The National Herald - May 14, 2006

New Strategy Needed
to Save Endangered Ecumenical Patriarchate  (I)

   By Paul Marudas

BALTIMORE - I still remember vividly my grandfather taking my cousin and me sometime in 1949 to see then Archbishop Athenagoras on his farewell tour before departing for Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) to assume his duties as Ecumenical Patriarch. As the tall, immense and heavily bearded man swept down the aisle of the Detroit high school auditorium to the musical tribute of the assembled choir, it appeared to this very diminutive 12-year old stretching for a better view that Athenagoras was indeed God himself - a sacrilegious, but understandably forgivable thought from a child overwhelmed by his imposing presence.

Regrettably, I never met Patriarch Athenagoras, but that indelible first impression was subsequently reaffirmed by those who did know him: He was a gifted hierarch of gentle demeanor and humanitarian impulse. Later, as a reporter, I was able to write a number of articles for the Baltimore Sun about Athenagoras and the status of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which succeeded in provoking protest from the Turkish Embassy in Washington. Subsequent, years of public service offered me the unique and unexpected privilege to work directly with the Patriarchate on a number of activities.

These feelings for Athenagoras and the Patriarchate prompted me to place a beautiful oil portrait of Athenagoras on the wall of my home office. The print was given to me in 1967 by former Maryland Governor and Baltimore Mayor Theodore R. McKeldin for my service as his last chief of staff. It hangs next to a large picture of that same grandfather in the uniform of a Greek army fantaros (i.e., private) when he returned to Greece from America to serve as a volunteer in the Balkan Wars of 1911-13.

The pictures of these two heroes are daily reminders of that pivotal and great immigrant generation whose lives and faith bridged the "Old and the New Worlds" and laid the foundations for Orthodoxy and Hellenism in America. Two patriarchs, one spiritual, the other family: Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras of Blessed Memory, a man devoted to peace and keeper of our ancient Orthodox Faith in Constantinople died in 1972 at age 86, and my late pappou, Nicholas Leventis, our family patriarch, who passed away in 1987 at age 98, leaving a legacy of six married children, 17 grandchildren and 25 great grandchildren.

One may legitimately ask how this personal account relates to the currently grave status of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople. It is relevant, for it demonstrates in genuine, personal terms the strong spiritual and emotional connection which millions of Greek and other Orthodox feel for the Patriarchate, and the pain and frustration they equally feel for its present diminished condition. Moreover, for Greek Orthodox Americans with roots in the "old country," this reverence toward the Patriarchate is comparable to their respect for the memories of their own parents, grandparents and great grandparents.

What essentially fuels the present pessimistic view of the Patriarchate's status is the unfulfilled expectation that conditions would improve as Turkey moved closer to the European Union under a government unburdened by anti-religious and secular Kemalism. Instead, the mood is now one of disappointment. Despite the intense debate over human rights and civil liberties in Turkey, Ankara continues to blatantly violate provisions in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne (in which the United States was also a participant), which guarantees the Patriarchate's independence, and the Turkish Government contemptuously continues to ignore internationally recognized standards of religious freedom.

For those officially charged with the responsibility for protecting the Patriarchate (the hierarchy of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and the leadership of the Order of Saint Andrew - Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate), these developments have been especially vexing. After a long and highly public effort to project the Patriarchate's cause, the results are depressing, if not demoralizing: Continued confiscation of Patriarchal properties; no movement at all on the 35-year closure of the Theological School at Halki; restrictions on movement of Patriarchal personnel; repeated and unacceptable acts of disrespect toward the Patriarchate with Turkish authorities seeking to downplay its ecumenical role by asserting that it is merely an Archdiocese of Istanbul; prohibiting the Patriarchate from publishing its own digest or theological publications; and even interference with whom it can invite.

One can not underestimate the gravity of the situation. Unless the Patriarchate and its supporters react to this crisis with a renewed and realistic sense of urgency, hopes for preserving the Patriarchate hold little promise. The first step is to recognize that the present Patriarchal effort has, to date, been notably ineffective - inadequate not for lack of good intentions, but far more seriously for lack of a coherent strategy: a deficiency largely attributable to the leadership's failure to involve a much wider circle of committed Orthodox and other religious resources in America and abroad.

