The Ecumenical Patriarchate is the highest see and
holiest center of the Orthodox Christian Church throughout the world.
It is an institution with a history spanning seventeen centuries, during
which it retained its see in Constantinople (present-day Istanbul). It
constitutes the center of all the local Orthodox Churches, heading these
not by administration but by virtue of its primacy in the ministry of
pan-Orthodox unity and the coordination of the activity of the whole of
The function of the Ecumenical Patriarchate as center
par excellence of the life of the entire Orthodox world emanates from
its centuries-old ministry in the witness, protection and outreach of
the Orthodox faith. The Ecumenical Patriarchate therefore possesses a
supra-national and supra-regional character. From this lofty consciousness
and responsibility for the people of Christ, regardless of race and language,
were born the new regional Churches of the East, from the Caspian to the
Baltic, and from the Balkans to Central Europe. This activity today extends
to the Far East, to America and Australia.
Orthodox Christians on all continents, which do not
fall under the jurisdiction of the autocephalous (independent) or autonomous
(semi-independent) Churches, fall under the direct jurisdiction of the
Ecumenical Patriarchate. The most important of the autocephalous Churches
are the ancient Patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem (together
with the ancient Archdiocese of Mt. Sinai), the Patriarchates of Russia,
Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria and Georgia, as well as the Churches of Cyprus,
Greece, Poland, Albania, and the Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia.
The Autonomous Churches include those of Finland and of Estonia. Consequently,
the Orthodox Churches in Europe, America, Australia and Britain, which
are not under the jurisdiction of the aforementioned autocephalous Churches,
lie within the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. All Orthodox
feel that they are constituents of one essentially spiritual community,
wherein “when one member suffers, so do all.” It is a true
sense of unity in diversity.