Bartholomew I (Greek: Πατριάρχης Βαρθολομαῖος Αʹ, Patriarchis Bartholomaios A', Turkish: Patrik I. Bartholomeos; born 29 February 1940) is the 270th and current Archbishop of Constantinople and Ecumenical Patriarch, since 2 November 1991. In accordance with his title, he is regarded as the primus inter pares (first among equals) in the Eastern Orthodox Church, and as the spiritual leader of approximately 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide.
Bartholomew I was born as Dimitrios Arhondonis (Greek: Δημήτριος Αρχοντώνης, Dimítrios Archontónis), in the village of Agios Theodoros on the island of Imbros (later renamed Gökçeada by Turkey). After his graduation, he held a position at the Patriarchal Theological Seminary of Halki, where he was ordained a priest. Later, he served as Metropolitan of Philadelphia and Chalcedon and he became a member of the Holy Synod as well as other committees, prior to his enthronement as Ecumenical Patriarch.
Bartholomew's tenure has been characterized by intra-Orthodox cooperation, intra-Christian and inter-religious dialogue, and formal visits to Roman Catholic, Old Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim leaders seldom previously visited by an Ecumenical Patriarch. He has exchanged numerous invitations with church and state dignitaries. His efforts to promote religious freedom and human rights, his initiatives to advance religious tolerance among the world's religions, as well as his efforts to promote ecology and the protection of the environment, have been widely noted, and these endeavors have earned him the title "The Green Patriarch". Among his many international positions, he currently sits on the Board of World Religious Leaders for the Elijah Interfaith Institute.
Early life and background
Bartholomew I was born in the village of Zeytinliköy (Greek: Άγιος Θεόδωρος, Agios Theodoros) in the island of Imbros (Greek: Ίμβρος, Imvros), son of Christos and Merope Archontónis. His secular birth name is Dimitrios Arhondonis (Δημήτριος Αρχοντώνης, Dimítrios Archontónis). He is a Turkish citizen, but he belongs (ethnically) to the historically indigenous Rum – descendants of Eastern Roman Empire/Byzantine Empire Greek community in Turkey, which today is diminished and reduced due to the Greek genocide, the subsequent population exchange of 1923 between Greece and Turkey and ultimately through the exodus of Greeks post the 1960s Cyprus conflicts.
Dimitrios Archontonis attended elementary school in his native Imvros and continued his secondary education in the famous Zographeion Lyceum in Istanbul. Soon afterwards, he studied Theology as an undergraduate at the Patriarchal Theological school or Halki seminary, from which he graduated with highest honours in 1961, and was immediately ordained deacon, receiving the name Bartholomew. Bartholomew fulfilled his military service in the Turkish army as a non regular officer between 1961 and 1963. From 1963 to 1968, Bartholomew pursued his postgraduate studies at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome, the Ecumenical Institute of Bossey in Switzerland and the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in Germany. His doctoral research was on the Canon Law. The same year he became a lecturer in the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.
After returning to Istanbul in 1968, he took a position at the Patriarchal Theological Seminary of Halki, where he was ordained a priest in 1969, by Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I. When Demetrius I became Ecumenical Patriarch in 1972 and established the Patriarchal Office, he selected Bartholomew as its director. On Christmas of 1973, Bartholomew became Metropolitan of Philadelphia, and was renamed as director of the patriarchal office until his enthronement as Metropolitan of Chalcedon in 1990. From March 1974 until his enthronement as Ecumenical Patriarch, he was a member of the Holy Synod as well as of many Synodical Committees.
He speaks Modern Greek, Turkish, Italian, German, French and English; he is also fluent in classical Greek and Latin.
Bartholomew I was the target of an assassination plot which was planned to take place on May 29, 2013. One suspect was arrested and there is an ongoing search for two others.
Ordinations and ecclesiastical appointments
- 13 August 1961, Diaconate – receiving the ecclesiastical name Bartholomew
- 19 October 1969, Priesthood
- 25 December 1973, The Nativity, Episcopacy – Metropolitan of Philadelphia (Asia Minor)
- 14 January 1990, Enthronement as Metropolitan of Chalcedon
- 22 October 1991, Elected 270th Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch
- 2 November 1991, Enthronement in the Patriarchal Cathedral in the Phanar
As Ecumenical Patriarch, he has been particularly active internationally. One of his first focuses has been on rebuilding the once-persecuted Eastern Orthodox churches of the former Eastern Bloc following the fall of Communism there in 1990. As part of this effort he has worked to strengthen ties among the various national churches and patriarchates of the Eastern Orthodox Church. He has also continued the reconciliation dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church started by his predecessors, and initiated dialogue with other faiths, including other Christian sects, Muslims, and Jews.
He has also gained a reputation as a prominent environmentalist, putting the support of the Ecumenical Patriarchate behind various international environmental causes. This has earned him the nicknames of "the Green Patriarch" and "the Green Pope", and in 2002 he was honored with the Sophie Prize for his contribution to environmentalism. He has also been honoured with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award which may be bestowed by the Legislative Branch of the United States government.
Bartholomew I, after his attempts to celebrate the liturgy in remote areas of Turkey, thereby renewing the Orthodox presence, which was absent since before 1924, has now come under intense pressure from Turkish nationalist elements. The patriarchal Seminary of Halki in the Princes' Islands remains closed since 1971 on government orders.
