Το Τάγμα των Αρχόντων του Αγίου Ανδρέα του Οικουμενικού Πατριαρχείου, σε επίσημο Δείπνο που παρέθεσε στις 17 Φεβρουαρίου στη Νέα Υόρκη παρουσία του Αρχιεπισκόπου Αμερικής Δημητρίου, τίμησε τον Πρέσβη της Ελλάδος στις Ηνωμένες Πολιτείες κ. Βασίλη Κασκαρέλη για τη σθεναρή και σταθερή υποστήριξη και υπεράσπιση των θρησκευτικών ελευθεριών και των δικαίων του Οικουμενικού Πατριαρχείου και της Ορθοδοξίας, καθώς και για την πολύπλευρη και πολύτιμη προσφορά του στην Ελλάδα και στην Ομογένεια, απονέμοντάς του, δια του προέδρου των Αρχόντων Δρ Αντώνη Λυμπεράκη, τιμητική αναμνηστική πλακέτα.
Ο κ. Βασίλης Κασκαρέλης έχει στενούς δεσμούς και μακρόχρονη συνεργασία με το Τάγμα των Αρχόντων από την εποχή που υπηρετούσε ως Μόνιμος Αντιπρόσωπος της Ελλάδος στην Ευρωπαϊκή Ένωση, στις Βρυξέλλες (2004-2009). Οι Άρχοντες που επισκέπτονταν τις Βρυξέλλες για θέματα του Οικουμενικού Πατριαρχείου, έβρισκαν στο πρόσωπο του κ. Κασκαρέλη έναν θερμό συμπαραστάτη και υποστηρικτή. Ως Πρέσβης πλέον της Ελλάδος στην Ουάσιγκτον, εδώ και ενάμιση χρόνο, ο κ. Κασκαρέλης δεν έπαψε να στηρίζει και να προωθεί συστηματικά τα θέματα που απασχολούν το Οικουμενικό Πατριαρχείο και την Ορθοδοξία γενικότερα. Είχε δε την τιμή και την χαρά να υποδεχθεί και να συνοδεύσει ο ίδιος τον Παναγιότατο Οικουμενικό Πατριάρχη Βαρθολομαίο κατά την επίσημη επίσκεψή του στις Η.Π.Α και ιδιαίτερα στην Ουάσιγκτον τον Νοέμβριο του 2009.
Στην ομιλία του, ο κ. Κασκαρέλης εξέφρασε τις θερμές ευχαριστίες του για την τιμή που του έγινε, αναφέρθηκε στο θέμα της «θρησκευτικής ελευθερίας» ως θεμελιώδες και οικουμενικό ανθρώπινο δικαίωμα, καθώς και στα προβλήματα που αντιμετωπίζει ακόμη το Οικουμενικό Πατριαρχείο, παρά ορισμένα αλλά ανεπαρκή βήματα που έχει κάνει η Τουρκία, η οποία όμως εξακολουθεί να μην αναγνωρίζει τη νομική του προσωπικότητα, τον οικουμενικό του χαρακτήρα και να κρατά κλειστή τη Θεολογική Σχολή της Χάλκης. Ο Έλληνας Πρέσβης αναφέρθηκε στο φωτεινό φάρο του Οικουμενικού Πατριαρχείου, στην «ουσία του Γένους μας», στο συμβολικό φύλακα της «συλλογικής ελληνικής συνείδησης» που, καθώς είπε, για αιώνες καθοδηγεί τη Χριστιανοσύνη. Έπλεξε επίσης το εγκώμιο του Οικουμενικού Πατριάρχη Βαρθολομαίου για το παγκόσμιο κύρος που χαίρει και την παγκόσμιας σημασίας δραστηριότητα που έχει αναπτύξει. Χάρις σε αυτόν, υπογράμμισε, το Οικουμενικό Πατριαρχείο «αποτελεί συστατικό στοιχείο της σύγχρονης ζωής» που γίνεται σεβαστό και αναγνωρίζεται από όλον τον κόσμο. Παρά τις σημερινές μας δυσκολίες, τόνισε ο κ. Κασκαρέλης, η πολιτική ηγεσία της Ελλάδας δεν χάνει καμιά ευκαιρία για να υπερασπίζεται τα συμφέροντα του Πατριαρχείου. Αποτελεί πάντα προτεραιότητα για την Ελλάδα και τον ελληνικό λαό.
Ο κ. Πρέσβης αναφέρθηκε επίσης στην Ελληνική Ορθόδοξη Εκκλησία της Αμερικής, στην πολύτιμη και αποφασιστική προσφορά της στην Ορθοδοξία και τον Ελληνισμό, θεσμικό φορέα προώθησης της γλώσσας, των παραδόσεων και των αξιών, εξαίροντας την ηγεσία και τη δραστηριότητα του Αρχιεπισκόπου Δημητρίου καθώς και τη στενή και εποικοδομητική συνεργασία μεταξύ τους.
