The following speeches and addresses were delivered from speakers in the 1st Archon International Conference on Religious Freedom which was held in the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium in November 2010.


Closing Remarks of Dr. Anthony J. Limberakis

National Commander
Order Of Saint Andrew The Apostle
Archons Of The Ecumenical Patriarchate In America

NOVEMBER 17, 2010

Your Eminences,
Distinguished Professors and Scholars,
Beloved Brother Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate,
Dear Friends,

It is with overwhelming feelings of pride and gratitude that I humbly offer these closing thoughts to you today.  Truly, in the last 48 hours, we have experienced an extraordinary event of lasting spiritual, political, diplomatic and social significance.  In the first International Archon Religious Freedom Conference here in the heart of the European Union – and I hasten to reiterate the word, "first" – we have all borne witness to both the diversity and the solidarity that our present time engenders in the sincere hearts and the remarkable minds and intellects of the participants of our noteworthy and indeed, momentous gathering.

I believe that I express on behalf of everyone, our collective profound sense of history, as we recollect yesterday's proceedings at the European Parliament.  And today's continuation is no less!  The very diversity – religious, intellectual and political – evidenced by this assembly, testifies to the gravity and complexity of our present theme, that is, the emergence of religious tolerance and respect in the modern Turkish Republic.

In fact, great thanks are due to His Eminence Metropolitan Emmanuel of France and the Ecumenical Patriarchate's Liaison Office of the Orthodox Church to the European Union.  Their diligent and skillful labors in coordinating yesterday's meeting at the European Parliament made an extraordinary day even more so.  Truly, the very nature of our dialogue was worthy of such a complex context as the European Union.  As we experienced the contrasting viewpoints and perspectives, we simultaneously confronted the difficult challenges before us!  A true democratic process for all!  We certainly did not agree on every point, but I dare say that we were all united in our attempts to address the truth of our subject, even if we sometimes see the facts differently.

Profound thanks are due as well to His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America for his constant support of the Archons' pursuit of justice and fairness for the rights of our Holy Mother Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate.  Archbishop Demetrios has spared no initiative and has demonstrated great flexibility as we Archons push the boundaries of our mission into heretofore undiscovered country.  Ten, or even five years ago, who would have thought we would – or even could – bring into the same room high ranking officials of Turkey, high ranking officials of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the religious minorities in Turkey, the highest caliber of the academic, political and journalistic communities, and engage in a frank and open conversation on religious freedom in Turkey?!  You will forgive me if I say that this is nothing short of miraculous!  Yet, I am well aware, and you have experienced for yourselves, the incredible hard work of so many who have made this historic conference possible.

Allow me to express again our thanks to the Order of Pammakaristos, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Europe, so ably led by my brother, Odysseus Sassayiannis.  Conference Chair George Rockas, assisted by his co-chair John Zavitsanos and Archon Legal Committee Chair Chris Stratakis truly did a yeoman's job at providing an exceptional symposium.

This amazing conference has been exactly that because it is characterized by both diversity and inclusion – the diversity of the religious minority communities and the inclusion of viewpoints from every stakeholder.  In doing so, we have abided by the very principles that sustain religious freedom in human society in the first place.  Indeed, in secular democratic societies that reject monolithic religious opinion, it is precisely the inclusion of the minority voices and the legitimacy of every stakeholder's convictions that guarantee the democratic and secular status of any nation or state.  How the majority treats the minority, as Rabbi Schneier reminded us yesterday, is indeed the litmus test of a true democracy.  If nothing else has been achieved in these past two days, we have modeled – in a civil, respectful and, I might add, spiritual discourse – the societal template that all participants in this gathering have confessed as our common aspiration.

Where we have been unable to agree, we have been able to be agreeable.  Where we have not found all the solutions, we have managed to discourse with the hermeneutics that will eventually, with patience and good will on the part of all, lead to the solutions we see.  Where before secularism may have had only an exclusionary message for the minorities, we have revealed ways to advocate even for the rights of the majority.  We have recognized the profound truth that it is only in the strength of our advocacy for the rights of one another, that our own rights are made strong, and can rise from strength to strength.  This message of inclusion extends far beyond the language of "minority" and "majority," and well beyond the borders of any nation or state.

As Archons of the Holy Mother Church of Constantinople, we know that this message is based in love, the love of God for all people, manifest by the love inspired by His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew for God's creation in humanity and in the natural world. We have been and continue to be eye-witnesses of the Ecumenical Patriarch's profound love for our planet and all the inhabited earth – the oikoumene. This is the true meaning of his Ecumenicity – a title that should inspire fear in no one, the title that he historically merits, and the title that His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew carries worthily every single day of his martyric life! He is a person of inclusion, not exclusion. He is a spiritual leader who embraces diversity, even as he safeguards the unity of the Orthodox Christian Faith with integrity, grace, humility, faith, hope, and love. It is his godly example that has inspired the respective Orders of the Archons – St. Andrew and Pammakaristos – to bring this august body together, and our prayer is that we shall all be worthy of his example and his leadership. May God grant His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew many years! Eis Polla Eti Despota!

My friends, and I say "my friends" from the bottom of my heart – we came here to Brussels to build a bridge and to open the way – open the door as Archbishop Demetrios so eloquently described yesterday – for there to be a mutual path whereby we could cross over into the experience of one another. I will not be so bold as to say the bridge is up and open for traffic. But I will say this: the walls of separation and cultural and religious misunderstanding, the walls of historical grievances and tragedies, the stubborn walls of the self-made Jerichos of willfulness, negativity and myopia are beginning to come tumbling down! And from these walls of fear, mistrust, self-doubt and even hatred, we shall build many bridges, bridges of love, as Professor Hatemi stated earlier this afternoon. With the greatest of stones and the smallest of pebbles, for our bridges shall be adorned with the mosaics of diversity and complexity that only emerge from the admixture of all our characteristics, all our gifts, all our talents and all our contributions.

It seems only fitting that such bridges should be built, not merely over the Bosporus to join Europe and Asia, but between hearts and minds, between kindred and diverse spirits, beginning with us. Therefore, just as we have commended and recognized the symbolic gestures and called even for these hopeful signs to become permanent, legitimate and legal elements of Turkish society, let us leave our proceedings with an abiding commitment to carry our work forward and press toward the goal of this high calling.

May the God of peace bless us all, and again, on behalf of all the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, I express our profound gratitude and thankfulness for your participation at this First International Archon Religious Freedom Conference.

Thank you!