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4th Archon International Conference On Religious Freedom a Milestone in Archons’ Labors for Religious Freedom and Global Unity

With the blessings of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and in consultation with His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America, the 4th Archon International Conference on Religious Freedom was held from Sunday, May 26 through Wednesday, May 29, 2024 in Athens, Greece. The conference was being organized and hosted by the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in America, Canada, Europe and Australia, and was followed by the historic First Global Summit of Archons: Protecting the Future of Faith.

The conference was held in many of the most notable and historic venues in Athens, and featured some of the world’s foremost defenders of human rights and religious freedom, including His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew (via video); His Beatitude Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens and All Greece; His Eminence Metropolitan Emmanuel, Geron of Chalcedon; His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America; former U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo;  Dr. Despina Chatzivassiliou-Tsovilis, Secretary General of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe; His Excellency Gintaras Grušas, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Vilnius and President of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE); John Chrysoulakis, Secretary General for Greeks Abroad and Public Diplomacy in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Hellenic Republic; Evangelos Venizelos, Former Deputy Prime Minister of Greece; Athens Mayor Haris Doukas; and many others.

The proceedings began on Sunday in Athens’ inspiring and beautiful Metropolitan Cathedral, the Church of the Annunciation, which is the Cathedral of His Beatitude Archbishop Ieronymos. Following Orthros, His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros celebrated an Archieratical Divine Liturgy​. After the Divine Liturgy, in keeping with the theme of the conference, a 50-year anniversary Memorial Service commemorating the victims of the tragic invasion of Cyprus and all other martyrs who have lost their lives because of religious persecution.

A Welcome Reception was held that evening at the Foreign Ministry of the Hellenic Republic. Deputy Foreign Minister Giorgos Kotsiras welcomed the conference participants and emphasized that religious freedom does not exist without respect for human rights and the equality of all people before the law. Archon Athanasios Martinos, President of the Pammakaristos Brotherhood of Archons in Europe and Conference Co-Chair, emphasized the cardinal importance of working for the religious freedom of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and of all those who are deprived of this freedom worldwide. Conference Co-Chair Archon Anthony J. Limberakis, National Commander of the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in America, thanked Archon Martinos and noted what an immense privilege it was to work with him on the planning of the Conference and Global Summit.

His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros drew a parallel between the Philike Hetairia, a group of Greek patriots who organized throughout the Diaspora to aid the fight for Greek independence in 1821, and the Archons of today. The Archons are fighting today, he said, but with the weapons of peace, and with diplomatic skill are leading the way to secure the rights of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

The Official Opening of the Conference took place at the Stoa of Attalos in the ancient Agora of Athens on Monday, May 27. Dr. Limberakis stated that the Agora was the heart of political life in Athens, and that all the administrative, cultural and religious activities of the ancient Athenians took place there. The Archons selected Athens for this conference, he said, “because we wanted to physically, culturally and spiritually immerse ourselves in the birthplace of democracy and human rights.” Archon Martinos stated that the topic of religious freedom was timely because of critical and dangerous geopolitical developments in Ukraine, Gaza, and among the Houthis of Yemen.

His Beatitude Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens and All Greece praised the Archons’ collective efforts to safeguard the Ecumenical Throne of Constantinople. His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros spoke of the wisdom of His Beatitude Archbishop Ieronymos and His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, and said it was an honor and blessing to speak between these two giants. Then, in a profound and insightful address via video from Constantinople, His All-Holiness noted that the Conference was dedicated to protecting human rights and the rule of law, and promoting universal respect for human dignity. Without a sense of the transcendent, he said, regard for the human person cannot be established.

John Chrysoulakis, the Secretary General for Greeks Abroad and Public Diplomacy in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Hellenic Republic, spoke about his great joy at being present under the guidance and blessing of His All-Holiness.

The First Session of Conference was held at the National Historical Museum in Athens on Monday, May 27 in the old parliament hall. Dr. Limberakis, announcedthat the recipient of the 2024 Athenagoras Human Rights Award will be Yulia Navalya, the widow of the martyred Russian dissident Alexei Navalny, and now the leader of the Russian opposition in her own right.

The session Convener, Archon George C. Rockas, Esq., spoke of how each of the Archons’ conferences on religious freedom had had their own particular character. The keynote speaker was His Excellency Gintaras Grušas, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Vilnius and President of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE). He stated that religious freedom stems from the inherent dignity of every human being. He noted that the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church (Crete, 2016) called for full recognition of religious freedom, which is a component of the dignity of the human person. Archon William J. Antholis, PhD, Director and CEO of the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia, then asked His Excellency a series of questions, and Archbishop Grušas also answered questions from the audience.

