The Missouri House of Representatives and the Missouri Senate have taken a strong stand for religious freedom by calling on the government of Turkey to guarantee full religious and human rights for the Ecumenical Patriarch and all religious minorities.
With the adoption on this month of House Resolution 1365, sponsored by Rep. Kurt Bahr, and Senate Resolution 1762, sponsored by Senator Eric Schmitt, Missouri joins 40 other states in which the Legislatures have expressed support for the Patriarch's rights. Currently, there are 50 resolutions adopted by 41 states.
The Missouri effort was led by Father Doug Papulis, Father Michael Arbanas, Tom Antoniou, Nicky Antoniou, Vanessa Antoniou, Keith Maib, Bill Kartsonis and Michael Angelides, under the guidance of Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos, chancellor of the Metropolis of Chicago and with the blessings of Metropolitan Iakovos of Chicago.
The nationwide effort to adopt Religious Freedom resolutions in all fifty states is part of a multi-faceted effort, being led by the Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle, and coordinated by Archon Stephen Georgeson, in the United States, in Europe and in Turkey in support of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Fr. Douglas Papulis, proistamenos of St. Nicholas, traveled to the state Capitol in March with Fr. Michael Arbanas and a group of parishioners to gather support among legislators for the resolution and its Senate companion, sponsored by Sen. Eric Schmitt.
"In an era when many people think that partisanship has made our government ineffective, it was very encouraging to see such strong bipartisan support for the religious freedom of the Patriarch and the Church," Papulis said.
The Turkish government refuses to recognize the global character of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew's office and regards him as no more than the bishop of the 2,500 or so Orthodox Christians remaining in Turkey (down from 1.8 million in 1914). It has insisted that new Patriarchs be elected from the rapidly dwindling population of Greek Orthodox citizens of Turkey.
The government has confiscated hundreds of churches and other properties historically belonging to the Orthodox Church, and in 1971 it forcibly closed the seminary at Halki, the major center for the education of future Church leaders.
In recent years, though, as Turkey has endeavored to join the European Union, the government has eased some of the pressure on the Church. The Missouri resolution commends this progress and urges the Turkish government to fully guarantee the religious rights of all its citizens.
In the Resolutions, the House and Senate "urge the government of Turkey to uphold and safeguard the religious and human rights of all its citizens without compromise, to grant the Ecumenical Patriarch appropriate international recognition, ecclesiastical succession, the right to train clergy of all nationalities and to respect the property rights and human rights of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and all religious and faith traditions."
The effort to pass the resolution is in no way meant to be anti-Turkish, Papulis said.
"We're not calling for a boycott of Turkey or Turkish products," he said. "We only want to encourage the Turkish to continue the progress it's made in recent years toward the full religious freedom of the Church and all minority religions."
In their meetings with legislators, the delegation from St. Nicholas emphasized the international respect the Turkish government could earn, in a time when it is working to exercise leadership in the Middle East, if it guaranteed the rights of all its citizens.
"This could really be a point of pride for Turkey," Papulis said. "Can you imagine how it would look to other nations if Turkey, a majority-Muslim country, could say that the spiritual leader of the second largest Christian community in the world continues to lead Orthodox Christians around the globe from their country with full rights and toleration? It would say a lot."
The resolution renewed a historic connection between Missouri and the Ecumenical Patriarch that dates to 1948, when Archbishop Athenagoras of America was elected Ecumenical Patriarch. There was a real fear that the Turkish government would not allow him to travel to Istanbul to assume his position, but Missouri-born President Harry S. Truman made sure that he was allowed to enter Turkey by sending him on the presidential plane, then known as the "Sacred Cow," and now known as Air Force One.
For more information, visit www.archons.org/resolutions
–Submitted by Fr. Michael Arbanas, St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church of St. Louis, MO