In response to comments here on this blog about whether the Byzantines will one day “save” the American Church, the answer to that, as has been observed, is that there are no Byzantines remaining to save us. What’s more, there would be little support among American Orthodox Christians for the sort of deep involvement by the state in Church affairs that was typical of Byzantium. The American Founders, in their wisdom, went to great lengths to make sure that the state would not establish a Church nor would the state control its life.
The following excerpt is from “Church Structures and Administration,” by Michael Angold and Michael Whitby, in The Oxford Handbook of Byzantine Studies.
In their broad outlines the administrative structure of the Byzantine Church as systematized under Justinian survived without radical change down to the end of the Byzantine Empire. This was testimony both to Justinian’s administrative and legislative abilities and to the Church’s ability to adapt to changing circumstances.
Justinian saw to it that the structures of the Church were established by imperial legislation (Myendorff 1968). In his famous preamble to Novel VI Justinian enunciated an ideal of harmony between emperor and priesthood, for he singled out prayer for the spiritual well being of Christian society as the latter’s prime duty, while the protection of the Church was the most serious of imperial responsibilities.
This meant in practice that the administrative structures of the Church came under imperial supervision. It is for this reason that the term ‘Caesaropapism’ has been coined to describe the Byzantine emperor’s role in ecclesiastical affairs. This has been the subject of continuing debate between those who reject the notion, because it does not do justice to the spiritual autonomy of the Byzantine Church, and those who defend its validity on the practical grounds that the Byzantine Church was largely regulated through imperial legislation (Dagron 2003).
By the twelfth century the emperors had taken the title of epistemonarches or regulator of the Church. By doing so they made clear that the ultimate responsibility for the organization of the Church lay with them (Angold 1995). The assumption of this title was not a claim to decide matters of faith. This in the end was the work of a council of the Church which, it has to be added, was presided over by the emperor or his representative. As an institution the Byzantine Church enjoyed relatively little autonomy before the fourteenth century. The final choice of a patriarch lay with the emperor, who was able to depose patriarchs as well.
When in the early seventh century the patriarch Sergios (610-38) reorganized the personnel of the patriarchal church, it required imperial approval in the shape of a novel of 612 issued by the emperor Herakleios (610-41). It fixed the staff of Hagia Sophia at 80 priests, 150 deacons, 40 deaconesses, 70 subdeacons, 160 readers, 25 cantors, and 100 ushers. Their main function was to mount the lavish round of church services celebrated at Hagia Sophia. In addition to these there were supernumerary positions, filled by the administrative rank and file, 88 in total.
There is not yet any mention of the major officers of the patriarchal church. It seems to have still been a question of groups delegated to deal with particular functions. Hagia Sophia had, for example, nine oikonomoi, with a large subordinate staff. At some stage these would be placed under the Grand Oikonomos, who was responsible for the administration of the incomes and property of Hagia Sophia. It soon became an imperial and not a patriarchal appointment.
Next in seniority was another imperial appointee — the Grand skeuophylax, was was the treasurer of the patriarchal church. At the head of the patriarchal notaries was the chartophylax, yet another imperial appointment. Control of the archives and notarial organization, numbering some forty members in 612, gave the chartophylax both power and responsibility.
Another distinct group within the patriarchal administration were the ekdikoi, created by Justinian to run the ecclesiastical tribunal known as the ekdikeion. By the seventh century they were headed by the protekdikos. The patriarchal administration therefore evolved into a series of bureaus each with its own head. The precedence and hierarchical ranking of these officers within the patriarchal church was formally recognized in the eleventh century […]
The chief officers of the patriarchal church were ex officio members of the Endemousa Synodos or patriarchal synod. Its membership was otherwise increasingly restricted to the metropolitan bishops and autocephalous bishops. Its origins certainly go back to the mid-fifth century when the term is first attested.
Most important matters relating to the Church were likely to come before it. It served as a court of appeal, but for a long time it met only on an extraordinary basis. By the eleventh century, however, it had become a more or less permanent body (Hajjar 1962). This produced considerable problems. Only those metropolitan bishops of sees situated relatively close to Constantinople could hope to attend its sessions on a regular basis. Very often these metropolitan bishops also enjoyed precedence at the imperial court. It meant that a group of ‘political’ prelates with strong connections to Constantinople began to form an elite within the Church which dominated the patriarchal synod. It also meant that the synod was able to deal with a great deal more judicial business than had been the case in the past. As a result, the boundaries between ecclesiastical and imperial justice began to become blurred (Tiftixoglu 1969). This was very clearly the case with marriage suits. In the past, such cases were more likely to be dealt with by imperial courts. In the eleventh century they passed increasingly to the ecclesiastical courts. Patriarchs began to legislate on marriage law (Angold 1995).
It was left to Alexios I Komnenos to deal with the uncertainties that were the result of overlapping jurisdictions. He reclaimed marriage law as an item of imperial legislation, but agreed that cases involving marriage would normally go to the ecclesiastical courts. He took charge of heresy cases. He intervened in the organization of the patriarchal church. He defined the rights and responsibilities of the chartophylax, who was recognized as the patriarch’s deputy (Nicole 1894).
In 1107 he proceeded to reform the patriarchal clergy. He thought that they had failed in their duty to carry out their pastoral duties among the people of the capital, whence the serious outbreaks of heresy. He gave his approval to the creation of an order of preachers (didaskaloi) attached to Hagia Sophia. In the provinces, it was the duty of the bishop to see to the pastoral needs of his flock (Gautier 1973).
It is not clear that an order of preachers ever materialized. The danger from heresy soon passed. Instead, these preachers became teachers. A series of teaching posts was created within the patriarchal church at the head of which was the didaskalos of the Gospels. The intention was in all likelihood to improve the quality of the patriarchal clergy. Before this initiative there is no sign that the patriarchal church had an educational function. The purpose of the creation of these teaching posts was in the first instance pastoral, but increasingly their holders were expected to compose speeches to celebrate patriarchal and imperial occasions. There can be little doubt that the creation of the didaskaloi strengthened the organization of the patriarchal church (Angold 1995).