NOTE: This article is taken from the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s website.
In the ancient Church, each city had its own bishop, who was the president of the eucharistic assembly and its shepherd, responsible for pastoral service in all its guises and the person who “rightly divided the word of truth”. Even small towns or places were the seats of bishops, each of whom exercised a certain episcopal jurisdiction independently of the bishop of the city. Because of the persecutions, the problematical conditions and the awkwardness of the situation for the Church, it was difficult to deftne the boundaries of each of the episcopal regions over which the bishops were to exercise thetr jurisdiction. As a result of this, confusion and conflict often arose within the administration of the Church, over the ordination of clerics or the dependence of presbyters on two bishops, given that there were often two bishops in one and the same place. When the persecution of the Christian Church by the Roman state ceased, the legislative authority of the Church was able to define the boundaries within which the bishop could exercise his episcopal authority. In this way, the canonical provincial administration was formed.
In the fourth and fifth centuries, the metropolitans/bishops of the Roman Empire, of the capitals of the Dioceses, acquired even greater power, and important ecclesiastical matters were handled in these major cities. The metropolitans of the five most important cities of the Christian world were called Patriarchs, while the metropolitans of the smaller cities, over time, lost their complete independence, though they retained their former title, “metropolitan”, and also their sees. The most important matters of the geographical eccle-siastical region were now handled by the Patriarchal Synod, by which metropolitans were now elected and consecrated, and then installed by the Patriarch. The Patriarchal Synods, under the chairmanship of the Patriarch, were at first made up of the metropolitans, then later also of the bishops of the patriarchal geographical region. The provincial metropolitan/episcopal synods under the chairmanship of the metropolitan were retained, and dealt with local provincial matters. They remained, however, under canonical dependence upon the patriarchs and their synods, in which they also participated.
The boundaries of the patriarchates are geographical and nothing more. They are not ethnophyletic, cultural, liturgical or anything else of the sort, and were defined by Ecumenical Synods through sacred canons and ecclesiastical regulations in accordance with Christian teaching against racial discrimination, with Orthodox ecclesiology and with canon law and pastoral requirements.
Canon 6 of the 1st Ecumenical Synod says “Let the old customs prevail as well as the later canons”, and goes on to confirm the geographical boundaries of the jurisdiction of Rome, Alexandria and Antioch. “Let the ancient custom prevail which obtained in Egypt, Lybia and Pentapolis, to allow the bishop of Alexandria to have authority over all these parts, since this is also usually accorded to the bishop in Rome. Likewise with reference to Antioch and the other provinces, let seniority be preserved in the churches”. Thus “the bishop of Alexandria precedes those in Egypt, Lybia and the.province of Pentapolis, Africa; Antioch similarly heads Syria, Coele or Hollow Syria, Mesopotamia and both Cilicias…” i. e. the diocese of the East; “and the bishop of Rome is senior in the western provinces”.
The bishop of Jerusalem, because of the sacred nature of the city “through the redemptive passion of Christ”, was declared patriarch by the 4th Ecumenical Synod, with his jurisdiction extended to include the three provinces of Palestine, known as the “Three Palestines”. So Jerusalem was senior to “the provinces in Palestine, in Arabia and in Phoenicia.. .”.
As Patriarchate, Jerusalem occupied the fifth place, after Antioch, while since the schism between East and West it has taken the fourth place in the Orthodox Church. In the case of Jerusalem, too, the criteria applied by the 4th Ecumenical Synod for canonical jurisdiction- “ground” — were geographical and no more.
The Ecumenical Patriarch, the Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome, occupies the first place, the primacy of honour in the canonical structure of the Orthodox Church. This position, as well as his canonical jurisdiction — the “ground” — have been defined by the sacred canons of the Ecumenical Synods, in other words by irreversible ecumenical decisions, and their application is binding for all Orthodox.
As regards the primacy of honour of Constantinople, this has been legislated for by the 2nd Ecumenical Synod (Canon 3), the 4th (Canon 28) and the Quinisext (Canon 36). Thus: “the Throne of Constantinople shall enjoy equal seniority with the throne of Older Rome, and in matters of the Church shall be magnified as the latter, coming second after it…”. Since the schism Constantinople has held the primacy of honour and of διακονια in the Orthodox Church.
