On the 18th anniversary of his enthronement as the worldwide leader of Orthodox Christianity, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I told an Annapolis congregation on Monday that there was no place else he would rather celebrate.
"There could be no more fitting venue for such an observance than here, in a temple dedicated to those Equals of the Apostles Saints Constantine and Helen; and here, in a land that lies beyond the boundaries of their ken," the archbishop of Constantinople told the hundreds who gathered at Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church. "For it was the vision of these holy rulers to see the true faith of our Lord Jesus Christ spread to every corner of the Oikoumene, the inhabited world, and from there to parts uncharted or as yet unknown. ...
"It is, furthermore, all the more fitting that our patriarchal anniversary remembrance should be in this state of Maryland, founded as it was on the principle of religious liberty, founded as a colony of free men seeking the free exercise of their faith in the Triune God," he continued. "Our patriarchal mission these 18 years has been likewise to champion the cause of human rights for all people, especially in matters of faith and conscience."
Bartholomew arrived in the United States two weeks ago to host a conference on the environment in New Orleans and to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the enthronement of Archbishop Demetrios of America, the leader of the Greek Orthodox Church in the United States. It is the sixth visit of the Istanbul-based patriarch to the United States.
His appearance on Monday was his second in Maryland - he visited the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation in Baltimore in 1997 - and his first to Annapolis.
"It's a tremendous, tremendous honor for us," said the Rev. Kosmas Karavellas, pastor of Sts. Constantine and Helen. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the community, our parishioners and all the Orthodox people."
Bartholomew is to be received by President Barack Obama at the White House today, and to meet with Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and congressional leaders in Washington this week.
He met with former President Bill Clinton and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon in last week in New York.
Orthodox Christianity is the Eastern portion of the schism in 1054 that divided the Christian world into Orthodox and Catholic. Estimates of the number of adherents today range as high as 5 million in the United States and 300 million worldwide, which makes it the second-largest Christian communion after the Roman Catholic Church.
By tradition, the archbishop of Constantinople is first among equals among the 14 patriarchs of Orthodox Christianity. Bartholomew, styled the "green patriarch," has used the position to promote environmental awareness.
The Religion, Science and the Environment symposium, which brought scientists, theologians and policymakers to New Orleans to discuss ecological threats to the Earth, was the eighth he has convened worldwide since 1995.
"Although the time we have been on the planet is insignificant in the context of the life of the planet itself, we have reached a defining moment in our story," he said from the storm-ravaged banks of the Mississippi River. "We have expanded our dominion over nature to the point where absolute limits to our survival are being reached."
Bartholomew also has worked at improving relations with the Roman Catholic Church.
"He has worked for world peace, reconciliation and healing the planet," said Marcus Chacona, the parish council president at Sts. Constantine and Helen. "He's a huge defender of life and freedom and unity among all of God's children."