On Monday evening, the Conference attendees gathered at the Acropolis Museum, where they received a private tour of the historic and innovative museum, getting a unique glimpse into the circumstances of the birth of the civilization that bequeathed to the world the principles of human rights and religious freedom. At the Welcome Dinner that followed the tour, At the Welcome Dinner that followed the tour, His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America offered the invocation. The Conference Co-Chairs, Archons Martinos and Limberakis, expressed gratitude to Conference attendees, and above all to all those who worked so tirelessly to bring this groundbreaking Conference to fruition. Chief among these was Marina Martinos, the wife of Conference Co-Chair Archon Athanasios Martinos. Mrs. Martinos was presented with flowers in gratitude for her tireless efforts to arrange the private tour of the Acropolis Museum, and for all her other efforts to ensure the success and enduring impact of the Conference.

Archon Hon. B. Theodore Bozonelis, National Vice Commander of the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, noted that the national motto of Greece, Ελευθερία ή Θάνατος (“Freedom or death”) and the cross of Orthodoxy brings us to the very essence of what the Conference was about. There is no freedom, Judge Bozonelis emphasized, without religious freedom. Archon Hon. George J. Tsunis, Esq., U.S. Ambassador to the Hellenic Republic, pointed out that the Welcome Dinner was taking place on Memorial Day, when Americans honor those who died to defend our unalienable rights. U.S. democracy, he said, is built on principles formulated in Athens. The Director-General of the Acropolis Museum, Dr. Nikos Stampolidis, expressed his gratitude to Archon Martinos and his beloved wife Marina for their tireless and selfless service to Hellenism, Orthodoxy, and the Acropolis Museum in particular. His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros pointed out that our culture is built upon the Acropolis and all the wonderful things the Greek people have achieved. His Excellency Archbishop Grušas offered the benediction to conclude the evening.

The Second Session of the Conference took place at the Zappeion Hall, an enduring icon of Greek civilization, on Tuesday morning, May 27. The keynote speaker was Dr. Despina Chatzivassiliou-Tsovilis, Secretary General of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe; serving as Convener was Archon Constantine Sideridis, and moderating was Dr. Elizabeth H. Prodromou, a professor in the International Studies Program at Boston College and a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at The Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center.

Dr. Chatzivassiliou-Tsovilis pointed out that His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew had referred to the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights during his remarks during the Official Opening of the Conference on Monday, and stated that the European Convention on Human Rights of 1950 likewise affirmed the freedom of religion. Dr. Prodromou asked Dr. Chatzivassiliou-Tsovilis about the Council of Europe’s stance toward religion and about other issues as well, and Dr. Chatzivassiliou-Tsovilis also took questions from the audience.

At the end of this session, His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America revealed that authorities in Pristina had recently prevented His Holiness Patriarch Porfirije of Serbia and seven accompanying bishops from entering Kosovo and Metohija. His Holiness had planned to attend a meeting of the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church at the Patriarchate of Peć. The Archons immediately adopted a unanimous resolution, based on recommendations from Dr.  Chatzivassiliou-Tsovilis, expressing grave concern over the ban of the Patriarch, and calling upon Kosovar authorities to allow the Patriarch to enter and carry out all of his responsibilities as canonical head of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

Michael R. Pompeo, the 70th Secretary of State of the United States from 2018 to 2021, was the keynote speaker at the Third Session of the 4th Archon International Conference on Religious Freedom, held on Tuesday afternoon, May 28, also at the Zappeion Hall. Rev. Protopresbyter Alex Karloutsos, Spiritual Adviser of the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, recounted that the Archbishop and he had informed Pompeo, while he was secretary of state, that no secretary of state in a Republican administration had ever visited the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople. Pompeo immediately changed his schedule and went to meet with His All-Holiness in Constantinople. Archon John Catsimatidis, Convener for the session, noted that the United States was under multifaceted attack, and stated that Americans faced some critically important choices. Secretary Pompeo praised His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s granting of autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, saying that this gave Ukrainians the ability to exercise their true faith. Pompeo also criticized the Russian government for shamefully using the Church to justify war. Archon James Rockas, who was instrumental in bringing Secretary Pompeo to the Conference and who moderated the Session, then asked the secretary a series of questions regarding his respect for the holy Orthodox Faith and other matters.

