Turkey offers citizenship to Orthodox archbishops

Source: Today’s Zamann

Patriarch Bartholomew

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan has quietly led the gesture to the Orthodox, who face a shortage of candidates to succeed İstanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, 70, and serve on the Holy Synod, which administers patriarchate affairs.

Turkish law requires the patriarch to be a citizen. But the Orthodox community in Turkey, an overwhelmingly Muslim country, has fallen to some 3,000 from 120,000 a half-century ago, drastically shrinking the pool of potential future patriarchs.

"The specific call Erdoğan made to give citizenship to those who will take up an official position at the patriarchate came in response to the problems they have," İbrahim Kalın, Erdoğan's chief foreign-policy adviser, said in an interview.

İstanbul, the Byzantine capital Constantinople until the 15th-century Ottoman conquest, remains the centre of Orthodox faith. As Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew, a Turkish citizen of Greek heritage who is in good health, is spiritual leader for Christianity's second-largest group of churches.

There are 14 Greek Orthodox archbishops, including Bartholomew, who are Turkish citizens.

Seventeen metropolitans from countries including Austria, France, the United States and Greece have applied for passports, said Rev. Dositheos Anagnostopulous, the patriarchate spokesman.

Another six may still apply, and the See hopes the first archbishops will receive their papers by Christmas, he said.

The EU and United States have urged Turkey to end restrictions on religion for its minority citizens.

Kalın said the government's gesture should demonstrate Turkey's commitment to conform with norms on human rights in its bid to join the European Union.

"This is in line with Turkey's EU membership goals. But we believe that it's in our own interest to provide all rights and privileges to non-Muslim minorities who are Turkish citizens."


Diplomats said the offer of citizenship could provide a lifeline for the 2,000-year-old faith in its ancient homeland.

"At this point, it's just a matter of time before the institution dies out," said a European diplomat on condition of anonymity. "With this step, you have a much larger pool of clerics, making the Church's survival possible."

Erdoğan, himself a devout Muslim, personally proposed to Bartholomew during a meeting last year that foreign prelates apply for citizenship, both Kalın and Anagnostopulous said.

Still, Turkey does not recognise Bartholomew's ecumenical, or universal, title, arguing he only leads Turkey's Orthodox.

The EU wants Turkey to re-open a theological school on an island off İstanbul to show its commitment to democratic pluralism. The patriarchate trained clerics at the Halki seminary since the late Ottoman era until its closure in 1971 as political tensions flared with arch rival Greece over Cyprus.

Granting citizenship to bishops would resolve a legal anomaly in the Holy Synod. Members are required to be citizens, but Bartholomew appointed foreigners in 2004 for the first time since the Turkish Republic was formed in 1923.

"It's not legal or legitimate for these six foreign nationals to serve on the synod but there are not enough Turkish metropolitans," a Turkish official said, declining to be named.

Metropolitan Nikitas, a US-born member of the synod and director of the Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute in Berkeley, Calif., applied for citizenship earlier this year.

"I chose to pursue this course of action, believing that it is one way I can assist the ecumenical patriarchate," Nikitas, 55, told Reuters. "I also feel that it may be a 'good will' expression on the Turkish side."


  1. Geo Michalopulos :

    I was hoping with Kalmoukos’ expose of Nikita getting his Turkish citizenship, it would put the kibosh on the others, looking as chagrined as he did. Apparently I was wrong.

  2. I wonder whether there hasn’t been some ‘space’ created between being granted having a Turkish passport and being a Turkish citizen. If so, speaks well of them all, I think.

    I know the EP is making some awful decisions that are really hurting our future here, and who knows whether we’ll recover. But just from the perspective of the Turks offering survival when they didn’t have to do it, right at the end of their program to oppress people from other places right out of the population, they didn’t want another echo of the Armenian catastrophe on their national record. So, good for them, really.

