By His All-Holiness
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
At the Opening of the Seminar
On the Social Dimension of the Monotheistic Religions
Organized by the Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy
(Istanbul, March 3, 3013)
|Your Excellency Cemil Çiçek, Speaker of the Parliament of greater Turkey,|
Honorable and beloved Orthodox Members of Parliament, participants of the Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy, together with your distinguished colleagues,
Esteemed seminar attendees,
Brothers and sisters in the Lord,
We welcome and greet all of you with great joy and hope.
We gladly express deserved praise to the Chairman and members of the Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy for this significant and, as we anticipate, useful encounter and conversation. We pray that God will abundantly bless your deliberations.
The invitation extended that we attend the opening of this seminar and address you as Archbishop of Constantinople and Ecumenical Patriarch gives us particular pleasure. For, beyond the topic of the seminar, which is important and very critical, we have the occasion to meet personally with you all as Orthodox Members of Parliament, together with representatives of other churches, doctrines and religions, as well as the rest of the participants. It is an opportunity to exchange certain thoughts and experiences, based on our mutual desire to eradicate violence, wherever this may appear, and to render much-needed peace prevalent throughout the world through love, solidarity and communion with all humanity.
The topic of this seminar asks us to approach this universal demand in the perspective of the social dimension of the monotheistic religions, namely their contribution to overcoming of egoism, avoiding of violence, and respecting our fellow human beings. If we respect people and do not seek to exploit them for our own personal, state, or national interests or ambitions, then we shall surely express in action the “social dimension” of our faith and protect each other from human calculations, which have no meaning before the righteous Judge and Ruler of the world, visible and invisible, earthly and heavenly, namely our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate and we personally have from time to time assumed initiatives such as this in an effort to promote dialogue on similar topics. On an Panorthodox level, we have developed related discussions, whose goals are summarized in a text agreed by all Orthodox and entitled: “The contribution of the Orthodox Church to the realization of peace, justice, freedom, solidarity and love among all people,” issued in 1986 in the context of the preparations for the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church and in assessment and evaluation of the international circumstances that prevailed at the time.
On a wider level, we actively participate in programs and activities aimed at contributing toward the resolution of social problems on all aspects of application and expression of human life: from inter-personal and inter-family relations to relations between social groups, religious communities, states and coalitions. The principal domain of this effort is the coordination and organization by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of bilateral and multilateral inter-religious dialogues, which look to cooperation with other faiths as well as the practice and prevalence of universal human ideals and values for the benefit of humanity and society. We continue this effort in collaboration with every person of good will, who respects himself or herself and the “image” of God, without selfishly “trampling upon” this image like some iconoclast of the past but rather by providing for realization of the “likeness” of this image, particularly within ourselves, inasmuch as “we will give an account” for our actions, but also within the community, inasmuch as we are a single human family comprising all nations, races and tongues, for Gid created us as one race on this earth.
The Orthodox faith, which unites all Orthodox people, is rooted in the Trinitarian nature of God. The three persons of the Holy Trinity interpenetrate and coexist in love and concord. They constitute the model for our life. Our Church exists in order to call all people to live in love and solidarity as well as to realize this vocation.
The purpose of human existence is for us Christians, as is known, to imitate the way of existence of the Trinitarian God; to come to communion with this God and to live eternally with Him in love. However, in order to achieve this goal, we must go through society and love with our fellow human beings. The way toward theosis (or divinization) is ascetic discipline, which occurs through purification from passion and the practice of love. Such ascetic discipline is expressed in manifold ways, but its basic and fundamental way of expression is philanthropy.
For us Christian Orthodox, philanthropy derives from our unity with God and consequently with all humanity. The unity of each person with all humanity implies the acceptance that every human being is entitled to participate equally in the divine gifts of creation. This in turn has several ramifications:
First, with regard to equality.
First of all, every person possesses equal value to every other human being. This principle can never be overlooked. As Christ teaches and St. John of Damascus characteristically defines, there is no distinction between a king or a soldier, a rich or poor person, and a saint or sinner. There is no racial supremacy or any other discrimination – whether ethnic, generational, educational, or on the basis of any other criteria. We must never forget that all these are “divine gifts,” granted by God as “talents” like in the Gospel passage, which God bestows and “in the blink of an eye,” in a single “moment,” he can withhold from anyone that does not make proper use of them in accordance with His divine will, which aspires to the expression of love and solidarity toward other people, indeed toward every other person.
