Beloved Brothers Participants of this Conference,
Welcome to the second Conference for peace and tolerance, which will study this topic, particularly in reference to the areas of Southeast Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia.
We would like to extend the warmest greetings of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, as well as our own personal wholehearted friendly greeting, and we wish you that the works of this conference will be very fruitful.
At this moment we remember with a lot of emotion the previous conference that was convened on the same topic with the participation of many of you. The aforementioned Conference had then produced the famous “Bosphorus Declaration”, in which the conclusions of that Conference were expressed.
Subsequently, we would like to refer to the fact that many times the various conflicts do not have religion as their cause, as for example is the case in the recent warfare in Serbia, where the situation was exploited by many at the expense of religion.
It is very unfortunate that the aforementioned areas have been seriously hurt and affected, not only by political, but also by religious disputes and conflicts, which are to be seen in the sense that the disputers belong in their majority to various religions, the leaders, or even the faithful of which many times justify and prolong the desire for conflict. The study therefore of this topic is not only very current, but also very useful, since it is anticipated that today’s dialogue will unveil possibilities of understanding, or at least of avoiding the participation of religion at large in the worsening of the situation.
We know that it is difficult for a member of an ethnicity, or of a racial group, which is fighting to accomplish certain purposes, to remain unbiased, and even more so to go against them via logical arguments. What happens usually in such cases is that this member is in danger of being considered a saboteur of the ethnic or racial interests, a compliant, or even a traitor, who will be condemned, or even undergo persecution and retaliation. However, the enemies negotiate amongst them the peace, and the peoples accept that each effort for the accomplishment of ethnic or racial purposes is time-limited and must at some point come to an end. For the unconditional continuation of confrontations and hostilities entails exhaustion and harm for all parties involved.
The religious leader, as well as each faithful, is of course subject of the general ideology of the group to which they belong. It is very difficult for someone to ask for their differentiation. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to ask for their consent, prudence, spirit of conciliation, and their examination of the interests of their peoples without a blind fanaticism, but with reasonable criteria. Since even military generals examine carefully the preconditions for a successful outcome of an operation, and then after careful consideration decide whether or not the cost ratio per capita and victims argues for the realization of this operation, then of course each member of a group should evaluate their data accordingly. Now, during the evaluation of the data the religious leader should not be influenced by emotionalism or fanaticism. He should not hastily consider his own judgment as the will of God, and should therefore not assure the faithful that God blesses those actions that he himself considers useful for the realization of the goals of his group.
Daily experience teaches us that in areas of conflict, whether intra-religious (between the various religious convictions within the same faith), or inter-religious (between faithful of different religions), all conflicted parties believe that God blesses their actions. This is impossible, since we all believe that God is one, that He has one will, and that He does not like bloodshed. If we accept the oneness of God’s will, we come to the inevitable conclusion that it is not possible that God blesses the completely opposing views of two opponent religious leaders. Thus, one of them expresses his own view, and not that of God, not to mention that there is a possibility that both, or even the majority express their own view and not that of God. No matter how much the representatives of the religious truths dislike this fact, we are driven to a relativism of the religious truth, every time we rule in the name of God for situations and actions for which God seems to have expressed Himself differently in the various religions, or seems to have not expressed Himself at all.
In an effort to avoid giving to our fellow human beings the impression that due to our authority we vest our personal views in a garment of divine descent, and therefore bring about the general discard of any respect towards religion at large, which, to a great extent, has already happened, the religious leaders among us ought not to ascribe our political evaluations to God.
We are of course aware of the fact that the opposite tactic was employed over the centuries, and that it is extremely difficult to change that overnight in our times. Nevertheless, it is also necessary that we mature and observe the chronological character of some expressions of the Holy Scriptures of the religions. If there is a passage in a Holy Book, approving of a slaughter, that does not mean that it condones of every slaughter. Whatever has been approved in an era under certain circumstances does not necessarily mean that it applies for all times, and under definitely different circumstances. For truly the absolutely same circumstances do not repeat themselves for a second time in history.
If we want to find passages in our Holy Scriptures that justify our views, we will of course find some, either by means of our interpretation, or by means of our misinterpretation, for undoubtedly, all Holy Scriptures praise peace, justice, and cooperation. If we guide our efforts towards this direction, namely highlighting peace, justice and cooperation, then we will indeed offer virtuous and philanthropic services to modern human-kind. If however, we choose to do the opposite, then we will do nothing more than support destruction. And since God does not want anybody’s destruction, this should then be the basis of our conversations. It is only by searching for our common grounds, not of course for the sake of achieving the impossible unification of our faiths, but for the accommodation of our peaceful coexistence, that will we be helping both our fellow believers and non-believers to discover God’s goodness and thus become consciously believers.
Finally, before we end our opening speech, we would like to take the opportunity and on behalf of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, of all of you, but also on behalf of our Modesty personally, to express our gratitude to the authorities of the honorable Turkish Republic that have given the permission to convene this Conference, and who participate in this Conference with the Head of the Religious Affairs Directorate, Professor Ali Bardakoğlu.
We wish that during this Conference, with the contribution of all You beloved discussants, many steps will be made towards the peaceful coexistence of the peoples of different religious beliefs. Looking forward for your presentations, we thank you for your attention.