U.S. President honors Greece and Greek Americans during a ceremony at the White House
Washington, D.C.- United States President George W. Bush praised the contribution of the March 25, 1821, Greek Revolution fighters and at the same time the contribution of modern-day Greece to the international community, during an imposing ceremony held at the White House on Friday to honor Greek Independence Day.
Foreign Minister of Greece Dora Bakoyannis, Duputy Minister for Sports George Orfanos, Greek and Cypriot Diplomats, government officials and Greek Americans from throughout the United States attended the ceremony in the East Room .The U.S. President thanked Greece for its immediate reaction to the terrorist attack on the U.S. embassy in Athens, saying that “the Greek government reacted quickly and we appreciate the determination of the Greek authorities to bring those responsible before justice.”
President Bush underlined Greece’s contribution to the NATO force in Afghanistan, as well as to the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon. In this framework, he pointed to the immediate assistance provided by Greece for the evacuation of American citizens from Lebanon, when the war broke out last summer.
“We requested your help and you responded. We appreciate this. This is what friends are for,” President Bush said and praised Archbishop of America Demetrius, terming him a “wise man” and saying he is proud of knowing him.
“I appreciate your leading position and your prayers,” President Bush said, addressing the primate of the Greek Orthodox Church of America. He also thanked Archbishop Demetrius for the psychological support he provided for both himself and his wife immediately after the attacks on September 11.
President Bush also spoke positively of Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis. “I thank you for coming. I spoke with Condi (Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice) about the discussions you had. We have a lot to do together and I appreciate your leading presence,” he said.
Lastly, President Bush stressed the great contribution made by the 1.2 million Americans of Greek origin to American society, praised the bonds existing between the two peoples and noted that with the ceremony taking place at the White House “we are celebrating our friendship with the Greek nation.”
In his opening remarks, Archbishop Demetrios noted that this is the seventh time that the President has honored the Greek American community for the celebration of the Anniversary of Greek Independence Day. The Archbishop acknowledged the similarities between the Greek War of Independence, or Greek Revolution and the American War for Independence or American Revolution, “Both truly world changing revolutions share two basic characteristics: First, they were dominated by a tremendous passion for freedom, liberty, and independence for individuals, societies, and nations. Second, they were equally dominated by an intense belief in a God Who is the source of that freedom and independence, and who is at the same time the ultimate and absolute Guarantor of these principles.”
Archbishop Demetrios pointed out that this yearʼs celebration of Greek Independence Day “coincides with the 60th anniversary of two remarkable post-World War II events: the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan, both being expressions of assisting the task for democracy and freedom after the horrors of a world war”.
Preceding the visit to the White House on Friday afternoon a moving visit was made to Arlington National Cemetery where Archbishop Demetrios laid a wreath in honor of Greek Independence Day at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
This yearʼs Celebration of Greek Independence Day offered an opportunity for additional gatherings and meetings with numerous political leaders. On Thursday, March 22, Archbishop Demetrios met with the newly elected Greek American members of Congress and also held separate, private meetings with the Foreign Minister of Greece Dora Bakoyannis and Greek American Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME). Later in the day Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) hosted a Luncheon at the U.S. Capitol Building and Homeland Security Advisor Frances Fragos Townsend hosted a private dinner at the Blair House, both in honor of honor Archbishop Demetriosʼ 40-Year Anniversary.
Guests included the Foreign Minister of Greece, Dora Bakoyianni, Metropolitan Nicholas of Detroit, members of the government, and diplomats of the Greek American community.
In her welcome, Advisor Townsend expressed tremendous pride in being a member of the Greek American community serving in government positions. “We who are Greek,” said Townsend, “share a passion for selfless service. This is what characterizes our nationality . . . it is the heart of who I am in my Greek background!”
In his remarks Archbishop Demetrios recalled how a fabric-embroidered icon of the Mother of God was used by Bishop Germanos of Patras as a banner to declare the beginning of the Greek Revolution on March 25 of 1821. “This symbol was not accidental,” said the Archbishop, “it makes a connection with the very holy in terms of religion with the very holy of human dignity which is freedom and independence.”
Archbishop Demetrios concluded his comments by noting the historic correspondence between President Thomas Jefferson and Adamantios Koraes, a Greek physician, intellectual, scholar and an early proponent of the Greek Revolution who wrote many times to Jefferson asking for his support to the struggle of Greece for independence. Quoting from one of Jeffersonʼs letters to Koraes, the Archbishop singled out the words of Jefferson who said, “the blood of Homer, Demosthenes, and the splendid constellation of Sages and Heroes still flows in the veins of the modern day Greek people and whose merits are still resting, as a heavy debt, on the shoulders of the living and the future races of men.”