The Armenian Patriarchate
By Abba Seraphim
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
The concept of the
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
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
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
The Armenian Genocide
and its aftermath
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.
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
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).
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
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.
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