Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I (Greek: Οἰκουμενικός Πατριάρχης Βαρθολομαῖος Α', Turkish: Patrik I. Bartholomeos) (born 29 February 1940) is the Archbishop of Constantinople - New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch, and thus "first among equals" in the Eastern Orthodox Communion, since 2 November 1991. He is thus the spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians around the world.
Bartholomew I was born in the village of Aghios Theodoros (Άγιος Θεόδωρος in Greek, in Turkish Zeytinli köyü) in the island of Imbros (Ίμβρος Imvros to its Greek inhabitants, modern Gökçeada), son of Christos and Merope Archontonis. His secular birth name is Dimitrios Arhondonis (Δημήτριος Αρχοντώνης, Dimítrios Archontónis). By citizenship his nationality is Turkish, but belongs ethnically to the small remnants of the Greek community in Turkey.
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 reserve 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 Maximilians 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 ordinated 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.
Perhaps most unusually, he has gained a reputation as a prominent environmentalist, putting the support of the Patriarchate behind various international environmental causes. This has earned him the nicknames "the Green Patriarch" and "the Green Pope" and in 2002 he was honored with the Sophie Prize. 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 the country, 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.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew's tenure has been characterized by inter-Orthodox cooperation, inter-Christian and inter-religious dialog, as well as by formal trips to Orthodox and Muslim countries seldom previously visited. He has exchanged numerous invitations of Church and State dignitaries. His efforts to promote religious freedom and human rights, his initiatives to advance religious tolerance among the world’s religions has been widely noted.
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 of Rome (the first being by Paul VI in 1967, and the second by John Paul II in 1979).
In an interview published on November 19, 2006 in the daily newspaper Sabah, Bartholomew I addressed the issues of religious freedom and the 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 its 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."
His 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'
In April 2008, he was included on the Time 100 most influential people in the world list.