Τέλος, ο κ. Πρέσβης, αναφερόμενος στις σημερινές δοκιμασίες που διέρχεται ο ελληνικός λαός, εξέφρασε την αισιοδοξία και την πεποίθησή του ότι η Ελλάδα θα τραβήξει το μακρό και ακανθώδη δρόμο της και θα φέρει εις πέρας την αποστολή της, ξεπερνώντας την κρίση.
Περισσότερο φωτορεπορτάζ ΕΔΩ
ΑΚΟΛΟΥΘΕΙ ΟΛΟΚΛΗΡΗ Η ΟΜΙΛΙΑ ΤΟΥ ΠΡΕΣΒΗ
REMARKS BY H.E. AMBASSADOR OF GREECE, MR. VASSILIS KASKARELIS
AT THE ARCHON TRIBUTE DINNER
NEW YORK, NY – FEBRUARY 17, 2011
Your Eminence, Your Excellencies, Dear Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Dear friends,
I am deeply honored by this tribute from the Order of St. Andrews the Apostle, the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. It also warms my heart to see all of you here tonight and I consider myself blessed for counting you among my friends.
I am grateful to Your Eminence Archbishop Demetrios and to the Archons, Dr. Anthony Limberakis, in particular, and to Father Alex Karloutsos, for hosting this wonderful evening on my behalf.
Coming from a group of such distinguished individuals, who have made it their mission to secure religious freedom for the Ecumenical Patriarchate, I consider this not a reward, but a challenge, and I commit myself to continue do my part towards this goal.
Religious freedom is a fundamental and universal human right. It is enshrined in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, rising directly from the experience of World War II.
The United States itself takes religious freedom very seriously, especially when conducting its foreign policy. It investigates over 200 nations, at times recommending that nations with egregious records be subjected to ongoing scrutiny and possible economic sanctions.
Just over a month ago, President Barack Obama issued a proclamation by designating January 14, 2011 as “Religious Freedom Day,” committing his Administration to defend the cause of religious freedom, not only in the United States but the world over.
This is important, particularly in light of Turkey’s aspirations, supported by the United States, to join the European Union, a group of countries which share and respect fundamental democratic principles, equality, freedom of speech, freedom of religion. Greece itself supports Turkey’s ambitions. But, we have made it clear that it must fully meet the criteria which the rest of us member-countries must abide by. The simple fact is that anyone who desires to have a place within the pantheon of democracies must learn to abide by democratic rules and principles. And Turkey is no exception.
Indeed, there has been some encouraging progress, not in small part due to the efforts of the Archons themselves.
- Since last September, Turkey has granted Turkish citizenship to 12 metropolitans of the Throne, residing outside of Turkey;
- In compliance with a ruling of the European Court of Human Rights, Turkey returned the Prinkipos Orphanage to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which His All Holiness Bartholomew stated will be turned into an inter-faith center for dialogue, peace and environmental education.
- There was also the Divine Liturgy on August 15, 2010 at the Holy Monastery of Panagia Soumela, for the first time since 1922. It was no surprise that thousands of Greek Orthodox Christians from Russia, Georgia, Greece, North America, even Turkey itself, travelled to the mountains of Pontus to live through this experience of a lifetime.
- Another encouraging sign was the visit of Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc to the Ecumenical Patriarchate on January 3, 2011, the first such high official visit since 1952.
For all these positive steps, however, important issues remain unresolved.
Turkey persists in denying the Patriarchate’s legal personality, causing serious problems in the management of its affairs, particularly in protecting and enjoying its property rights. This is what makes the return of the Pringipos Orphanage of such significance.
However, we still have the massive confiscation of properties by Turkish authorities which is not sufficiently addressed by the relevant Turkish legislation adopted in 2008.
There is the Halki Seminary, a key center of theological education, closed since 1971. This has being raised by both the U.S. Administration and the Congress. President Obama brought it up this past December in an interview in Hurriyet, reiterating the call he made in April 2009 during his speech to the Turkish Parliament, asking the government of Turkey to reopen the Halki Seminary “as a symbol of its commitment to religious freedom.” He discussed these concerns with His All Holiness during his visit to Washington in 2009.
Of critical concern is the ban on the use of the title “ecumenical,” an ecclesiastical rather than political title, attributed to the Patriarch of Constantinople by Christendom in the 6th century. The interference of the Turkish state in the Patriarch’s election process also presents a major problem.
Here, the opinion of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe recommends that Turkey introduce legislation that would make it possible for religious communities as such, to acquire and maintain legal personality. This opinion specifically asks Turkey not to obstruct or in any way hinder the Patriarchate from using this title.
It goes without saying that the Ecumenical Patriarchate is of profound importance to Orthodox believers everywhere. It is our common point of reference. It is the lighthouse that guides our journey.
But for us Greeks, it is even more than that. The Patriarchate is our history, it is the essence of our ΓΕΝΟΣ; it conjures up images of Constantinople, of Anatolia, of Smyrna, of a time and a life gone by, but still part of our collective Greek psyche. It is the symbolic custodian of our collective Greek conscience. In other words, the Ecumenical Patriarchate encapsulates the essence of modern Hellenism.
