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Archons Lead Religious Freedom Mission To The European Union In Support Of Ecumenical Patriarchate

Archon delegation with His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, in Istanbul.
View photos of the Archon Religious Freedom Mission to the European Union »

With the blessings of His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America, Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, a delegation from the Order of Saint Andrew, participated in a rigorous eight-day mission to the European Union in pursuit of religious freedom for the Ecumenical Patriarchate.  Simultaneously, they also endorsed the accession of Turkey to the EU.  The delegation traveled April 2-10, and was guided by His Eminence Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, director of the Liaison Office of the Orthodox Church to the European Union and National Commander Anthony J. Limberakis, M.D.

The dual messages supporting the religious freedom of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and Turkey’s accession to the EU were presented in Budapest, Hungary, the capital of the current EU Presidency, as well as in Berlin, Germany, Ankara and Istanbul, Turkey.  Meetings were conducted with the EU Presidency, religious leaders of Germany, the US Ambassadors in Hungary, Germany and Turkey, the Foreign Ministry of Turkey and the Prime Ministry Secretariat General for EU Affairs of Turkey.  Meetings were also held with representatives of the religious minorities of Turkey.  Many of those same representatives also participated in the International Archon Religious Freedom Conference at the European Parliament last November in Brussels.

On behalf of the Order, National Commander Dr. Limberakis makes a special presentation to the Honorable Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis, US Ambassador to Hungary, in Budapest.

National Commander Limberakis said, “In addition to Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, my deep appreciation is also extended to the members of the delegation, Father Alexander Karloutsos, the Order’s Spiritual Advisor, Archon John Halecky, Jr., National Secretary, Archon James C. Fountas, National Treasurer, and Archon Stephen Georgeson, Coordinator of the Order’s State Legislative Religious Freedom initiative.”

In preparation, the Archon leadership, through the efforts of Archons Andrew and Mike Manatos, met with officials in Washington, D.C. on March 9, to review the religious freedom issues affecting the Ecumenical Patriarchate and to seek the guidance and full support of the United States government for the Archon Mission.  They met with Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip H. Gordon, along with the State Department Director for Southern European Affairs Jess Baily. The leadership also met with Assistant to the President and Deputy National Secretary Advisor Denis McDonough in the West Wing of the White House.

Holds Current Presidency of EU
Coordinates negotiations with EU candidate nations, including Turkey

The Archon delegation with His Excellency Zsolt Semjen, Deputy Prime Minister of Hungary at the Hungarian Parliament, in Budapest.

The delegation began the mission in Hungary, which took over the rotating six-month presidency of the EU this past January. Meetings began on April 4 at the U.S. Embassy with the Honorable Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis, Ambassador to Hungary.

Subsequent meetings were conducted at the Hungarian Parliament with His Excellency Zsolt Semjen, Deputy Prime Minster of Hungary and the Honorable Laszlo Szaszfalvi, Junior Minister for Church Affairs.  The specific areas of concern regarding religious freedom confronting the Ecumenical Patriarchate and Turkey’s EU accession progress were discussed frankly.  The delegation also raised the issue of the continued control by the Moscow Patriarchate of a Greek Orthodox Cathedral that was seized by Soviet Russia when they established a communist regime in Hungary in 1949.

The delegation later met with His Eminence Peter Cardinal Erdo of Budapest, who is also the president of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of Europe (CCEE).

The delegation was hosted that evening by His Excellency Vassos Chamberlen, Ambassador of Cyprus to Hungary, Mr. Alexis Galanos, Mayor of Famagusta, and Mr. Athos Eleftheriou, Mayor of Lapithos.  They attended a Cypriot photography exhibition, entitled, “Famagusta: A European Ghost Town” and “Lapithos: Dawn of Nostos” at the Kempinski Hotel, Corvinus Budapest.

The Archon delegation meets with His Excellency Balint Odor, the Hungarian deputy state secretary for European affairs, European Director, at the offices of the Foreign Ministry, in Budapest.

The Archons hosted a dinner that evening in honor of Ambassador Kounalakis and presented her with a commemorative plaque, “in grateful acknowledgment of your committed support of human rights and religious freedom for the Ecumenical Patriarchate and in recognition of a career of distinguished service to our beloved nation.”

