By Michelle Boorstein
Top U.S. officials will meet this week with an unusual environmental lobbyist: the head of the world Orthodox Church.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of the world’s 250 million Orthodox Christians, who also has come to be known as “the green patriarch,” arrived at Andrews Air Force Base last night from New York. He will meet this week with the area’s Orthodox Christians, diplomats and U.S. government bigwigs including President Obama, Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Clinton and Speaker of the House Pelosi.
While the Christian Orthodox population in the U.S. is small – about 4 million – the Orthodox Church is the second largest Christian community in the world after the Roman Catholic Church. For the Obama Adminstration, that means a chance to connect with communities in Eastern Europe, Russia and the Middle East.
Experts say Bartholomew, who has been in office 18 years today, has made an effort to engage the church with the world, to make spiritual issues into public and public policy issues as opposed to remaining behind a strict church-state wall. His big issue has been the environment, which is why people call him “the green patriarch.” He has organized eight major meetings on the subject, focused on the issue of water. His most recent was a few weeks ago in New Orleans, focused on the Mississippi River.
Today, his first full day in the Washington area, he’ll meet with ambassadors of Turkey and Greece and then visit with Orthodox Christians who live in the Annapolis area. But most of the rest of the week he’ll be lecturing and meeting U.S. officials to talk about the religious imperative to care for the environment and also religious freedom issues.