Profiles in Faith: Patriarch Bartholomew Bridges East-West Christian Divide
His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew is the 270th Patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Born in present-day Turkey in 1940, Dimitrios Archontonis, as Bartholomew was originally named, is known for his academic and linguistic expertise. He is fluent in seven languages — Greek, Turkish, English, Italian, French, German and Latin — and is the author of numerous articles about Orthodox Christianity and Eastern Churches.
Bartholomew became the head of the Eastern Orthodox Church in 1991. He is credited with having spiritually revived and united the Church — despite daunting challenges during the early days of his patriarchate. At the time, the Eastern Orthodox Church did not take kindly to what it considered to be Roman Catholic and Protestant intrusions into the Church’s former Soviet Union strongholds. Bartholomew displayed great resolve and leadership skills in handling the crisis. Over the years, he has worked to promote interfaith tolerance and environmental protection in an effort to further world peace and justice.
IN HIS OWN WORDS
“We completely agree with His Holiness’ [Pope Francis] invitation and challenge to abandon indifference or even the cynicism that governs our ecological, political, economic and social life in general, including our self-centered form of unity, and to dream of a world as a united human family.” — Patriarch Bartholomew on a 2020 visit to Rome, commenting on Pope Francis’s Encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, in an interview with Vatican News
“Economic development has not reduced the gap between the rich and the poor. Rather, it has prioritized profit, to the detriment of the protection of the weak, and contributes to the exacerbation of environmental problems. And politics has become the servant of the economy. Human rights and international law are elaborated and serve purposes alien to justice, freedom and peace. The problem of refugees, terrorism, state violence, humiliation of human dignity, modern forms of slavery and the Covid-19 epidemic are now putting politics before new responsibilities and erasing its pragmatic logic.” — Patriarch Bartholomew, in a 2020 interview with Vatican News.
“The Christians of the nascent Church called each other ‘brothers.’ This spiritual and Christ-centered fraternity is deeper than natural kinship. For Christians, however, brothers and sisters are not only members of the Church, but all peoples … Love for the brethren is always incomparable. It is not an abstract feeling of sympathy toward humanity, which usually ignores the neighbor. The dimension of personal communion and fraternity distinguishes Christian love and fraternity from abstract humanism.” — Patriarch Bartholomew, in a 2020 interview with Vatican News.
“The true Orthodox faith cannot possibly be a source of nationalism. Wherever nationalism appears in an Orthodox context, it has other roots and motives.” — Patriarch Bartholomew, in a February 2021 article in Church Times.
“There is, in reality, no way to move toward unity other than through honest dialogue; what threatens the Church’s witness isn’t openness and dialogue, but closedness and introversion.” — Patriarch Bartholomew, in a February 2021 article in Church Times
THE STORIES OTHERS TELL
“For 19 years, he faithfully stood by the late Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios [Bartholomew’s predecessor] 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.” — Excerpt from a biography of Patriarch Bartholomew on the website of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
“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.” — From a biography of Patriarch Bartholomew on the website of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
“With unsurpassed joy, we announce on the Feast of Glorious Twelve, the Apostolic Visit of his All Holiness Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch to the United States, October 23-November 3, 2021.” — Archbishop Elpidophoros of America, informing the clergy and members of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America about Patriarch Bartholomew’s impending visit to the United States.
A LIFE IN BRIEF
Patriarch Bartholomew was born on February 29, 1940, in a village on the Aegean island of Imvros in present-day Turkey. His father, a barber and coffee shop owner, named him Demetrios. After attending school in Imvros and Istanbul (known until 1930 as Constantinople, the seat of the Byzantine Christian empire), he joined the famous Theological School of Halki, graduating with high honors in 1961.
After finishing higher religious studies in Rome, Munich and Switzerland, he retuned to Istanbul and was ordained as a priest in 1969. He became a bishop in 1973. Following the death of Patriarch Dimitrios, with whom he worked closely, Bartholomew was elected as the leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church on October 22, 1991.
