Your Eminences and Excellencies,
Distinguished Faculty and Students of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem,
Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem is indeed honoring us by conferring upon our humble person a Doctorate Honoris Causa, which we accept wholeheartedly and gratefully. We consider this gesture a tribute paid to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Great Church of Christ, in recognition of its many initiatives, especially on matters related to the protection of the natural environment, to the culture of solidarity and to interfaith dialogue.
It is our deep conviction that in these fields, the contribution of religions remains crucial. In the last decades, we have witnessed a re-evaluation of the role of religion in the public sphere and its contribution to face the major challenges of today. Religions have preserved high values, precious spiritual and moral heritage, as well as deep anthropological knowledge. We cannot understand and properly evaluate human cultures in their unity and diversity without reference to their religious roots.
It is not by chance that, in our present day and age, the talk about the coming “post-religious age” has been replaced by the discourse of “a post-secular period,” in which religions claim and play a public role and join all the remarkable efforts of humankind. For His Eminence Walter Cardinal Kasper, it is a commonly accepted truth that “every society needs institutions of transcendence,” which publicly represent the “dimension of the Divine.”
Unfortunately, the ongoing outburst of religious fundamentalism and the terrible acts of violence in the name of religion provide additional arguments against faith to the modern critiques of religion, and support the identification of religion with its negative aspects. The truth is that violence is the negation of fundamental religious beliefs and doctrine.
To that end, please allow us to quote what the Encyclical of the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, which convened in Crete in June 2016, says about religion and violence:
“We are experiencing today an increase of violence in the name of God. The explosions of fundamentalism within religious communities threaten to create the view that fundamentalism belongs to the essence of the phenomenon of religion. The truth, however, is that fundamentalism, as “zeal not based on knowledge” (Rom 10.2), constitutes an expression of morbid religiosity.” (§17)
For several centuries in the past, the Mediterranean region has experienced a peaceful cohabitation of Jews, Christians and Muslims. This experience demonstrates that people from different religions can live together, finding basic principles in their respective traditions that promote solidarity and common witness. It shows that religions can serve as bridges between people, as instruments of peace, tolerance and comprehension, as well as for the rapprochement of cultures.
Interreligious dialogue does not mean to deny one’s own faith, but rather to change one’s mind or attitude towards the other. In this sense, it can also heal and disperse prejudices, and contribute to a mutual comprehension and pacific resolution of conflicts. Biases and aggression come from the misrepresentation of religion. This is why interreligious dialogue can chase away fear and suspicion, and foster a spirit of confidence and respect, as stated by the aforementioned Holy and Great Council:
“Honest interfaith dialogue contributes to the development of mutual trust and to the promotion of peace and reconciliation. The Church strives to make ‘the peace from on high’ more tangibly felt on earth. True peace is not achieved by force of arms, but only through love that ‘does not seek its own’ (1 Cor 13.5). The oil of faith must be used to soothe and heal the wounds of others, not to rekindle new fires of hatred.” (ibid.)
Since 1977, the Orthodox Church has been in dialogue with Judaism, always aiming for better mutual understanding and rapprochement. Aware of its continuity with the Old Israel, the Orthodox Church calls for fidelity to our common roots, as well as to the necessary openness required for the deepening of dialogue—essential for the life of our communities—as well as for the protection of religious freedom. We would like to remind you of what we said when we visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in May 2014:
“The future can be no better than the past, if people from all cultures, religions and political thought do not learn well the lessons of the Shoah. Great tyranny and oppression were stopped in some small way by ordinary people, many of whom are commemorated in the Garden of the Righteous among the Nations.”
Among these Righteous was an Orthodox nun, Maria Skobtsova—an angel to the poor—who died in a gas chamber at the Ravensbrück concentration camp in 1945 because of her solidarity with the persecuted Jews. She was canonized as a saint by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in January 2004.
We are committed to dialogue as an openness towards the other and as a pathway towards common responsibility and cooperation. Dialogue promotes confidence and mutual acceptance. It is both, a gesture of solidarity, and a source of solidarity. We constantly repeat that dialogue has neither winners, nor losers. The Ecumenical Patriarchate fosters not only interreligious and intercultural dialogues, but also fruitful encounters with secular institutions and the disciplines of philosophy and science, all of which are carried out in a spirit of love and responsibility for the human being and creation. We mention the Conference on Peace and Tolerance held in Istanbul (1994), which launched the Bosphorus Declaration, stating that a crime in the name of religion is a crime against religion. We also recall another important Conference in Brussels, which took place in December of 2001, on the peaceful coexistence of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. This conference rejected the accusation against religions as the cause of the clash of civilizations, and underlined the role of faith as a catalyst and platform for the creative encounter of cultures.
