Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of Eastern Orthodox Christians, resumed a busy American visit Monday after an overnight hospital stay, meeting with President Joe Biden after earlier meetings with the Turkish ambassador and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
He said at the White House later Monday that he was abundantly satisfied with his visit, praising Biden as a “man of faith, and man of vision.”
“We cannot allow any short-sighted political agendas to interfere with our relationships, that are through, and in, Christ Jesus, the Lord and Savior of the world.” he said.
While Bartholomew’s visit was expected to draw attention to the plight of the small Orthodox Christian minority in his homeland of Turkey, he took a diplomatic tone at an earlier breakfast meeting hosted by Turkish Ambassador Hasan Murat Mercan, according to remarks released by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
Bartholomew said his mission as patriarch “is purely spiritual and demonstrates how Turkey can be – not only an inclusive society, but a bridge-builder between East and West.” He called the ambassador’s welcome an example of mutual “dialogue and respect.”
The remarks did not refer to ongoing sore points such as the Turkish government’s closure of an Orthodox seminary on the Turkish island of Halki 50 years ago.
Blinken, however, “reaffirmed that the reopening of the Halki Seminary remains a continued priority” according to State Department spokesperson Ned Price’s summary of their meeting later Monday.
“They discussed the U.S. commitment to supporting religious freedom around the world and opportunities to work with the Orthodox Christian community worldwide on issues of shared concern, as well as with religious minorities in Turkey and the region,” Price said.
Blinken also praised the “remarkable leadership” Bartholomew, sometimes known as the “green patriarch,” has shown in calling for solutions to the climate crisis.
Bartholomew also said Monday he’d join with Pope Francis and the leaders of other major religions around the world to call on the global community to facilitate COVID-19 vaccinations for the world, especially for poor countries.
Bartholomew, 81, was released from a Washington hospital Monday morning after an overnight stay early in his 12-day visit to the United States. He was brought to George Washington University Hospital on Sunday night after he felt “unwell” due to the long flight on Saturday and the busy schedule of events, according to the Greek Orthodox archdiocese. The hospitalization was recommended by his doctor “out of an abundance of precaution,” the archdiocese said.
Bartholomew is the patriarch of Constantinople, based in Turkey. He is considered first among equals among Eastern Orthodox patriarchs, which gives him prominence but not the power of a Catholic pope. He does oversee Greek Orthodox and some other jurisdictions, although large portions of the Eastern Orthodox world are self-governing under their own patriarchs.
The patriarch “is feeling well and is ready to continue” his official visit Monday, according to a tweet from Archbishop Elpidophoros of the U.S. archdiocese, who was part of the delegation meeting with Biden today.
Bartholomew on Monday also gave a speech via videoconference for the Museum of the Bible in Washington, which he was originally scheduled to visit in person.
In the evening, he was scheduled to attend a dinner at Georgetown University hosted by its president, John DeGioia, and Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Washington, D.C.
On Thursday, he is scheduled to receive an honorary degree from the University of Notre Dame in an event highlighting efforts to improve Orthodox-Catholic ties, centuries after the two churches broke decisively in 1054 amid disputes over theology and papal claims of supremacy. And on Nov. 2, he is scheduled to preside at a door-opening ceremony at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine in New York City. The shrine replaces a church destroyed during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the adjacent World Trade Center.