Patriarchate Asks for Title to U.S. Church Property

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew wants legal title to properties around the world, but how would this, as the author below argues, secure the legal position of the the Patriarchate vis-a-vis the Turkish government? Further, with the request for metropolitans worldwide to apply for Turkish citizenship, the Ecumenical Patriarch seems to be distancing the Patriarchate from the other Orthodox churches given that the invitation was only extended to Greek metropolitans.

The National Herald, December 11, 2009, By Theodore Kalmoukos, The National Herald Staff Writer
Flag of Turkey
BOSTON – The Ecumenical Patriarchate – in an official letter recently sent to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and its local Metropolises – requested the official transfer of the ownership of at least one real estate property belonging to each metropolis to the Patriarchate. Archbishop Demetrios of America and the metropolitans have yet to notify the parishes of the Archdiocese of the request of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The same request was made to all other eparchies (ecclesiastical provinces) outside of Turkey that belong to the ecclesiastical and spiritual jurisdiction of the Patriarchate, that they “register at least one real estate property irreversibly in the name of the Patriarchate.”

By taking this action, the Patriarchate is trying to secure its legal position vis-a-vis the Turkish government. The Turkish government does not recognize Ecumenical Patriarchate as a legal entity or its ecumenical nature and mission, and has treated the institution with disrespect since the creation of the Turkish Republic in 1923. The interference and abuses of Turkish officials have been reported in the international media for decades and occasionally elicit protests from U.S. and other government officials and agencies.

Patriarch Bartholomew in his letter (protocol number 861) stated that “The (Turkish) authorities refuse to recognize the legal status of our most sacred institution.” Ankara considers it to be a Turkish institution in the Phanar district of Constantinople under the administrative jurisdiction of the district’s prefect.

The issues that pertained to the property request were discussed at the Holy Synod in Constantinople and the Patriarch stated in his letter that, “We were led to the decision to urge, though this Patriarchal letter, the hierarchs of the Eparchies abroad to register in the Registry of Deeds in the country in which their Eparchy is located, at least one real estate property, community or parish in the legal name of the Ecumenical Patriarchate as follows: “Ecumenical Patriarch, instituted according to the International Law whose See is in Constantinople (Istanbul).”

The Patriarchal letter appeals to the good faith and respect of the hierarchs, reminding them that it was the Patriarchate that elevated them to the rank of metropolitans and archbishops. The Patriarch requests that the hierarchs send “all the signed documents of their transactions of the recording of the real estate property to the Patriarchate in order to be placed in their file.”

It was not clear if this request included the Metropolises of the so-called New Lands (sees whose administration was delegated to the Church of Greece in 1928 but are spiritually under the Ecumenical Patriarchate), or the Metropolises of the Dodecanese or the semi-autonomous Church of Crete, which fall into the ecclesiastical, canonical and spiritual jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

The prefect of the Phanar often gets involved in issues that have to do with the life and operation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and there is concern that any transferred properties and parishes would be exposed to interference from Turkish authorities.

Prefects have been aggressive to the point that they the Patriarch into their office to give explanations and clarifications. The National Herald is in a position to know of many instances when the Ecumenical Patriarch was called into the prefecture of the Phanar. The most revealing and egregious case of this kind took place in August, 1990 and involved the late Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios. After his return to Constantinople from a month-long, historic visit to the United States. The Patriarch was summoned to the prefecture and was put through an exhausting examination by the authorities. It has been said by his close associates that Patriarch Dimitrios became so upset that – a few weeks later – he suffered a stroke which led to his death.

There is some speculation as to whether the letter about the properties is related to other recent developments regarding the relations of hierachs outside of Turkey with the Patriarchate. The National Herald exclusively revealed, on November 12, that “The government of Turkey seems to be willing to grant Turkish citizenship to all those hierarchs of the Ecumenical Patriarchate who serve outside of Turkey. Turkish citizenship will allow them to freely participate in all the administrative activities of the Patriarchate including the right to be candidates for the Ecumenical Throne when a vacancy arises. It was made clear by the Ecumenical Patriarch himself that ‘they will have the right to elect and to be elected.’ Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew broke the news to Archbishop Demetrios of America and to the hierarchs of the Archdiocese during his recent visit to the U.S. at the luncheon that was held at the Carlyle Hotel after the Patriarchal Liturgy at the Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in New York on Sunday, November 1.”

