Address of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to the plennary assembly of the European Assembly, (Brussels, September 24, 2008).
|Your Excellency Mr President of the European Parliament,|
Your Excellencies, Honorable Members of the European Parliament,
First and foremost, we convey to you salutations from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, based for many many centuries in what is today Istanbul – greetings replete with esteem and respect. In particular, we express our gratitude to an old friend of ours, His Excellency Hans-Gert Pöttering, President of the European Parliament. We likewise express our sincerest appreciation for the extraordinary honor to address the Plenary of the European Parliament, especially on this occasion that commemorates the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue.
As a purely spiritual institution, our Ecumenical Patriarchate embraces a truly global apostolate that strives to raise and broaden the consciousness of the human family – to bring understanding that we are all dwelling in the same house. At its most basic sense, this is the meaning of the word “ecumenical” – for the “oikoumene” is the inhabited world – the earth understood as a house in which all peoples, kindreds, tribes and languages dwell.
As is well known, the origins of our religious institution lie at the core of the Axial Age, deep in the history of the Christian Faith – with the earliest followers of Jesus Christ. Inasmuch as our See – our institutional center – shared the center and capital of the Christian Roman Empire, it became known as “ecumenical,” with certain privileges and responsibilities that it holds to this day. One of its chief responsibilities was for bringing the redemptive message of the Gospel to the world outside the Roman Empire. In the days before the exploratory age, most civilizations held such a bicameral view of the world as being “within” and “without.” The world was divided into two sectors: a hemisphere of civilization and a hemisphere of barbarism. In this history, we behold the grievous consequences of the alienation of human persons from one another.
Today, when we have the technological means to transcend the horizon of our own cultural self-awareness, we nevertheless continue to witness the terrible effects of human fragmentation. Tribalism, fundamentalism, and phyletism – which is extreme nationalism without regard to the rights of the other – all these contribute to the ongoing list of atrocities that give pause to our claims of being civilized in the first place.
And yet, even with tides of trade, migrations and expansions of peoples, religious upheavals and revivals, and great geopolitical movements, the deconstruction of rigid and monolithic self-understandings of past centuries has yet to find a permanent harbor. The Ecumenical Patriarchate has sailed across the waves of these centuries, navigating the storms and the doldrums of history. For twenty centuries – through the Pax Romana, the Pax Christiana, the Pax Islamica, the Pax Ottomanica (all epochs marked by intercultural struggle, conflict and outright war) – the Ecumenical Patriarchate has continued as a lighthouse for the human family and the Christian Church. It is from the depths of our experience upon these deep waters of history that we offer to the contemporary world a timeless message of perennial human value.
Today, the ecumenical scope of our Patriarchate extends far beyond the boundaries of its physical presence at the cusp of Europe and Asia, in the same City we have inhabited for the seventeen centuries since her founding. Though small in quantity, the extensive quality of our experience brings us before this august assembly today, in order to share from that experience on the necessity of intercultural dialogue, a lofty and timely ideal for the contemporary world.
As you yourselves have said – in this most esteemed body’s own words:
At the heart of the European project, it is important to provide the means for intercultural dialogue and dialogue between citizens to strengthen respect for cultural diversity and deal with the complex reality in our societies and the coexistence of different cultural identities and beliefs. (Decision No 1983/2006 of EP and CEU)
And we would humbly supplement this noble statement, as we did last year in our address to the Plenary of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, in Strasbourg.
Dialogue is necessary first and foremost because it is inherent in the nature of the human person.
This is the principal message that we propose for your consideration today: that intercultural dialogue is at the very root of what it means to be a human being, for no one culture of the human family encompasses every human person. Without such dialogue, the differences in the human family are reduced to objectifications of the “other” and lead to abuse, conflict, persecution – a grand scale human suicide, for we are all ultimately one humanity. But where the differences between us move us to encounter one another and where that encounter is based in dialogue, there is reciprocal understanding and appreciation – even love.
In the past fifty years, our human family has experienced leaps of technological achievement undreamed of by our forebears. Many have trusted that this kind of advancement will bridge the divides that fragment the human condition. As if, our achievements had given us the power to overcome the fundamental realities of our moral and – may we say – our spiritual condition. Yet, despite every conceivable benefit and technological skill – skill that seems to outstrip our anthropological wit, we still behold the universal banes of hunger, thirst, war, persecution, injustice, planned misery, intolerance, fanaticism and prejudice.
Amidst this cycle that cannot seem to be broken, the significance of the “European Project” cannot be underestimated. It is one of the hallmarks of the European Union that has succeeded in promoting mutual, peaceful and productive co-existence between nation states that less than seventy years ago were drenched in a bloody conflict that could have destroyed the legacy of Europe for the ages.