On their second day in Budapest, His Excellency Balint Odor, Secretary of State, received the delegation at the Foreign Ministry for additional meetings.  The delegation visited Fr. Joseph Kalota, a native Hungarian and Protopresvyteros of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the proestamenos of Budapest Greek Orthodox Church, St. Stephanos where a donation was offered in honor of Fr. Karloutsos who was celebrating his birthday! 

U.S. Ambassador Kounalakis, hosted the delegation that evening with her husband Markos, at their official residence.  By invitation of the Ambassador, the delegation attended The Duke Ellington Band Concert at the Budapest Concert Center.

Leading EU State

Accompanied by His Eminence Metropolitan Augoustinos of Germany, the delegation pictured with His Excellency, Dr. Matthias Heinrich, Bishop and Diocesan Administrator of the Berlin Roman Catholic Archdiocese in Germany, in Berlin.

On Wednesday, April 6, a full day of meetings took place in Berlin beginning with His Eminence, Metropolitan Augoustinos of Germany who has served the Orthodox faithful in Germany for 50 years. An insightful meeting followed at the U.S. Embassy with the Honorable Philip Murphy, U.S. Ambassador to Germany.

The Archon delegation met with representatives of the two major religions of Germany: The Evangelical Church in Germany (26 million faithful) and the Roman Catholic Church (26 million faithful).  The Rev. Dr. Volker Faigle, the Plenipotentiary of the Council for the Federal Republic of Germany and the European Union for the Evangelical Church in Germany hosted the delegation to a working luncheon.  Later, a meeting was held with His Excellency Dr. Matthias Heinrich, Bishop and Diocesan Administrator of the Berlin Roman Catholic Archdiocese.

A meeting followed with the Honorable Thomas Rachel, MP, Parliamentary State Secretary to the Federal Minister of Education and Research, Federal Chairman of the CDU/CSU (Christian Democrat Party/Christian Social Party) working group of Protestant MPs (EAK).

Members of the delegation with Rev. Dr. Volker Faigle of the Evangelical Church of Germany. Dr. Faigle is the Church's Plenipotentiary of the Council for the Federal Republic of Germany, in Berlin.

An Archon tribute dinner was held that evening in honor of the Exarch of Central Europe Metropolitan Augoustinos. The delegation made a special presentation to His Eminence with a plaque which read, “to a faithful son of the Mother Church, distinguished hierarch, dutiful disciple and defender of the Great Church of Christ.”  Cyprus Ambassador to Germany (and former Consul General in New York) His Excellency Pantias D. Eliades was an honored guest at the tribute dinner.

Meetings conducted at Turkey’s Embassy in Berlin took place with Minister-Counselor Iskender Okyay and Mustesar Murat Omeroglu.

The delegation concluded their visit to Berlin with a meeting with His Excellency Dimitris Rallis, Greek Ambassador in Berlin.

Capital of Turkey
Second largest city after Istanbul

The delegation with Hon. Francis J. Ricciardone, US Ambassador to Turkey, at the US Embassy Residence in the 9/11 Memorial Orchard, in Ankara.

The delegation arrived in Ankara and met with the Honorable Francis J. Ricciardone, Jr., U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, at the U.S. Embassy Residence where productive discussions commenced.  Ambassador and Mrs. Ricciardone graciously hosted a working luncheon with the human rights officer of the Embassy.  The Delegation once again paid their respects at the 9/11 Memorial Orchard on the Embassy grounds, where in 2002 the Archons presented a California Oak to then Ambassador W. Robert Pearson.

Afternoon meetings continued with Deputy Undersecretary Ambassador Birnur Fertekligil, Ambassador Kerim Uras and Human Rights officer Ambassador Kaan Esener at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

The delegation with Deputy Secretary General F.H. Burak Erdenir, Ph.D. at the EU Affairs Ministry, in Ankara.

The Ankara meetings were concluded at the Prime Ministry Secretariat General for EU Affairs meeting with Deputy Secretary General F.H. Burak Erdenir, Ph.D.

