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St. Andrew's Day: Was there apostolic succession in Constantinople?

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Today is observed by the Eastern Orthodox as St. Andrew’s Day. The day is supposedly based upon the Apostle Andrew of the Bible. Orthodox churches throughout Southern California will be observing it.

Andrew originally was a follower of John the Baptist (John 1:35-40). And after John referred to Jesus as the “Lamb of God” (John 1:35), Andrew left John to follow Jesus (John 1:37), and fairly soon told his brother Simon Peter about Jesus (John 1:40).

Jesus told both Peter and Andrew that He would make them “fishers of men” (Matthew 4:18-19). Andrew, along with Peter, James, and John (the Apostle John) asked Jesus to explain signs of His return and other end time matters (Mark 13:3-4).

The Orthodox tend to believe that Andrew was the first of the original apostles and that he founded their church in Constantinople (in the city now called Istanbul in Turkey) and that they have apostolic succession through Andrew.

The Orthodox Church of Constantinople claims that after Andrew founded it, his successor was Stachys from 38-64 A.D. The official website of that church has stated:

The Apostle Stachys was one of the Seventy Apostles of the Lord. In 38 AD Apostle Andrew appoints him first bishop of the city of Byzantium, which three centuries later will be renamed into Constantinople (The Apostle Stachys. Ecumenical Patriarchate. http://www.ec-patr.gr/list/index.php?lang=en&id=2 3/29/06).

Now, the Bible does not mention Stachys, nor the names of the 70 sent out by Jesus, nor are any group of 70 ever referred to in the Bible as apostles (see Luke 10:1-17). While the Bible does mention many cities in Asia Minor (and the Book of Revelation is address to seven cities in Asia Minor), Byzantium is not specifically mentioned in the Bible.

The information above on Stachys comes from The Synaxarion, which apparently got part of this information from this third century writing of Hippolytus:

Stachys, bishop of Byzantium (Hippolytus. On the Seventy Apostles. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 5. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1886. Online Edition Copyright © 2005 by K. Knight).

I should point out that Hippolytus’ writings do not clearly refer to Stachys as an apostle, simply as a bishop or overseer (the title “On the Seventy Apostles” may be a later addition to the text).

Here is the succession list per the Orthodox Church of Constantinople:

1 St. Andrew the Apostle Founder
2 St. Stachys 38-54
3 Onesimos 54-68
4 Polycarp I 69-89
5 Plutarch 89-105
6 Sedekion 105-114
7 Diogenes 114-129
8 Eleutherios 129-136
9 Felix 136-141
10 Polycarp II 141-144
11 Athenodoros 144-148
12 Euzoios 148-154
13 Laurentios 154-166
14 Alypios 166-169
15 Pertinex 169-187 1
16 Olympianos 187-198
17 Mark I 198-211
18 Philadelphios 211-214
19 Kyriakos I 214-230
20 Kastinos 230-237
21 Eugene I 237-242
22 Titus 242-272
23 Dometian 272-303

(Source: Ecumenical Patriarchate. List of Patriarchs. Apostolic Succession of the Great Church of Christ. http://www.ecupatriarchate.org/ecumenical_patriarchate/patriarchs.php 07/10/07).

It needs to be pointed out that while the Orthodox consider that Polycarp of Smyrna was a saint, he is not one of the two Polycarps in the above list (Polycarp of Smyrna lived in Smyrna, which is quite far from Constantinople, plus he died around 156/157 A.D.). Polycarp of Smyrna also held many positions that differ from those now held by the Orthodox.

Furthermore, it needs to be understood that the bulk of the leadership of the churches in Asia Minor did not become supporters of the Greco-Roman churches after the persecution of Decius (c. 250 A.D).

