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Gerontism, also Gerontismos or System of the Elders ((Greek)

Γεροντισμός),  was a system of Synodal reform within the Ecumenical Patriarchate during the Ottoman empire, whereby senior Hierarchs ("Elders") were given responsibility for the administration of the Patriarchate, in cooperation with the Patriarch. The system was fomally established in the middle of the eighteenth century from 1767, and remained in force for about a century until 1860, when it was abolished.


The System of Elders (Gerontismos) had been introduced in the administration of the Greek Church in the year 1741, when Metropolitan Gerasimos of Heraclea obtained a Firman (decree) from Ottoman officials, regulating and subordinating the election of the Patriarch of Constantinople to the five Metropolitans, called 'Gerontes' or Elders, of: Heraclea, Cyzicus (Kyzikos), Nicomedia, Nicaea, and Chalcedon.[1] Indeed, the Ottoman authority approved of the Synodal reform, which led to this system of Gerontismos under which the Church was governed down to the second half of the 19th c.

The system traced its origin back to the Byzantine period, when High Clergy Officials were divided between the egritoi (εγκριτοι - preeminent) and the parepidimountes (παρεπιδημούντες - sojourners), a line of demarcation traced among the clergy officials whose dioceses were located near the capital and the others who happened to be in the capital at the day of the Synod. That is, the latter were prelates whose chairs were a far distance away from the center of decision-making. Similarly, under the system of Gerondismos, the egritoi, which were evolved to the Gerondes, became, by the middle of the 18th century, the chief influences with respect to the election of the Patriarch; and at the same time, assumed the most important part in the administration of the Church.[2]

In 1767, during the first period of the tenure of Patriarch Samuel I Chatzeres as Patriarch, the Metropolitans of the dioceses that were near Constantinople formally established themselves as an ecclesiastical oligarchy and became responsible for the administration of the patriarchate in cooperation with the Patriarch. These Metropolitans were from the dioceses that were in close proximity to Constantinople and had the possibility of maintaining a permanent presence there in the capital.[3] Initially, the members of the group included the hierarchs of Heraclea, Chalcedon, Nicomedia, Cyzicus, and Nicaea; later on, the Metropolitans of Derkoi, Ephesus, and Caesarea were also added.

Gerontism provided improved administrative competence within the patriarchate, as the gerontes' lengthy presence and experience in Constantinople provided experience in the management of eventual crises. However on the other hand, the Elders would often impose on the patriarch their own decisions and could even cause his dethronement. Also, the system was a source of financial and other abuse, including undermining the patriarch's status and autonomy.[3]

The system of gerontism was abolished after the adoption of the "General" or "National Regulations" by the National Assembly of the Orthodox millet that was held in Constantinople from 1858 to 1860 in accordance with the imperial decree Hatt-ı Hümayun of 1856 that among other provisions provided for the reorganization of the ethnic-religious communities of the Ottoman Empire.[3]


  1. Theodore H. Papadopoulos. Studies and Documents Relating to the History of the Greek Church and People Under Turkish Domination. 2nd ed. Variorum, Hampshire, Great Britain, 1990. p.51.
  2. Dr. Maria Tsikaloudaki. The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Tanzimat Reforms: The National Regulations of 1860. Paper presented at the Conference: The Greek Orthodox Church in the Modern Era. Program of Modern Hellenic Studies, Haifa University, 2004. pp.6-7.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Diocese of Nicaea (Οttoman period). Encyclopedia of the Hellenic World, Asia Minor. Retreived: 2013-01-30.

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