Here, in this great hall of assembly of the Parliament, you strive to make possible the relationships between states and political realities that make reconciliation between persons possible. Thus you have recognized the importance of intercultural dialogue, especially at a time in the history of Europe when transformations are taking place in every country and along every societal boundary. Great tidal forces of conflict, and economic security and opportunity have shifted populations around the globe. Of necessity then, persons of differing cultural, ethnic, religious and national origin find themselves in close proximity. In some cases, populations are excluded from the broader societal context. In some cases, the same populations shun the greater whole and close themselves off from the dominant society. But in either case, as we engage in dialogue, it must not be a mere academic exercise in mutual appreciation.
For dialogue to be effective, to be transformative in bringing about core change in persons, it cannot be done on the basis of “subject” and “object.” The value of the “other” must be absolute – without objectification; so that each party is apprehended in the fullness of their being.
For Orthodox Christians, the icon, or image, stands not only as an acme of human aesthetic accomplishment, but as a tangible reminder of this perennial truth. As in every painting – religious or not and notwithstanding the talent of the artist– the object presents as two dimensional. Yet, for Orthodox Christians, an icon is no mere religious painting – and it is not, by definition, a religious object. Indeed, it is a subject with which the viewer, the worshipper, enters into wordless dialogue through the sense of sight. For an Orthodox Christian, the encounter with the icon is an act of communion with the person represented in the icon. How much more should our encounters with living icons – persons made in the image and likeness of God – be acts of communion!
In order for our dialogue to become more than mere cultural exchange, there must be a more profound understanding of the absolute interdependence – not merely of states and political and economic actors – but the interdependence of every single human person with every other single human person. And such a valuation must be made regardless of any commonality of race, religion, language, ethnicity, national origin, or any of the benchmarks by which we seek self identification and self identity. And in a world of billions of persons, how is such inter-connectedness possible?
Indeed, there is no possible way to link with every human person – this is a property that we would ascribe to the Divine. However, there is a way of understanding the universe in which we live as being shared by all – a plane of existence that spans the reality of every human person – an ecosphere that contains us all.
Thus it is that the Ecumenical Patriarchate – in keeping with our own sense of responsibility for the house, the oikos of the world and all who dwell therein, has for decades championed the cause of the environment, calling attention to ecological crises around the globe. And we engage this ministry without regard to self interest. As you know so well, our Patriarchate is not a “national” Church, but rather the fundamental canonical expression of the ecumenical dimensions of the Gospel message, and of its analogous responsibility within the life of the Church. This is the deeper reason that the Church Fathers and the Councils have given it the name, “Ecumenical.” The loving care of the Church of Constantinople exceeds any linguistic, cultural, ethnic and even religious definition, as She seeks to serve all peoples. Although firmly rooted in particular history – as any other institution is – the Ecumenical Patriarchate transcends historical categories in Her perennial mission of service.
In our service to the environment, we have to date sponsored seven scientific symposia that bring together a host of disciplines. The genesis of our initiative grew on the island that gave humanity the Apocalypse, Book of Revelation, the sacred island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea. And it was in the Aegean that we commenced, in 1995, an ambitious program of integrating current scientific knowledge about the oceans with the spiritual approach of the world's religions to water, particularly the world's oceans. Since Patmos we have traversed the Danube, the Adriatic Sea, the Baltic Sea, the Amazon, the Arctic Sea, and we are now making preparations to sail the Nile in Egypt and the Mississippi River in the United States next year.
What we seek is not only an ongoing dialogue that is serviceable to practical necessities, but also one that raises human consciousness. While we strive to find answers to ecological concerns and crises, we also bring the participants into a more comprehensive sense of themselves as belonging to and relating to a greater whole. We seek to embrace the ecosphere of human existence not as an object to be controlled, but as a fellow-struggler on the path of increase and improvement. As the Apostle Paul, whose 2000 year legacy both the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Churches are celebrating this year, says in one of his most famous epistles:
For we know that until now, the whole of creation groans with us and shares our birth pangs. (Romans 8:22)
Every ecosystem on this planet is like a nation – by definition limited to a place. The estuary is not the tundra, nor is the savanna the desert. But like every culture, every ecosystem will have an effect that goes beyond far beyond its natural – or in the case of cultures, national, boundaries. And when we understand that every ecosystem is part of the singular ecosphere that is inhabited by every living breath that fills the world, then do we grasp the interconnectedness, the powerful communion of all life, and our true interdependency on one another. Without such an understanding, we are led to ecocide, the self-destruction of the one ecosphere that sustains all human existence.
Thus it is that we come before you today, highlighting this Year of Intercultural Dialogue, bringing parables from the natural world to affirm your transcendent human values. As an institution, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has lived as a relatively small ecosystem within a much larger culture for centuries. Out of this long experience, allow us to suggest the most important practical characteristic that enables the work of intercultural dialogue to succeed.
