Published by the Union of Orthodox Journalists
By Kirill Aleksandrov
What role influential Greek clans play in strengthening the power of Phanar and what relation they have to Ukraine.
With the fall of Constantinople under the pressure of the Ottoman Turks in 1453, the situation of the Patriarchate of Constantinople underwent significant changes: on the one hand, it turned from the dominant one into only tolerable in the Muslim country, and on the other hand, administrative functions of the Greek population living in the Ottoman Empire (rum millet), unusual for the Church, were transferred to it.
Affluent laymen, who received the name of the archons of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, began to exert great influence on the politics of Phanar. What is this organization today, who plays the first roles in it, and what tasks does it set for itself?
“Son of the Devil” and Others
The conquest of Constantinople by the Turks entailed significant changes in the life of the Greek population. But not all of them were negative. The famous English historian Stephen Ransimen wrote: “The Sultan also understood well that the Greeks could be useful for his empire. The Turks will provide him with rulers and warriors; but they do not have skills in trade and industry; few of them were good sailors; and even in the village they were more likely pastoralists than farmers. For the economy of the empire, collaboration with the Greeks was essential. <…> One of the most unforeseen consequences of the Ottoman conquest was the revival of Greek trading life. <…> Few of the Turks had a tendency or taste for trade, and trade in the vast and growing possessions of the Sultan passed into the hands of enslaved peoples: Jews, Armenians, and especially Greeks. The Greek commercial genius always flourished in places where the Greeks were deprived of political power, and thus their ambition and energy were directed to commerce.”
The Turks and Greeks formed a very effective symbiosis: the Turks provided military and political cover, various preferences, while the Greeks made a lot of money in these favorable conditions. Soon very rich Greek dynasties emerged, in which from father to son they transferred not only capital but also useful contacts, as well as experience and knowledge in conducting commercial operations.
Representatives of such famous Greek dynasties as Lascaris, Duca, Argir, Ypsilanti, Kantakuzin and others, played a very important role in history. Legends circulated about their wealth. For example, in the XVI century Mikhail Kantakuzin was one of the richest people in the whole East. An interesting description was given to him by one of the dynasty’s offspring, Mikhail Kantakuzin-Speransky, in the book “The Kantakuzin-Speransky Saga”: “A merchant of salt and Russian furs, a downright robber in everything related to his money (especially when he traded with the Turks after the removal of Patriarch Mitrofan), a cruel creditor – he was called Shaitan-Oglu – the Son of the Devil.”
Naturally, such well-to-do Greeks, on the one hand, provided significant financial assistance to the Patriarchate of Constantinople, but on the other, acquired so much power in the patriarchy that they could place the patriarchs on the throne and remove them from it. For example, the very same Mikhail Kantakuzin deposed Joasaph II, one of the most prominent Patriarchs of the Ottoman period, for not blessing him for a desired marriage which was contrary to church canons.
The Turks and Greeks formed a very effective symbiosis: the Turks provided military and political cover, while the Greeks made a lot of money.
Over time, these rich Greek families began to build their homes near the Patriarchate of Constantinople in the Phanar region and became known as archons. This word itself is rather ambiguous. In ancient Greek city-states, archons were called the highest officials. In the Byzantine Empire they were referred to as the so-called rulers who nevertheless recognized the power of the emperor. But in some places of the Gospel in the Greek original, the devil is called the archon (“άρχων του κόσμου τούτου” – “prince of this world”), while in Gnosticism, evil spirits were called archons.
A significant increase in the influence of the archons on the affairs of the patriarchy was facilitated by the fact that the Turkish administration gave permission to take higher church posts through the corruption system of Berats, for which the Turks took a lot of money. As Ransimen writes, “by the end of the 17th century. the usual amount paid by the patriarch for his enthronement was nearly 20,000 piastres – approximately 3,000 pounds of gold.”
This money had to be taken from somewhere. And so the archons came to the rescue with their huge
capitals. What this led to is eloquently described by one of the modern hierarchs of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware), in his book “The Orthodox Church”:
“The top of the church administration was involved in a degrading system of corruption and simonia. Mired down in the dark affairs and political intrigues, the bishops became victims of ambition and greed. Each new patriarch asked the sultan for a berat to take the post andhad to pay dearly for this document. The patriarch bore his charges at the expense of the bishops, receiving a bribe from each of them for being appointed head of the diocese; those, in turn, robbed parish priests, and priests robbed their flock. What the papacy was once accused of was undoubtedly the case in the Ecumenical Patriarchate under the Turks: everything could be sold.
When several candidates claimed the patriarchal throne, the Turks usually sold it to the one who paid most. They soon realized that it was in their financial interests to change the patriarchs as often as possible in order to more often have the opportunity to sell berats. The patriarchs were displaced and reappointed with kaleidoscopic speed. Of the 159 patriarchs who occupied the throne between the 15th and 20th centuries, 105 were deposed by the Turks, 27 abdicated and were often forced to do so, 6 patriarchs died a violent death, being hanged, poisoned or drowned, and only 21 of them died naturally while in office. The same person sometimes became a patriarch 5-6 times, and several former patriarchs usually lived in exile, stubbornly waiting for an opportunity to return to the throne.
The extreme instability of the patriarchs generated unceasing intrigue among the metropolitans of the Holy Synod, who were aiming for a vacant seat, and usually the leaders of the Church were divided into parties that were extremely hostile to each other. ‘Every good Christian,’ wrote one Englishman living in the East in the 17th century, ‘is forced to notice with sadness and compassion how this once glorious Church is tearing its own insides and throwing them to be eaten by ravens, vultures and other wild and bloodthirsty worldly creatures’.”
Mikhail Kantakuzin deposed the patriarch because he did not bless him for a desired marriage which was contrary to church canons.
