Struggle to Free the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Not Only Aghia Sophia
Date: Monday, July 10 @ 22:06:20 EDT
Chicago.- By Andrew A. Athens
As an Archon of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America since 1974, Chairman of the Archdiocesan Council for more than 20 years, Founder and National Chairman of UHAC National and President of the World Council of Hellenes (SAE) for the past eleven years, I am writing in response to your recent article concerning an international campaign to “Free Aghia Sophia” that is being launched by Mr. Chris Spyrou. I agree with the statement made by Dr. Anthony J. Limberakis, National Commander of the Archons in a recent letter that “this campaign is misguided and lamentable.”
The political and more importantly, the human ramifications of this campaign are monumental. On the surface one may think that this is a noble cause and in some way, it is. We all want to “free” Aghia Sophia and restore its glory. The historical implications to the roots of Orthodoxy, the Mother Church of all churches, are great. No one will argue how important it would be Orthodoxy to have Aghia Sophia be once again a functioning Orthodox Church. In our hearts it is our Mother Church and always shall be. Yet, the reality is that the very survival of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the See of Constantinople is at stake. Along with Aghia Sophia, the Ecumenical Patriarchate needs to be free.
The vast majority of people do not realize how the Turkish Government has laid siege to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, its land, its institutions and most notably to His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew. First of all, Turkey refuses to recognize the Patriarch as the Ecumenical Patriarch of Orthodoxy, the first among equals of the Orthodox jurisdictions in the world. Turkey demands that the Patriarch be a Turkish citizen. He also runs the serious risk that he will be denied entry back into Turkey, every time he travels to visit the faithful.
Our clergy have faced persecution from members of the Turkish State. They must wear suits and ties every time they leave the Patriarchate, even for a simple errand. Every three months, the clergy must leave Turkey and re-enter with a temporary visa. Entry can be denied at anytime. If this were the case for the Vatican in Rome, Italy, would not there be an outcry from Catholics around the world? Where are we the Orthodox in supporting the plight of the Ecumenical Patriarchate?
Secondly, the Turkish Government has confiscated properties of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. There are laws being made by local Turkish authorities just for that purpose. The historic theological seminary of Halki remains close. Thirdly, the Hellenic community, once a flourishing and thriving community, has been reduced to less than 3,000 people. Every day they live in fear. Their human and religious rights violated.
Their property and their livelihood are being threatened. As Dr. Limberakis writes, “the litany of aggressive persecutions is vast and ghastly.”
The campaign we as Orthodox Christians need to launch is to “free” our Ecumenical Patriarchate and our Patriarch from the tyranny that they are subjected to every day by the Turkish Government. The human rights violations committed against the Ecumenical Patriarchate and our Greek Orthodox citizens of Turkey are the “wrongs” Turkey has to right before gaining entry into the European Union. This does not mean that we forsake our Holy Mother Church of Aghia Sophia.
For more than 30 years, UHAC National, along with the Archons of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and the National Coordinated Effort of Hellenes based in Washington, D.C., have joined together to “free” the Ecumenical Patriarchate, protect the human and religious rights of all Orthodox Christians in Turkey and restore the property and institutions to their rightul owners.
What can we do?
1. Write our local Congressman, the President of the United States, the Human Rights Commission of the European Union and the United National Human Rights Commission about the atrocities being committed against the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Patriarch and the Hellenes living in Turkey.
2. Support UHAC National, the Coordinated Effort and the Order of Saint Andrew with donations, giving these organizations the means to take Legal actions and seek government intervention.
3. Spread the word. Many of us live in darkness when it comes to the plight of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Let people know that joining together with existing efforts can make a difference. We need a united effort behind the existing groups, not another splinter group that will dilute our cause.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople was the first of the five great Sees of Orthodoxy. It is our sacred duty as Orthodox Christians to protect and preserve the first seat of Orthodoxy.
*** Andrew A. Athens
Maestor, Archon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate
National Chairman, UHAC National
President, World Council of Hellenes