Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew: ‘I feel crucified’

(CBS) — Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the leader of the 300 million-member Orthodox Christian Church, feels “crucified” living in Turkey under a government he says would like to see his nearly 2,000-year-old Patriarchate die out.

His All Holiness speaks to 60 Minutes correspondent Bob Simon for a story to be broadcast this Sunday, Dec. 20, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

Orthodox Christians trace their roots to the earliest days of Christianity but do not answer to papal authority in Rome. Bartholomew is, in effect, their pope. The Patriarchate in Istanbul, Turkey, dates back to Roman times, when the city, then Constantinople, was the center of Christianity.

Since then, history has seen the Patriarch and the part of his church in Turkey – who are Turkish citizens of Greek ancestry – discriminated against in their traditional homeland inside what has become modern Turkey, where 99 percent of the people are Muslim. One and a half million were expelled in 1923 and another 150,000 left after violent anti-Christian riots in Istanbul in 1955. A population once numbering near two million is now around 4,000.

“It is not [a]crime…to be a minority living in Turkey but we are treated as…second class,” Bartholomew tells Simon. “We don’t feel that we enjoy our full rights as Turkish citizens.”

Turkish authorities closed churches, monasteries and schools, including its only orthodox Seminary, the Halki School of Theology. According to Turkish law the only potential successors to Bartholomew must be Turkish born and trained at the Halki. “[The Turkish government] would be happy to see the Patriarchate extinguished or moving abroad, but our belief is that it will never happen,” says Bartholomew.

Leaving Turkey is not an option for Bartholomew, the 270th Patriarch, because his church was founded there 17 centuries ago.

The area, Anatolia, is where the young Christian Church began to grow after its beginnings in the Holy Land near Jerusalem. Right in Istanbul, the Hagia Sophia can be found, the first great church in Christianity; the four gospels of Matthew, Luke, Mark and John were written in Turkey; in the Cappadocia region, hundreds of chapels contain amazing artwork – probably the oldest Christian art in the world – from the time Rome was ruled by the Caesars. The oldest continuously operating Christian monastery in the world in the Sinai desert in Egypt. It contains a letter that Muslims do not refute was written by the Prophet, Mohammad; the letter instructs Muslims to protect the Christians in the monastery and to respect their faith throughout the world.

Bartholomew finds the letter ironic. “I have visited the prime minister, many ministers, submitting our problems…asking to help us,” he tells Simon. But no help has come his way from the Turkish government, which prides itself on being secular and fears any special treatment for Orthodox Christians could lead to inroads by other religions, especially Islam.

The Patriach is determined to hold his ground. “This is the continuation of Jerusalem and for us an equally holy and sacred land. We prefer to stay here, even crucified sometimes,” says Bartholomew. Asked by Simon if he feels crucified, His All Holiness replies, “Yes, I do.”


  1. I am very sympathetic and glad to see that the Green Patriarch charade might be going away but I would like to pose a question:

    The Roman Catholic Church in Poland which was persecuted and held in Captivity by the Communists. It ran underground seminaries. No doubt the Roman Catholics in Poland were crucified every day and many gave their lives. Yet this crucifixion and captivity raised up one of the Great Christian leaders of our time, Pope John Paul II. JP2 was an essential player in the collapse of communism and a witness to the Hope of Jesus Christ. The Pope sought Christian answers to the Church in Captivity.

    What holds back the EP from leading a similar revolution of conscience?

    It looks more and more that the EP seeks political solutions rather than Christian solutions. If all the Church does is play politics then those who peresecute the Church will have the upperhand. But the the EP and the Church embrace the radical truth of the Gospel and seek a Christian solution and witness then one day we have have the revolution of conscience Orthodox Christians have been waiting for. The UN, European Court of Human Rights, COP15, or any other political group will not save the Church.

    Who really cares if we are second class citizens? Christians are always second class citizens in the world. St. Ignatius of Antioch reminds us that “Christianity shows it greatness when it is hated by the world” Everything in Gospel tell us that. It is true because Christians have embraced a loving truth in the person of Christ that transforms and transcends the world in a love that is truly life-changing. This is not about being Greek or being Green but about living in Truth.

    Lets Remember the Ancient Letter to Diognetus:

    Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.

    And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives.

    They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they, rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred.

