Anthony J. Limberakis, M.D.: "Welcoming Remarks"




Second International Archon Religious Freedom Conference



Hotel Adlon, Kempinski

Berlin, Federal Republic of Germany

December 4, 2013

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Your Eminences and Excellencies,

Distinguished Professors, Scholars, and Journalists,

Beloved Brother Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate,

Dear Friends,

         It is with a sense of excitement and gratitude that I welcome all of you to the Second International Archon Religious Freedom Conference dedicated to:

"Tearing Down Walls: Achieving Religious Equality In Turkey"

I trust that all of you feel the tremendous urgency that I do at this critical time. Turkey's key role in the region and throughout the Islamic world is at a real crossroads.

When we hear of Turkish governmental officials as high up as the Deputy Prime Minister referring to Hagia Sophia as a mosque, and even advocating a ‘re-Islamization' of the Great Church, all of us should be very alarmed indeed, whatever our religious or political convictions may be.

All of us must ask ourselves: "Is this kind of provocation, movement forward with civilized intelligence, or falling backward into tribalism and eventual monolithic chaos?"

And let us not forget the coercive judicial moves that have seized the Holy Wisdoms in ancient Nicea and Trapezund and converted then into mosques. Think of it – Hagia Sophia in Nicea, modern Iznik, was the site of the Seventh Holy Ecumenical Council that overturned Iconoclasm! Hagia Sophia in Trapezund, now Trabzon, was and is considered one of the crowning achievements of Byzantine architecture.

My friends, these are but a few examples of the breakdowns in modern Turkey that exemplify its failure to embrace its own diversity and the diversity that is the reality of the modern world. When we see such monolithic thinking in action, we are looking at the very walls of separation and division that need to be torn down.

It is true that from time immemorial, society after society – civilization after civilization, have used walls to divide and conquer, to isolate and objectify, to partition and segregate.

From the Walls of Jericho to the Great Wall of China, to Hadrian's Wall in England, and finally to the Berlin Wall, we have seen through history how these walls were breached and in some cases completely destroyed. In our own generation and in this very  place, we witnessed the demolition of the Wall that separated a city and a people. On televisions across the globe, we saw it crumble before the steadfast humanity and faith of the German People. And just as significantly at the same time, we beheld the Curtains of Iron and Bamboo, which had so darkened the Twentieth Century, unravel before the human aspiration to live and to breathe in freedom.

This is precisely why this Conference is taking place here in Berlin, where hope triumphed over hatred and where peace overwhelmed enmity. We have come to Berlin to manifest our determination to bring down every wall of religious intolerance and obstruction. We have come to Berlin to advocate for the full liberty of conscience that every human being deserves. And in particular, we are bearing witness to and addressing the issues that are facing Turkey, as it seeks a wider role in the region and inclusion, not only in the European Union, but also in the wider family of leading Nations of the world.

Turkey has a particularly remarkable opportunity within the Islamic world, where the Arab Spring has quickly faded and the democratic hopes of many have vanished as a mirage does in the sand. We maintain that the key to its leadership on the Muslim and global stages is tolerance and mutual respect of its minority populations, whether they are religious or ethnic. With such a respect for diversity within its own sphere, Turkey will find the respect needed to be the exemplar it desires to be to all those who believe in the compatibility of democracy and Islam, whether inside Turkey or across the globe.

We have not come here to criticize, but to critique in the most positive of ways. Our mission over the next two days is to seek out and identify those opportunities for openness that will tear down the walls of discrimination and segregation that are holding Turkey back from being the best society it can be.

We are not here to judge. We all know that throughout history, every people and every faith has built its own walls – ghettoizing some, imprisoning others – in order to dominate and even tyrannize the few who are "other" from them. There are the sad and woeful histories of the walling up of Jewish communities into ghettoes; the banishment of Native Americans to reservations; the shackles of American slavery and the subsequent struggle to tear down the walls of state-sponsored segregation; the harsh legacy of Apartheid in South Africa, and the disturbing image of the wall in the West Bank that reifies distrust and even hatred. These are just a few examples to remind us all that, as we offer opinion and constructive criticism, none of us does so out of a vacuum.

Finally, as we commence this Conference, please allow me to thank some of those without whose support and advice, this event would still be in the planning stages.

First, profound thanks are due His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew for his truly sublime example of limitless love, mutual respect, and enduring embrace of interfaith and inter-cultural dialogue and encounter. We continue to be astounded by his boundless love for our planet and all the inhabited earth – the oikoumene – a love that knows no walls. This is the true meaning of his Ecumenicity –the title that he historically merits, and the title that His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew carries on behalf of the world! May God grant His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew many years! Eis Polla Eti Despota!

Deep gratitude is due as well to His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America for his constant encouragement and active patronage of the Archons' pursuit of justice and fairness for the rights of our Holy Mother Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate. We are also equally thankful to His Eminence Metropolitan Augoustinos of Germany – our ecclesiastical host, and His Eminence Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, who leads the Patriarchal Liaison Office to the European Union that is co-sponsoring this event.

         Allow me to express as well my thanks to Protopresbyter Alexander Karloutsos for his tireless devotion to this cause, and my deep gratitude to fellow Archons George C. Rockas, Esq., the Conference Planning Chairman; his co-chairs, the Honorable Theodore Bozonelis and John Zavitsanos, Esq.; and Christopher Stratakis, Esq., Legal Counselor of the Order of St. Andrew. Their hard work and diligent planning will be on display in the days to come.

Finally, allow me to thank you – leading and world-renown diplomats, religious leaders, academics, scholars, and journalists for your presence here today. You are the reason that our work will be hallmarked as serious, irenic, constructive, and positive. You are the reason that progress is possible. You are the reason that hope is alive and well here in Berlin and around the world!

May the presence of the God of Heaven be tangible among us all in the days ahead, and may our work cause walls to fall and bridges to span the distances between us. Thank you for coming to Berlin. On behalf of all the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, I welcome you to the Second International Archon Religious Freedom Conference.

Thank you!

At this time, we have the high honor and privilege to receive the blessings and timely message of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. [Video message]