Remarks of His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America
President Barack Obama
On the Occasion of Greek Independence Day
The White House on March 25, 2009
On behalf of the Greek American Orthodox Community of this blessed Land, I have the great honor to wholeheartedly congratulate you upon historic ascendance to the Presidency of the United States. In addition to our warmest congratulations to you and the First Lady, you have our fervent prayers and support as you proceed with the awesome task of leading our Nation in accomplishing its great mission in our troubled world.
You also have our deepest thanks for kindly and personally inviting us to the White House for this commemoration of Greek Independence Day, a Presidential celebration of Greek and American Democracy.
It was on this day, the 25th of March, in the year 1821 that the Greek People, after suffering nearly 400 years of tyrannical occupation, stood up – a David against a Goliath, and declared their independence. They fought with astonishing bravery and against all odds, and established the free, modern Greek Nation among the Nations of the Earth, bringing democracy once again to its very birthplace of democracy.
Today, as we offer tribute to the heroes who, with the help of God, produced the miracle of the March 25, 1821, we honor them in this unique place, which constitutes a pre-eminent symbol of freedom and peace, justice and democracy, life and abundance of life, to use the words of Jesus from the Gospel of John.
In this spirit, and in full awareness of the tremendous power, both personal and institutional, of the President of the United States, we feel that we can kindly ask you for your special assistance. An assistance in resolving chronic injustices related to issues of religious freedom, human values, peaceful coexistence, democratic rule of law, and the pursuit of happiness.
I am specifically referring to the following three cases:
First: The case of the religious freedom of our Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. This means the free and unfettered exercise of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s purely spiritual mission of leading the leading Orthodox Christian world of over a quarter of a billion people. Furthermore, his possibility to proceed freely and effectively in his is pioneering work for the environment, and his passionate promotion of inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue.
Second: The case of the well-known issue of the Republic of Cyprus, and
Third: The case of the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
We are confident, Mr. President, that you, following the brilliant example of Alexander the Great, will be able to cut the Gordian knot of these unresolved issues, and by so doing, enhance peace and reconciliation among the peoples included and involved.
The history of unbreakable ties and sincere friendship between the United States and Greece is well known, but there is a special connection prior to 1821. I speak of the famous “Barbary War” in Tripoli, Libya, North Africa, that involved the newly established Marine Corps in April 1805. A detachment under the command of a Lieutenant O’Bannon, consisting of six American Marines, a company of twenty four commoners, and another twenty six Greeks with their own proper officers, engaged the enemy. Seven Greeks fell in that battle on African soil in defense of the American Flag in 1805.
As I offer to you a memorabilia from this event, a copy of a Master Roll including some of the names of these Men of Greece who fought for the United States, I should like to close by calling to mind that when Greece a few years later rose up in 1821, it was, in part, inspired by the declaration of the American Revolution for Independence in 1776. This comes as no surprise, as the love of freedom and democracy forges a bond among peoples that knows no boundaries of race, creed, ethnic origin or language or distance. And it is also no surprise that when the War of 1821 began, there were Americans of that time – the Philhellenes – who traveled across land and sea to help restore democracy in its native land, Greece.
As you continue to lead our blessed United States, the world’s greatest democracy, please know, Mr. President, that our fervent prayers are with you, our First Lady Michelle, and your daughters Sasha and Malia. We thank you once again for the great honor of this noble celebration of March 25th, 1821.