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Religious Tolerance: Combating Racism, Xenophobia and Unfavourable Discrimination

 

 

 

Your Royal Highnesses,
Your Excellencies,
Dear Distinguished Delegates,

It is with great joy indeed that we participate in this Conference, albeit we do not represent some specific state, or national or international organization, but rather the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which is accorded precedence over all Orthodox Christian Patriarchates and Autocephalus Churches. The reason of our joy is that this Conference revolves around the topic of religious tolerance and combating racism, xenophobia and unfavourable discrimination, a topic that concerns us most deeply.

We say this because the Ecumenical Patriarchate is not a national organization and does not represent any particular national or local church, such as that of Greece, or the one in Turkey, the Country of its seat, but is a supranational ecclesiastical institution, holding within its bosom the faithful of many nationalities and maintaining a benevolent and equitable disposition that is open to all human beings on equal terms. It is an institution in which the experience of living in religious tolerance is a gorgeous reality, for we bear respect toward all our fellow humans, irrespective of their faith. Without any trace of fanaticism, or unfavourable discrimination on account of differences of religion, we coexist peacefully and in a spirit that honours each and every human being.

Furthermore, we stand firmly against racist ideology of whatever description. As far back as in 1872, a time when nationalism was rife in Europe and abroad, as propounded in chauvinist theories and a host of pan-slavist, pan-germanic and generally pan-nationalist movements, we had condemned nationalism and racism by conciliar decision, for leading to the establishment of national Christian Churches, and rendering the unifying message of the Gospel the servant of divisions and conflicts between nations. Many centuries ago, at a time when the latinization of all nations was pursued by authorities in the West, we as Ecumenical Patriarchate did not waver in our resolve to create a special alphabet for the Slavic language, thanks to the efforts of our missionary saints Cyril and Methodius, and into it to translate our church books, promoting the establishment of a new, non-Greek civilization: the civilization of the Slavs. We have sought in each country and continue to seek indigenous leaders for the local Churches, and when these are discovered or trained, we assign to them the responsibility of governing them without any racist considerations or discrimination. History records a multitude of such instances, and the present situation bears out our position, even though nationalist tendencies may still be in evidence amongst certain ecclesiastical figures, though naturally without our approbation.

Quite recently, in 1976 to be exact, on the occasion of the IV Preconciliar    Panorthodox Conference held in Chambésy, Genève, we expressed the desire that the Orthodox Church should contribute towards upholding the Christian ideals of peace, liberty, brotherhood and charity amongst peoples and towards removing racist discrimination by means that should go so far as to include inter-religious cooperation, whereby we should seek to accomplish the eradication of fanaticism whatever side it might stem from, and thus bring about the reconciliation of all peoples and the spreading of the ideals of freedom and peace in the world, in order to render service to modern humanity regardless of race or religious conviction. This matter has occupied us and we have discussed the means whereby the Orthodox Church might contribute towards the effort to eradicate racism and the fanaticism that derives from it. Extreme racism indubitably breeds or provokes religious fanaticism that results in the scourge of terrorism, which in our present era delivers its blows on humanity so tragically and extensively.

We are not afraid of strangers: on the contrary we cherish them. The fulfilment of the apostle's exhortation "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers" (Heb. 13,2) is our daily practice and has been so for centuries, without concessions to any form of discrimination.

For all those reasons we consider the topic of your conference most familiar and dear to us and are gladdened that humanity has progressed insofar as to put forth such a demand on behalf of all human beings for what we have always been preaching, even though many have regarded it as utopian, as it is put forth by means of the present conference and by numerous other praiseworthy activities of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and of several other international Organizations and Agencies.

We have often declared the view that all humans are equal in spiritual terms and equal before the law, a view that is espoused by all sensible people, regardless of religious conviction, and have spoken repeatedly of the necessity that all should welcome the alterity of others and of their cultures amicably, with all that such an attitude should entail.

With every given opportunity we emphasize that minorities' religious rights have to be respected and that one of the most substantial amongst those rights involves the ability of each Minority to educate its religious functionaries under the care of its specially trained exponents, lest, in having this task assigned to others, outside the Minority, the direct and all too real risk arise of gradually distorting the content of the Minority's religious tradition. That is in fact the reason why all the missions that seek to distort peoples' religions seek to gain access to their educational system and to exert their influence thereby.

Overstressing racial origins for one, and racism even more so, as well as unfavourable discrimination perpetrated by any powerful majority against powerless minorities for racial, religious, linguistic or any other reasons, together with xenophobia are ideologies and mental attitudes that are entirely opposed to the attitude, the convictions and the principles espoused by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which is the main exponent of the Orthodox Church. Its appellation as "Ecumenical" seeks precisely to denote the manner in which it embraces all the denizens of our inhabited planet, our ‘ecumene', as equal and equally acceptable.

Thus, from the Ecumenical Patriarchate - perhaps the very first institution historically to be accorded the title "Ecumenical" (VI century A.D.), denoting its universality not in any sense of holding dominion over the world, but in the sense of accepting all human beings as equals - we feel profoundly moved by emotion as we address to you our most cordial words of greeting and praise for your work.

