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Religious Freedom Dominates US Official’s Meeting with Patriarch Bartholomew

Credit: Wendy R. Sherman / Twitter

The US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman met with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew, in Istanbul on Saturday.

The Ecumenical Patriarch presented the activities, initiatives as well as priorities of the Orthodox Christian Church, informing the American official of the latest ecclesiastical developments in the region and around the world.

Sherman declared how important religious freedom is nowadays and stressed out that the United States shows particular respect for the historic institution of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the role it has to play today.

In a tweet that was uploaded in her personal Twitter account, the American official noted that ”The United States is committed to supporting religious freedom around the world.”

Sherman also pointed out that America values its ”partnership with the Orthodox community worldwide and religious minorities in Turkey & the region.”

Why the Ecumenical Patriarch matters

The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople is one of the autocephalous churches that together compose the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church. It is headed by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, currently Bartholomew I, Archbishop of Constantinople.

Because of its very important historical location in Constantinople, 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 and Chsistianity in general.

Constantinople 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 churches and is regarded as the representative and spiritual leader of all Orthodox Christians around the world.

US-Turkey relations remain tense

Sherman is in Turkey in an attempt to bridge the major differences that currently separate Washington and Ankara.

Over the last two days, the American official held talks with a series of Turkish officials to discuss a wide range of issues.

“We appreciate Turkey’s continued support to over 4 million refugees,” Wendy Sherman said on Twitter recently, following a meeting with Sedat Onal, the Turkish deputy foreign minister.

However, tensions between the US and Turkey remain high. Earlier this month, the US State Department slammed Turkey on its record on religious freedoms citing the pressures exerted on the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the 2020 International Religious Freedom Report.

The report said that the Turkish government “continued to restrict efforts of minority religious groups to train their clergy,” and the Greek Orthodox Halki Seminary remained closed.

It added that it “continued not to recognize Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I as the leader of the world’s approximately 300 million Orthodox Christians, consistent with the government’s stance that there was no legal obligation for it to do so.”

The report also criticized the limitations on the rights of non-Muslim religious minorities in the country.

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