Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Locked Gate, Ecumenical Patriarchate

Visiting the Ecumenical Patriarchate, in the Phanar region of modern day Istanbul, ones sees a curious thing, i.e. a locked gate. In order to enter the premises, everyone needs to enter a side gate and not the main entrance, which has been closed since 1821. This has to do with the murder of Patriarch Gregory V, who was hung there by the Ottomans, in 1821.

Gregory V of Constantinople was the 234th Patriarch of Constantinople. He served as Ecumenical Patriarch for three separate periods (1797-1798, 1806-1808 and 1818-1821). He was martyred in 1821 during the Greet War of Independence. He was later glorified as a saint by the Church of Greece in 1921 whilst also being commemorated as an Ethnomartyr. He is remembered on April 10.
Why was he murdered? The problem began in his third reign, where he became Patriarch during a crucial and tense time, in respect to the Greek struggle for Independence. In 1818, Gregory became a member of the Filiki Eteria that was preparing the revolution against the Ottoman Empire. When Alexander Ypsilantis crossed the Prut River, starting the Greek revolution, Gregory felt it necessary to excommunicate him to protect the Greek of Constantinople from reprisals by the Ottoman Turks. The reprisals did come during Holy Week in April 1821. During the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, on the night of Easter (April 10), Gregory was arrested and, by order of Sultan Mahmud II, hanged on the front gate of the Patriarchate, still wearing his full Patriarchal vestments. The gate has been closed, locked and not used since.

After hanging for three days and being mocked by the passing crowds, his body was taken down and given to a group of Jews who dragged it through the streets of Constantinople before throwing it into the Bosporus. The accounts differ, on whether the Jews who did this were forced or volunteered, but the tale spread widely, leading to several bloody reprisal attacks in Southern Greece by the Greek rebels, who regarded the Jews as collaborators of the Ottomans. Eventually, the Patriarch’s body was recovered from the sea by a Greek sailor, Nikolaos Sklavos, and sent to Odessa, then to Southern Russia, where it was buried with honours at the Church of the Holy Trinity. Later, his relics were enshrined in the Metropolitan Cathedral in Athens.    

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