  3. George Michalopulos :

    Harry, you’re giving the Turks way too much credit. This is purely cynical on their part. They rather enjoy too much being the cat playing with the phanariote mouse. It’s all upside for them: by doing this they appear to be humanitarian, all the while strangling the evangelical life out of the Greek people. If the patriarchate finally succumbs, then they get what they ultimately wanted, all the while blaming the eparchies for failing to live up to their end of the evangelistic bargain. After all, they “extended citizenship to Greek bishops all over the world, what more could you ask of us? Especially when we’ve really put the screws on the Islamists in our midst?”

    Of course, this could ultimately backfire on them. We could get an EP in the future who is a resolute Christian preacher, who takes his diocesan duties seriously and takes the Gospel to the inhabitants of Turkey. If that happens, the radical Islamists will rue the day that they didn’t extinguish the phanariote flame once and for all.

    • George,

      I think that as the possibilities of modern life reach the rural backwaters, and people start to regard Islam as a choice and not ‘they’ll actually kill me unless I go along’, fatalistic Islam will have a much harder time retaining anyone on a good day than Christianity on a bad day.

      Modernization will free women from the imposed physical burdens taking all their day for the most basic necessities. They quite rightly won’t like living life as one step above other property, and the men who see with their eyes and not lower down will recognize wasting brainpower like that isn’t a way to be competitive in the world.

      • I think Kemal Ataturk was thinking along the same lines when he made the fez a crime and pushed laikizm onto the unwilling masses of Turks. I found modern seculars in Izmir are fully behind the Kemalist message and despise Islamism. They like Leonard Cohen, for crying out loud! But the yokels from the villages that pour daily into the big city banlieux have ruined the progressive demographic of Turkish coastal cities. It was their votes that brought Erdogan to power. He doesn’t seem to be in step with the Kemalist teaching.

        Since I lived in Izmir some 20 years ago, a sea change has occurred in Turkey. Before, the Army would have stepped on the neck of any Islamists trying to come to power. I m surprised that it has not happened yet, but most likely Saudi money has influenced the younger generation who heeded the muezzin’s call and now run the army, it seems.

        I met a progressive student who was of Alevi background and knew the taste of the police’s wooden baton. He told me how thepolice chiefs were mostly members of Bektashi brotherhoods and regularly conducted suppression of students based on religious identity. If one was a Jehovah’s Witness, for example, he could expect to be beaten whenever rounded up in an unprokoved raid or ID check.

        We in the west know next to nothing about the currents in Turkish society and officialdom; The Phanariots are intimately familiar with the strange dark world of Post-Ottoman Turkey but rarely make a peep and are not about to educate us on their own prison’s hellish rules. As Americans, we are as it were raised by a kind mother who protects her children from the cruelty of the mean old world. Phanariots know the rules of the Turks’ games and play them as best they can. How can foreign bishops function in Turkey? It’s one thing for old worlders to try to deal with America, but for Americans to play Ankara’s game? I think they would trump them in two moves.

        • I think the Turks, formely Americans, who might yet be dual citizens and show up for synod meetings in Istanbul, then leave, will be treated as any other tourist in Turkey. I doubt they’ll be subject to anything much as they’ll be living amid tourists in those hotels and so on.

          When they come back and they explain they are Metropolitans of Chicago, Atlanta and Boston and whatnot, and are citizens of Turkey– I don’t think they’ll do very well when they ask for folk to please give generously. But they all voted for the extra special overseas charter and I’m sure they enjoy it. Mysterious are the ways of the ordained young never married.

          Of course if they actually wanted to attract people in Turkey they would ordain senior married clergy to be bishops. So the Imam needs to do more than point and say “look who they work for (wink, wink)” But, instead they do these distortions and reach over oceans to have bishops. Violate to total shreds the canons having to do with being local and managing local things– but keep the one about only young never marrieds as bishops. Sure. Wink WInk.

        • George Michalopulos :

          Fr John, there’s much wisdom in what you write. I’m sure however that much the same could have been written about the strictures placed on Christians during the days of the Caesars (and worse), but the Church did not flinch from doing what she was called by her Lord and Savior to do.

