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Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate

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Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate

Autocephalous Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate
Bağımsız Türk Ortodoks Patrikhanesi

Founder Papa Eftim I
Independence 1924
Recognition Unrecognized by other orthodox churches
Primate Papa Eftim IV
Headquarters Istanbul
Territory Turkey
Possessions n/a
Language Turkish
Adherents Disputed, 4 - 161[1]
Website n/a

The Autocephalous Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate (Turkish: ), also referred to as the Turkish Orthodox Church (Turkish: ), is an unrecognised Orthodox Christian denomination, with strong influences from Turkish nationalist ideology.

General Congregation of the Anatolian Turkish Orthodox

Main article: General Congregation of the Anatolian Turkish Orthodox

The start of the Patriarchate can be traced to the Greco-Turkish War. In 1922 a pro-Turkish Orthodox group, the General Congregation of the Anatolian Turkish Orthodox (Umum Anadolu Türk Ortodoksları Cemaatleri) was set up with the support from the Orthodox Bishop of Havza, as well as a number of other congregations[2] representing a genuine movement among those among the Turkish-speaking, Orthodox Christian Karamanlides population of Anatolia[3] who wished to remain both Orthodox and Turkish.[4] There were calls to establish a new Patriarchate with Turkish as the language of worship.[5]


On 15 September 1922 the Autocephalous Orthodox Patriarchate of Anatolia was founded in Kayseri by Pavlos Karahisarithis a supporter of the General Congregation of the Anatolian Turkish Orthodox.[3] He was supported by 72 other Orthodox clerics.[6]

The same year, his supporters, with his tacit support assaulted Patriarch Meletius IV of Constantinople on 1 June 1923.[7]

On 2 October 1923 Papa Eftim besieged the Holy Synod and appointed his own Synod. When Eftim invaded the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate he proclaimed himself "the general representative of all the Orthodox communities" (Bütün Ortodoks Ceemaatleri Vekil-i Umumisi).

With a new Ecumenical Patriarch Gregory VII elected on 6 December 1923 after the abdication of Meletius IV, there was another occupation by Papa Eftim I and his followers, when he besieged the Patriarchate for the second time. This time around, they were evicted by the Turkish police.[8]

In 1924, Karahisarithis started to conduct the liturgy in Turkish, and quickly won support from the new Turkish Republic formed after the fall of the Ottoman Empire.[9] He claimed that the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople was ethnically centered and favored the Greek population. Being excommunicated for claiming to be a bishop while still having a wife (married bishops are not allowed in Orthodoxy) Karahisarithis, who later changed his name into Zeki Erenerol, called a Turkish ecclesial congress, which elected him Patriarch in 1924.

On 6 June 1924, in a conference in the Church of the Virgin Mary (Meryem Ana) in Galata, it was decided to transfer the headquarters of the Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate from Kayseri to Istanbul. In the same session it was also decided that the Church of Virgin Mary would become the Center of the new Patriarchate of the Turkish Orthodox Church.[3]

Karahisarithis and his family members were exempted from the population exchange as per a decision of the Turkish government,[1] although there was not the exemption for either Karahisarithis' followers or the wider Karamanlides communities of Turkish-speaking Christian that was hoped for.[10] Most of the Turkish-speaking Orthodox population remained affiliated with the Greek Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

Support for Turkish nationalism

Alparslan Türkeş took an interest in the Patriarchate during Eftim I rule. Türkeş would later establish the "Cumhuriyetçi Köylü Millet Partisi" (Republican Peasant and Nation Party, which evolved to become the Nationalist Movement Party). Türkeş was also involved in the post 1960 coup government although this was stymied when he fell out of favour with the government and was sent abroad as a military attache.[11]

In 1962 when Father Eftim fell very ill, his elder son Turgut (birth name Yiorghos) was ordained as Turkish Orthodox patriarch taking the name Papa Eftim II. Eftim I survived with failing health until 1968 when he died. Eftim II died in 1991 and Karahisarithis' younger son, Selçuk Erenerol, became the new patriarch taking the title Papa Eftim III, renounced office protest over growing links between the Turkish state and the Greek Patriarch of Istanbul and Turkish attempts to join the European Union.[9]