    To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body. As the soul is present in every part of the body, while remaining distinct from it, so Christians are found in all the cities of the world, but cannot be identified with the world. As the visible body contains the invisible soul, so Christians are seen living in the world, but their religious life remains unseen. The body hates the soul and wars against it, not because of any injury the soul has done it, but because of the restriction the soul places on its pleasures. Similarly, the world hates the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong, but because they are opposed to its enjoyments.

    Christians love those who hate them just as the soul loves the body and all its members despite the body’s hatred. It is by the soul, enclosed within the body, that the body is held together, and similarly, it is by the Christians, detained in the world as in a prison, that the world is held together. The soul, though immortal, has a mortal dwelling place; and Christians also live for a time amidst perishable things, while awaiting the freedom from change and decay that will be theirs in heaven. As the soul benefits from the deprivation of food and drink, so Christians flourish under persecution. Such is the Christian’s lofty and divinely appointed function, from which he is not permitted to excuse himself.

  2. George Michalopulos :

    Andrew, well put. That’s why the worldliness of the GOA and its hierarchy will ultimately come to naught. We’re not called to be attendees at the grand tables of the secular elite. Instead, we should be serving at tables that feed the hungry. The church is only the church when it has the spirit of the catacombs, not outposts of nationalisms. The first is a church, the second is (at best) a museum.

  3. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    The remarks of His All Holiness are poignant, heart felt, and true. What clouds them however, is Constantinople’s confusion over ethnic hegemony, the coddling of Progressive politicos, and all the other issues that remain extraneous to Constantinople’s responsibility to preach the Gospel yet, if adopted, portend irreversible shifts in Church polity and the public culture. This needs to be clarified, but it is not clear if Constantinople is up to the task.

  4. In the Istanbul-based Today’s Zaman:

    Patriarch Bartholomew talks tough against Turkey

    The İstanbul-based spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians has directed harsh criticism against the Turkish government, saying he feels “crucified” living in Turkey under a government that would like to see his patriarchate die out.

    Speaking in an interview with CBS television for a story to be broadcast this Sunday, Patriarch Bartholomew said Turkey’s Greek Orthodox community does not feel that they enjoy full freedoms as Turkish citizens and that they are treated as “second-class citizens.”

    The European Union and the US have frequently criticized Turkey for not reopening a Greek Orthodox seminary closed in 1971 and not taking measures to protect the patriarchate’s property rights. The patriarch has long complained about the status of the seminary, located on an island near İstanbul, and property issues, but his CBS remarks are one of his harshest criticisms to date.

  5. AFP via Al Arabiya:

    Turkey slams orthodox chief’s crucifixion remark

    ANKARA — Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Saturday criticized as unacceptable remarks by the spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians that he feels “crucified” and “second class” living in Turkey.

    “We regard the use of the crucifixion simile as extremely unfortunate…. I would like to see this as an undesired slip of the tongue,” Davutoglu told reporters here when asked about Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I’s comments in an interview with US television network CBS.

    “We cannot accept comparisons that we do not deserve,” the minister added.

    He rejected criticism that the Islamist-rooted government in Turkey was discriminating between its citizens on religious grounds.

    “If Patriarch Bartholomew I has complaints on this issue, he can convey them to relevant authorities who will do whatever is necessary,” he said.

  6. Memo to the 20+ Bishops who applied for Turkish Citizenship: Now is the time to step up to the plate and defend the Church. If the whole point in applying for Turkish citizenship is to be considered Patriarchal material then now is the time to show the world what type of leaders you are.

    Are you guys really ready to give up your suburban lifestyles for chains and martyrdom?

    If you need an example may I refer you to this:

    • Jolynn Ruggerio :

      “Are you guys really ready to give up your suburban lifestyles for chains and martyrdom?”

      Are YOU!!!!

      After seeing the full interview and having visited the Patriarchate myself you should all be ashamed of yourselves.

      • George Michalopulos :

        Sorry JoLynn, won’t cut it this time. A lot of us on this blog are in the trenches doing heavy lifting. I mean working in soup kitchens, operating church thrift stores, praying outside of abortion clinics, trying to set up missions in marginal neighborhoods, etc. So to answer your question: “yes, we have engaged the culture and given up our middle-class comforts by going into the inner cities of America.”

