Public Papers

Remarks to the 30th Biennial Greek Orthodox Church Clergy-Laity Congress


Thank you very, very much. Thank you. Who would have thought that I would be introduced by Peter Jennings before a beautiful evening like this? [Laughter] It's just wonderful. Ted, thank you very, very much. Barbara and I are delighted to be here this evening. When Ted said that ``a person we hold in such reverence,'' I was ready. You see, I'm used to it now. I thought he was talking about Barbara, not the All Holiness. [Laughter]

I am so pleased to be with you. Your All Holiness, once again, welcome to the Capital of our great nation. It was an honor and, I think, an appropriate honor for us to greet you in the Oval Office today. And I was proud to be at your side in the Rose Garden. And it's an extraordinary privilege tonight to be with you and your distinguished delegation, and also to be with our respected and revered friend Archbishop Iakovos, who's distinguished himself in the 30 years that he's been the spiritual leader of your church in the Americas. I apologize for the order of the program and speaking before dinner, but Archbishop Iakovos said you were having broccoli, and I figure I have to get out of here. [Laughter]

But to more serious things, Your All Holiness, meeting with you earlier today was a rare and an inspiring opportunity. Once again, I want to express my profound respect. You are a holy man of great spirituality and vision and humility, a gentle and revered pilgrim on this mission of peace. We are especially blessed to be part of this historic journey -- the first time in the 1,400-year history of the Patriarchate that the successor to St. Andrew has visited the Western Hemisphere.

Greetings to all of you, the members of the 30th Clergy-Laity Conference from 555 parishes across the sweep of the Americas. I still remember the outpouring of warmth that you gave me when I had the privilege of addressing you 2 years ago and 2 years before that. It is a delight to see you again because I feel that we do have a special bond. In particular, I cherish the Greek-American legacy of putting family values first. This is the finest example of what our country needs in order to be strong and wise and flourishing. We admire your unflinching devotion to the passing on of clear moral values and your emphasis on the importance of a good education.

I noted that in the census returns for the last three decades, you have ranked the highest of any community in education. And I'm not just saying that because John Brademas is here, either. [Laughter] Also, you stress hard work and the individual initiative that creates opportunity and, thus, have become the backbone of small businesses throughout this country. And statistics show that through your shining example of love and faith and, of course, family tradition, you've almost no crime and drug problems. And how wonderful that 3,000 of your young people this week took part in a forum about the bitter plague of drugs.

I also admire your strength as a community in which your Greek Orthodoxy means your deeply rooted spiritual beliefs, as well as the richness of your cultural life. In any age when so many challenges threaten the fabric of our society, your intense devotion to your faith and traditions have made you messengers of hope. You share the richness of your ancient, undivided faith. You've impressed us with the vibrant ethnic vitality of your immigrant parents and grandparents -- and I love what Ted Koppel said about that earlier -- and with your commitment to Christian service both here and in the lands of your ancestors' birth. They were drawn here by the beacon of Liberty's torch. And now, you are shining your own beacon of promise back to your homelands, always remembering the words of the Greek national anthem: ``Now as ever valor prizing/Hail, all hail sweet Liberty!''

And what a splendid place Washington is for you to meet. Here in his hometown, you can proudly tell the story of your Greek-American predecessor, Constantino Brumidi -- Brumidi, the Michelangelo of the U.S. Capitol. More than 100 years ago, Brumidi produced those eloquent friezes showing scenes from American history and said with reverence: ``My one ambition is that I may live long enough to make beautiful the Capitol of the one country on Earth in which there is liberty.''

In Washington, you can rejoice in the magnificence of your Cathedral of St. Sophia. When I was Vice President, I used to live just down the road from Hagia Sophia, the Cathedral of Holy Wisdom. How impressive is its rich Byzantine style; how moving the sight of its candlelit icons and those astonishing mosaics. And it must have been a place of rare beauty much like this that, back in the 10th century, inspired the envoys of Prince Vladimir to bring your Orthodox faith to Kiev. For they said that upon their first glimpse inside an Orthodox church in Constantinople, ``We knew not whether we were in heaven or on Earth.''

Your All Holiness, you are today trying to bring the peace of heaven to this earthly life. Your global vision is one of hope, hope for what we can do with and for your 250 million spiritual children, so many of whom have lived in the chilled darkness of religious persecution. The world rejoices that the new freedoms of the past year mean that your Orthodox followers in so many lands are now once again able to follow freely and openly the road of holy light.

We celebrate the dawn of hope for these people, particularly those for whom you speak in Eastern Europe. We also celebrate the tremendous strength of spirit which has sustained them through these generations of repression, spirit like that of the 50 million Russian Orthodox believers who still dream of the day when they can worship openly in their faith which is, after all, 930 years older than communism itself. And we know -- we know with certainty that day will come because, as a persecutor of Orthodoxy admitted: ``Religion is like a nail. The harder you hit it, the deeper it goes into the wood.'' But while the events of this past year have been a glorious beginning, there is still much to do -- because peace is more than just the absence of war.

As we continue the struggle for liberty for all, our way will be lit with the inner radiance of pastoral pilgrims of peace like Your All Holiness. I have often spoken of hope as a Thousand Points of Light ablaze in the black sky, and so, I was struck by this conference's theme: ``Walk as children of light.'' I noticed how this first began -- in Ephesians: ``For you were once darkness but now you are light.''

Eastern Europe was once in dark bondage and now begins to see by the pale glow of a new dawn. It's like your own Easter midnight service. As the priest calls, ``Come and receive the light,'' he brings a candle, I'm told, from the altar into the unbroken blackness of the church. And then he passes the flame to each worshiper's own individual candle until the church is ablaze with flickering lights proudly shining together to defeat the dark.

Your All Holiness, you are that candle. Your faithful here and around the world are that congregation which takes the light of your vision and spreads it through all lands. I was touched to hear that during this trip you will be walking across the Peace Bridge that links our great country, the United States, and Canada. And really, if you think about it, what a wonderful symbol of what all individuals and nations must do: build peace bridges that link -- not separate -- nations, and then walk upon those bridges to meet others halfway in order to celebrate our similarities, not to battle our differences.

Together, we ask your prayers, Your All Holiness, that God will guide us in our efforts for peace and that the wide arms of faith and forgiveness will one day soon embrace a world with justice and compassion for all.

God bless you, Your All Holiness, and God bless every one of you gathered here tonight. Barbara and I were honored to be your guests. Thank you very, very much.

Note: The President spoke at 7:40 p.m. in the Sheraton Ballroom at the Sheraton Washington Hotel. In his remarks, the President jokingly referred to Ted Koppel, of ABC News, as Peter Jennings, also of ABC News. The President also referred to His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios I, His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America, and John Brademas, president of New York University.