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Biography of His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew

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"There is a great hunger for spirituality; there is a thirst for transcendent meaning...and there has never been a greater need for spiritual leaders to engage themselves in the affairs of the world."



His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew is the 270th successor to the Apostle Andrew and spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide. Since ascending the Ecumenical Throne on November 2nd, 1991, he has tirelessly pursued the vision of his enthronement message spiritual revival, Orthodox unity, Christian reconciliation, interfaith tolerance and coexistence, protection of the environment and a world united in peace, justice, solidarity and love.

As Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew has helped the Church to expand on many fronts. Through dialogue and visitations, he has greatly advanced Orthodox relations with the Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists and others. His All Holiness has taken a highly active role in post communist Eastern Europe by strengthening contacts and relations with various Orthodox national churches and through direct visits to several Orthodox nations, including Russia.
Known in Europe as the "Green Patriarch," Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has taken the lead among all religious leaders in his concern for the environment. His All Holiness has initiated seminars and dialogues to discuss the need for the mobilization of moral and spiritual forces to achieve harmony between humanity and nature.

Patriarch Bartholomew Portrait
His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

As the leader of the Orthodox Christian Church, His All Holiness represents the voice and concerns of a long-suffering, but fast growing faith. Orthodox Churches are gaining adherents across the globe, but particularly in the developed world, where individuals are turning to Orthodoxy in record numbers because they are finding in it the simple peace, love, and salvation they have been seeking.

Orthodox Christianity is also resurgent in newly freed countries where some of the worst religious persecution in history occurred in recent times. In the first decades of this century, whole Orthodox populations were extinguished from native lands they had known for centuries. Soon after his enthronement in 1991, the Ecumenical Patriarch journeyed throughout the Orthodox world bringing a message of restoration and renewed hope. He is a living witness to the world of Orthodoxy's painful and redemptive struggle for religious freedom and the innate dignity of mankind.

As a citizen of Turkey, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew's personal experience provides him a unique perspective on the continuing dialogue between the Christian and Islamic worlds. He has made a valuable contribution to global conflict resolution and peace building, as in the case of the former Yugoslavia. The Ecumenical Patriarch has worked persistently to advance reconciliation among Catholic, Muslim, Jewish and Orthodox communities in the region and around the world.

His All Holiness is profoundly committed to expressing the religious importance of protecting and preserving the environment. He has received Prince Philip, and with him sponsored a conference on the Environment at the Theological School of Halki. He has established the first day of September as an occasion of an annual Message on the protection of creation, as well as establishing that same day as a day of prayer in the Ecumenical Patriarchate and throughout the Orthodox world.

His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew was born February 29,1940, in the village of Aghioi Theodoroi on the Aegean island of Imvros (Turkey), to Christos and Meropi Archontonis who christened him Demetrios. His father was a barber and coffee shop owner.

Following his studies at Imvros and Constantinople, he enrolled at the renowned Theological School of Halki, graduating with high honors in 1961. He was immediately ordained to the Holy Diaconate on August 13, 1961 at the Metropolitan Cathedral of Imvros by his Elder, the then Metropolitan of Imvros and Tenedos and later Metropolitan of Eliopolis and Chalcedon, Meliton. He was given the name Bartholomew. From 1961 through 1963 he fulfilled his military obligation as an officer in the Turkish army reserve.

Patriarch and baby

From 1963-68, he pursued postgraduate studies, on scholarship from the Ecumenical Patriarchate, at the Pontifical Oriental Institute of the Gregorian University in Rome. He received his doctorate in Canon Law having submitted his dissertation: "Concerning the Codification of the Sacred Canons and Canonical Regulations in the Orthodox Church". He pursued further studies at the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey, Switzerland and the University of Munich, specializing in ecclesiastical law. He is fluent in seven languages- Greek, English, Turkish, Italian, Latin, French and German. He has published many articles and is a founding member of the "Society for Justice for Eastern Churches" of which he has served as vice president.

