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Archon Leadership Travels to Oxford University to Explore Potential Religious Freedom Conference

National Commander Dr. Anthony J. Limberakis and National Secretary Hon. B. Theodore Bozonelis, in pursuit of the Order’s religious freedom mission, visited The University of Oxford, Oriel College, Oxford, England on February 12, 2019 and met with Provost Neil Mendoza.  The purpose of the visit was to explore the possibility of organizing an international religious freedom conference at Oxford.

Joining Archons Limberakis and Bozonelis throughout the day was Mr. Markus Leif Sorren Markert, BA (Hons), MPhil (Oxon), DPhil International Relations Candidate, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford, Oriel College and friend of the Order.

Oriel College is the fifth oldest of the University of Oxford’s constituent colleges founded in 1326. It has the distinction of being the oldest royal foundation in Oxford. Situated in the heart of Oxford, Oriel is home to some 300 undergraduate and 200 postgraduate students, as well as some 100 members of academic staff. The majority of Oriel’s buildings date from the 17th century onwards. The college prides itself on being a welcoming academic community, home to world-class teaching, learning and research.

Culminating the day’s activities was a formal High Table Dinner at Oriel College hosted by Provost Neil Mendoza and Chaplin the Reverend Robert Wainwright with college professors and undergraduates in attendance. At the formal High Table Dinner, the Order’s delegation, hosts and professors sat at an elevated level with the undergraduates in black robes below at long lateral tables.

Discussions with the Provost, Chaplin and professors focused on religious freedom and, in furtherance thereof, preliminary consideration for the Order to hold a symposium and/or international religious freedom conference at Oriel College, University of Oxford. The following report eloquently written by Mr. Markert summarizes the day and the importance of the visit for the Order.

Report on the Visit of the Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle, 

Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, 

to Bladon, Blenheim Palace, and Oriel College Oxford

February 12th, 2019


Markus Leif Sörren Markert

BA (Hons), MPhil (Oxon)

DPhil Candidate in International Relations, University of Oxford

Markus Leif Sorren Markert

In his radio broadcast to the United States on June 16th, 1941, Prime Minister Winston Churchill reminded the American public that “When great causes are on the move in the world, stirring all men’s souls, drawing them from their firesides, casting aside comfort, wealth and the pursuit of happiness in response to impulses at once awe-striking and irresistible, we learn that we are spirits, not animals, and that something is going on in space and time, and beyond space and time, which, whether we like it or not, spells duty”.It was this very duty, embodied in the sworn oath of the Archon to defend and promote the Orthodox Christian faith and tradition and to serve as a bulwark to protect Christians worldwide, that called a delegation of the Order of St. Andrew to the United Kingdom. The visit took place at a time when a strong bulwark is indeed needed more than ever. 

According to a study carried out by the University of Notre Dame’s Centre for Ethics and Culture, the Religious Freedom Institute, and Georgetown University’s Religious Freedom Research Project, Christianity is “the most widely targeted religious community, suffering terrible persecution globally.” Open Doors puts the figure at 245 million Christians who are experiencing high levels of persecution in 73 countries around the world – up from 215 million in 58 countries last year. 

The bible reminds us that “we are one body. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26) and although we might find comfort and solace in the words of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew that “after the crucifixion comes the Resurrection“, we as Christians are too often faced with a lack of awareness or even outright neglect when we try to bring the fate of our brethren in Christ to the attention of the public and policymakers in the ever-more secular West. Against the backdrop of the slowly unfolding genocide of Christians, we find ourselves then in a similar position as Britain’s greatest son was when he, as a lonely voice in the wilderness, warned of the dangers that Hitler’s Nazi empire posed for the survival of Christian civilization. In his own words, “there is nothing new in the story. It is as old as the sibylline books. It falls into that long, dismal catalog of the fruitlessness of experience and the confirmed unteachability of mankind. Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong—these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history”. Watching the fate of the persecuted church from afar might hence be “the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year, unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigour, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time”. 

