Volume III - Church History

Sixth Century

Five Patriarchates

In the sixth century, Constantinople, in the minds of Eastern Christians, was firmly established as the primary see in the Christian pentarchy, even though the see of Rome was still technically considered the “first among equals.” Emperor Justinian called the pentarchy—the great original patriarchates of Constantinople, Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem—the “five senses of the universe.”

Saint John the Faster

The title “ecumenical” was given to all the chief offices in the imperial city. When Saint John the Faster (r. 582–595), the Patriarch of Constantinople, assumed the title of “Ecumenical Patriarch,” the designation was adamantly opposed by Pope Saint Gregory the Great of Rome (r. 590–604) as being extremely arrogant and unbecoming of any Christian bishop, including the bishop of Rome. This is the same Saint Gregory whose name is traditionally connected with the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts which the Orthodox celebrate on the weekdays of Great Lent (see Worship).