Court Rejects Orthodox Patriarch Status

China Aid Association
Court Rejects Orthodox Patriarch Status
The  Associated Press
Tue, Jun, 26 2007 01:39 AM PT

ANKARA, Turkey – A court Tuesday backed Turkey’s long-held position that the
Istanbul-based Orthodox Patriarch is only the head of the city’s tiny Greek
Orthodox community and not the spiritual leader of the world’s 300 million
Orthodox Christians.

(AP Photo/Murad Sezer)
Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I is
seen at the patriarchate in Istanbul, Turkey, Monday, June 25, 2007. A Turkish
court on Tuesday ruled that the Istanbul-based Orthodox Patriarch is not the
spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, and is only the head of the
local Greek Orthodox community. The court’s decision, however, has no impact on
his status outside Turkey. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I is the
internationally recognized spiritual leader of the world’s 300

The decision has no influence on the status of Ecumenical Patriarch
Bartholomew I outside Turkey, where he is regarded as the so-called “first among
equals” of the Orthodox leaders. But it bolsters Turkey’s strong resistance to
acknowledge a wider role for Bartholomew and his ancient Christian

Turkey has strongly objected to giving concessions to the
patriarchate, fearing it could open the doors to similar claims by other
minority groups including Kurdish rebels fighting for greater autonomy.
Officials in mostly Muslim Turkey also have been suspicious of the
patriarchate’s close cultural and religious ties to longtime rival

The court said Turkey could not give “special status” to any
minority group. The ruling came as part of an appeals proceeding that upheld
Bartholomew’s acquittal in a dispute with a Bulgarian priest.

Patriarchate, which was allowed to remain on Turkish soil, is subject to Turkish
laws,” the appeals court ruled. “There is no legal basis for the claims that the
Patriarchate is ecumenical.”

The Patriarchate’s spokesman could not
immediately be reached for comment.

Among Orthodox Christians,
Bartholomew’s position holds great historical weight. The patriarchate dates
from the Byzantine Empire, which collapsed when Ottoman forces conquered
Constantinople — now Istanbul — in 1453.

But he holds no direct sway over
the more than a dozen autonomous Orthodox churches in Europe and the Holy Land.

Bartholomew’s flock includes Istanbul’s 3,000 remaining Greek Orthodox and
several other congregations scattered around the globe, including the United

Turkey maintains tight controls, including rules requiring that
patriarchs must be Turkish citizens. This sharply limits the potential pool of
candidates to one day succeed Bartholomew. The patriarchate — backed by the
Greece and other Orthodox nations — also has pressed Turkey to allow the
reopening of a seminary that was forced to close more than two decades

In Athens, the Greek Foreign Ministry said the court decision would
not change the Christians’ perception of the Patriarch.

“The ecumenical
dimension of the Patriarchate of Constantinople is based on international
treaties, the sacred regulations of Orthodoxy, on history and Church tradition,”
ministry spokesman George Koumoutsakos said.

“But, above all, recognition
of the Ecumenical Patriarch as a spiritual leader is — and has been for
centuries — deeply rooted in the conscience of hundreds of millions of
Christians, Orthodox or not, worldwide.”

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