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Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and Autonomous Church of Greece

Last modified: 2006-03-18 by martin karner
Keywords: mount athos | greek orthodox church | oecumenical patriarchy of constantinople | eagle: double-headed (black) | autonomous greek orthodox church | meteora | cross (red) | brotherhood of the sepulcher | cross (white) |
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The Patriarchate and the autonomous Church of Greece

From an ecclesiastical point of view Greece is in a peculiar situation:
Areas that formed part of the Kingdom of Greece between 1830 and 1912 belong to the Autonomous Greek Orthodox Church, based in Athens and headed by Archbishop Christodoulos. I believe that the church, or the archbishop, uses a flag which is red with a yellow cross and four golden firesteels (B like symbols) in the four quarters (the ones near the hoist are regular Bs the ones in the fly are inverted). This is an old Paleologue symbol. The Paleologues were the last imperial dynasty of the Byzantine Empire, based at Constantinople (Istanbul) which fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.

The parts of mainland Greece that were added to it after the Balkan Wars of 1912-13 (i.e. Greek Macedonia and Thrace) are direct subjects of the Patriarch but are administrated, on his behalf, by the Greek Orthodox Church [i.e. the autonomous Church of Greece]. Churches in the North display the Patriarchate black double-headed eagle (another Byzantine symbol - after all the Patriarch's title is at least as old as the Byzantine Empire and was closely connected to it).
Rhodes (which became part of Greece in 1948) and the rest of the Dodecanese islands belong to the Patriarchate and are directly administrated by it. Again, it is natural for them to display the Patriarchate flag.

The Patriarchate is not an independent state like Vatican. From a legal point of view, it is simply a Turkish corporation (since it is based in Turkey). The Patriarch (currently His Holiness Bartholomew I) is not head of any state.
However, the Patriarch is officially the "Spiritual Leader" of the "Autonomous Monastic State of Ayion Oros", (also styled "Athonian Republic"), that is, he is the Head of that Autonomous State.
Yannis Natsinas & Dimitris Kiminas, 14 January 2000

In the Orthodox Church there are 15 independent church units (Constantinople, Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Russia, Greece, Rumania, Serbia, Bulgaria, Albania, Czech Republic and Slovakia, Poland, USA, Cyprus, Georgia), each with his own Patriarch or Archbishop. There is no subordination between these independent churches. The Church of Constantinople and his Patriarch (the Patriarch of Constantinople or Oecumenical Patriarch) has only a status of "first among equals", nothing more. This status means nothing more that the Patriarch is the president of all Ortodox conferences, but he has no kind of power over other church units. He is the leader of only his own church unit, the Church of Constaninople.

The confusion comes from the fact that the Archbishop of Athens (the leader of the Autonomous Church of Greece) has power only over churches in central and southern Greece. The other parts of Greece are part of the Church of Constantinople. Also, all Greek Orthodox churches outside Greece are part of the Church of Constantinople. The leader of the Church of Greece, because of historical reasons, has no title of Patriarch, he is "only" an Archbishop.
Ivan Marinov, 12 June 2000

Byzantine Imperial Flag

[Byzantine Imperial Flag] by António Martins

The flag is yellow with a black crowned double-headed eagle.

The double-headed eagle was the symbol of the Paleologues, the last Greek-speaking "Roman" (i.e. Byzantine) dynasty to rule from Constantinople. Emperor Michael VIII Paliologos recaptured Constantinople from the Crusaders in 1261, from a state based in Asia Minor; the double-headed eagle symbolized the dynasty's interests in both Asia and Europe, and was kept despite the fact that virtually all of the Asian possessions were gobbled up by the Ottomans within a generation of the recapture of the City. Michael's descendants stayed on the Byzantine throne until the City and the Empire fell to the Ottomans in 1453.

The double-headed eagle had in the two centuries of Paleologan rule become identified not just with the dynasty but with the Empire itself and, more generally, with institutions and cultural ideas outside the Byzantine Empire that still remained centered on Constantinople. Most obvious of these is the Greek Orthodox Church, centered in theory in Istanbul to this day, and so it is not surprising that the Church would use the flag.
Josh Fruhlinger, 27 January 1999

The flag most often used by the Greek Orthodox Church is that of the Byzantine Empire (gold with a black double-headed eagle clutching a scepter and orb, with crown above and between the two heads). This flag, and the former domestic flag of Greece (blue, a white cross throughout), are often seen flying over the various monasteries of Mount Athos, and at various parishes of the Greek Orthodox Church (or Archdiocese) in North and South America (including Canada).
So far as I can tell, there's a dispute over who belongs to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America. It is an archdiocese of the Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate [of Constantinople]. It's archbishop is appointed by Istanbul, not by Athens. Yet many of the Greeks feel more attached to Athens than they do to Istanbul (or Constantinople, or "temporarily occupied Asia Minor").
This golden flag with double headed eagle is NOT an official flag. Since there's no official agency to determine what the flag really is, the shape of the flag (rectangular or square) is totally dependant on the whim of the flag-maker.
John Udics, 13 February 2006

