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Meetings With Turkish Officials in Ankara Highlight Archon Pilgrimage to Ecumenical Patriarchate

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Oct 24, 2002

ISTANBUL -- The Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate journeyed to Istanbul October 18th to 22nd for their annual pilgrimage. The trip included services and meetings with His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and was highlighted by a visit to the capital of Turkey, Ankara, for meetings with Turkish government officials to discuss issues of religious tolerance, the reopening of Halki Theological School, and other concerns related to the function and ministry of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

On Sunday evening the Archons hosted a banquet at the Koc Museum in honor of the United States Ambassador to Turkey, W. Robert Pearson. In addition to the Archons and pilgrims from America who attended this tribute dinner, members of the Turkish Grand Assembly were present, as well as other distinguished citizens of Turkey.

On Monday the Archon leadership traveled to Ankara to visit government officials of Turkey and to express deep concerns regarding religious tolerance and religious freedom relative to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. A morning meeting was held with Mehmet Nuri Yilmaz, the President of Religious Affairs for Turkey. The meeting was characterized as a mutually respectful exchange of ideas in areas of common concern regarding the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Following this meeting, the delegation attended a luncheon hosted by the wife of Ambassador Pearson, Mrs. Margaret Pearson, and the Deputy Chief of Mission, Mr. Robert S. Deutsch, where the group met with academic and business leaders and other distinguished citizens of Turkey. At the residence the Archons visited the grove of trees indigenous to America planted by Ambassador Pearson in commemoration of the victims of September 11th. At the banquet the previous evening, the delegation had presented the Ambassador with a tree for the grove.

Later on Monday, the Archon group visited the Ataturk Mausoleum, a customary practice of visiting delegations. Following, they met with Ambassador Baki Ilkin at the Foreign Ministry, where frank discussions were held on the concerns of the Orthodox faithful of America regarding the Ecumenical Patriarchate and religious tolerance.

On Tuesday the Archons visited Halki Theological School accompanied by His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Ambassador Pearson. At that symbolic venue a presentation entitled Religious Tolerance, in the Context of Interfaith Dialogue was offered by Bishop Emmanuel of Reghion, the official representative of the Orthodox Church to the European Union. While at the seminary, Ambassador Pearson stated, "The United States continues to encourage Turkey…to let the light shine forth once again here from Halki."

Regarding the presentation on religious tolerance and the focus of the visits to Ankara and Halki, Archon National Commander Dr. Anthony Limberakis stated: "Religious tolerance and freedom is a recurring theme that forms the underpinnings of the American way of life. When the colonies were organized into the United States of America, the constitutional draftsmen ensured that the government of that fledgling nation would not interfere with the free exercise of religious beliefs nor promote an official state religion. Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in America expect no less from the government of Turkey. We, as Orthodox Christians in America are under the direct jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The canonical head and spiritual father of our Church in the United States of America is the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, and it is an infringement of our rights as American citizens to worship in America when our spiritual father cannot freely, and without government interference conduct his ministry to serve his flock, a flock that spans the four corners of the world and not just the country of Turkey."

Dr. Limberakis further stated: "It is an infringement of our rights as American citizens when we cannot educate our clergy at the Halki School of Theology. It is an infringement of our rights as American citizens when the Ecumenical Patriarchate cannot freely exercise its rights as a property owner. Quite frankly, we are tired of the head of world Orthodoxy being treated as a second-class citizen. It is a true injustice that compromises democracy and human rights in this country that has been a friend of the United States for over 50 years. When we return home tomorrow to the United States, we will inform our own members of Congress and the State Department of the current situation regarding the infringements of religious freedom and it is our hope the Turkish government will address these serious issues of mutual concern with a sense of urgency."

The annual pilgrimage concluded on Tuesday evening with a banquet hosted by the Archons in honor of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on the occasion of the 11th anniversary of his election as Ecumenical Patriarch. The event was attended by leading Turkish citizens, academic and media professionals, and members of the Turkish Parliament.

The Order of St. Andrew / Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate is a body of Orthodox Christian Americans comprised of over 800 leading churchmen in the United States. Members include businessmen, industrialists, United States congressmen, university professors, and many more dedicated stewards of the Orthodox Church. The primary mission of the Order is to promote and defend the Holy Mother Church of Constantinople, the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Contact: Order of St. Andrew
Tel: (212) 570-3550
Fax: (212) 774-0214
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