Promote Religious Freedom in Turkey:
Protect and Defend the Ecumenical Patriarchate
The President of Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate, Professor Mehmet Görmez, visits His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at the Phanar
Hon. John Baird, Canada's then Foreign Affairs Minister, meets with His All-Holiness at the Patriarchate in Constantinople
Dr. Andrew Bennett, Canada’s then Ambassador for Religious Freedom, with the Ecumenical Patriarch
Delegation of Canadian Senators (James Cowan, former Speaker Noël Kinsella and Donald Oliver) at the Ecumenical Patriarchate
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden with His All-Holiness
President Barack Obama meets with the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople
His All-Holiness, pictured with His Eminence Metropolitan Sotirios, met with Prime Minister Jean Chretien and Members of Parliament during his visit to Canada in 1998
What is the Ecumenical Patriarchate?
The Ecumenical Patriarchate is the highest see and holiest center of the Orthodox Christian Church throughout the world. It is an institution with a history spanning seventeen centuries, during which it retained its see in Constantinople (present-day Istanbul). It constitutes the center of all the local Orthodox Churches, heading these not by administration but by virtue of its primacy in the ministry of pan-Orthodox unity and the coordination of the activity of the whole of Orthodoxy. The function of the Ecumenical Patriarchate as center par excellence of the life of the entire Orthodox world emanates from its centuries-old ministry in the witness, protection and outreach of the Orthodox faith. The Ecumenical Patriarchate therefore possesses a supra-national and supra-regional character. From this lofty consciousness and responsibility for the people of Christ, regardless of race and language, were born the new regional Churches of the East, from the Caspian to the Baltic, and from the Balkans to Central Europe. This activity today extends to the Far East, to America and Australia.
Who is His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew?
His All-Holiness, Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch is the 270th successor of the 2,000 year-old local Christian Church founded by St. Andrew the Apostle. As a citizen of Turkey, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s personal experience provides him a unique perspective on the continuing dialogue among the Christian, Islamic and Jewish worlds. He works to advance reconciliation among Catholic, Muslim and Orthodox communities and is supportive of peace building measures to diffuse global conflict in the region.
As Archbishop of Constantinople and New Rome, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew occupies the First Throne of the Orthodox Christian Church and presides in a fraternal spirit among all the Orthodox Primates. The Ecumenical Patriarch has the historical and theological responsibility to initiate and coordinate actions including the convening of councils or meetings, facilitating inter-church and inter-faith dialogues and serving as the primary expresser of Church unity as a whole. As Ecumenical Patriarch he transcends every national and ethnic group on a global level and today is the spiritual leader of approximately 300 million faithful world-wide.
What are the top five issues of concern for the Ecumenical Patriarchate?
1. Government Interference in Patriarchal Elections
The Turkish government imposes restrictions on the election of the Ecumenical Patriarch and hierarchs who vote for him by requiring that they must be Turkish citizens. In fact, the government arbitrarily can veto any candidate for the position of Ecumenical Patriarch. With the dwindling population of hierarchs and Orthodox Christians in Turkey, we may not be able to elect an Ecumenical Patriarch in the not too distant future. This is tantamount to the asphyxiation of the leadership of the Holy Mother Church and a clear illustration of the direct intervention of the Turkish government in ecclesiastical matters.
2. No Legal Identity
The lack of a legal identity is a major source of problems for the Ecumenical Patriarchate including non-recognition of its ownership rights and the non-issuance of residence and work permits for “foreign” (i.e., non-Turkish) priests who are essential to the continuity and functioning of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The Turkish authorities do not allow the Ecumenical Patriarchate to own any property – not even its churches! The Patriarchal house itself is not recognized as the Patriarchate’s property.
3. Confiscation of Property
Through various methods, the Turkish authorities have confiscated thousands of properties from the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Greek Orthodox community over the years including our monasteries, church buildings, an orphanage, private homes, apartment buildings, schools and land. Left unchecked, the remaining Greek Orthodox community of Constantinople (present day Istanbul) – the cultural heirs of the Byzantine Empire – will be threatened and ultimately be no more.
4. Non-Recognition of “Ecumenical” Status
The Turkish government does not recognize the “Ecumenical” status of the Patriarch and Patriarchate. Turkish authorities do not allow the use of the term or title of “Ecumenical” for any religious activity whatsoever despite the fact that it has been used since the 6th century and recognized throughout the world. Turkey regards the Patriarchate as an institution whose leader is seen as the spiritual head of Orthodox Christians in Turkey alone rather than the leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide.
5. Forcible closure of Halki Seminary and Inability to Train New Clergy
The Ecumenical Patriarchate is unable to train new clergy in Turkey and its theological school was forcibly closed down by the Turkish Government. The Theological School of Halki was forcibly closed down by Turkish authorities in 1971. Since its closure, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has had to send the young men from its community desiring to enter the priesthood to one of the theological schools in Greece. In many instances, they do not return given the onerous restrictions in getting work permits and the general climate of intimidation. Despite promises by the Turkish government to re-open our theological school, there has been no progress. Left unresolved, the administrative functioning and future of the Ecumenical Patriarchate is imperiled.
What are others saying?
The government’s role in deciding which individuals may be part of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate represents interference in its internal affairs.
The Greek Orthodox Theological School of Halki remains closed, as it has been since 1971, despite promises and public statements of support for its reopening by President Erdogan and former President Gül.
-U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Annual Report 2015
Non-Muslim communities — as organised religious groups — continued to face problems as a result of their lack of legal personality, with adverse effects on their property rights, access to justice, fundraising and the ability of foreign clergy to obtain residence and work permits. In this respect, the relevant 2010 recommendations by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission need to be implemented. The Ecumenical Patriarchate received no indication from the authorities that it may use the ‘ecumenical’ title freely. The Venice Commission’s conclusion in 2010 that any interference with this right would constitute a violation of the autonomy of the Orthodox Church under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights needs to be implemented.
Restrictions on the training of clergy continued. Neither Turkish legislation nor the public education system provide for higher religious education for individual religious communities. Despite previous encouraging announcements by the authorities, the Halki (Heybeliada) Greek Orthodox seminary remains closed since 1971.
An attack against a Greek Orthodox church in Istanbul caused material damage to the church and to the priest’s house. There was no effective investigation or legal action against perpetrators of similar attacks in previous years.
-European Commission Turkey Progress Report, October 2014
Freedom of religion and expression lead to a strong and vibrant civil society that only strengthens the state, which is why steps like reopening Halki Seminary will send such an important signal inside Turkey and beyond.
-Address by President Barack Obama to the Turkish Parliament
How can you help?
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