Senator Andrew Bragg has the rare distinction of being the first non-Greek and non-Orthodox person to receive the highest honour that the Greek Orthodox Church in Australia can bestow.
But the news has not been well-received in some quarters because of the senator’s role as a leading campaigner in favour of same-sex marriage during the plebiscite campaign of 2017 that led to the legalisation of same-sex marriage in Australia.
The federal senator for New South Wales received the Order of Christ-Loving and was proclaimed a Grand Commander by Archbishop Makarios, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia, at a special doxology service at the Cathedral of Annunciation at Redfern in Sydney on 20 January.
A source within the Archdiocese told Neos Kosmos that Senator Bragg was honoured for his services to the Archdiocese of Australia.
The source said that Senator Bragg had intervened with the government to amend legislation and enable the Archdiocese to invite clergy to Australia.
The senator had also helped the Archbishop himself to receive his permanent residence after the primate had come into Australia on a tourist visa. With the senator’s help Archbishop Makarios was able to assume his duties in Australia following his appointment six months ago.
In his speech at the award ceremony, Archbishop Makarios said: “Our holy Archdiocese of Australia has experienced your love and your beneficial involvement regarding issues that have troubled us and we are deeply moved.”
The Archbishop also said that “from the first moment that I met you, I felt that you are a person who very easily wins the hearts of people. You have the ability or, rather I should say, the gift to create a new inner world for people. You not only listen to people’s problems, but you also give light, you try to give them joy, you aim to find solutions, you attempt to do whatever is best for the person.”
In response to the award, Senator Bragg said of the Archbishop: “You have already made your mark in this country as new archbishop. Your leadership will be very important in the coming years and I look forward to working with you on the many issues and challenges that arise.”
The senator also commended the fundraising efforts of the Greek Orthodox community following the recent bushfire crisis.
According to one critic of the award, Terry Korian, the award to Senator Bragg was an “apparent break with Orthodox moral teaching and basic common sense”.
Mr Korian said in a message: “The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia, then under the leadership of Archbishop Stylianos, had campaigned publicly and aggressively against this change to the definition of marriage”.
Another critic, Fr Peter Heers said in a message: “How can an Orthodox Bishop award one of the most prominent leaders of the movement to recognize same-sex ‘marriages’ with the ‘Order of the Christ-loving’? When did denying our Lord’s teachings make one a lover of His Person?”
A Greek community source told Neos Kosmos that while the criticisms of the Archbishop on this matter may be deemed as “funny”, they were also “suspicious”.
“We should all applaud the Archbishop for uniting us on a more general level,” he said.