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Remarks of Commander Limberakis at Banquet In Honor of His All Holiness in Constantinople, Turkey

Your All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Your Excellency Ambassador Edelman, Reverend Hierarchy and Clergy, esteemed citizens of Turkey, fellow Archons, Ladies and Gentlemen, we are deeply honored to be here, in Istanbul, known throughout the world as the Imperial City, to honor the spiritual father of world Orthodoxy, His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. We, as Orthodox Christians in the United States are under the direct spiritual jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, a relationship that is vibrant, strong and deeply beneficial to the church in America. More than any other single institution in the United States, it is the Order of St. Andrew, the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in America, whose singular mission is to serve the Holy and Great Mother Church.

In our devotion to our Mother Church, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in America must be aware of the religious, cultural and political climate of our day. In following the example of His All Holiness, we strive for dialogue, seeking alliances with men and women of good will, from the highest officials of governments to ordinary citizens in America, Turkey, Greece, Latin America and elsewhere. While in Turkey these past several days, the Archons have met with the Governor and Mayor of Istanbul and with the policemen at the Beyoglu Precinct that suffered fatalities during the terrorist bombings of Istanbul last November. We have visited schools and hospitals striving for dialogue, seeking alliances with men and women of good and while doing so, contributing our time, talent and economic resources to the several institutions here in Istanbul, including the Balukli hospital which serves 30-40,000 patients a year.

Our initiatives as Archons must be informed by our faith, meaning our love of our fellow human beings, our concerns for the human rights of all peoples and our respect for all religions and cultures. We are blessed in having a spiritual leader, our beloved Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who not only projects our Orthodox Faith to the four corners of the world but strives to safeguard the environment, to bring parties in conflict together and to find the path towards peace.

We are blessed, too, in having a government in Turkey that is open to dialogue and change for the better, and that understands the dangers and opportunities of our day and takes a moral position regarding human rights and democracy, as well as religious freedom and tolerance.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan in a recent interview in the Washington Post during his visit to the United States several weeks ago, in answering a question regarding Turkey�s desire to be part of the European Union, said:

We continue to work for accession talks with as much goodwill as we can. As much as we would like to be part of the European Union family, the EU should want Turkey to be part of it. If the European Union wants to be an address where civilizations meet, it must take Turkey in. Whether we get a date for accession negotiations at the December summit or not, we will continue to implement these reforms for the benefit of our own people.

An address where civilizations meet. How apt, how insightful, how true. His All Holiness Bartholomew has led the world�s 300 million Orthodox Christians for 12 years from Istanbul, quietly bringing together leaders from around the world and intervening in wars and conflicts and the environmental crisis. He has been visited and honored by kings, prime ministers, sheiks, muftis, chief rabbis and business, cultural and environmental leaders from every country and has led major leaders from Judaism, Christianity, and Islam to condemn the abuse of religion to justify acts of violence, calling for the separation of political from religious activism.

His role now resonates with Turkey�s position in the world, exemplifying as it does the desire to combat terrorism and mediate among nations,. Prime Minister Erdogan in that same interview said the following, in a most telling way:

I am the prime minister of all Muslims and non-Muslims in Turkey. After the attacks on the synagogues, I was the first Turkish prime minister to visit the chief rabbi. I don�t care if those who died were Muslims or not; they were humans, and I have to feel their pain and do my best to fight against it.

His All Holiness has long pursued this course as well. Adding to his initiatives of the 1990s, when he convened a long line of conferences and interventions to promote peace and interfaith cooperation, addressing crises in Bosnia and Kosovo, he took on a special role after September 11 to work with political and religious leaders to condemn terrorism, to work at interreligious cooperation and promote international dialogue and cooperation.

His All Holiness traveled last year to the Muslim countries of Bahrain, Qatar, Iran, Azerbaijan and Libya. Just last month, he made a historic trip to Cuba, his first to Latin America, addressing the political and economic isolation of that country, as well as the human rights situation.

These developments in Turkey fill us with hope. We are frank in our desires to improve the situation of our Ecumenical Patriarchate, opening the School of Theology at Halki, addressing our concerns with properties and charitable operations. There are a myriad of issues. But what is new is that there is a mutual desire to change and address these concerns that is fervent and based on what is right for all peoples and what are the rights of every person in a just and democratic society.

Again, listen to the Prime Minister of Turkey:

We are a country that has proven that the culture of Islam and the culture of democracy can coexist in a harmonious way. And my party is trying to prove once and for all that can happen.

The Mother Church holds out the real possibility of Orthodox unity, the promise of Christian unity and the hope of cooperation of all religions and all men and women of good will. I believe the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul, Turkey, at the crossroads of East and West, North and South, of civilizations and religions, will bring, in our day, significant new meaning regarding religious human rights to this part of the world which will effect all our lives, here in Turkey, as well as to Orthodox Christians around the world.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has shown the world that true Church leadership is the spiritual leadership of service, passionate advocacy of peace and justice and the promotion of human rights for all of God's creations.

Ladies and Gentleman before I present His All Holiness Bartholomew for his response, we invite to the podium the National Council so that we may offer several presentations to Institutions we hold in the highest regard: Halki School of Theology and Balukli Hospital.