Ambassador Tsunis’s Remarks at Reception Honoring His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

Ambassador’s Residence, Athens

June 18, 2022

(as prepared)

My friends:  It is a great joy for me to host you here tonight 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 start by also recognizing His Grace  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 want to 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 civil governor of Mount Athos. 

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

And while Greek Orthodox Archbishop of America Elpidoforos could not attend today, he is in our thoughts.

The Ecumenical Patriarch has devoted his life to making the world in which we live a better place.  He has devoted 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 am always reminded of the Mark Twain quote that “kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can read.”

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

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

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

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

The U.S. Congress awarded the Ecumenical Patriarch with the Congressional Gold Medal for his environmental work.  That is the highest honor the legislative branch of the U.S. government can bestow. 

Perhaps most importantly, his All-Holiness never forgets the people who are most vulnerable.  In 2016, he visited the Moria refugee camp on Lesvos with Pope Francis and Archbishop Ieronymos to call attention to the 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 our Constitution’s Bill of Rights.  Respect for religious freedom is also a key foreign policy priority.

As my boss, Secretary of State Blinken, said recently, “We know that when the fundamental right of each person to practice their faith or to choose not to observe a faith is respected, people can make their fullest contributions to their community’s successes; making entire societies better off.”

Today, we are at a critical juncture.  We are facing 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 now than ever before.  Our collective response today will determine the future of our world tomorrow. 

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

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

We are thrilled to recognize and honor you tonight and 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 some friends about an appropriate gift to present to His All Holiness on this occasion, we immediately focused in on his environmental ministry.  I’m pleased to announce this evening that I will be making a contribution to replanting trees in the Ecumenical Patriarch’s honor in Evia, where we all saw such terrible damage from the wildfires last summer. 

Since I can’t really give a tree to His All Holiness to bring back to the Phanar, I hope he will accept this small gift to remind him of this occasion.  It includes a quote from Cosmas of Aetolia, who said:  «Οι άνθρωποι θα μείνουν πτωχοί γιατί δεν θα ‘χουν αγάπη στα δένδρα».  “People will become impoverished because they will have no love for trees.”

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