The enlarged meeting of the International Secretariat The Enlarged Meeting of the International Secretariat and Committee Chairpersons and Rapporteurs of the Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy (I.A.O.) was held in Limassol, Cyprus, from 16 to 19 March 2023. Representatives of member parliaments from 15 countries (Armenia, Belarus (online), Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cyprus, Egypt, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Jordan, Lebanon, Poland, Romania, Russia (online), Serbia, and Sudan), as well the I.A.O. Advisors Dr. Kostas Mygdalis and Mr. Alexander Fomenko participated in the event. During his speech, the I.A.O. Secretary General, Dr. Maximos Charakopoulos, emphasized the pressing need for an enlarged composition of the I.A.O. statutory body, given the severe consequences that have arisen from the war in Ukraine in terms of representation and operation of the Organization. Dr. Charakopoulos highlighted that “The above reasons are justifying the convening of an Enlarged Meeting of the International Secretariat, which would provide the necessary forum to discuss the future of the I.A.O., as well as its upcoming 30th anniversary General Assembly”. In the same tenor, the President of the I.A.O. General Assembly, Mr. Sergei Gavrilov, who participated in the event online, emphasized the importance of promoting common Christian values that can foster an atmosphere of trust, in anticipation of the upcoming annual General Assembly. During the Enlarged Meeting of the International Secretariat, the overview report of the I.A.O. activities for the period October 2022 to March 2023 was presented. In his remarks, the I.A.O. Secretary General emphasized, “Despite the chaotic conditions brought about by the war, we made significant efforts to address substantive issues and areas of our common concern. In this framework, the organization has undertaken a series of initiatives aimed at the protection and preservation of the Orthodox Christian tradition and cultural heritage. Notably, the Organization’s decision to launch an international campaign for raising the awareness of the public opinion through the dissemination of the Volume on the Churches of the Wisdom of God has been proven historically right and has been met with resounding success”. Furthermore, the Enlarged Meeting of the International Secretariat approved the I.A.O. programming activities plan, including presentations of the Volume on the Hagia Sophia Churches in Poland, Albania, and Greece, as well as the financial budget up to June 2023. Additionally, members of the I.A.O. shared their insightful perspectives and welcomed the Organization’s openness and submitted several proposals, such as the organization of a conference dedicated to the collaboration of the I.A.O. with other International Organizations in the field of humanitarian aid in different parts of the world, and the proposal for monitoring the new initiative of the European Commission to strengthen Democracy and prevent covert foreign interference by third countries in the democratic space of the EU. The Armenian delegation also expressed its sincere gratitude to the I.A.O. Secretary General for his prompt and meaningful intervention regarding the blockade of the Lachin Corridor in the Nagorno-Karabakh region by Azerbaijan. The participants discussed and ultimately agreed to send a letter to the European institutions and citizens regarding the Dialogue on the Future of Europe. This letter highlights the danger generated by the Brussels administration’s insistence on presenting European values as purely secular and devoid of their Christian background, having as a result the incitement of Euroscepticism and the emergence of nationalist sentiments. The text of the letter concludes that “The idea of European integration and the confidence of the people in these regions are undermined by the EU’s secularized and anti-religious position…”, and calls on the European institutions to: – Α) To distribute information to inter-parliamentary organizations, Churches, and religious groups, regarding the material implementation of Article 17(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). – Β) To include issues concerning Europe’s Christian identity in the Dialogue on the Future of Europe. This includes acknowledging our continent’s Christian legacy and advocating for fundamental Christian values as components of the contemporary European family’s shared values”. Finally, the members of the International Secretariat reached a unanimous decision that the upcoming anniversary General Assembly of the I.A.O., which has a special festive nature, will be held