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Your Excellency, the Deputy Prime Minister,
Your Excellency Archbishop Cirill, Archabbot of the Pannonhalma Archabbey,
I greet all of you with deep love and respect!
It is a special joy and a great honor for our Modesty to participate in this Ecumenical Symposium on Peace at the Pannonhalma Archabbey and to address this distinguished audience. We express our warm gratitude to the organizers for their kind invitation and the beautiful opportunity to attend this most interesting event.
Criticism is often leveled against the Orthodox Church, because it seems to neglect the world in the name of spirituality, it focuses on worship and the liturgical life, ignoring the reality of society, because it is oriented towards the coming Kingdom of God, forgetting the present and the signs of the times. From other perspectives, it is also said that Orthodoxy is ethnocentric, that it does not accept human rights and the modern secular state.
We would like to emphasize from the beginning that we will not present before you today an “apology for Orthodoxy”. We are speaking as the Primate of the Church of Constantinople, in the name of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, who cannot be considered to be an advocate of a closed Orthodoxy, to refuse dialogue, to be indifferent to contemporary problems and challenges of our time, to not give a current testimony of the grace that came in Christ. The Great Church of Constantinople proclaims the Gospel, fully aware that its presence “in the world” and good witness is a result and expression of its character which is “not of this world”.
We are proud of the fact that the Ecumenical Patriarchate is the first Christian Church which highlighted the spiritual and moral dimensions of the ecological problem and made a decisive contribution not only to global awareness of perhaps the greatest problem in the history of mankind, but referred to its religious roots, characterized it as a product of “sin”, underlined its cosmological and social aspects and implications, and proposed the solution, which is found in the radical change of spiritual and evaluative position towards God’s creation, in the “eucharistic use” and in the transition from “having” to “being”, from eudaimonism to the ascetical ethos. In the field of Christian ecology, all of us, not only the Orthodox believers, owe a lot to Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon of blessed memory, who died in February of this year, whom our Brother, His Holiness Pope Francis, described as the greatest modern theologian in the entirety of Christianity. May his memory be eternal!
Together with Pope Francis, we are emphasizing the social dimensions and effects of the ecological crisis and the fact that, first and foremost, it affects the weak and the poor of the earth. We emphasize that the roots of the destruction of nature and the degradation of the human person are common, the violation of his sanctity. These roots are found in the “bad alteration” of human freedom. In this sense, dealing with the ecological crisis and the social problem are indivisible actions.
Employing the terminology of the present symposium: Peace with nature is intertwined with peace with fellow human beings. Both an ecophilic stance and social justice presuppose peace with God, or rather the gift of inner existential peace given to us from God.
Rightly, the Christian revelation, the all-embracing incarnation of the pre-eternal Word of God, is characterized as the “gospel of peace” (Eph. 6:15). As the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church (Crete, 2016) recently proclaimed: ” Christ has brought peace to all through the blood of his Cross (Col 1:20), preached peace to those afar and near (Eph 2:17), and has become our peace (Eph 2:14). This peace, which surpasses all understanding (Phil 4:7), as the Lord Himself told His disciples before His passion, is broader and more essential than the peace promised by the world: peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you (Jn 14:27). This is because the peace of Christ is the ripe fruit of the restoration of all things in Him ” (The Mission of the Orthodox Church in the Modern World, III, 1).
Peace is another word for our renewal in Christ, for Christian existence in the Church and as the Church, and the “freedom, for which Christ has set us free” (Gal. 5:1). It is a gift of divine grace, peace with God, with ourselves, with our fellow man, with nature, and with the world. Christ blesses the “peacemakers” (see Matt. 5:9). The Orthodox Church prays in the Divine Liturgy “for the peace from above” and “for the peace of the whole world”. ” Grant us Your peace and Your love, O Lord our God. Indeed You have given us everything” we pray, glorifying the Giver of all good during the Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great. We, who have received everything from God, must, as those who have been greatly benefited, readily serve His will and strive for peace more than other people, for according to the Bible: “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required” (Luke 12:48). In this sense, whatever is done by Christians contrary to this principle does not fall on Christianity in general, but on those who act in violation of the divine commandments. According to Basil the Great, “no activity is so uniquely Christian as making peace ” (Epistle 114, PG 32, 528).