We realize of course that there have been times and places when Christians did not bear out the brotherhood of humanity by the manner of their lives, Christians who often sought to find justification for their self-seeking discrimination against their fellow humans in the holy texts of their faith. However, those were but deviations from the right path, and grievous sins on the part of those who comported themselves in such a condemnable racist manner. Surely such censure cannot be levelled against healthy Christianity which unequivocally abjures racism, discrimination and xenophobia.

In the first half of his life, while he remained ignorant of Christ, St. Paul, the Apostle, Jewish by descent and possessed of a broad education encompassing Judaism and Hellenism, was virulently intolerant and persecutory of the Church of Christ, under the influence of the attitudes of certain Jewish circles of that time. Once he came to know Christ, he transcended nationalism and religious intolerance, and, with his Hellenistic education assisting, became sensible of the unity of humankind, and the equal love that God bears toward all human beings. From that time onwards he valiantly declared the equality of all before God, which ought to become also the equality of all before one another. He is worthy of veneration for having conceived and expressed the profoundest tenets of Christianity regarding the brotherhood of humanity through pithy and unforgettable statements such as: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." (Gal.3,28).

Just a few simple words overturned all the distinctions between human beings that obtained at the time. That was immensely daring for his era, an era that recognized bondage as a lawful and morally correct institution, an era that regarded women as chattels, an era when the prevalent attitude amongst Jews was that they were God's chosen people who had to keep themselves pure from any mingling with the society of the gentiles, an era also when other peoples strongly experienced a sense of their supremacy over all others, as was the case with the Romans vis-à-vis all other nations.

Of this declaration, that was so revolutionary for its time, upsetting established order as it did, the present conference is a fruit and an outcome. Of course not all of its participants are adherents of the religion preached by Apostle Paul, but we rest assured notwithstanding that the principle he uttered in the words we quoted stands true and indispensable for peaceful coexistence and progress to be achieved by humankind.

Nationalism of all types and the racial discrimination based thereon, oppressive measures often reaching the extreme of obliterating minorities of various kinds, unfavourable discrimination based on religious considerations and oppression, violations of prohibitions of religious conversion often carrying the death penalty, the extreme disadvantage at which women find themselves in many lands and peoples, all kinds of exploitation of children, xenophobia and atrocities perpetrated wantonly against strangers for the sole reason that they differ from the majority inhabiting a given place, are all shameful and deplorable blots on our civilization: blots that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, in holding this conference, is commendably seeking to eliminate.

May it be permitted to our humble person to express the view that racist nationalism is profoundly irrational. The racist views of any Nazism absolutely lack any scientific basis. They are the product of empty egotism, which instead of seeking – as it should – to reward those who possess it on the basis of their good and meritorious works, establishes their domineering views merely on the accident of their racial origin, in other words on a fact upon which no person is worthy of praise, since such a person has engaged in no honourable effort in being born within any given race. Thus those who boast merely over their racial origins are deserving of our pity, rather than of our esteem, for they have nothing of their own to contribute and thus seek to make much of qualities which they took no pains to make their own.

Correspondingly, xenophobia is the product of a timorous conscience, namely of individuals who lack sufficient self assurance, who do not feel secure in their personal status. Strangers are thus regarded as threatening, as posing a hazard.

It is precisely when we feel deficient in our self assurance and confidence that we consider others, especially aliens, as the root cause of our worry and turn against them in the hope that by removing them we remove the danger that ostensibly threatens our being. Nevertheless the insecurity that breeds xenophobia is ingrained. It is not aliens that cause it. It pre-exists the presence of aliens and simply seeks to set up aliens indiscriminately as the object upon whom to place the blame for its existence. Proof of the truth of this is found in those great nations and confident peoples who receive aliens favourably and put their wherewithal to use for their progress.
The situation becomes unbearable for indigenous minorities, for those who exist within intolerant societal majorities, for they are deemed alien whilst being equally indigenous as the majority. On many occasions the majorities merely indulge in intense attempts to assimilate the minorities culturally, religiously, nationally and linguistically. There are other more painful instances when majorities will be looking for scapegoats for their backwardness, or for their failure to progress, and find them in the members of the minority, against whom they turn virulently with the aim of destroying them, exterminating the minority as the ostensible cause of their real or imagined woes, despite the fact that the minority in question is actually not in the least responsible for what it is being blamed for. And then there are occasions when confrontations drive minorities to take desperate measures of a bellicose nature that exacerbate the conflict and drive away any hope of peace.

Regrettably the societies of our time have yet to reach the necessary level of maturity to become fully accepting of strangers. The clause of the European Treaty in respect of freedom of residence constitutes a courageous impetus towards the right direction, but certain reasonable reservations are bound to curtail its breadth of application. The reason for this would be that unrestricted freedom of establishment, if it oversteps certain boundaries, will certainly spark off adverse reactions, because societies have not yet reached the advanced degree of freedom espoused and instituted by the Treaties.

For our part we pray that society will mature beyond the limits envisaged by the Treaties so that all of humanity, imbued by the spirit of brotherhood, will coexist in equitability, freedom and mutual respect. And with such a prayer we come to the close of our brief address and express our gratitude to you for having invited us to this forum, and for the attention with which you have followed our words and add our prayer that the work of the Conference will be crowned with success, and that during its course resolutions that will benefit humanity will be achieved. So let it come about.