Eastern Orthodox chief pays tribute to pope

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the head of the Eastern Orthodox Church, paid tribute to outgoing Pope Benedict XVI on Monday, stressing the good relations the two had shared.

"We Orthodox will always honour him as a friend of the Church," Patriarch Bartholomew, who is based in Istanbul, said in a statement after the pope announced his intention to resign.

"On a personal note, I will always remember with deep emotion his visit to the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate more than six years ago, as well as our many meetings and the good collaboration that we had," the patriarch added.

Bartholomew has the status of "first among equals" among the heads of the other Orthodox churches.

This makes him formally the spiritual leader of the world's 300 million Orthodox Christians, although in practice his jurisdiction only covers the small community of ethnic Greeks in Turkey.