Archon News

Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate: Defenders of Religious Freedom

The following article appeared in Orthodox Times

On Sunday, May 26 through Tuesday, May 28 2024, Archons from America, Greece, Canada, Australia and throughout Europe will convene in Athens, Greece for the Fourth Archon International Conference on Religious Freedom: Protecting Religious Freedom, Democracy and Human Rights.

This high-level international conference is the latest of innumerable Archon initiatives to defend the Ecumenical Patriarchate and protect religious freedom worldwide. At the same time, on Wednesday, May 29, 2024, following the international conference on religious freedom, the first and historic summit of all global Archons will convene, focusing on creating a unified and organized network to protect the future of global Christian Orthodoxy and all faiths.

This international conference continues the Archons’ assertive, multifaceted projects to defend religious freedom; it follows three other religious freedom international conferences that the Archons have hosted in recent years: the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, 2010; and in Berlin, Germany, 2013; and in Washington, D.C., 2017.

Featured speakers at the Athens conference will include Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis of the Hellenic Republic; former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; Archbishop Gintaras Grušas, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Vilnius, Lithuania, and President of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE); Dr. Despina Chatzivassiliou-Tsovilis, Secretary General of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe; and other notable and distinguished defenders of religious freedom.

Highlights will include a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy at Annunciation Metropolitan Cathedral; an opening ceremony at the Stoa of Attalos; a welcome reception at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and events at some of Athens’ most notable historical and architectural landmarks, including the Acropolis Museum, the Old Parliament, Zappeion Hall, and the American School of Classical Studies.

These Athens venues are particularly fitting for a conference attended by global Archons. The ancient order of Archons is the oldest and most prestigious honor that can be bestowed upon a layman in the entire Christian world.

The title of Archon dates back to the eleventh century B.C., and has been held by some of the most illustrious figures in the history of the Hellenes, including Pericles, Solon, Themistocles, and Aristides the Just, as well as Constantine the Great, the first Christian Roman Emperor.

In the modern era, the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate have enlisted the assistance of the federal government of the United States; the state legislative bodies of each of the 50 states of the United States; the European Union; the European Court of Human Rights and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), among other institutions, in order to convey the urgent message to the Turkish and other state governments to cease and desist policies that constrict religious freedom, not only for the Ecumenical Patriarchate, but for all religious minorities, including the Jewish, Roman Catholic and Protestant communities in Turkey and elsewhere.

These efforts come at a time of a global crisis of religious freedom, particularly for Christians, but also for people of all faiths. According to Open Doors, World Watch List, and Aid to the Church in Need, 360 million Christians are persecuted worldwide – a number more than the current U.S. population.

Christians, and especially Christian women, face extreme or high levels of persecution in 73 countries. Today the situation has not significantly improved and in many areas has worsened.

On average, as many as 25 churches and other Christian structures are attacked around the world every day. In the Middle East, the Christian share of the population has reduced to under five percent, down from more than twenty percent at the turn of the last century. This decline attests to a century of ruthless persecution that began with the Greek, Armenian and Assyrian genocides a century ago.

Amid this global crisis, His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, our beloved spiritual leader of the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians, has for many years now lent his profound and prophetic voice to the endeavor to protect and promote religious freedom and human rights for all faiths.

He has declared: “A modern and democratic political and social structure has to respect the religious wishes and sentiments of its citizens. Religious freedoms cannot be curtailed in the name of secularism.”

His All-Holiness has also reminded us that “the Church of Constantinople gives a constant testimony to the necessity of the protection and promotion of religious freedom and of free exercise of worship, championing the ethos of solidarity toward the other faith communities.”

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has not just spoken out about religious freedom; he has taken decisive action, at immense personal risk, to defend it. In January 2019, he withstood extraordinary pressure from the Moscow Patriarchate and its proxies, and granted freedom to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine with his Tomos of Autocephaly.

The pressure upon him did not abate after he granted this autocephaly and, in fact, it has increased with the Moscow Patriarchate interfering in the canonical lands of the Patriarchate of Alexandria, as well as other canonical territories of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Yet, in the face of these challenges, His All-Holiness is unable to enjoy the very religious freedom he has granted to others. The restrictions that the Turkish government has placed upon the Ecumenical Patriarchate are the ongoing concern of the Archons, and a key focus of Archon efforts on behalf of religious freedom.

Archons strive all over the globe to work with governments and people of influence in order to restore the religious freedom of our beloved and most holy Mother Church so as to enable it to exercise its worldwide sacred mission in perpetuity and without any hindrance.

By doing so, these efforts have now expanded to defend religious freedom for all faiths. We invite all people of good will in support of human rights and religious freedom to join us in this noble initiative.

*Hon. B. Theodore Bozonelis, Archon Ekdikos, National Vice Commander, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in America

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