Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew tells the Secretary of State that she holds within her “extensive world-view a remarkable comprehension of global political, economic and religious circumstances. In addition to understanding what is power and might, you know as well what is holy and right.”
Address of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the Dinner Honoring Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Benjamin Franklin Room, The State Department, Washington, November 5, 2009:
Good evening, and please be seated. I want to welcome all of you to the Ben Franklin Room here on the eighth floor of the State Department for such a special occasion. It is indeed an honor for me to welcome His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, whom I have had the great honor and personal pleasure of getting to know over the years. And I know we have a number of other very distinguished representatives, His Eminence Geron Metropolitan Athanasios of Chalcedon, His Eminence Metropolitan Ambrosios of Korea, and, of course, a personal friend of mine, His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, who is celebrating his 10th anniversary here in America.
His All Holiness and I have had the pleasure of meeting a number of times since I first visited him as First Lady at the Patriarchate in 1995, but one of our most memorable times together came when Archbishop was enthroned in New York 10 years ago. A lot has happened in the intervening decade, but one thing that has not changed is his All Holiness’s commitment not only to his church and to the people of the church, but to the world, and the work that he has done, which is so important to us all.
The institution of the Ecumenical Patriarchate dates to the dawn of Christianity and His All Holiness is the 270th successor of St. Andrew the Apostle. Now, one might think that someone who carries such a mantle of history, such a legacy of service and faith, would be, you know, a little stuffy. (Laughter.) But those of us who know him know nothing could be further from the truth. He is a person of such great warmth and humor and care and concern, and his tireless work for religious tolerance, his award-winning advocacy on behalf of the environment – he’s been a champion for dealing with the global challenges of our time.
It is not a coincidence that when I travel around the world and discuss climate change or environmental stewardship or the imperative for peaceful coexistence among people of different faiths, I often find myself echoing sentiments that he’s been expressing for years, and even quoting from him.
I particularly appreciate what he did in the aftermath of 9/11, when he united leaders from across the religious spectrum to condemn the terrorist attacks and call for harmony among the world’s faithful. His campaign on behalf of religious freedom and peaceful coexistence has helped to bridge divides among believers. And the United States has been proud to support his calls for religious tolerance, both in Turkey and around the world. It is one of the reasons that President Obama and I have been so vocal about the need to reopen Halki Seminary and protect the rights of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. (Applause.) We have raised these issues repeatedly and publically, and will continue to do so until they are addressed.
I know we have several ambassadors here. I believe we not only have the Ambassador from Greece to the United States, the Ambassador from Cyprus, but indeed the Ambassador from Turkey. And we look forward to working with Turkey and we welcome Prime Minister Erdogan’s visit to Washington next month.
Now, in this room there are many friends of mine, people whom I have known for many years who have been friends of my family and myself, who have invited me into your homes, who have been the supporters and advisors and counselors, and I am grateful that each and every one of you could be with us. It means a great deal to me. I said, well, I want to recognize my friends, and then I realized we would be here all night. Because I look out and I see so many familiar and really beloved faces, particularly from the times when my husband was president, and of course, the times of my great privilege of serving the people of New York for eight years. So I welcome particularly all of you here this evening.
And we are welcoming His All Holiness not only as the leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians, but as a living embodiment of the positive role that faith can play in healing and humanizing our world. Many people claim faith. Few live it the way that he has. He represents both centuries of tradition, and an agenda that is at the very cutting age of our modern time. The message that he carries around the world is timeless, but you can follow his travels on Twitter and Facebook. (Laughter.) We value his wisdom, his vision, his leadership. And I look forward to continuing our long and productive friendship as we work together for the benefit of all God’s children.
With that, please join me in welcoming His All Holiness to share some remarks, and then provide us with an invocation. I know that he loves many things and many people, but particularly children and music, and later we will hear from some of the talented musicians of the DC Youth Orchestra. But I have been looking forward to this evening for many months, and it is with great personal honor and delight that I ask him now to address us. (Applause.)
Remarks and Toast of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
Madame Secretary, Your Excellencies the Ambassadors of the Many Nations here represented, Your Eminence Archbishop Demetrios and brother Hierarchs, Honored guests and friends,
Beloved spiritual children in the Lord,
We rise to express our gratitude and profound sense of appreciation to you, Madame Secretary, for your hospitality to us and for this tribute to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. We rise to address you, not as another dignitary among so many, but as a fellow laborer in the vineyard of peace. We rise as one who honors your commitment to the work of reconciliation and expanding the scope of dignity and justice for the whole human family. We rise to honor a friend of our Eparchy in this great Nation, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. Ten years ago, you honored the Church of Constantinople and our beloved brother Archbishop Demetrios by attending his enthronement as Archbishop, and today we have traveled to America to honor the tenth anniversary of his irenic and fruitful stewardship of the Church.