This newspaper also reported that “Prime Minister Erdogan told Patriarch Bartholomew that his request will be satisfied and asked him to send the appropriate information with names of the hierarchs and other details to the government of Turkey.” To this day the Archdiocese has not officially notified the Greek Orthodox people and the community in general about which and how many metropolitans will become Turkish citizens, including Archbishop Demetrios himself.


  1. George Michalopulos says

    I think this is a wonderful idea! Is the Phanar going to build hospitals and orphanages on these properties throughout the Diaspora? Maybe Ecumenical Patriarchal Adoption Centers? Or Evangelism and Outreach Centers?

  2. As much as I am inclinded-by experience-to impute sinister motives to the EP, I can see the purported aim, that is, to gain international legal standing.

    I say let him have “the Cathedral of All Hellenism” in NYC. That way he will have a metochion.

  3. Sorry. Two words.

    Absolutely not. (These weren’t my first choice of two words)

  4. This is nothing but a power grab and I am now very suspicious of meetings of bihsops with the EP or his designee in charge.

  5. Wesley J. Smith says

    I have no idea of the intent, but legally, I think formal title to GOA churches, among other matters, would allow the EP to prevent their joining an OCA (or other jurisdiction) unless he approved the terms of the deal, by providing the same club the Episcopal Church is punishing against break away parishes, e.g., by threatening church homes.

    • Isa Almisry says

      We’ll have to see if it remains “one property,” or if it is an understatement to mean “all property.”

      At present, Arb. Demetrios could stop a parish from going OCA, but the EP perhaps couldn’t stop Demetrios bringing in the whole Archdiocese.

  6. This is not going to end well. Anyone who hitches his wagon to this program is going to be party to the implosion of what was one of the great institutions of Christianity.

    And Memo to the 20+ Orthodox Bishops who want to become citizens of Turkey. You are giving the Turks the very instrument they need to liquidate the hierarchy of the EP. In other words this is all a trap. If all the new citizen bishops show up at the Phanar and the Turks change their mind and put all the bishops under arrest the US State Department will not intervene because all the bishops are Turkish Citizens. All the American Metropolitans will not have the protection of the US Government. If I remember even if the American Metropolitans have dual citizenship the US will not intervene.

    Why on earth would the Church surrender its essential freedom granted by God to a foreign government with a history of anti-Christian activity.

    Any Bishop of the EP who applies for Turkish Citizenship is like a Chicken who thinks Colonel Sanders is his Friend.

  7. Dean Calvert says


    Any Bishop of the EP who applies for Turkish Citizenship is like a Chicken who thinks Colonel Sanders is his Friend.

    I think you hit the nail squarely on the head!

    As I read all of this, I keep thinking, “Is this how St John Chrysostom or St. Photios would have reacted???”

    I think not.

    It’s a shame that the handlers of the EP are so lame…George called them dunderheads…and he was right. If they were willing to accept a United American Church, we’d all be at the Capitol banging on the desk, insisting that Washington “do something about this” – and it would be done.

    Instead, we play Chamberlain and appease…and we will get the same results.

    What a pitiful spectacle.


  8. George Michalopulos says

    Isa, Fr, Andrews, John, et. al. ALL EXCELLENT POINT! However, one cannot stop someone who is hell-bent on self-destruction or operating under a delusion. If the GOA bishops are under such a cloud, then we must assume that many of their priests are as well. Right now, I’d say most of the laymen are oblivious to these machinations. IMHO, all non-GOA bishops in North America NOT attend the upcoming episcopal assembly in May but should set up an alternate date and meeting place. They should call it something else, how about “The First American House of Bishops Meeting”? Or something like that.

    Of course, its chairman should be Metropolitan Jonah. I hate to say this (because I’m Greek-American) but this is proof-positive that the EP and his minions in the GOA never had any inclination to allow unity and autocephaly. At best the only unity they would have allowed was a forced unity with the GOA arcbishop as permmanent chairman and the GOA metropolitans as “the Holy Synod,” with all other bishops as a “greater synod.”

