On Thursday and Friday, September 1-2, 2011, His All-Holiness presided over deliberations for the Synaxis of the Heads of the ancient Patriarchates and the Autocephalous Church of Cyprus at the Patriarchal Church of St. George at the Phanar. In attendance were
Patriarch Theodoros II of Alexandria and All Africa, Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem and Archbishop Chrysostomos of Cyprus, together with their entourages, as well as Bishop Isaac of Apameia representing Patriarch Ignatius of Antioch. The main focus of the Synaxis was the plight of Christians in the Middle East; other issues of Panorthodox interest were also discussed.
Message of the Heads of the ancient Orthodox Patriarchates
and the time-honored Autocephalous Church of Cyprus
To the plenitude of their Churches and to all people of good will.
Beloved brothers and sisters, children in the Lord: rejoice in the Lord at all times!
“We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thess. 1.2-3)
Adhering to the injunction of the Apostle, according to which in the Church of Christ “whenever one members suffers, all members suffer with it; and when one member is honored, all members rejoice with it” (1 Cor. 12.26), we have assembled at the See of the historical and martyric Ecumenical Throne, at the invitation and under the presidency of the first among us in order and honor, in order to experience and declare the love of Christ that binds us (2 Cor. 5.14) at all times, and most especially in times of trial and tribulation.
We have gathered here as those bearing the responsibility for leadership and pastoral guidance of the ancient and historical Churches, which were founded by the Apostles of Christ and which were proclaimed autocephalous by the Ecumenical Councils of the one, undivided Church, in order to revive a former practice, as well as in order to exchange thoughts and reciprocate love and solidarity as a result of all that is occurring these days in the historical territory of the geographical region where divine providence has assigned our Churches from the earliest of times.
By divine providence, the Church of Christ, as historical reality, was born in the land of the so-called Middle East. Its founder and foundation, our Lord Jesus Christ, was born in the flesh in Bethlehem of Judaea (Matt. 2.1), where he chose His twelve disciples and apostles, commissioning them first to preach His Gospel in that land (Matt. 10.6), where he suffered and was resurrected, and where the first Church of Jerusalem was established, from there reaching “all nations.” (Matt. 28.19) It is in this region that the first great centers of Christianity were founded and flourished – the Churches of Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Cyprus – and the entire system of the united, undivided Church was instituted.
In this region, the Church of Christ, especially the Orthodox Church, has its deep roots. This region was sanctified by the blood of the martyrs and the tears of the ascetics of the Orthodox faith. No person possesses the moral right to overlook this fact, and every worldly authority is obliged to respect it. The Christians of the Orthodox Churches in that region have lived there for centuries, and no “ethnic cleansing” or “religious purging” can either remove them or in any way impede their free existence or activity without violating the most elementary human rights.
Abiding to the Biblical principle, that “the earth is the Lord’s, and all the fullness thereof” (Psalm 23.1), the Orthodox Church has never hindered people of other religious conviction from peacefully coexisting with it in the same region. Even when other religions forcefully acquired the land where it had lived for centuries, it found ways to adapt to and coexist in a peaceful manner with followers of other religions. Intolerance has never characterized the Orthodox Church.
Unfortunately, in our time, the fear of others, of those who are different, has increased and intensified. Christians themselves tend to become victims of this situation, particularly in the region of the Middle East. In many cases, Christians are treated as “second class” citizens. In other cases, their places of worship – which often constitute renowned monuments of civilization – are profaned or destroyed, or else where the performance of religious services and education of clergy are restricted. In addition to all this, occasionally there are examples of assaults of bloody violence against Christians, deriving from extreme circles of religious fanatics. It goes without saying that Christians, too, wherever they may be, are obliged to respect the places of worship and communities of other religions.
We Orthodox believe in the word of Scripture, that “perfect love casts out fear.” (John 4.18) We do not fear other persons, irrespective of their religion. We embrace them as brothers and sisters, while expecting them to behave in the same way toward us. At the same time, we do not refrain from demanding the protection to which we are entitled by the states where we live. This, we believe, is the sole solution to the problems of the greatly tormented region of the Middle East, as well as of the entire world.
Let us, therefore, increase our inter-Christian and inter-religious dialogue of reconciliation. The Ecumenical Patriarchate has for many years now instituted an interfaith dialogue with the other two monotheistic religions in accordance with the relevant decision of the 3rd Preconciliar Panorthodox Consultation (1986). We applaud and support this endeavor, especially in these difficult times, when violence shakes the region where the commandment of love and message of peace were first heard.
Thus, we address politicians and religious leaders both in the Middle East and the entire world, calling upon them to create principles and commitments for peaceful coexistence among the faithful of various religious traditions, while at the same time declaring our solidarity with all those enduring discrimination, violence and persecution. We stand in suffering beside our brothers and sisters plagued by violent conflict, the innocent victims of military strife, and the multitudes obliged to abandon their homes in order to pursue the harsh way of emigration. We comprehend peoples’ desire and demand for political liberty and call upon the appropriate governments to proceed immediately with complete assurance of these rights. The Church does not interfere in politics, rendering “to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matt. 22.21) Politics as a method of resolving human problems belongs to others, and not to the Church. Nevertheless, the problems in themselves, and the fundamental anthropological and sociological principles for resolving these cannot leave the Church indifferent, especially when they threaten or endanger the dignity and freedom of the human person as “image of God” (Gen. 1.26) or of His “very good” creation. (Gen. 1.31)
This last point regarding the protection of the natural environment tends to be undermined or else regarded as being of secondary importance under the stifling pressure of political, social and economic problems, which today trouble the region of the Middle East. However, this perception is both erroneous and dangerous. The destruction of the natural environment will completely annihilate any apparent social and economic obligations resulting from any political change, for which struggles are conducted today at the expense of many lives. This led us to the decision of adopting the proposal of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, according to which we should soon prepare and achieve an encounter of religious leaders in the region, where a form of “Mediterranean Charter” would be drafted and proclaimed. In this way, the Orthodox Church would not only fulfill its obligation before God’s creation, but would also contribute to the peaceful coexistence and cooperation among religions in this region today torn by conflicts in the Mediterranean.
Beloved in the Lord,
“Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts.” (Rom. 5.3-5)
Our minds and hearts are with all those who suffer terribly in the region of our Churches, those deprived of freedom and religious rights throughout the world, and especially in the Middle East. Religious leaders of all faiths are obliged to contribute with all our strength to the peaceful coexistence of all religious communities in the region of the Middle East. This territory must and can become a land of peace and friendship among all people.
In announcing these things from this Center of Orthodoxy to all people of good will, we embrace and bless everyone with love.
At the Phanar, September 2, 2011