Notice that Dionysius, bihop of Alexandria reported that “the churches of the East” had been divided (from Rome and Alexandria) prior to this time:

But know now, my brethren, that all the churches throughout the East and beyond, which formerly were divided, have become united. And all the bishops everywhere are of one mind, and rejoice greatly in the peace which has come beyond expectation. Thus Demetrianus in Antioch, Theoctistus in Cæsarea, Mazabanes in Ælia, Marinus in Tyre (Alexander having fallen asleep), Heliodorus in Laodicea (Thelymidres being dead), Helenus in Tarsus, and all the churches of Cilicia, Firmilianus, and all Cappadocia. I have named only the more illustrious bishops, that I may not make my epistle too long and my words too burdensome (Cited in Eusebius. Church History, Book VII, Chapter V, Verse I).

And thus, the late third century churches in Asia Minor were not the same as the churches prior to that time. Thus, none of the later so-called Byzantium “apostolic exarchates” after Decius should be considered to have “apostolic succession”. This a different Asia Minor religion than the one prior to Decius. It did not hold to the same teachings as the prior leaders did–that is why it had not been united with the Greco-Roman Catholics before. But what is interesting to note is that the “Bishop of Byzantium” is not listed in Dionysius’ listing—if the “Bishop of Byzantium” was truly the successor to the Apostle Andrew and was one of the original “Apostolic Sees” (as the Eastern Orthodox Church claim), then why was the “Bishop of Byzantium” missing? Probably because it did not take on significance until some years after Asia Minor became part of the Greco-Roman churches.

Near this time, the apocryphal Acts of Andrew was apparently put together (Comments on The Acts of Andrew. From “The Apocryphal New Testament” M.R. James-Translation and Notes Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1924). Although the Acts of Andrew were condemned by Eusebius (Church History, Book III, Chapter 25, verse 6), it or other late second/third century writings may have been part of the basis for the Orthodox Church ultimately claiming Constantinople (previously called Byzantium and now called Istanbul) as its premier “see” (though its real reason for importance was that the pagan Emperor Constantine declared it to be important).

The truth is that even the Orthodox Church of Constantinople admits the following:

Following the establishment of Constantinople (the ancient city of Byzantium) as the state capital of the Roman Empire in the early part of the fourth century, a series of significant ecclesiastical events saw the status of the Bishop of New Rome (as Constantinople was then called) elevated to its current position and privilege. The Church of Constantinople is traditionally regarded as being founded by St. Andrew, the “first-called” of the Apostles. The 3rd canon of the Second Ecumenical Council held in Constantinople (381) conferred upon the bishop of this city second rank after the Bishop of Rome. Less than a century later, the 28th canon of the Fourth Ecumenical Council held in Chalcedon (451) offered Constantinople equal ranking to Rome and special responsibilities throughout the rest of the world and expanding its jurisdiction to territories hitherto unclaimed. The Ecumenical Patriarchate holds an honorary primacy among the autocephalous, or ecclesiastically independent, Churches. It enjoys the privilege of serving as “first among equals.” (History of The Ecumenical Patriarchate. http://www.ecupatriarchate.org/ecumenical_patriarchate/history_of_the_pa... 07/10/07).

Hence, even the Orthodox Church admits that Constantinople did not have much ranking until the fourth century after it was named Constantinople–which means that this occured because the pagan emperor Constantine (he was not baptised at this point) elevated it. So how can it be “the first among equals”?

In order to justify its supposed early ties, notice what the Official Site of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople states:

The apostolicity of the Throne of Constantinople is also shown from the proven fact that the Apostle and Evangelist John preached in Asia Minor. It was he who addressed his book of the Apocalypse to “the seven churches in Asia”, namely the Churches of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamon, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodecia, which, since the 4th century belong stably to the jurisdiction of the Church of Constantinople (A brief historical note about the Ecumenical Patriarchate–The Apostolic Value of the Church of Constantinople. http://www.ec-patr.org/patrdisplay.php?lang=en&id=5 viewed 11/30/07).