        And yes, I’ve been to the Phanar. My question is have the clergymen and hierarchs who push papers around their desks and come up with brilliant schemes like confiscating parochial properties all over the world, ever gone out of their little ghetto and evangelized the Muslim world which surrounds them? Oh, I forgot, the EP gave the President of Coca-Cola a fancy Koran. Somehow that doesn’t strike me as evangelism, more like theological capitulation. I guess the next time Arb Demetrius meets with Mitt Romney and compares him to Pisastratus the Tyrant he’ll give him a Book of Mormon maybe? If they stay overnight at a Marriott, he can get one for free.

        • Jolynn, the utter and extreme worldliness of the GOA/Phanar is on display from the world to see. Patriarchal Private jets, yachts, the Waldorf, trips to Coca Cola, and bishops who brag about watching Desperate Housewives while collecting hefty salaries. Its on display everywhere. Oh and lets not forget the Church’s
          worship of people like Barack “Alexander the Great” Obama and Fidel Castro “the environmentalist”.

          Tell me Jolynn is it ok for a monastic bishop to collect a hefty salary that comes from the hardworking donations of the people while bragging about watching worldly television like Desperate Housewives?
          This is pretty suburban to me.

          I completely sympathize with the EP’s situation in Turkey but Orthodox Christians of common sense have an obligaiton to question these examples of blatant excess. No Orthodox Christian need to be ashamed of these questions and seeking their answers.

          I am ashamed of this excess Jolynn…. aren’t you?

  7. George Michalopulos :

    Andrew, let’s not forget their six-figure salaries. I believe a GOA bishop makes $125K a year. Pretty good for a monk.

  8. Much bitterness in Turkey over Patriarch Bartholomew’s use of the word “crucify” to describe his treatment by the government. But what did he mean by “crucify?”

    “Crucifixion remarks lead to tension between gov’t and Bartholomew” in Today’s Zaman:

    While Davutoğlu was speaking in Ankara, Kezban Hatemi, a lawyer for Bartholomew, was speaking with the Anatolia news agency in İstanbul, where she announced that Bartholomew has planned to release a statement this week in order to prevent any misunderstanding.

    The interview subject to controversy was recorded in May, Hatemi underlined, adding that “being crucified” was a commonly used Christian phrase.

    Sources close to the patriarch, speaking with Turkish newspaper Milliyet, also underlined that the term “being crucified,” was commonly used among Greek people. The patriarch didn’t particularly target the government with those remarks, but he rather referred to decades-old troubles faced by the Greek Orthodox community in Turkey, the same sources told the daily.

    “We use the phrase in daily language. This is not against the government, because the term of the ruling Justice and Development Party [AK Party] has been the most comfortable term for us in modern history. But of course, is it possible to forget that our school [Halki] is still closed; the Sept. 6-7 incidents [1955 rampage against ethnic Greeks which led thousands to leave the country]; that our properties have been confiscated; and the troubles which we have been through?” the sources were quoted as saying by Milliyet.

    A wire report in the Washington Times:

    ATHENS | Greece hit back Sunday at Turkey’s criticism of the spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians for saying that minority Greeks in Turkey are treated like second-class citizens and feel “crucified sometimes.” … Greek’s Foreign Ministry responded that among Turkey’s obligations for joining the European Union is “that respect for the freedom of religion and the rights of minorities takes first place.”

    “Patriarch’s ‘crucified’ remarks echo in Turkey: Unjust or mistranslated?” in Hurriyet:

    “My personal opinion is that it is an unfortunate remark, especially in terms of timing,” a source close to the patriarch said on condition of anonymity …

    The biggest handicap is translation and the reports have twisted what Patriarch Bartholomew actually meant, the same source close to the religious leader said.

    “‘Me stavronis’ [you’re crucifying me] is a daily expression that even Greek mothers use when they suffer and are tired because of their children.”

    Patriarch Bartholomew was exhausted at the time of the interview following a religious service, the source said. “When asked if he feels crucified, he only said, ‘Yes, I do,’ but meant his frustration due to deadlock.”

    … Kezban Hatemi, Patriarch Bartholomew’s lawyer, said there may have been ulterior motives to misreport what the spiritual head said. “It is interesting that an interview made by a U.S. network was reported to Turkish audiences before it was even aired in the United States. Pay attention to the timing.”

