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Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Decries Turkey’s Restrictions on Rights of Ecumenical Patriarchate

On Wednesday, March 29, 2023, a delegation from the Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, met in Washington, D.C. with Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), a longtime champion of the rights and freedoms of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Several weeks after meeting with a high-level delegation from the Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, has called on the government of Turkey to end its restrictions on the religious freedom of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the center of the Orthodox Christian Faith.

The news organization Kathimerini reported on April 20, 2023 that Menendez said that Turkey’s leaders “have to permit the ecumenical patriarch to exercise his rights as the religious leader of millions of people around the world.” His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew is the spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide.

Senator Menendez’s statement followed his meeting on Wednesday, March 29, 2023, with a delegation from the Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle who met in Washington, D.C. in order to discuss mutual efforts to protect and defend the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Attending the meetings were Dr. Anthony J. Limberakis, M.D., Archon Aktouarios, National Commander of the Order; the Hon. B. Theodore Bozonelis, Archon Ekdikos, the Order’s National Vice Commander; Emmanuel “Mike” Manatos, Archon Dikaiophylax, the President of the lobbying firm Manatos & Manatos, and Father Alexander Karloutsos, Protopresbyter of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and Spiritual Advisor of the Order.

Currently the Ecumenical Patriarchate has no legal identity or bona fide legal personality in Turkey; the Turkish Government has accordingly been able to confiscate thousands of properties from the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The Turkish government also imposes restrictions on the election of the Ecumenical Patriarch and Hierarchs who vote for him by requiring that they must be Turkish citizens. The Ecumenical Patriarchate is unable to train new clergy in Turkey, and its theological school was forcibly closed down by the Turkish Government in 1971; it has never been permitted to reopen. The Turkish government does not recognize the “Ecumenical” status of the Patriarch and Patriarchate.

This is not the first time that Senator Menendez has spoken out against the Turkish government’s denial of rights to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. On March 22, 2023, he criticized Turkey in a series of rhetorical questions to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, including: “Who denies religious freedom to the religious leader of millions of citizens of the Greek Orthodox faith? Who has turned a church into a mosque in violation of UNESCO commitments?” Menendez was referring to the Turkish government’s conversion of Hagia Sophia, which for a thousand years was the foremost cathedral in the Christian world, to a mosque in 2020.

Also, on Dec. 19, 2022, Menendez delivered a powerful speech on the Senate floor condemning Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s threats to target Athens with ballistic missiles, and decrying Turkey’s suppression of human rights and restrictions on religious freedom.

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