in June 2023 in Chalkidiki, Greece, with the theme: “30 years of I.A.O.: Facing new challenges – Before new perspectives.” In the sidelines of the meeting, the I.A.O. Secretary General, accompanied by the I.A.O. Advisors Dr. Kostas Mygdalis and Mr. Alexander Fomenko, held a meeting with the Vice President of the Lebanese Parliament, Mr. Elias Bou Saab. The Lebanese delegation was comprised by members of the Lebanese Parliament, Mr. Elias Stephan and Mr. Assad Dargham, as well Vice-President’s advisor Mr. Ramzy Mjaess. Dr. Maximos Charakopoulos extended a warm welcome to the delegation from Lebanon and discussed with them issues regarding the potential for greater involvement by the Lebanese Parliament in the I.A.O. activities. During this meeting, the Vice President of the Lebanese Parliament focused on Lebanon’s capacity to mediate relations with the Muslim world and proposed the hosting of a conference on that subject in Beirut. Meetings with the Political and Religious Leadership of Cyprus During their stay in Cyprus, the members of the I.A.O. International Secretariat met a heartfelt welcome and realized meetings with the island’s political and religious leadership. In the Presidential Palace in Nicosia, the I.A.O. delegation was cordially welcomed by the His Excellency the President of the Republic of Cyprus, Mr. Nikos Christodoulidis. Among other things, he stressed: “The support of the Cypriot State for your efforts and activity remains steadfast since the founding participation of the late Glaukos Clerides, the Former President of the Republic of Cyprus, and continues uninterrupted to this day. We express our support in practice, mainly through the active and substantial participation of our honorable parliamentarians of the Cypriot delegation to the I.A.O. We are especially proud of their participation and your collective action. As a small token of our respect and the appreciation of the Cypriot people for you, we want you to know that the Republic of Cyprus will always be by your side”. The Secretary General of the Organization congratulated the President of the Republic of Cyprus and pointed out that “having awareness of your creative tenure as Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cyprus, along with the ethos and hard work that characterize you, I have no doubt that you will succeed in the challenging task that lies ahead of you. Undoubtedly, the most arduous of these tasks refers to the resolution of the problem of the illegal occupation of nearly 40% of the island by the Turkish army following the invasion in 1974. Unfortunately, the consequences of this event have persisted in an unacceptable manner for almost five decades.” Moreover, he emphasized, “Our interventions cover a wide spectrum of issues, ranging from the protection of persecuted Christians in vulnerable regions to the preservation of Christian values amidst a changing Europe. From fostering a dialogue with representatives of institutions, denominations, confessions, and religions, to protecting Christian monuments in danger. This includes, of course, the Christian monuments and churches that are situated in the occupied territories of Cyprus.” The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cyprus, Mr. Konstantinos Kombos in his greeting, said: “Our aim is to serve as a bridge with non-EU states, particularly those in the region. At the same time, Orthodoxy can also be a means of building bridges towards finding solutions for the critical challenges that modern society faces. Through synergy and cooperation, we can prevent impasses and operate in a methodical manner to achieve our goals.” Subsequently, the I.A.O. members visited the House of Representatives of the Republic of Cyprus and were received by the Speaker, Mrs. Annita Dimitriou. The I.A.O. Secretary General Dr. Maximos Charakopoulos congratulated the Speaker and pointed out that: “The relationship between the I.A.O. and Cyprus spans three decades, which is coincidentally the lifespan of our institution. Your parliament played a pivotal role as a founding member back in 1993 in Ormylia, Chalkidiki. Throughout these years, we have collaborated closely with our Cypriot colleagues to achieve the essential objectives of the I.A.O. – such as fostering the unity of the Orthodox world, protecting Christian populations that face persecution (especially in the Middle East), safeguarding Christian monuments, and promoting Christian values in the Dialogue on the Future of Europe.” The Speaker of the House of Representatives expressed her gratitude for the I.A.O.’s longstanding support in its endeavors to resolve the Cyprus problem based on international law and the relevant