Attempts of integrating the Gagauz to the church

There have been a number of attempts from the 1930s into the 21st century to tie the Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate with the ethnically Turkish, Greek Orthodox Gagauz minority in Bessarabia.[11]

In the 1930s, attempts were made to integrate the adherents to the church by Gagauz Christians within Turkey as a congregation for the church. Hamdullah Suphi Tanriöver, Turkish ambassador to Romania tried to attract a number of communities in Gagauzia and Bessarabia regions, at the time integrated with Romania, presently part of the republic of Moldova. Gagauz, Christian Orthodox people spoke a Turkish dialect known as Gagauzo, written using the Greek alphabet. In spite of the similarities with the Karamanlides, Greek Orthodox, Turkish-speaking people native to the Karaman and Cappadocia regions of Anatolia in Turkey. Tanriöver's plans were to establish Gagauz communities in the Turkish region of Marmara, such that these communities would be attached to Autocephalous Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate founded by Eftim I. In 1935, about 70 Gagauz took the offer of the Turkish diplomat and settled down in Turkey. The new immigrants facing a lot of hardship finally converted to Islam. Eftim I was furious sending a letter to the diplomat Hamdullah Suphi Tanriöver, in which asked: "Where are my 70 devotees?" His failure to conserve the Gagauz Christians and to reintegrate them within his church was a great source of deception for him. With the onslaught of the Second World War, plans were put on hold and no further Gagauz were offered to join the church.

The plans of incorporating the Gagauz within the Turkish Orthodox Church resurfaced after the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. The Turkish government proposed to Stepan Topal, President of the independent region of Gagauzia, to tie the Gagauz Christians, numbering according to estimates to up to 120,000 Christians to the Autocephalous Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate. Stephan Topal visited Turkey in 1994 and met with Papa Eftim III and eventually 100 families accompanied by 4 priests came to Istanbul to be possibly part of the Turkish Orthodox Church community. Nevertheless, the Gagauz leaders reconsidered their plans preferring to stay committed through bonds to the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate instead. Author Mustafa Ekincikli says if the plan had succeeded, the Gagauz would truly establish a valid Turkish Orthodox Church community.

During the 8th Friendship, Brotherhood and Cooperation Congress of Turkish States and Communities held 24–26 March 2000, calls were made particularly to the Gagauz, but also to Moldavian Orthodox Christian communities of Turkish origin in general to consider joining the Turkish Orthodox Church, but this plan was never realized. The efforts of Eftim III however were recognized by the ultranationalist Turkish movement as a valid attempt to reunite Turkic nations with their origin.

Links to the Ergenekon affair

On 22 January 2008, Sevgi Erenerol, the granddaughter of Papa Eftim I the founder of the church, and the daughter of Papa Eftim III and the sister of the current primate Papa Eftim IV was arrested for alleged links with a Turkish nationalist underground organisation named Ergenekon. At the time of her arrest, she was the spokeswoman for the Patriarchate. It was also alleged that the Patriarchate served as headquarters for the organisation. Sevgi Erenerol was well-known for her nationalist activities and antagonism to the Ecumenical Greek Patriarchate and the Armenian Apostolic Church. During the time of Alparslan Türkeş, she had run as a parliamentary candidate for the MHP, the political arm of the Grey Wolves .[12]

On August 5, 2013, Sevgi Erenerol was found guilty of involvement in the Ergenikon conspiracy and sentenced for life imprisonment.[13][14]

List of Patriarchs of the Turkish Orthodox Church

  • Papa Eftim I (1923–1962) - Born name Pavlos Karahisarithis, later changed to Zeki Erenerol. He resigned for health reasons. Papa Eftim I, was awarded the "Medal of Independence", the highest decoration of the Republic of Turkey.[15] He died on 14 March 1968.
  • Papa Eftim II (1962–1991) - Born name Yiorghos Karahisarithis, later changed to Turgut Erenerol, elder son of Papa Eftim I. Died on 9 May 1991
  • Papa Eftim III (1991–2002) - Selçuk Erenerol, younger son of Papa Eftim I. Resigned after political disagreements with the Turkish government over growing links between the Turkish authorities and the Greek Ecumenical Patriarch and the Turkish process of accession to the European Union. He died on 20 December 2002 just weeks after his resignation.
  • Papa Eftim IV (2002- ) - Paşa Ümit Erenerol, grandson of Papa Eftim I and son of Papa Eftim III.

