The annual Greek Independence Day function held at the United States’ White House returned this year to a positive reception.
This special honour paid to Hellenism by the American government is of particular note as only two of the country’s migrant groups, its Greek and Irish communities can boast the privilege of celebrating their national anniversaries in the seat of power annually.
President Joe Biden received rousing applause at the event alongside His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America.
Prior to the reception the two had a private meeting, during which the Archbishop reportedly asked for the US’ support in safeguarding the Ecumenical Patriarch’s religious freedoms.
Sources report the Archbishop described the change in the climate of Greek-Turkish relations as hopeful, expressing a belief that this warming should act as a starting point for the removal of Turkish troops and the end of the country’s occupation of Cyprus.
At the event, Biden was accompanied by his sister Valerie Biden Owens who maintains a close relationship with Greece, even attending the closed dinner organised by the US state department in honor of 25 March.
Following the speeches, the crowd’s attention turned to Greek-American actress Rita Wilson accompanied by her husband and renowned philhellene Tom Hanks.
Tom Hanks in the crowd as wife Rita Wilson performs during the Greek Independence Day reception at the White House on Wednesday. pic.twitter.com/gft39ndVex
— Nandita Bose (@nanditab1) March 29, 2023
Wilson took to the stage as the tunes of the late Greek folk singer’s Stamatis Kokota’s “Mia Parentheses Kai Mono” (Just a Parenthesis) rang out through the halls of the White House, as the actress performed for the first time in public a Greek song in honour of the anniversary.
Biden jokingly told Wilson “your talent is amazing, but the only thing that worries me is your taste in men,” at another point remarking, “I’m a little worried, what with my sister sitting next to Tom Hanks.”
The US president then invited Hanks to join the party on stage, with the actor taking to the podium stating “Yes, I’m not Greek, but I had the good idea to marry a Greek woman.”
Both Wilson and Hanks acquired honorary Greek citizenship in 2020.
It was the first time the Greek Independence Day reception was held at the White House in its regular format since its postponement in 2020 owing to the onset of the COVID pandemic.
In 2021 it was held digitally, while last year the observance was moved to May to coincide with the official visit of Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to the US Capitol.
Personal ties to the Greek-American community
Addressing the reception, Biden spoke of his personal relationship with the Greek American community, a relationship which goes back decades beginning with his decision to run as a US senator for Delaware at the age of 29.
Biden didn’t neglect to mention the late former senator, Paul Sarbanes, a mentor of the president on issues relation to the nation’s Greeks.
Close Greece-US cultural ties
The US president also referred to the common cultural ties that connect the United States and the Hellenic Republic, as well as the ancient Greek ideals which inspired the foundation of their own republic.
With that in mind, he conveyed his thoughts that it was particularly fitting that the Second Summit for Democracy hosted by the United States began in Washington D.C. on the same day Greek independence was celebrated at the White House.
“Thousands of years ago, the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates said, ‘Know thyself.’ So, to truly know America, we must know out history and our hopes – we must know a little about Greece to truly understand it,” Biden remarked.
“Greece is at the very foundation of our democracy and nation (…) so, today and every day, Greek independence is a celebration for Americans and Greeks alike.”
“It Gives us the opportunity to honor this history that binds us to the values that unite us: freedom, equality, dignity and democracy,” he added.
In addition, Biden praised the roles played by the Greek American community of today and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America in promoting social justice causes.
He noted, “simply put, as allies, partners and friends we have proven time and time again that we are not just the heirs of democracy, we are its champions.”
“This is largely due to the courage and character of the Greek American community. You know, through my career, I’ve ben fortunate enough to see that courage and character in action,” he said.
“I see it in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, which has always defended social justice and civil rights.”
Condolences for the Tempe tragedy and prayer for Pope Francis
Biden also addressed the Tempe rail tragedy, sending condolences to the families of the disaster’s victims.
“It was a tragic, tragic accident, and they are in out prayers. Both Jill and I, and the American people, are deeply saddened by this tragedy,” he said.
Biden joked that Pope Francis had at times admonished him for crossing himself in the orthodox fashion, while at the same time calling on attendees to pray for the Catholic Pontiff’s health owing to his present hospitalisation due to a respiratory infection.
The US president made note of the personal relationship he maintains with both Pope Francis and His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, whom he characterised as the most Christ-like person he has met.
The archbishop’s praise
For his part, the Archbishop Elpidophoros of America did not fail to thank President Biden in his speech for the love and support he has shown to Hellenism during his long political career.
He also expressed his thanks for the strong support for the purely spiritual mission of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which he described as a mission of love, peace and hope.
“Thank you for your courage to speak up and do what is just and true. Thank you for your love for Greece and Cyprus and for Hellenism wherever it is,” the archbishop said
“Thank you for your support for a rules-based international order (…) We stand with you, Mr. President, as the heroes of 1821 were inspired by those of 1776.”
Once again @WhiteHouse honors the Greek-American Community – a family with roots in Hellas, in Cyprus, in Asia Minor. Thank you, President @JoeBiden for your love of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Greece, Cyprus+Hellenism. And for your support of a rules-based, international order. pic.twitter.com/qsvX6T87dM
— Elpidophoros (@Elpidophoros) March 29, 2023