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The Unexpected Reference of Joe Biden to Constantinople

Constantinople Biden
Hagia Sophia in Constantinople built in AD 537, during the reign of Justinian. Credit: Dennis Jarvis , CC BY-SA 2.0/Wikipedia

In recognizing the Armenia Genocide, US President Joe Biden referred to Constantinople, today’s Istanbul, in a move that raised eyebrows in Greece and beyond.

The relevant section of the statement by Biden reads:

“Beginning on April 24, 1915, with the arrest of Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople by Ottoman authorities, one and a half million Armenians were deported, massacred, or marched to their deaths in a campaign of extermination.”

Analysts point out that at the time, the city was still officially known as Constantinople.

However, Biden could have found a way to rephrase, by including its modern name, or even to omit the reference altogether.

Some believe that the reference to Constantinople was another intended jibe directed against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Others claim that it is the result of Biden’s enormous respect for Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and the Orthodox Church whose spiritual center has been Constantinople for centuries.

Because of its historical location as the capital of the former Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire and its role as the mother church of most modern Orthodox churches, Constantinople holds a special place of honor within Orthodoxy.

It serves as the seat for the Ecumenical Patriarch, who enjoys the status of primus inter pares (first among equals) among the world’s Eastern Orthodox prelates and is regarded as the representative and spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians.

Biden and Constantinople

Biden has met Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew several times, including in America, Greece and Constantinople.

Constantinople Biden
US Vice-President Joe Biden and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in the Phanar in 2014. Photo courtesy of N. Manginas

He has described the meetings as “one of the greatest honors of my life.”

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Biden has said, is the “most Christ-like figure I have ever met.

“I’ve never met anyone like His All-Holiness. He radiates grace, conviction, and faith in every movement,” Biden had said before assuming office.

The relationship between the two leaders should bode well for numerous concerns of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, reports say.

In January, Bartholomew praised Biden for his actions regarding the lifting of a travel ban from some predominantly Muslim nations and the rejoining of the Paris Climate Agreement.

In an official communique the Patriarch stated:

“The Ecumenical Patriarchate expresses its delight over two highly symbolical executive orders of the new U.S. President.

“The Ecumenical Patriarchate congratulates the new President of the United States, Joseph Biden, on assuming his duties, and expresses its delight regarding two highly symbolical executive orders signed immediately after his inauguration.”

Biden sent a letter to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in response.

In a handwritten postscript, Biden wrote to the Ecumenical Patriarch: “Stay well. We need your leadership.”



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