NEW YORK – Former U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden was among the guests at the Patriarch Athenagoras Award of Human Rights bestowed upon Fr. Alexander and Presbytera Xanthi Karloutsos for their valuable services to the Church and Greek-American Community.
The event held at the New York Hilton on October 27 was organized by the Order of Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Metropolitan Emmanuel of France represented His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at the event.
Fr. Karloutsos in his speech said the following:
Your Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, Your Eminence Metropolitan Emmanuel – Personal Representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch, Your Eminences, Your Excellencies, Your Graces, much-loved Archon Family, Brother Priests and Sister Presbyteres, and beloved friends all.
Allow me to invoke St. John Chrysostom’s final words “Glory be to God for everything!” Xanthi and I would like to echo this: Glory be to God for each and every one of you here this evening as well.
Although we are not the most worthy recipients of this Award, we are immensely aware and humbled by its worth. For us, Patriarch Athenagoras was a visionary for our Church in America and the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The infrastructure of our Archdiocese, which is the bedrock of all that we enjoy, was bequeathed to us by this prophetic Prelate. Even our political ties to the Oval Office began when then Archbishop Athenagoras was called in November of 1948, to lead the Sacred See of Saint Andrew as part of the Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan, to keep the First Throne of Orthodoxy from being trapped behind the Iron Curtain and falling into the communist hands of Stalin’s Soviet Union. That is why President Truman decided personally to send his trusted friend to Constantinople on his presidential plane, known then as the Sacred Cow.
We express our heartfelt gratitude to the Archons of the Order of Saint Andrew and, most especially, to their indefatigable National Commander, a fellow PK and trusted brother, for this august honor. And in the person of Dr. Maria Limberakis, we thank all the Archondisses, the spouses who encourage and empower their respective husbands and families to be faithful Orthodox Christians, and advocate for religious freedom and human rights of the Mother Church.
Speaking of the precious word mother, a most cherished name for someone who lost his mother at age 9, how can I express what the Mother of my children and the yiayia of our ten grandchildren, has meant, and means to me? (I love my children and grandchildren more than life itself.)
Together, my wife Xanthi and I, have worked and served in the holy Priesthood for over 48 years. While I was seen processing with Popes and Patriarchs, my unseen co-worker was sorting suitcases at airports; while I was in receiving lines with Presidents and First Ladies at the White House, Presbytera Xanthi was arranging chairs and tables at the State Department; when I celebrate the Divine Liturgy and enjoy the first seat in our Church, my co-disciple takes the last pew to ensure proper discipline in the Narthex and Nave; while I’m the maître de superstar at our Hamptons Greek Festival, my privileged Presbytera is peeling onions, washing pans and baking baklava.
My Protopresbytera is more than the wind beneath my wings; Xanthi is my compass, my curb, and my conscience. Without Xanthi, there would be no Fr. Alex: everything I have done, or became, I owe to the love of my life. That is why, Presbytera, as the songwriter sang “I love you more today than yesterday, less than tomorrow!”
We both need to offer a few words of remembrance and thanksgiving for our parents of blessed memory. My father, Father Michael, was a wounded healer hero priest, who, like Fathers Nicholas Paleologos and John Limberakis, and so many other pioneer priests, were true Country Parsons as described in the Canterbury Tales. Chaucer stated “The country Parson is the only devout churchman because he lives in poverty, but is rich in holy thoughts and deeds; he preaches the Gospel and makes sure to practice what he preaches.
He is everything that the monk, Friar Administrator and Pardoner are not.” My Dad lost his wife, Olga when she was 34, and he 35, and with help from Yiayia Stavroula, he raised six children, all by God’s lifesaving grace. Because of them, and the heroic taken-for-granted parish priests and presbyteres, past and present, I see the Archdiocese through my parents hope filled, but pained eyes, and not through the lofty lens of my office on 79th Street.
My Dad raised me, but it was my father-in-law, Klearchos Kosmas Karavellas, and his saintly wife and mother by grace, Anastasia, who gave me their first born princess and helped raise us both up to become the together team we are today. These humble Greek Orthodox political refugees from atheist Albania, opened up their hearts and home to all and they embodied the essence and epitomize what it means to be PHILOTIMOI, to love honor; PHILOXENOI, to love the stranger; PHILANTHROPOI, to love their neighbor compassionately; and PHILOTHEOI, to love God, who is the Alpha and Omega of our existence.
We human beings have always sought answers for the purpose of our lives and the meaning of our deaths. We seek to live the Socratic “examined life” knowing full well, as our Lord Jesus said, “What does it profit a man or woman to gain the whole world and lose his, or her, own soul?” It’s one reason why many of us, during the Christmas Season, find comfort in watching Jimmy Stewart’s, It’s A Wonderful Life. We need to be assured that our lives matter; that the lives of our loved ones matter, and that without them nothing really matters. We are all interconnected, brothers and sisters, through our Heavenly Father, and whether we realize it or not, we have an Aristotelian cause and effect with everyone we meet.