    Regardless, Andrew’s words are apt: “this will not end well.” Indeed, it is the death-knell for uniting ALL jurisdictions in North America. The best that we can hope for at this point is to unite all jurisdictions that WANT to join and become American. Individual GOA parishes will join in time, especially in dioceses which are struggling or if they themselves are marginal. And of course, committed, sincere Greek-American Christians will join as well, probably by the thousands.

    Enough! The Phanar and its minions have lost it. One has to wonder if they ever “had” it.

  9. Photini Henderson says

    If the Patriarchate wants to pattern itself after the Western Pope, he’ll need a bank, too, as well as worldwide ownership (and responsibility) for all the people, properties, and liabilities. O’m not sure it would help his position so far as Turkey is concerned, but he’s trying to conform to the vatican model. Shall we feed it, guys?

    In Christ,


  10. George Michalopulos says

    Photini, as far as I’m concerned, the ball is in the GOA “metropolitans'” court. If they continue to play ball with this type of monstrosity, then they’ll have nobody but themselves to blame when their parishes empty and Holy Cross finally goes belly-up.

  11. Isa Almisry says

    “The Patriarchal letter appeals to the good faith and respect of the hierarchs, reminding them that it was the Patriarchate that elevated them to the rank of metropolitans and archbishops.”

    I’ll remind them of who imposed the present Charter, and the good faith and respect that entailed.

  12. Why not just have the Archons buy the EP a house in the main city of each Metropolis. The EP can then close his eyes and pretend they are a Greek version of an “Apostolic Nuncio”. You can then stock the local nuncio with all type of clergy and staff who have been promoted into incompentence keeping them far away from real parishes and ministries that have an effect on people.

    This would be a much wiser and safer PR move then sending each Bishop a Tony Soprano shakedown letter. Of course the fact that neither the staff at the GOA or EP could anticipate the reaction to this move shows you that skills of these masters of the universe are greatly diminished.

  13. George Michalopulos says

    Andrew, their buffoonery knows no bounds. It’s times like these I miss having Jesuits in our Church. Anybody who knows me knows my antipathy to this order –they’ve got lukewarm Christian beliefs if that–but if you’re going to have a cadre of functionary priests, at least they can think things through in a Euclidian-logic type of fashion.

    Even their mouthpieces here in America are no better. I remember listening to Fr Arey’s “interview” in which he said that the Ukrainians haven’t had autocephaly since their church was founded. What balderdash, they had autocephaly for 500 years, from 1489 to 1921, when they were part of the Russian polity.

    The best thing to do is ignore the upcoming Episcopal Assembly. If they want non-GOA bishops to attend, then these bishops should send a letter to 79th St asking for clarification on certain issues. Under NO circumstances should the other jurisdictions turn over ANYTHING at all to Arey and his bunch, it will go down a rat hole so quick you’ll never even know it existed in the first place.

  14. How painfully stupid.

  15. I hadn’t thought of that angle: I am quite sure the Episcopal scheme, I mean assemblies, are only intended to get everyone under the EP’s exarch. Good: another reason for other jurisdictions not to do so, lest they be signed over irreversibly to the “Ecumenical Patriarch, instituted according to the International Law whose See is in Constantinople (Istanbul).”

    • George & Isa: I understand and share many of your feelings. However, it should not go without notice that the EP did not order this to be done but merely asked (albeit with a caution to remember who elevated them to metropolitans). That indicates to me that he has some apprehension and recognizes to some degree the tenuousness of his base of support among rank and file Faithful. I really see this as a watershed point for the GOA if the metropolitans give in especially if they order a parish to convey its property. By the way, how do you spell Robespierre in Greek? May be one will arise.

  16. Jolynn Ruggerio says

    What’s everyone freaking out about. Givem him the monasteries. Makes perfect sense from every angle.

    • Dean Calvert says


      Re: What’s everyone freaking out about. Givem him the monasteries. Makes perfect sense from every angle.

      I think what people are “freaking out about” is that this is EXACTLY what OCL warned was coming a few years back when we were debating the imposition of the new charter.

      Of course, at the time, Tom Kanelos and you assured us that we were crazy, and that it would never ever happen.

      Now you are suggesting giving them the monasteries?

      What’s next…the cathedrals in each metropolis?

      To be honest, I can almost understand and sympathize with the request – and, on a good day, might be talked into believing that it might do the EP some good.

