Fundamentalism and Faith in the New Millennium: A View From the Crossroads between East and West

Greetings and welcome to Istanbul, the seat of the Ecumenical Throne of the Orthodox Christian Church.  Here, not only the continents meet, but people from all over the world gather to enjoy the mystery, history and majesty of the Queen City.  Today, we are deeply honored to receive so distinguished a group of chief executives.

When first we received an invitation from the Chief Executives Organization, we thought for a moment we were being asked to join.  The age qualification was not a problem; and as the spiritual leader of 350 million Orthodox Christians worldwide, we definitely have more than 50 full-time employees.

But then we considered your categories -- President, Chairman, CEO, Managing Director, Publisher, or Head Partner.  Unfortunately, as you can see, there is no listing for Patriarch.  So instead of joining you, we are hosting you here in Turkey.

May we say that, in deciding to meet in this place and time, you have chosen well.  As chief executives, one of your duties is to explore new frontiers.  The last great frontier was Eastern Europe, where free enterprise is now taking root.  But the next great frontier is the Islamic world, and the path to that world begins in Turkey, which is now approaching admission into the European Union.

We stand today at a crossroads, in every sense of the word.

Literally, we are at the crossroads between continents, that is between Asia and Europe.  Istanbul is the only city in the world that straddles two continents.

Figuratively, we are also at the crossroads between two sometimes antagonistic civilizations, that is between East and West.

And metaphorically, we are at one of the great crossroads in human history, a moment in time when, by the grace of God, a window of opportunity has opened for peace, reconciliation, and unity.

Some have pointed to a modern "clash  of civilizations" as inevitable.  We who live at the crossroads disagree  --  indeed, we are living proof that different cultures and different faiths can coexist in peace.  Although many of you have come to Turkey for the first time, you surely are not strangers to the legacy given the world by the diverse civilizations and cultures that have blessed this sacred soil.  It is in this land - that the Creeds we confess as Christians were first proclaimed.  It is in this land - the First Ecumenical Council established, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the canon which is revered today as the New Testament.  It is in this land - that the constitutional and dogmatic framework of the Christian Faith was formulated.

We do not deny that tensions and deadly rivalries exist; but we must not deny that it is possible to surmount them.

Distinguished guests, we live in an age of wonder and glory.  Justice "has run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream" (Amos 5:24).  A tide of tears has washed over our world, and as it recedes, it sweeps away much sorrow and pain.

The curse of communism has all but disappeared.

Palestinians and Israelis have made peace -- and Jordan has joined them, too.
In Haiti, the sword of the generals has yielded to the ploughshare of democracy.

In South Africa, hatred, intolerance, and violence are giving way to brotherhood, democracy and understanding.

For the first time in memory, the people of Northern Ireland are working to solve their problems with words, not weapons.

We have grown accustomed to a steady diet of miracles; we have come to expect them, like the days of the week.

We do not ignore the tragedies that continue in Bosnia, Burundi, East Timor, Sri Lanka, and so many other places  --  too many other places.  But amid the rubble of our tragic century, the heart of humanity still beats  --  we must not fail to hear it.  Amid the gravestones, the human spirit is emerging  --  we must not fail to see it.

We have been given a rare opportunity.  "You have shown your people hard things:  you have made us to drink the wine of astonishment." (Psalm 60)  Somehow the world is growing weary of bloodshed;  it is tiring of fanaticism;  it has drunk the wine of astonishment.  We must build on this.

There is a great hunger for spirituality; there is a thirst for transcendent meaning.  We believe that, as we enter the next millennium, religious values, religious feeling, and religious faith are undergoing a massive revival.

Since the Enlightenment, the spiritual bedrock of western civilization has been eroded and undermined.  Intelligent, well-intentioned people sincerely believed that the wonders of science could replace the miracles of faith.  But these great minds missed one vital truth  --  that faith is not a garment, to be slipped on and off; it is a quality of the human spirit, from which it is inseparable.  The modern era has not eliminated faith  --  you could no more eliminate faith than love.  The modern era has simply replaced spiritual faith in God with secular faith in man.