UN resolutions. Mrs. Dimitriou also emphasized the significance of safeguarding religious and cultural heritage sites and highlighted the Assembly’s crucial role in this matter, which remains a thorny issue, particularly in the occupied territories of the Republic of Cyprus. “The House of Representatives is a founding member of the I.A.O. and remains an institutional supporter and ally in the initiatives of the Assembly, as part of the House’s practical parliamentary diplomacy efforts at all levels.” Furthermore, the members of the International Secretariat had the opportunity to visit the Holy Archdiocese of Cyprus and meet with His Beatitude the Archbishop George of Cyprus. The head of the I.A.O., in his address to the Archbishop of Cyprus, noted that: “This is our first meeting after your well-deserved election as the head of the Autocephalous Church of Cyprus, and I would like to join the Cypriot people in saying ‘Axios!’. Knowing your significant contribution to the Church of Cyprus, and your tenure, I am fully confident that you will meet the expectations entrusted to you by the Cypriot people and the Church of Cyprus in a truly worthy manner.” The Archbishop of the Church of Cyprus noted in his greeting message, among other things, that: “I understand that your presence here signifies your support in the challenging fight we give for our national and religious survival. (…) We humbly request that you assist us -to the fullest extent possible- so that we may enjoy the same rights as all Europeans.” Finally, the I.A.O. delegation visited the “Green Line” in Nicosia, marking the last divided European capital city. Afterwards, a meeting was held at the City Hall of Nicosia, with the Mayor, Mr. Konstantinos Giorkatzis. From the rooftop of the City Hall, the Mayor showed to the delegates the occupied part of the capital and the Church of Hagia Sophia. The Hagia Sophia Church –visible from this site- was not accessible for the I.A.O. members due to the circumstances.
The presentation of the Volume on the Hagia Sophia Churches The presentation of the Volume “Hagia Sophia: The Churches of the Wisdom of God around the World” was held at the Holy Metropolis of Limassol, on Saturday, March 18th, in collaboration with the House of Representatives of the Republic of Cyprus. The event included speeches from esteemed guests, including Her Excellency Ms. Annita Demetriou, President of the House of Representatives, Mr. Panicos Leonidou, Head of the Cypriot Delegation to the I.A.O., His Eminence Athanasios Metropolitan of Limassol, the Mayor of Limassol, Mr. Nikos Nikolaidis, and the Vice Rector of Academic Affairs of the Cyprus University of Technology Dr. Panteleimon Kelires. Significant speeches were presented by Byzantinologist-Archaeologist Dr. Christodoulos Hatzichristodoulou on the topic: “The Hagia Sophia Churches in Cyprus,” Professor of the Open University of Cyprus Dr. Stephanos Efthymiades on the topic: “People and clergy in the Byzantine Hagia Sophia” and Political Scientist-Author Mr. Konstantinos Holevas on the topic: “Why are we interested in Hagia Sophia and Byzantine Culture today?” In his closing speech, the I.A.O. Secretary General Dr. Maximos Charakopoulos, underlined: “The conversion of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, this timeless beacon of universal orthodoxy, a symbol of Byzantine Civilization, into a mosque, is one of our core activites. We are willing to promote this issue for two main reasons. Firstly, this remarkable piece of 6th-century architecture is at significant risk due to the massive flood of visitors on a daily basis. Disasters have been reported by Turkish media, (…) and according to Turkish experts, endanger the Monument in the coming decades. Secondly, it is the defense of universal moral principles. We must not allow the rule of force to prevail over the rule of law. This is also relevant to the situation of Christian monuments in occupied territories, which we, as the I.A.O., strive to highlight and appeal to the competent authorities to protect them.” Finally, he expressed his sincere gratitude to the President of the Cypriot Parliament on her commitment to print a considerable number of copies of the Volume in Greek, in order to enable the I.A.O. to sustain its international awareness campaign without interruption. During their visit to Cyprus, the I.A.O. members had the opportunity to visit the mosque of Hagia Sophia located in Muttalos, Paphos. It is a Christian Church built in the 15th or 16th century on the place of another older one, which was destroyed and is one of the 37 historical and emblematic Hagia Sophia Churches featured in the I.A.O. publication.