Our Ecumenical Patriarch

His all Holiness, Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople and New Rome is the 270th successor of the almost 2,000 year-old Christian Center, founded by the Apostle Andrew, the first-called Disciple of Jesus Christ in the city know then as Byzantium, later as Constantinople and now as Istanbul. As Archbishop of Constantinople and New Rome, His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew occupies the First Throne of the Orthodox Christian Church and presides in a fraternal spirit as primus inter pares - first among equals

In November of 1996, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew made a first ever visit to Hong Kong by an Ecumenical Patriarch. He founded an Orthodox Archdiocese, and when Hong Kong reverts to Beijing's control on July 1, 1997, it will be the first official presence of the Orthodox Christianity in China since the end of the Second World War.

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. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has worked persistently to advance reconciliation among Catholic, Muslims and Orthodox communities in the region.

The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I as a spokesman for the reconciliation in the New Millennium. Orthodox Christianity stands at the fault lines of modern civilization between the West, Islam, Judaism and the Far East. Orthodox Christians live side by side not only with their western counterparts, bit among Muslims and Jews in the Middle East and Hindus and Buddhists in the Far East.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has emerged as the singular force in preparing the Orthodox Church for its continuing role as a mediator between East and West. in his capacity as Ecumenical Patriarch, he has convened the leaders of the self-governing Orthodox Church around the globe, challenging them to vigorously pursue solutions to the challenges of the new millennium. Together with his Holiness Pope John Paul II, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has effected unprecedented progress toward the reconciliation of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian Churches.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew's role as the primary spiritual leader of the Orthodox Christian world and a transnational figure of global significance continue to become more vital with each passing day. He cosponsored the Peace and Tolerance Conference in Istanbul in 1994 brining together Christians, Muslims and Jews. He has cosponsored with His Royal Highness, Prince Philip a yearly environmental conference. His All Holiness is a founding member and vice-president of the World Council of Churches for 15 years, eight of which he served as president. He participated in the World Council of Churches' Fourth, Sixth and Seventh General Assemblies, and at the latter was elected a member of the Executive and Central Committees. These, together with his inspiring efforts on behalf of religious freedom and human rights, rank Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew among the world's foremost apostles of love, peace and reconciliation for humanity.

In 330 AD, the Roman Emperor Constantine chose the site, called at the time Byzantium, to be the new capital of the Roman Empire, and christened the city "New Rome." Almost immediately the city came to be referred to a "Constantinople", the City of Constantine.

After Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire the church of the new capital was called upon to play an increasingly important role in the affairs of the Universal Church. In recognition of this fact, the Second Ecumenical Council of the Christian Church gave to the Archbishop of Constantinople the second place of honor in the Church after that of the Archbishop (now Pope) of "Old" Rome. In 587 the Archbishop of Constantinople was accorded the title "Ecumenical Patriarch" or "Worldwide Father" of the Undivided Christian Church.

The precise role and position of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople have been in place for more than 1,600 years, determined centuries ago through the legislative decisions (canons) of the Second and Forth Ecumenical Councils (at Constantinople in 381 and at Chalcedon in 451 respectively) of the Universal and Undivided Christian Church. Changes in the governments, nations, whole societies and dominant cultures, even active persecution, have never diminished the all-important position of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the Christian world.

Today , the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople occupies the first rank of the national autocephalous Orthodox Churches worldwide including Russia, Eastern and Southern Europe the Middle East and the Far East. The Ecumenical Patriarch has the historical and theological responsibilities to initiate and coordinate actions among those Churches. For more than fifteen centuries the Ecumenical Patriarch has been the nexus of the spiritual life of the Orthodox Church. Today the Ecumenical Patriarch is the spiritual leader of more than 300 million people around the world.

Simply put, the role of the Ecumenical Patriarch is to over see and coordinate the work of the entire Church. This includes the assembling and convening of Councils, facilitating Inter-Church and Inter-Faith dialogues and serving as the spokesperson of the whole Church. As Ecumenical Patriarch - "World wide Father" - he spans every nation and ethnic group on a global level. In the United States, his personal representative, or Exarch, is His Eminence Archbishop Spyridon, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, as the leader of the Orthodox Church, represents the voices and concerns of a long-suffering Faith. Orthodox Churches have endured some of the most severe religious persecutions of the past 100 years. These persecutions are unprecedented in the 2,000 year history of Christianity. Throughout Southeast Europe, Asia Minor and Crete in the first decades of this century, whole Orthodox populations were extinguished from native lands they had known for generations.

Beyond the devastation of the Orthodox Churches in these lands, in 1917 the Bolshevik Party seized power in Russia and after a brutal civil war took place control of Ukraine and Belorussia. The Communist party unleashed a horrific genocide upon the Orthodox Church in which hundreds of bishops, ten of thousands of priests, monks and nuns and millions of lay people were executed or condemned to slow death in the gulag of Siberia.

During World War II Nazis and their surrogates presided over the genocide of 700,000 Orthodox Serbs. Thousands of Orthodox Christians wearing blue arm bands marked with a "P" (for "Pravoslavni" - "Orthodox") were marched to death camps side by side with their Jewish neighbors. Many of the difficult that remain to this day in the former Yugoslavia are a direct result of that cruel history.

When the Iron Curtain descended after the War's end, the Orthodox Church continued to be the target of a systematic campaign of repression and destruction. The Civil War of Greece (1945 - 1949) witnesses the kidnapping of children and execution of priests. In Albania the Orthodox Church was effectively annihilated. In Romania from 1958 - 1959, a network of flourishing monasteries and schools was destroyed. Despite this frontal assault on religious faith and freedom, the Orthodox Church survived. As a result the Communists changed their factices, and until the fall of the Berlin Wall, their agents regularly attempted to infiltrate the Church and subjugate it.

His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew represents in his own person the memory of the life and sacrifices of the martyred Orthodox Church of the 20th Century. After ascending the Ecumenical Throne in 1991, he journeyed throughout the Orthodox world bringing a message of restoration and renewed hope. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has presided over the restoration of Autonomous Orthodox Churches in the newly freed countries of Georgia and Estonia. He has also presided over the reestablishment of the Church in Albania. His is a living witness to the world of Orthodoxy's painful and redemptive struggles for religious freedom and to the innate dignity of humankind.