    Also in Hurriyet, “A crucifixion debate for Christmas”:

    In order to add some more lexicographical notes to this debate, let me cite some useful definitions, copying from one of the old trusted dictionaries of Modern Greek Language, that of Manolis Triantafyllidis. There, the verb “stavrono” or “stavronome” (to crucify, cross or be crucified or crossed) means: 1a. To place someone on a cross in order to execute them; 1b. (metaphor) To make somebody’s life difficult or hell, to make someone suffer. Example: He crucifies me everyday with his constant complaints; 2. To make the sign of the cross or put the sign of a cross somewhere (usually next to the name of a school child who is absent from the class). It can also mean to cross somebody’s hand or legs in the shape of a cross; to meet somebody’s eyes, to meet somebody accidentally, to find and earn money or to find a new husband, wife, lover or even a client.

    Bearing in mind that the verb has been in wide metaphoric usage not only by my mother but by generations of Greeks, it was surprising to see Davutoğlu, whose deep knowledge of the history and culture of this area has been widely acknowledged, choose to react to the literal meaning of the word.

    “In our historical tradition, there has never been a crucifixion,” Davutoğlu claimed.

    But, maybe, if one would use the term metaphorically, meaning “suffering,” as Patriarch Bartholomew certainly did, then they may find many occasions for its usage during the period on which Professor Davutoglu is an expert, the Ottoman period.

    “I don’t find this comparison compatible with the mature personality of the Patriarch,” said Davutoğlu, who found “crucifixion” an “extremely unfortunate comment” and said he hopes it was “a slip of the tongue” on the part of the Patriarch.

    As if on cue, Zenit reports on “Turkey’s Lack of Religious Liberty.”

    ROME, DEC. 20, 2009 ( It’s been another difficult year for Christians in Turkey and it is finishing just as it began, with problems. Early in December, three Muslims entered the Meryem Ana Church, a Syriac Orthodox church in Diyarbakir, and confronted the Reverend Yusuf Akbulut, according to a Dec. 15 report by Compass Direct News, an agency specializing in reporting on religious persecution.

    They told the priest that that unless the bell tower was destroyed in one week, they would kill him. The Muslims were apparently acting in reaction to the recent referendum in Switzerland, which banned the construction of new minarets for mosques.

    According to the report Meryem Ana is more than 250 years old and is one of a handful of churches that serve the Syriac community in Turkey.

    But not all Orthodox Christians were caught up in the controversy, as we read in “Religious service held in Demre’s St. Nicholas church,” in Hurriyet.

    A religious service was held on Saturday at the Church of St. Nicholas in the Mediterranean coastal town of Demre.

    The service, which was attended by 72 Russian Orthodox tourists and six ecclesiastics, was organized with special permission from the Culture and Tourism Ministry as the church now serves as a museum.

    Archbishop Mark, the Russian clergyman who headed the ceremony, said St. Nicholas, who is also known as Santa Claus, was born in Patara and died in Demre, and that his grave is located in the building where the ceremony was held. He noted that St. Nicholas was a very important figure for Russian Orthodox and many Russians are expected to visit the church in Demre. He also thanked the authorities for granting permission for the service.

    Faruk Öyrük, an official from the tour company that brought the Russian tourists, said it was the company’s first step in its efforts to promote faith tourism.

  9. George Michalopulos :

    Gentlemen, the line for Turkish citizenship begins right here… (oh, and don’t forget to learn to speak out of both sides of your mouth).

  10. Has anyone read this document? It’s on the Leadership 100 “Endowment” site


    This is the English translation of the document from Muhammad that was given to the Monastery of St Catherine’s – fascinating stuff:

    In 628 C.E. Prophet Muhammad (s) granted a Charter of Privileges to the monks of St. Catherine Monastery in Mt. Sinai. It consisted of several clauses covering all aspects of human rights including such topics as the protection of Christians, freedom of worship and movement, freedom to appoint their own judges and to own and maintain their property, exemption from military service, and the right to protection in war.

    An English translation of that document is presented below.

    This is a message from Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them.
    Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them.
    No compulsion is to be on them.
    Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries.
    No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses.
    Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate.
    No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight.
    The Muslims are to fight for them.
    If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray.
    Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants.
    No one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day (end of the world).

Care to Comment?