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Turkish Orthodox Church

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Autocephalous Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate
Bağımsız Türk Ortodoks Patrikhanesi
TypeEastern Orthodox
ClassificationIndependent Eastern Orthodox
PrimatePapa Eftim IV
LiturgyByzantine Rite
HeadquartersMeryem Ana Church, Istanbul
TerritoryTurkey, United States
FounderPapa Eftim I
Origin1922 in Kayseri
RecognitionUnrecognized by other Orthodox churches
Separated fromGreek Orthodox Church (1922)

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

General Congregation of the Anatolian Turkish Orthodox[edit]

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 the Turkish-speaking, Orthodox Christian 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] Pavlos Karahisarithis became the patriarch of this new church, and took the name Papa Eftim I. 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 Cemaatleri 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,[10] although there was not the exemption for either Karahisarithis' followers or the wider communities of Turkish-speaking Christian that was hoped for.[11] Most of the Turkish-speaking Orthodox population remained affiliated with the Greek Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

Support for Turkish nationalism[edit]

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.[12]

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, but he renounced office protesting 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[edit]

There have been a number of attempts from the 1930s into the 21st century to tie the Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate with the ethnically Turkic, Greek Orthodox Gagauz minority in Bessarabia.[12]

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 Greek Orthodox, Turkish-speaking people native to the 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.

A similar project was put into motion in October 2018, when President Erdoğan visited Moldova and toured the Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia.[13]

Links to the Ergenekon affair[edit]

On 22 January 2008, Sevgi Erenerol(tr), 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 .[14]

On August 5, 2013, Sevgi Erenerol was found guilty of involvement in the Ergenikon conspiracy and sentenced to life imprisonment.[15][16] She was released on 12 March 2014.[17]

List of Patriarchs of the Turkish Orthodox Church[edit]

Deputy Patriarch
  • Prokobiyos (1922-1923) - also known as Prokopios Lazaridis and Prokopios of Iconium, was the metropolitan bishop of Konya. He was elected as the deputy patriarch of General Congregation of the Anatolian Turkish Orthodox in 1922.[18] He died in prison on 31 March 1923.[18]
  • Papa Eftim I (1923–1962) - Born name Pavlos Karahisarithis, later changed to Zeki Erenerol. As the founder of the Turkish Orthodox Church, he was awarded the "Medal of Independence", the highest decoration of the Republic of Turkey.[19] Following the death of Prokobiyos, he served as the spiritual leader of the Turkish Orthodox Church until 1926. He was elected as the patriarch in 1926 just after his consecration. He resigned due to health reasons in 1962 and died on 14 March 1968.
  • Papa Eftim II (1962–1991) - Born name Yorgo, 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[citation needed] and the Greek Ecumenical Patriarch and the Turkish process of accession to the European Union.[citation needed] 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. Current primate of the church.


Meryem Ana Church

Today, three churches are owned by Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate and all of them are located in Istanbul. Besides Papa Eftim IV, one priest and three deacons serve the community.

  • Meryem Ana Church in Karaköy, is the headquarters of the Patriarchate. The church is located at Ali Paşa Değirmen St. 2, Karaköy. It was built in 1583 by Tryfon Karabeinikov, and was known as the Panaiya Church (in Greek Pan-Hagia Kaphatiani)[13] because it was founded by the Crimean Orthodox community of Kaffa. 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 community left the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople on March 5, 1924, and adhered to newly found Turkish Orthodox Church.[20] The church's name was changed to Meryem Ana Church (Mother Mary Church) by the Autocephalous Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate in 2006 in honor of Virgin Mary.[13]
  • Aziz Nikola Church (in Greek Hagios Nicholaus)[13] is named after Saint Nicholas and was built by Tryfon Karabeinikov and last reconstruction was done in 1804. The church was seized in 1965 from Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and given to the Autocephalous Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate.[21]A fire in 2003 destroyed some parts of the church, rendering it redundant. The church is located at Necatibey St., Karaköy. The church remains abandoned without use.
  • Aziz Yahya Church (in Greek Hagios Ioannis Prodromos)[13] is named after John the Baptist. It was built by Tryfon Karabeinikov and is located on Vekilharç St. 15, Karaköy. 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. The church was seized in 1965 alongside Aziz Nikola Church from Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and given to the Autocephalous Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate.[21] Starting the 1990s, the church was leased to the Assyrian Church of the East who lacked a church in Istanbul.

