ALITHEIA-ΑΛΗΘΕΙΑ - November 3, 1997


November 3, 1997

The Scottsdale Tribune

Dear Editor:

As an Orthodox Christian, I was quite appalled by Gary Nelson’s column of October 26, 1997, entitled “Patriarch’s lofty words betrayed by actions of church.” Indeed, I also found it so emotionally charged, hostile, and downright disrespectful that I was left wondering whether some private agenda motivated Mr. Nelson rather than what he sarcastically called “a humble effort to respond to [Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s] pastoral admonitions.”

I should say at the outset that, as a theologian by education, and as an aide to the Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, my work directly involves me in the issue raised by Mr. Nelson, namely religious intolerance. For instance, I represent Archbishop Spyridon, the Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, on the State Department’s Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad, which was formed precisely to inform the President and Secretary of State regarding issues of religious persecution in foreign policy matters. I therefore am in a position to object to Mr. Nelson’s argument.

Specifically, Mr. Nelson used his column to criticize His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of seeming hypocrisy, ostensibly having found a contradiction between his address at the United States Holocaust Museum and the anti-proselytism laws in two countries which are historically identified with the Orthodox Faith. Furthermore, and quite scandalously, Mr. Nelson dared to compare what the Ecumenical Patriarch rightly called “the darkness of Auschwitz’s bitter night” -- the systematic murder of 6 million Jews -- to both the erratic imposition over the last 60 years of a law in Greece that has tragically resulted (according to Mr. Nelson’s source) in six deaths, and the aberrant behavior committed in the name of a similar, newly-passed law in Russia.

While we Americans should rightly object to any law that restricts religious freedom in any way -- here in America and abroad -- we must also understand that Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and his brother Orthodox hierarchs must contend with the hypocritical behavior directed against their flocks that partially motivated these laws in the first place. Mr. Nelson should consider the words spoken by the Ecumenical Patriarch during his visit to the National Council of Churches just days after his visit to the Holocaust Museum: “In other parts of the world, the Orthodox have been deeply vexed by the proselytism of her faithful by communions to whom she has shown love and respect in America. In lands where the Orthodox Church is recovering from decades of persecution, a new threat to the Orthodox faith has appeared. Many Protestant missionaries from the West whose voices were not heard during the decades of oppression, have come not to lend support, but to convert Orthodox believers. Orthodox who had suffered for generations had expected the prayers, the support, and the encouragement of their ecumenical partners. Sadly, they have been treated like the servant who is tortured by another servant who was himself treated with mercy by his master...Three hundred million Orthodox Christians seek the very guarantees of love and freedom that our sister churches have enjoyed in the name of religious freedom.”

True, no excuse should ever be made for religious intolerance. At the same time, no allowance should be made for misplaced accusations.

Never mind that Jewish leaders received His All Holiness’ words with great appreciation. Never mind that President Clinton, Vice President Gore, Secretary of State Albright, and First Lady Hillary Clinton each separately met with and/or feted His All Holiness precisely as a champion of human rights, including religious rights. Never mind that His All Holiness’ flock in Istanbul remains an oppressed minority, as consistently cited in the U.S. State Department’s Country Reports, and that his moral authority on questions of religious intolerance comes at least in this instance, not so much from his historic position as a leader of the Christian world, but precisely from being the object of fundamentalist vilification.

Mr. Nelson has given us an example of irresponsible journalism. As a former resident of Scottsdale, I was dismayed that my old hometown paper carried such an ill-reasoned and inflammatory column.

Antonios Kireopoulos
Special Assistant to the Archbishop

[ ALITHEIA-ΑΛΗΘΕΙΑ - - November 3, 1997 ]