 1895 the Armenians in Constantinople were estimated at some 180,000 but in the incident following the Armenian seizure of the Ottoman Bank in Galata (August 1896) some 6,000 Armenians were slaughtered in a well-organised massacre in the capital. At the beginning of the twentieth century there were 104,856 Armenians out of a population of 1,150,000.

Like the Greek Patriarchate, the Armenians suffered severely from intervention by the state in their internal affairs. Although there have been 115 pontificates since 1461, there have only been 84 individual Patriarchs. Karapet II served five separate pontificates (1676-79, 1680-81, 1681-84, 1686-87 and 1688-89). In 1896 Patriarch Matteos III Izmirlian was deposed and exiled to Jerusalem by Sultan Abdul Hamid II for boldly denouncing the 1896 massacre and was only permitted to return in 1908 when the Sultan himself was deposed. The national Constitution granted to Armenians (Sahmanadrootiun) by Sultan Abdul-Aziz in 1861, which had been abrogated for nearly twenty years, was also restored. 

The Armenian Genocide and its aftermath

lthough the Armenian community was accorded the title of "most loyal nation" by the Ottoman sultans, growing nationalism and fear of their minorities led to the rise of persecution and genocidal slaughter in the latter part of the nineteenth century. In 1878 the Congress of Berlin compelled the Sultan to promise protection to the Armenians, who were suffering at the hands of their bitter enemies, the Kurds and Circassians, who were receiving encouragement from the Ottoman authorities. The efforts of the Great Powers to protect the Armenians proved ineffectual and it gradually became clear to the Ottoman authorities that they would not offer any serious intervention. Massacres in 1894-96, 1904 (Mush), 1908 (Van) and 1909 (Adana) claimed 200,000 Armenian deaths. During 1915-1918 over 1,000,000 Armenians were systematically slaughtered; several hundred thousand perished in the course of the Turkish attempt to extend the genocide to Russian Armenia in the Transcausus in the Spring and Summer of 1918; and in the Autumn of 1920 when the provisional government in Ankara's ordered General Karabekir's army to physically annihilate Armenia.

In 1914 the Patriarchate exercised authority over 55 dioceses or territorial districts, comprising some 1,778 parishes; 1,634 churches and an official membership of 1,390,000. This included the dioceses of Cyprus, Bulgaria, Roumania and Greece. Following the Great War and the Armenian Genocide all but the Patriarchate and bishops appointed to administer different quarters of Istanbul were spent away. The Catholicosate of Aghtamar, which had been vacant since 1895, was absorbed into the Patriarchate of Constantinople.4 By 1922 the Armenian population of Turkey had shrunk to 281,000, of whom 100,000 lived in Istanbul. 

After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the secularist Republic of Turkey abrogated the Sahmanadrootiun and deprived the Patriarchate of properties and institutions. The Turkish government, wishing to weaken the spiritual authority of the Supreme Catholicos in Etchmiadzin attempted to dissolve the Patriarchate of Constantinople and attach it to the Cilician Catholicate and the Jerusalem Patriarchate. Patriarch Zaven Ter Eghiayan (1913-1915) was sent into exile to Baghdad and Catholicos Sahak II Khabayan (1902-1939) of Cilicia was appointed Catholicos-Patriarch of all Armenians in Turkey, with his see at St. James's monastery in Jerusalem. After the Armistice this uncanonical arrangement was reversed and Patriarch Zaven returned to Istanbul for a second term (1919-1922), but was finally driven into exile in Bulgaria. 

The Turkish government remained ambiguous about the position of the Patriarchate, refusing to confirm the elections of subsequent Patriarchs, yet recognising them as having been elected as such by the Armenian National Assembly. Patriarchs Mesrop Naroyan (1927-1944) and Karekin I Khachatoorian (1951-1961) were both elected after several years' interregnum. Today the government's only official involvement on being notified of a Patriarch having been newly elected is to send him an official letter signed by all members of the cabinet, authorising him to wear his official robes in public.5

This compares favourably with other Christian communities in Turkey: 12,000 Syrian Orthodox; 4,000 Roman Catholics; 3,000 Protestants; 2,000 Greek Orthodox and 2,000 Arab (Antiochian) Orthodox. The clergy comprise three bishops (including the Patriarch), one archimandrite, three hieromonks; twenty-six married priests and thirty-two full deacons. The full deacons all follow suitable secular occupations (commerce is not regarded as suitable) and serve as non-stipendiary ministers.

A particularly restrictive piece of Turkish republican legislation requires that the Patriarch, with all bishops and priests serving in the Patriarchate, are required by law to be Turkish citizens who have also been born in Turkey. Outside the Patriarchate of Constantinople, today there are only four Armenian bishops who were born in Turkey.