In 1924, Eftim I acquired the Hristos Church illegally from the owner, the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Hristos Church was returned to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 1947, after a legal case, only to be confiscated and bulldozed later on for road enlargement. Compensation for the bulldozed church was paid however to the Erenerol family foundation instead of the Eastern Orthodox community.[13]

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".

Turkish Orthodox Church in United States[edit]

The Turkish Orthodox Church in United States 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 was consecrated by Papa Eftim II in 1966 with the name of Civet Kristof. It continued to exist throughout the 1970s, but fell away in the early 1980s when Cragg opened a clinic in Chicago.[22]


  1. Türk Papa, Ümit Doğan, March 2016. ISBN 978-605-4991-33-4 Search this book on .>
  2. Page 152, The last dragoman: the Swedish orientalist Johannes Kolmodin as scholar, Elisabeth Özdalga
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "The Political Role of the Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate (so-called)". Retrieved 21 January 2019.
  4. Abstract of Baba Eftim et l'Église orthodoxe turque, Journal of Eastern Christian Studies
  5. Page 153, The last dragoman: the Swedish orientalist Johannes Kolmodin as scholar, Elisabeth Özdalga
  6. Alexis Alexandridis, "The Greek Minority in Istanbul and Greek-Turkish Relations, 1918-1974." Athens 1992, p. 151. cited by the Spanish Wikipedia
  7. "Ecumenical Patriarchate Under the Turkish Republic". Retrieved 21 January 2019.
  8. "The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and the Turkish-Greek Relations, 1923-1940". Retrieved 21 January 2019.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Leader of Turkish Nationalist Church Dies Archived January 7, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  10. Ayda Kayar and Mustafa Kinali, "Cemaati değil malı olan patrikhane," Hürriyet, January 30, 2008 Script error: The function "in_lang" does not exist.
  11. "Home Page – The TLS". TheTLS. Retrieved 21 January 2019.
  12. 12.0 12.1 The Political Role of the Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate (so-called) by Dr. Racho Donef
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 13.5 Abdullah Bozkurt (5 February 2019). "Turkish intel agency-linked bogus Orthodox church campaigns against ecumenical patriarch". Retrieved 2 June 2020.
  14. "Ergenekon’un karargahı Türk Ortodoks Kilisesi," Milliyet, January 28, 2008 Script error: The function "in_lang" does not exist.
  15. By Gul Tuysuz Talia Kayali and Joe Sterling. "Ex-military chief gets life in Turkish trial". CNN. Retrieved 21 January 2019.
  16. "Bianet: Verdict Issued in Ergenekon Case". Retrieved 21 January 2019.
  17. "Sevgi Erenerol tahliye edildi". CNN Türk (in Türkçe). Retrieved 2020-03-05.
  18. 18.0 18.1 Turkish Orthodox Christians & The Establishment of the Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate, Türk-İslam Medeniyeti Akademik Araştırmalar Dergisi, 2009. vol.8, p.7
  19. "Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy". Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2013-08-27. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  20. Türkiye'de Din İmtiyazları, Ankara University Journal of Faculty of Law. 1953, C.X. p.1
  21. 21.0 21.1 Milliyet. September 25, 1965
  22. Melton, J. Gordon (ed.). The Encyclopedia of American Religions: Vol. 1. Tarrytown, NY: Triumph Books (1991); pg. 135