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National Commander Limberakis issues letter to Turkish Foreign Minister Babacan

Anthony J. Limberakis, MD
National Commander, Archon Aktouarios

Dr. Anthony J. Limberakis, National Commander of The Order of St. Andrew, has recently issued a letter to Ali Babacan, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, in response to his presentation in June 2008 before the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee in Washington, D.C., concerning the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

In his letter, Limberakis presents evidence countering the unfounded claims by the government of Turkey that has resulted in the near asphyxiation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Limberakis sites historical, canonical, liturgical, and present-day evidence that supports the Order of Saint Andrew's position and that of the free world.

Limberakis' letter is presented below:

July 24, 2008

His Excellency Ali Babacan
Foreign Minister Republic of Turkey
Ankara, Turkey

Dear Minister Babacan:

It has my understanding that you made a presentation in June before the United States House Foreign Affairs Committee in Washington. Regarding religious freedom issues concerning the Ecumenical Patriarchate there are a number of positions taken by your government that as an American patriot, an Orthodox Christian, and as the Commander of the Order of St. Andrew / Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in America, I must object to as gross distortions of historical, canonical (legal), liturgical and present-day facts. These positions are as follows:
 

(1) the Patriarch of Constantinople only recently adopted the title "Ecumenical" Patriarch,
(2) other Orthodox Christian communities do not view the Ecumenical Patriarch as the head of their churches,
(3) your government's treatment of the Ecumenical Patriarch is in keeping with the Treaty of Lausanne, and
(4) recognizing the title "Ecumenical" would present problems for the government among its Islamic constituents.


With all due respect, sir, the notion that the Patriarch of Constantinople only recently adopted the title "Ecumenical Patriarch" is without any base in fact whatsoever. It is a matter of legal and historical record that the title was accorded to the Patriarch of Constantinople during the Roman Empire by the emperor Justinian, and became a permanent privilege under Roman and subsequent Byzantine law. Specifically, the title is affirmed in Corpus Juris Civilis (Codex Justinianus 1.1.17, 1.4.34 and Novellae 3, 5, 6, 7, 16, 42, 55, 56, and 77), a text that dates to the sixth century and is available in every law school library in the Western World. As a consequence of these laws, the title has been a part of the Ecumenical Patriarch's signature from the time of Ecumenical Patriarch John the Faster, for every official document produced by his office since the sixth century-a fact attested by thousands of texts from both the middle ages and the modern era. On a more recent historical note, in the early 1990's while then Prime Minister Tansu Ciller and your government lobbied to host the 2000 Olympics, His All Holiness signed an official government document supporting Turkey's efforts to host the Olympics. His All Holiness did sign the document, along with Prime Minister Ciller and he signed as Ecumenical Patriarch in his official signature.

It is also incorrect for your government to suggest that the other jurisdictions of the Orthodox Christian Church (with more than 300 million followers world-wide) do not recognize the privileged position of the Ecumenical Patriarch. Following ancient Christian models, the Patriarch of Constantinople is universally acknowledged within the Orthodox world as the primus inter pares ("first among equals"). While this title does not afford him unilateral authority among the Orthodox episcopate, it does confer upon him a position of honor and leadership among all Orthodox bishops, including the leaders of the eighteen autocephalous jurisdictions of the Orthodox Church. As an example, I will note that every time that the Patriarch of Moscow celebrates the Divine Liturgy, he commemorates each of the other heads of the autocephalous jurisdictions in a specific sequence. This sequence is determined by the ancient ecclesiastical ranking known as the pentarchy, which identified the five most significant episcopal sees in sequence (i.e., Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem). Thus, when the Patriarch of Moscow commemorates the spiritual leaders of the autocephalous churches, he commemorates the Ecumenical Patriarch first because the Ecumenical Patriarch is the canonical and liturgical leader of the Orthodox Christian episcopate. I can personally attest to this practice, having just visited Moscow, where Patriarch Alexi recognized the Ecumenical Patriarch as the first of the Patriarchs during the Divine Liturgy. The same pattern of commemoration is true for heads of each of the other autocephalous jurisdictions. Even Pope Benedict and other leaders of the Roman Catholic Church (which is not in sacramental communion with the Orthodox Church), recognize the canonical and historical right of the Patriarch of Constantinople to the title "Ecumenical Patriarch."