As we know, ancient societies had recognized and legalized various institutions, which often justified inequality. Slavery was one such institution. The degradation of women was another. The right to put children to death, especially when they were unwanted females, was yet another among many. Unfortunately, the last still persists even in our age with the acceptance of the right to put an embryo to death in a pregnant woman.
Today, all these institutions – with the exception of the last – under the influence of the monotheistic religions, and especially Christianity, have disappeared and, in their place, we have created regulations to protect human rights, albeit regrettably not always applied, as per the teaching of religions and the laws for the most art of states and societies. Sadly, in the words of the philosopher, what prevails is the “justice” or “injustice” of the strongest.
These regulations are – or ought to be – truly and certainly the expression of our faith in the unity of nature and of the divine dignity for all people. The love among the persons of the Trinitarian God reflects and constitutes a model of life for human beings created in the image of God.
Second, with regard to freedom of conscience.
No person is entitled either to impose on any other person one’s individual religious convictions or to assert one’s authority to annihilate any other person. The aggressive imposition of a certain religious faith is unacceptable wherever it originates. As a contemporary spiritual figure put it: “God has implanted the divine seal on every human being and does not rescind it. And the divine seal is our freedom!”
Religious freedom is a concomitant of the Christian teaching and an achievement of modern civilization, which all Orthodox are called to defend. Nonetheless, the other two monotheistic religions also fundamentally accept religious freedom, and many accomplishments have been attained in this respect. However, we still require much struggle, great effort, and above all love toward the “impartial” God and His constantly “partial” creation, humanity.
Third, with regard to the enjoyment of material goods.
As a result of their human attributes alone, all people are entitled to enjoy the God-given material goods in accordance with their needs. Unfortunately, humanity has not yet managed to embrace this principle in all its dimensions. We are characterized by an unconstrained greed and led sometimes to seemingly licit and at other times clearly illicit acquisition of material goods through the exercise of power. This results in the provocation of miserable economic and inhumane crises, such as the one currently experienced by human beings everywhere.
Of course, the material goods are certainly and evidently more than sufficient to cover the needs of our world. However, the unequal distribution and waste create problems. Our effort to resolve this issue will require much time, but it must commence urgently. Nevertheless, since we cannot foresee any human improvement in this greedy mindset in the immediate future, we addressed the charitable emotions of those, who irrespective of religious convictions, are distinguished by a spirit of solidarity and altruism, issuing our Message last Christmas and declaring this year, 2013, as “The Year of Global Solidarity.” We are all called to experience this concept of universal solidarity not merely through words but through actions, not just superficially but substantially, not simply with our lips but with our hearts.
This is precisely the approach and subject of your seminar. This is clearly the “social dimension of the monotheistic religions.” In other words, humanitarian aid is not – and cannot for any reason or pretext – considered a legal regulation but a humanitarian obligation, which emanates from the religious convictions of adherents (or faithful) of the various faith communities.
Personally, we feel qualified to speak about the social dimension of our own faith, the Orthodox Church, and we are prepared to listen gladly to the articulation of the social dimension within the other two monotheistic religions.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, who as God knew how difficult it was for humanity to change its mindset, proclaimed the need for voluntary philanthropy, which should be exercised as an obligation and commandment. As we are aware, those who believed in Him were known through the centuries for their commitment to charitable works. As we observed this morning at the Patriarchate, when we addressed the members of the Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy, names such as Basil the Great and St. John the Merciful, Patriarch of Alexandria, as well as many emperors and rulers in the Eastern Roman Empire, such as John III Doucas Vatatzis, have left their mark on history for their charitable service. Even today, many philanthropic organizations, including state and international agencies, but particularly the numerous unseen individuals and missionaries, who live “in mountains and caves,” practice philanthropy in the narrower and broader sense. These are achievements, which require support and expansion.
We believe and proclaim that one of the primary goals and targets of states is to provide for their citizens to live in peace, tranquility and dignity, free from fear, deprivation and disease.