It was thus altogether fitting and proper for a delegation of the Order, led by its National Commander, Dr. Anthony Limberakis, and its National Secretary, Judge Theodore Bozonelis, to pay its tribute to Sir Winston Churchill. The final resting place of one of the giants of the last century can be found on the modest graveyard of St. Martin’s Church in the small village of Bladon, which lies at the outskirts of the most quintessentially English Cotswolds. After days of ceremony, when a grateful free world, whose liberty Churchill had fought so hard for to protect, commended to the Almighty the soul of His faithful servant, Sir Winston’s coffin was shipped up the river Thames to Bladon to be buried there next to his family. As a visitor, one is struck by the modesty and humbleness of the graveyard and the church, which stands in such sharp contrast to the pomp and magnificence of Westminster Abbey where Britain has traditionally honoured her greatest heroes over the centuries. When, as citizens of the United States, the most powerful nation in human history, we come to realise that it was Churchill’s expressed desire to rest here, we recall from the scripture that God was reminding his ancient people that the glory of the nation was not in power or prestige, in wealth or in might. Indeed, Winston Churchill, we come to understand, must have known this as a cardinal truth that ultimately our strength is not in our might but it is as we depend upon Almighty God and trust in Him and walk humbly before God. Winston Churchill lived and believed that and, we think to ourselves when walking towards his grave, thank God that he did. Indeed, every visitor cannot help but to stand in awe in front of Churchill’s grave, the silence and serenity only interrupted by the joyful but much welcoming noise from the neighbouring primary school where the children, though perhaps unknowingly, can enjoy the very freedom that he had helped to preserve so valiantly. As we sit down on the bench, gifted to St. Martin’s Church by fighters of the Danish resistance, opposite to his modest white grave stone, which is still decorated with flowers, we can spot a small card written by an 8-year-old boy. Upon closer inspection we can read the following words: “Dear Winston Churchill, Thank you for standing up to Adolf Hitler. If it was not for you, he would have conquered the whole world”. These simple words of thanks leave us with a profound sense of just how historic this place truly is and how much our and future generations owe to this leader, this singularity, this crescendo in world history. After all, “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (Philippians 4:11-14). And yet, we recall President Reagan’s warning that “freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction”. When entering St. Martin’s Church, Churchill’s church, we find it to be as humble as its surroundings and, from a small information desk, from which one might purchase a variety of printed Churchillian quotes, we learn that the churchyard is the subject of the poem ‘At Bladon’, by Avril Andersen. As it perhaps encapsulates the spirit and the atmosphere better than any words could, it is worth to be quoted here in full:

From the halls of king’s they bore him then

the greatest of all Englishmen

to the nations the world’s requiem

at Bladon.

Drop English earth on him beneath

to our sons; and their sons bequeath

his glories and our pride and grief

at Bladon.

For Lionheart that lies below

that feared not toil nor tears or foe.

Let the oak stand tho’ tempests blow

at Bladon.

So Churchill sleeps, yet surely wakes

old warrior where the morning breaks

on sunlit uplands. But the heart aches

at Bladon.

Deeply impressed we spot a card whose quote offers us a certain encouragement in the face of the ever-growing hardships that the Mother Church in Constantinople is exposed to every single day. It is an excerpt from a speech of Prime Minister Churchill to the Allied Delegates held, as fate would have it, on June 12th, 1941, in St. James’s Palace, where the Order shall be received by HRH The Prince of Wales on the following day: “Lift up your hearts. All will come right. Out of the depths of sorrow and of sacrifice will be born again the glory of mankind!”.

We leave Bladon with a prayer on our lips and make our way to Blenheim Palace, the principal residence of the Dukes of Marlborough, gifted by Queen Anne to John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, for his military triumphs against the French and Bavarians in the War of the Spanish Succession, culminating in the 1704 Battle of Blenheim. Captivated by what is described as the most beautiful view in all of England, we make our way towards the impressive palace, the birth place of Sir Winston, which hosts a permanent exhibition on the Churchill family and their calling to defend England when grave danger arises. Indeed, the first Duke was awarded the palace for protecting “the freedom of the peoples of Europe” and one cannot help but wonder whether it was not Winston Churchill’s destiny to follow in the footsteps of his ancestor. After all, we find that in the last decade of the Victorian era a seventeen year-old Winston made a prophecy about the fate of the British Empire in the coming century: “I can see vast changes coming over a now peaceful world; great upheavals, terrible struggles; wars such as one cannot imagine; and I tell you London will be in danger – London will be attacked and I shall be very prominent in the defence of London…I see further ahead than you do. I see into the future. The country will be subjected somehow to a tremendous invasion but I tell you I shall be in command of the defences of London and I shall save London and the Empire from disaster. His words, we realise, were astonishingly prescient and Churchill indeed did save London, Britain and, with the help of his mother’s home country, the United States, the whole free world – but, in the end, even he could not save the British Empire. 

We stop in front of the pictures taken at the signing of the Atlantic Charta. On 9 August 1941, the British battleship HMS Prince of Wales steamed into Placentia Bay, with Churchill on board, and met the American heavy cruiser USS Augusta, where Roosevelt and members of his staff were waiting. On first meeting, Churchill and Roosevelt were silent for a moment until Churchill said “At long last, Mr. President“, to which Roosevelt replied “Glad to have you aboard, Mr. Churchill“. That night, President Roosevelt told his son that “the mantle has been passed on” and the United States of America would henceforward take over leadership of the West from Great Britain. America, we think to ourselves, has come a long way ever since John Adams promised the King of England in 1785 to work towards “restoring an entire esteem, Confidence and Affection, or in better Words, ‘the old good Nature and the old good Humour’ between People who, tho Seperated by an Ocean and under different Governments have the Same Language, a Similar Religion and kindred Blood’. We are thus not surprised to find pictures of American Presidents from Reagan, over Bush to Clinton and Trump, who came to visit Blenheim Palace to walk in the footsteps of those who have protected the“freedom of the peoples of Europe” before them. Mindful of the formal dinner at high table that Oriel College in Oxford has arranged for us we leave the magnificent halls of Blenheim only to come across one last quote by Winston Churchill, which presents itself to us like a reminder: “The flying peril is not a peril from which one can fly. It is necessary to face it where we stand. We cannot possibly retreat.”

