NEW YORK.- A delegation of leaders of the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate / Order of Saint Andrew returned recently from a series of long-planned critical meetings with key Turkish officials in Istanbul and Ankara aimed at improving the status of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Turkey. These meetings follow similar deliberations held by the Archons 16 months ago when they were last in Turkey.
Headed by National Commander, Dr. Anthony J. Limberakis, and representing His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, the Archon leaders met first with Provincial Governor Muammer Guler and Mayor Ali Gurtuna of Istanbul and accompanied United States Ambassador to Turkey, Eric S. Edelman, on his first official visit to His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at the Phanar. While at the Phanar during their four day visit to Turkey, the Archon leadership met privately with His All Holiness to seek his guidance on various initiatives of the Archons of America.
After a banquet in honor of His All Holiness attended by leading Turkish citizens including members of the press, academia and the business community, and the conveying of condolences to the Deputy Chief of Police in the Beyoglu District and the Chief Rabbi of Turkey Isak Haleva for the loss of life in the recent tragic bombings in Istanbul, the delegation was accompanied by Ambassador Edelman to meetings in Ankara with the Ministers of Education, Interior and Religion.
In frank discussions, that included Father Alex Karloutsos and other Archon leaders, John Halecky, Jr., Christopher Stratakis, Dr. Spiro Macris, Alexander Pritsos and Stephen Cherpelis, National Commander Limberakis raised the issues of the reopening of the Theological School at Halki, property rights of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, interference in the succession of the Ecumenical Patriarch and Holy Synod and recognition by Turkey of the “ecumenicity” of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Minister of Education, Huseyin Celik, re-affirmed the Turkish Government’s recently announced position that the Theological School of Halki should be opened and stated that a report presenting various options on how to open the school had been completed and is being circulated within the government for ultimate presentation to His All Holiness. Minister of Interior Abdulkadir Aksu said, “It was time” to resolve questions of property rights and the status of the foundations and associations. Minister of Religion Mehmet Aydin tied the resolution of issues relating to the Ecumenical Patriarchate to Turkey’s getting a date from the European Union for accession talks.
Ambassador Edelman, present at all the talks, expressed the US Administration’s support for Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and the long-time advocacy of the Ecumenical Patriarchate as a matter of United States policy, emphasizing that it rests on the importance to all Americans of religious freedom.
Earlier in the day in Ankara, the Archons held a tribute luncheon in honor of Ambassador Edelman where members of the Turkish Parliament, academia, diplomatic corps including the Ambassador of Greece Michael B. Christides and Papal Nuncio to Turkey Rev. Dr. Edmond Farhat and the press were present.
After the meetings, Dr. Limberakis indicated that he was hopeful that a formula could be developed so that the Halki School of Theology could reopen and that the other serious issues of concern would be addressed by the new Turkish government, headed by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan in a manner that would benefit the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Turkey and the United States. According to Commander Limberakis, the meetings held with the new Turkish government were more productive than those in the past. Father Karloutsos, who is familiar with the life and history of the Ecumenical Patriarchate for the last 20 years, said he had never seen a better atmosphere for the improvement of the status of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Turkey.
Archon leaders also visited two patriarchal institutions: the Balukli Hospital, and Home for the Aged, a medical complex with 650 inpatient beds serving 40-50,000 patients a year and in operation for 250 years and the Great School of the Nation, which is celebrating its 550th anniversary preserving the Hellenic heritage and Orthodox faith established in 1454, one year following the fall of Constantinople.