In an interview published on 19 November 2006 in the daily newspaper Sabah, Bartholomew I addressed the issues of religious freedom and the then upcoming papal trip to Turkey. He also referred to the closing of the Halki seminary by saying: "As Turkish citizens, we pay taxes. We serve in the military. We vote. As citizens we do everything. We want the same rights. But it does not happen... If Muslims want to study theology, there are 24 theology faculties. Where are we going to study?" He also addressed the issue of his Ecumenical title and it not being accepted by the Turkish government: "We've had this title since the 6th century... The word ecumenical has no political content. [...] This title is the only thing that I insist on. I will never renounce this title."
During his trip to Turkey in November 2006, Pope Benedict XVI traveled to Istanbul on the invitation of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I. The Pope participated in the feast day services of St. Andrew the First Apostle, the patron saint of the Church of Constantinople. This was the third official visit to the Ecumenical Patriarchate by a Pope (the first being by Paul VI in 1967, and the second by John Paul II in 1979). He attended the Papal inauguration of Pope Francis on 19 March 2013, paving the way for better Catholic–Orthodox relations. It was the first time that the spiritual head of Eastern Orthodox Christians had attended a papal inauguration since the Great Schism in 1054. After, he invited Pope Francis to travel with him to the Holy Land in 2014 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the embrace between Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI. Pope Francis was also invited to the Patriarchate for the feast day of Saint Andrew (30 November).
Support of refugees, reunification and peace
On 16 April 2016 he visited, together with Pope Francis and Archbishop Hieronymus, the Moria Refugee Camp in the island of Lesbos, to call the attention of the world to the refugee issue. In December 2018, he visited the Korean DMZ and prayed for permanent peace and unification on the Korean Peninsula.
Autocephaly of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine
In October 2018 the synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate agreed to grant autocephaly (independence) to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, to reestablish a stauropegion of the Ecumenical Patriarch in Kiev, to revoke the legal binding of the letter of 1686 which led to the Russian Orthodox Church establishing jurisdiction over the Ukrainian Church, and to lift the excommunications which affected clergy and faithful of two then unrecognized Orthodox churches in Ukraine, the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC) and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kiev Patriarchate (UOC-KP). In response, the Russian Orthodox Church announced it was cutting ties with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which marked the beginning of the 2018 Moscow–Constantinople schism.
On 5 January 2019, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew granted autocephaly to the newly founded Orthodox church of Ukraine.
Possession of Vatican St. Peter Bone Fragments
On 2 July 2019, it was announced that Pope Francis had given Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew possession of nine bone fragments believed to belong to St. Peter and which were publicly displayed by Pope Francis in November 2013 during a Vatican 'Year of Faith' Mass. Bartholomew, who also gained possession of the bronze reliquary which they are displayed in, described the Pope's gesture as "brave and bold."
His Most Divine All Holiness, Bartholomew I, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome, and Ecumenical Patriarch
Η Αυτού Θειοτάτη Παναγιότης ο Αρχιεπίσκοπος Κωνσταντινουπόλεως Νέας Ρώμης και Οικουμενικός Πατριάρχης Βαρθολομαίος Α'
Title recognized by the Republic of Turkey:
Bartholomew I, Patriarch of the Phanar Roman Orthodox Patriarchate in Istanbul
İstanbul Fener Rum Patriği Birinci Bartholomeos
- Gruzinsky: Order of Saint King David the Psalmist by Prince Nugzar Bagration-Gruzinsky of Georgia (27 August 2015) in a private ceremony in the patriarchal palace
- Ukraine: Order of Liberty (27 July 2013) and Order of Merit 1st class (5 January 2019)
- Slovakia: Order of the White Double Cross by President Ivan Gašparovič (27 May 27, 2013)
- House of Mukhrani: Grand Collar of the Order of the Eagle of Georgia (22 October 2011) by Prince David Bagration of Mukhrani at Saint George's chapel.
- Indian Orthodox Church: Order of St. Thomas (19 November 2000), the highest award given by Catholicos of the East Baselios Mar Thoma Mathews II, at Parumala Seminary
- Georgia: Order of the Golden Fleece (Georgia)
He has been awarded honorary doctorates by a number of universities and educational institutions around the world, among them: National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, University of Patras, TEI of Kavala, Democritus University of Thrace, University of Crete, University of Ioannina, University of the Aegean, University of Western Macedonia and University of Thessaly in Greece, Moscow State University in Russia, University of Bucharest and University of Iaşi in Romania, City University of London, Exeter University and University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium, St. Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute and Université de Provence Aix-Marseille I in France, Izmir University of Economics in Turkey, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in South Korea, Flinders University in Australia, Adamson University in the Philippines, St. Andrew's College and Sherbrooke University in Canada, Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, Georgetown University, Tufts University, Southern Methodist University, Yale University, Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary in the United States.
He received an honorary PhD. from The Hebrew University in Jerusalem on 6 December 2017.
In October 2009, he received an honorary doctorate from Fordham University in the United States.
In December 2018, he received an honorary doctorate from the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy in Ukraine.
On December 3, 2013, he received the Global Thinkers Forum 2013 Award for Excellence in Peace and Collaboration.
In 2012 he received the Four Freedom Award for the Freedom of Worship
In 1997, Bartholomew received the Congressional Gold Medal. The Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom are the highest civilian awards given by the United States.
In 2002, he received the Sophie Prize for his work on the environment.
In April 2008, he was included on the Time 100 most influential people in the world list. In 1999 he was awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of the Star of Romania; in 2004, by Federal President Thomas Klestil, the Great Golden Medal with Ribbon for Services to the Republic of Austria and on 13 March 2007, the third anniversary of the death of Cardinal Franz König, Bartholomew was awarded in Vienna's St. Stephen the "Cardinal König Prize" Foundation "Communio et Progressio".