Remarks of the Honourable Mr. David Arnett,
Consul General of the United States of America in Istanbul,
At the Banquet Hosted by Archbishop Demetrios of America and the Order of St. Andrew, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of America
(Istanbul, Ritz Carlton, December 1, 2004)
Your All Holy Holiness, Dr. Limberakis, Archbishop Demetrious, Honored Archons, Honored Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:
First of all, I bring you the greetings and very best wishes of Ambassador Eric Edelman, who regrets that he could not be with us tonight, but who is very much looking forward to meeting with many of you tomorrow in Ankara.
On behalf of the Ambassador and the entire U.S. Mission in Turkey, I would like to express my great pleasure to the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in America for inviting me here tonight and giving me the opportunity to say a few words in honor of His All Holiness, Bartholomew, as we celebrate the joy of the return of the holy relics of the Patriarchs of Constantinople.
As the American Consul General in Istanbul, I am responsible for representing U.S. interests in this great business and cultural center of Turkey. At the same time, the history of this ancient city has bequeathed a modern heritage to my position here that includes even greater responsibilities. As you all know so well, Istanbul is the modern seat of one of the world’s most venerable and important institutions: the Ecumenical Patriarchate, primus inter pares in the leadership of the 300 million-strong Orthodox Church, including millions of my fellow Americans who look to the Ecumenical Patriarch directly for spiritual guidance and direction.
As such, it is my great privilege and personal honor to know and work closely with His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. I can tell you in all candor and humility that I knew immediately that I was in the presence of a truly great and extraordinary man from the first moment that we met, and that I also look upon him personally as a source of spiritual strength and a much needed symbol of love and peace in our troubled world.
His All Holiness is an outspoken advocate on so many issues to which the United States attaches great importance. As a champion of peace, human rights, religious tolerance, and cultural understanding, His All Holiness has helped to build bridges within societies and between all religious groups. He has also devoted himself to preserving for future generations God’s great gift to all of humanity – our precious environment. These are noble objectives. And only by continuing to work together can we hope to achieve them together.
Nor has His All Holiness neglected his home country in any way. As a citizen of Turkey, he has given his country articulate and unconditional support for its bid to join the European Union. Like President Bush, he recognizes that a Europe that includes Turkey will reach out to its neighbors in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. Likewise, securely anchoring Turkey within Europe is the surest way to consolidate democracy and prosperity for the Turkish people.
However, in working together on these issues, we continue to face serious challenges. The future viability of the Patriarchate is not assured. The Theological Seminary at Halki remains closed. Hundreds of historical properties have been confiscated. The very legal status of the Patriarch and the availability of young clergy to sustain the institution are open questions.
We continue to raise these issues and more with the Turkish government at every opportunity.
More importantly, perhaps, we have encouraged the Turkish government and the Turkish people to recognize the priceless asset that Turkey has in the Ecumenical Patriarchate. This institution should be a living symbol of Turkey’s religious and ethnic tolerance. Its presence here gives Turkey a highly influential spiritual voice that resonates in Europe, the United States, and around the world. It is very much in Turkey’s best interest to create whatever conditions are necessary to allow the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Orthodox community not only to survive but to thrive. The path that the Republic of Turkey has chosen for itself in the direction of the West, clearly pointed out by Ataturk, is now taking it toward the European Union. I am hopeful that as it continues down that path, Turkey will embrace the Ecumenical Patriarchate as an invaluable part of its own heritage and resume the journey with it together.
I would like to thank you, Dr. Limberakis, and the Archons of America once more for giving me the opportunity to be here tonight. It is my enormous honor and privilege to know you, Your All Holiness, and to live in the same city with you. I know that the U.S. government and the Ecumenical Patriarchate will continue to work together to fulfill our shared goals and to strengthen our already close cooperation.
I thank all of you for your attention tonight, and I thank you from my heart, Your All Holiness, for the blessing of your presence and for your connection to the Holy Spirit that unites all people everywhere, regardless of ethnic background or nationality. Thank you very much.