Chiefly and above all, there must be respect for the rights of the minority within every majority. When and where the rights of the minority are observed, the society will for the most part be just and tolerant. In any culture, one segment will always be dominant – whether that dominance is based on race, religion or any other category. Segmentation is inevitable in our diverse world. What we seek to end is fragmentation! Societies that are built upon exclusion and repression cannot last. Or as the divine Prince of Peace Jesus Christ said:
Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand. (St. Matthew 12:25).
Our counsel to all is to recognize that only when we embrace the fullness of shared presence within the ecosphere of human existence, are we then able to face the “otherness” of those around us – majority or minority – with a true sense of the consanguinity of the human family. Then do we behold the stranger amongst us not as an alien, but as a brother or sister in the human family, the family of God. St. Paul expounds on pan-human relation and brotherhood quite eloquently and concisely when addressing the Athenians.
This is why Europe needs to bring Turkey into its Project and why Turkey needs to foster intercultural dialogue and tolerance in order to be accepted into the European Project. Europe should not see any religion that is tolerant of others as alien to itself. The great religions, like the European Project, can be a force that transcend nationalism and can even transcend nihilism and fundamentalism by focusing their faithful on what unites us as human beings, and by fostering a dialogue about what divides us.
From our country, Turkey, we perceive both a welcome to a new economic and trading partner, but we also feel the hesitation that comes from embracing, as an equal, a country that is predominantly Muslim. And yet Europe is filled with millions of Muslims who have come here from all sorts of backgrounds and causations; just as Europe would still be filled with Jews, had it not been for the horrors of the Second World War.
Indeed, it is not only non-Christians that Europe must encounter, but Christians who do not fit into the categories of Catholic or Protestant. The resurgence of the Orthodox Church in Eastern Europe since the fall of the Iron Curtain has truly been a marvel for the world to behold. The segmentation of Eastern Europe has led to fragmentation in many places. Not only does the center not hold; it is hardly discernable. Through this process, as nation states strive to re-establish themselves, it is the Orthodox Christian faith that has risen, even above economic indicators, to a new status that could not have been predicted even twenty years ago.
One of the vital roles of our Ecumenical Patriarchate is to assist in the process of growth and expansion that is taking place in traditional Orthodox countries, by holding fast as the canonical norm for the worldwide Orthodox Church, over a quarter of a billion people around the globe. At this moment, we wish to inform you that in October, at our invitation, all the Heads of the Orthodox Patriarchates and Autocephalous Churches will meet in Istanbul, in order to discuss our common problems and to strengthen Pan-Orthodox unity and cooperation. Simultaneously, we will also concelebrate the two thousand years since the birth of the Apostle of the Nations Paul.
Currently in the City (Istanbul) we are experiencing great joy and enthusiasm as we are all preparing for its celebration as the European Capital of Culture in the year 2010. The City, which has a long history, was a crossroads for gatherings of people and served as a place of cohabitation of diverse religions and cultures. This past week, we attended a luncheon hosted by the Prime Minister of Turkey in honor of the Prime Minister of Spain. As it is public knowledge, both are co-sponsors of the Alliance of Civilizations under the auspices of the United Nations. We heard their wonderful speeches which were harmonious with the diachronic tolerant spirit of our City.
Your Excellencies, Honorable Members of the European Parliament: the Ecumenical Patriarchate stands ready to make vital contributions to the peace and prosperity of the European Union. We are prepared to partner with you in constructive dialogues such as this, and to lend willing ears to the concerns of the day. In this spirit, our Patriarchate for the past twenty-five years has been cultivating and developing academic dialogues with Islam and Judaism. We have realized many bilateral and tri-lateral meetings. In early November in Athens, we will have our twelfth stage dialogue with Islam.
Parallel to the aforementioned dialogues, we continue theological dialogues with the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, and Reformed Churches. In October, at the invitation of the Pope, we will have the opportunity to address the twelfth General Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican.
In summary, the Ecumenical Patriarchate is very active in the sphere of ecumenical dialogue with the purpose of contributing to a better understanding of people, reconciliation, peace, solidarity, and for the estrangement from fanaticism, hatred, and all forms of evil.
We thank you for this singular opportunity to address you today, and we pray the abundant mercy of God and His blessing upon all your righteous endeavors. Please allow us from this honorable podium to offer our best wishes to the Muslim faithful around the globe for the upcoming Great Feast of Ramadan and also our best wishes to the Jewish faithful throughout the world for the upcoming Feast of Rosh Ha Shanah.
We are all brothers and sisters with one heavenly Father and on this beautiful planet, which we are all responsible for, there is room for everyone, but there is no room for wars and killing of one another.
We thank you once again for the great honor and privilege of addressing all of you here today.