Of course, the role of the archons was not entirely negative. They allocated money for education, the purchase of books. The same Mikhail Kantakuzin gathered the richest library at that time, most of which was bought out by the Athos monasteries after his execution by the Turks.
Archons often paid for the education of Greek youths in European educational institutions, mainly Catholic. True though, in order to study there, in many cases it was necessary to convert to Catholicism, at least for the time of study.
In the 19th century, during the struggle of Greece for independence, the archons with their money, ties with the rulers of different countries and influence on Greek society contributed to the fact that Greece was nevertheless able to free itself from the power of the Turks. Coming from the Ypsilanti clan, Alexander Ypsilanti, a major general of the Russian army and adjutant of Emperor Alexander I, led the Liberation War in 1821, which resulted in Greece gaining independence.
Phanar’s Loyal Servants
In the XX century. The Archon Society of the Patriarchate of Constantinople was institutionalized. On March 10, 1966, during the patriarchate of Patriarch Athenagoras I of Constantinople (the one who immediately after ascending the throne declared that his main task was to promote American interests), a religious order of archons – the Order of St. Andrew the Apostle – was established. Its second name is “Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate”.
The Order was created at the American Archbishopric of the Patriarchate of Constantinople as a public non-profit organization. In 1991, the Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople established a separate order for archons living outside of America, the Brotherhood of Officals (archons) called “The Most Holy Virgin”.
The spiritual mentor of the Order of St. Andrew is ex officio the head of the American Archbishopric. Now it is Archbishop Elpidophoros (Lambriniadis) – the one who articulated the concept of the supremacy of the Patriarch of Constantinople “First without Equals”.
The activities of the Order are led directly by a national commander. Now it’s Anthony Limberakis. The governing bodies are also the executive committee and the national council.
Each year, the Patriarch of Constantinople assigns the title of archon to about two dozen candidates. The selection criteria, according to the procedure on archons.org, are as follows:
- Does the candidate have a track record of activities in his local parish, metropolis, and national church?
- Is the candidate ready and able to provide his time, talent and finances, as far as possible, to protect the religious freedom of the Ecumenical Patriarchate?
- Is the candidate ready and able to speak with local, state, and/or federal officials in order to support the religious freedom of the Ecumenical Patriarchate?
- Is the candidate ready and able to make visits or take part in a pilgrimage to the Ecumenical Patriarchate?
- How can a candidate contribute to protecting the interests of the Ecumenical Patriarchate?
It is easy to see that almost all requirements relate to devotion not to Orthodoxy in general but to the Ecumenical (Constantinople) Patriarchate. This list does not even formulate requirements for the moral character of the candidate.
It is not for nothing that the list of criteria indicates the candidate’s willingness to lobby Phanar’s interests in the US authorities. In 2006, the Order of the Archons initiated the draft Resolution on Religious Freedom, which was accepted by all US states except four.
From the title of this Resolution, one can conclude that it is designed to affirm religious freedom in the states for all religious organizations or at least Orthodox. But this is not so. The provisions of the Resolution concern only the assertion of the rights of Phanar before the Turkish authorities. In particular, the Turkish administration is required to recognize that the Patriarch of Constantinople has an “ecumenical status” and is not only the head of the local Orthodox community.
Epiphany Dumenko and “the First Without Equals”
The Order of Archons was directly involved in the project of creating the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU). Back in August 2018, when the Patriarchate of Constantinople did not decide on the creation of the OCU on the basis of two schismatic denominations of Ukraine, the Order of Archons stated that “it urges all Orthodox Christians to remember that the Ecumenical Patriarch has the right to grant the Tomos of autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, if it decides so.”
And in 2019, at the annual meeting of the Order in the USA, the head of the OCU, Epiphany Dumenko, was awarded the “Athenagoras Prize in the Field of Human Rights”. According to the description of the award on archons.org, “it is awarded every year at the annual banquet of the Order to a person or organization that through their actions, intentions and dedication consistently demonstrates concern for the fundamental rights and freedom of religion of all people.”
It is rather cynical to present the prize for “concern about the fundamental rights and freedom of religion of all people” to the head of the religious organization whose followers seize temples of another denomination in Ukraine, beat priests and parishioners, and do other atrocities. Isn’t it?
At the presentation of the Prize, Order Commander Anthony Limberakis noted “the many years of experience of Metropolitan Epiphany in protecting the Ecumenical Patriarchate.” In turn, the site archons.org reported that “Metropolitan Epiphany was an active supporter of religious freedom and a key advocate for the ecclesiastic and canonical prerogatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.”
Another area of activity of the Order of Archons is the support of ecumenical initiatives to bring the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Vatican closer together. In 2007, the Order proclaimed Pope Benedict XVI and Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople the “Apostles of the World.”
On January 10, 2020, the Order held a constituent assembly in New York, at which the “Ecumenical Patriarchal Fund of St. Andrew” was created. Anthony Limberakis, a national commander of the Order of Archons, became its chairman.
The fund aims “to assist the Ecumenical Patriarchate in protecting its canonical powers in the United States and elsewhere”, as well as “protect and maintain the leadership role of the Ecumenical Patriarchate among various Orthodox jurisdictions and organizations in the world.”
Patriarch Bartholomew recently stated that the Patriarchate of Constantinople “is worshiped not only by its own spiritual children but also by others – all Orthodoxy in the entire Christian world”, probably forgetting the words of Christ: “Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only” (Matthew 4: 10).
However, it must be noted that the concept of the supremacy of the Patriarch of Constantinople “first without equals” is not just smooth theoretical considerations. This concept is backed by strong financial and organizational support. There is only one question in this regard: is this concept Orthodox or anti-Orthodox?