Actually, what the above shows is that there was some type of apostolic succession in Asia Minor beginning with John, but that after Emperor Constantine renamed Byzantium after himself, his influence declared “Constantinople” one of the supposedly five original “apostolic sees”. The truth is that early Byzantium had no important role within Christianity–there were no major leaders there (though Andrew may have passed through it), there were no early Christian writings from there, nor is it even discussed as anything of significance in other writings prior to the third century. Constantinople simply became important to the Orthodox, not because of the apostles, but because of a pagan Emperor and a spurious and apparently fraudulent document known as the Acts of Andrew.

Even the Catholic Encyclopedia teaches that Constantinople did not become important until the fourth century and that it probably did not have any bishops before the third century:

It has quite lately been established that Byzantium received its new name of Constantinople as early as the end of 324 (Centénaire de la société nationale des antiquaires de France, Paris, 1904, p. 281 sqq.). Nevertheless, the solemn inauguration of the new city did not occur until 11 May, 330; only after this date did the Court and Government settle permanently in the new capital. It was soon filled with sumptuous edifices like those of Rome…

A probably reliable tradition makes the Byzantine Church a suffragan of Heraclea in Thrace at the beginning of the third century. In the fifth century we meet with a spurious document attributed to a certain Dorotheus, Bishop of Tyre at the end of the third century, according to which the Church of Byzantium was founded by the Apostle St. Andrew, its first bishop being his disciple Stachys (cf. Romans 16:9). The intention of the forger is plain: in this way the Church of Rome is made inferior to that of Constantinople, St. Andrew having been chosen an Apostle by Jesus before his brother St. Peter, the founder of the Roman Church.

The first historically known Bishop of Byzantium is St. Metrophanes (306-314), though the see had perhaps been occupied during the third century. It was at first subject to the metropolitan authority of Heraclea, and remained so, at least canonically, until 381, when the Second Ecumenical Council (can. iii) gave the Bishop of Constantinople the first place after the Bishop of Rome.

Constantine had chosen this city as the new capital of the Roman Empire, but owing to his wars and the needs of the State, he rarely resided there (Vailhé S. Transcribed by Douglas J. Potter. Constantinople. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IV. Published 1908. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York).

Thus the idea that Constantinople clearly has apostolic succession has been discounted by Catholic scholars (however the current Pope, Benedict XVI, has chosen to ignore the facts of history for “unity’s sake”–he apparently wants control, please see the article Orthodox Must Reject Unity with the Roman Catholics).

Furthermore, it also needs to be understood that the Orthodox Church also has a book called The Synaxarion which contains stories, handed down through some type of tradition, about early church leaders. And it seems to be relied on even if it is not consistent with the biblical account–yet it is often accepted as historical fact within the Orthodox communities.

The Synaxarion seems to have been composed between the ninth and eleventh centuries:

The iconoclast heresy of the eighth and ninth centuries was directed against veneration of saints as well as against their holy images and, in general, opposed the presence of any intermediary between ourselves and God. The Orthodox reacted by attaching even more importance to veneration of the saints. Once the heresy was overthrown, they covered the walls of the churches with icons, were zealous in writing long lives of the heroes of Orthodoxy and completed the calendar and the Church service. The holy hymnographers of the Monastery of the Stoudion, Saint Theodore, Saint Joseph and others, ordered our Church services in the form they have retained ever since. After the sixth ode of the Matins canon, because of the number of hymns, the reading of the lives of the saints of the day was restricted to brief notices, called the Synaxarion, as a vestige of the practice of the first liturgical assemblies. From the ninth to the eleventh century, the compilation of the short notices that appear in the Synaxarion was completed (Hieromonk Makarios of Simonos Petra, Mount Athos. Introduction to The Synaxarion: The Lives of the Saints of the Orthodox Church. From Volume One of The Synaxarion: The Lives of the Saints of the Orthodox Church. Published by the Holy Convent of the Annunciation of Our Lady, Ormylia (Chalkidike, Greece), 1998. From http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/general/synaxarion_intro.aspx 03/31/06).

