NEW YORK – This year’s ceremony of the Athenagoras Human Rights Award bestowed by the Order of Saint Andrew, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate was not given to a high-ranking person in politics, business, or the Church, but to an everyday Greek citizen, in the face of whom the whole country was awarded: fisherman Efstratios Valamios was the guest of honor, along with Emilia Kamvisi – who was not present – as symbols of the self-sacrificing spirit of Lesbos residents helping thousands of refugees.
“It was the least we could do,”stated Valiamos, while receiving the award. Furthermore, the Patriarchate announced that it has donated $50,000 to the residents of Lesbos, for the philanthropic work they do.
“It’s an emotional night because we honor the simple, average Greek citizen,” said the spiritual leader of the Order, Fr. Alexander Karloutsos.
Archbishop Demetriοs said by awarding two ordinary Greeks the event became “more human in nature. The image of corruption is not the real picture of humanity. This is the real picture of humanity. We have no words to thank them, not only those people, but the Archons for this honor,” he added.
The keynote speaker was White House former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, who is also an Archon. Priebus stated that “The recipients are the example of the Greek pride – philotimo.
“I grew up with the Greek Orthodox Church of the Assumption in my hometown and I got these values. As the world changes around us, faith is what keeps us solid,” Priebus said. He made special reference to the two honorees: “Emily and Stratos, I know you did not do it in order to get the Nobel Prize, this award, or any distinction. You thought that this was the only choice you had. You are the most appropriate example of pride. The pride describes a range of values ??that give meaning to life beyond ourselves.
Priebus noted that he hails from Lesbos on his mother’s side.
Shortly before receiving the award, Valamios told TNH “Today’s award honors me personally and all of Greece, whichopened its arms” to those who suffered and helped without discrimination. “Anyone would do exactly the same,” he added.
Referring to his continuing experience in the sea of Lesbos, Valamios remembered a tragic case; while trying to save a mother, he failed to save her child.
Valamios was also praised by Archon Commander Dr. Anthony Limberakis. “In a world dominated by human suffering, there are people who act with compassion and mercy of God. Thank God for that fisherman, who followed the example of Apostles –fishermen told by Christ to ‘fish’ human souls.”
Archbishop Demetrios received a gold staff as a gift from the Order on the occasion of completing 50 years of episcopal ministry.
Reince Priebus speaks at the Athenagoras Human Rights Award Ceremony.