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Official Opening of 4th Archon International Conference on Religious Freedom Features Profound Address by His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

The Official Opening of the 4th Archon International Conference on Religious Freedom in Athens, Greece took place at the Stoa of Attalos in the ancient Agora of Athens on Monday, May 27, 2024. Dr. Anthony J. Limberakis, National Commander of the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and Conference Co-Chair, 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.”

Dr. Limberakis quoted Thomas Jefferson’s words from the U.S. Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” He noted Jefferson’s influential correspondence in 1823 with Greek freedom fighter Adamantios Korais, and how Jefferson learned from the ancient Greeks and influenced the Greeks of his day in their struggle for freedom.

Dr. Limberakis explained that the Archons’ defense of religious freedom was grounded in the understanding that these fundamental rights — life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — are essential for human dignity, yet are denied in totalitarian regimes. In connection with this, he noted that His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew had granted religious freedom to 43 million Ukrainians with his Tomos of Autocephaly in Jan. 2019, rather than consign them to remaining under the yoke of a patriarchate that is complicit in the crimes of Vladimir Putin.

Noting that seventy percent of the world’s people live with some restrictions on religious freedom, Dr. Limberakis noted that there is a great deal more work remaining to be done. He pointed out that the Conference would conclude on May 29, the grim anniversary of the conquest of Constantinople on Tuesday, May 29, 1453, when religious freedom was violently snatched away from the inhabitants of the city. The Archons, he said, were pledging their most strenuous efforts to ensure that this would not happen to any other people on the face of the earth. He declared the Archons’ determination to protect all people of faith: Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and others.

Conference Co-Chair Archon Athanasios Martinos, President of the Pammakaristos Brotherhood of Archons in Europe, 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. Archon Martinos said that His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s message of peace and love had made him respected worldwide, such that all Orthodox turn to him for hope. His recognition of the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Church, which previously suffered under the repression of the Soviet Union, has increased His All-Holiness’ influence and honor worldwide. Constantinople, said Archon Martinos, stands at a crossroads of cultures and religions, and thus the Ecumenical Patriarchate is uniquely situated to provide a beneficial worldwide influence.

Athens Mayor Haris Doukas expressed gratitude to the Archons for defending His All-Holiness and the Ecumenical Patriarchate worldwide. Mayor Doukas said that he had recently met with His All-Holiness and Pope Francis, and hailed their efforts to build bridges, promote peace, and fight the climate crisis. Human rights, peace, and democracy are under strain everywhere, he said, particularly in the Middle East today, and Christians are suffering persecution worldwide. In contrast, he called upon all to emulate His All-Holiness in seeing humanity as a single family.

His Beatitude Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens and All Greece praised the Archons’ collective efforts to safeguard the Ecumenical Throne of Constantinople. He stated that the world has entered an era of rapid secularization, in which our spiritual traditions acquire special importance. He called for love and respect for all human beings, and noted that today’s society of acceptance has only limited effectiveness in the human soul. The Gospel, he declared, is the answer to human problems.

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. “We are in Athens,” he said “to bring forth the amazing potentialities of the Archon movement” for the support and protection of the Holy Great Church of Christ. In times of turbulence and complexity, he said, the Phanar shines forth pure light, illuminating the way for all Christians. “We are blessed,” he said, “to have the steady hand” of Archbishop Ieronymos and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew steering the rudder of the Church.

His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew addressed the Conference via video from Constantinople. In a profound and insightful address, 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.

His All-Holiness also spoke of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, which he referred to as a “humanist manifesto,” and which, he noted, emerged from the worst humanitarian disaster in human history. The universality of human rights, he stated, is vigorously contested in our time, particularly by those who claim that human rights are a Western construct that is not universally applicable. Above all, he stated that the progress of human rights depends upon the attitude toward religion: any analysis of human rights which does not include religion is incomplete. People of all faiths, he said, must understand that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including its statement about the right to change religions, is the property of humanity as a whole.

Orthodoxy, said His All-Holiness, stands for the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of creation. It takes a Eucharistic approach to creation, and rejects an atomized individualism. The future, he said, must not belong to a scientism that rejects faith.

No discussion of the fundamental rights of human society, said His All-Holiness, can ignore human rights or religious freedom. He warned against reducing the Christian witness to political practice, and stated that the Orthodox Church stands against the forces that harm social cohesion and peace.

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. He praised the Archons for their commitment to Hellenism and Orthodoxy, and explained the Mitsotakis government’s dedication to the protection and promotion of each. Greek citizens, he noted, enjoy religious freedom, and he stated that faith is freedom, salvation, and light.

Archons Martinos and Limberakis then presented Secretary General Chrysoulakis with a crystal obelisk for Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Prime Minister of the Hellenic Republic.

The Conference continued with the first session at the National Historical Museum in Athens.

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