UN Durban World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance

From an Orthodox Christian perspective, the virtues of diversity and tolerance provide the fundamentals for a Christian life, much in the same manner as do sunlight and water in the nurturing of a plant.  Without either of these virtues, nourishment is lacking and spiritual death is inevitable.

An Orthodox Christian celebrates the diversity of the entirety of God's creation, rejoicing in the infinite multitude of beauty and meaning which only diversity can truly manifest.  We recognize that diversity is fundamentally necessary for the achievement and sustenance of unity amongst all the members of the Church in the very same Body of Christ.  Whenever human beings fail to recognize the value of diversity, they deeply diminish the glory of God's creation.  Following the example of the three persons of the Holy Trinity--the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit--all human beings are called to exist relationally to one another, united in the bond of love, as different and unique persons, each endowed with specific talents and characteristics, each created in the image and likeness of God.  All human beings--regardless of religion, race, national origin, color, creed, or gender--are living icons of God, innately worthy of such respect and dignity.  Whenever human beings fail to treat others with this respect, they insult God, the Creator, as is explained through the teachings of the Christian Scriptures.

Orthodox Christians throughout the world live side by side with peoples of other religions and Christian confessions.  With the rapid rise of advancement in communication and mobility, human beings are increasingly liberated from the geographical boundaries which used to separate them.  As a result of recast boundaries, people now find themselves living in a global village amidst new neighbors who represent widely differing world perspectives, histories, and cultures.  The realities of pluralism challenge each person in the global village to reflect more critically upon the teachings of his or her own faith, in light of the multitude of differing perspectives.  An Orthodox Christian responds to these challenges with the understanding that we must always be tolerant of the perspectives of others, especially when such perspectives differ on the basis of religious, cultural, or historical ideology.

The Orthodox Church does not seek to convince others of any one particular understanding of truth or revelation, nor does it seek to convert others to a particular mode of thinking.  Rather, she calls all persons from all walks of life to feel the heartbeat of the Church, to sense the breath of life inhaling and exhaling from her body--the body of Christ--and to experience her maternal love and comfort, thereby being at peace while listening openly to the perspective of the other with respect and tolerance.

The opposite of the perspective of respect and tolerance is the perspective of fear and self-righteousness.  Whenever human beings react to the perspectives and beliefs of others on the basis of fear and self-righteousness, they violate the God-given right and freedom of others to come to know God and one another in the manner inherent to their identity as peoples.  Unfortunately, as a result of sin in the world, the effects of which lead ultimately to spiritual death, human beings are easily predisposed to viewing others on the basis of fear.  Such xenophobic tendencies are chiefly the result of being out of communion with God, who calls all members of His creation into His love and eternal presence.  We see the first example of such an occurrence in the book of Genesis, when Adam fell prey to the effects of evil in the world, being forced away from the close communion which he had enjoyed with God, the Creator of the world.  Yet God, out of His love for humankind, continues to call all human beings into perfect communion with Him.  When human beings are in communion with God, who Himself is the very essence of inexhaustible love, xenophobia-- fear of the other--is not possible since human beings do not see each other as strangers, but rather as brothers and sisters in communion with the loving Lord.

Central, therefore, to the teachings of the Orthodox Church is the fundamental belief that Christianity must play an active role in efforts toward the reconciliation of all peoples.  This understanding is based upon the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, who preached a message precisely of reconciliation, engaging in dialogue and conversation with peoples from all walks of life with the simple two-fold message to love God with all their hearts and to love their neighbor as they would themselves.  The reconciliatory role of Christianity can only be initiated and sustained by and through the voice and ear of genuine tolerance.  The virtue of tolerance, together with its twin virtue diversity, reflect the divine attributes of love which God maintains in His essence perfectly, infinitely, indescribably, and inexhaustibly.  The Orthodox Church, which heralds this message of love, the Christian Gospel, categorically condemns racism, xenophobia, and all other forms of related intolerance as destructive to the vision of peace which God desires and which human beings, organizations of goodwill, and above all the Church, aim to promote.  Furthermore, the Orthodox Church commends all organizations of social, international, and political character which are dedicated to the pursuit of justice, believing that the work of such organizations serves to advance the good of society, and as such is most pleasing before God.

Finally, we wish upon all men and women of all ages, religions, races, colors, creeds, and nations of our planet Earth peace and goodwill, beseeching our great and loving God that He grant to all of us the wisdom to truly see one another as we have been created, namely as brothers, sisters, and children of the Lord.  May the infinite love of God be with you all.  Amen.