U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Negroponte supportive on the Ecumenical Patriarchate and Cyprus
Washington.- The curtain of the 39th Clergy Laity Congress of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America fall on Thursday night with the Grand Banquet attended by more than 1,500 people from around the country. Among the participants were, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte (his remarks on page 42), US Senator Robert Menendez, U.S. Congressman John Sarbanes, Zack Space and Gus Bilirakis, former U,S, Senator Paul Sarbanes etc. In his closing remarks Archbishop Demetrios thanked every one that worked hard to make Congress a success.
“We lived a very rich four days that were a life experience full of spirituality”, Demetrios said.
Elaborating on the theme of the 39th Clergy Laity Congress, “Gather May people to My Home”, Demetrios called the participants to hear the groaning of the people to find God, some of them for the first time. He also pointed out the Home of God has pillars, and those are us, his people.
Archdiocesan Councilʼs Vice Chairman Michael Jaharis pointed out how peaceful the works of the Council were, contrary to the loud arguments and the contradictions of the past. He also spoke with pride about the rich Hellenic values of our Greek Orthodox Church.
Senator Menendez announced the introduction of a new Senate Resolution calling on the Turkish State to respect the religious freedom and the property rights of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. He also expressed strong support on the Greek American concerns for Cyprus and Macedonia and he warned on the appointees for Ambassadorships that “they have to be sensitive on these issues”.
Congressman Gus Bilirakis stressed the importance of our Greek Orthodox Faith and the Greek Heritage, saying that when he casts a vote at the House of Representatives he doesnʼt check his faith at the door.
Greetings were offered by Ambassadors of Greece and Cyprus Alexandros Mallias and Andreas Kakouris and Archbishop Gregorios of Great Britain.
A documentary on late Archbishop Michael, directed and produced by Nick Furris, was viewed at the banquet, with an introduction of former U.S. Ambassador to Greece Michael Sotirhos. Sotirhos was one of the founding members of GOYA that was founded during Archbishop Michaelʼs years, in 1951.
A special informative publication on the life of Archbishop Michael, by presbytera Niki Stefanopoulos, was distributed to the delegates, receiving special praise by all.
A total of 710 delegates from 327 parishes gathered on Wednesday afternoon for presentations of several National Ministries reports during the first plenary session.
Delegates first heard from Hellenic College-Holy Cross President the Rev. Nicholas Triantafilou, who noted the schoolsʼ recent grants from Leadership 100 and major endowments from Michael and Mary Jaharis, and the newly created Foundation for Faith and Learning.
He said the endowments will enhance the role of HC-HC in the Boston Theological Institute and the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada.Fr. Triantafilou noted that the demographics of the students have changed dramatically over the past 40 years.
“The student body is down to the fourth generation of (Greek American) students at Hellenic College,” he said. “They represent a tapestry of parishes and churches of our country.”
He said that many students are “second career people from all walks of life,” most of whom are married and about 50 percent have families. Median age is 35. The situation has created a need for more married student housing, the president noted. He also said the increasing cost of attending the school is preventing many others from enrolling.
A fiscal presentation of the schoolʼs financial goals noted a push to control debt and operating costs and to increase endowment levels and gift contributions.
Fr. Triantafilou reported that the schoolʼs endowment now totals about $25 million, not including the Jaharis pledge, and the short term debt is under $500,000; “normal for this time of year,” he said.
National Youth and Young Adult Ministries Director Fr. Mark Leondis reported on the success of the Real Break Program, which offers college students the alternative of spending their spring break performing service for the Church.
He and Youth Committee Chairman Tom Canelos also discussed the newly developed Youth Protection Manual that will be introduced for training camp directors.
Theo Nikolakis, director of Internet Ministry and the Information Technology Department, reported on the Alexander Project with the goal of “building a dynamic Orthodox Christian community online.”
He said the use of the Internet in the 21st century will manifest the Congress theme of bringing the unchurched home Dr. Steven Gounardes and Dr. Ioannis Efthymiopoulos, director of the Archdiocese Department of Greek Education , reported on a recent survey that indicated the need for a new approach to producing books and other materials. “The publishing of the new books is well on its way,” Dr. Efthimiopoulos noted.
