The recent troubles of the Orthodox Patriarchate in Istanbul took another twist yesterday after the Russian Orthodox Church said that there was no historical foundation to statements that Patriarch Vartholomaios is the head of all Orthodox Christians. «The Russian Orthodox Church deeply regrets in connection with any unfounded restriction of freedom of belief of the Orthodox faith, wherever it happens, and never has doubted either the historical title of ‘Archbishop of Constantinople – New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarchate,’» the Moscow Patriarchate told the Russian Interfax news agency. «When these titles appeared, the universe meant the Byzantine Empire,» the Moscow Patriarchate said, adding that the «Patriarchate of Constantinople is one of 15 autonomous local Orthodox churches and far from the most numerous one.» A joint statement this week by Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis and the head of the European People’s Party, Wilfried Martens, prompted the reaction from Russia. Bakoyannis and Martens expressed support for Patriarch Vartholomaios and demanded that Turkey recognize the Patriarchate’s legal status and stop interfering in its affairs. In their statement, they referred to the ecumenical patriarch as «the head of the Orthodox Church worldwide since the 6th century AD» and «the spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide.» Sources at the Istanbul Patriarchate said that the «co-coordinating role of the patriarch cannot be doubted by anyone,» giving the example of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which has appealed to the patriarch over its move to separate from the Russian Church.