Photo taken on August 22, 2021 of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartolomeo in Kiev, Ukraine.  (AP Photo / Efrem Lukatsky)

WASHINGTON (AP) – The spiritual leader of the world’s 200 million Orthodox Christians was hospitalized Sunday, just as he began a 12-day tour of the United States.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartolomeo was leaving for a religious service at St. Sophia Cathedral in Washington when he became ill “due to the long flight and the extensive program of events he had upon arrival,” the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of the United States reported.

“The doctor advised him to rest and as a precaution” to go to the George Washington University Hospital “to be evaluated,” added the religious body in a statement.

Bartolomeo, 81, has expressed dismay over a wide range of political, religious and environmental issues. On his tour of the United States, he was to meet with President Joe Biden and various religious organizations.

The patriarch is considered first among equals in the Eastern Orthodox hierarchy, which gives him prominence but not the power that a Catholic pope has.

The patriarch, who has visited North America several times in his 30 years in office, was preparing to discuss issues such as a restructuring of his church in the United States and the status of his religion in Turkey, his native country.

Bartolomeo is scheduled to receive an honorary degree from the University of Notre Dame on Thursday, in an event that will emphasize Catholic-Orthodox relations. The two religions split in 1054 due to theological disputes and over the supremacy of the pope.

Bartolomeo also has a ceremony scheduled at St. Nicholas Church in New York City, built to replace the one that was destroyed during the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Just as its influence in Turkey is limited, it is also limited in the Eastern-Greek communion, whose roots are in Eastern Europe and the Middle East but with a worldwide diaspora.

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The Associated Press coverage of religious issues is supported by the Lilly Endowment through the Religion News Foundation. The AP is solely responsible for its content.

Photo taken on August 22, 2021 of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartolomeo in Kiev, Ukraine. (AP Photo / Efrem Lukatsky)

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