Most honorable and dear brothers, sisters, and friends,
We address to you a wholehearted greeting and welcome you all fraternally on this notable day on which God has gathered us here, so that together we may make one more effort towards peaceful coexistence and cooperation among the three monotheistic religions and also among all peoples.
The well-known tragic events of the 11th of September of this year ending demand us to reveal to all peoples the peaceful and peace-loving person of God and to dispel the impression that God blesses human bloodshed.
We have always declared that war in the name of religion is war against religion, and that we must separate the political from religious activism, so that what is done by political dictates is not confused with what is taught by our three monotheistic religions.
Your presence in this hall, which reveals your eager response to the invitation to a common discussion and consideration of the subject of "the peace of God in the world," allows us to hope for the successful deliberations of this meeting, which we wholeheartedly desire.
The great erudition and the high and acknowledged moral standard and authority of all of you who participate in the present event, guarantee that the search for the truth will be sober and objective, and that peace-loving disposition and fraternal collaboration with one another will be sincere.
We thank you for your attendance and for your contributions, which we have been eagerly waiting to hear with much interest.
We also thank all those who honor this meeting with their presence and we address to them too our heart-felt salutation.
Permit, therefore, our Modesty, to expound briefly and in an introductory manner our concerns, which prompted us, together with His Excellency the President of the Commission of the European Union, to invite you to participate in this meeting.
We, the representatives of our religions, and through us these religions themselves, are accused of being responsible for destructive and bloody clashes amongst human beings. We are accused that we direct civilizations towards bloody confrontations and competitions for dominance; that we are behind the slaughtering which history has already recorded with horror and also the forthcoming one which is expected to be revealed, according to the predictions of those who think that they can foretell the future.
Often we hear the followers of one religion blaming those of another for all inhuman deeds that occur to them. We read in books, old and new, accusations against any one of the three religions that are represented here, or against all of them, of being responsible for horrific deeds and inhuman behavior towards those of other faiths, or towards those who stray from their traditional faith. Some of our critics, especially certain humanist philosophers, arrive at the point of suggesting that contemporary man should either abandon all religion or should construct a new one, of human origin and comprising all that the human spirit accepts concerning God.
Indeed, our accusers submit to the universal court of humanity an infinite series of homicidal acts of religious bigotry and religious fanaticism. They make a most severe case against us, the representatives of the religions, and against these religions themselves, by recalling a whole series of events: the condemnation of Socrates to death by the democratic court of the ancient Athenians (through a slight majority of votes) with the excuse "that he does not worship the gods whom the city worships" and introduces, instead, new deities; or, the terrible persecutions of the Roman emperors against the early Christians; or the persecutions of the Jews in medieval times by certain Christians; or the murderous conclusions of crusades and conquests; or the inter-Christian and inter-Moslem wars which produced victims by the hundreds; or finally, the contemporary racial holocausts, which are not unaffected by religious prejudices.
We ought, then, to offer a word of self-defense to those who put such devastating questions to us.
Are we really happy with the shedding of human blood? Do we bless slaughter? Do we approve of homicide? Do we believe that God is pleased with the taking of human life, or that he is satisfied with the sight and the smell of human blood?
Do we also believe that the terrible words of Krishna, which we read in the "inspired song" (the Bhagavad-Gita) and are addressed to Arjuna, are lawful in our present times as well? We mean the words: "Rise up, then, and acquire fame, through victory over the enemies; enjoy a rich kingdom; since your enemies have been already murdered by me and no one else, you alone should become the instrument" (ch. 11, verse 33).
Do we believe that God approves of murders and is in need of us to serve as his instruments of these executions?
Truly, we find impossible to accept, on the basis of the faith of all of us present here in this hall, the representatives of the three monotheistic religions, that the compassionate, merciful and long-suffering God, who does not desire the death of the sinner but rather his repentance, conversion and salvation, approves of all the abhorrent events which history has recorded with grief and our hearts behold with pain.
We then, as responsible representatives and distinguished scholars of these religions, are obliged to differentiate between the true and compassionate teaching and faith of each of them and the various heterodox teachings, which pose as expressions of the will of God in accordance with the teaching of each of them, but are in fact mere expressions of human perceptions concerning His will.
For human beings always seek a justification of their deeds and do not hesitate to claim that their actions, and especially those that increase their power and domination over their fellows, take place in conformity to the will of God. The fact, however, that there are so many rival views expressing the will of God, bears witness to the rational necessity that not all of them can be correct.
Consequently, there is need of critical investigation of all that appears each time as being the will of God, on the basis, first, of the generally accepted divine properties of love for humanity and merciful disposition and, second, of the selfish or unselfish disposition of the speaker. Beyond these, we may also consider the historical and all other conditions which prevailed at the time when the will of God was expressed, since God often tolerates on account of the hardness of heart of the people certain actions as being better than others which are worse, but not as perfect and fully pleasing to Him.
