Your Excellency the President of this University,
Your Excellencies, the Ambassadors,
Most Erudite Academics,
Most Wise Scholars,
It is with deep joy and satisfaction that our Modesty appears before you. We are grateful to His Highness, the Emir of Qatar, because he has nobly invited us to this historic and honored country, so that we can exchange a dialogue of information, concerning the inter-religious discussions, which the Ecumenical Patriarchate has sponsored for some years now, mainly between the three monotheistic religions, and especially between Islam and the Orthodox Christian Church, in which we are the first Hierarch in the order of seniority.
We express therefore our warm thanks for this kind invitation and for the subject on which you desire to hear our views and information.
This university space reminds us of the importance of the objective, dispassionate and attested knowledge, which is taught in the universities and which is the presupposition for right judgment on any subject; and even more so for the most serious subjects of the co-operation of believers of the various religions and of the peace among them.
It is well known to everyone that we live in a world, which has arrived at the unity of the acknowledgement of God. Each human being proceeds in his life having in mind the teachings of his ancestors concerning God and of the environment within which he was developed. The contemporary possibilities of communication have informed even the remotest inhabitants of the earth, that people in different lands entertain a variety of perceptions about God. Nevertheless, God is one and people ought not to have different perceptions of Him, just as there ought not to exist different perceptions about each of us, given that each of us is one and a unique person.
It is an indisputable fact, however, that human beings entertain different perceptions about each other and about the person of God. This surely does not mean that each of us exists as many times as the perceptions that others entertain about him, and by the same token that there are as many Gods (as the perceptions about Him), or that God reveals Himself differently to every human being. It means that the eyes and above all the hearts of human beings are different, and as a result of this they see differently one and the same object. Let us offer an example: If one and the same person happens to be loved by another and hated by yet another person, then, for him who loves, this person will be beautiful, sweet and pleasant, whereas for him who hates, this person will be repulsive and ugly.
What should happen? Should we kill those who have different perceptions than our own about persons, God and existing things? But who shall extinguish whom? What is the objective criterion of the truth, so that we can determine that it must be imposed, since each of us believes that he possesses the full truth? If we allow anyone to impose his perception on others by the use of force, then surely by the same logic and argumentation the others will also desire to impose their own perceptions on him and we shall arrive at the degenerate state of the European Hundred Years War between Catholics and Protestants, which rendered hundreds of thousands of victims.
It should be noted here that differences of perception exist not only between the religions, as for instance between Islam, Christianity and Judaism, but also within each of these religions. For example, Christianity has three great groups, Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism and Protestantism; but even within these groupings there are various subdivisions. Islam has been divided differently, as you well know, and Judaism has its own divisions.
All the adherents of these various creeds, and we ourselves who entertain our own convictions each one individually, have been placed by God on the planet earth, each of us in his place of course, where there is usually one dominant faith, but we often find in the same place the co-existence of adherents of different faiths. What should we do in light of the fact that we do not agree? Should we let the stronger impose his views on the weaker by force, thus making power the criterion of truth?
But the Koran says that religion is not something imposed (2,257) and the Gospel says, that he who freely wants should follow Jesus, which means that violence against one’s will is unacceptable.
In addition, history and common experience teach, that the man who finds himself closer to God and His truth is often deprived of human material power. As a well known poet of the Islamic tradition puts it, “The man of God is a king that wears a humble garment. The man of God is a treasure inside a ruin” (Jalal-ad-Din Rumi).
Since, then, material power is not a criterion of the truth, neither a means for establishing it, we need to find a way of avoiding power confrontations. This desired way is, in our view, the way of rational discourse which is exchanged in discussions and dialogue.
Rational discourse and discussion is an important gift of God to man. God constantly discourses with man. He addresses him through the silent rationality of His creatures, through the rational discourse of the Prophets and the Saints, and through the words of the wise and each man’s conscience. Human beings constantly converse with each other on various subjects.