Since the early church was clearly against idolatry (please see the article What Did the Early Church Teach About Idols and Icons?), and the primary Orthodox church now encourages it, this church in Constantinople cannot be considered to be a church true to the teachings of the apostles. For if Stachys was one of the 70 Jesus appointed, he would not have condoned idolatry if he was faithful. Thus, any claims to physical apostolic succession were made irrelevant by doctrinal and other compromises as this particular church is definitely not the spiritual successor of the apostles.

Furthermore, like all the other cities mentioned in this paper, there is no contemporaneous documentation that there actually was the list of bishops in Constantinople until many decades (in this case over hundred and fifty years) after the alleged succession occurred.

It may be of note to realize that many of the Orthodox in Constantinople used to keep the Sabbath. Notice what the historian Sozomen reported in the mid-5th Century,

The people of Constantinople, and almost everywhere, assemble together on the Sabbath, as well as on the first day of the week, which custom is never observed at Rome or at Alexandria (Sozomen. THE ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY OF SOZOMEN. Comprising a History of the Church, from a.d. 323 to a.d. 425. Book VII, Chapter XIX. Translated from the Greek. Revised by Chester D. Hartranft, Hartford Theological Seminary UNDER THE EDITORIAL SUPERVISION OF PHILIP SCHAFF, D.D., LL.D., AND HENRY WACE, D.D., Professor of Church History in the Union Theological Seminary, New York. Principal of King’s College, London. T&T CLARK, EDINBURGH, circa 1846).

But this is no more (though they have some recognition of it). Another change.

To see the Orthodox buildings of early and modern “Constantinople”, please see Joyce’s Photos of Constantinople.

Perhaps it should be mentioned that the “Church of Greece” was formerly a part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. It was declared autocephalous in 1833 in a political decision of the Bavarian Regents acting for King Otto, who was a minor at the time. It was later only recognized as such by the Patriarchate in 1850, under certain conditions with the issue of a special “Tomos” decree which brought it back to a normal status (Church of Greece. Wikipedia, viewed 01/20/10). Thus, since it was part of Constantinople, it cannot be considered to be a faithful apostolic church.

An Alternate Constantinople List That Was In Place in Late 2006

When I first wrote this portion of the article, the I noticed that the Orthodox Church in Greece claimed a different set of dates in their list of patriarches in Constantinople.

Here was the succession list per the Greek Orthodox Church:

Stachys the Apostle [31 Oct.] 38-54
Onesimus [15 Feb.] 54-68
Polycarp I 71-89
Plutarch 89-105
Sedekion 105-114
Diogenes 114-129
Eleutherius 129-136
Felix 136-141
Polycarp II 141-144
Athenodorus (Athenogenes) 144-148

(Source: Ecumenical Patriarchate. List of Patriarchs. http://www.ec-patr.gr/list/index.php?lang=en 12/11/06).

Furthermore, the Orthodox Church used to admit that from 68-71 A.D. it had no bishop in Byzantium (and as mentioned there is no actual contemporaneous proof that there were any bishops there, and the gap, as will be alluded to before, must have been longer than that):

…3 years where the bishopric of Byzantium had no Bishop…{until} 71 A.D. (Polycarp I. http://www.ec-patr.gr/list/index.php?lang=en&id=4 05/05/06).

Tradition that the Roman Catholic Church seems to accept states:

Onesimus had been martyred at Colossae during the first general persecution in the reign of Nero (Camerlynck A. Transcribed by Thomas M. Barrett. Philemon. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XI. Published 1911. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

Since Nero died in 68 A.D. and his first persecution was no later than 66/67 A.D. and Onesimus is claimed to have been a bishop then, this would seem to contradict the Orthodox listing. There is an Onesimus mentioned in the Epistle to Philemon which was apparently:

…written and despatched at the same time, between A.D. 61-63. Some scholars assign the composition to Caesarea (Acts 23-26: A.D. 59-60) (Ibid).