Indeed, if any coherent strategy ever did exist, it has been a carefully guarded secret among those ordained as the Patriarchate's protectors. Most everyone else has been, at best, an interested observer or, most of the time, ignored bystander. As the Patriarchate's steady decline demonstrates, it is simply unrealistic to place its fate in the hands of a select few, rather than on the shoulders and prayers of the tens and hundreds of thousands of the faithful who consider the See of Constantinople the ancient repository of their Orthodox Christian faith. A reservoir of loyalty and wisdom resides among the Orthodox faithful in America, but their talents must be welcomed, and then skillfully utilized.

Why then, despite a substantial expenditure of political and monetary capital, is this effort presently stalled? Most of the reasons are disturbingly simple, and will be addressed in no particular order of unreality or ineffectiveness. They are essentially divided into two separate but overlapping categories: actions and activities initiated by the "Patriarchal Lobby" both here and abroad, and those undertaken by the Patriarchate itself.

This discussion presupposes the realistic premise that the Patriarchate and its supporters have (obviously) little direct influence on Turkish internal politics, and must work around the margins of international religious and political pressure. It also presumes, however, that developing a smarter strategy might enable the Patriarchate to more effectively defend, and even advance, its interests during this period of change in Turkey.

A logical starting point is to review some of the efforts undertaken by the "Patriarchal Lobby," an informal group of Greek Orthodox Hierarchs, clergy, and the lay officers and members of the Order of St. Andrew, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Their main task is to persuade policy makers and elected officials in the Executive and Legislative branches of the American and other governments to pressure Turkey to ease its restrictions on the Patriarchate.

Despite much well-motivated activity, the Lobby has produced minimal results. After years of importuning appointed and elected officials, convening innumerable meetings, press conferences and hearings and issuing statements, the Patriarchate's fundamental status situation remains precarious and, in some respects, has deteriorated.

Without question, Turkey's continued refusal to meet its obligations to the Patriarchate is the basic problem. But another important factor is that the Patriarchate and its chief supporters, at a fundamental level, misunderstand the complex political and historical forces affecting this issue. Unfortunately, this misreading has led to policies and actions which have weakened the Patriarchate, rather than strengthening its cause.

One example is the inexplicable and continuing willingness to put the Patriarchate in the center of Greek-Turkish relations and tensions. This ineptitude has made the Patriarchate a target in the line of diplomatic fire between Athens and Ankara, and even Nicosia, providing an assortment of Turkish nationalists with ammunition to attack the Phanar as an instrument of Greek national ambitions.

For fresh evidence of this ill-advised policy, one need go no further than the January-February, 2006 Edition of the Orthodox Observer, the official news organ of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. This Lenten edition appropriately features on its front page Patriarch Bartholomew's Homily for Holy and Great Lent, as well as a similar message from Archbishop Demetrios, a most befitting beginning for the great journey to Pascha (Easter).

But rather than direct us to more conventional spiritual directions such as Jerusalem, Archbishop Demetrios and the Observer's editors, instead, diverted its readers to Cyprus, courtesy of an eight-page special supplement (an apparent luxury for the financially strapped Observer), sporting a huge banner headline proclaiming, "FIRST EVER VISIT TO CYPRUS." Beneath this headline, Archbishop Demetrios is pictured laying a wreath before the gigantic statue of the late President of Cyprus, Archbishop Makarios.

Obviously, this unusual journalistic splash reflects the high priority assigned by the Archdiocese to this visit - which then raises the question whether it ever occurred to the planners of this expedition as to ask why there was never before a "First Ever Visit?" Was it because wiser minds, in years past, comprehended the negative political implications of sending the Patriarchate's leading representative in the U.S. on a state visit to Cyprus? This certainly was not a subdued, traditional pilgrimage - more in keeping with the spiritual duties of a Greek Orthodox Archbishop - but a high profile journey with definite political overtones. We can only speculate as to its motivations.

Was it to reassure Cypriots about the support of the Greek Orthodox community in America? Did Archbishop Demetrios feel compelled to visit Cyprus because his predecessors, Archbishops Michael, Iakovos and Spyridon, were unsympathetic to the injustice suffered by the Cypriot people? The answer is that neither the support of the community, nor that of His Eminence's predecessors, has ever been in question. A simple statement issued in New York would have provided the Cypriots with the required assurances.