Today, three centuries after the birth of Voltaire, the pendulum is swinging back.  The 20th century showed our enormous capacity for creativity-- but it also showed our boundless capacity for destruction.  We saw 75 million human beings killed between 1914 and 1945 alone.  In its own fearsome power, humanity also recognized its own awesome fallibility.  This alone, should move us all to applaud our respective heads of state who are rightly celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations.

There has never been a greater need for spiritual leaders to engage themselves in the affairs of this world.  We must take a visible place on the stage, especially because too many crimes today are taking place in the name of faith.  "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves." (Matt. 7:15)  Although those words come from the Christian tradition, their truth is transcendent.

Religious extremists and terrorists may be the most wicked false prophets of all, for not only do they commit horrible crimes against humanity  --  they do so in the name of a lie.  When they bomb, and shoot, and destroy, they steal more than life itself -- they also undermine  faith -- which is the only way to break the cycle of hatred and retribution.

International spiritual leaders must play an active role in discrediting false prophets, and in healing the wounds of our people.  For, as Rabbi Hillel asked, "If not us -- Who?  If not now -- When? "

Last year in Istanbul the Throne of Saint Andrew convened an international assembly on Peace and Tolerance which brought together Jewish, Christian and Muslim religious leaders.  The product of the Peace and Tolerance Conference was the now famous Bosphorus Declaration, which unequivocally states that "a war in the name of religion is a war against religion."

Our Church has had its own experience with such crimes.

Today in Turkey, the Patriarchate has earned much popular support, from important national figures, down to the average man and woman on the street.

If the Church faces a threat in Turkey today, it comes not from the state, nor even from the Moslem mainstream, but from the handful of fundamentalists who have appeared on the scene in recent years.  We have seen our graveyards and monuments desecrated; we have seen bombs planted in holy places.

Fundamentalism is a threat, not only to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, but to the Turkish State itself.  And fundamentalism is a danger, not just in Turkey, but in Oklahoma City, Paris and Tokyo.

The rise of fundamentalism has given greater urgency to the cause of East-West unity.  To return to the point we made earlier, that cause would be served in important ways  if Turkey were admitted to the Customs Union.  It would help diffuse East-West tensions, bring about greater global understanding, and undermine the cause of fundamentalists and racists on both sides.

There are other events that could also make a difference.  The key environmental event sponsored by the United Nations, the second Habitat conference, will take place here in June 1996. And, if accepted, Turkey's bid to host the Olympics in 2004, could prove yet another breakthrough for East-West unity.  How marvelous it would be to see the Olympic torch carried from the sacred land of Olympia, Greece to the holy and historical soil of Turkey.  After all, in ancient times, this was the spirit and practice of the Olympic Games -- to bring a cessation of all wars and the promotion of "peace on earth and good will to all women and men."

In each of the steps we have outlined, international business has profound interests, and will play a critical role.

If Turkey is integrated into the world economy, the gate is opened wider not only to the Islamic world, but also to the former Soviet republics with strong historic links to Turkey.  These central Asian republics are in need of Western capital and creativity and entrepreneurial expertise and ideas.

Many other interests would be served by the integration of Turkey into Europe.  It would have a powerful, positive, and stabilizing effect on all of this country's institutions  --  including, of course, the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

We must put behind us the divisions and feuds of the past.  Once, only conquest united Europe and Asia; today commerce can achieve the same result.  Instead of ships full of soldiers, let us see ships full of cars and computers crossing the Bosphorus.  The modern way to bring about unity and peace is to open our borders to one another, and let people, capital, ideas, and products flow.

Much has already been achieved in the political world  --  the general agreement on Tariffs and Trade; NATO; the Partnership for Peace; and of course the European Union.

But neither politicians or businessmen alone can heal the rifts in our society today.  As we said earlier, religious leaders have a central and inspirational role to play  -- it is we who must bring the spiritual principles of ecumenicism, brotherhood, and tolerance to the fore.

