Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I (Greek: Οἰκουμενικός Πατριάρχης Βαρθολομαῖος Α', Turkish: Patrik I. Bartolomeos) (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.
Bartholomew I was born in the village of Zeytinli (Άγιος Θεόδωρος) in the island of Gökçeada (Ίμβρος Imvros in Greek), son of Christos and Merope Archontónis. His secular birth name is Dimitrios Arhondonis (Δημήτριος Αρχοντώνης, Dimítrios Archontónis). He is a Turkish citizen and he belongs (ethnically) to the small remnants of the native 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 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 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 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 Greek, Turkish, Italian, German, French and English; he is also fluent in classical Greek and Latin.
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 amongst the various national Churches and Patriarchates of the Eastern Orthodox Communion. 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.
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. Among his many positions, he currently sits on the Board of World Religious Leaders for the Elijah Interfaith Institute 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).
In an interview published on 19 November 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."