The Ecumenical Throne’s exclusive prerogative to adjudicate litigious disputes beyond its jurisdictional boundaries.
By Bishop Kyrillos of Abydos
The petition of appeal (ἔκκλητος) to the First-Throne Church of Constantinople refers to the exclusive prerogative of the Throne of Constantinople to deal with, adjudicate and resolve litigious disputes regarding issues that arise outside the boundaries of its own territorial jurisdiction. This prerogative was granted by the Holy Canons and established by a two-thousand-year-old canonical tradition, which undoubtedly confirms and genuinely interprets the letter and spirit of the Holy Canons. Civil legislation, as well as notable interpreters and commentators on the Holy Canons, further attest to this fact in their respective texts. Aside from the above, this prerogative has undoubtedly manifested itself through the ages in canonical practice, as attested in the original sources. The continuous testimony of canonical practice renders the prerogative of the petition of appeal indisputable.
It is well known that the 6th and 7th canons of the First Ecumenical Council1 set apart the thrones of Alexandria, Antioch and Rome from all the other ecclesiastical thrones by granting them seniority (πρεσβεῖα), recognizing their spiritual brilliance and regarding them as authentic bearers of ecclesiastical tradition. Thereafter, the Second Ecumenical Council2 followed suit with its 3rd canon concerning the Throne of Constantinople. These privileges were not merely a bestowal of honor, but rather were associated with exercising authority—a jurisdiction over specific geographical regions that were determined during the Fourth Ecumenical Council with meticulous care and precision. However, the Fourth Ecumenical Council took an additional important step; it granted privileges3 to the throne of Constantinople that were equal to those held by the throne of Rome. At that time, the throne of Rome surpassed all the other thrones in rank because—in accordance with the 3rd, 4th and 5th canons of the Council of Sardica4—it possessed the right to receive petitions of appeal regarding disputes that arose outside of its own geographical jurisdiction. Thus, through the 28th canon of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, the throne of Constantinople naturally acquired a similar privilege. Aside from this, the above-mentioned privilege was clearly granted to the Throne of Constantinople through the 9th and 17th canons of the same Council.5 The possibility to submit petitions of appeal to either Rome or Constantinople remained in effect until the 9th century, or more specifically, the Synod of 879/880, which took place during the Patriarchal tenure of Photios the Great6 and declared that the Throne of Rome be responsible only for cases that arose in the West, and that the Throne of Constantinople be responsible only for disputes that arose in the East.
When speaking about seniority (πρεσβεῖα), Zonaras7 mentions “primacy (πρωτεῖα) or exceptional privilege (τό ἐξαίρετον),” while Valsamon8, in his interpretation of the 5th canon of Sardica, emphasizes that the bishop of Rome and the bishop of Constantinople both had the right to accept petitions of appeal. Moreover, Aristenos9mentions an exclusive prerogative of the Patriarch of Constantinople—which was not granted to any other Patriarch—to adjudicate cases or disputes that arise in other Patriarchates. Additionally, Zonaras10, in his commentary on the 17th canon of Chalcedon, underscores that a Metropolitan from a different jurisdiction cannot unwillingly be subjected to the judicial jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Constantinople. This, of course, means that if he so desires, he can be subjected to the judgment of the Patriarch of Constantinople, something also demonstrated and upheld by canonical practice.
Aside from the texts of byzantine canonists, the following texts are also worthy of reference:
The Epanagoge11 (9th Century), which explicitly recognizes the right of the Throne of Constantinople to receive petitions of appeal.
“Alphabetical Constitution” (Σύνταγμα κατά Στοιχεῖον) by Matthew Blastares12 (14th Century).
The 1848 Synodal Letter13 of the Patriarchs of the East, where Constantinople’s prerogative to accept petitions of appeal is based not only upon the fact that it was the imperial see, but also upon its synodical “seniority” (πρεσβεῖον), i.e. upon its Primacy.
Apart from the above-mentioned brief listing of official texts and interpretations of the Canon regarding the prerogative of the throne of Constantinople to receive petitions of appeal, time-honored canonical practice has undeniably testified and confirmed the exact same thing—even as a customary practice before Chalcedon (451).
In 394, the deposition of Bishop Bagadios of Bostra—who was subject to the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Antioch—took place in Constantinople in the presence of the Patriarchs of Antioch and Jerusalem.14
Proclos of Constantinople (434-446) deemed the election of Alexander as bishop of Antaradon15 to be canonical. In fact, it was Alexander himself who brought this case to the Throne of Constantinople.
The Nomokanon of Photios (9th century) recognized Constantinople as the head of all the Churches of the East.16
Patriarch Lucas Chrysovergis (1157-1170) annulled the deposition of the Bishop of Amathus in Cyprus, who had fled to Constantinople.17
Patriarch Kallistos I of Constantinople (1355) emphasized to the Archbishop of Tyrnovo the privilege of the Patriarch of Constantinople to adjudicate cases of other Patriarchates.18
Patriarch Kallistos (1356), while invoking the Holy Canons19, also did the same in his letter to the Patriarch of Antioch.
Patriarch Neilos (1382) invoked the 9th and 17th canons of Chalcedon in his letter20 to the Archbishop of Thessalonika.
