U.S. President Joe Biden and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the Istanbul-based spiritual leader of roughly 300 million Orthodox Christians, discussed ways to fight climate change and to end the coronavirus pandemic as well as the importance of religious freedom and the reopening of Halki Seminary during an Oval Office session on Oct. 26, the Associated Press reported.
Bartholomew, 81, met separately with Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken not long after being hospitalized overnight for feeling unwell at the outset of his 12-day visit to the United States.
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.
“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.
The White House said the meeting between Bartholomew and Biden “underscored the critical role that faith communities play in confronting the range of global challenges we all face.”
Bartholomew said at the White House 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.
Deeply grateful to President @JoeBiden for our meeting in the Oval Office, where the Ecumenical Patriarch addressed the urgency of political leaders responding to the climate crisis, the distribution of Covid vaccines to developing nations, and the reopening of Halki Seminary. pic.twitter.com/PiZ5jCITsS— Elpidophoros (@Elpidophoros) October 25, 2021
Blinken also praised the “remarkable leadership” Bartholomew, sometimes known as the “green patriarch,” has shown in calling for solutions to the climate crisis.
I was honored to meet His All-Holiness, @EcuPatriarch Bartholomew to discuss the U.S. commitment to supporting global religious freedom. We value our partnership with the Orthodox Christian community worldwide and religious minorities in Turkey and the region. pic.twitter.com/2CWFCY5E4W— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) October 25, 2021