The meetings in Ankara with the Turkish officials acknowledged the positive steps the government has recently taken in support of religious freedom, including the return of the illegally confiscated Patriarchal Orphanage in full compliance of the European Court of Human Rights, the granting of Turkish citizenship to 12 Metropolitans of the Holy See personally sponsored by EU Chief Negotiator Minister Egemen Bagis, the granting or work visas to non Turkish staff at the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the return of property control of numerous schools that were formally under the management of the government setting the stage for real estate development of these properties into buildings supporting the worldwide ministry of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, such as conference centers, community centers, etc.

Yet, the issues that continue to plague and constrict the religious freedom of the Ecumenical Patriarchate were raised with vigor and without compromise, including reopening Halki and the granting of Legal Personality.  The analogy of Halki becoming the Berlin Wall of Turkey was made effectively, having just returned from visiting The Berlin Wall which represented injustice, asphyxiation of fundamental human rights and man’s inhumanity to man.  After these momentous meetings, the Archons were in agreement that they may witnessed for the first time a significant shift in the disposition of the government toward improving the religious freedom deficit in Turkey.  Time will tell.

Reception in honor of His All-Holiness

National Commander Dr. Limberakis addresses His All-Holiness during a tribute dinner held in his honor, in Istanbul.

Prior to their Ankara visit, the Order hosted a tribute dinner on Thursday, April 7 and honored His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at the Marmara Hotel.  Honored guests included hierarchs of the Holy and Sacred Synod, hierarchs of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and members of the Patriarchal Court.

National Commander Dr. Limberakis addressed those gathered saying, “As all of us know very well, this year marks a significant milestone for the Ecumenical Patriarchate and for our Church inasmuch as we are celebrating the 20th blessed anniversary of the Patriarchal tenure and pastoral ministry of His All-Holiness, our spiritual Father and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.”

“This watershed anniversary is significant not only because of the innumerable and impressive achievements of our spiritual leader, but even in and of itself. Because over the last seventeen centuries, only nine Patriarchs completed twenty years of continuous ministry on the Throne of Constantinople-New Rome. Indeed, from the 20th century, only Patriarch Athenagoras; and from this century, only Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew served 20 years. I would humbly claim that it is a unique blessing that both of these visionary leaders were so closely associated with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America,” Limberakis said.

The Archon delegation outside the Ecumenical Patriarchate, in Istanbul.

After citing several examples of personal achievements of leadership roles of His All-Holiness, Dr. Limberakis concluded by saying, “A visionary leader is more than simply the sum of the achievements that he has managed to accumulate over the years. Vision is by definition forward-looking. And we are grateful to God that we are blessed with a spiritual father, who will undoubtedly shower and surprise us with even more gifts and successes in the future.” [Read the National Commander's speech]

After the day-long visit to Ankara, the delegation returned to Istanbul and briefed the Ecumenical Patriarch on their extensive mission in support of the Holy and Sacred See of Constantinople. Before departing, the delegation gathered outside the gates of the Phanar where, in solemn observance, they witnessed His All-Holiness commemorate the martyrdom of Ecumenical Patriarch Gregory V who was hanged by order of the Sultan 190 years ago on Easter Sunday, April 10, 1821. The gates have been welded-shut ever since.

The Archon delegation venerates the holy relics of Saint Gregory the Theologian and Saint John Chrysostom, venerable Archbishops of Constantinople in the fourth and fifth centuries.

Final meetings concluded their mission, which included a reception and working luncheon in honor of the participants to the First International Archon Religious Freedom Conference, held in mid-November of 2010 in Brussels, Belgium. Many of the participants attending were representatives of religious minorities of Turkey and are officially represented in Ankara by Archon Laki Vingas, who was duly elected to this important government position.  Members of the Roman Catholic, Protestant, Greek Orthodox, Muslim Alevi, Syriac (Aramaean) religious communities were present. 

As the Order of Saint Andrew now plans for the Second International Archon Religious Freedom Conference, Turkey’s religious minorities will be fully engaged and participate in this upcoming initiative.  The Order of Saint Andrew made two donations during this event: one to the host community and a second to the Organization of Foundations.

The Archons left Turkey with the blessings of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew energized and redoubled in their efforts to achieve complete and unfettered religious freedom for the Great and Holy Mother Church of Constantinople, the Great Church of Christ.

View photos of the Religious Freedom Mission »

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