His Holiness Dimitrios I, spiritual leader of the world's Eastern Orthodox Christians, will tour the United States in July in the first-ever visit to North America by the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople.
The 75-year-old patriarch will arrive in Washington from Istanbul on July 2, meet with President Bush 10 days later and visit at least eight cities, including San Francisco, according to officials of the New York-based Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America.
Dimitrios I tentatively is set to visit San Francisco from July 19 to 21, his only stop west of the Mississippi, said Nikki Stephanopoulos, information director for the archdiocese. "Los Angeles people are trying to get him to stop there, too, although the schedule is tight already," she said.
The Very Rev. James T. Adams of Los Angeles' St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral said, "We are hoping that His Holiness will be able to visit Los Angeles, even if it is a short stopover."
The 269th ecumenical patriarch is the administrative and spiritual leader of Greek Orthodox faithful worldwide. In addition, he is regarded historically as "first among equals" among the patriarchs of Russian, Ukrainian, Carpatho-Russian, Romanian, Albanian, Antiochian, Bulgarian and Serbian Orthodox believers. Estimates of Eastern Orthodox faithful around the world range between 150 million and 250 million people.
Enthroned as patriarch on July 18, 1972, Dimitrios I limited his travel outside of Turkey in his first dozen years to visiting the ancient sees of Christian churches in the Middle East. He also received Pope John Paul II in 1979 at his small Greek Orthodox enclave in Istanbul (the name given to Constantinople in 1930). Turkey, an overwhelmingly Muslim country periodically at odds with Greece, had been wary of any sign that the patriarchate was seeking a stronger political and diplomatic foothold in the country, analysts have said.
But Dimitrios I has demonstrated over the years that he is "apolitical," said Bishop Isaiah, chancellor of the Greek Orthodox archdiocese. Despite the plan to meet Bush in Washington, the patriarch "emphasizes on his trips that his purpose is to meet with church leaders."
Dimitrios I made his first western trip in December, 1984, traveling to the Vatican to meet with the Pope, then to England to meet with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican churches. Then in 1987, he traveled extensively, including the first visit to the Russian Orthodox Church by an ecumenical patriarch since the 16th Century.
The patriarch's 11-day stay in Washington is designed to coincide with the 30th Biennial Clergy-Laity Congress of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. Dimitrios I will celebrate and preach at the Patriarchal Liturgy on July 8. He will meet with Bush at the White House on July 12, followed by a church congress banquet, which Bush is expected to attend, Stephanopoulos said.
He will visit New York City from July 13-17, with a liturgy at the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity; a dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel; a luncheon at the United Nations; meetings with church leaders, and tours of parishes, an orphanage and a school.
He is to meet with Russian Orthodox leaders in Perth Amboy, N.J., on July 17 and with Ukrainian Orthodox leaders in Allentown, Pa., on July 18. Then he will go to San Francisco and Chicago for three days each.
Stephanopoulos said he will spend part of July 25 in Buffalo, N.Y., for two reasons: "He requested to see Niagara Falls from both sides and will be walking across the Peace Bridge. Then, because there are many Orthodox in Canada, it will be an opportunity for people from Canada to come see him in Buffalo."
After leaving Buffalo, Dimitrios I will stay in Boston, visiting an Orthodox theological school, receiving an honorary degree and meeting Albanian Orthodox residents, before returning home on July 29.