Orthodox Church Calls on Gov. to Support Istanbul Patriarchate

The Greek Orthodox Church in America has called on the U.S. government to take a stronger stance in supporting the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarchate, which continues to face oppression under the government of Turkey.

We "call upon the Government and Congress of the United States of America, as well as upon the Governors and Legislatures of all 50 States to: Demand that the Turkish government comply with its obligations to provide religious freedom to its minorities and further respect its commitments pursuant to the Turkish Constitution, the Treaty of Lausanne and the several human rights conventions it has signed and ratified," a resolution from the church's 40th Clergy-Laity Congress reads.

The group, which held their meeting in Atlanta from July 4-8, asked the government specifically to pressure Turkey to recognize the Ecumenical Patriarchate's authority, to prevent the seizure of its properties, and to reopen the Theological School at Halki, which is the training ground for future patriarchs.

The Istanbul patriarchate is the symbolic headquarters of the 300-million-member global Orthodox Church and houses the administration of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.

While the church's existence predates Turkey's transformation into a Muslim nation, Bartholomew and his followers in the region are now treated as outsiders and under pressure to leave.

Three bills in support of the patriarchate, including one calling on the Turkish government to reopen Halki, were introduced in the U.S. House and Senate in 2009, although none have been put up for vote.

In 2005, the U.S. Helsinki Commission highlighted the church's plight in a panel session that referred to the Orthodox in Turkey as "systematic victims of expropriation."

"Current Turkish policies violate OSCE commitments and threaten the viability of the patriarch's presence in Istanbul," said Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) during the hearing.

"I urge the Government of Turkey to continue with its good reform program, but take immediate actions to support the Orthodox citizens and bring its laws and policies into conformity with their OSCE commitments."

Last month, Patriarch Bartholomew led a liturgy at the defunct St. Theodore's Church in Cappadocia as a sign of his continued commitment to establishing religious freedom for the region's Orthodox.

Archbishop Hilarion, the head of Russian Orthodox external relations, accompanied Batholomew and urged worshipers to continue their preservation of the country's holy sites.

"Cappadocia is a much suffered land, as its churches, once magnificent and beautiful, have fallen in desolation," Hilarion said, according to Reuters. "We believe that the light of Christian faith will be rekindled in this holy land."

On the web:

Archon Religious Freedom Resolution

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