The credibility of religions today strongly depends on their attitude towards the protection of human freedom and dignity. This is the presupposition not only for peaceful coexistence, but also for the sheer survival of humanity. Only together can we face contemporary challenges. Nobody—not a nation, not a state, not a religion, nor science—can face the current problems alone. It is overly utopic to believe that a culture of solidarity can be established through globalization, economic progress, the internet, or even through the admirable progress of techonology. We need one another; we need common mobilization, common efforts, common goals and a common spirit. Therefore, we regard the present complex crisis as an opportunity for practicing solidarity, for dialogue and cooperation, and for openness and confidence. Since we share a common future together, consequently, the way toward this future is a common journey.
In recent years, we have experienced a serious economic, social and political crisis, connected with the process of globalization and its implications, the surrender of culture to economy—the so-called “fundamentalism of the market”—an increase in poverty, the tragedy of migration, the explosion of religious fundamentalism and international terrorism, growing ecological problems and the effects of climate change. In our eyes, all these are expressions of a worldwide crisis of solidarity.
Faced with this multifaceted crisis, the Ecumenical Patriarchate declared the year 2013 as “the year of universal solidarity.” In the respective Patriarchal Encyclical for Christmas 2012, we articulated the conviction that the ongoing worldwide economic and social crisis expresses a loss of the spirit of solidarity and compassion. Our aim was to sensitize individuals and peoples to poverty and to the great inequalities that exist in our world today. We underlined the necessity for initiatives to relieve those in need and to ensure that every human being enjoys their right to the essential goods of life.
True faith does not release humans from being responsible for the world, for respecting human dignity and for struggling for justice and peace. It does not betray earth for the sake of heaven, nor the present for the sake of the future. On the contrary, it strengthens the commitment of human action, and it enlarges our witness for freedom and core human values.
In this spirit, we are also commited to the protection of the natural environment, the oikos, the “house” of humanity. We see with great interest that the Hebrew University of Jerusalem is also engaged in environmental sustainability. Some even call the Rehovot campus of your university a “Green Campus” for being so eco-friendly. We, at the Ecumenical Patriarchate, are convinced that ecological commitment is not a topic of any one religion. Rather, it should be a concern for all religions, governments, civil society, and all human beings of goodwill. We cannot separate our concerns for human dignity, human rights or social justice from concerns for ecological preservation and sustainability. If we value each individual person made in the image of God, and if we value every particle of God’s creation, then we would also care for each other and our world. In religious terms, the way we relate to creation in all of its beauty directly reflects the way we relate to God and to our neighbor.
That is why on September first, 1989, our venerable predecessor, the late Ecumenical Patriarch Demetrios, sent the very first Patriarchal Encyclical to all the Orthodox Churches throughout the world establishing the first of September—the beginning of the ecclesiastical year—as the Day of Prayer for the Protection of Creation. This initiative was quickly followed by the Conference of European Churches, the World Council of Churches, and more recently, the Roman Catholic Church, by our brother, Pope Francis.
In the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed—the foremost symbol and declaration of the Orthodox faith—the Orthodox Church confesses: “one God, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.” Indeed, the Orthodox Christian perspective on the natural environment originates in the basic belief that this world was created by God. This is a fundamental article of our common spiritual heritage, which is founded in Holy Scripture, and states that “God saw everything that was created and, indeed, it was very good.” (Gen. 1.31)
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We have repeatedly stated that the crisis we are facing today is a spiritual one. It has to do with the way in which we perceive our relation to God, to ourselves, to our fellow human beings and to creation as a whole. Religion can grant the right spiritual inspiration and orientation urgently needed today. It is, indeed, a fact that religion can humanize people, and it can support the struggle for freedom, peace and justice. Unfortunately, it can also fanaticize and dehumanize humans by cultivating fanaticism, and fostering fundamentalism and aggression. Therefore, the essential dilemma of humanity today is not between “having religion or not having religion,” but rather: “what kind of religion.” Religion is required to contribute to the protection of human freedom, to dialogue—guiding people to a change of mind and life—and to the depth of Truth.
Concerning the question of whether or not humanity is allowed to expect such an important contribution from the side of religion, we provide the following answer, with which we conclude our speech: Our biggest mistake is not the fact that we expect so much from religion, but rather, that we don’t expect even more from this great spiritual power—deeply rooted in the human soul—on matters concerning peace, solidarity, the meaning of life, and the eternal destination of the human being and creation.
Thank you for your attention!