New York, NY - Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and former President of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev was the recipient of the Athenagoras Humanitarian Award of the Order of St. Andrew Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in an emotion filled evening, Saturday, October 22, at the New York Hilton. The Award was presented by His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in the United States and the official representative of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual head of the world's 250 million Orthodox faithful.
Established in 1986, the Athenagoras Award honors Patriarch Athenagoras who served as Archbishop of the Americas for 18 years before being elected Ecumenical Patriarch in 1948. He was universally acknowledged as a visionary leader of Orthodoxy, numbering more than 250 million faithful worldwide, who worked for peace among Churches and people throughout his life. Previous recipients have included Archbishop Iakovos, President Jimmy Carter, President George H.W. Bush, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa and Elie Wiesel.
Accompanied by his daughter Irina Virganskaya, President Gorbachev received an enthusiastic and warm reception as he entered a packed ballroom. In 1987, Gorbachev called for democratization in the Soviet Union, including multi-candidate elections and the following year; he announced that the Soviet Union would abandon the Brezhnev Doctrine and allow the Eastern Bloc nations to determine their own internal affairs, greatly enhancing democracy and liberty in these nations. His law on religious freedom was among his greatest democratic contributions enabling the citizens of Russia, the 15 affiliated republics of the USSR and the Eastern Bloc nations to freely practice their religion for the first time since the Bolshevik Revolution and the Communist Party regimes.
These, and other initiatives by President Gorbachev, significantly contributed to the end of the Cold War. For his historic contribution to world peace he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990.
In a moving ceremony, His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America invested President Gorbachev, a baptized Orthodox Christian, as Archon Great Orator of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, on behalf of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.
Archbishop Demetrios led a list of dignitaries extolling the honored guest. They included, Ambassador Andrey Denisov, Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations; Ambassador Evripides Evriviades, Ambassador of Cyprus to the United States, Ambassador Alexandros Mallias, Ambassador of Greece to the United States and Dr. Anthony J. Limberakis, National Commander of the Order of St. Andrew.
Melissa Nikitas, a 10th grade student from Saint Basil Academy, impressed the audience with her rendition of the American and Greek National Anthems. Former CIA Director George Tenet, Master of Ceremonies for the evening, warmly introduced President Gorbachev.
Archons Theodore Demetriou and Konstantine Velios introduced the 41 new Archons to be installed the next morning, October 23, at the Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, by His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios. These included George Tenet, Andrew Natsios, Director of the US Agency for International Development and Former Ambassador of the United States to Spain George Argyros.