When he returned to Constantinople in 1968, he was appointed assistant dean of the Sacred Theological School of Halki and, on October 19,1969, was ordained to the Holy Priesthood by his spiritual father. Six months later, His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras elevated Father Bartholomew to the office of Archimandrite in the Patriarchal Chapel of St. Andrew.

When Dimitrios was elected Ecumenical Patriarch in 1972, he established his Patriarchal Office and named the young Archimandrite Bartholomew as its director. On Christmas Day, 1973, Father Bartholomew was consecrated a bishop and named Metropolitan of Philadelphia (of Asia Minor). He remained as head of the Personal Patriarchal Office until his enthronement as the Metropolitan of Chalcedon on January 14,1990. In July 1990, he accompanied Patriarch Dimitrios on his historic 27 day visit to the United States as his chief advisor and administrator.

In January 1991, Metropolitan Bartholomew headed the Orthodox delegation at the Seventh General Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Canberra, Australia. At this meeting, he took a leading role in framing Orthodox objections that the World Council was departing theologically from essential Orthodox beliefs. But unlike some other Orthodox churchmen, he has been a strong advocate of maintaining extended contacts with other churches. Since 1975, he has been a member of the WCC Faith and Order Commission and held the position of vice president for eight years.

For 19 years, he faithfully stood by the late Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios as one of his closest confidants. He assisted him in every facet of his patriarchal ministry and consequently won, from very early, the late Patriarch's undivided love and esteem. On October 22, 1991, His All Holiness was unanimously elected by the grace of God, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch, following the death of Patriarch Dimitrios on October 2nd, 1991.

Upon completing his first year on the Ecumenical Throne, His All Holiness began his official visits abroad with Mt. Athos and the Church of Crete in 1992. In 1993 he visited St. Catherine's Monastery on Mt. Sinai, the Patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch, Russia, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria, the Lutheran Church of Sweden, the Orthodox Archdiocese of Sweden and Scandinavia, the Roman Catholic and Evangelical Churches of Germany and the Orthodox Archdiocese of Germany.

In May 1993, the Ecumenical Patriarch was invited to Brussels to meet with Jacques Delors, President of the Commission of the European Union and in 1994 he was invited to speak at the plenary session of the European Parliament. Later that year, he addressed the 6th General Assembly of the World Conference on Religion and Peace in Riva del Garda, Italy.

During 1995 he visited His Beatitude the Patriarch of the Ethiopian Church and the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem. On this visit he was received by the major political figures of the State of Israel, Ezer Weizman and Yitzhak Rabin as well as PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat. Other official visits were made to the Orthodox Church of Finland, the 1000th anniversary of Christianity in Norway, international and interreligious Ecological Summits in Japan and England and the Orthodox Mission of Korea. Also, France, where he met with President Jacques Chirac, the Orthodox Archdiocese of France, all the Roman Catholic hierarchs gathered in Lourdes and was invited to speak to the plenary session of U.N.E.S.C.O.

Patriarch Blessing

 

From June 27-30, 1995, he visited His Holiness Pope John Paul ll and the Church of Rome during their Patronal Feast at which time he announced the decision of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to continue fraternal communication and cooperation with the Roman Catholic Church.

In September, 1995, he presided over the celebrations on Patmos on the 1900th anniversary since the recording of the Apocalypse of St. John. On this occasion he convoked 1) the Sacred Assembly of the Heads of the Orthodox Churches, which circulated a message to all the world, 2) an international environmental symposium with an emphasis on the oceans, and 3) an international scientific meeting on the Sacred Book of Revelation.

In December 1995 he paid a reciprocal visit to the Archbishop of Canterbury as well as the Orthodox Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain. Following, he visited Switzerland and the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the International Committee of the Olympic Games, where he proposed the revitalization of the Balkan Olympic Games, and the Center of European Research in Lausanne. In late 1996 he visited the distant eparchies of Australia and New Zealand.

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.

Patriarch in New york

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 12th of 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.”

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew 's roles as the primary spiritual leader of the Orthodox Christian world and a transitional figure of global significance continue to become more vital with each passing day. These, together with his inspiring efforts on behalf of religious freedom and human rights, number him among the world's foremost apostles of love, peace and reconciliation for humanity.