Thus, the Church’s concern for peace is an extension of the very essence and truth of its life, to which the struggle for the unity of the Church also belongs. In our time, this struggle is being conducted within the framework of the Ecumenical Movement, of which the Ecumenical Patriarchate is a founding member.
Quite successfully, the modern approach and the dialogue between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches were considered peace movements. In 1971, the excellent book “Peacemakers” was published, dedicated to the contribution of the Pope of Rome Paul VI and the Patriarch of Constantinople Athenagoras I. Its author, Archon Megas Hieromnimon of the Holy Great Church of Christ, Mr. Aristides Panotis, writes in the Preface: “The two Primates, as “sons of God”, accept one competition amongst themselves: the acts of peace! “Peace that opens the way of love”, as Saint John Chrysostom says… Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I are the apostles and heralds of “peace unto us”, a request and an ideal, by word and deed of the Religion that spread to the five continents of our planet. They are the “blessed peacemakers”, who will be proclaimed “sons of God” (Matthew 5.9)”.
The meeting between Pope Paul VI and our predecessor Athenagoras in Jerusalem in January 1964 was characterized as “the most important event in the history of the relations between the two Churches since 1054, as well as “the greatest event in the history of the Church from the time of the Reformation” [G. Konidaris, Die Bedeutung der Begegnung zwischen dem Ökumenischen Patriarchen und dem Papst (January 1964), Sonderheft der Internationalen Beziehungen, Zeitschrift für Aussenpolitik: Das Ökumenische Patriarchat von Konstantinopel, January 1966, pp. 91-97, here p. 96].
The face-to-face meetings and conversations of the Primates of the two Churches continued, marking the beginning of this new period in their relations. Popes Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis visited Constantinople. Ecumenical Patriarchs visited the Vatican, including Athenagoras, Dimitrios, as well as our Modesty, who also attended the enthronement ceremony of Pope Francis, something which happened for the first time in history. We also had a joint pilgrimage and meeting with Pope Francis in Jerusalem in May 2014, on the fiftieth anniversary of that 1964 meeting.
As the first Orthodox Co-Chairman of the Joint Commission on Theological Dialogue of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, the late Archbishop Stylianos (Harkianakis) of Australia emphasized: theological dialogue, as a top spiritual endeavor, “does not only need the uninterrupted accompaniment of prayer before and during this work. And this dialogue itself, as an endeavour, is the most sacred form of prayer”. [Archbishop of Australia Stylianos (Harkianakis), “The ethos of Dialogue (II)”, Voice of Orthodoxy, issue 31, July 1982, p. 74].
The path of peace of the two Churches, which continue, with tangible results and with a “common goal”, as noted by the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, is the “ultimate restoration of unity in true faith and love” (Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World, § 12). It is certain that the struggle for the unity of the Christian world contributes substantially to the promotion of religious peace, which is a basic condition for world peace.
Never in the history of humanity has peace been a self-evident situation, but has always and everywhere been the result of inspired initiatives, bravery and self-sacrifice. Peace is never guaranteed forever and requires constant struggle. In our time, the opinion was formulated that peace will prevail through a rise in the standard of living, the globalization of the economy, the progress of science and technology, the information society, education and literacy. But these expectations were not fulfilled. New challenges, the struggle to save cultural identities, nationalism, the so-called “clash of civilizations”, religious fanaticism and terrorism, the diverse interests of the powerful, social injustice and exploitation, create and fuel new confrontations, violence and military conflicts, violations of human rights and restrictions of freedoms.
In our days, we are living a reassessment of the role of religion. Religion has returned to the fore, appearing as an important factor that affects current affairs, both locally and globally. It is connected to the identity of individuals, peoples and cultures, it affects social and political life, it functions as a source of solidarity for its followers, but also of divisions and violent confrontations. It is rightly argued that any analysis of the contemporary situation of humanity, and also any of its future, which ignore the role of the “religion factor” are incomplete.
