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Statement of Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church of Constantinople, His Eminence Emmanuel Print E-mail
Your Eminence, Your Excellencies, high-level participants, dear guests!

I hold it a great honor to speak at this international forum in order to share with you some thoughts about the importance of dialogue, in particular, inter-religious dialogue. I would like to thank President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, His Excellency Nursultan Nazarbayev, for the invitation to participate in this important event. This is the third Congress, held in Astana, and I'm sure many will follow the noble example of the Kazakhstan side. I am convinced that all of us equally respect the dialogue and believe in its power, and this respect has gathered us together with a peacekeeping mission. It is because of the value of the dialogue, we were able to gather here to discuss our common problems and concerns, not just to voice them, it would be only a partial solution, but also to find common ways to overcome our problems and awaken the spirit of peace-building and mutual trust, not just between us but also among our brethren in faith. This is a long-term objective and promising direction for us.

Let me first of all to congratulate His All Holiness Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew, who appointed me as his representative on this forum. His Holiness is an ardent supporter of interfaith dialogue, and our genuine and sincere devotion is well-known to everyone. The Orthodox Church, and especially the Ecumenical Patriarchate, have always supported peaceful coexistence of all people and all nations regardless of their language and culture, religion and political beliefs, because all people are created in the image and likeness of the God, comprise the image of the God and are equal to each other.
Since the days of Plato to the present day dialogue is a ubiquitous means of communication. Plato wrote about this in his work, presenting the studies of Socrates, and since that time dialogue has become a peaceful means for overcoming disputes and reconciliation of the opposing parties, dialogue for all the time was a direct and effective way to end the violence. Dialogue by its nature has evolved and become a necessity for use in all spheres of life. Austrian-born Jewish philosopher of the XX century, Martin Baber, attached to dialogue central importance in his philosophy, considering it as a more effective means of communication, rather than a purposeful attempt to make any decision or to express a point of view. English quantum physicist, David Bohm, has created a related form of dialogue, where the sides agreed to leave the tactics of debate, but trying to convince and state given their own experience. From this point of view, dialogue is based on our efforts to continue common journey through life.

This present dialogue is an essential condition for overcoming the lack of understanding, exchange of information and inspiration as well. Dialogue should be applied everywhere, under all possible modes of communication, reflecting the degree of development of our society. Dialogue between followers of religions should be synonymous. The present dialogue in any case does not mean obedience to the will or opinion of another. We should not stop reminding the world that dialogue should be used as a means of exchanging ideas or opinions on certain issues, achieving mutual agreement in terms of equality, that leads to adoption of actions or decisions establishing the ideal form of communication in our modern, multicultural society. How do we know about each other, if we do not communicate? We must always remember that dialogue is a more objective way than debates, more sincere than just a polite conversation, and more acceptable than a skillful discussion. Dialogue implies respect for all parties involved in the process, observance of the rights of those who comply with them themselves, listening to those who can listen, awareness of thoughts, desire for collectiveve understanding, development of common understanding and covering all possibilities. This is a process demanding process a lot of time and honest relationship.

Interreligious dialogue is even more delicate process. Many obstacles such as fear, demonstration of force, mistrust, external influences, strifes and poor conditions of communication, hinder this process and encourage development of a more confrontational forms of communication such as discussion and debates. We, however, know that this should not happen to us. From time to time the present dialogue is able to turn into an everlasting process, slowly progressive and questioning true intentions of conversations, but it is ultimately an expression of self-restraint without humiliation.

\St. Paul in his address to residents of Ephesus said “we are called to live our lives with moderation, kindness and patience toward each other through love, seek to preserve the unity of souls through consensus. Only patient attitude to the hardships of others will help us move forward. The Bible of Jacob says that everyone should always be ready to listen to the other, take time to speak, take the time to be angry, because anger can not lead to godly life that the God commanded to us. How true are these words, and do not all of us try to live exactly in this way?

Dialogue is not an judgment, weighing or making decisions, dialogue is understanding and learning. It is destroying stereotypes, gives hope and helps people to be open perspectives that are so different from their own. These perspectives are, of course, are particularly sensitive as to the religious sphere. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that this is the most acceptable way of knowing each other and destroying misconceptions and misunderstanding.

Consequently, this means that, first of all, we need to know each other through rich religious traditions, because the only mental clouding and religious prejudices of the past have a negative impact on our relations with “others” in our modern, multicultural society.

It is well known, and all of us are aware that the image of the “other” more or less were victimized in all religions as a result of mental stupefying and support unhealthy trends insulating introversion or even distrust among representatives of different religions. Interreligious dialogue has always been and still is the only way to effectively treat these abnormal divergences in inter-religious relations because it is the only common point of convergence between ethical and spiritual values of mankind and the Creator of the universe that has real value not only for mutual understanding, but also for taking the identity of “others” in their true values. Consequently, taking the divine source of our religious traditions as a foundation and permanent guide, we impose at ourselves a great responsibility to demonstrate that virtually all religious traditions do not exclude, but, on the contrary, even encourage fruitful cooperation of believers in the modern multicultural society. Common religious, spiritual and moral values are not the only source, but the prospect of inter-religious dialogue. Interreligious dialogue can provide general awareness the fact that “other” is an authentic extension of our being and deserve our full respect. What divides people, united by the Lord God!

The Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Orthodox Church many times expressed their commitment to interfaith dialogue through the decision-making at Pro-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox conferences that continue to support inter-religious dialogue. In preparation for the Holy and Great Council the first Pro-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference in 1976 announced its intention to the Orthodox Church to cooperate in a spirit of mutual understanding with other religions to combat bigotry and to establish peaceful coexistence between people. Proposals put forth in 1976 were updated, improved and systematized into a more advanced and truly important Declaration of the Third Pro-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference (Chambesy, 1986), “The contribution of the local Orthodox Churches to establishment of peace, justice, freedom, brotherhood and love between people and elimination of racial and other forms of discrimination”. This declaration called for the local Orthodox Churches, “to contribute to development of inter-religious cooperation, and consequently, cooperation among nations and triumph of freedom and peace in the world for prosperity of modern mankind, regardless of race or religion. Of course, it is clear that such a cooperation excludes every kind of syncretism, as well as any attempts on the part of any religion to impose their views on others”.

Metropolitan Damaskinos, my predecessor for Interreligious Dialogue of the Orthodox Church with Judaism and Islam, says in his statement: “All of us know that national, political and ideological unrest of recent times relegated the role of religion to a secondary position regarding solving social problems of spiritual and modern human society. All of us know that a religious sermon was set apart in the education system with a view to over-persuade an “independent person” postulated by the secular society of our times. However, we also know that this man is a man who believes that our people, tired of the pressure of religious contradictions and seeking in their religious experience to the lost paradise of spiritual dialogue with the God to take care of his neighbor and the world having clear idea of it.”

Many people, believers and unbelievers, are convinced that the main purpose of our dialogue is to promote ideas of tolerance and no more. Interreligious dialogue should not be viewed simply as a means assisting in establishing tolerance. Tolerance should lead to a meaningful discussion, but, as Goethe said, tolerance was to become an intermedium and must change recognition. Simply tolerance degrades. Of course, the special mission of Christians goes beyond formal tolerance, and seeking to interfaith peace is predetermined by the importance of its historic commitment predetermines. In this respect, inter-religious consultations are not only timely, but also very important, as they were held shortly before rising many nationalist, religious and spiritual unrests caused by plummeting of atheistic and totalitarian regimes of socialism and the “dictates of the new era” mostly determined by economic criteria and obvious problems in the sphere of moral values at the global level. Moreover, it should be an absolute respect for the right to freedom of conscience and religion, prescribed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and other UN documents, and on this basis, any kind of dialogue or inter-religious cooperation may confirm its usefulness, because the right to freedom of conscience and religionis the mother of all human rights.

Despite the differences in worship and theological studies, all religions stick to common moral studies, which are based on peace and concord. International forums on inter-religious dialogue hold leading positions in light of the role played by religion in international affairs, and may favor the promotion of common moral values as a means to achieve peace on the Earth, peace, which will provide for future generations the opportunity to live together in peace and concord. Disagreements and strafes always were a part of human history and, unfortunately, they do not disappear suddenly on their own. Despite everything, we are called to fight for a better world for a better future. We can not be suppressed hatred and should continue to strive for peace and carry out a peacekeeping mission, to be honest, as required by our beliefs. If we are true to our forefather Abraham, the desire for peace must be our top priority. The Ecumenical Patriarchate began in 1977 a series of interfaith dialogues with Jews, and several years later - with the Muslims, in order to establish peace on the Earth. Now, more than thirty years, we are happy to see that this initiative have been continuing to work and bearing fruit, because it has improved our bilateral relations and served as an example for others.

In addition, inter-religious dialogue has provided for us the opportunity to witness the fact that no matter what the source of peace and tolerance has been appeared. The representatives of Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Muslim and Jewish communities in South-Eastern Europe, together with representatives of the European Union, NATO, OSCE and regional governments, met in the cloister Vlatadon in Thessaloniki in May of 2000 in order to develop a joint program for strengthening peace and reaching compromise. Participants said in the joint final communiqué, that “religious communities must play the key role in restructuring of multi-faith and multinational societies of South-Eastern Europe” and stressed that “the conflict in former Yugoslavia, are of a non-religious character”. Thus, the Vlatadon initiative has provided constructive basis for deepening relationship between the many ethnic communities.

His Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in his address to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg said: “It is well known that the inhabitants of our planet profess different religions, and in many cases, different trends and religious movements, very often with conflicting beliefs, developed within each religion. Also history knows many cases in the past, and in some cases in our time, when religious arguments were advanced for soliciting people and sometimes entire nations to wars or strengthening militancy of the conflict. But at least we, people of the so-called Western civilization, were convinced that the adherents of real faith, by its nature, do not see any advantage of involving their followers into wars and conflicts with the faithful of other religions, because, if anything, true faith bear relation neither to militancy nor to superiority in numbers or in any other aspect. Truth is known through universal and personal knowledge and experience with a pure and selfless heart.” Let us not forget application of the Berne Declaration of 1992, Bosphorus Declaration of 1994 and the Brussels Declaration of 2001 that “the crimes committed in the name of religion constitute a crime against religion”. This statement summarizes our firm belief that as peacemakers we are called to do everything in our power to ensure applying religion only as a bridge between people in our multicultural society, rather than dividing wall. All three monotheistic religions have the same requirement to keep peace. This is the only way for us to ensure nipping conflicts on religious grounds in the bud, and we will be able to achieve this goal only if we continue to make efforts to educate and inform our co-religionists of this basic universal Command. And this forum is an excellent reason that our voices can and will be heard around the world.

With hope and prayers for the fact that we, religious leaders, we will be able to build the world based on mutual respect, tolerance, recognition and cooperation, especially in this time of global financial crisis that has engulfed our country, let us turn our hearts and minds to the God and continue our worthy cause Him to have the opportunity to reward all of us with eternal peace.

Thank you.

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