Eastern Orthodoxy: the five primary Patriarchates

The Levantine Christian Churches are the oldest Christian Communions on earth. They include the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which has existed in one form or another since the time of events described in the Book of Acts. As a distinct branch of Christianity, the East evolved away from the West as Constantinople and the Hellenic heirs to the Roman Empire distanced itself from Rome, the Latins, and their heirs. The final break is often said to have taken place in 1054 CE, when a Papal legate in Constantinople to discuss problems and issues, was moved to place a ban of excommunication upon the altar of Hagia Sophia Cathedral against the Patriarch of that city, but in truth, discord between east ands west predates the 11th century by quite awhile, and attempts at reconciliation have occured for centuries after. It is important to realize that each branch recognized the breach as a species of schism, not heresy - both recognize the validity of the priestly orders and apostolic succession of the other, and, in truth, aside from the somewhat technical theological dispute of the filioque clause in the Creed, the primary basis for continued dissent lies in the fact that the Eastern Patriarchates described below, and their associated national churches, will not recognize the authority of the Western Pope - and the Roman Patriarch will not abandon his claim to merit the full obedience of all Christian churches everywhere.

This file contains: Church of Alexandria, Church of Antioch, Church of Constantinople, Church of Jerusalem, Church of Rome.

In a separate file, the Churches of: Albania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Lands and Slovakia, Georgia, Greece, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, the Orthodox Church in America, and the Autonomous Churches in Finland, Japan, Sinai, Ukraine. Note as well, the emerging but as-yet unsanctioned Church of Macedonia, based at the ancient See of Ohrid.

ALEXANDRIA Modern Iskandariyah, in Egypt. The city, founded by Macedonian occupation in the 4th century BCE, has been of absolutely primary impact to Western culture from the very beginning. Here was the site of the famous Library and museum, and here saw the writing of the modern Pentateuch. See also, Egypt, for temporal authorities. And, see Coptic Popes for a list of those patriarchs.

ANTIOCH The city of Antioch was founded in 300 BCE, as the capital of the Seleucid Empire. Located at the angle of Asia Minor and the Levant, it has been a center of historical process from its inception. For the temporal rulers of the city and region, go here.

CONSTANTINOPLE Although the Christian community here is not the oldest, this Patriarchate comes closest to being the recognized head of the whole Orthodox world, by reason of its association with the Imperial City. It is not the head, as the Pope is the head of the Roman Catholic world; each Orthodox community is autonomous. Nevertheless, these ecclesiastics have wielded an enormous influence among their co-religionists, and to the world at large. For the Imperial succession, go here.

JERUSALEM Perhaps one of the best-known places on earth; the Old City is situated on a bluff overlooking the Valley of the Jordan to the east, a site in continuous human habitation for a minimum of 7000 years. The Christian community in Jerusalem can reasonable make the claim of seniority over all others, since there has been a contiguous Christian presence here since the time of Jesus and his immediate followers. Here is a record of the leaders of that community, at least as it developed into an Orthodox Patriarchate. For the temporal authorities in Jerusalem, go here.

ROME It is perhaps little understood among Western communions that the Eastern Orthodox Churches have always regarded the Roman Patriarchate as being one of the five basic establishments in Christian organization, and assign to Rome pride-of-place as being one of the oldest and most influential among the group. The basis of the differentiation between the Eastern Churches and the Roman Church is one of authority - Rome insists that her seniority gives her dominion over all other communions, and backs up that claim by the New Testament verses in Matthew 16: 15-19, in which Jesus seems to grant to Peter (later the traditional first Bishop of Rome) the right to pronounce what shall be "bound" and what shall be "loosed" (forbidden or permitted) on earth and in Heaven. Because the Roman Church has for most of it's existence been separate from the Eastern Church, it's leadership is to be found in the Roman Catholic section.