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Ecumenical Patriarch Makes International Tour

November 12, 1987

ISTANBUL, Turkey (AP) _ After years in seclusion, Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios, spiritual leader of the world’s 180 million Eastern Orthodox Christians, is traveling abroad to meet the faithful and promote church unity.

Dimitrios, 73, started his tour in May, meeting fellow patriarchs in Jerusalem and Alexandria, Egypt.

Then came visits to Russian Patriarch Pimen in the Soviet Union and the Orthodox churches in Romania and Yugoslavia.

On Friday, the patriarch starts a four-day visit to Greece, the only country where Eastern Orthodoxy is the official religion.

Next month he goes to the Vatican to meet Pope John Paul II and to London for talks with Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie, spiritual leader of the Anglican Church.

″I’m on a tour of visits to our flock. The trip to Moscow went well, and I’m looking forward to Athens,″ he said in an interview at the Patriarchate in the Fener district of Istanbul, center of Orthodox Christianity.

A Patriarchate spokesman, the Rev. Meliton Carras, said a new ecumenical spirit is flourishing in the Orthodox church. A historic pan-Orthodox synod is planned for next year, when the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates the 1,000th anniversary of the introduction of Christianity into parts of what is now the Soviet Union.

″The patriarch’s vists remind people in different countries that they’re also part of a wider Orthodox family and the mother church,″ Carras said. ″And fostering unity among the Eastern churches serves Christianity everywhere.″

The pan-Orthodox synod was first proposed in 1961 to reconcile differences among the Orthodox churches. But planning was slowed by political rifts between Orthodox churches in the West and those in Communist countries.

Dimitrios is known as ″primus inter pares″ of the five Eastern Christian leaders, Latin for ″first among equals,″ and his primacy also is recognized by the East bloc churches.

But as a Greek cleric based in overwhelmingly Moslem Turkey, he keeps a low profile at home and is careful to stay out of Greek-Turkish political quarrels.

The shabby 19th-century Patriarchate offices and its cavernous dusty church carry few echoes of the Byzantine Empire’s medieval splendor, when Istanbul was called Constantinople and boasted hundreds of Orthodox churches.

The patriarch was known then as ″the living icon,″ after the sacred portraits of saints found in Orthodox churches, and wielded considerable political influence.

Now there are fewer than 4,000 Greeks in Turkey in a community that has dwindled from 200,000 in a generation as a result of economic pressures and Greek-Turkish hostilities.

The Turkish government downplays the patriarch’s status and refuses to recognize his ecumenical role. He is treated as the head of a small religious minority on equal standing with Jewish and Armenian religious leaders.

But Premier Turgut Ozal’s government has boosted relations with the patriarch in the past year and raises no objection to his traveling abroad, Turkish officials and Orthodox clergymen said.

″We get along with Turkish officialdom much better now - the Ozal government gave us a permit in April to rebuild our burnt wing after a 46-year delay,″ Carras said, gesturing toward a four-story concrete building under construction in the Patriarchate courtyard.

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