Religious News Service October 13, 2006
Lead to Call for American Protection of Pope and Ecumenical Patriarch Meeting in Turkey
Yesterday’s reported beheading of an Orthodox Priest and a recent White House omission during a meeting between President George W. Bush and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan increased concerns about protecting the spiritual heads of the two largest Christian denominations, while in Turkey together. Catholicism’s Pope Benedict XVI and Orthodoxy’s Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew will be meeting in Turkey in late November. Turkey is the first Muslim country that Pope Benedict will visit. Until the year 1054, the Pope and Ecumenical Patriarch were presiding Patriarchs of the then-undivided Christian Church, in Rome and Constantinople.
Muslim extremists connected the Orthodox and Catholic faiths as they reportedly beheaded an Orthodox priest on Thursday, October 12 in Iraq because the Orthodox Church did not condemn Pope Benedict’s recent remarks about the Prophet Mohammad. Turkey’s extremist group, the Grey Wolves, has long focused on these two Christian faiths. One of their members, Mehmet Ali Agca, shot Pope John Paul II and, in recent years, they are suspected in bombings aimed at Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. The Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch will soon celebrate the feast day of St. Andrew together in Muslim Turkey.
These events and concerns about a major White House omission were raised in a letter to President Bush and Administration and Congressional leaders, from Dr. Anthony J. Limberakis, the head of American lay leaders of the Christian Orthodox Church in the Order of St. Andrew. The Order includes distinguished members such as U.S. Senator Paul Sarbanes and businessman and owner of the San Diego Chargers Alex Spanos.
The letter said, “This is the first time in well over a decade that an American President did not raise with the Turkish Prime Minister the crisis that is leading to the Muslim world’s expulsion of the Ecumenical Patriarch — the spiritual head of Christianity’s second largest denomination. The timing of removing the crisis facing the Ecumenical Patriarchate from the normal list of White House concerns, and the message that this sends to dangerous elements in Turkey, is disconcerting. It coincides with a worsening trend of persecutions of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and immediately precedes the visit to Turkey by Pope Benedict XVI, against whom threats have been made from Turkey.”
Turkey recently confiscated 75% of the property of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, closed its seminary and requires the Turkish Prime Minister’s approval of new Ecumenical Patriarchs. Turkey also requires that Ecumenical Patriarchs be Turkish citizens while it drives the eligible population in Turkey toward extinction. Unless changed, this will result in the termination of this nearly 2,000-year-old Sacred See begun by Christ’s Apostle Andrew and spiritual head of 250 million Christians.
More than half of the United States Senate has signed a letter to the President describing the crisis as a “religious tragedy of historic magnitude.” The Senate letter also states, “Following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on America, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew gathered international religious leaders and produced the first condemnation of the attacks as `anti-religious’ that included Muslim leaders. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s individual importance to America is reflected in the record number of Congressional co-sponsors who bestowed on him our country’s highest honor, the Congressional Gold Medal — an award also given to George Washington, Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela and Pope John Paul II.”
The Limberakis letter went on to say, “In light of your inspiring second inaugural address, we implore you to take extraordinary Presidential-level action as soon as possible to offset any misimpression that America has deemphasized its concern about the ‘religious freedom’ of and plight of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. And, please deploy American security forces in Turkey to protect the Pope’s visit, particularly during his meetings with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, and to protect the many American Orthodox Christians who will be present to witness this historic event.”
For more information, please contact Mike Manatos at 202-393-7790.