US Orthodox Christianity Agency Denies Plans To Influence World Orthodoxy - Chairman

US Orthodox Christianity Agency Denies Plans to Influence World Orthodoxy - Chairman

ATHENS (UrduPoint News / Sputnik - 15th December, 2020) The recently-established Orthodox Public Affairs Committee (OPAC) of the United States seeks to protect Christians around the world and the authority of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, with no plans in place to lever the global Orthodoxy, OPAC co-founder and chairman George Gigicos has told Sputnik in an interview.

The OPAC was launched in late November, with the declared aim to protect Christians worldwide from "persecution, exclusion and prejudice." Asked to explain the timing, OPAC chairman said that "now was the right time."

"There are always opportunities to come together and do what is right, and for me and my fellow Co-Founder's at OPAC, Andrew Veniopoulos and Nick Furris, now was the right time. Now was the right time for us personally to add our voices to the many other voices in this space and bring more advocacy to the cause of persecuted Christians around the world. You are correct, the rights of Christians have been violated for a long time. Too long. Perhaps that is a reason for 'why now'. Enough is enough!" Gigicos said.

OPAC's chief believes that the entire world was late on addressing, for example, the conversion of the ancient Byzantine cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul into a mosque by the Turkish authorities in July.

"We support the fact that UNESCO is investigating but wonder what is taking them so long. Yes, the seizure and re-conversion was a motivating factor but not the only factor. We were deeply troubled and angered by the decision. We were not however, blindsided by it. After all, Chora [another Turkish-based Christian monastery, converted in July] was seized over a year ago," Gigicos said.

Judging from the OPAC chief's following comment on the alleged inaction of the global Orthodoxy, he might have missed some of the statements of Orthodox churches regarding Hagia Sophia's conversion.

"What is interesting though is how little the Orthodox world outside of Greece and Constantinople spoke out and when they did, there was little or no call to action. Where is the outrage? What is being done? It's time for people to raise their voices when stuff like this happens," Gigicos said.

Despite the invocatory calls, OPAC's chairman denied that the non-profit was established in a bid to make the United States a new center of the Orthodoxy amid the diminishing influence and authority of the Constantinople Patriarch. He disagreed with that the organization could become a new lever of influence on other countries via religious affairs.

"I would respectfully disagree with the premise of your question. In fact, we see our involvement as supporting and augmenting the undiminished influence and authority of the longest serving Ecumenical Patriarch in history. I also disagree with your assertion that the United States seeks to influence world Orthodoxy. In fact, the main influence is clearly the Russian Federation, through what is essentially, if not officially a State Church then a heavily State-Influenced Church.

As long as that influence respects freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, we hope that such influence will be constructive and helpful," Gigicos said.

Commenting on Patriarch Bartholomew's granting of an autocephaly recognition of independence to the so-called Orthodox Church of Ukraine last year, which was slammed schismatic and not recognized by any of the 15 autocephalous Orthodox Churches, the OPAC chief chose to focus on rather what a "schism" was than the oppression of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church that ensued.

The new independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine was the product of a merger between two earlier-existing schismatic Ukrainian religious movements at the initiative of ex-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in 2018 as part of his election campaign. Its recognition by Bartholomew caused a backlash in all other canonical Orthodox Churches. Belarusian Metropolitan Paul called it "a political gamble," while Polish Metropolitan Sawa, Serbian Patriarch Irinej and John X of Antioch warned that it would likely exacerbate the existing societal split in Ukraine. The Russian Orthodox Church suspended eucharistic communion with the Constantinople Ecumenical Patriarchate that same year.

"It seems to me that your order is inverted. It was the Russian Church that cut off relations with Constantinople, and that is the definition of the word 'schism.' The issue of Ukrainian autocephaly will not be solved in this interview, but one thing is certain, more Ukrainian faithful are now within the fold of the Orthodox Church. Eventually, the Ukrainian People will make their own decisions about the future of their own Church," Gigicos said.

He said the OPAC would support the Ukrainians regardless of whether they end up choosing autocephaly or a continuation of formal relations with the Russian Orthodox Church, adding "Let us remember that Ukraine is not the daughter of Russia and that Kyiv was under Constantinople for centuries before there was even a single parish in Moscow."

With regard to the persecution of Christians in the middle East, specifically in Syria amid the rise of Western-sponsored terrorist groups, Gigicos said that "the West has made grave errors in the Middle East, as have other international players."

"Syria has the largest population of Orthodox Christians in the Middle East. We need to support the Patriarchate of Antioch and all the so-called Oriental Orthodox as well. Bringing attention to their cause with public advocacy is the mission of OPAC. We must all raise our voices and put a stop to this madness," the OPEAC chairman added.

Gigicos is a former assistant to outgoing US President Donald Trump and an ex-officer of his 2016 presidential campaign. He is also a member of the Order of St. Andrew, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, as well as a member of the board of Classic Ballet of mobile and a member of the Ship Sponsors Advisory Council of new US navy aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford.