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Recent Patriarchal Encyclicals on Religious Tolerance and Peaceful Coexistence

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George C. Papademetriou

 

In recent times more and more is said about of globalization, tolerance, peaceful coexistence and dialogue among the world religions. The Orthodox Church, through the Patriarchal Encyclicals, has voiced its concern and advocacy for the amelioration of the human condition and the role of religion in enabling people to reconcile and live in peace. This can be most effectively achieved through dialogue that engages religious people of good will and faithful to God's message of peace and love among all people.

 

Historically, Orthodoxy has promoted dialogue and religious tolerance among all peoples. Though dialogue between Judaism and Islam occasionally took place, often there were polemics and violence between Christians and the other religions, Judaism and Islam. There were evidences of dialogue and peaceful coexistence between these religions.[1] Particularly interesting is the Orthodox tradition in religious tolerance. The case in point is Patriarch Metrophanes III of Constantinople, who issued a sharp condemnation of the maltreatment of the Jews in Crete in an encyclical written in 1568. In part it states:

"Injustices, therefore, and slander, regardless whomever acted upon or performed against, is still injustice. The unjust person is never relieved of responsibility for these acts under the pretext that the injustice is done against a heterodox and not against a believer." [2]

This tradition is continued by the Orthodox Church and especially by the present Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

 

I will present excerpts from the encyclicals of Patriarch Bartholomew to illustrate the concern of Orthodox for peaceful co-existence, especially among the monotheistic religions - that is, the "children of Abraham."

 

Patriarch Bartholomew is one of the signers of "The Bosporus Declaration" that took palace in Istanbul, Turkey (February, 1994). The topic of the conference was on "Peace and Tolerance" sponsored by the Appeal of Conscience based in New York. Jewish, Muslim and Roman Catholic representatives signed the Bosporus Declaration also. The statement emphatically states:

"We stand firmly against those who violate the sanctity of human life and pursue policies in defiance of moral values. We reject the concept that it is possible to justify one's actions in any armed conflicts in the name of God."

Further, the declaration states:

"We totally condemn those who commit brutalities, killings, rapes, mutilations, forcible displacement, and inhuman beatings."

In addition, the Declaration call upon all people of good will to recognize and allow to others the right to practice their religion. The participants at this conference

"... agreed unanimously to utterly condemn war and armed conflict ... to demand initiation of constructive dialogue to solve outstanding issues between those of different faiths; and to demand the right to practice one's religion in freedom and with dignity."

This Declaration is in perfect harmony with the Orthodox theological tradition. The Bosporus Declaration also condemns ethnic cleansing and violence in the name of religion - such as has taken place in Yugoslavia, Caucasus and other areas of the world. (Istanbul, February 9, 1994).[3]

 

In addition, Patriarch Bartholomew addressed the Bosphorus Conference. He condemned ultra ethnicism and ultra nationalism. He stated:

"The Holy Orthodox Church has searched long for a language with which to address nationalism, amid the strife and havoc this new ideology created in the Orthodox lands of the Eastern Empire for much of the 19th century. In 1872 a Great synod, held in our Patriarchal Cathedral at the Phanar, in the name of the Prince of Peace, issued an unqualified condemnation of the sin of phyletism, saying, 'We renounce, censure, and condemn, racism, that is, social discrimination, ethnic feuds, hatreds, and dissensions within the Church of Christ..."

And in the same address the Patriarch states the most fundamental basis for the human, universal equality:

"Man was created in the image and likeness of God - and there can be no different standard of treatment for those human beings who happen to be in Asia, another for Africans, and yet another for Europeans. Culture may be relative- humanity is not." (Address of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to the Conference of Peace and Tolerance in Istanbul, Turkey, February 8, 1994).

The Patriarch is mindful of the emerging democracies in the Eastern Bloc and recommends restoring "a more ecumenical view" of others. He says:

"Those countries, just now emerging from decades of totalitarianism, desperately need the help of leadership of the rest of us. They too, are children of the Great Church of Christ, and if we open our hearts and minds and include them once again in our oikoumene, great things will happen." (Address of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, "Mnemosyne and the Children of Memory," at the British Museum, London, November 12, 1993).

