Religious Equality in Turkey: “Who will help?”
The second day began with a number of panel discussions and the talks around the current constitution of Turkey and the new one, especially in relation to history and the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Our readers should realize that the legal state of the Patriarchate is not recognized in Turkey. The Patriarch himself, the direct successor to the first-called Apostle Andrew, is not recognized as the Ecumenical Patriarch, first amongst equals. Although some progress has been made in terms of property being returned, there is still much to be done. In essence, we are on the road to religious freedom, but we have a long way to go.
I had the privilege of interviewing some of the conference speakers, and those video interviews will be available and posted here as soon as possible. My guests include Jay and Jordan Sekulow, Dr. Elizabeth Prodromou, Mustafa Akyol, His Eminence Metropolitan Elpidophoros, Johnny Messo, and the Honorable Counsel General in Panama of Greece , Haralambos Tsanetatos (interview in Greek).
Sahin Alpay, Senior Lecturer, Bahcesehir University and the moderator of the morning panel, asked a very pointed and direct question of Riza Turmen, Member of the Turkish Parliament and Member of the constitution committee: “What is wrong with the government when they promised years ago to open the school of Halki and then retracted this position?” Riza answered, “The school of Halki must be opened,” noting that he has worked toward this end. “It is unacceptable that is hasn’t. It was actually in the bill proposed, and I do not know why it was left out. This was a mistake.” The attendees erupted in applause.
Metropolitan Elpidophoros, Abbot of the Holy Trinity Monastery, was the next to speak. Please go to the Archons site to read his words. When he was finished, every person at the conference, both clergy and lay people, rose to their feet and offered the most sustained applause of the gathering thus far.
Halki was founded in 1844 by Patriarch Germanos 4th. From this sacred school, many Patriarchs, Hierarchs, Priest and Deacons have graduated. In 1971, the School of Halki was closed by the government; however, it continues to be run as a monastery which has been the same since that fateful day when the seminary was closed. As the Metropolitan told us, so powerfully, the spirit of the School of Halki is one of peace and dialogue with all Christian organizations and non-Christian. He told us that he and all at Halki are not seeking a fundamentalism, but a spirit of peace with others to learn and grow. Halki knows how to destroy walls of suspicion and build bridges of love and cooperation and should be allowed to do so now, not at some time in the distant future. Our church is one that reaches out to all, no matter whether they are rich and poor.
His Eminence then forcefully and with full conviction of spirit said, “Statements of good will are no longer good enough. We do not need more statements. What we need is movement and a decision.”
Mustafa Akyol, who has been a guest on Come Receive the Light, the National Radio program of OCN, was the next speaker. He is able to speak from a unique perspective since he is Sunni Moslem and a commentator on television and radio, and he was asked to return to the second conference on Religious Freedom. Mustafa decried the secret codifying of Christians in Turkey and also brought to light that Turkish citizens are also secretly codified into various categories of Moslems. He then addressed what he sees in Turkey as it develops its existence in a pluralistic society. He noted that this is something which is not easy and takes time. He then quoted President John Kennedy, “Freedom does not come from the government; it comes from God.”
Jay Sekulow then addressed a packed auditorium about his work with the Order of St. Andrew for the Ecumenical Patriarchate, stating that hard decisions will have to made soon by the Patriarch and the Holy Synod to secure the freedom needed to move the Church forward. The basic concept of legal personality is the real issue here. You have to recognize who you are speaking to in order to dialogue with them. The basic premise that the Ecumenical Patriarch does not exist can no longer stand as an excuse for no dialogue between it and Turkey.
In our interview today and in his presentation, Jay reminded us that we do not have the right to surrender the Patriarchate any more than a Jew would have the right to surrender the city of Jerusalem. We must fight, we must be bold and true to the Gospel.
Dr. Anthony Limberakis, the National Commander of the Order of St. Andrew, offered some closing remarks that were well thought out and rather profound. Please listen to his speech when it becomes available and is posted here. It is an important call to action: “We are witnessing the extinction of Christianity in the Middle East. Who is going to help?”
I have now covered two of these Religious Freedom Conferences. What thoughts will I take with me now as I journey home?
First, Church work is not for the weak of stomach. It is hard, tiring, and sometimes very frustrating. But something so sacred and holy is worth sacrificing for because it has eternal implications for all.
Second, the time has come for a world-wide effort to let every human being on this earth know that as Orthodox Christianity and the Ecumenical Patriarchate go, so goes civilization. This is not just a Christian issue. It is an issue that should affect all people who believe in God. If the Ecumenical Patriarch, 269th successor to the first-called Apostle Andrew, cannot worship as he chooses, what is in store for the rest of the Christian world? If the Patriarchate, the Phanar, the lighthouse of faith, is not allowed to show its true light that has remained consistent from the beginning of Christianity, then what hope do we have?
The world would be a better place if all knew the Church of Christ handed to the Apostles and delivered to the world. It would not be a perfect place, but one that is steeped in the Scriptures and the Fathers.
I dare say this: what would happen if the people of Israel were told they had to give us the city of Jerusalem? There would be blood in the streets. Why, when we discuss the existence and religious freedom of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, are we deaf, dumb, and blind? This issue is one that should affect and cause action from all people of faith.
The conference ended today with a press conference. May it be an instrument for sharing the important message that religious freedom must be honored and protected.