This elderly patriarch's image is striking, with his stern face and a gray beard that flows over his chest, contrasting with the colorful clothing typical of his flock and his unique line of work.
Just before Christmas, he created a stir with a blunt statement on a very controversial issue.
No, this wasn't the Duck Commander in Louisiana. This patriarch resides in the city his followers formally refer to as Constantinople-New Rome.
"The Lord appointed the marriage of male and female in the blessed family," proclaimed Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, while discussing Mary, Joseph and the newborn Jesus. He is the first among equals of the patriarchs who lead the world's 250 million Eastern Orthodox Christians (including the author of this column).
Patriarch Bartholomew claimed the "manifold support of the institution of the family comprises the obligation of the Church and responsibility of leadership in every country." Thus, he argued that "in order for a child to be raised in a healthy and natural way, there needs to be a family where man and woman live in harmony as one body, one flesh, and one soul, submitting to one another. ...
"We must all encourage the creation and function of natural families, which can produce citizens that are spiritually healthy and joyful."
Soon after that, a Catholic bishop delivered a Christmas sermon in which he addressed a related topic -- the adoption of children by same-sex couples. Then, to make matters even more newsworthy, he claimed that he spoke with the encouragement of his own patriarch, the pope of Rome.
Auxiliary Bishop Charles J. Scicluna told journalists in Malta, a Mediterranean island, that in a Dec. 12 meeting, Pope Francis was shocked to learn that a civil unions bill would allow gay couples to adopt children in that predominately Catholic country.