The head of Greece's Orthodox Church, Archbishop Christodoulos, was undergoing a liver transplant in a hospital in Miami Monday, after waiting 50 days for a compatible organ to become available, church officials in Athens said.
The 68-year-old archbishop was diagnosed with cancer in June after undergoing intestinal surgery, and had spent 40 days in a hospital in Athens.
He traveled to Miami on Aug. 18, and a compatible liver donor was found on Sunday night, church officials said in Athens. The operation was being overseen by Dr. Andreas Tzakis, director of the University of Miami's organ transplant institute.
Initial indications as to the outcome of the operation, which was expected to last for about nine or 10 hours, were expected some time after 2 p.m. Greek time (1100GMT), said the archbishop's spokesman, Harris Konidaris.
Elected church leader in 1998, Christodoulos often stirred controversy with politically tinged statements.
He was instrumental in attempts to improve ties with the Catholic Church; in 2001, Christodoulos received in Athens Pope John Paul II - the first pope to visit Greece in nearly 1,300 years - ignoring loud protests from Orthodox zealots. He followed up last year with a historic visit to the Vatican, where he and Pope Benedict XVI signed a joint declaration calling for inter-religious dialogue and restating opposition to abortion and euthanasia.
In Greece, politicians accused the archbishop of meddling in their affairs, angered by his vocal criticism of everything from homosexuality and globalization to Turkey's efforts to join the European Union and a recent government effort to tone down nationalism in school history books.