Churches and congregation

A number of churches have been seized from the Greek Orthodox Christians in Istanbul over the years, all in Karaköy (Galata) area of Istanbul and the environs.[15] The Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarchate, the original owners of the churches has never recognized the usurpations and continue demanding the restitution of the temples to their jurisdiction.[16] These churches have included:

  • The Church of the Virgin Mary (Meryem Ana) in Karaköy, which is now the headquarters of the Patriarchate. From 2008 no religious services are held. Built in 1583 by Tryfon Karabeinikov, it is also popularly known as Santa Maria de Kaffa (Panagia Kaphatiani) because it was founded by the Greek community of Kaffa (Crimean Greeks) and is located at 2 Ali Paşa Değirmen Sokağı. The church underwent a number of fires and several reconstructions with the major one in 1840, the date to which the present construction belongs.
  • The Church of Christ (Hristos), had also been seized by the Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate in 1926. The Turkish government finally decided to give back the Hristos Church in Galata in 1947 to the Orthodox Patriarchate, but because of a road enlargement in the area, the church was torn down and the compensation paid for its expropriation was given to the foundation of the Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate.[16]
  • Saint John Chrysostomos Church (Aya Yani) seized after the anti-Greek riots of 1955.[17] Church was built by Tryfon Karabeinikov and is located on 15 Vekilharç Sokağı. After a fire destroyed it in 1696 and replaced by a new one in 1698. Reconstructions were made in 1836 and finally 1853 by architects Matzini and Stamatis Falieros, with the permission of Sultan Abdülmecit I, giving the church the present form. From the 1990s, the church was leased to the Assyrian Church of the East who lacked a temple in Istanbul.
  • The church of Saint Nicholas (Aya Nikola), seized after the anti-Greek riots of 1956[17] The church was built by Tryfon Karabeinikov and is situated on the corner of Hoca Tahsin Sokağı with Mumhane Caddesi. The last reconstruction was realized in 1804. A fire in the 21st century destroyed some parts of the church, rendering it redundant.

Besides these churches, the Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate owns an important number of the commercial premises, an office building and a summer palace. They are run under the name of "Independent Turkish Orthodox Foundation".


The predominant congregation of the church is made up of members of the Erenerol family. The very few who had adhered to the church earlier have defected to more traditional Orthodox churches and the number of followers of the Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate is negligible excluding the Erenerol family, which governs the patriarchate.[18] Potential "patriarchs" would likely be other immediate Erenerol family descendants, like Papa Eftim II's son Timur Erenerol or Papa Eftim III's sister's two sons Ümit and Erkin Kontoğlu.[18]

Turkish Orthodox Church in America

Main article: Turkish Orthodox Church in America

The Turkish Orthodox Church in America was an Old Catholic group of 20 predominantly African American churches in the United States loosely linked to the Patriarchate. It formed in 1966 under Christopher M. Cragg, an African American physician. He changed his name to Archbishop Civet Kristof. It continued to exist throughout the 1970s, but fell away in the early 1980s when Cragg opened a clinic in Chicago.[19]



  • Foti Benlisoy, “Papa Eftim and the Foundation of the Turkish Orthodox Church”, Unpublished master thesis, Boğaziçi University, Istanbul, 2002.
  • Dr. Bestami Sadi Bilgic, , June 15, 2005 (about the Phanar occupation episode).
  • Xavier Luffin, « Le Patriarcat orthodoxe turc », Het Christelijk Oosten, 52, Nimègue, 2000, p. 73-96.
  • Xavier Luffin, « Baba Eftim et l'Église orthodoxe turque - De l'usage politique d'une institution religieuse », Journal of Eastern Christian Studies, Volume 52, issue 1-2, 2000. .
  • Harry J. Psomiades, 2, Thessaloniki, 1961, pp. 47-70.
  • J. Xavier, «An Autocephalus Turkish Orthodox Church», Eastern Church Review, 3 (1970/1971).

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