WASHINGTON (RNS) With his flowing black robe and long white beard, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew is a living portrait of the 2,000-year-old Orthodox Christian faith.
And yet, he says, he's somewhat of a revolutionary.
''By calling Christianity revolutionary, and saying it is dedicated to change, we are not siding with progressives — just as, by conserving it, we are not siding with conservatives," he said in a lecture at Georgetown University on Tuesday (Nov. 3).
''The only side that we take is that of our faith, which today may seem to land us in one political camp, tomorrow another, but in truth we are always only in one camp, that of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."
The speech of the Istanbul-based patriarch was one of numerous appearances by the man known for his advocacy of interfaith relations and religious freedom, and often dubbed the "green patriarch" for working to combat environmental degradation.
During his two-and-a-half week U.S. visit, he's spoken from the banks of the Mississippi River, where he led a conference on problems affecting the world's major bodies of water. He later traveled to New York, where he received an honorary degree from Catholic leaders at Fordham University, visited a Manhattan synagogue and conducted a prayer service at the United Nations.
The 69-year-old patriarch is the top spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians and their primary messenger to people unfamiliar with Orthodox traditions or theology.
''He's someone who can speak a language that everyone understands," said Elizabeth Prodromou, a Greek Orthodox Christian and director of a program on international relations and religion at Boston University. "He makes religion accessible in terms of those urgent problems that preoccupy all of us as human beings and American citizens."
Bartholomew may speak for the grass roots but he has the ear of the powerful across Washington.
In addition to meeting with President Obama, the patriarch's schedule includes dinner at Vice President Joe Biden's residence, meetings with congressional leaders and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and sessions with ambassadors to Turkey and Greece.