Address by Patriarch Bartholomew at the 20th Eurasian Economic Summit, Istanbul, April 4-6, 2017

Your Excellencies, Dear friend, Mr. Akkan Suver, Distinguished participants,

It is an honor once again to be invited to address this gathering of the Eurasian Economic Summit, organized for the 20th time here in Istanbul for high-level dignitaries and policy-makers to consider the relationship between international economy and global security in our troubled age. We wholeheartedly congratulate the Marmara Foundation for having the courage and vision to establish this groundbreaking initiative, which has played a crucial role in assembling so many world leaders on such compelling challenges of our time.

Our session is dedicated to “the contribution of religion to peace in order to overcome the environment of violence and terror, as well as the association between migration and terrorism.” Therefore, our focus will be on the responsibility of religion and religious leaders in stemming violence and diminishing terrorism in all its horrible forms.

Dear friends,

Nobody, not a religion, not a nation, not a state, not science and technology, can face the contemporary unforeseen challenges alone. In our present day and age, we must promote cooperation and mutual trust. Building bridges is the way to our common future.

Religions are diminishing their capacity to contribute to the precious culture of solidarity because of their antagonism and wide-spread fundamentalistic tendencies. The way to overcome these difficulties is the unwavering commitment of religions to peace in the world and to interreligious dialogue. To succeed in this task, together with the sensibilization of consciences, a stronger mobilization on the action-level is needed. The credibility of religions today depends on their attitude towards the protection of human freedom and dignity, as well as on their contribution to peace. Peace between cultures and nations cannot be reached without the efforts of religions and without dialogue and peace between religions. It was in this spirit that our Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, established a sincere dialogue with Judaism and Islam nearly three decades ago, with remarkable results in mutual understanding, peaceful coexistence and cooperation.

Religions can fanaticize people, they can divide and foster hatred and violence. But, they are also able to humanize people and to support and empower their struggle for freedom, justice and reconciliation. We must work constantly and consciously, so that the contemporary, yet ambiguous, “return of God” and “renaissance of religion” will not become a return of war, conflict and violence in the name of God and of religion, but a return of the “God of peace” and the rebirth of the “culture of solidarity”.

Real peace in the world is not simply the absence of war, but, essentially, the presence of freedom, justice and solidarity. In our time, this essential peace is connected with the respect of human rights, which have been called the “common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations”. Surely, human rights are not the solution for all political and social problems in contemporary societies, but, nevertheless, an effective and proven tool for the protection of human dignity. Currently, the implementation of human rights strongly depends on the attitude of world religions towards them. Definitely, both human rights movements and religions protect human dignity, even if they have different theoretical foundation of this highest value of humanity.

With this conviction, the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, which was convened under our chairmanship on the Greek island of Crete last June, emphasized the Church’s contribution to facing current challenges such as secularization, globalization, the ecological crisis, injustice etc., as well as the necessity to face the phenomenon of the extreme violence in our world, the immense migrant and refugee crisis and to promote peace and a culture of dialogue. It had been several centuries since a similar council – with the same breadth and representation – had assembled in order to share common concerns and decide on common matters.

Permit us, therefore, to refer you to the landmark Encyclical of this Council, communicated by the Primates of the ten Orthodox Churches that participated, together with their official delegations.

In that remarkable document, we professed that, while not becoming embroiled in politics, the Orthodox Churches – and here it may be helpful for all of you to substitute the phrase “the Orthodox Churches” with the word “religions in general” – cannot remain isolated or indifferent to the developments of our world and to the predicaments of its inhabitants. On the contrary, religious leaders are called to stand in solidarity and demonstrate compassion for all people, especially those who are suffering.

Therefore, we would like to simply quote three excerpts from the Encyclical of our Holy and Great Council:

a) 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 … Honest interfaith dialogue contributes to the development of mutual trust and to the promotion of peace and reconciliation … 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. (Paragraph 17)

b) The Orthodox Church follows with much pain and prayer … the great contemporary humanitarian crisis: the proliferation of violence and military conflicts; the persecution, exile and murder of members of religious minorities; the violent displacement of families from their homelands; the tragedy of human trafficking … She condemns unconditionally the abductions, tortures, and abhorrent executions. She denounces the destruction of places of worship, religious symbols and cultural monuments … We therefore urge all parties involved, irrespective of religious convictions, to work for reconciliation and respect for human rights, first of all through the protection of the divine gift of life. (Paragraph 18)

c) The contemporary and ever intensifying refugee and migrant crisis, due to political, economic and environmental causes, is at the center of the world’s attention. The Orthodox Church has always treated and continues to treat those who are persecuted, in danger and in need on the basis of the Lord’s words: “I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me to drink, and was a stranger and you took me in” … We appeal therefore first of all to those able to remove the causes for the creation of the refugee crisis to take the necessary positive decisions. We call on the civil authorities, the Orthodox faithful and the other citizens of the countries in which they have sought refuge and continue to seek refuge to accord them every possible assistance, even from out of their own insufficiency. (Paragraph 19)

Beloved summit organizers and participants, dear friends,

Such, then, are precisely the parameters within which we are convinced that religion can play a vital and prominent role in the sacred effort toward the reconciliation of all peoples to establish peace and in the blessed work of breaking down barriers of fear or prejudice. The protection of human dignity must be at the center of the witness of religions today. It is up to us – and all of you – to make it happen.

God bless you all.