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Excerpts from Vice President Biden's remarks at the 42nd Biennial Clergy-Laity Congress in Philadelphia
On Wednesday, July 9, 2014, Vice President Joe Biden addressed the delegates of the 42nd Biennial Clergy-Laity Congress of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, during the Grand Banquet, held in the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown Hotel.
The Vice President expressed his unequivocal support for the right of the Greek Orthodox Church and the Ecumenical Patriarchate to control its destiny, free of the influence of any government. He said that the right to decide who the Patriarch is, is not the business of any state to determine. He also said that the right to reopen Halki Seminary is basic, and the protection of the holy places and the heritage sites in Turkey is absolutely necessary.
Below are excerpts from his speech that pertain to religious freedom and to the Ecumenical Patriarchate:
"I can honestly say that the time I spent in Turkey, the time I spent with the Patriarch, was one of the highlights of my career ...
"I mean this from the bottom of my heart: His All-Holiness is one of the most Christ-like figures I have ever met in my life. He really is a remarkable, remarkable, remarkable gentle man with a backbone of steel. You know, I was the first sitting Vice President to have the opportunity to have an audience with the Ecumenical Patriarch. And it was one of the great honors of my career.
"In addition to him being so warm and Christ-like in his generosity, he is also devoid of any pretense. There is absolutely no pretense about the man. He just envelops you when you speak with him. The truth of the matter is that his declaration back in 1997, that “to commit a crime against the natural world ... is a sin” was way ahead of his time, earning him the nickname of “the Green Patriarch,” which I believe he has worn as a badge of honor since that day.
"This Patriarch is also someone who reaches out. He’s the first Patriarch to ever attend a Papal inauguration, that of Pope Francis. And it didn’t surprise me that, when I was with President Shimon Peres, awarding him the Congressional Gold Medal not too long ago, he told me that when he and President Mahmoud Abbas, met recently – a Jew and a Muslim – they asked the Patriarch to pray for them. They asked the Patriarch to pray for them. As I said, this is a man who does everything in his life that I can observe consistent with what he says and what he believes ...
"The second issue that I would like to mention tonight, and one about which I am equally optimistic, is religious freedom and the right of the Greek Orthodox Church to control its destiny free of the influence of any government – of any government at all. The right to decide who the Patriarch is, is not the business of any State to determine. Period. Period. The right to reopen Halki Seminary is basic. And the protection of the holy places and the heritage sites in Turkey is absolutely necessary. It is basic. It is the essence of religious freedom ...
"And as my friends in the community know, I’ve had that direct discussion with Prime Minister Erdogan, whom I know well. I’ve been direct with him – I know that’s a shock to you. But I’ve been direct; and I believe, I believe that there’s some reason for optimism. That’s one of the reasons I went from championing the cause in the Senate to championing the cause as Vice President – telling anyone who would listen that it’s long past time to realize the long sought-after goal of reopening Halki Seminary. I spoke about this; but it’s so basic. It’s not just basic; it goes beyond a Greek issue, a Greek Orthodox issue. It’s basic. It’s absolutely basic. It was a discussion that went on back in December of 2011 and continues with me. We believe in the universal right to worship freely. And I strongly believe that each of these cases – and others – the great faith of the Greek Orthodox Church should have what all people of all faiths deserve” the freedom to practice one’s religion without any restriction ...
"And I want to close with an idea that His All-Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch discussed in my home in 2009 as my guest. “Throughout your life,” he said, ”you have heard a simple command: Arise!” Arise! He went on to say, and I quote: “Such a simple idea; but how profound an idea! How great a call to serve your fellow man and woman!” This moment in history demands that we arise. That people of conscience, compassion, courage, and faith heed the call and arise to meet the needs of our country and world."