All State Senate and 144 out of 150 State Assembly Members signed letters in support of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Bipartisan efforts from the Greek American legislators Skeelos, Gianaris, Simotas and Malliotakis praised.
New York – In an exceptional action, both chambers of the New York State Legislature have signed letters urging the government Turkey to practice greater religious tolerance within its borders and respect the religious freedom of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople headed by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who is the spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians throughout the world.
The documents were presented on Thursday to Archbishop Demetrios of America, by the Greek American legislators who spearheaded the signature drive, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, Senator Mike Gianaris and Assemblywomen Aravella Simotas and Nicole Malliotakis.
All 62 members of the New York State Senate (100%) and 144 members of the New York State Assembly (96%) have endorsed the respective letters, urging the government of Turkey to allow
The Order of St. Andrew the Apostle, the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, an organization whose mission is to defend and support the Ecumenical Patriarchate, has mounted a nationwide effort to have the legislative bodies of all 50 states sign similar Religious Freedom letters or pass Religious Freedom have a similar effect. Thus far, 37 state legislatures, now including New York, have done so. As the Archon’s National Commander, Dr Anthony Limberakis have stated during the press conference, the first state to do so was New Jersey.
A similar resolution was passed unanimously by the U.S. House of Representatives 2 years ago, on the eve of the Patriarchal visit to Washington, DC. Turkey has repeatedly ignored similar pleas made by the Congress and all the U.S. Presidents and Secretaries of State – since 1990 – to protect the religious freedoms, human and property rights of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and allow the reopening of the Theological School of Halki.
In accepting the letters, Archbishop Demetrios of America stated, “this is an important moment for our Church as we receive a copy of these letters. We are proud that the almost unanimous acceptance of these letters by the New York State Legislature was spearheaded by our four honorable Greek-American representatives to the State Government,” he said and at a later point added: “The cause of religious liberty is fundamental to the American way of life, and the State legislature of New York, under the leadership of Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, Senator Michael Gianaris, and Assemblywomen Aravella Simotas and Nicole Malliotakis, have borne a powerful witness to the rights of all by underscoring the rights of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.”
John Catsimatidis, New York businessman and National Coordinator of Religious Freedom for the Order of St. Andrew, said, “This is an important day for our Church. The leader of our faith, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, lies under siege from an abusive, hostile foreign government. The letters signed by the New York State Senate and Assembly send a clear message across continents that religious persecution affects the world and cannot be tolerated. I am proud of our Legislature and especially proud of the Orthodox Christians who headed the signature drive.”
Majority Leaders Dean Skelos stated that he is proud to be serving as Greek American.
“When comes to our heritage and religion we are all united. Hopefully, the letters will be read carefully and digested by the Turkish Ambassador to the United States”.
State Senator Michael Gianaris, a Democrat, commented the leadership of Dean Skelos and he pointed out that “when it comes to Greek issues we are proud of each other”.
He also thanked John Catsimatidis, the Order of St Andrew and the Assemblywomen Simotas and Malliotakis.
“We are all in a unique position to advocate effectively for our common causes”, he concluded.
Aravella Simotas (D, 36TH District) said he was proud for the Greek American legislators joint effort, pointing out especially the fact that both her and Nicole Malliotakis are freshmen.
“We will continue our work and co-operation and of course the education of the 6 assembly members who haven’t sign the letter”.
“We may be from different parties but we are Greek Americans and of the same faith. We want Turkey to understand that its policies are unacceptable and must change course”, said Nicole Malliotakis, a Republican representing Bay Ridge Brooklyn and Staten Island.
Among other things, the letters from the New York State Legislature call on the Turkish government to:
§ Cease discrimination of the Ecumenical Patriarchate;
§ Grant the Ecumenical Patriarchate international recognition, ecclesiastic succession, and the right to train its clergy;
§ Respect of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s property rights; and
§ Re-open the Halki Theological School located on an island off Istanbul which was forced to close in 1971, when Turkey passed a law forbidding the establishment of private schools of higher learning.
Others on hand to witness the presentation were Archon Regional Commanders, including Nikiforos Mathews, Peter Skeadas and John Kassimatis, all of New York and the Consul Generals of Greece and Cyprus, Ambassador Aghi Balta and Koula Sophianou.
Istanbul, historically known as Constantinople, has been the center of Eastern Christianity since the 4th Century, when the city was the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. The city fell to the Ottoman Empire in 1453.
However, the restrictions on the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the intolerance exhibited towards it by Turkish authorities have become far more pronounced over the last century. In particular, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has been denied a legal personality in Turkey which, among other things, has restricted its ability to operate effectively, to own property and to care for its churches. Moreover, the ecumenical nature of the Ecumenical Patriarch’s spiritual jurisdiction has been denied by the Turkish government, even though it has been recognized since the 6th Century and is acknowledged by spiritual and civilian authorities globally. The Turkish government has also arbitrarily closed the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s primary seminary, denying it the ability to train its clergy. Most significantly, the Turkish government continues to meddle in the election of the Ecumenical Patriarch, imposing Turkish citizenship requirements on both those eligible to vote and those eligible to be elected and insisting on the right to remove candidates from being eligible for election. This, in effect, gives the secular Turkish government control over who can be chosen the Ecumenical Patriarch, leader of the Orthodox Church.