Patriarch Bartholomew most emphatically declares,

"We, however, most categorically condemn every kind of fanaticism, transgression and use of violence regardless of where they come from." (Address of His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomaios to the Plenary of the Parliament, Strasburg, April 19, 1994).

His All Holiness makes clear His views in the following statement:

"God alone, in whose image we are made, shows us the way. In holy scriptures He held out hope and the promise that we should walk in the light of the city of God and that the beings of the earth shall bring the glory and honor of the nations into it " (cf. Rev. 21:24-26).

He went on to declare,

"Whether we are Christians, Moslems or Jews, we are children of God and our efforts as peacemakers will be blessed and rewarded by the one God whom we share as common Creator." (Remarks by His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew "New Leadership and the Promise of Peace," October 15, 2000).

As a religious leader, he condemns war and preaches love for all. He unconditionally states, "God cannot, for instance, at the same time preach love and hatred, peace and war, humility and pride, tolerance and bigotry." He also urged,

"the Orthodox Church has always accepted in theory and applied in practice the principle of tolerance towards other religious faiths as a corollary of absolute respect towards human freedom, which constitutes a basic element of its faith." (Address by His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to the participants of the International Tarstis Seminar "Religions in the Eye of Faith and Tolerance," (Smyrna) Tarstis, May 10, 2000).

This conference was declared in support of peace and tolerance and the Patriarch was a co-signer of its statement.[4]

 

The Ecumenical Patriarch aptly rejects fundamentalism as degrading the human person and destructive to peace. He states:

"There has never been a greater need for spiritual leaders to engage themselves in the affairs of this world. We must take a visible place on the stage, especially because too many crimes today are taking place in the name of faith,"

and,

"Religious extremists and terrorists may be the most false prophets of all, for not only do they commit horrible crimes against humanity - they do so in the name of a lie."

He rightly condemns war and violence in the name of religion. He says, "a war in the name of religion is a war against religion." Healing and reconciliation is in the hands of religious people. He says,

"But neither politicians nor businessmen alone can heal the rifts in our society today... we who must bring the spiritual principles of ecumenism, brotherhood, and tolerance to the fore."

As well, he declares,

"We at the Ecumenical Patriarchate will continue our efforts to be peacemakers and to light the lamp of the human spirit." (Speech by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to the C.E.O. of Istanbul Ministry "Fundamentalism and Faith in the New Millenium: A View from the Crossroads Between East and West," October 25, 1995).

He said that "We ... have a strong sense of social mission for peace, freedom, justice and brotherhood among peoples." He also emphasizes that peace and reconciliation must be based on justice. He stated:

"... because we have benefited from divine justice, we must struggle for fuller justice in the world and for the neutralization of every kind of oppression." (Address by His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to the Sixth World Conference on Religion and Peace - World Assembly Riva Del Gardo, Italy, November 4, 1994).

The Patriarch strongly stated the Orthodox position against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and all kinds of intolerance:

"All human beings - regardless of religion, race, national origin, color, creed, or gender - are living icons of God, innately worthy of such respect and dignity." ("Ecumenical Patriarch Issues Statement for U.N. Conference," The Orthodox Observer (July-August, 2001) p.9.

The Patriarch is aware that every religion makes the claim that it holds the truth. He cautions that "absolutism" must be avoided. He states:

"It is well known that every religion asserts that it holds within its belief system the absolute truth concerning God and the world, the latter of which also incorporates humanity."

For the coexistence of all peoples and religions the realization that we all are God's creation is essential. He believes that dialogue brings people closer through understanding of the other. He makes the following point:

"Dialogue and conversation, which is a necessary precondition of mutual understanding, and that mutual understanding is a precondition of mutual trust as well as providing the condition for all people to cooperate and to coexist."

His commitment to dialogue is very strong as he well stated:

"Dialogue is the only path pleasing to God. This is because God always and in many ways dialogues with us, seeking the free offering of our heart and not our forced presentation before Him. Let us offer our hearts to Him and not the hearts of others." (Greeting Address of His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew During the Interfaith Dialogue Assembly in Ankara, Turkey, November 25, 1998).