Like his country Turkey, Bartholomew sits at the crossroads of East and West, offering an inimitable perspective on global religions and cultures. He is known for fostering interreligious dialogue between Christianity, Islam and Judaism. In 1996, his was the first visit ever made by any Patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church to Hong Kong, where he established an Orthodox Archdiocese, marking the Church’s first formal presence in China since World War II.
In January 2019, Patriarch Bartholomew signed a decree recognizing an autocephalous Orthodox Church in Ukraine. His approval of the Church’s independence from the Russian Orthodox Church in October 2018 had already prompted the latter to sever ties with the Eastern Orthodox Church in protest.
ACHIEVEMENTS WE’LL REMEMBER
October 22, 1991: Bartholomew is elected Archbishop of Constantinople and Ecumenical Patriarch by the Holy Synod of the Eastern Orthodox Church in a meeting in Istanbul, Turkey.
November 2, 1991: Bartholomew ascends the Ecumenical Throne.
March 1992: Patriarch Bartholomew convenes a rare meeting of Orthodox leaders in Istanbul, where they affirm Church unity amid criticism of Roman Catholics and certain evangelical Protestant groups for making missionary inroads into traditionally Orthodox nations following the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
May 1993: Patriarch Bartholomew meets with Jacques Delors, President of the Commission of the European Union, ahead of his 1994 address to the plenary session of the European Parliament.
1994: Patriarch Bartholomew addresses the 6th General Assembly of the World Conference on Religion and Peace in Riva del Garda, Italy.
June 1995: Patriarch Bartholomew visits Pope John Paul II and announces the decision of the Eastern Orthodox Church to continue fraternally communicating and cooperating with the Roman Catholic Church.
1996: Patriarch Bartholomew makes the first visit by any Patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church to Hong Kong. He establishes an Orthodox Archdiocese in the Chinese territory, marking the Church’s first formal presence in China since World War II.
October 2018: Patriarch Bartholomew gives his approval of an autocephalous Orthodox Church in Ukraine after it breaks away from the Russian Orthodox Church, prompting the latter to sever ties with the Eastern Orthodox Church.
January 2019: Patriarch Bartholomew signs a decree formally recognizing the autocephalous Orthodox Church in Ukraine.
PATRIARCH BARTHOLOMEW’S RELIGION
Eastern Orthodoxy, formally known as the Orthodox Catholic Church, is one of the three main doctrinal and administrative branches of Christianity. Most of the Church’s members live in the Balkans, the Middle East and the former Soviet republics.
The Greek-speaking Christian world has traditionally used the word orthodox (“right believing”) to describe communities or individuals who sustain the true faith as it was defined by the first seven ecumenical councils.
Eastern Orthodoxy’s roots lie in the East-West “Schism of 1054,” an event that hastened the separation between Eastern Churches led by the Patriarch of Constantinople (also known as “New Rome”) and the Western Church led by Pope Leo IX. Spurred by linguistic and cultural differences as well as political events and divergent ideas about church structures, both sides engaged in mutual excommunications, which became a turning point in the history of Christianity. The excommunications remained until 1965, when Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I revoked the excommunication decrees.
Although the tides of history have done much to alter the internal structures of the Eastern Orthodox Church, most of its members continue to live in the same geographical areas. Missionary expansion toward Asia, coupled with emigration to the West, have helped maintain the global importance of Orthodoxy as a religious force.
MORE PROFILES IN FAITH:
Talib M. Shareef, Imam of Masjid Muhammad (Sept. 24, 2021)
Rabbi David Nathan Saperstein (September 5, 2021)
Neville Callam, Baptist World Alliance (August 23, 2021)
Patriarch Bartholomew Bridges East-West Christian Divide (August 12, 2021)
Wilton Cardinal Gregory: First African American Cardinal (July 21, 2021)
Hindu Guru Mata Amritanandamayi (July 8, 2021)
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (July 1, 2021)
Pope Francis (June 23, 2021)
Archbishop Desmond Tutu (June 16, 2021)
Episcopal Bishop Michael B. Curry (June 9, 2021)
Thich Nhat Hanh, Father of Engaged Buddhism (June 2, 2021)
Ayatollah Al-Sayyid Ali Al-Huseinni Al-Sistani (May 26, 2021)
Justin Welby, the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury (May 19, 2021)