At the Synod of 1663, which took place during the Patriarchal tenure of Dionysios III, the Patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem affirmed the right of the Patriarch of Constantinople to receive petitions of appeal.21
Following the petition of the Metropolitans of the Patriarchate of Antioch22, Dionysios IV of Constantinople (1672) deposed Kyrillos of Antioch.
The same Patriarch acquitted Archbishop Nikiphoros of Cyprus—who was under trial—following his apology to the “Ecumenical criterion,” i.e. the Throne of Constantinople.23
Following a request and in the presence of Silvester of Antioch (1746), Patriarch Paisios II upheld the deposition24 of Metropolitan Gerasimos of Aleppo.
Following a petition of the Patriarchs of Jerusalem, a series of 18th century Patriarchs of Constantinople condemned the attempt of the archbishops of the Holy Monastery of Sinai to free themselves from the canonical and spiritual supervision of the throne of Jerusalem.25
Following the request of the brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre, Anthimos of Constantinople (1872) upheld Patriarch Kyrillos of Jerusalem’s deposition26 from the throne.
When the Patriarchate of Moscow granted autocephaly to the Church of Poland (1949)—while the Patriarchate of Constantinople had already granted autocephaly to it (1924)—Patriarch Athenagoras underscored in his letter27 to the Patriarch of Moscow that the Throne of Constantinople had the exclusive prerogative to undertake matters outside of its own jurisdiction. The granting of autocephaly to the Church of Poland (and later in 1990 to the Church of Georgia) is an expression of this prerogative.
Patriarch Maximos of Bulgaria appealed28 to Patriarch Bartholomew due to a schism that had been created in Bulgaria at that time. A Greater Synod (Μείζων Σύνοδος) convened in Sofia, then, under the chairmanship of Patriarch Bartholomew, in order to address the issue.
When the Synod of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem overthrew Patriarch Irenaeus (2005), the brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre requested that the decision be upheld by the throne of Constantinople, which, in turn, convened a Synod of Primates and upheld the decision.29
All of the above undoubtedly prove that when it comes to the resolution of disputes that arise from time to time and trouble the local Orthodox Churches, the Throne of Constantinople—within the realm of the Orthodox Churches—is the apex, “the Ecumenical Criterion.” The Throne of Constantinople never perceived its privilege to receive petitions of appeal as an opportunity to seize absolute Primacy, but instead as a duty to provide support in serious matters with the sole purpose of healing wounds in the Church and the restoration of peace and canonical order. In this sense, the petition of appeal is a safety valve, which—in accordance with Divine Providence—was wisely established by the Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils in order to preserve peace and unity among the Orthodox Churches.
1 G. Rhalles – M. Potles, Σύνταγμα, II, 128, 132.
2 G. Rhalles – M. Potles, Σύνταγμα, II, 173.
3 G. Rhalles – M. Potles, Σύνταγμα, II, 280-281.
4 G. Rhalles – M. Potles, Σύνταγμα, III, 233-234, 238, 239-240.
5 G. Rhalles – M. Potles, Σύνταγμα, II, 237, 258-259.
6 Mansi, ACO, 17A, 497.
7 G. Rhalles – M. Potles, Σύνταγμα, II, 173.
8 G. Rhalles – M. Potles, Σύνταγμα, III, 242.
9 G. Rhalles – M. Potles, Σύνταγμα, II, 240.
10 G. Rhalles – M. Potles, Σύνταγμα, II, 260.
11 I. Zepos – P. Zepos, Jus Graecoromanum, II, 242-243.
12 G. Rhalles – M. Potles, Σύνταγμα, VI, 429.
13 I. Karmiris, Τά Δογματικά καί Συμβολικά Μνημεῖα τῆς Ὀρθοδόξου Καθολικῆς Ἐκκλησίας, ΙΙ, (Athens, 1953), 916.
14 V. Grumel, Les Regestes des Actes du Patriarchat de Constantinople, I/I, (Paris, 1972), N. 10.
15 V. Grumel, Les Regestes, N. 88.
16 G. Rhalles – M. Potles, Σύνταγμα, I, 42.
17 V. Grumel, Les Regestes, N. 1097.
18 F. Miklosich – I. Müller, Acta et diplomata Graeca medii aevi sacra et profana, I, (Vienne, 1860), 438.
19 F. Miklosich – I. Müller, Acta, I, 380.
20 F. Miklosich – I. Müller, Acta, I/2, 40.
21 K. Delikanis, Πατριαρχικά Ἔγγραφα, ΙΙΙ, 102-103.
22 K. Delikanis, Πατριαρχικά Ἔγγραφα, ΙΙ’, 59-164.
23 K. Delikanis, Πατριαρχικά Ἔγγραφα, ΙΙ’, 557-559.
24 K. Delikanis, Πατριαρχικά Ἔγγραφα, ΙΙ, 190.
25 K. Delikanis, Πατριαρχικά Ἔγγραφα, ΙΙ, 377-381, 387, 410-422, 455.
26 Chrys. Papadopoulos, Ἱστορία τῆς Ἐκκλησίας τῶν Ἱεροσολύμων (Thessaloniki, 2010), 837 ff.
27 See Ὀρθοδοξία 25 (1950) 129-130.
28 See Ὀρθοδοξία 5 (1998) 620-621.
29 See Ἐκκλησία 82 (2005) 556-557.