This Sacred institution has endured for more than seventeen centuries, always envisioning the future, evolving in accordance with the spiritual needs of its faithful, navigating the contemporary world.
At the beginning of my diplomatic career, while serving at the Greek Embassy in Ankara, I had the good fortune to visit the First Throne of Orthodoxy many times, and pay reverence to the guardian of our faith, the bright beacon of Orthodoxy.
I have seen for myself, that after nearly two millennia, and in the face of hardship, the Ecumenical Patriarchate is not a historical relic. It is a relevant, integral part of contemporary life, recognized and respected by religious and secular authorities around the world.
This was crystal clear during our Patriarch’s inspiring visit to the United States, when the entire spectrum of American leadership, President Obama, Vice President Biden, Speaker of the House, Secretary of State, and members of Congress, made time to meet and honor him.
Under his leadership, the stamp of Orthodoxy on global issues is more indelible than ever. By responding to the challenges of our times, the term “Ecumenical Patriarchate” has taken on new and enhanced meaning, transcending the bounds of the Orthodox world, lending its status to the service of our fellow human beings.
As the voice of Eastern Christianity, “first among equals” in the hierarchy of the Orthodox churches, our Patriarch has undertaken initiatives for the promotion of interfaith dialogue and the theological dialogue with the Catholic Church, which has evolved beyond the purely spiritual, into a major geopolitical event.
Referred to as the “Green Patriarch”, our Patriarch has emerged as a preeminent figure on the environment, makings its protection a moral imperative. His All Holiness recognizes not only the urgency of protecting our planet, but also the disproportionate economic and political implications of environmental disasters on the poor.
The Patriarchate’s valuable contributions will become even more significant, once persistent problems related to its status and daily functioning are duly dealt with.
Yet, even in the face of adversity and challenges, the Patriarchate proceeds with its mission through the help of individuals such as yourselves, who have made this strong commitment.
These past few years, both as Greek Ambassador to the United States, but also while serving as Ambassador to the European Union in Brussels, I have gotten to know you and have witnessed your diligence and dedication.
In Brussels, I had the pleasure and the honor to receive you and watch the methodic and constructive manner in which you approached all open issues, presenting them to your interlocutors in a most effective manner. I have seen you navigate the intricacies of the decision-making process in the heart of the European Union and I am impressed by the range of contacts you have acquired in that complicated city.
I also congratulate you on organizing the first “Archons International Religious Freedom Conference” this past November in Brussels. By all accounts, it was inspiring and enlightening. Bringing together scholars, journalists, diplomats, parliamentarians, religious leaders and advocates of human and religious rights, it presented the complex issues at hand, while consolidating relationships that will prove beneficial to this goal.
Here in the United States, the Greek Orthodox Church is fortunate to have at its helm a spiritual and enlightened man, Archbishop Demetrios, who has been able to heal and promote the Church to new heights. I am privileged to have worked with him and I look forward to continuing that collaboration.
During the years that I lived in this wonderful city of New York, posted at the Greek Mission at the United Nations, and since my arrival to Washington, I had the opportunity to witness firsthand the important work that the Archdiocese conducts in the name of Orthodoxy and Hellenism.
The Greek Orthodox Church in the U.S. has been of decisive importance, not only in providing a spiritual and cultural home to all those of Greek origin, but also in promoting our language, our traditions and our values.
As your forefathers made their way to the new world, where they had to overcome adversity, but where they also found opportunity, they were armed with nothing but these values and principles: hard work, the importance of family, of education, of serving their communities, of believing in something greater than themselves, aiming for loftier goals for themselves and for their children.
I often think that perhaps many of the problems that Greece, the motherland, is facing today stem from having lost sight of these traditional values. Yet, I remain cautiously optimistic because such deeply embedded values die hard and tend to show themselves when the going gets tough. And, without a doubt, the going is tough.
I am also a believer in the empowering mechanism of the European Union. As we speak, the European Union, in collaboration with the International Monetary Fund, along with the brave measures taken by the Greek leadership and the sacrifices of the Greek people, a new bureaucratic, legislative and financial reality is emerging, one that lays the foundation for a more organized, a more accountable society. The Greek people want a better and more secure future for themselves, for their children, for their country.
To paraphrase the quintessential American poet, Robert Frost, “we have miles to go before we sleep, and we have promises to keep”. But, we will stay the course, travel that long and thorny road and see it to its conclusion. Greece will emerge from this crisis and will be the better for it.
Despite our immense difficulties, the Patriarchate is a priority for Greece and the Greek people, and our leadership never misses an opportunity to raise the issue. As Greece’s representative here in the U.S., I assure you that the Patriarchate is also a priority for me, and I look forward to working with you in furthering our cause.
In closing, I like to say that I am thankful for the friendships I have made here, friendships that have withstood the test of time and geography, and I am deeply moved by the great honor you have bestowed upon me tonight.
I embarked on my diplomatic career more than 35 years ago, and during this time, I have met many people and have received several awards. But, with age and experience comes the wisdom to recognize that it is the acknowledgements that come from the heart that matter much more than formal accolades.
And I know that this honor comes straight from the heart. For that, I am grateful.