I. origins of the Ecumenical Patriarchate
The Great Church of Christ emerged in the area around ancient Byzantium in Asia Minor in the first century of Christianity. Tradition holds that the Apostle Andrew, the first-called disciple of Jesus Christ, ordained the city’s first bishop, as well as bishops in the cities of Nicaea, Chalcedon and Herakleia, also in the region. The Bishop of Byzantium became Archbishop of Constantinople and New Rome sometime after 330 A.D. when the Emperor Constantine transferred the capital of the Roman Empire to Byzantium and renamed it Constantinople – the “New Rome”. Constantine had convened the First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea in 325 A.D., which became the first of seven Ecumenical Councils that would be held under the jurisdiction of the emergent Church of Constantinople and establish the defining Nicaean Creed and the constitutional framework of Christianity accepted today.
The role of the Archbishop of Constantinople and New Rome as Ecumenical Patriarch was further defined in the canons of the Second and Fourth Ecumenical Councils of the undivided Christian Church, held in 381 in Constantinople and in 451 in Chalcedon, respectively. The two Ecumenical Councils recognized the See of Constantinople as a Patriarchate and as the first See of the East. The precise title “Ecumenical Patriarch” or “world-wide father” was formally accorded to the Archbishop of Constantinople by a synod convened in Constantinople in 587 A.D.
II. establishment of the ecumenical patriarchate of constantinople
When the Great Schism occurred in the Christian Church in 1054, polarizing the Church into Eastern and Western entities, the Ecumenical Patriarchate emerged as the world center of the Eastern – or, more appropriately, Orthodox (“right worship” in Greek) Church, referring to its guardianship of the unchanged essential tenets and practices of undivided Christianity. The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople was recognized by other Orthodox hierarchs as primus inter pares – “first among equals”.
Today, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul, Turkey) continues to occupy the first place of honor among al the world’s Orthodox Christian Churches. His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew serves as the spiritual leader and representative worldwide voice of some 300 million Orthodox Christians throughout the world. The spread of the Orthodox Church has made the historical distinctions of East and West irrelevant.
The Ecumenical Patriarch has the historical, canonical and theological responsibility to initiate and coordinate actions among all Orthodox Churches, whether under his jurisdiction, independent or autonomous. This includes assembling and convening councils, facilitating inter-Church and inter-faith dialogue and addressing the issues of the day. His All Holiness’s representative in the United States – or Exarch – is His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, Greek Orthodox Archbishop of America.
III. the Ecumenical Patriarch as Spokesman for Martyrdom and Persecution
Ecumenical Patriarch, His All Holiness Bartholomew, is the voice for the long-suffering Orthodox Christian Church, which has survived some of the most severe religious persecutions the world has witnessed during the past 100 years and among the most unprecedented in Christianity’s 2,000-year history.
Beginning with the twentieth century’s first decades, entire Orthodox Christian populations throughout Southeastern Europe, Asia Minor and Crete were extinguished. Hundreds of bishops, tens of thousands of priests, monks and nuns, and millions of other Orthodox faithful were executed or condemned to slow death in the gulag of Siberia. In addition, World War II brought the genocide of 700,000 Serbian Orthodox by the Nazis and their surrogates. Thousands of Orthodox Christians wearing blue armbands marked with a “P” (for “Pravoslavni” or “Orthodox”) were marched to the death camps side by side with their Jewish neighbors.
After World War II, the Iron Curtain descended upon the Orthodox Church, which continued to be the target of a systematic campaign of repression, destruction and death that encompassed Albania, Bulgaria, Romania and, for a time, even Greece.
IV. the Ecumenical Patriarch as Spokesman for Peace and Reconciliation
The Ecumenical Patriarchate sits at the crossroads of East and West offering it a unique perspective on the world’s religions and cultures. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has fostered dialogue amongst Christianity, Islam and Judaism and has reached out to the Far East. In 1996 he made the first-ever visit of an Ecumenical Patriarch to Hong Kong and established an Orthodox Archdiocese there, the first ever official presence in China since World War II.
With the Vlatadon Initiative, he has made a valuable contribution to reconciliation and peace among the Balkan peoples, as in the case of Bosnia, and with the Serbian Orthodox Church’s Patriarch Pavle, worked to advance cooperation among Catholic, Muslim and Orthodox communities in the former Yugoslavia. He cosponsored the Peace and Tolerance Conference in Istanbul in 1994 bringing together Christians, Muslims and Jews. In following up on an even earlier inter-faith conference in Berne, Switzerland, the conference issues The Bosphorus Declaration, which reiterated, “A crime committed in the name of religion is a crime against religion.” He followed these initiatives with action in the ensuing years, traveling to Bahrain in September 2000 to further promote dialogue.
Since the tragedy of September 11, His All Holiness Bartholomew, has traveled tirelessly, addressing the specter of international terrorism and fostering inter-faith communication and action. At the end of December of 2001, he co-chaired a major inter-faith meeting with the President of the European Commission, Roman Prodi, on “The Peace of God in the World” in Brussels, which drew major religious leaders from Christianity, Islam and Judaism. The conferees signed The Brussels Declaration, which, among other things, stated that “It is the responsibility of religious leaders to prevent religious fervor from being used for purposes that are alien to its role.” Furthermore, it condemned violence, terrorism or ill-treatment of human beings as having no religious justification and contrary to the spirit of peace and justice.
On January 12, 2002, His All Holiness went to Iran and addressed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on “The Contribution of Religion to the Establishment of Peace in the Contemporary World.”
V. the Ecumenical Patriarch as Spokesman for Environmental Concerns
His All Holiness Bartholomew has become so steadfast and persistent a voice concerned with the environmental conference, that he has been called the “Green Patriarch”. In 1994, he convened The Environment and Religious Education Seminar at Halki in Istanbul, the site of the closed Patriarchal Theological School.
Since 1995, he convened three symposia to study the fate of waters, which cover seven-tenths of the earth’s surface, brining together scientists, environmentalists, policy-makers and religious leaders and drawing world attention to the degradation of the Aegean Sea, the Black Sea and the Danube River. In 1997, he also convened The Environment and Ethics Seminar, also on Halki, and an Environment Symposium in Santa Barbara, California.
In 2000, Scenic Hudson honored the Ecumenical Patriarch the International Visionary Award for Environmental Achievement at ceremonies in New York City.
His All Holiness Bartholomew has spoken and written widely on the environmental crisis. As early as 1992, he proposed to the heads of all Orthodox Churches that September 1 of each year be fixed as a special day of prayer for the environment. He has said, “We cannot expect to leave no trace on the environment. However, we must choose either to make it reflect greed and ugliness or to use it in such a way that its beauty shows God’s handiwork through ours.”
VI. the Ecumenical Patriarch as Ecumenical Leader?
Together with His Holiness Pope John Paul II, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has affected unparalleled progress toward reconciliation of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian Churches. He was a member of the Faith and Order Committee of the World Council of Churches for 15 years – eight of which he served as president – and was elected a member of the Executive and Central Committees of the Council.
These, together with his untiring efforts on behalf of religious freedom and human rights, have placed Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew among the world’s foremost apostles of love, peace and reconciliation, and justice for humanity and all of creation.