WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama hosted yesterday April 4, 2016 at the White House, the Annual Greek Independence Day celebration and reception for the 30th consecutive year, honoring the 195th Anniversary of the start of the Greek War for Independence of March 25th, 1821.
His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America met in private with President Barack Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden in the Green Room, just prior to the public event, which started in the East Room of the White House at 5:00 p.m., and was attended by approximately 400 guests representing the Greek-American community.
Vice President Joe Biden in his remarks talked about his personal bonds with the Greek American Community and the Greek Orthodox Church making specific mention of his visit with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in Constantinople and the Athenagoras Human Rights Award he received last year. The Vice President said he had talked on the phone with Alexis Tsipras, the Prime Minister of Greece earlier in the day and he reassured the audience that the United States will continue to stand by and with Greece as an ally and a friend. He then introduced President Obama and Archbishop Demetrios.
Archbishop Demetrios began his remarks thanking the President for his “gracious hospitality” and said: “despite the heavy demands of your schedule, and the multitude of cares you have for this nation and for the whole world, you offer to us so generously your time today at the White House to honor and celebrate March 25th, the Day of Greek Independence.” The Archbishop’s remarks centered on the fundamental and non-negotiable, God given value of freedom. (see full text of Archbishop’s remarks below)
President Obama welcomed everyone to the White House “also known as the Lefkos Oikos,” said the President in Greek and was applauded enthusiastically. Mr. Obama thanked the Archbishop for his gracious words, his friendship and the compassion of his ministry. The President after acknowledging some of the guests present made special mention to the late Fr. John Romas for his remarkable faith and his beloved Church of Saint Nicholas at Ground Zero and said that the new Church of St. Nicholas will rise again better than ever.
The President also said that we celebrate our interdependence and we have common bonds of history and friendship that have linked our countries for centuries and this bond endures to this day. Mr Obama said that in recent years Greece has faced extraordinary challenges but its people are resilient and they persevere, they have gotten through tougher times before and they have shown excellence in character, especially as many in Greece have welcomed refugees. The President said that this spirit and commitment to our common humanity and democratic ideals is why Greece will emerge from these tough times stronger than ever.
President Obama underlined the importance of the extraordinary contributions and achievements of the Greek American Community, saying that your kinship, your commitments, your ties is the most important thing that binds us together as a people. This is not just a relationship between governments, said the President, it is a relationship between families and between friends and those bonds cannot be broken. Finally, Mr. Obama said that the United States will be Greece’s unwavering friend and partner every step of the way and concluded with the well-known Greek declaration Zeto e Hellas.
Present among the many guests at the White House were the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia M. Burwell, who is Greek-American, the Greek Deputy Minister of Economy Alexis Charitsis, the Greek-American US Congressman John Sarbanes, the Regional governor of central Greece Kostas Bakoyannis, the Ambassadors of Greece to the United States Christos Panagopoulos and of Cyprus George Chacalli, several members of Congress, US government officials and dignitaries.
REMARKS BY HIS EMINENCE ARCHBISHOP DEMETRIOS OF AMERICA
ON GREEK INDEPENDENCE DAY, WHITE HOUSE - APRIL 4, 2016
In this ever-changing world, one of the things that has remained constant is your very gracious hospitality.
Once again, Mr. President, we find ourselves together in the immediate aftermath of frightful terrorist attacks: last year in Paris and San Bernardino, this year in Brussels. And yet, despite the heavy demands of your schedule, and the multitude of cares you have for this nation and for the whole world, you offer to us so generously your time today at the White House to honor and celebrate March 25th , the Day of Greek Independence.
In our constantly changing world, we remember the ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, who said; “Nothing is permanent but change.” What was a truism in the ancient world is exponentially more evident in our day.
Every year, technology moves forward, and the objects we use daily need updating or replacement. Think “cell phones”!
Every year, socio-economic conditions are transformed at a breathtaking speed.
Every year across our globe, political, geographical and ethnic boundaries shift and shift again.
President Kennedy rightly said, “Change is the law of life.[i]
But change is not the only law of life, and there are other laws that stand outside the flux and flow of change.
Chief among them is the necessity of freedom as a fundamental and non-negotiable element of the human being. Freedom is a value that is grounded, not in laws or constitutions, or social conventions. Human freedom is grounded in an eternal reality, the very being and nature of God our Creator.
It is a core belief of our faith that every human being as created in the image and likeness of God is endowed with a full existential freedom. In an ever-changing world, human freedom is an unchanging and universal fact directly derived from the absolutely free and unchanging God.
It was this uncompromising spiritual value of freedom that led the people of Greece in the year 1821 to rise up and throw off the yoke of bondage which heavily oppressed them for four hundred years. Their campaign for independence, for self-determination, for human dignity, was not merely an act of political will, but a deed of true faith and of a passionate desire for freedom. For it surely must be the divine will that all God’s children should have life, liberty, and happiness in this world.
I stand before you today as the representative of the descendants of these brave Greek believers. It is our prayer that the commitment to freedom of our forebears, sealed with their own blood, should be embraced and become palpable reality in the lives of all people.
The finest celebration of March 25th as Greek Independence Day occurs whenever people of goodwill work together for religious, political, economic, and social freedom for every man, woman, and child who bears the image of the free and unchanging God.
And on this auspicious day, we the Greek Orthodox faithful pray for God’s blessing and safekeeping for the First Family, for the suffering people who are the descendants of the noble Greek heroes of 1821, for the entire world, and for our beloved United States of America.
Mr. President, thank you.
[i] John F. Kennedy, Address in Frankfurt, West Germany, June 25, 1963.