Observing this constant dialogue of personal beings, we thought that the hour has come for us, the faithful of different religions, to engage in dialogue of good will with each other in order to remove longstanding misunderstandings and tensions and to achieve better possible conditions in our peaceful co-existence. The hour has not yet come to discuss theological subjects or subjects that are purely matters of faith. Yet, we are in a position to discuss whatever contributes to mutual understanding, improvement of the image that each of us has for the other and straightening out situations and problems that hinder the cooperation of the peoples.
It was with this spirit and disposition that we ourselves together with outstanding Moslems summoned a good number of academic conferences with top representatives of the two religions and cultural traditions. The topics that we have so far discussed in these conferences two of them held in Istanbul, are the following:
1. Authority and Religion .
2. Models of historic co-existence of Christians and Moslems and future prospects.
3. Peace and justice in the tradition of the two monotheistic religions.
4. Religious pluralism.
5. The youth and the values of moderation.
6. Education for understanding and co-operation.
7. The educational system in Islam and Christianity.
8. Perspectives of co-operation between Christians and Moslems on the eve of the new century.
9. Christians and Moslems in modern society: Images of the other and the meaning of citizenship.
There were also other meetings widened by the participation of representatives of the three monotheistic religions, such as the meeting of Istanbul in 1994 that produced the Bosphorus Declaration, as well as the meeting in Brussels, last December, and others. We are able to say that the idea of an inter-religious dialogue is becoming more widely acceptable and that the dialogues, without displaying yet visible results on the peace of the world, prepare the hearts to accept the peaceful co-existence of human beings of different faiths and constitute an invitation to rejecting as false the ominous predictions of certain thinkers who claim that a clash of civilizations with a religious basis is inevitable in the future.
In the context of the widening acceptance of the dialogue we may also mention the invitation extended to our Modesty to visit the Islamic Republic of Iran and the then Emirate and already Kingdom of Bahrain. We joyfully accepted these invitations and during our visits we had interesting and useful discussions with political and religious authorities of each of these countries.
If the inter-religious dialogue is going to lead to certain commonly accepted and applicable conclusions it ought to remain inter-religious. This means that the problems of the present time, which are usually political, ought to remain at the margin of the discussions. Not because there is lack of interest in their resolution, but because when they are charged with religious coloring they become less easily solvable or even insolvable because they are diverted by the insolvability of the religious differences.
The average man is simultaneously a member of his country and his religion. It is difficult for him to distinguish in each case whether a problem is religious or political, so that he can follow in his effort to find a solution either the political or the religious way of proceeding. Nevertheless, no problem is sufficiently and clearly comprehended, including the elements that are constitutive of it, without a proper analysis, and without a clear comprehension and planning no problem is satisfactorily solved.
It is obvious that the religious leader is also a member of a particular society and bears on his shoulders a relative amount of common responsibility for its well being. The religious leader, however, ought to see things much more analytically and to discern when he acts as a citizen in accordance with the ethnic or cultural interest of his country and when he acts as a religious leader, expressing the will of God according to his perception.
This is not always easy to do. Indeed, it becomes extremely difficult when the same person bears the double identity of political and religious leader. And such cases, when one and the same person had to carry both identities, are quite a few in the course of history in both of our religions. In Christianity, however, this phenomenon has occurred mainly in the Catholic and the Protestant Churches, whereas in the Orthodox Church it was kept to the minimum. The historical memories of political and inter-state clashes, which occurred under the leadership of persons that were simultaneously vested with political and religious authority, makes quite difficult for us today to discern whether they were directed by God in all their activities, as they claimed, or by their own objectives and desires, which they regarded, rightly or wrongly as commandments of God.
All the same, our purpose at this time is not to judge the actions of persons, which God and history will judge and concerning which each of us has his personal opinion, which is to be respected by all. We only wish to stress the great responsibility, which we have as religious leaders, when we address the faithful as communicators of the will of God. We have this responsibility both before God and before our fellow human beings, and it is rather one of the greatest responsibilities that a man may undertake.