The Armenian Patriarchate

atriarch Karakin II Kazandjian was elected by the National Assembly in October 1990. Born in Istanbul in 1927, His Beatitude studied at the Patriarchal Academy and the Patriarchal Seminary in Jerusalem, where he was ordained to the priesthood in 1950. After serving (1950-1951) as Secretary to the Patriarchate of Jerusalem during a long interregnum, he returned to serve as a parish priest in Istanbul from 1952-54. From 1954-1957 her served as first Dean of Holy Cross Patriarchal Seminary, which had been opened by Patriarch Karekin I at Üsküdar (Scutari), but which was closed by the Turkish government in 1971, at the same time as the Greek Orthodox community lost the use of their famous Seminary at Halki. From 1957-59 His Beatitude served as NCO in the Turkish Armed Forces before becoming parish priest of the Armenian Church in Washington 1959-1966. He was raised to the position of Grand (Dzairaguin) Vardapet at Jerusalem in 1961. He was recalled from America to be consecrated as Primate of Australia and New Zealand and Patriarchal Delegate for the Far East, which took place at Etchmiadzin on 1st November 1966. From 1981-1990 he served as Grand Sacristan of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, at which time he was elected Patriarch of Constantinople in succession to Patriarch Shnorhk (1961-1970).

Two other bishops assisted the Patriarch. Archbishop Sahan Sivaciyan of Scutari served as Patriarchal Vicar and is a near contemporary of Patriarch Karekin. Born in Istanbul in 1926, he was educated at the Jerusalem Seminary 1948-1953. Ordained priest at Jerusalem in 1954 he served as Patriarchal Vicar in Haifa 1954-1957 before returning to become the second Dean of Holy Cross Seminary 1957-62. He too was raised to the position of Grand (Dzairaguin) Vardapet in Jerusalem in 1961. Consecrated to the episcopate in 1966 he served as an Auxiliary Bishop and Chairman of the Spiritual Council 1966-1990. He was given the See of Scutari in 1991 and raised to the dignity of Archbishop in 1992.

Archbishop Mesrob Mutafyan of the Princes' Islands served as Chairman of the Patriarchate's Spiritual Council. Born at Istanbul in 1956, he studied at the University of Memphis, USA (1974-1979); the Patriarchal Seminary and the Hebrew University at Jerusalem (1979-1981) and the Pontifical University of S. Thomas (Angelicum) in Rome (1988-89). Ordained priest in Istanbul in 1979 he served as parish priest for the island of Kinali (1982-1986); Chancellor of the Patriarchate (1982-1987) and Co-ordinator of Ecumenical Relations (1982-1990) being raised to the position of Vardapet in 1983 and Grand (Kerakuin) Vardapet in 1986 with consecration to the episcopate in the same year. In 1990 he became Chairman of the Religious Council and in 1993 was raised to the rank of Archbishop.

On March 10, 1998 - His beatitude Archbishop Karekin II Patriarch of Constantinople passed away, and was succeeded by Archbishop Mesrob Mutafyan.

The community is served by sixteen Armenian Orthodox parish schools whose staff are paid by the church and controlled by the appropriate parish councils, although the curriculum is determined by the state. This allows for one period of religious education per week and five periods for teaching the Armenian language. There is also none church sponsored hospital (Holy Saviour) in Yedikule, which has an old peoples' home attached. This takes twenty per cent of Armenians and the remainder is available to all comers. There is no state health care system in Turkey.

The Patriarchate publishes an annual review Shoghagat (Rays from Above), containing theological, liturgical, historical and cultural articles. One thousand copies in Armenian only are published. A small, illustrated bulletin Lraper is published weekly in the winter, but monthly in the summer months. One thousand copies are published in Armenian and a further 9,000 in Turkish and Armenian.

Turkish is used for preaching in a number of churches and the scriptures are read in modern Armenian to make the faith more readily accessible to the faithful. Although classical Armenian is used liturgically, some popular prayers have been rendered into modern Armenian and are unofficially used where it is deemed appropriate.

The Patriarchate of Constantinople plays a highly significant role in the life of the world-wide Armenian community. Patriarch Mesrob Mutafyan serves as one of the vice-presidents of the Holy Synod of Armenian Orthodox bishops. As an autonomous church it preserves an independence from possible political pressures by the Armenian Republic and retains its historic prestige for maintaining the rich liturgical tradition of the see of Constantinople. Theologically more conservative than the Cilician Catholicosate, it helps maintain a balance in Armenian ecclesiology. Always close to the Jerusalem Patriarchate, it cherishes its heritage of scholarship and, in the absence of its own seminary, encourages ordinands and clergy to pursue further studies in Jerusalem, Etchmiadzin or in foreign universities. 

Relations with the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and the Syrian Orthodox bishop are very fraternal. When the late Supreme Catholicos Karekin I visited the Oecumenical Bartholomaios, the late Patriarch Karekin II and his clergy hosted part of the visit. Sadly, relations with the Armenian Catholics, who number less than 2,000, is poor as a result of insensitive proselytism. All the present Armenian Catholic clergy in Istanbul were originally members of the Armenian Orthodox community.


Courtesy of 
The British Orthodox Church
Web site: www.uk-christian.net/boc/main.htm

Updated 30 August 1999 ..
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