The Greek Press Today
© Copyright Embassy of Greece 1996-2005. All Rights Reserved.
19 May, 2007
A record number of members of the US House of Representatives' influential foreign affairs committee have signed a letter -- composed by chairman Tom Lantos and ranking Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen -- regarding the long-standing crisis facing the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarchate and Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos.
The letter, sent to Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Recep Erdogan, addresses the Turkish state's policies that, unless changed, "will terminate this Sacred See wherein much of the Bible was codified and the Creeds created," according to Anthony Limberakis, the head of the Order of St. Andrew, an organisation of America's leading Orthodox Christian faithful.
The letter, signed by 42 of the 50 committee members, states:
"The Ecumenical Patriarchate -- the Sacred See, which has served the world-wide Christian community since its establishment by the Apostle Andrew nearly 2,000 years ago -- will disappear in the foreseeable future, unless Turkey changes its policies. We urge you, in friendship and respect, to do everything possible to preserve the Ecumenical Patriarchate and to end all restrictions on its religious freedom".
The letter follows, by less than a month, the torture and murder in central Turkey of three publishers because they printed copies of the Bible in the predominately Muslim EU hopeful. It also follows, by several months, the murder in Turkey of a Roman Catholic priest while in prayer.
Moreover, it comes on the heels of an accelerated campaign by the Turkish government to confiscate Ecumenical Patriarchal properties. Currently, more than 75 percent of its properties have been taken without compensation, Limberakis said.
" 'A religious tragedy of historic magnitude' was the description of this issue in a US Senate letter to President George W. Bush, signed by 73 Senators late last year. Fewer than five Senate letters to the US President a year receive support from as many Senators as did this Nov. 29, 2006 letter to the President on this issue," he added.
The House Committee letter also noted that, "all Americans and all seekers of peace highly value Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew's (Vartholomeos) accomplishments. As you surely know, the US Congress has bestowed on His All Holiness America's highest honor, the Congressional Gold Medal, and it did so with the largest number of cosponsors on record at that time.
"We are especially concerned about three aspects of Turkish government policy towards its Greek-Orthodox population-- practices which threaten the viability of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in a direct and urgent manner. The first of these is your longstanding unwillingness to recognize the Ecumenical Patriarchate as ecumenical -- that is, trans-national. As you surely know, the entire world outside of Turkey -- Orthodox and non-Orthodox -- recognizes the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Istanbul as an Ecumenical Patriarchate. Its Ecumenical nature derives from its history and spiritual stature as well as the faith and perceptions of people around the globe. We would hope that you would view the Ecumenical Patriarchate as part of the rich cultural tapestry of your magnificent, vibrant city.
"Second, we are deeply concerned by your continued involvement in the process of selecting the Patriarch and by your continued insistence that he be a Turkish citizen. These practices clearly reflect your policy of viewing the Patriarchate as a strictly Turkish institution, when in fact it provides spiritual and moral guidance for millions of believers worldwide. Today there are less than 2,500, mainly elderly Greek-Orthodox who hold Turkish citizenship. Accordingly, under present policies, there soon will be virtually no Greek-Orthodox Turkish citizens left to qualify as Patriarch.
The letter concluded:
"Third, your expropriation of lands belonging to the Ecumenical Patriarchate -- as a result of a policy in which the state takes possession of lands not being directly used by the Patriarchate and of lands of those who emigrated or died without heirs -- is very worrisome to us. This policy deprives the Patriarchate of both badly needed funds and cultural patrimony'," Limberakis said.
"The entity charged by the U.S. House of Representatives with oversight of U.S. policy toward Turkey, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and the full body of the United States Senate have overwhelmingly expressed themselves on this tragedy. To America and the democratic world (including the European Union) Turkey's claim of 'religious tolerance' has no credibility as long as it maintains its extreme anti-Ecumenical Patriarchate policies," according to Andy Manatos, an officer in the Order of St. Andrew and the coordinator of its Washington activity.
"Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, a highly regarded man of peace throughout the world, is a Turkish citizen whose presence in Turkey greatly benefits that country. The positive publicity that Turkey received during the recent visit by Pope Benedict XVI to the Ecumenical Patriarchate is but one example," Father Alex Karloutsos, of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in New York, added.
Source: Athens News Agency