WASHINGTON -- The spiritual leader of the world's 250 million Orthodox Christians paid his first courtesy call on the Bush administration Tuesday (March 5), commending the president on his efforts to fight global terrorism and bring peace to the Middle East.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, in his first official visit to the United States since 1997, also met with Secretary of State Colin Powell and said he received a "very warm reception."

"The president is very concerned about the situation in the Middle East," the 61-year-old patriarch said after his Oval Office meeting with Bush. "He said much hatred still exists and he will continue his efforts until he is able to bring peace there and worldwide."

Wearing the flowing black robes and round clerical hat of an Orthodox hierarch, Bartholomew also sported American flag cuff links, which he said the president "liked very much."

Bartholomew met privately with the president and Archbishop Demetrios, head of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and his chief liaison to the U.S. churches. He said the three discussed the role of the ecumenical patriarchate, the plight of the Christian community in the Middle East and his recent trips to Iran and Bahrain.

Bartholomew "was very clear in saying that he appreciates what the president and the United States do for promoting, on the one hand, tolerance and freedom and free communications and cooperation between religion in general and also between the people," Demetrios said.

Demetrios said the meeting was characterized by "real, direct, human communication between two leaders who deal with very serious and difficult problems."

After his meeting with Powell, Bartholomew said he was "very happy and very satisfied" after talking with the secretary about "the role of religion in order to eliminate religious fanaticism and terrorism."

During his six-day visit to the United States, Bartholomew is also expected to meet with Roman Catholic leaders here and visit the Holy Cross School of Theology outside Boston. On Friday (March 8), Bartholomew is scheduled to visit New York City, where he will make a pastoral visit to the site of the former St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, which was destroyed by falling rubble from the World Trade Center towers.

Bartholomew has helped lead a global campaign to rebuild the tiny New York church, with an initial pledge of $50,000.

There are an estimated 3 million Orthodox Christians in the United States among nine major ethnic churches.

Bartholomew, based in Istanbul, is the spiritual head of Orthodox Christianity. Unlike the pope, he does not have doctrinal authority over Eastern Orthodox churches, but is considered the "first among equals" in the Orthodox hierarchy.

Born in 1940 to a Greek family on the Turkish island of Imvros, Bartholomew was ordained a priest in 1969 and consecrated a bishop in 1973. For years he served as assistant to Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios I until his death in 1991. He was unanimously elected ecumenical patriarch just days after Dimitrios' death and was installed on Nov. 2, 1991.
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