But most of all, we rise to honor a true friend of our Ecumenical Patriarchate, a friend and fellow peace-maker who has traveled to Phanar twice as First Lady of this great Nation, with your daughter Chelsea, and to whom we look with admiration and respect. Indeed, you pioneered the effort that achieved having the first sitting President of the United States, your beloved and respected husband President Clinton –with whom we were pleased to meet last week – visit our Ecumenical Patriarchate.
All of your initiatives for peace and reconciliation around the world – whether in Zurich, in Turkey, in Pakistan, and throughout the Middle East, are characterized not only by your skillfulness and wisdom, but also bear the approach that a loving mother has for all peoples of the world.
Your sensitivity and awareness of the purely spiritual mission of our Ecumenical Patriarchate; the difficulties that we face in fulfilling that mission, the complexity of worldwide Orthodox Christianity and the importance of the Mother Church of Constantinople for the cohesion of the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians – all these insights you possess in abundance. We do not say that others lack this consciousness; rather, Madame Secretary, we do say that you hold within your extensive world-view a remarkable comprehension of global political, economic and religious circumstances. In addition to understanding what is power and might, you know as well what is holy and right. And your respect for the diversity of religious expression in the world makes you a champion of human rights and religious liberty. Leading as we do the community of minorities in our country, we have an especial appreciation for the gifts that you bring to the world of diplomacy.
The new millennium is witnessing the resurgence of Orthodox Christianity in regions where oppression and suppression reigned for entire generations. This rebirth of faith and religious liberty has become, in many cases, intertwined with national aspirations. Most recently, on your visit to Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, you witnessed aspects of this revival of faith in lands where atheism once ruled. You have also witnessed the how the contours of the Orthodox Christian world and the Islamic world converge across a great swath of our planet.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate has the experience of over a thousand years in this ongoing religious, cultural, ethnic, and even linguistic engagement of Islam and Christianity. In the last two decades, our Ecumenical Patriarchate has sponsored twelve international dialogues with Islamic partners around the world – in both Christian and Islamic countries, and has participated in many, many more. In fact, at this very moment, our representatives are in Baku, Azerbaijan as part of an international symposium of Christians, Muslims and Jews. In this vein, the Ecumenical Patriarchate continuously sponsors and participates in multi-lateral dialogues among the three great Abrahamic faiths in order to foster the kind of understanding that leads to last tranquility.
That is why the re-opening of our Theological School of Halki continues to be a matter most pressing for our spiritual mission, and we deeply appreciate President Obama’s mentioning of this particular issue when he spoke before the Great National Assembly of the Turkish Republic. Indeed, you yourself have always stood firmly behind this most basic issue of human and religious liberty, but its importance goes well beyond the Ecumenical Patriarchate per se. The re-opening of and the active participation of the international academic community in Halki will create a much-needed opening for further dialogue and study. An institution of such historical importance on the cusp of the great faith traditions ands civilizations of the world will be a magnet of tremendous force for bringing many new opportunities for the interfaith and inter-religious work that must take place for the sake of our shared humanity.
Through the centuries we have learned that coexistence is only the beginning of the process of engagement. If we are to enjoy peace in place of war, prosperity instead of decline, freedom instead of oppression, we must move the dialogue beyond tolerance and even respect. We must recognize in the face of the “other” a kindred self, one who shares with us the deepest aspirations and needs of humankind.
Madame Secretary, it is this love for all God’s creation that has brought us back to the United States of America in these last few weeks. We wanted to lead our eighth environmental symposium, this time on the Mississippi River. But even more, we wanted to re-visit the community that was so devastated by Hurricane Katrina, to behold the faces of our sisters and brothers whose lives were so affected by that devastating storm.
We were heartened by the resiliency of the American people. We were touched by their hospitality and generosity. We see in America both a powerful nation and also a powerful capacity for love. As we prepare to leave tomorrow, we take this legacy of compassion and love with us, every praying that God will continue to bless you, your family, and all who work for peace and reconciliation in the world the abundant blessing of divine compassionate love. May God bless you richly, and may God bless America!