Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, a modern apostle of peace and love, is the head of the world’s second largest and oldest Christian faith community. Based in a Moslem country on the fault-line between East and West, Christianity and Islam, the developed and developing worlds, His All Holiness is, by tradition, the 270th successor to an actual apostle of Jesus Christ, St Andrew, the first-called apostle and brother of St. Peter.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate has existed in what was known as Asia Minor, modern-day Turkey, since the fourth century A.D. when Emperor Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire to Constantinople (now Istanbul), a city that he built.
His All Holiness Bartholomew has led the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians for 13 years, quietly bringing together major religious leaders and intervening in wars and conflicts and the environmental crisis.
His All Holiness has studied for advanced degrees in Rome and in Germany and is fluent in seven languages – Greek, Turkish, English, Latin, Italian, French and German.
World Spiritual Leader
Secretary General Kofi Annan has honored His All Holiness at the United Nations and Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton at the White House. In 1997, when welcomed by President Clinton and Secretary of States Madeleine Albright, His All Holiness was awarded the prestigious Gold Medal of the U.S. Congress that had previously been given to President George Washington, and, in recent times, to Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela.
In December of 2001, within a few months of the tragedy of September 11, His All Holiness organized a major interfaith conference in Brussels, co-sponsored by the President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi. The Brussels Declaration restated his long-held belief: “War in the name of religion is war against religion,” and that it is the will of God for peace to prevail in the world.
His All Holiness has led major leaders from Judaism, Christianity, and Islam at the conference table to condemn the abuse of religion to justify acts of violence and called for the separation of political from religious activism.
He has bridged gaps in understanding around the world. With His
Holiness Pope John Paul II, he has made progress toward reconciliation of the Orthodox and Catholic Churches.
His All Holiness has served as a president of the World Council of Churches, which includes most Protestant and Orthodox Churches and has met with the World Jewish Congress and visited Israel where there are many Orthodox Christians.
In the 1990s, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew convened a long line of other conferences and interventions to promote peace and interfaith cooperation, addressing crises in Bosnia and Kosovo and bringing together religious leaders from the major faiths and heads of government in Berne, Switzerland and Istanbul where both the Berne Declaration and the Bosphorus Declaration, respectively, also condemned violence in the name of religion.
His All Holiness has traveled to the Moslem countries of Bahrain in 2000 and, in 2002 and 2003, visited Iran, Qatar, Azerbaijan and Libya. His All Holiness also visited Georgia and Armenia, and at the beginning of 2004. made a historic trip to Cuba, the first of an Ecumenical Patriarch to Latin America.
Also in 2002, His All Holiness met with President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell at the White House and State Department, respectively, where the tireless efforts of His All Holiness on behalf of world peace and cooperation were acknowledged.
On that same trip, His All Holiness awarded former President George H.W. Bush and former First Lady Barbara Bush the Patriarch Athenagoras Human Rights Award of the Order of Saint Andrew Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in America at a banquet in New York City.
While in New York His All Holiness officiated at the six-month memorial service for the victims of September 11 at ground zero, at St. Barbara Greek Orthodox Church, and at the site of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, destroyed with the World Trade Towers.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has addressed the environmental crisis of our day through seminars and symposia on the seas, studying the degradation of the Black Sea, the Danube River, and Adriatic and Baltic Seas.
Known as the “Green Patriarch”, the environmental initiatives of the Ecumenical Patriarch have been acknowledged for a decade in Europe and on this side of the Atlantic by Vice President Al Gore and Scenic Hudson in 2000, which honored him with the international visionary award for environmental achievement at ceremonies in New York City.
In Europe, the Sophie Foundation of Norway awarded Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew the prestigious Sophie Prize for pioneering efforts is linking faith to the environment and the Binding Institute of Liechtenstein for efforts toward protection of nature. His All Holiness contributed the prize monies to UNICEF for the destitute children of Africa, to the street children of Athens and Istanbul, and to organizations supporting ecological activities.
Concerning the environment, His All Holiness 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.”
World Church Leader
The head of the Orthodox Church worldwide, the Ecumenical Patriarch’s full title is Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch. When Constantinople became the seat of the Roman Empire, all the principle teachings of Christianity were put down in seven ecumenical councils held in or near the great imperial city, the principle doctrine being the Nicene Creed set down in 325 A.D.
The Orthodox Church is the oldest Christian Church in the world. The one undivided Christian Church split in 1054 A.D. when the Roman Catholic Church separated from the Great Church of Christ in Constantinople.
With the split, the head of the Roman Catholic Church, the Pope grew very powerful in the “West” and the teachings of the so-called “Western Church” began to deviate from the basic teachings and practices set down in the great councils.
The Ecumenical Patriarch remained the acknowledged head of the church in the so-called “East”, including Greece, the Balkans, Asia Minor, Russia and Eastern Europe, parts of the Middle East and in Asia.
The Ecumenical Patriarch maintained this uninterrupted role even though Constantinople fell to the Moslem Turks in 1453 A.D. and the Great Church of Christ became a “Church in Captivity” for more than 500 years.
With the fall of the Ottoman Empire in the early Twentieth Century, the Ecumenical Patriarch regained some of his freedoms. Meanwhile, millions of Orthodox Christians were to face death and persecution under communist rule in Russia and Eastern Europe and would come to know freedom only some twenty years ago, in the 1990s.
Today, the Ecumenical Patriarch is acknowledged as the canonical head or spiritual leader of a worldwide Orthodox Church that still holds to the original and basic teachings and practices of undivided Christianity, hence the name “Orthodox”, meaning right worship and, by derivation, right thinking.
The Holy Orthodox Church can no longer be said to exist only in the traditional “East”, for now it has millions of followers in North and South America, Central America and the Caribbean, as well as in Asia, Australia, New Zealand and Oceania.
To give canonical expression to this reality, His All Holiness Bartholomew recently changed the composition of the 12-member Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to include six hierarchs from the Churches in countries outside of Constantinople, among them being the United States, Great Britain, Finland and New Zealand.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew convened for the first time in modern history the Primates of all the world’s Orthodox Churches with the goal of a Pan-Orthodox Synod and a true expression of unity, as well as the first ever World Clergy-Laity meeting of all Greek Orthodox Churches under his jurisdiction.
Orthodoxy is also growing in Western Europe. The benefits of the canonical, as well as spiritual leadership of the Ecumenical Patriarch in the “Diaspora”, or overseas Greek Orthodox communities, in these places have been dramatic in manifold ways.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has shown the world that true Church leadership is the spiritual leadership of service, passionate advocacy of peace and justice and human rights and concern for the environment, for all of God’s creation and creatures, for the cosmos.