|His Eminence Metropolitan Alexios of Atlanta, Bishop John of Amorion, Fr. George Tsahakis, Chancellor, Metropolis of Atlanta Priests, Hon. Vasilios Goulousis, Consul of Greece, Dr. Jay Sekulow, Keynote Speaker, Archon Dr. Manuel Tissura, Chairman and Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate at the Religious Freedom Initiaviative Banquet.
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The theme for this year's Annual Spring Meeting of the Metropolis of Atlanta was Religious Freedom. The Archon activities for the entire weekend of March 17 & 18 focused on the critical issue of Religious Freedom for the Ecumenical Patriarchate and featured Dr. Jay A. Sekulow, Chief Counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice.
A special Forum on Religious Freedom began the Archons' activities on Saturday afternoon in the Metropolis Chapel of Archangel Michael. The Forum featured Dr. Jay A. Sekulow, and Dr.Andrew Ekonomou, Senior Council of the European Center for Law and Justice, both of whom fielded questions from the Archons regarding progress on the critical issues of legal recognition of the Patriarchate as Ecumenical, reopening of the Theological Seminary at Halki, and return of confiscated properties from the Turkish government. Regional Commander Dr. Manuel Tissura acted as moderator.
Highlights of the Forum were as follows:
1) Status of any progress toward the Patriarchal legal standing within Turkey. Dr. Sekulow informed the Archons that on a visit with His All Holiness Bartholomew to the Court of Human Rights in Geneva last year, his All Holiness determined it would be best to follow a political and diplomatic solution to the problem rather than a legal one, even though the law suit to restore an orphanage to the Patriarchate had been successful. Further litigation, it was felt, would only increase polarization of the Turkish population, now that it was becoming less secular and more fundamentalist Islamic.
2) Compensation for damages at Halki, The Halki Seminary remains in good condition but the Turkish government is not honoring any of its agreements, nor has it cooperated on granting of any permits for maintenance and repair. The Halki Library is intact and the archives remain viable.
3) Whether the perception of the Turkish regime as secular is still accurate. Both Dr. Sekulow and Dr. Ekonomou emphasized that the Turkish government is definitely moving toward fundamentalist Islam and that this is having a decided negative effect on potential litigation.
4) To what degree of influence can the European Union wield on Turkey? Dr. Sekulow stated that EU membership is no longer an attractive option for Turkey, which prefers a leadership role in the Arab spring movement. Another factor is the economic disruption in the West, which further diminishes the influence of the EU.
Concerns were raised about possible initiatives to support the Patriarchate. Dr. Sekulow pointed to the visit of the Pope to the Phanar as significant and said the US State Department is applying more direct pressure. However, the grim reality is that the tide is shifting to the Islamic East.
The Forum lasted a lively 45 minutes and ended with words of gratitude to Dr. Sekulow and Dr. Ekonomou by Archon Dr. Tissura for their valuable contribution to the Forum. Dr. Sekulow, in turn, complimented moderator Dr. Tissura and the Archons on the "tough, challenging, and knowledgeable" questions asked. The Forum ended with a prayer by Rev. Fr. George Tsahakis, Metropolis Chancellor. The formal meeting of the Metropolis of Atlanta Archons followed in the Metropolis Boardroom.
A Religious Freedom Initiative Banquet was held on Saturday evening at Atlanta's 103 West Restaurant, featuring Dr. Sekulow as keynote speaker. Due to the importance of the topic, the Banquet was open to the entire community. Among those attending were His Eminence Metropolitan Alexios of Atlanta, His Grace Bishop John of Amorian, His Grace Bishop Sevastianos of Zela, numerous visiting Priests, Archons, and many guests throughout the Archdiocese. Dr. Sekulow gave an impassioned address titled "Freedom of Religion as the First Freedom". His electrifying presentation, delivered with such conviction, was greeted with a standing ovation.
Another special feature of the banquet was the honoring of His Eminence Metropolitan Alexios on the 25th Anniversary of his Elevation to the Episcopacy and his Name Day. His Eminence expressed his gratitude to Dr. Jay Sekulow for his notable work on behalf of the Patriarchate and of all the persecuted Christians .His Eminence also thanked Archon Dr. Manuel Tissura for his diligence as Regional Commander and to everyone who had helped make the evening a magnificent success.
The inspiring weekend concluded with a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy in Atlanta's Annunciation Cathedral on Sunday, March 18, with all the Archons joining His Eminence Metropolitan Alexios, His Grace Bishop John of Amorion, Fr. George Tsahakis, Chancellor, Fr. Paul Kaplanis, Dean and Fr. Christos Mars and Fr. Ken Anthony in the procession of the Veneration of the Cross, through the Sanctuary. Dr. Sekulow marched with the Archons and addressed a rapt congregation at the conclusion of the service with a continuation of the Religious Freedom Initiative theme.
The inspirational weekend will remain memorable in the hearts and minds of all who participated in this year's Annual Spring Meeting of the Metropolis of Atlanta Archons.
The Priests and Archons that were present for the week-end activities included: His Eminence Metripolitan Alexios of Atlanta, His Grace Bishop John of Amorion, His Grace Bishop Sevastianos of Zela, Rev. Father George Tsahakis, Chancellor, several Priests of the Metropolis, Dr. Manuel N. Tissura, Regional Commander, Atlanta, Harry Cavalaris, Regional Commander, Charlotte, NC, Tommy Yearout, Regional Commander, Birmingham, AL, Dr. Theodore P. Vlahos, Regional Commander, Tampa Bay Area, FL, Peter Skeadas, National Council, Connecticut, Stephen Georgeson, National Council, Atlanta, GA, Anthony Stefanis, Archdiocese National Council, Atlanta, GA, Les George, Secretary., Ron Canakaris, Steven Doulevaris, Larry Guess, John Kalinoglou, Andrew Kampiziones, I. Pano Karatassos, Nick Katapodis, Dr. George Kleris, Sam Kleto, Dr. George Koulianos, Konstantinos Kozakos , Judge Constantine P. Lantz, Chris Mandaleris, Bill Marianes, Nick Moraitakis, , Dr. Nick Moustoukas, Ted Pappas, Solon Patterson, George Psetas, Dr. William Skaljon, James Tasios, Constantine Vrettos, Louis Zakas,
-Submitted by Archon Manuel N. Tissura, DDS, Regional Commander Metropolis of Atlanta