Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q. What is the Ecumenical Patriarchate?

A. The Ecumenical Patriarchate is the honorary and spiritual centre of the Orthodox Church throughout the world, tracing its history to the Day of Pentecost and the earliest Christian communities founded by the Apostles of Jesus Christ.


Q. What is the origin of the title "Ecumenical Patriarch?"

A. The title "Ecumenical Patriarch" dates from the sixth century and belongs exclusively to the Archbishop of Constantinople. But his role was defined as early as the 4th century. At the 4th Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451), the Archbishop of Constantinople was given "equal privileges" to the Bishop of Rome.


Q. Why is the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul?

A. In 330, the Roman Emperor Constantine transferred the imperial capital to the small city of Byzantium, renaming it Constantinople or "New Rome." Due to its political and historical importance, the city quickly assumed political and ecclesiastical prominence, with all of the (seven) Great Councils of the early Church held either in or near Constantinople.


Q. What is the role of the Ecumenical Patriarch among Orthodox Churches?

A. The Ecumenical Patriarch presides among all Orthodox Primates, as "first among equals." He  also serves as the focal point and spokesman for Orthodox Church unity, is the only Primate who can convene inter-Orthodox councils, and is responsible for initiating inter-Church and inter-religious dialogues.


Q. What is the order of the Orthodox Patriarchates?

A. The most ancient Patriarchates, in an order of seniority already established by the 5th century, comprise Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. In the 11th century, the Church of Georgia became a Patriarchate. In the 14th century the Ecumenical Patriarch raised the Church of Serbia to the rank of Patriarchate, as occurred later with the Church of Moscow in the 16th century, the Church of Romania in the 19th century and Bulgaria in the 20th century.


Q. What other concerns comprise priorities for Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew?

A. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has provided support for countries, which were long under the oppression of the Iron Curtain. He has visited Moslem nations, previously never visited by Christian heads of Churches, advocating religious tolerance. He is especially concerned about the indigenous ancient Christian communities of the Middle East.

Moreover, his pioneering initiatives for the preservation of the natural environment have earned him the title "Green Patriarch." He organized five environmental seminars at Halki in co-sponsorship with His Royal Highness Prince Philip (1994-1998). He also established the Religious and Scientific Committee, which organized eight international, interfaith and interdisciplinary seaborne symposia: Patmos and the Mediterranean (1995), the Black Sea (1997), the Danube River (1999), the Adriatic Sea (2002), the Baltic Sea (2003), and the Amazon River (2006), the Arctic and Greenland (2007), and the Mississippi River (2009).


Q. What is the relationship of the Haghia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) to the Ecumenical Patriarchate?

A. Haghia Sophia is one of the architectural wonders of the early Church and has served as the Cathedral Church of the Ecumenical Patriarchate for centuries, until the Ottoman Empire. It housed some of the most magnificent mosaics, some of which survive to this day, and was the center of impressive liturgical worship. It was here that Prince Vladimir in the 10th century sent his envoys to witness the liturgy, as a result of which all of Russia was Christianized. Converted to a mosque in 1453, today it is a museum.


Q. When was Bartholomew elected Ecumenical Patriarch?

A. In October, 1991. Patriarch Bartholomew (b. 1940) was elected the 270th Archbishop of the historic throne of Constantinople, the Byzantine name for present-day Istanbul.


Q. When has a Roman Catholic Pope visited the Ecumenical Patriarch in Istanbul?

A. Pope Paul VI visited Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras in 1967, three years after their historic meeting in January of 1964.. A year after his election as Pope, John Paul II visited the Ecumenical Patriarch Demetrios in 1979. The visit paved the way for the official Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church, inaugurated in 1980. Pope Benedict XVI visited the Ecumenical Patriarch in 2006, reviving and reinvigorating the theological dialogue, which had encountered certain challenges.  A full list of historical meetings can be found here.


Q. When was the last time the Ecumenical Patriarch visited the Pope?

A. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who has met with Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI in Rome, also visited the Vatican for the inaugural mass of Pope Francis, immediately after the election of the latter as bishop of Rome. This occasion marked the first time in history that an Ecumenical Patriarch had attended the installation of a Pope.


Q. What will take place between the two leaders in Jerusalem?

A. The Ecumenical Patriarch and the Pope will hold a prayer service at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This will mark the only public event in Jerusalem. However, since there is no Eucharistic communion between the two Churches at this time, the Pope and the Patriarch will not concelebrate any Divine Liturgy. Finally, beyond reciting the Lord's Prayer, they will offer formal blessings and official statements. In addition, the two leaders will exchange private visitations at respective venues.


Q. How many Orthodox Christians are there world-wide?

A. 300 million. Geographically, its primary area of distribution lies along the coast of the (northeast) Mediterranean, in Eastern and Northern Europe, as well as in the Middle East. According to the canonical tradition of the Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate is responsible for the pastoral care of those Orthodox Christians residing in regions outside the ecclesiastical borders of local Orthodox Churches. Accordingly, the Ecumenical Patriarchate is responsible for Orthodox Christians in the America, Western Europe, Asia, and Australia.


Q. What is the status of the relationship between the Orthodox Church and Roman Catholic Church today?

A. Since the time of Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI, the two Churches embarked on a "dialogue of love," which expanded into a "dialogue of truth" since 1980. Today, an international theological dialogue discusses areas of agreement and division.


Q. What happened in 1054?

A. That year marked the official division, known as the "great schism" between the two Churches, the result of a gradual estrangement over centuries for cultural, political and theological reasons.


Q. What happened in the Fourth Crusade?

A. In 1204, the 4th crusade pillaged Constantinople, leaving indelible scars in the memory of Eastern Christians with regard to the Western Church. In a gracious gesture of love, the late Pope John Paul II formally apologized for this lawless sacking.


Q. Why is this meeting taking place in Jerusalem?

A. This meeting is a commemoration of the meeting held in Jerusalem between Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI in 1964. Moreover, as the historical place where Jesus Christ lived, taught and died, the Holy Land has been a unique site of pilgrimage through the centuries. It is also the location where Jesus prayed "that His disciples may be one." (John 17.21)


Q. Will other Orthodox Patriarchs also participate?

Inasmuch as this event is an historical celebration of a specific event and the Ecumenical Patriarch represents the wider Orthodox Church, the encounter will take place between Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis alone.

Since the meeting between the Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch is taking place in Jerusalem, Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem will host and participate in the event. All Orthodox Patriarchs and Primates have formally been informed about and are fully supportive of the occasion.