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CHAMPAIGN — A Tufts University professor and former diplomat is set to speak at a conference this week in Champaign about how the loss of religious freedom has affected the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople — the mother church of most Eastern Orthodox Christians and one of the world’s oldest religious institutions — and why Americans should care.

Elizabeth Prodromou, a professor of international relations at the Massachusetts-based university, will be the guest speaker at the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate Religious Freedom Conference set for Thursday at the I Hotel and Conference Center, 1900 S. First St., C. A meet and greet is set for 3 p.m., with presentations beginning at 3:30.

The event, which is free and open to the public, was originally scheduled to be held in January but was postponed to October due to weather.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate traces its roots to the Apostle Andrew, who established the see of Byzantium in what was then the Roman Empire. It gained importance when Constantine the Great established the city as the empire’s new capital, renaming it Constantinople. After being conquered by Ottoman Turks in 1453, the city became the capital of the Ottoman Empire, with the Ecumenical Patriarchate subject to Islamic rule. When the republic of Turkey was established in 1923, the city was renamed to Istanbul and the patriarchate was subject to the new Turkish government.

At that time, there were about 120,000 members of the Greek Orthodox faith living in the newly proclaimed country; nearly a century later, barely 1,700 to 2,500 remain. There are about 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide.

Prodromou, a former diplomat with the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, blames the exodus of Greek Orthodox believers from Turkey on state policies, whether by secularist or Islamist governments that have persecuted and discriminated against Orthodox Christians.