          I hate to say this, but perhaps the Protestants are right to a degree, in that the Roman Empire’s legalization of Christianity as (ultimately) the only legal religion caused our bishops to be fat and happy. Sure, we’re good players and at times stragetic thinkers, know the rules, when to show ’em and when to fold ’em, etc. when dealing with the state and all, but I can’t help but think that in many cases, we’ve lost our first love. This accommodation to the Turks, whether the bishops will be “citizens” or “tourists” or whatever is a far cry from the bishops that existed in the first 500 years of the Church, many of whom went gladly to their deaths in the arena.

          Harry’s got a point or three when he harps incessantly on the “never married” crowd of current bishops and bishops-in-waiting. There simply is no comparison between these soft men who are “greeted in the marketplace” and the likes of Ss Ignatius of Antioch, Basil of Caesarea, and Augustine of Hippo. The Lord in His mercy however has not forgotten us and in the present age has shown us what real bishops and priests should look like: Tikhon, Maximovitch, Kochurov, and the countless thousands who perished in the Gulag, among others.

  4. I have to be a little direct with my opinion on this, forgive me. But having a little background in that region I have to say that the entire problem is more a Greece vs Turkey thing than it is a Muslim Vs Christian thing. That’s not to say there isn’t that element involved. Turkey has gotten worse, but they’re still not Iran or Saudi Arabia.

  5. George Michalopulos :

    Chris, I understand what you’re saying, but in some ways Turkey is worse than Iran or even Saudi Arabia. They pretend (or try) to be Western and thus “allies” of the West, but in the end, they’re heading straightforward into the wide path of Islam and jihadism. They can’t help it. But we could if we showed them the Gospel, and not as an adjunct of Helladism or Greekism, then they could be brought in Christ’s Church, in the same way that barbarians in the past were brought in.

    We Greeks, have bought into their paradigm of us by seeking shelter in the ghetto, waiting for whatever Christian White Knight is going to come across the horizon saving us.

  6. Could the next Ecumenical Patriarch be Armenian, or Syrian, or Bulgarian? If no, why not? Why does the “Ecumenical” Patriarch have to be Greek?

    Even though Christians make up less than 1% of the population in Turkey (specifically 0.13%) this relatively small number is 70% Armenian Orthodox, 10% Syrian Orthodox, 4% Greek Orthodox, and 4% Bulgarian Orthodox.

    Source: Demographics of Turkey

    Thank you.

  7. Dean Calvert :

    Dear Greg,

    First of all, there’s no reason at all that the Ecumenical Patriarch must be Greek…none.

    However, the practical reality is that the only bishops who have votes are Greek – so the outcome is pretty certain.

    I think many on this forum have speculated, however, that given the influx of Russian visitors (many times the supposed 2000 Greeks) – it’s not out of the question that we could see a Russian EP soon.

    For the record, the Armenians have their own patriarch in Istanbul…so that’s not likely. The Syrians are probably isolated to the region around Antioch, and therefore not involved in the Phanar.

    Best Regards,

    • For some reason I thought that because the Patriarch was Ecumenical there would be significant input from all the other Patriarchates and Autocephalous Churches.

      Thank you.

      • Dean Calvert :


        Read this excerpt from the best book ever written on the Ecumenical Patriarchate – Runciman’s The Great Church in Captivity:


        It helps to explain a lot of what we see now days, and contrasts those actions with the truly “ecumenical” role of the patriarchate, during the first 15 centuries of the Church.

        One of Runciman’s great hopes was that the Patriarchate would revert back to it’s historic role as leader of the Orthodox Oecumene, now that there are essentially no more Greeks left in Istanbul.

        Best Regards

        • … it is doubtful whether in the long run the Greek nationalism that was being increasingly infused into the whole Orthodox organization was beneficial to Orthodoxy.

          Well, THAT is an understatement.

          Thank you for the link.

  8. George,

    I think we’re all on the same page.



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