Therefore, it is clear that a religious leader ought, in our opinion, to form his judgment concerning the will of God without being led astray by criteria, which lie outside his religious faith. But even within his religious faith he can find solutions of various classifications in the ladder of perfection that leads to the highest will of God. There are, however, only a few who are willing to observe fully the perfect will of God. For this reason, the merciful and compassionate God has a second will, which can be more easily accepted and observed, and even a third and a fourth, and so on.
On this point we have said on another occasion, that the perfect will of God is that we love each other to the extent that we sacrifice ourselves, the one for the sake of the other. When, however, we cannot do this, then, we ought at least to collaborate with each other. If it happens that we are unable to do even this, then, at least we should not let ourselves fight each other. But if we fail to achieve even this, at least we should observe the international rules of war, such as the protection of those unarmed, the care of the wounded and the captives, the respect for cultural monuments, and so on.
Surely, similar classifications of the will of God exist in most cases in life. The religious leader ought to constantly try to raise the moral level of his people to higher levels. And the invitation that all religious leaders of all religions, and especially those of Christianity and Islam, assist to raise the moral level of the people is one of the purposes of the inter-religious dialogue.
At this point, we ought to clarify and to underline for the purpose of removing any misunderstanding, that we do not wish to see the creation of a universal religion, consisting of the common elements of all the existing religions. Also, we do not strive to promote a theological dialogue concerning the truth of each creed, each religion, or the superiority of the one or the other among them. We only strive to promote mutual understanding of the faithful, cultivation of tolerance and co-operation among them for peaceful activities, respect for the faith of each other and creation of a climate of reconciliation and peaceful dialogue on any subject that appears to be detrimental to peaceful relations among human beings.
On the basis of these general aims, we are able to mention some of the expected results of the inter-religious dialogue.
And first of all, we ought to mention the abolition of mistrust among Christians and Moslems, which has been bequeathed to them to a considerable degree by the heavily loaded historical past. Unfortunately, this mistrust has not yet been extinguished, but is rekindled from time to time by authors from both sides. Yet, the projection of possible or impossible suspicions regarding the intentions or actions of the one or the other party and the cultivation of a climate of fear renders no benefit, but rather inhibits normal life and progress, increases the unproductive expenditure for encountering foreseeable dangers and disturbs the psychological peace of the citizens. Through dialogue it becomes amply clear that it is not the difference of religion that causes tensions, and so the quest for the true cause or causes is turned to another area of life, where they can be more easily identified and treated.
Secondly, a better understanding of the way of thinking of the faithful of each religion is achieved from the faithful of other religions. This removes many misunderstandings, contributes to an appropriate adaptation of behavior of the one towards the other, to respect his convictions and towards better collaboration.
And thirdly, it incurs mutual acquaintance of the top representatives of the religions and the development of personal bonds and relations between them – a fact that facilitates further dissemination and cultivation of peaceful relations, given that these top agents play an important role in the formation of common opinion of the faithful of the religion to which they belong.
Surely there are also other beneficial results from a well-conducted inter-religious dialogue, and among them, the blessing of God is of no small consequence. Our experience so far gives us optimism and hope. But, of course, no one is ignorant of the fact that such great and important results take time to mature. Nevertheless, no well-intentioned effort remains totally unproductive. For this reason we do not lose our hope, but we struggle with faith and love to promote the dialogue, which brings us closer to God, as it brings us closer to one another.
We thank you because you listened with interest and attention to the humble and informative address of our Modesty. We wish you all every blessing from God. We kindly ask that you allow us to close this speech with a few verses from a poem of Jalal-ad-Din Rumi that bears the title “religious strife:”
-The blind religious practitioners are in a dilemma.
-But the worthy practitioners from the one or the other side stand firm.
-Each side is happy with its way.
-Love alone can stop their strife.
-Love alone brings assistance when you ask for it against their arguments.
-Eloquence is dumb founded before love:
-and does not dare start a controversy
-It is like a beautiful bird that has perched on your shoulder and your soul is afraid in case it causes it to fall off:
-you do not dare either to move or to breathe
-Love is like this bird: It makes you silent.
-It places the lid on the pan that is boiling.
-Let us all wish that this love may direct the hearts of human beings. Let it be so.