Orthodox Christian leader will visit city on U.S. tour Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew arrives in Maryland today

October 19, 1997|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual leader for the world's 300 million Orthodox Christians, arrives in Maryland today for a monthlong tour of the United States that includes an 11-hour visit to Baltimore on Thursday.

Bartholomew's Baltimore stop, which includes services at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation and the Roman Catholic Basilica of the Assumption, marks the first time an ecumenical patriarch has visited this city.

Bartholomew, the archbishop of Constantinople, comes to this country not only to visit the Orthodox churches here, but also to pursue an ecumenical agenda of reconciliation between the Orthodox and Jews, Muslims and other Christians.

"To be included in this visit brings recognition to both the Orthodox Cathedral and the general community," said the Rev. Constantine Monios, dean of the Cathedral of the Annunciation.

"To have him in our midst, blessing us from the altar, I feel is the most historic event that ever has or will ever take place in this cathedral."

"The whole Orthodox community in the state of Maryland rejoices in this because their spiritual father comes to visit his spiritual children," Monios said.

Orthodox Christianity comprises 14 self-governing churches that share a common doctrine and ritual. Each church within Orthodox Christianity is governed by a patriarch or metropolitan.

The patriarch of Constantinople, the city that is now Istanbul, Turkey, is considered "first among equals" and has spiritual authority over the other 13 churches but cannot interfere in their affairs.

He does have direct authority over the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

"He is, as first among equals, the representative of the entire Orthodox communion," said the Rev. Mark Odell of Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church in East Baltimore.

"We're absolutely thrilled that he's coming to this city and to the country."

After arriving this afternoon at Andrews Air Force Base in Prince George's County, Bartholomew will spend the first few days of his trip in Washington, where he will meet with congressional leaders and President Clinton, and will be the fifth religious leader to receive the Congressional Gold Medal.

The ecumenical patriarch is well-known for his efforts to improve relations with other churches and religions.

In Washington, he is scheduled to tour the Holocaust Museum and meet with Jewish leaders, and he will meet with delegates who are attending the first Orthodox/Muslim Dialogue in America at Georgetown University.

In Baltimore, the focus will be on Orthodox-Roman Catholic relations.

Bartholomew is visiting Baltimore because Cardinal William H. Keeler invited him after meeting him two years ago in Rome, when the ecumenical patriarch and Pope John Paul II appeared together at St. Peter's Basilica and called for unity between their two churches.

Eastern Orthodoxy co-existed for a millennium with the Western Roman church, until a schism in 1054 caused by political and theological differences resulted in mutual excommunication.

Overtures of reconciliation began with the Second Vatican Council, which concluded in 1965, when the two churches mutually lifted the excommunications.

On Thursday, Bartholomew will lead a prayer service at the Catholic Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

"It's the first time that an ecumenical patriarch will have come to a Roman Catholic church in the United States and not only enter the church, but preside and preach at a service there," Keeler said.

"It's historic, I believe, because it offers an opportunity for people to appreciate that the two churches that comprise some 80 percent of Christendom are taking significant steps to come closer to each other.

"It's significant also because it offers Christians of other traditions an opportunity to appreciate both the reality and the traditions of the ancient Orthodox churches of the East."

In addition to fostering ecumenical ties, Bartholomew has a keen interest in environmentalism and has been dubbed the "green patriarch" in Europe.

Next month in Santa Barbara, Calif., he will participate with Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt in a Symposium on Religion, Science and the Environment organized by the Orthodox Church there.

"He's been talking about this for some years now. He's not a Johnny-come-lately on this," said Vigen Guroian, an Orthodox Christian theologian on the faculties of Loyola College and the Ecumenical Institute at St. Mary's Seminary and University.

"I think that ecological issues go to the very heart of Orthodox spirituality, which emphasizes creation and redemption."

Bartholomew, a Turkish citizen, was born Demetrios Archonotonis 57 years ago on Imvros, a Turkish island in the Aegean Sea.

He graduated from the Theological School of Halki in Istanbul in 1961 and served three years as an officer in the Turkish army reserve.

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