Sunday, November 14, 2010
Religious Freedom Conference Brussels Day 1 Arrival
After an uneventful transatlantic flight we arrive in Brussels, Belgium. Gathering bit by bit into a delegation, various participants from the United States: Florida, Philadelphia, New York, Boston, New Jersey and beyond. A short introduction and we are off to the bus shortly arriving at the (Pammageston Taxiarxon) Holy Archangels Cathedral of Brussels of the Holy Metropolis of Belgium and Exarchate of the Low Lands and Luxemburg. Upon arrival we find the Archbishop of Belgium celebrating the Divine Liturgy. As we are seated some have the opportunity to venerate the Holy Relics of St Nectarios of Aegina and Holy Raphael, Nicholas and Irene Neo Martyrs (coincidentally also my home parish in Palm Harbor, FL patron saints).
The church here is lovely full of children and a group in Traditional costumes of the Syllogos of Thraki. The church also was standing room only with hundreds of people. The Liturgy was concelebrated by six priests and several deacons, also in the altar were His Eminence Metropolitan Evangelos of NJ Fr Chris Metropoulos of OCN and Fr Milton Efthimiou also amongst the ranks of worshippers was Fr Alexander Karloutsos the spiritual advisor of the Order of St Andrew the Apostle the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In the adjacent pews were the members of the Order of Pammakaristos the international branch of Archons.The swell of people in the church was reminiscent of our services in the USA with one difference, the Gospel was sung in Greek and Flemish (the local language I'm told).
Other unique aspects of the church were beautiful tapestries hanging on the eastern wall, banners (laverum) of various saints throughout the church and many devotional stations with icons for veneration circling the church some with relics of saints like I stated earlier.
At the end of Liturgy His Eminence the Archbishop gave a rousing speech welcoming the Archons and reiterating the cause of religious freedom which most of us take for granted. This was followed by His Eminence Metropolitan Evangelos distributing the antidoron and icons of the Holy Archangels to the plenitude of believers in the church, I had the chance to overhear His Eminence’s kind words and blessings upon the people and was moved by the exchange of well wishes from many in the church, His Eminence displayed a great amount of tenderness and paternal attention to all but most especially to the little children who curiously approached him from all sides.
The delegation was then hosted at a large hall a few blocks away where we were treated to wonderful entertainment of Greek Folk dancing by the dozens of children and hundreds of proud families and onlookers, it was like we were at home at one of our local festivals and cultural gatherings celebrating the festal day of the Archangels and St Nectarios. Our hosts were kind with refreshments and a light lunch followed by continual offerings of traditional sweets, bountiful trays of Belgium waffle cookies, Greek butter cookies, karidopeta, kourabedes, tea sandwiches, local treats, wine, soda, water the hosts had an bounty for all in attendance only to be overshadowed by the happiness, pride and endless enthusiasm for our commaon faith and culture. I know I speak for everyone when I say Thank you!
Next we drove to our Hotel at the center of Brussels, the Conrad. Where we find Presbytera Xanthi Karloutsos intensely at work; organizing a welcome for all participants and speakers the sign in was an ease for all and the organization was flawless. We received a blue tote bag with the insignia of His All Holiness and in the bag we find a padfolio with the conference logo, a USB with Religious Freedom information, an Archon pen, an itinerary booklet a biography booklet with the stellar line up of speakers for the conference, the speakers also received the new books of His All Holiness and a few other surprises.
After retiring to our rooms we received a welcome gift from the hotel a box of Godiva chocolates and French Vittel water in glass bottles (yes I have eaten the chocolate and drank the water already). After I indulged in the Chocó-fest I went for a stroll out in the cool Belgium weather, as it is Sunday all is closed but the stroll was nice. Back at the hotel there was free distribution of a special Newspaper edition of the National Paper. A New Europe Special 36 page edition Religious Freedom, Building a bridge through dialogue. A excellent expose featuring the stellar speakers at the conference including Archbishop Demetrios, Egeman Bagis, Wildfred Martens, Jay Sekalow and many others. Also included is a history of the patriarchate and an introduction on the patriarch. Search it out: New Europe Special Edition November 2010 (though I am sure the Archon website www.Archons.org will have a link).
All in all I have to say this has been an excellent beginning to what I anticipate to be and exciting and most historically significant week here in Brussels at the European Union. I ask you keep the entire delegation, participants at this conference and always His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarchate in your prayers. Until tomorrow…