What is truly astonishing is that so little thought was obviously given as to the trip's perception in Ankara. Did the Archbishop and his advisors actually believe that this widely publicized visit would go unnoticed in official Turkish circles, and that it would have no affect on their attitudes toward the Phanar?

Given the unfortunate reality that the Patriarchate's fate rises and falls at the whim of the Turkish Government, why then would Archbishop Demetrios insert himself and the Church in America into a political dispute which inflames Turkish public opinion? How could this hope to help either Cyprus or the Patriarchate?

After all, in ecclesiastical terms, the Archbishop is the Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the United States. In laymen's language, he is the Patriarchate's highest ranking representative in America, the long arm of Constantinople. Suddenly, and with great fanfare, that long arm is thrust into the simmering Cyprus dispute.

The Archbishop's own statements, and the venues in which he appeared, clearly delivered a political message, particularly with respect to Greek-American support for Cyprus, remarks more appropriate for a secular leader.

It should be emphasized that such support existed long before His Eminence ever appeared on the American scene, however, and is dependent neither on him nor the Archdiocese for direction or leadership. Groups like PSEKA (International Coordinating Committee - Justice for Cyprus) AHEPA, the American Hellenic Institute, the United Hellenic American Congress, the National Coordinated Effort of Hellenes and the Cyprus Federation of America, as well as countless other organizations and individuals have carried out a vigorous and relentless struggle for Cyprus over the years.

How deeply the Archbishop enmeshed himself in the politics of the Cyprus question was recorded in press dispatches, and from official Archdiocese media releases which referenced a private meeting between Archbishop Demetrios and Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos, during which they discussed the Cyprus issue and the role of Greek Americans in its resolution.

Politics were also at center stage during the official state dinner honoring His Eminence, during which President Papadopoulos castigated Turkish policy, expressing the certainty that the visit will strengthen the Archbishop's "bold voice, which is in favor of the fair rights of the people of Cyprus, and renew the effectiveness and fervor of overseas Greeks for a Cyprus settlement."

And politics even impinged on the Archbishop's liturgical duties when, after presiding at a Divine Liturgy on January 29, he was introduced by Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Paphos who, in His Eminence's presence (according to press reports), sharply criticized American policy towards Cyprus as one which "embraces the perpetrator of the crime and condemns the victim," and described "The awful Annan Plan as a methodical attempt to 'Turkisize' our land." In response, Archbishop Demetrios assured the congregation that the Greek American community would continue to fight and push Washington "for a peaceful and viable solution for the Cyprus issue."

Would it be so unreasonable to conclude from these statements that part of Archbishop Demetrios' mission as the Patriarch's representative in America is to be a "player" in the Cyprus and other Greek national issues? It certainly appears that way, and if so, it is a mission with dangerous implications for the Patriarchate.
From the Patriarchate's perspective, the damage to its interests was further compounded by the prominence in the Archbishop's entourage, of the Phanar's chief lay protector in the United States, Archons National Commander Dr. Anthony J. Limberakis, and Rev. Alexander Karloutsos, the Patriarch's chief confidant in the U.S. and spiritual advisor to the Archons.

The appearance in Cyprus of this Patriarchal trio can best be described as target practice in a Turkish diplomatic shooting gallery. Over the years, Dr. Limberakis and Father Karloutsos have been delegated to meet with Turkish officials and plead the Patriarchate's case. It is hard to see how their visit to Cyprus will ingratiate them to the Turkish Government. To connect the Patriarchate so directly with the Cyprus question is both politically irresponsible and naive.

Linking the two issues gives Turkey a political advantage to play one off the other and clouds the situation. Such matters are best left to politicians and diplomats, not ecclesiastical representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

These political intrusions are also confusing and contradictory: confusing because, on the one hand, the Archons and others repeatedly assert, in international venues, that the Ecumenical Patriarchate is a purely religious institution which transcends national identity and parochial politics. As such, it is entitled, under the Treaty of Lausanne and other international agreements, to complete religious freedom. On the other hand, the Archbishop's trip to Cyprus flatly contradicts such assertions.

To be fair, involvement by Greek Orthodox hierarchs in Greek political issues did not start with Archbishop Demetrios. His predecessors - especially Archbishop Iakovos and, to a lesser extent, Archbishop Spyridon - frequently entangled the Church in America in such issues, to such an extent that these hierarchs actually received private briefings on Greek Foreign policy issues from the highest levels of the Hellenic Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs.

The Patriarchate has paid a high price for these and other misplaced political involvements, actions which have trivialized its spiritual prestige and provided ammunition for enemies in Turkey. It is a policy of reckless endangerment.

This inability to formulate a viable, consistent strategy was also revealed during the Archons' visit to the European Union in May 2005. The following report, lifted verbatim from the Archons Autumn 2005 Newsletter, demonstrates the point: "Led by Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, who serves as the Ecumenical Patriarchate's liaison to the European Union, a special National Council task force of five Archons and their spiritual advisor, Rev. Alexander Karloutsos, visited leaders of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France and Brussels, Belgium from May 9 to May 13 to launch a dialogue about the religious human rights deficit in Turkey and to promote Turkey's accession to the E.U."

Why would the Archons support or "promote" Turkey's accession to the European Union when Ankara has resisted even the slightest concession on the Patriarchate and, in some ways, has even tightened the screws?

Just how far the Archons strayed from long-established positions is disclosed in the newsletter, which reports on the testimony Archbishop Demetrios and Dr. Limberakis delivered before the Helsinki Commission on Human Rights in Washington. Flanked by prominent American religious leaders, they vigorously and appropriately condemned Turkey's decades-long persecution of the Patriarchate, stressing that since 1936, Ankara has confiscated 8,000 Patriarchal properties, and that the Halki Seminary has been illegally shut down for 35 years by governmental fiat.

Also described are the Archons many meetings in Europe and Washington specifically highlighting that Archbishop Demetrios "personally met with President Bush regarding the serious violations of basic religious human rights perpetrated by Turkey against the Spiritual Center of World Orthodoxy."

After spanning continents and oceans to expose Turkey's transgressions to the world, how could Dr. Limberakis, Father Karloutsos and associates morph from Paul Revere in Washington to Neville Chamberlain in Brussels?

It's as if a victim, who is mugged repeatedly by the same assailant, finally gets his day in court; recounts his tormentor's many crimes; and then suddenly asks the judge to release the accused.

The Archons should have unequivocally opposed Turkey's E.U. application: No action on the Patriarchate. No support for E.U. entry.

Whether the U.S., Greece or even the Patriarchate publicly supported Turkey's entry into the E.U. membership process, the Archons, as American citizens, should have insisted that Ankara adhere to universally acceptable standards of religious freedom if Turkey wants E.U. consideration and admission. A strong Archons stand in Brussels would have sent an unmistakable message to Turkey that its treatment of the Patriarchate would be aggressively challenged every step of the way during Turkey's E.U. accession negotiations.

Instead, at the very moment when Turkey was under intense international scrutiny, the Archons blinked. Were the Archons and the Patriarchate so convinced that, by supporting Turkey's E.U. application, Ankara would ease pressures and/or possibly reopen Halki? Experience has shown that Turkey only moves on such issues when it is under extreme pressure.

This is why proposals to assist the Patriarchate must always be carefully thought through to maximize precious political and economic resources. Many ideas are always forthcoming, but they must be measured against the basic criterion: Will they really help the Patriarchate? Preoccupation with public relations and other images of the moment often squander time and energy.

Such was the case with the highly successful campaign to obtain a Congressional Resolution bestowing the Congressional Medal of Honor on Patriarch Bartholomew during His All Holiness' visit to Washington in 1997. The patriarchal lobby accurately boasts that this resolution gathered a near record sponsors. It did so because of an extraordinary effort by the tribute's organizers in Washington, those who contacted their elected representatives to sign onto the resolution, and sympathetic members of Congress who courted their colleagues.

Much effort was invested in this Medal drive and, as they say in Washington, "A lot of chits were called in." Did it justify the huge political investment? Not really. For in the end, it had no perceptible impact on American policy toward Turkey. In the nine years since the Medal Ceremony, American diplomats did, on occasion, make sincere but discreet interventions on behalf of the Patriarchate. But it is important to note that past and present U.S. administrations have consistently refused to publicly condemn Turkey's treatment of the Patriarchate.

[ Orthodox Truth |  -  May 14, 2006 ]