The Ecumenical Patriarch, speaking of globalization, says, "Globalization, being a human activity towards unity, should not conceal any ideological or religious totalitarianism." He condemns ideological totalitarianism:

"... ideological totalitarianism is expressed today for the most part by religiously-based fundamentalist movements, whose followers consider their duty to globally impose the religious faith from which they usually derive."

He emphatically states that globalization must be based on love. He says, "Our positive vision as a religious leader is - and always will be - the recognition by all people of the uniting force of love." (Address of His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew at Forum 2000, in Prague, October 11, 1999).

 

The Patriarch opposes as an economic vision of globalization devoid of moral application because "man must not live by bread alone" (Matt.4: 4) but by values and principles that transcend economic concerns, because economy is the servant of humanity and not its master. He recognizes that "the advance of humanity toward globalization is a fact arising primarily out of the private sector; in particular it is the desire of multinational economic giants." On the contrary, he emphasizes that "We ought to preserve all the cultural values that pertain to humanity without, of course, putting up unnecessary barriers to useful economic development." He states that he is not against economic progress and globalization, but "Our desire is to safeguard the possibility for the members of every religious and cultural minority to maintain their distinctiveness and particularity of their culture." (Address given by His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at the 1999 Annual Davos meeting of the World Economic Forum, February 2, 1999).

 

In an eloquent statement, the Patriarch says:

"From an Orthodox Christian perspective, the virtue of diversity and tolerance provides the fundamentals for a Christian life, much in the same manner as do sunlight and water in the nurturing of a plant. Without either of these virtues, nourishment is lacking and spiritual death is inevitable."

He continues:

"The reconciliation role of Christianity can only be initiated and sustained by and through the voice and ear of genuine tolerance. The virtues of tolerance, together with its twin virtue of diversity, reflect the divine attributes of love which God maintains in His essence perfectly, infinitely, indescribably, and inexhaustibly."

And the Patriarch offers his wish:

"... upon all men and women of all ages, religions, races, creeds, and nations of our planet Earth peace and goodwill, beseeching our great and loving God that He grant to all of us the wisdom to truly see one another as we have been created, namely as brothers, sisters, and children of the Lord." (The Orthodox Observer July-August, 2001, p.9).

Conclusion

 

The recent Patriarchal Encyclicals depict the Orthodox Christian view of the application of tolerance and coexistence among all people on our planet Earth. His emphasis is on the scriptural understanding that all human persons are created in the image of God, and as children of God all are endowed with the gift of freedom and the right to live in peace. God created the world out of His infinite Goodness and Love. The world is full of signs that point to Him and His wondrous and beautiful world, where the lion and the lamb live together in peace. The human person is the main concern of God, and through the dialogue between God and man one arrives at perfect goodness and love. The human person seeks communion with himself and God but unless one has communion with "others," he will not be able to come to God. The need for God and other human persons is imperative for each of us to find personal peace that leads to universal peace. Friendship - filia - agape - mutual love and respect for the rights of the others is necessary precondition to perfect peace.

 

Rev. Dr. Protopresbyter Professor George C. Papademetriou
Hellenic College/Holy Cross
Greek Orthodox School of Theology.
Brookline, MA.
Skopje, May 10-14, 2002.

 

 

 

[1] See George C. Papademetriou. Essays on Orthodox Christian-Jewish Relations. Bristol, Indiana: Wyndham Hall Press (1990) pp. 17-19. See also Anastasios Yiannoulatos. "Byzantine and Contemporary Greek Orthodox Approaches to Islam." Journal of Ecumenical Studies. Vol. 33. No. 4 (1996) pp. 512-528.

 

[2]Papademetriou, Essays... p.88.

 

[3] See Professor Gregorios Ziakas, University of Thessalonike. "The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the dialogue with Islam" (in Greek) Phanari: 400 Years. Istanbul: Publication of the Ecumenical Patriarchate (2000) p.588-589. This is an excellent study on the dialogues between Orthodoxy and Islam: in Greek, pp. 575-713 and in English, pp.714-725.

 
 

[4] Ziakas, op. cit., pp. 601-602. Episkepsis No. 583 (31 May 2000) pp. 3-4.

 

Copyright: 2002 Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America


 

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