It is impossible to imagine how your government has treated the Ecumenical Patriarch according to the provisions of the Treaty of Lausanne. It is well known that Article 14 of the Treaty was intended to protect the minority Orthodox Christian population, which remained in Turkey after 1923. At the time of the Treaty, there were 270,000 Orthodox Christians living in Istanbul. Today, there are less than 3,000 Orthodox Christians in the entire country. This precipitous decline is, in large part, the consequence of your government's stringent anti-minority measures, which have led to violence, harassment, and the seizure of property. As just one example, I will note that since 1923, the Turkish government has seized more than 90% of the property belonging to the Patriarchate.

Your government's position that it cannot recognize the Ecumenical Patriarch's title because it would create problems within the Muslim community in Turkey is little more than an empty excuse designed to stoke American fears of radical Islam. What is more, such a claim is an insult to the many peaceful and faithful Muslims in your country. The Muslim community in Turkey is not the culprit in this widespread aggression against the Ecumenical Patriarchate, but rather it is the rabidly secular and extreme nationalist elements that are embedded within the bureaucratic circles of your government. As evidence, I will note that Ali Bardakoglu, the leader of the Islamic community in Turkey, and other well known and respected Muslim Turkish religious leaders such as Fetullah Gulen, have publicly stated their acceptance of the title "Ecumenical Patriarch."

I hope you did not intend to convince the United States Congress of the baseless notion that the Ecumenical Patriarch's jurisdiction is confined to the three thousand Orthodox Christians who remain in Turkey; a Congress that bestowed the Congressional Gold Medal on His All Holiness, the spiritual father of the Orthodox Christian faithful in America. Does the government fear that by acknowledging that he is the "Ecumenical" Patriarch they would de facto acknowledge that he is an international figure with an international reputation-an affirmation that your government is dedicated to resist? But to define the Ecumenical Patriarch's jurisdiction as limited to Turkey and the Turkish Christian population is to ignore the testimony of history and the reality of Christian jurisdictions, which are not bound by political borders. As every student of history knows, the doctrinal truths that all Christians share (e.g. that Jesus Christ is God and that He is both human and divine) were formulated at the Ecumenical Councils, held in Nicaea, Ephesus, Chalcedon, and Constantinople between 325 and 451. At the time of these councils, each of these cities was within the supra-jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Constantinople. Today these cities are within the borders of the Turkish State and they are important sources of tourist revenue for your country precisely because they are promoted as Christian shrines by the Patriarchate. Would you have us believe that the Nicene Creed (the single most important statement of Christian belief) reflects only the beliefs of Christians who presently reside in Turkey? In effect, your government's argument is akin to suggesting that Pope Benedict's jurisdiction in the Roman Church or the papal encyclicals of past popes have meaning only for the inhabitants of Vatican City.

Quite simply, this is a matter of respecting the religious rights of minority populations, let alone the rights of the Apostolic See to flourish in a land where it was founded 1700 years ago. And in this specific case, it is a minority population that has direct ties to the community that is responsible for all Christian theological teaching. The Christian community in Turkey, led by His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, is one of Turkey's greatest treasures, but the treatment of this community by your government is one of your country's greatest shames. I hope and pray that you will send a strong message to all Orthodox Christians in the United States and Europe that the Turkish State supports the rights of religious minorities, especially in light of your own experience in America, having graduated from Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management.

In closing, I know that many people rejoiced in Turkey when two Turks were named to Time Magazine's List of the 100 most influential people in the world; as we did in America. The head of the Anglican Church, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams eloquently stated that "The title Ecumenical Patriarch historically refers to the Patriarch's pastoral responsibility for the "whole inhabited world"."

It is our hope that with our shared values of religious freedom and human rights that someday the Ecumenical Patriarchate will enjoy those same freedoms and rights in your country, rights that have been given to all the children of Abraham throughout the world.

Sincerely,

Anthony J. Limberakis, MD
Archon Aktouarios
National Commander

cc: President George W. Bush
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
National Security Advisor Stephen J. Hadley
Members, United States Congress
Members, European Parliament
Hon. Olli Rehn, Commissioner, European Union
 


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