Since Onesimus was apparently in Rome at this time and had recently been converted by Paul and was a runaway slave (see Philemon vss. 10-16), it does not seem that the Bible allows that he could have been the bishop of Byzantium from 54-68 A.D. Notice when Paul was imprisoned in Rome:

…Paul…captivity at Rome, 60-62 (Paul. Catholic Encyclopedia).

The Orthodox Church specifically claims that their Onesimus is the same one:

Onesimus was a servant of Philemon, who was a man of love and treated his servants with kindness. He was shown to be a bad servant, by taking advantage of his master’s kindness, stealing him, and escaping from Colloseis. He went to Rome, where he was catechised into the Christian faith by apostle Paul, was baptised, and became a man wonderful in virtue…In his letter, he certifies Philemon about the spiritual renewal of his servant and ask him to receive him, no longer as a slave, but as a beloved brother. Apostle Philemon accepted him with joy, but sent him back to Rome in order to serve apostle Paul…After the martyrdom of Paul, Onesimus was also caught, and in the name of the Gospel suffered horrible tortures (Onesimus. Ecumenical Patriarchate. http://www.ec-patr.gr/list/index.php?lang=en&id=3 12/12/06).

But the biblical account is contradicting that claim as this claim simply does not allow the time for Onesimus to have been bishop of Byzantium. Even the Orthodox claim states that Onesimus was a bad servant, went to Rome, was converted there, was sent back to Rome, and died there. Onesimus clearly could not have been a bishop before he was baptised or after he died. Can not the Orthodox see that including Onesimus in their succession list as they do casts grave doubts on any credibility that the early list may have?

Since the bishopric of Onesimus does not even seem possible, the gap then, between Stachys and Polycarp I appears to have been at least 15 years (in the Constantinople list) and 17 years (in the Greek list)–and may have been even longer as there was no contemporaneous proof of either of those individuals having any bishopric that I have ever come across.

Interestingly, perhaps because of my writing this article, the Greek Orthodox seemed to have removed their list. For those of you who are Orthodox and believe that your church does not change, you might wish to think about this.

The Orthodox Church of Constantinople cannot be considered the area of apostolic succession as it does not hold to the original teachings of the apostles like Andrew as those who were faithful in Asia Minor held to many doctrines that Constantinople now denounces. Nor does it have truly contemporaneous proof of its earliest claimed successions. Instead the biblical account and some of its own admissions prove that Onesimus could not have been its third claimed bishop.

And all interested in the documented truth should look more into the location and beliefs of the early faithful church.

Some articles of possibly related interest may include:

Location of the Early Church: Another Look at Ephesus, Smyrna, and Rome What actually happened to the primitive Church? And did the Bible tell about this in advance?
Apostolic Succession What really happened? Did structure and beliefs change? Are many of the widely-held current understandings of this even possible? Did you know that Catholic scholars really do not believe that several of the claimed “apostolic sees” of the Orthodox have apostolic succession–despite the fact that the current pontiff himself seems to wish to ignore this view? Is there actually a true church that has ties to any of the apostles that is not part of the Catholic or Orthodox churches? Read this article if you truly are interested in the truth on this matter!
Early Church History: Who Were the Two Major Groups Professed Christ in the Second and Third Centuries? Did you know that many in the second and third centuries felt that there were two major, and separate, professing Christian groups in the second century, but that those in the majority churches tend to now blend the groups together and claim “saints” from both? “Saints” that condemn some of their current beliefs. Who are the two groups?
Do You Practice Mithraism? Many practices and doctrines that mainstream so-called Christian groups have are the same or similar to those of the sun-god Mithras. Do you follow Mithraism combined with the Bible or original Christianity?
Some Similarities and Differences Between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Living Church of God Both groups claim to be the original church, but both groups have differing ways to claim it. Both groups have some amazing similarities and some major differences. Do you know what they are?
The History of Early Christianity Are you aware that what most people believe is not what truly happened to the true Christian church? Do you know where the early church was based? Do you know what were the doctrines of the early church? Is your faith really based upon the truth or compromise?

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