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The spiritual leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church plans to visit the United States and meet with President Joe Biden, advocate for religious freedom, and attend several religious events.
Bartholomew I, the archbishop of Constantinople and ecumenical patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church, is scheduled to arrive stateside on Saturday for a 12-day visit.
He plans to visit with Biden and other U.S. officials, receive an honorary degree from the University of Notre Dame, and hold a ceremonial door-opening at an Eastern Orthodox parish in New York that was rebuilt after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"His All Holiness is a world-leading advocate for interfaith dialogue and peace," wrote Sens. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, and Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, in a letter encouraging the president to meet with Bartholomew I during his visit to the United States.
The patriarch is considered the spiritual leader of the Eastern Orthodox church. Pew Research estimates it has 260 million members worldwide, making it the second-largest Christian denomination globally.
Not all Orthodox churches recognize Bartholomew's authority. The Russian Orthodox Church, which has an estimated 90 million adherents, asserted its independence from the Eastern Orthodox leadership structure and rejected Bartholomew's 2019 recognition of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine's independence.
This struggle for recognition, mixed with Greek Orthodox believers being a minority in Turkey, has limited the patriarch's influence over church policy worldwide and forced the church leader to be more direct in symbolically negotiating with world leaders. Bartholomew has also been a vocal advocate for policies combating climate change, earning him the title "green patriarch."
It is a regular custom for the patriarch to visit or speak with the president. Former President Donald Trump called the patriarch in April 2020 to celebrate Easter. Bartholomew expressed his gratitude to Trump for his support of the American Greek Orthodox Church. Former President Barack Obama spoke with him in 2009 about fighting climate change.
Biden, who is Catholic, met with Bartholomew during his time as vice president.
Archbishop Elpidophoros of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America told the Associated Press that the patriarch is expected to renew calls for reopening the Halki Seminary, school of theology that the Turkish government closed in the 1970s.
The State Department issued a statement in July urging the Turkish government to reopen the seminary. The agency requested the Turkish government "respect the right to freedom of religion or belief as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights" to reopen the seminary and to allow all religions to train their clergy in Turkey.
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Original Author: Christopher Hutton
Original Location: Orthodox patriarch plans to meet with Biden during US visit