Concluding Address: The Peace of God in the World Conference, Brussels
Most honorable and dear participants in the present meeting,
We have been filled with joy having heard during these days various views being expressed concerning the peace of God in the world, agreeing with each other, although they originate in many and different religious traditions.
The common point, which conjoins all of our views and us, is that we place the person of God as the starting-point of our existence and the will of God as the foundation of the moral evaluation of human behavior. For us the world has a purpose; the human existence has a purpose; history is moving towards an end and spiritual laws govern its path, just as natural laws regulate the harmonious operation of the universe. It is the good Creator that placed all these purposes and laws and the harmonization of our life with them as a guide to our eternal bliss.
There are two other positions that stand against this common faith. The first one dominates a great number of human beings of the so-called Western Civilization and has its foundation in the kind of autonomous humanity that has been cut off from any relation with God. The second ignores the unique person of God and tries to approach natural life and supernatural reality by means of a multitude of spiritual beings, which, under various names and characteristics, control the freedom of humanity. Both of these positions lead to a hopeless emptiness, because they do not supply either a satisfactory answer to the panhuman quest concerning the meaning of existence, or a possibility of personal relation with the other person that is constantly being sought.
To fill this emptiness, the autonomous human beings of the West keep inventing life-theories and ideologies, which, as abstract intellectual constructions, do not supply any experience of relatedness, nor do they abolish loneliness. The human beings that seek to communicate with the spirits, either in the East or in the West, discover that no warmth and no love grow between them, but rather a relation of servile dependence.
We who believe in a personal God have received the experience of His love and peace, which come to dwell in our soul, fulfilling it and giving rest to it, as the communion of personal human beings with the great God is restored. There is a multitude of lovers of God throughout the centuries who have expressed this love towards God with superb poetic constructions.
"Let my meditation be sweet to Him" sings David, the prophet-king (Ps. 103:34). "Who shall separate us from the love of God?" exclaims the Apostle Paul (Rom. 8:35). "Beginning and end You are to me in all the treasure of my life" sings the contemporary Moslem mystic (Ishmael Emre, Breathings).
There is, then, one, but essentially common point among all of us and this is the love towards God and the personal relation with Him. The most delicate and sensitive spirits of these three religions the more they approach God and are refined, the more they advance towards the understanding of the faith and religious experience of the other. One may differ in many respects as far as the traditional faith of the other is concerned, and yet he may also sense that both himself and the other seek the same person of the Most High, the God of All-goodness.
What is regarded by some as an extreme viewpoint, namely, the following statement of a contemporary Moslem theologian, that if the scandal of the Cross did not exist, then Islam and Christianity not only would have been drawn closer together, but also they would have been fused to form one religion, is rather typical (Nasr. Cf. Dr. Hasan Hanefi, Le monde islamique entre revolutionaires et reactinaires,Verse et controverse, Le Musulmans, Paris 1971, p. 55). Equally characteristic is what the Greek-Jewish poet Yosef Eliyia wrote: "You are not the first, nor the last to be Crucified, O sweet Jesus, in this world of bitterness and envy; and yet, your glory is immaculate within the race of the mortals. You may or may not be son of God, yet you are a God of pain!"
Those who wrote these texts were certainly sensitive recipients of the love of God and in some way bridge makers of communication among the believers of the three religions. If we stand with befitting awe before the personal search of each soul, who, born in a certain religious tradition, opens her wings in order to fly into the search for the Beloved, we realize that it is our human duty to show absolute respect for the personal journey of every human being towards the supreme love. Then we are able to embrace that soul in peace and to follow her journey in utter silence and prayer, whether she walks along with us, or whether she follows another path, because God, her Beloved Lord, expects her and will show her the way. No push, and no pressure are needed from our side; only affection and peace.
There are also, of course, the less sensitive souls, who have little interest in the love of God. If we wish to lead them to it, we also need peace. Because the turmoil created by conflicts can hide the voice of love.
Finally, there are also the nihilists, who are happy with the mere enjoyment of this fleeting life in a spirit of egocentrism. To them, peace is a useful means of achieving their worldly objectives, which can be replaced at any moment by another condition, which serves these better.
As religious ministers we cannot endorse the abolition of peace, which others use as a means for their egocentric aims. Neither can we endorse the irregular condition, which they again create in order to facilitate their aspirations. We firmly insist on the peace of God as the godliest of all conditions.
But we are not satisfied simply with a moralistic condemnation of violence, on the mere basis of humanist principles, which cover up the emptiness of life of religious nihilism and secularism. The obvious and vital operation of religious faith is that which enlightens the meaning of existence and of the co-existence of human beings as a personal relation between man and the personal God and consequently among human beings. We do not take up the role of a moralist pedagogue, who sanctions regulations and takes care for their observance. We propose a manner of life in communion with God and with our fellow human beings, a manner that is imbued with faith, i.e. confidence, without which no personal relation can develop.
Our present proposal is the fruit of our life experience and renders redundant the condemnation of violence, of bigotry, of fanaticism. Because the development of the proposed personal relation renders impossible the exercise of violence and fanatical or hateful actions against the beloved person with whom we are in communion of love and confidence.
Fanaticism and fundamentalism render null and void the religious faith as confidence and personal relation. This is because they put in the place of the personal call of God for personal relation of love and for spiritual relation with human beings, the objectified truth, which, is like a road-roller that flattens the persons for the sake of achieving an ideological twist. Personal relation is always a relation of absolute and personal freedom, and hence the religious faith as personal relation is always an offspring of freedom.
The "ego" refuses risking the personal authority. It is satisfied with the relation to authority. It refuses the insecurity of the acceptance of the "thou" as of equal value with itself and prefers the security of the personal ideological twist, which justifies all its personal choices.
Faith in God and confidence in His Word demands the opening up of the Ego to the Thou of the fellow human being. This opening up is the foundation of religion and when it is achieved it is accompanied by peace, in the ancient Semitic and comprehensive meaning of the word, i.e. as fullness, blessing, repose, life, prosperity, harmony with nature, with fellow human beings and with God, and generally salvation and glory.
This peace, which is the real offering of religion, passes all understanding and is certainly incomparably higher than any conventional social order and harmony, which is achieved through respect of human rights, through dialogue, collaboration and reconciliation. This is because all these social goods, which are truly worthy of attention and pursuit, and which are indeed met within any contemporary pluralistic society, do not incur personal communion of her members or compensation for the deepest feeling of loneliness and isolation, which the members of the contemporary multitudinous societies that consist of a great multitude of individuals who never communicate with each other do experience.
This lack of personal communion in love constitutes the basic ground on which every kind of painless attack against fellow human beings is developed, whether this finds its expression as economic exploitation, or as violence, or as a hedonistic usage, or as any other form of objectification of it.
As religious leaders, acquainted with human imperfection, we speak the language of the truth adapted to the spiritual level of each one.
We condemn terrorism as socially harmful. We recommend peace and cooperation of citizens, independently of religious faith and of every other distinction, as socially advantageous.
Above all these, however, we place the personal relation of love towards God and fellow human beings. This relation is the perfect model, towards which we must strive and when this is accomplished and to the extent that it is so, it abolishes violence and war and establishes peace, because "love does not think of evil" for any fellow human being (I Cor. 13:5).
With this feeling of love towards all fellow human beings, those that share the same faith, those that differ in faith, those that agree and those that disagree with us, we conclude our present discourse. We thank you for your attention and your patience in listening to us, as well as for your effective contribution in the achievement of our peaceful cooperation for the establishment of the peace of God in the world, and we address to you our wholehearted farewell.
May the Grace and the rich Mercy of God be with you all. Amen.