      What I can’t believe is the incredible stupidity behind the request, and the complete lack of appreciation for how this would play in the PR world.

      It all adds up to what I’ve been told over and over again about the EP…they are a bunch of bishops with little else to do but sit around the table and concoct fantastic schemes….actually talking themselves into them in the process. And that they have, for the most part, absolutely no conception of what the American mindset is like.

      All of which makes it sooooo dangerous that all of your bishops in the GOA are elected over there…with absolutely no election occurring on these shores.

      Best of luck talking them into giving the monasteries though….


  17. George Michalopulos says

    Jolynn, I’m not sure that the monasteries would want to be under the Phanar. I know some monks and their quite unhappy with the worldliness that they see.

    It would be ungracious of me to say to all those who castigated those of us on the right side of this issue “I told you so.” Rather than say that, why we don’t we all just repent of the hurtful things that have been hurled to and fro (me especially) and just go back to the Bible and ordinary ecclesiastical orthopraxy? It ain’t that hard: just petition the Holy Synod of the American Church (the OCA) to join, take an inventory of all the bishops (about 60) and place each one in the 60 largest North American cities. Now you got a real holy synod of 60 bishops and we can start evangelizing and start locating a couple of dozen other cities for possible dioceses in the future.

    It should be easy. After all, bishops are monks and monks take vows of poverty. Of course, this would mean that the GOA “metropolitans” would have to give up their six-figure salaries.

    Isa, Nick,, I repeat: we CANNOT turn over ANYTHING to the likes of Arey. I’m not talking just about real estate here, I mean pension funds, bank accounts, even office furniture, pencils and paper clips. The EP will find some way to “byzntinize” them by bringing out some obscure canon from a regional council nobody ever heard about. Ever since the passing of Patriarch Demetrius in 1991, we have not been dealing in good faith with ANYBODY at the Phanar. I’m sorry to say that. I’ll even go further: except for 2-3 GOA bishops here, none of them are interested in negotiating in good faith either.

    Unfortunately, the only way to go forward is to create a real episcopal assembly under the chairmanship of +Jonah, let those who don’t want to be under this one join the GOA and then just let time take its course. Eventually, the Phanar will do something egregious that will finally break the camel’s back. Until then, evangelically-minded GOA laymen will start migrating out to the other jurisdictions. (Although not the Antiochian at present, I guess that leaves the OCA or ROCOR.)

    I don’t say this with any glee, but realism.

  18. George Michalopulos says

    P.S. regarding the monasteries, on second thought, he shouldn’t have them either. It’s just a ploy and it would divide the dioceses internally. It would complete what the charter set out to do, which divided the GOA into four metropolises and then when he elevated the dioceses into “metropolises.” Bad idea.

  19. Why not just MOVE the see of the EP to New York? Wouldn’t that kill all the birds with one stone? I’m sure that would also make it MUCH easier to unite all Orthodox in America under one head. Build a cathedral in Manhattan that makes St. Peters in Rome look like a little country church. St. Sophia X 100.

    • Fr. Johannes Jacobse says

      Won’t work Randy. It would interfere with the Hellenism agenda as promulgated by Constantinople.

      A move to New York dilutes the notion that the office and person of the Ecumenical Patriarch is the historical bridge between classic and modern civilization which in turn justifies ethnic identity as the first criteria to claims of primacy. (Notice how only Greeks were “invited” to apply for Turkish citizenship — a questionable idea in itself, but also revealing in that other “ethnicities” need not apply.)

      Leave Constantinople and the historical claim is weakened. As the claim to place (geography) disappears, authority is reduced to the person of the Patriarch, to historical memory actually, which is less compelling. Then people begin to be judged by their qualifications; the playing field gets leveled a bit as the ethnic claims lose their justification.

      • George Michalopulos says

        Fr, you answered the question for me as well. Besides, why would he want to move? He’s bought into the Erdogan program. Re the Greek bishops, if he came to America and set up shop, he’d be forced to confront all the non-Greek bishops. One of them could wind up replacing him as EP.

  20. George Michalopulos says

    Randy, I do not mean to give offense, but this is an abominable idea. There already is an American Orthodox Church, with an authentic Holy Synod which is self-headed. Plus, as per good canonical order, he is resident and bishop of, the capital city of the country in which he resides.

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