Gov. Mark Dayton met with leaders of the Greek Orthodox Church last Sunday, and it wasn't to share a slice of baklava at the Greek festival.
A Greek Orthodox bishop, as well as three local clergy, carried a message to the governor's St. Paul residence that they considered urgent. Would Dayton support a resolution calling for an end to Turkey's pressures on the "pope" of the world's Orthodox Christians?
The so-called Ecumenical Patriarch, historically based in Istanbul, Turkey, is the spiritual leader and figurehead for the world's 250 million Orthodox Christians. Over the years, however, the government has shut down the sole Orthodox seminary in Turkey, confiscated church property, and imposed steep taxes on what remained.
It also requires that all patriarchs be Turkish citizens, only recently granting citizenship to select bishops from outside the country. The provision could dramatically narrow the pool of candidates as there are only about 3,000 Orthodox Christians remaining in the predominantly Muslim nation.
"These are some issues that are important to us, and why we want the resolution passed," said Rev. Fr. Richard Demetrius Andrews, pastor of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in St. Paul, who met with the governor.
Already 44 states have approved such resolutions, which have made a difference, said Bishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago, who was part of the group.
For example, several weeks after the state of Illinois passed its resolution in 2013, the Turkish government returned several hundred acres of land around its closed-down seminary.
"As each state has passed this resolution ... we have seen progress toward addressing many of these concerns," said the bishop.
Top U.S. leaders, including President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, also have pressed Turkey on the issue, said John Ackerman, spokesman for the bishop's office.
The Greeks' plea received a thoughtful reception in Minnesota.
"Gov. Dayton expressed interest in the resolution and pledged to seriously review and consider the issue," said Dayton press secretary Sam Fettig.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew is considered by the faithful to be the direct successor of the Apostle Andrew. While little known in Minnesota, he's carved an international reputation for promoting interfaith dialogue and environmental concerns.
In 1997, he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. In 2008, he was among Time Magazine's "100 Most Influential People in the World." He has met with popes and world leaders, and was awarded honorary doctorates by more than a dozen universities, including Yale and Harvard.
Both the U.S. House and Senate have already passed resolutions calling on Turkey to end some of its practices undermining the patriarch, said Ackerman.
The Greek clergy also met with U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, who pledged to introduce the resolution next legislative session.
Pappas said she introduced a similar bill several years ago, but it never had legs. She urged the group to get more active in the legislative process this time around.
Minnesota is home to four Greek Orthodox churches, with a combined membership of about 5,000 people, said Andrews. Those members will be encouraged to contact their legislators about the resolution, and the regional bishop is likely to return to St. Paul at some point as well.
Said Ackerman, "We're going to make a push to make this happen."
Jean Hopfensperger 612 673-4511