A new teachers manual also is being produced. They also reported on the success of an annual seminar for Greek teachers that takes place in Cyprus in late July and early August.
Dr. Achilles G. Adamantiades presented the report on the Archdiocese Advisory Committee on Science and Technology, established by Archbishop Demetrios in 2001. He said three subcommittees will be exploring the following issues and areas of contemporary science in the near future, including human cloning, stem cell research, ethical issues in new human reproduction techniques, the meaning of life in brain-dead persons, exploring the nexus of food energy and biofuels, parish-level actions for energy efficiency toward “green” buildings, aging life expectancy and well-being in old age, making the environment a primary issue of concern for the Church, compatibility and synergy between science and faith, ethical issues and serious concerns in nanotechnology, information technology, moral risks and methods of control, and direct neural interface (or brain-computer interface).
He said the difficulties the committee must overcome include the active professional activities and the work load of its members, lack of funding, lack of full- or part-time staff, and others.
Religious Education Department Director Tony Vrame outlined a five-point program for improving religious education in the parishes. He said that, after they return home from the Congress, delegates should work to begin a regular education program for adults and to emphasize its application in daily life.
Dr. Vrame also suggested they organize a speaker series and invite scholars from Hellenic College-Holy Cross or St. Vladimirʼs Seminary, open a book store, attend a metropolis religious education seminar and include a budget line item to send someone to the Religious Institute at HC-HC next summer. He also noted that existing religious education resources, such as elementary textbooks, need to be updated.
Polly Hillier, director of St. Photios National Shrine in St. Augustine, Fla., and Fr. Constantine Sitaras, director of St. Basil Academy in Garrison, N.Y., each gave reports on their institutions. Ms. Hillier urged members of the Church to visit the Shrine and “become active witnesses of the shrine.”
She reported that the shrine receives about 140,000 visitors a year.
Fr. Sitaras noted the success of the “Bridge Program” that helps St. Basil students who have graduated from high school to transition to higher education. He also discussed the work of the Center for Family Care that helps “bring the Church into the home and to make the family a small Church.”
Some delegates complained about the fact that St Basilʼs Academy is not included in the regular budget and depends solemnly on donations and others suggested a program like “Children embracing children”, in order to alert our youth about the Academy and its needs.
Intervening at the plenary session Metroplitan Iakovos of Chicago suggested to encourage our Youth to learn about our ministries.
“Our parish priests should organize visits of our students and youth to institutions like St Photios Shrine in St Augustine Florida, Holy Cross School of Theology and St. Basilʼs Academy. We have forgotten and abandon our institutions, while we should be proud of them. We must what needs they have and maybe encourage our students to volunteer”.
Order of St. Andrew-Archons of the National Commander Dr. Anthony Limberakis presented a detailed report on the recent efforts of the Archons to gain religious freedom for the Ecumenical Patriarchate. He noted several issues of concern, including the lack of recognition of the Ecumenical Patriarch by Turkey as a bonafide legal entity, the denial of work permits and of property rights, and interference in the selection process of a patriarch. He also noted the recent 7-0 decision of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, in favor of the Ecumenical Patriarchateʼs retention of ownership of an orphanage that it had purchased in 1902.
Dr. Limberakis reminded the audience of the long-standing issue and the Archonsʼ efforts to reopen the Theological School of Halki. He also spoke of the intimidation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate by the “Grey Wolves” terror group. Dr. Limberakis also spoke of ongoing efforts to get support from Congress and individual states through letter-writing campaigns.
Near the close of the first plenary session, Archbishop Demetrios stated he was “personally touched by the presentations” given during the afternoon. “It shows great activities,” he said. This is not a “routine thing,” he added. “It something that shows the Church in action.”
He also praised the ongoing efforts of the Archons to fight for the religious freedom of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. “The Archons are doing a tremendous job here. We have to continue this action. Be unyielding in your efforts,” His Eminence said.
One of the issues also discussed was to call for the Congress every three years instead of two. Archbishop Demetrios told the delegates that the issue should be studied thoroughly with the parishes.
“Some times instead of the most qualified people the Congress is attended by those who have the financial ability”, Demetrios pointed out.
Some of the parishes donʼt have the financial means to take the financial burden, while in others, both priests and lay people ignore the Clergy Laity Congress.