Allow me to share with you some insights of Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, a truly holy man. He writes “that our life does not end at the moment when we depart this earthly life. For we have left a mark in the world in which we live, a mark that is indelible: every person whom we have met, every word we have spoken, every gesture of ours, every action of ours – everything that was us, or was done by us, proceeded from us, has left a trace in this world.”
At this point, the Metropolitan mentions the name of a man, a French phony aristocrat who lived in the nineteenth century, that I am sure, 99% of us present have never heard of. Joseph Arthur de Gobineau died in October of 1882, but before his death, he wrote a short, absurd treatise on the inequality of the races. No one reads this book any more, but it was read by a hate-filled man whose life was not so wonderful and it influenced a twisted Adolf Hitler to almost bring about the devastation of the world.
I bring all this up because my wife and I have lived a wonderful life which has been impacted, enriched and enhanced because of every person we met, both living and those of blessed memory, who left their personal mark upon us. Each of you has touched us indelibly and we are truly grateful. Because of the different priestly ministries assigned to us: Parish Priest, Youth Ministry, Public Affairs, Communications, Leadership 100, our service in Constantinople, the Faith Endowment and the Archons, we are both humbled and proud to say we have worked with, and served, the Greek Orthodox faithful in America. Personally, I owe a great debt of gratitude to the lay people, the women and men of this Archdiocese, who became not only my trusted friends and mentors, but sisters and brothers.
Thucydides posited that the “Greeks were a people born into the world to take no rest for themselves nor give none to others.” It is that restlessness that propelled the sons and daughters of poor immigrants, yearning to be free, to climb to the mountaintop of the American market place. We have come a long way from the villages and towns of our parents and grandparents, and fulfilling their dreams and hopes, our generation has achieved wealth, success, and prominence far beyond anyone’s wildest expectations.
However, the mountain-top has dangers awaiting our children and grandchildren, because the pernicious precipice is always present. Out of love for our children and grandchildren, we have showered them with everything that our parents could not afford to give us. And yet, tragically, we have neglected to instill in them the priceless gifts our parents did give us: timeless values and principles which were forged out of a two thousand five hundred years legacy. Values and principles which make us realize that our self-worth, is much more valuable than our net worth.
Now is the time for our National Community to come out of the malaise that has begun to paralyze us. We must rid ourselves of the dreaded disease of indifference, which the Church Fathers and Mothers called Acedia, and come together triumphantly to build the light on the hill on the acropolis at Ground Zero. Our Community’s self-worth must be made manifest in the construction of our Saint Nicholas National Shrine, so that the dreams and hopes of those before us will be a legacy we bequeath to those after us.
I take this opportunity to thank His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios for encouraging me to stay in my Southampton parish and for being a comforting Archpastor for our Family when my Father died and Xanthi’s mother passed – Your Eminence we will always be grateful. We thank our parishioners, many of whom are here, for working with Xanthi and me for the past 20 years. I also want to express my appreciation to all of our co-workers throughout the years who have assisted my Presbytera and me in our various ministries. We are blessed to now work in our Archdiocesan Office with Christa, John and Andrew and with Fr. Constantine, Presbytera Anastasia, Jeannie, Paul and Thanassi in our Dormition Church.
I would like to offer my last words to pay tribute to the Three Hierarchs who really inspired me to be the best priest possible.
Fr. Byron Papanikolaou, although not a bishop, he was truly a hierarch Priest, who challenged me “to love unto madness” the people entrusted to me by Christ our Chief Shepherd.
His All Holiness Bartholomew, the Green Patriarch, who inspired me by his living example from the first time we met in 1983, to put “Christ and His Church above everything else”. Like his predecessor Patriarch Athenagoras, this intrepid Apostle of Peace, never fails or wavers to protect and defend religious freedom from political despots whether it be in the Ukraine or anywhere else in the ecumenical world.
His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos was surely one of the greatest religious leaders of the twentieth century, and President Carter was right to bestow upon him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1980. If I did become anything in the Archdiocese, it was because Archbishop Iakovos entrusted me with the ministries and functions that forced me to grow as a person and a priest. Allow me to share with you a bitter truth that Archbishop Iakovos taught me at a meeting I had with him in October of 1977.
Those piercing words of Archbishop Iakovos allow me to end with the wisdom of a most worthy Athenagoras Human Rights Award recipient, Mother Theresa. The following was engraved at the wall of her home for the children in Calcutta.
People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centered; Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies; Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you; Be honest and frank anyway.
When you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight; Build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous; Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will forget tomorrow; Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough; Give the world the best you have anyway.
You see in the final analysis, it is between you and God; It never was between you and them anyway.