See also:

Mount Athos


Mount Athos, or Hagion Oros, "The Holy Mountain" is composed mainly of monasteries, housing some of the greatest libraries of the Greek world, and has been existing for 1000 years.
It is located on the eastern peninsula of the prefecture of Chalkidike in the Greek province of Macedonia. The peninsula stretches into the Aegean Sea for about 57 kilometres and varies in width between 7 and 10 kilometres. Its area is 389 square kilometres.
The "capital city" is Karyes, it serves as the administrative centre where all public officials have their offices. There are twenty monasteries and several foundations.

The status of Mount Athos is prescribed in article 105 of the Greek Constitution, as follows:

The Athos peninsula from and beyond Megali Viala, constitutes the territory of Mount Athos; according to its antique privileged status, it is a self-governed part of the Hellenic State where the latter's sovereignty is intact. From the spiritual point of vue, Mount Athos depends from the direct jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate [of Constantinople]. All of those who live there as monks are entitled to Hellenic citizenship as soon as they are admitted as novices or monks, without any other administrative formality.

Mount Athos is administered under its own regime by its 20 holy monasteries,between which the land of the Athos peninsula is shared, which is inalienable. Administration is held by representatives of the holy monasteries, which form the Holy Community [Hiera Koenotes]. It is absolutely forbidden to bring any kind of modification to the administrative system, or to the number of monasteries of Mount Athos, neither of their hierarchical order or their relationships with their dependencies; settlement of heterodoxians or schismatics is forbidden.

The detailed determination of Mount Athos' statuses and of their functioning is done by the Statutory Charter of Mount Athos, which is written and voted by the 20 holy monasteries, with the participation of the representative of the State, and ratified by the Oecumenical Patriarchate and the House of Representatives of the Hellens [Greek Parliament].The strict observance of the regime of Mount Athos, as for spiritual matters, is placed under the high control of the Oecumenical Patriachate, and, as for administrative matters, under the control of the State, to which also belongs exclusively the responsability of public order and public safety.

The State's powers stated above are held by a Governor, whose rights and duties are determined by Law.

Are also determined by law: the judiciary power held by the monastic authorities and by the Holy Community, as well as the fiscal and customs prerogatives of Mount Athos.

Pierre Gay, 14 November 1998

Use of flags

According to Greek official sources, there is no official flag for the Republic, but Byzantine and Ecclesiastic flag are used by the monks. I have seen some photos of a flag that is yellow with a black eagle. The double-headed eagle is crowned. In some photos there is an inscription below.

Jaume Ollé, 16 November 1998

The territory is a conglomeration of several monasteries, belonging to different national Orthodox churches, quite often as it is case, in rather hard discussions one against other. There should be, beside Greek Orthodox Church monasteries, also Russian, Serbian, Bulgarian and others monasteries, quite independant from one another.
If I remember correctly, quite recently the young Macedonian Orthodox Church also gained right of maintaining monastery there, with much opposition from the Serbian Church.
In a news article recently I read that there is a small group of monks there who try to introduce Croatian Orthodox Church. Such a church was established during the Second World War, and was even recognized by several other Orthodox churches, but disembodied after the War.

Each of the Churches has its own flag, which is often quite similar to the national flag. The Serbian Orthodox Church would use its own flag. I much doubt that there is a common flag, and if it is it would be the flag of the patriarchate of Constantinople. Double-headed eagle would not surprise me.

Željko Heimer, 16 November 1998

Ships sailing around the coast of mount Athos fly both the Greek flag and the flag of the Greek Orthodox Church [i.e. the Byzantine Imperial Flag].
Ships sailing from Ouranopoulos to the harbour of the Monk's Republic fly only the flag of the Greek Orthodox Church [i.e. the Byzantine Imperial Flag].

Thomas Becker, 20 May 2002


Meteora is an area with huge cliffs. It is located west of Larissa in Central Greece (Thessaly) near the town of Calambaka. There are a number of monasteries of the cliffs and a James Bond movie (For Your Eyes Only, 1981 I believe) was shot there in part.
It is not even an autonomous area (like Mount Athos) but simply a "specially protected area" although most people are not quite sure what this means, since it's a recent invention.
There is no specific flag for the area.

Yannis Natsinas, 13 September 1999