The Ecumenical Patriarchate's representative to the European Parliament in Belgium crossed the Atlantic specifically to discuss the religious freedom process with His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios and the National Council of the Order of St. Andrew/Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate during its most recent monthly meeting.
At the headquarters of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, His Eminence Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, the director of the Patriarchate's Liaison Office to the European Union, exhorted the Archons to make an official visit to Brussels within the next few months. The trip will focus on meeting EU officials, and bringing to their attention the religious human rights deficit vis-a-vis the Ecumenical Patriarchate, as October 2005 approaches -- the scheduled start date for Turkey's negotiations to join the EU.
The Archons are hoping the upcoming EU accession talks will motivate Turkish leaders to reverse their discriminatory policies against non-Muslim religious minorities. The government's long-standing religious human right violations against the Ecumenical Patriarchate have been threatening to exterminate the Orthodox Christian community in Turkey. The policies include refusing to recognize the Patriarchate's ecumenical status, denying it permission to repair its properties, expropriating thousands of church properties, and disallowing the re-opening of the Halki Theological School, which the government forcibly closed in 1971.
According to a 2005 report by Yale Law School, Turkey's squelching of the religious freedoms of non-Muslim minorities violates its obligations under international human rights law and the Treaty of Lausanne, which it signed in 1923.
Addressing the Archons, the Metropolitan said, "The work I think we need to do, I in Brussels and you here and in Ankara and in Istanbul, is to see which way we can bring the issues of the Patriarchate forward and persuade the decision-makers that these are vital issues that affect not only our community but also other minorities in Turkey."
Metropolitan Emmanuel emphasized that this was a crucial period in the Patriarchate's history, a time when the Archons' work can influence authorities in the U.S. and Europe for the benefit of the church. He described the Archons' first visit to Brussels as an educational one.
"They would come to understand and see which way we can act," he said. "They are not men of the cloth, but they are very influential as a group."
His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and the Ecumenical Patriarchate's Exarch in America, suggested the Archons may have been "born and brought into this world for this moment."
"We are perhaps privileged and called for this specific mission at this time in history," said Archbishop Demetrios. "Perhaps now we enter the most decisive period in our work here as Archons." Archon National Commander Dr. Anthony Limberakis said now may be the most dangerous time for the Ecumenical Patriarchate since 1922, when thousands of Greek Orthodox in Turkey perished or were driven from their homes during the height of ethnic warfare in the Balkans.
"Never before has there been this opportunity to exert pressure that we as Americans and Orthodox Christians can do," said Dr. Limberakis. "This really defines the role of the Archons to defend the mother Church."
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew established the Liaison Office to the EU in 1994 as a means of defending the church's concerns in Europe, keeping open relations with European institutions and fostering inter-religious dialogue. He appointed Metropolitan Emmanuel, who studied under Archbishop Demetrios when the latter taught at the Holy Cross School of Theology in Brookline, Mass.