On the way to Oxford the delegation is silent, re the magnitude of the different impressions sink in. We stop outside the modest building of the Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity and the Annunciation, which hosts under its roof the Archdiocese of Thyateria and Great Britain as well as the Archdiocese of Orthodox Parishes of Russian Tradition in Western Europe. The founder of the community, we are told by Father Seraphim, who receives us, is none other than Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia and its services are performed in four different languages. Deeply impressed after a long and insightful exchange, we beg farewell to Father Seraphim and eventually reach our next destination: The House of the Blessed Mary the Virgin in Oxford, commonly called Oriel College, of the Foundation of Edward the Second of famous memory, sometime King of England – or simply: Oriel. 

The college, one of the oldest in Oxford, takes justified pride in its liberal theological atmosphere and in being the genesis of John Henry Newman’s pursuance of the protection of churches from control by the state. What better place in Oxford then for the Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle, Archons of the Ecumencial Patriarchate, to seek out than Oriel? The Archons were officially invited by the Provost of Oriel, Mr. Neil Mendoza, to attend a very special occasion: supper at High Table. A very traditional Oxonian combination of of ritual, theatre and consumption, high table neatly demonstrates the hierarchy of the dining hall. It is table raised at the front of the room, reserved for the fellows, their guests and the warden. Being invited to be on the high table is considered to be a great honour and privilege for any guest or student of the college. The ritual of High Table starts with a drinks reception in an antechamber of the dining hall where the delegation and the college leadership find their interests and dedication to be in line and both sides express the hope that this encounter might only be the first step towards a future collaboration in the spirit of religious liberty and tolerance. A bell rings and we enter the impressive Anglo-Saxon hall which is illuminated only by the lights of the candles, which, only two weeks earlier, have been blessed during Candlemas. By custom and as a sign of respect to those at High Table, all students rise and the opening grace of Oriel echoes around the dining room;  

Benedicte Deus, qui pascis nos a juventute nostra et praebes cibum omni carni, reple gaudio et laetitia corda nostra ut nos affatim quod satis est habentes abundemus in omne opus bonum, per Jesum Christum Dominum nostrum, cui, tecum et Spiritu Sancto, sit omnis honos, laus et imperium, in saecula saeculorum.

(Blessed God, who feedest us from our youth and providest food to all flesh, fill our hearts with joy and gladness, that we, having enough to satisfy us, may abound in every good work, through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Spirit, be all honour, praise and power for all ages.)

At the end of the hall we can see a large portrait of the official visitor of the college for whom a room is kept ready at all times: Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith. 

The dinner itself, it has to be said, proves all the critics of English cuisine wrong for it is truly delicious and is made even more enjoyable by the fact that the chemistry between the leadership of the Order and that of the College is strong. Oriel surely welcomes the opportunity to aid and support the Order’s cause both in prayer and in deed. After the meal all rise up and a short Latin prayer is recited: 

Domine Deus, resurrectio et vita credentium, qui semper es laudandus cum in viventibus tum in defunctis, agimus tibi gratias pro Eduardo secundo, Fundatore nostro, pro Adamo De Brome, praecipuo benefactore caeterisque benefactoribus nostris, quorum benficiis hic ad pietatem et ad studia bonarum literarum alimur; rogantes ut nos his donis tuis recte utentes, ad resurrectionis gloriam immortalem perducamur, per Jesum Christum Dominum nostrum.

(Lord God, the resurrection and life of all who believe in thee, who art always worthy to be praised by both the living and the dead, we give thee thanks for Edward the Second, our Founder, for Adam de Brome, our principal benefactor and for all our other benefactors, by whose benefits we are here maintained in godliness and learning; and we beseech thee that using these thy gifts rightly we may be led to the immortal glory of resurrection, through Jesus Christ our Lord.)

Oriel, we realise, is a bulwark of tradition and it stands strong against the tide of heroic materialism, which seems to have engulfed most of Western Civilisation. The college, however, or so it appears to us, must feel that it does belong somewhere in space and time as it consciously looks forward and looks back at the same time: steep in tradition yet spearheading progress and pushing the boundaries of knowledge in the world’s best university ever further. After second dessert, another Oxonian tradition, we beg farewell to the college and return to London, optimistic that our paths will very soon cross again. As we drive back through the night, mentally preparing for our audience with HRH The Prince of Wales the next day to speak to him about the fate of the Mother Church, it is almost as if we can hear Churchill calling after us: What is the use of living, if it be not to strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone? How else can we put ourselves in harmonious relation with the great verities and consolations of the infinite and the eternal? And I avow my faith that we are marching towards better days. Humanity will not be cast down. We are going on swinging bravely forward along the grand high road and already behind the distant mountains is the promise of the sun.

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