News Release
June 2, 1999

Remarks by Archbishop Spyridon at the Second Meeting of HALO
at the Second Meeting of HALO

Your Excellencies and dear Friends and Co-workers,

First and foremost, permit me to thank you for taking the time from your busy schedules to attend this second gathering of HALO, Hellenic American Leaders and Organizations. Since our initial meeting last year, on March 10th, much has transpired affecting the common interests of the Greek Orthodox Community in America. I hope that today, we will be able to share ideas and initiatives to make the work that we do, both as individuals and as a community, more effective for the causes so dear to our constituency.

These are times of great urgency for our faithful. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the invasion of Cyprus and the ongoing injustice and division of this beloved island nation. The most basic principles of human rights and religious liberty have been trampled underfoot without so much as a cry from the world's powers. Despite the good work that has occurred over a quarter of a century, we still find ourselves without the level of international advocacy necessary to bring about substantive progress. The question must be asked: What more can we do, or what must we do differently to achieve a just and lasting settlement for our Cypriot brothers and sisters?

What is more, in the past few months, we have witnessed an unprecedented unleashing of international might and military power against Serbia, ostensibly, in order to find a solution to the internal problems in Kosovo. In this campaign, the Orthodox Christian Faith has become the focus of much negative press in the Western world, even to the point of derision. Without justifying the Milosevic regime, we can reasonably ask the question: Why is Orthodox Christianity becoming the target of the Western media and what does this say about the history of our presence in the social and political culture of America?

The situation in the Balkans raises serious questions about our progress in the continuing controversies over issues of territory and other characteristics in Thrace, Macedonia, Northern Epiros and the Aegean Sea. How we are perceived as a community, both here and abroad, will certainly be a defining factor in the resolution of current and future issues.

As leaders and organizations representing the interests of the Greek Orthodox community, we need to assess the damage that has been done to our causes and find ways to counter-act it. We need to get our message out more substantively to the broader American culture. We need to challenge the stereotypes being fostered in the mass media about Balkan and Eastern European Christians and set the record straight.

In addition, at this moment, His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew is on his first official visit to Greece. We acknowledge with great joy the affirmations made about the role of the Patriarchate and particularly the hopes expressed for the reopening of Halki, but we must find programmatic means to make these hopes a reality in the international community. As Americans, we operate from one of the most advantageous positions in the world; financially and socially positioned to pursue our causes. The coordination of our efforts will most surely lead to better results.

As for my own trip to Greece earlier this year, I am happy to report that the Greek Orthodox Church in America is highly valued and esteemed in Greece. There was great openness expressed for building bridges of communication and cooperation. We have a responsibility to be honest and open about where the gulf widens and narrows between Greece and the Greek-American Community. Perhaps nothing will describe that so well as the report, "The Future of the Greek Language and Culture in the United States - Survival in the Diaspora," submitted last week by the Commission on Greek Language and Hellenic Culture. Copies have been brought copies for all of you and hope that you will give it your full consideration. Faith, culture and language are interconnected in more ways than one might think. The significance of this report is far-reaching when understood in the context of the appreciation of Greek-related issues in the wider culture. If we can broaden the appreciation of Hellenic culture and its valuation as a pillar of Western culture, issues like the restoration of the Parthenon Marbles will find a wider acceptance and higher priority.

In addition, I am very pleased to report that substantial progress and initiatives have been made in Greek Orthodox - Jewish relations. Among them, I can report the presenting of the Patriarch Athenagoras Human Rights Award to Professor Elie Wiesel. In the fall at our seminary, there will be an interfaith theological dialogue between the Anti-defamation League and the Greek Orthodox Church: Personhood in Judaism and Orthodox Christianity. There is also another academic conference planned for the Spring with the Center for Interreligious Dialogue on Platonism in Judaism and Orthodox Christianity. We are in the process of establishing a new working relationship between the National Philoptochos and Hadassah, the largest women's religious organization in the world. These initiatives reflect advances in the ongoing work that we pursue through the National Council of Churches and the National Conference of Community and Justice.

Finally, I can report to all of you that the Archdiocese is actively planning a Washington Office to cultivate the interests of the Church, particularly in the areas of religious freedom and human rights. As this office develops, I will keep all of you abreast of its prospective work and program.

Finally, I am committed to a deeper involvement with the United Nations, an activity proposed for years at the Archdiocese, but hitherto unrealized. I look forward to your input and your comments on this and all of the interests of the Archdiocese, as we continue our cooperative efforts.

My friends, what we seek here together is not a single voice on any given issue, but a chorus of our many voices into one harmonious message. The variety and the multiplicity of our efforts can only be ultimately successful, if we stand together in solidarity of purpose. How we proceed and how much synergy is possible is a function of our willingness to communicate and work with each other. I look forward to your ideas and suggestions on how we may best accomplish fulfilling our shared vision for the progress of our people.

[ Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Of America - Press Office - News Release - June 2, 1999 ]