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Remarks by Ambassador Tsunis at the reception in honor of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

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Residence of the Ambassador, Athens

June 18, 2022

(as prepared)

Friends: It gives me great joy to welcome you here this evening as we honor His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, a man of great compassion and understanding, a disciple of love and peace.

I want to begin by also greeting His Grace the Bishop of Oren Filtheos, Chief Secretary of the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece, and His Eminence Eugenios II the Archbishop of the Church of Crete.

I also welcome my many fellow Archons from the United States and Europe, including Dr. Anthony Limberakis, National Commander of the Order of St. Andrew, and Archon Exarchos of the Holy Great Church of Christ, Athanasios Martinos, who is also the civil governor of Mount Athos.

I would like to thank the leaders of other religious communities here in Greece for coming tonight, including David Saltiel, President of the Central Council of Jewish Communities of Greece, Alvertos Taraboulous, President of the Jewish Community of Athens, and Rabbi Gabriel Negrin for joining us. tonight with Imam Zaki Mohamed of the Athens Mosque.

And although Greek Orthodox Archbishop of America Elpidoforos could not be here today, he is in our thoughts.

The Ecumenical Patriarch has dedicated his life to making the world we live in a better place. He dedicated himself to the message of tolerance, holding regular dialogues with other Christian churches, as well as with Muslims and Jews.

When I think of His All Holiness, I always remember Mark Twain’s quote that “kindness is a language the deaf can hear and the blind can read”.

As a New York native, I will never forget the September 11 attacks. A small Orthodox church was also destroyed that day. It was the only place of worship destroyed during the attacks.

My fellow archons and I worked for years to rebuild St. Nicholas Church. And last year, on November 2, 2021, His All Holiness officially reopened the church on the same day as the 30e anniversary of his enthronement.

He spent that day bringing others together, and I will never forget him.

His All-Holiness also works to preserve our beautiful planet. His efforts to support environmental causes have earned him the nickname “The Green Patriarch”.

The US Congress awarded the Ecumenical Patriarch the Congressional Gold Medal for his environmental work. It is the highest honor the legislative branch of the US government can bestow.

Perhaps most importantly, His All Holiness never forgets the most vulnerable people. In 2016, he visited the Moria refugee camp in Lesbos with Pope Francis and Archbishop Ieronymos to draw attention to asylum seekers in Greece.

It is fitting that we have representatives of so many faiths here, because the Ecumenical Patriarch is known throughout the world for encouraging tolerance and cooperation with people of all religions.

We proudly celebrate tonight our support for religious freedom, a fundamental human right. Our country was founded in part by people who came to the United States simply because they wanted to practice their religion freely.

Religious freedom is the first freedom enshrined in the Bill of Rights of our Constitution. Respect for religious freedom is also a key foreign policy priority.

As my boss, Secretary of State Blinken, said recently: “We know that when everyone’s fundamental right to practice their faith or to choose not to observe a religion is respected, people can bring their full contribution to the success of their community; improve the lot of entire societies.

Today we are at a critical moment. We face unprecedented challenges to our values. We are at the forefront of the struggle between democratic values ​​and the voices of tyranny and authoritarianism.

Our unity is more important than ever. Our collective response today will determine the future of our world tomorrow.

We have an obligation to stand united against those forces of darkness that seek to overthrow the rules-based international order upon which our collective security and prosperity rests.

Your All-Holiness, through your service and your mission, you have taught us the importance of love and tolerance. You taught us how to make this world a better place.

We are delighted to recognize and honor you tonight and to underscore the United States’ unwavering friendship with the Greek Orthodox Church. Congratulations on 30 remarkably successful years of ministry. And we wish you many more to come!

When I was discussing with my team and a few friends an appropriate gift to give His All Holiness on this occasion, we immediately focused on his environmental ministry. I am pleased to announce tonight that I will be contributing to the replanting of trees in honor of the Ecumenical Patriarch in Euboea, where we all saw such terrible damage from the fires last summer.

Since I can’t really give a tree to His All Holiness to take back to the Phanar, I hope he will accept this small gift as a reminder of the occasion. It includes a quote from Cosimo of Aetolia, who said: “Οι άνθρωποι θα μείνουν πτωχοί γιατί δεν θα ‘χουν σγάπη σταα α”. “People will become poorer because they will no longer have love for trees.”

It is with immense honor that I present to you His All Holiness Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch.