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Address By His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at the Dinner Offered by EU Ambassadors in the Republic of Turkey (Ankara, May 4, 2018)

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Your Excellencies,

It is with great joy that we participate in this evening’s dinner, which—as every authentic meeting—demonstrates the power of communication, mutual respect and trust.

Throughout our many years of Patriarchal ministry, we have striven for the promotion of dialogue, which we consider to be the most effective means for addressing problems. Dialogue is a gesture of solidarity.

We have dedicated our life to cultivating and strengthening the unity of the Orthodox Church, promoting inter-Christian, interfaith and intercultural dialogue, as well as engaging in dialogue with the contemporary world. We have also worked to combat religious fundamentalism, “this expression of morbid religiosity”, as was stated in the Encyclical of the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church (Crete, June 2016). It is especially provocative that faith in God—the foremost power of the soul that opens the gates of heaven and orients us towards our eternal destiny—is being manipulated as a vehicle of relentless and blind violence.

We support and praise developments and initiatives that promote peace and reconciliation, as well as respect for human rights and dignity. We also fight for the protection of the natural environment. For us, solidarity with creation and solidarity with humanity are indivisible—two sides of the same coin.

Today, we observe around the world a distancing from a tradition of solidarity, a phenomenon of our times that is accelerated by the widespread rise of individualism, eudemonism, consumerism and social insensitivity. As an answer to this challenge, religions are called to promote their philanthropic traditions, to contribute to building bridges, to protect the sanctity of the human person, and to contribute to the rapprochement of individuals and civilizations against fanaticism and the “clash of civilizations”. In their teaching and practice, they must affirm the inseparable unity between faith in God and love toward our fellow human beings. The response to these great contemporary problems requires common action and a common journey towards the future, which will either indeed be common, or, not exist at all.

As we are addressing Your Excellencies—Ambassadors and representatives of the European Union—we openly and directly state the following:

For us, Europe is a great experiment of solidarity on a continent that during the last century experienced the two most bloody and terrible wars in the history of humanity. It is a project of peaceful coexistence, freedom, justice and respect of pluralism. In this sense, Europe is not, a “Kopfgeburt”, that is, a product of the mind—as it has been called in the past by the renowned sociologist Ralph Dahrendorf—but rather embodies high human ideals and, we could say, an idealism. It is not possible for the European Union to merely exist as a plan of uniform economic politics and economic development, based on the principle of “autonomy of the economy”. That which lies at the center of the European project are human rights and the idea of the “open society”, both expressions of the belief in human freedom and dignity.

This year we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaimed by the United Nations in 1948 “as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations”. Human rights are one of the greatest accomplishments in the field of politics in the entire history of humankind. Speaking about human rights today means referencing human dignity, the protection of freedom and justice, as well as open society and international peace. Indeed, human rights are a central expression of humanism in our world, or, in other words, they function as universal humanistic criterion.

Undoubtedly, human rights, the standard of the Enlightenment, also were not a “Kopfgeburt”, a rationalistic project. They were an expression of the belief in human dignity and the supreme values of "liberté, égalité, fraternité”, “liberty, equality and fraternity”. We emphatically underline: Not only liberty, which separated from equality and fraternity is in danger of becoming individualistic; not only equality without liberty, which is in danger of generating egalitarianism, or even totalitarianism; not only fraternity, which is in danger of becoming a source of communitarianism, the radicalism of Gemeinschaft, without positive political impact on the level of broader society. The three core values of the tricolore are indivisible.

In this sense, our own view of Europe has an ethical and spiritual foundation and orientation. Consequently, we discern the concept of a technocratic Europe, a Europe whose priority is the economy and the functioning of the market, from a concept of Europe based on human rights and pluralism. It is quite characteristic that these principles come to the fore when Europe’s unity and future are in question.

We especially underline that human rights are not a threat to pluralism, as postmodernism claims, but rather they ensure the necessary conditions for free cultural expression and for the respect of difference. Universality does not mean uniformity. In this sense, religious freedom, which is a constant concern of our own, belongs to the core values of the European Union. It is a fundamental human right to freely cultivate one’s particular identity. Nevertheless, pluralism can only function creatively on the ground of common core values. Otherwise, pluralism can devolve into nihilism, into the postmodern ideal of “anything goes”. This is in fact the negation of true pluralism, which is meant to be an expression of freedom, or, as Karl Popper stated, “the credo of the West” (See K. Popper, Auf der Suche nach einer besseren Welt, Munchen/Zurich 1994, pg. 231-253).

Of course, the European Union did not come into existence ex nihilo. It is rooted in a long tradition of values, struggles for freedom and justice, and faith in the dignity of man. Without these roots, it would be impossible to identify itself as “Europe”. One of these roots is unquestionably Christianity. Therefore, the core of contemporary Europe, namely, human rights, bears the stamp of Christianity, even if they cannot be labeled as its direct creation. Neither the initial rejection of modern human rights by Western Christian Churches, nor the anti-ecclesiastical tendencies of the Enlightenment can eradicate the deep roots of human rights in Christian tradition and culture.

It is our steady conviction that Christian Churches today can contribute to the culture of human rights, thereby strengthening the European identity. Concerning the particular contribution that the Orthodox Church can provide to this culture, we believe that this is related to the centrality of the social dimension of freedom, which safeguards against the conversion of human rights into endless individualistic entitlement. In this regard, when we speak about the great Church Fathers of the East, Orthodox Iconography, the eucharistic use of creation, the incarnation of the Christological dogma of Chalcedon in the architecture of Haghia Sophia, the Orthodox culture of philanthropy and diakonia, and the theology of personhood, we are referring to spiritual values that belong to the roots of Europe—a Europe that is broader, not only geographically, but also culturally and spiritually, than Western Europe.

For Orthodox self-consciousness, the future does not belong to individualism, to the introverted homo clausus, or to eudemonistic self-realization. Obviously, it does not belong to extreme communitarianism either, where individual freedom is sacrificed to collective purposes. Nor does it lay in the deification of science and technology, the economism and the “fundamentalism of the market”, or the heedless exploitation of natural resources. In fact, these concepts are not really “European”. The future belongs to the “culture of solidarity”.

This calls to our mind the burning issue of the present migrant and refugee crisis. We all recognize that migration and the continually intensifying exodus of refugees from war-torn areas constitute one of the greatest contemporary problems for all of humanity. They challenge the core values of European civilization. It is impossible for the current migration and refugee crisis to be addressed by the values of a bureaucratic, technocratic and economically centered Europe. The solution must be based on the principles of the values of human rights, which constitute the Magna Carta of Europe and have at their core the protection of human freedom. The natural ally of human rights are Christian churches even if the theoretical foundation that forms the basis of the Christian understanding of human dignity differs from that of secular movements.

Most certainly, the efforts by representatives of extreme secularization to marginalize religion, do not promote humanistic goals. Religions are able to decisively address the issues of immigration and refugees, by implementing and cultivating a spirit of solidarity, and by supporting relevant initiatives and tendencies in the political and social world that have the protection of human dignity as their goal. Faith inspires and strengthens the struggle for justice and freedom and even provides support when it appears to be at an impasse. We are certain that the migration and refugee crisis is an opportunity and a basis for cooperation and mutual initiatives for religions, churches, governments, humanistic movements, non-governmental organizations in Europe and on a global scale. After all, the contemporary refugee and migration issue does not affect only Europe.

It is in this frame that we can find a response to the question “Quo vadis Europa?” and to the European Commission’s President, His Excellency Jean-Claude Junker’s, recent statement that “Europe is losing worldwide power”. Europe, however, is much greater than what it represents economically and demographically.

It is also in this spirit that we do not accept the characterization of contemporary Europe as a “post-Christian Europe”. Europe’s secularized present, cannot be separated from its past, which is inspired and formed by the Christian culture itself. We have to accept that the retreat of Christian consciousness in Europe ultimately has a negative influence for the respect of human rights. We share the concern of the German professor and former Minister of Education in Bavaria, Hans Maier, which was written over twenty years ago, and is especially relevant today. He put forth the following essential questions:

Do we ultimately know if the social state will survive after the devaluation of love for our neighbor? Wouldn’t solidarity for our neighbor disappear if he were simply a stranger, the “other”, the competitor or even the enemy? Is it possible for social responsibility to exist when the “right of life” of unborn children and of the elderly is disputed? Will human rights continue to exist when humanity and the Creator have disappeared from the forefront in a clash of civilizations?” (H. Maier, Welt ohne Christentum-was wäre anders?”, Freiburg i. Br. 1999, pg. 150-151)

Your Excellencies,

In Europe and across the world, Christian Churches will forever remain a place where true freedom is experienced and witnessed. The core of this freedom is not the pursuit of individual rights, but is instead the free relinquishing of our own individual rights for the sake of love. Naturally, this stance does not diminish the importance of human rights; instead, it intensifies our interest and struggle for the human being’s dignity and fundamental rights. It is precisely in this sense that faithful people should be even more humanist than humanists themselves, because for them the struggle for the protection of the human person is not only an ethical imperative, but a commandment of God, Who, according to the Christian faith, is “love”, is God “with us” and is God “for us”.

We thank you all for your kind attention!