Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual head of the world’s 250 million to 300 million Orthodox Christians, arrived in Washington on Sunday night bearing the standard as the world’s foremost religious leader on environmental issues.
But one of his first tasks in the areawill be a visit to a Greek Orthodox parish in Annapolis on Monday, where he will celebrate the 18th anniversary of his enthronement to his Istanbul-based See.
“It’s like the pope coming to our church,” says the Rev. Kosmas Karavellas, protopresbyter (pastor) of Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church on Riva Road, who will also host a dinner for 500 guests. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our church.”
The 69-year-old patriarch, who has been touring the United States since Oct. 20, spent the first five days of his 18-day visit leading a “Religion, Science and the Environment” symposium in New Orleans. It is the most recent of many efforts that have earned him the sobriquet of the “green patriarch.” During a 1997 trip to the United States, he hosted an environmental summit in Santa Barbara, Calif., where he called the destruction of the environment “a sin” and offered “a vision of repentance” for those who have acted as “materialistic tyrants” toward God’s creation.
The six days he will spend in Washington, including a Tuesday lecture at Georgetown University and a Wednesday speech at the Brookings Institution, will also deal with the topic. His web site, www.patriarchate.org, has a link to a Facebook discussion on Orthodoxy’s contribution to the environmental movement and links to several YouTube videos of the patriarch, including Bartholomew’s recent speech at the New Orleans aquarium.
On Oct. 25, the Wall Street Journal printed his guest editorial that called for believers and nonbelievers in God alike to work together to save the earth.
“The natural environment unites us in ways that transcend doctrinal differences,” he wrote.
He will visit President Obama at the White House on Tuesday afternoon. On Wednesday, after the Brookings speech, he will attend a lunch in his honor on Capitol Hill, meet privately with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and attend a dinner in his honor hosted by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. at the vice president’s residence.
Interspersed with his many official activities will be private visits with some of the 1.5 million Greek Orthodox believers in the United States.
“He wants to be with the people,” said the Rev. Mark Arey, general secretary for the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas. “He is extremely vigorous. I dare anyone to walk down the street with him and keep up.
“His visit will highlight environmental responsibility, include meetings with religious leaders and greeting his own faithful,” he said.
The patriarch spent last week in New York - with a quick side trip to Atlanta - including a visit to the United Nations, a meeting with Jewish leaders at Park East Synagogue in Manhattan, a chat with former President Bill Clinton and the acceptance of an honorary degree at Fordham University.
Bartholomew does not accept all honorary doctorates offered him, but he did want to accept Fordham’s offer as an outreach to Catholics, Father Arey said.
“He wanted to set the tone for Roman Catholic-Orthodox relations,” he added. “We are trying to heal the breach to be one indivisible church again.”
The Annapolis event will be one huge exhibition of Orthodoxy with 50 to 60other hierarchs and priests in attendance. The 65-year-old Sts. Constantine and Helen is Maryland’s second-oldest Greek Orthodox church and one of nine Greek Orthodox congregations in the state.