Today, religions are criticized because, instead of taking on a peace-making role, they fuel fanaticism and violence in the name of God. The question is formulated, if and to what extent the history of humanity, with the explosions of religious fundamentalism, the destruction of religious monuments in the name of different religious positions, the persecution of religious minorities, etc., allows us to talk about religion as a peace-making force. It is a fact that even today religions give welcome arguments to those who deny faith in God and to those who identify religion with its negative manifestations. It is also unthinkable that religions, instead of showing themselves as forces of peacemaking and reconciliation, fan the flames of hatred and give their blessing to violence. These facts are a deformation of the religious experience and not at all a phenomenon connected with faith, as the misinformed skeptics of religion claim. For this reason, genuine faith in God is the strictest judge of fundamentalism and religious fanaticism.
Undoubtedly, religions contain significant peacemaking potential and can contribute decisively to the cause of peace. There are motivations and urges not only for an inner peace, but also for the transcendence of violence in society, for the struggle to establish social peace and justice, for the respect of human dignity and for the protection of creation.
We support every sincere initiative for peace and settlement, and continuously fight for the strengthening of the contribution of the Churches and religions to world peace and justice. Religions and Christian Churches are called to develop their humanitarian and ecological assumptions, to promote the value of respect for the human person, to cultivate a spirit of solidarity, to contribute to the edification of man, who sees in his fellow man his brother and not an opponent, enemy and adversary, and he approaches creation not as an object of domination and exploitation, but as a divine gift.
In the Encyclical of the Holy and Great Council of Crete, it is expressly stated that “the answer to man’s serious existential and moral problems and to the eternal meaning of his life and of the world cannot be given without a spiritual approach” (§ 11). Today, forgetting the dimension of the transcendent leads to a variety of changes, both in relation to the dignity of man, as well as to the relationship with nature.
In the Orthodox Christian view, man is a “living God” (Gregory the Theologian, 45, On Holy Pascha, PG 36, 632). This is the highest honor for man, which gives him insurmountable value. The rejection of this truth leads to the shrinking of human existence and to the reduction of respect for it. The denial of man’s high destiny traps him in the limits of finitude and weakens his creative powers. Without hope for eternity, man finds it difficult to manage the contradictions of the “human condition”. As professor George Mantzaridis aptly notes, the underestimation of the truth about the deification of man in Christ is not an expression of realism and moderation, but a fallacy and failure (cf. G. Mantzaridis, Person and Institutions, ed. Pournaras, Thessaloniki 1997, p. 32-33).
These also apply to the theory of nature. If we see creation as a “very good” and a divine gift, then our relationship with it is one of respect and protection, of glorification of the Creator for the gift which testifies to His wisdom and love. As noted in the text of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, For the Life of the World: Toward a Social Ethos of the Orthodox Church, for the Church peace is ” a real revelation of the still deeper reality of creation as God intends it, and as God fashioned it in his eternal counsels… True peace is the very presence of God among us” (§ 44). When the sense of the mystery and the presence of God in the world disappears, then we easily turn the world into an object in the service of human needs, we submit nature to the harsh logic of utility, without a trace of appreciation for it.
With these thoughts in mind, we thank you once again for the honorable invitation to speak before you about the “peace from above”, the renewal and the “good transformation” of man in Christ, as this is expressed in his relationship to creation, to fellow human beings, and in the area of inter-Christian relations and the peace of religions. On these points, we have common positions with Pope Francis. The common spirit was expressed in the ecological papal encyclical Laudato Si (2015) and in the Common Message on the World Day of Prayer for Creation (September 1, 2017). The joint efforts continue, bearing rich fruit, a fact that we consider a great blessing.
Our strength is faith in Christ, an inexhaustible source of vital truths for man and the world, inspiration and creative actions. We fight the good fight in the Church, which is the place and the way of transforming the present under the light of the Kingdom of God, exclaiming at all times and at all ages to the God of peace: ” Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9-10).
Thank you for your kind attention!