If, on the other hand, it is true, as we believe, that human beings ought to strive constantly towards improvement of their morals and their social relations, then, surely, we must today reject certain manners of behavior, as for example slavery and piracy, which in the past were deemed lawful and permissible. War too, as a means of dominating others or imposing a religious faith, ought to be included among those that need to be kept under strict moral control.
In the New Testament, the Sacred Scripture of the Christians, very little is said about material war, either casually or negatively. Much is said, however, about the spiritual struggle that is undertaken for the purpose of uprooting the evil that exists within us and for our sanctification. In addition, much is said about peace, both internal and social. Peacemakers are declared blessed, and are called sons of God (Matth. 5:9). Christians are admonished to maintain peace with all human beings as much as possible (Rom. 12:18). God is characterized as the God of peace. The word "peace" is used as a blessing and as salutation. The peace of God is given to human beings as a perfect gift, and the Incarnation of the Word of God is generally announced as the cause of peace on earth.
Likewise, in the Old Testament and in the Koran, the Sacred Books of Jews and Moslems, although much is said about various wars, peace is most clearly placed on a much higher moral level than war.
Thus, the hundreds of references to peace in the Old Testament lead to the conclusion that peace is granted as a gift from God; that it is regarded as desirable by all people; that it is recommended as something to be sought after and pursued; that it accompanies those who love the law of God; and finally, that it constitutes a divine blessing.
In the Koran peace is characterized as the supreme good (D,127) and it is explicitly stated that God invites all to the way of peace (I,26). It is said that he who murders one who did not commit murder is a murderer of the human race (E,35); and this, of course, constitutes a clear condemnation of acts of terrorism that are committed against unsuspecting innocents. The Koran also makes explicit that religion is not to be imposed. On this point, of course, others, who are more informed scholars of the Koran than we, will speak more fully.
As for us, we will only say a few words, about the position of our Orthodox Church on this subject.
For us, true peace is a great gift of God. Indeed "nothing is equal to peace" according to our predecessor St. John Chrysostom (PG 53:335). According St. Basil the Great "peace is regarded as the most perfect of blessings" (PG 30:305). Another one of our predecessors, St. Gregory the Theologian, says that, "those who appear to embrace peace are God's and close to what is divine". Thus, according to St. Basil the Great, "there is nothing as characteristic of the Christian as making peace" (PG 32:528). In this way the Orthodox Church, being fully appreciative of peace, prays daily and in each Divine Liturgy and service for the peace of the whole world and for the inner peace that comes from above.
Consequently, whatever Christians did contrary to peace cannot be attributed to Christianity, but rather to those specific perpetrators.
In our view, however, external peace is based on a peaceful relation with God and on a personal relation with fellow human beings. "If one does not conquer one's spiritual enemies (i.e. the evil dispositions), one cannot be at peace", says Abba Isaac the Syrian (Or. 68). "For nothing is as able to produce peace, as the knowledge of God and the acquisition of virtue," adds St. John Chrysostom (PG 55:57-58).
In addition, St. James writes that wars and battles proceed from the desires and especially from avarice, which leads to theft of human goods (James 4:1-2).
In conclusion, we would say that social peace presupposes inner peace and this, in turn, presupposes a peaceful relation with God and respect for fellow-human beings. The latter presuppose conformity to God's manner of life as lover of humanity, goodness and peace.
We know that there are different religious views among us. We do not consider it necessary to have these differences extinguished in order to achieve social peace. We respect our fellow human beings and their convictions, and it is exactly on this basis that we engage in dialogue and peaceful cooperation with them.
History presents to us many wise leaders, who were able to rule peacefully many nations, through showing respect for the religious and cultural particularities of their subjects, as we will hear in the special communications of this meeting.
The example of these leaders ought to be an inspiration to us. There is room today for us too to develop a sincere respect for each other, as well as a peaceful collaboration for the promotion of the peace of God in the world. The creating co-existence of the believers of the various religions, which existed in the past and continues to exist today in many countries, especially in the Middle East, constitutes a model to be imitated and adopted throughout the world.
We, the religious leaders, are obliged to lead the peacemaking process and not to follow behind the politicians. Greater still, it is not fitting for us to create obstacles to peace through preaching fanaticism and bigotry.
We are certain that no one from among the distinguished representatives and the believers of the various religions, who participate in the present meeting, is deprived of good dispositions vis-à-vis the peace of God and the peaceful co-existence and cooperation among the members of the monotheistic religions. This is because we do not speak of a syncretistic combination of faiths, but of a cooperation of human beings, while the faiths are preserved.
We pray wholeheartedly that the peace of God may descend into the hearts of all. Amen.