As Orthodox Members of Parliament, you are called to work for the public promotion of the beauty and benefit of all these principles and guidelines for all people. Indeed, you are also called to realize these principles and guidelines inasmuch as, in our days, violence regrettably prevails, while inhumanity triumphs over philanthropy, war over peace, passion over dispassion, hatred over love, hypocrisy over honesty, falsehood over truth. The result is that, beyond the multitude of other evil consequences, the unemployed and poor, who live beneath the poverty level, are increasing instead of decreasing. Here, therefore, lie the obligation and responsibility, the struggle and provocation for all of us as church and religious leaders, as members of parliament, as clergy and laity.
The social dimension of the Orthodox Church provides a model and clashes with the harsh individualistic ideal of some – or should we say many or perhaps most – of our fellow human beings. We must work together to promote this model for the benefit of humanity. All Orthodox must work together to promote this model throughout the world, while at the same time of course working so that the regulations of our states might be inspired by philanthropy, solidarity, welfare and concern for the weakest, respect for freedom of conscience, and equality among all people. This would be the expression of the theological foundation of our faith. Only then shall we be consistent with our principles, when we experience the solidarity of all people as a demand of our faith in the Trinitarian nature of our God, which in turn results in a conviction about the diversity and at the same time the unity of humanity. Such a vision clearly rejects both individual and collective or ethnic exclusiveness.
Individualism or exclusiveness generates conflict and destruction. If only a small part of the amounts spent to harm inimical groups were shared for the common good, there would be no poor people on our planet.
This is why the Orthodox Church, following in the footsteps of its Teacher and Lord Jesus, namely the way of love toward God and humanity that transcends individualism, always strives to assist our needy and suffering fellow human beings so that social equality and justice may prevail, while peace, dialogue and cooperation may be promoted. However, these goals are not ends in themselves; nor is the reason for our existence merely the improvement of human society. We do not overlook these things, but we also recognize that the aim and goal of our Church is and always has been the theosis (or divinization) of humanity, our union (or oneness) with God by fulfilling His commandments through victory over our passions and the increase of virtues, namely the practice of the Gospel principles of love, patience, and righteousness. The Lord said and continues to say: “I give you my peace; but I do not give to you as the world gives.” (John 14.27) Undoubtedly, our struggle to achieve these virtues also results in the improvement of society and reveals in practice the social dimension of our faith.
This is why the Orthodox Church does not neglect human needs; but at the same time, it is not merely confined to resolving them. God is able to transform all poor people into wealthy people and all the sick people into healthy people in a split moment. Nonetheless, this is not God’s way. His way is the way of the cross, the acceptance of suffering and tribulation as means toward sanctification, the pursuit of labor and toil. Perfection in Christ is achieved through suffering, by rejecting the “ego,” with love. Then, all social, personal and humanitarian problems are resolved and settled.
So when humanity conquers selfishness, its “ego,” first within the human heart and subsequently in the wider social context, it can overcome all social evil. Unfortunately, today we occasionally observe certain confusion in the world between genuine love and the acceptance of other human beings as images of God. In this regard, our Church teaches moderation. It accepts and never rejects every human being: As the Lord says through the Apostle Paul: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13.5)
With these thoughts, we greet the opening of this seminar’s deliberations and pray that the Lord God will bless you and all those who labor for the benefit of others, as ministers of peace and reflections of the “social dimension” of our faith, so that with the cooperation of all people “peace may become our friend, sweet in both name and reality … our formation and decoration … the good praised by all, albeit practiced by few … which we should work on when it is present and ruminate on with mourning and tears when it is absent,” to paraphrase the words of St. Gregory the Theologian, Patriarch of Constantinople.
Then peace will reign in the world and prevail in society. Violence will cease in our communities when each of us cultivates an ascetic form of sacred and blessed “violence” within ourselves and against our passions. This is our wholehearted prayer for everyone.
We wish you inspiration and illumination from above in your seminar, in your conclusions, which we pray will have a positive impact on our world.
“All those who do right will be rewarded with glory, honor and peace, whether they are Jews or Gentiles. God does not demonstrate any favoritism.” (Romans 2.10-11) “Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.” (2 Thessalonians 3.16) Amen.