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Statement by House Foreign Affairs Committee Member, Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-NY) recognizing the Holy and Great Council

Mr. ZELDIN. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to recognize the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church.

Christianity and Orthodox Christianity, in particular, have suffered greatly in recent years. This negative development is the result of the Islamic fanaticism perpetuated by the Islamic State and other terror groups using the war in Syria as an excuse to “ethnically cleanse” Orthodox Christians from their villages. One such horror was the international broadcast of Islamic State members simultaneously beheading twenty-one Egyptians because they would not convert to Islam when ordered to denounce their Coptic Orthodox Christian faith.

Several Orthodox Christian Churches from around the world will gather in what is called a Great and Holy Council for the first time in over 1,000 years. The focus of the Council will be internal activities of the various Orthodox Churches; the current crisis for Christians in the Middle East is also a danger for so many Orthodox Christians and should not go unobserved at this history meeting.

All Christians and all men and women of faith and peace should focus on this Great and Holy Council and the individual who convened the various hierarchs, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. He possibly more than any other Christian leader understands the Muslim world; during his life he has seen Muslim cruelty toward Christians, which has greatly diminished the number of Christians in the Republic of Turkey.

The Ecumenical Patriarch experienced the 1955 pogrom carried out against the large Greek Orthodox community in Turkey. The pogrom resulted in many unnecessary Greek deaths and the destruction of thousands of Greek Orthodox businesses, homes, and cemeteries. Thousands upon thousands of Greeks fled the country in the aftermath.

The Greek Orthodox community in Turkey has been reduced to a fraction of what it once was, yet in light of such violence, the confiscation of thousands of Ecumenical Patriarchal properties, and restrictions of religious freedom of the Ecumenical Patriarch, His All-Holiness has found ways to cooperate and work constructively with the Muslim majority in his homeland of Turkey. The Ecumenical Patriarch has much to bring to the table regarding today’s crisis for Christians in Muslim majority countries.

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