It is our strong belief at the Ecumenical Patriarchate that Orthodox Christians have a special responsibility to assist in East-West rapprochement.  For like the Turkish Republic, we, too, have a foot in both worlds.

We have always lived at the crossroads between East and West; we have witnessed great suffering on both sides, as we see again today in Bosnia; but we have also witnessed the most extraordinary acts of tolerance, like the welcoming of the expelled Sephardic Jews in 1492 by a Muslim Sultan, and the historic peace being established between Muslim and Jew in the Middle East even as we speak.  An astonishing example of tolerance was exhibited as well, by Mehmet II, the conqueror of Constantinople, who, in 1453, actually sought out the greatest ecclesiastical mind of his time, Gennadios Scholarios, and enthroned him as Ecumenical Patriarch -- the spiritual leader of the entire Orthodox world.

We have lived side-by-side with Moslems and Jews, and we have developed close, trusting relationships with both.  In the years ahead, even though academic dialogues  exist, you will see us strive to establish and enhance a market-place dialogue between all believers as well.

The Church of Peace serves the Prince of Peace, and will do everything in its power to bring about the blessed community.  As the American martyr Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., put it "Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend."  After all, it was our Lord Jesus Christ who did not merely suggest, but commanded us "to love our enemies."

But we will succeed only if we are united with our fellow spiritual leaders in the spirit of the one God, "Creator of all things visible and invisible."  Roman Catholic and Jewish, Orthodox and Muslim, Protestant and Buddhist --  it is time not only for rapprochement, but even for alliance and teamwork to help lead our world away from the bloody abyss of extreme nationalism, fundamentalism, and intolerance.

These principles of brotherhood and tolerance were reiterated on the sacred Island of Patmos last month in September when we convened a gathering of the Primates of the Orthodox Christian Churches to commemorate the 1900 years of the recording of the book of Revelation  by Saint John the Evangelist.  Together, with one heart, mind and voice we condemned "all nationalistic fanaticism, as it is capable of leading to division and hatred among peoples; the alteration or extinction of other peoples' cultural and religious particularities; and to the repression of the sacred rights of freedom and dignity of the human person and minorities  everywhere."

We, at the Ecumenical Patriarchate, will continue our efforts to be peacemakers and to light the lamp of the human spirit.  We will continue championing the cause of caring for our environment, which requires a responsible relationship between God, man and the world.  "Love all God's creation," urged Dostoevsky, "the whole of it and every grain of sand.  Love every leaf and every ray of God's light.  Love the animals, love the plants, love everything.  If you love everything you will perceive the divine mystery in things."

We will always work in the spirit of divine love.  The Ecumenical Patriarchate is the fullness of the Church that was founded by the God of love, whose peace "surpasses all understanding" (Phil. 4:7).  We "pursue what makes for peace " (Rom 14:19).  We believe that "God is love" (1 Jn 4:16), which is why we are not afraid to extend our hand in friendship and our heart in love, as we proclaim that "Perfect love casts out fear" (1Jn 4:18).

We came here today to embrace you as brothers and sisters, and although we may be of different faiths, we would like to offer you, like a spiritual father, some wisdom that we received from a Muslim mystic and humanist, the renowned Mevlana who lived in the 12th century:

Become like the sun in your compassion and generosity;
Like the night, cover up the shortcomings of others;
As the rushing waters, reach out to the entire world;
During moments of anger, at times of rage, become like a dead man;
Become like the earth (humus) so people can stand firm on your foundation;
And either become that whom you manifest, or manifest who you really are.

Dear friends, we are convinced that there is more that unites the community of man, than divides us.  It is, as businessmen like to say, the ultimate win/win situation.  We have within our grasp the vision of the Psalmist:  "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! "  We pledge to you today that the Orthodox Christian Church will do everything in her power to fulfill that vision.  "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace and goodwill toward men and women."

Thank you very much.