On Tuesday evening, May 28, Conference participants attended a cocktail reception at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. Conference attendees were introduced to the remarkable work that the American School is doing to preserve Greece’s rich heritage, which is part of the cultural patrimony of the entire world. George T. Orfanakos, Executive Director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens; Archon Andreas Zombanakis, a Trustee of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens and Chair of the Board of Overseers of the Gennadius Library; and Archon Chrisostomos Perentes, President of the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Canada, Order of Saint Paul the Apostle, host for the reception, spoke about the remarkable work of the American school, including its groundbreaking work in restoring the Stoa of Attalos and other treasures of the classical period. His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America said it was a privilege to be in the American School, which had contributed so much to Greece. Conference participants were able to tour the School’s Gennadius Library and the Malcolm H. Weiner Laboratory for Archaeological Science.

The 1st Summit of Global Archons convened on Wednesday morning, May 29 in the Old Parliament House at the National Historical Museum. Archons from the United States, Canada, Greece, other areas of Europe, and Australia met in this first-ever gathering of Archons from around the world in order to discuss ways to coordinate their efforts to defend the religious freedom of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and protect the future of faith worldwide. After the invocation by His Eminence Metropolitan Emmanuel, and the singing of the Apolytikion of Saint Andrew the First-Called, Archon Perentes stated that the convergence of Archons from across the globe demonstrated their unwavering commitment to protecting the Faith and defending the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Archon Martinos said that the world and the Church were blessed with the leadership of the Ecumenical Patriarch; he spoke of the establishment of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew Foundation in order to ensure that the Mother Church can fulfill its sacred global mission in perpetuity.

His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, speaking on video from Constantinople, gave his blessing to the proceedings and observed that for many centuries, the Archons have supported and defended the Church. Archon Dr. Limberakis said that the Summit was a “joyous, watershed, historic event not just for the Archons, but for the entire Church.” He and His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros presented PowerPoint presentations in Greek and English on the vital work of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew Foundation. Dr. Limberakis also spoke on the necessity for a global effort. The Very Rev. Grand Ecclesiarch Aetios then explained that these activities have led to a new era of warm relations with the Church in Bulgaria, with His All-Holiness invited to be present at the enthronement of a new Patriarch of Bulgaria in several months. His Eminence Metropolitan Emmanuel said that all the assembled Archons were united for the benefit of the Ecumenical Throne and provided a historical overview of the Archons. The Archons unanimously adopted a resolution: a resolution: “The Global Archons respectfully request His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and the Holy Synod to consider the establishment of a formal global organization of Archons.”

The Conference concluded with a Farewell Dinner on Wednesday evening, May 29, at the Zappeion Hall. His Eminence Metropolitan Emmanuel, Geron of Chalcedon, offered the invocation. The Master of Ceremonies, Hon. B. Theodore Bozonelis, National Vice Commander of the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in America, provided a summary of the highlights of the Conference. Conference co-chairs Archon Martinos and Archon Limberakis noted how much was accomplished during the busy and eventful Conference, expressed gratitude to those who worked so hard to bring it to fruition, and stated their confidence that this Conference would be the beginning of numerous important endeavors for the promotion of religious freedom for the Ecumenical Patriarchate and all the peoples of the world.

Archon Boris Gurov offered greetings, saying that his home town was Sofia, Bulgaria, and that sophia means wisdom. Archon Gurov stressed the importance of being guided by the wisdom of the Church, and to protect the faith for future generations so that this wisdom would be preserved and handed down. Archon Peter Skeadas, National Treasurer of the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in America, offered the Toast and noted what a privilege it was to be in Athens for the past several days, and in the Zappeion that evening. Archon Judge Bozonelis then introduced Archon Dr. Limberakis for his Remarks and referred to him as a visionary leader and praising him for moving the Archons from an honorary title to an organization that actively supports and promotes the preservation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate by means of numerous global initiatives.

Evangelos Venizelos, Former Deputy Prime Minister of Greece and Professor of Constitutional Law at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, offered the keynote address. He reiterated that to be an Archon is a great responsibility: “You, honorable Archons,” he said, “understand better than anyone that the office and title of archon represent a Cross of responsibility, a confession of faith, a devotion, a call to vigilance.” His Eminence Metropolitan Emmanuel thanked Venizelos for bringing into sharp focus the key challenges that the Archons and all Orthodox Christians face in defending the Ecumenical Patriarchate and religious freedom.

At the end of the evening, a special presentation was made. Dr. Limberakis and Judge Bozonelis called all the U.S. Archon officers and their wives to the stage, along with Archon Athanasios and Marina Martinos and Archons from other countries. They then presented a bouquet of flowers and a set of earrings to Presbytera Xanthi Karloutsos for her tireless and selfless work on this conference, and a special gravity pen to Rev. Protopresbyter Alex Karloutsos, spiritual adviser of the Archons, for all his labors for the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the entire Church.

His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America offered the Benediction.

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