It has been a surprise and a joy for the Orthodox world and even more so for the Greeks: Mike Pompeo, the American Secretary of State, during his tour of several countries in Europe and the Middle East (including France, Georgia, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) chose to visit Istanbul to meet only with the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartolomeo I.
During his interview, Mike Pompeo, who traveled from Paris where he met with President Emmanuel Macron and Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, highlighted yesterday that the Ecumenical Patriarchate is “an essential partner as we continue to defend religious freedom in the whole world”. Accompanied by his wife, they also visited the Patriarchal Church of San Jorge. This visit to the leader of the Orthodox, according to the statement of the US Secretary of State, dealt with religious issues in Turkey and the region, as well as to promote “our firm position on religious freedom throughout the world.”
On the first leg of Pompeo’s trip to Paris, Pompeo discussed with President Macron and other authorities issues of economy and security, as well as counterterrorism and global threats. According to the French newspaper Le Figaro, “Macron and I spent a long time talking about recent actions by Turkey and we agree that they are very aggressive. ‘
The Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarchate is historically the first among all Orthodox Churches (primus inter pares) and the Ecumenical Patriarch is considered the representative and spiritual leader of all Orthodox Christians. It has been in Istanbul for many centuries and its importance grew during the Byzantine Empire.
Now the situation with the Turkish authorities is tense, given that the Greek community in the country is very small (about three thousand people) and that Turkish law requires that every Ecumenical Patriarch be a Turkish citizen by birth. Likewise, the Turkish authorities have expropriated ecclesiastical properties and closed in 1971 the Halki Theological School (located on Heybeliada island, in the Sea of Marmara). The reopening of this school, which includes the seminary, remains one of the constant demands of the Orthodox and all Greek governments. Alexis Tsipras himself officially visited the school as Prime Minister in February 2019 and different US governments support this opening, including Clinton in 1999 and Obama in 2009.
The Turkish authorities were willing to also meet with Pompeo yesterday, offering that Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and other authorities would travel from Ankara to see him, something that was rejected by the US Secretary of State.
Pompeo is a member of the Evangelical Christian Presbyterian Evangelical Church (the evangelists have mostly supported Trump in the elections four years ago and in those of a few days ago) and the Hellenic-American media emphasize that he was accompanied by his wife Susan, who they describe as a Christian orthodox. In any case, Pompeo’s wife, who has accompanied him on his two official trips to Greece, one in Athens and one in Crete during the Trump presidency, has visited Orthodox churches with great interest.