Background to the reorganisation of the Theological School of Halki in 1951

The idea about the reorganization of the School function began to concern the Ecumenical Patriarchate more particularly after the end of WWII; although Turkey was not involved in WWII, the country where the centuries-long historic See of the Ecumenical Patriarchate has been situated, it nevertheless influenced it adversely, because of the tough measures the Turkish state imposed on the institution and the people of the Patriarchate. These measures created intolerable conditions with respect to its survival and threatened both with extinction.

The hardship of the War with its destructive results and the social upheaval it caused internationally, badly hurt and caused immeasurable consequences to the local European Orthodox Churches, for there were newly established regimes in the various states of the post-war era that treated these churches and the Orthodox faith and teaching with hostility and as enemies. These regimes, in their frantically violent disposition toward the Church, abolished the religious freedoms, overturned and obliterated the presence of the Church from the life of its people and promulgated, spread and upheld anti-religious, anti-Christian and atheistic ideologies.

These adverse and very dangerous ecclesiastical developments in the Orthodox Patriarchates, the local Orthodox Autocephalous and the Autonomous Churches required the active and immediate support of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in their hard pursuit to protect and uphold their Orthodox faith, safeguard their survival and keep the unity of Orthodoxy, by remaining faithful to the governing rules of its ecclesiastical laws and legitimacy as it was its responsibility and duty, as Mother Church.

This new reality and the ensuing new conditions and demands in the life and activities of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and other sister Orthodox Churches rendered the reorganization of the School most necessary and indispensable for it needed to contribute to this cause through the educated new members and the historically recognized pan-orthodox character of its mission and to rise to the difficult task of leading them in their efforts to face and resolve innumerable and serious problems, which the devastation of WWII had caused in their life.

By good chance, on February 20, 1946, His Eminence Metropolitan Maximos V of Chalcedon ascended to the Patriarchal Throne of Constantinople succeeding the late Patriarch Benjamin I.

His election as Ecumenical Patriarch was greeted with much joy and enthusiasm by all the members of the Church because the new Patriarch was distinguished by his faithful, dedicated and exemplary ministry in the Church, his administrative abilities and deep faith as well as strict adherence to the tradition of the Ecumenical Throne and the ideals of its origin. Most importantly, he was known for his irreproachable moral character as clergyman and high-ranking hierarch2.

Consequently, he was removed by the the Turkish government from the list of electable hierarchs for the Patriarchal office in 1936, when the Patriarchal Throne was vacant due to the death of Elder Patriarch Fotios II. He was exiled to Brusa, by the state authority in the winter of 1943, outside of the prefectural boundaries of Constantinople that was under military rule, and accused as dangerous for the country’s safety and as a dissident with philhellenic and nationalistic sentiments.

The love and gratitude of Maximos of Chalcedon for the Theological School of Halki was unlimited and his care and concern for the normal and seamless function and promotion constant and unremitting. He served as Chairman of the School Board for a series of years and mostly during the critical period 1940 – 1946, when he overturned the intention and dismissed the suggestion of Members of the Board and the Holy Synod calling for the suspension of the function of the School due to great financial difficulties caused by the War and the deprivation of means for its function. Recognising the importance and necessity of the function of the School for the Patriarchate, he secured through personal unconquerable efforts, the important and necessary resources that allowed the School to continue its work3.

Patriarch Maximos reiterated the assurance that the promotion and elevation of his spiritual mother School, would be of primary concern in his Patriarchal ministry, responding to the address of the Board Chairman of the School in his first visit and reception at the Theological School.

Following special meetings with competent Turkish governmental authorities since June 1946 regarding pending issues pertaining to the Patriarchate and the Greek minority of Constantinople - still at its peak despite hard tribulations, - at the decision of the Synod, a Patriarchal and Synodic Committee, comprised of the Synodic hierarchs of Princess Islands and Irinoupolis, Dorotheos and Konstantinos, respectively, went to Ankara twice in May 1947, and met with the Turkish Ministers of the office of the Prime Minister and Education, regarding the reorganisation of the function of the Theological School, laying out to them the reasons why the Patriarchate thought the need for the change in the regulations of the School function were indispensably necessary. These reasons were briefly as follows:

«The Theological School of Halki of the Patriarchate in the Phanar consists of two parts: the first consists of four High School classes, since the beginning of the establishment of the School, namely 104 years ago, making it a complete lyceum, and the second, a special Theological School. During the last years, though, since 1923, the first part began to be viewed by the Turkish Ministry of Education as a middle school, diminishing thus the status of the School as a higher Theological School, at least in the eyes of the state. With today’s progress of the state on all levels, particularly the educational level, the School must be given special attention mostly by the state, because plenty of students from foreign countries come to our country to study here, which constitutes an honour to our country.

On account of these reasons, the Patriarchate asks of the respected government to accept the following requests made regarding the Theological School of Halki, in light of the intention of the Ministry of Education to reinstate the School to the status and form it always held and also be in with the real progress that has taken place in our country in the area of Education:

  1. The first part of the School to be recognized by the Turkish state as a complete Lyceum,
  2. One more class to be added to the existing three of the Theological Department,
  3. Foreign professors to be allowed appointment of employment by the Theological Department,
  4. The teaching of history, geography and sociology to be removed from the Theological Department,
  5. The graduates of the School to have the right to teach in Greek community schools,
  6. The graduates of the School to be facilitated just like their graduate counterparts of official state schools, in the event they opt to go to Europe to continue their education, and,
  7. Turkish consulates in foreign countries to be given the power to allow students who wish to come to study at the Theological School to do so, without the approval of Ankara for each case»4

On August 18, 1947, a Synodal Committee comprised of Metropolitans of Ilioupolis and Irinoupolis, Gennadios and Konstantinos, respectively, went to Ankara for a third time within four months and proceeded with  appropriate actions with the Turkish Government and the Ministry of Education for the promotion and acceptance of the requests made by the Ecumenical Patriarchate regarding the reorganization of the School function, based on all that had been laid out at the previous meetings in the month of May.

The outcome of this new action and the communications that the Synodic Committee had with the relevant governmental agencies was the acceptance of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s requests as mentioned previously and presented above.5

The governmental acceptance and approval of these requests with respect of the reorganization of the School necessitated the draft of a new Regulation for the School, which had to be executed between the representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the School and the relevant officials of the Educational Council of the Turkish Ministry of Education. The reason for this was in order for the requests of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to be included, ensured and explained in detail so that the unhindered implementation and the smooth functioning of the School had to be safeguarded, both during the transitional period from the old to the new status, and in the future.

But the unstable situation at the Patriarchate during that time period, due to the illness of Ecumenical Patriarch Maximos V, and the joint efforts of the governments of Greece and Turkey to support and promote the candidacy of Archbishop Athenagoras of North and South America, as his successor to the Ecumenical Throne, caused a climate of concern and a serious crisis in the circles of the Hierarchy in the Phanar, which was reacting negatively to his candidacy, and unfortunately led to the suspension of the communication between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Ministry of Education regarding the draft of the new Regulation of the function of the School and its immediate application.

Emlllanos of Phlladelphia. Μάξιμος ὁ Ε’ καί αἱ προσδοκίαι τῆς Ἐκκλησίας, Ὀρθοδοξία, vol. 21, 1946, pages 77-79. Chrysostomos of Neocesarea, Μόξιμος ό Ε'
Ibidem pg. 348
Ἱερά Θεολογική Σχολή Χάλκης, Πατριαρχική καί Συνοδική ἀποστολή εἰς Ἄγκυραν, Ὀρθοδοξία, τομ. 22, 1947, σελ. 158, 159.
Ibidem pg. 239.