By a decision (Canon 28) which is of universal status and validity, the 4th Ecumenical Synod confirmed a long tradition and action of the Church as regards the canonical jurisdiction and the territory of the Ecumenical Throne. The geographical extent of its own ground was extended to the then administrations of the Roman Empire in Pontus, Asia and Thrace, as well as to the “barbarian” lands, i. e. those which were outside the boundaries of the then Roman Empire: “… only the metropolitans of the Pontic, Asian and Thracian dioceses shall be ordained by the aforesaid Most Holy Throne of the Most Holy Church of Constantinople and likewise the bishops of the aforesaid dioceses which are situated in barbarian lands…”.
The adjective “barbarian” defines the noun “nations”, which is omitted from the text of the canon, but which is to be inferred, as Zonaras interprets it. Barbarian nations or countries are, as has been said, those provinces which lay beyond the Roman Empire at the time of the 4th Ecumenical Synod: “While it called bishoprics of the barbarians those of Alania, Russia and others”. The other barbarian lands, apart from Alania and Russia, are, in general, “the Barbarians”, according to the interpretation of Aristenos of Canon 28: “… the (bishops ) of Pontus and Thrace and Asia, as well as the Barbarians, are consecrated by the Patriarch of Constantinople…”.
According to the “Notitiae episcopatuum” (Συνταγμάτιον) bearing the name of Emperor Leo the Wise (886-912), but actually dating more or less to the llth century, the eparchies of South Italy, i. e. Calabria and Sicily, are also under’ the Ecumenical Throne of Constantinople. Besides, according to the “Exposition” of Emperor Andronikos II Palaeologos (1282-1328), which was generally valid until the 19th century, these eparchies were subject to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. With the passage of time, however, this dependence in fact weakened away because of the propinquity of these provinces to Rome and because of the impossibility of Constantinople maintaining communications with them, situated as it was within the Ottoman Empire.
In the Order “of the Thrones of the Orthodox Eastern Church”, i.e. the (Συνταγμάτιον)of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of the year 1855, there is no reference to these eparchies.
Moreover, from the 8th century, all the provinces of Eastern Illyricum, i. e. the Balkan region from the borderş of Thrace to the Adriatic, were removed from the jurisdiction of Rome and placed under the canonical jurisdiction of Constantinople.
The newer lands of North and South America, of Australia, the Far East and so on, and also those in general that are outside the boundaries of the local Churches as defined by the sacred canons and the decisions of the Ecumenical Synods, as well as by the Patriairchal and Synodical Tomes, are included in theory, and hence in practice, in the “other” barbarian lands, according to the general terminology of the 4th Ecumenical Synod and of the other synods. This has nothing to do with an ethnological or any other modern cultural definition, but is geographical, since they were not included, at the time of this synod, within the bounds of the then Roman Empire and were not named in the canonical sources, as were Alania or Russia.
The Ecumenical Throne of Constantinople thus has canonical jurisdiction over the Orthodox in all the “barbarian” countries which constitute its geographical area and “ground”, while the exercise of its canonical rights over all the Orthodox in these countries should not in any way be considered as being“beyond the boundaries” (of its “ground”), i. e. “υπερόριος”.Through Patriarchal Synodical Tomes or Acts, specific metropoles, archbishoprics and bishoprics which were part of the geographical area of the canonical jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople have been ceded to the newer autocephalous local Churches, in Russia, in the Balkans and beyond. After autocephaly, these autocephalous Churches acquired canonical, administrative and pastoral jurisdiction over them. Any exercise of administration or pastoral tasks by these autocephalous Churches over Orthodox outside and beyond their own defined geographical boundaries, on the basis of national, racial, linguistic or “cultural” criteria, constitutes, according to canonical exactitude, an action “beyond the boundaries” (υπερόριον) and an intrusion (εισπήδησιν) into another province, thus violating the fundamental principles of canonical jurisdiction and the tradition of the Church.
The entire article can be read here: