“Orthodox Christianity has a long experience of cohabitation with other religions and denominations,” Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew said in his address to the conference “Bahrain Forum for Dialogue: East and West for Human Coexistence.”
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, referring to the initiative of the conference, stressed that it sought to highlight the importance of interreligious dialogue and understanding between different cultures and civilizations.
As he pointed out, Orthodox Christianity has a long experience of living together with other religions and denominations. However, this experience has not always been peaceful or straightforward, especially when shaped by the rise of nationalism in the second half of the 19th century, the clash of global geopolitical forces throughout the 20th century, and the rise of religious fundamentalism in the early 21st. century.
“A series of historical events have redefined the global religious landscape, shaping Orthodoxy’s relationship to a pluralism of religions and reassessing its role on the world stage.
In this context, the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, convened on the island of Crete (June 2016) is of great importance: “Honest interreligious dialogue contributes to the development of mutual trust and the promotion of peace and reconciliation. The Church strives to make the “peace from above” more tangible on earth. True peace is not obtained by force of arms, but only by love which “does not seek its own” (1 Cor 13, 5). The oil of faith should be used to soothe and heal the wounds of others, not to kindle new fires of hatred. (Encyclical, par. 17).
The Ecumenical Patriarch noted that encounter and dialogue require commitment and determination at both the individual and community level.
“All dialogue is personal since it involves the interaction of unique, irreplaceable people, whose personality is intimately linked to their unprecedented social, cultural and religious particularities.
Opposition to ecumenical or interreligious dialogue usually stems from fear and ignorance or intolerance of religious diversity. On the other hand, genuine and sincere interreligious dialogue recognizes the differences between religious traditions and promotes peaceful coexistence and cooperation between peoples and cultures.
It is not a question of denying one’s own faith, but rather of adapting and enriching one’s own identity and one’s own conscience in a perspective of openness to others. It can also heal and dispel prejudices and contribute to mutual understanding and the peaceful resolution of conflicts.
In his speech, the Ecumenical Patriarch noted that prejudice has its roots in the misrepresentation of the other – which is precisely why dialogue is essential. Because it can dispel mistrust and suspicion.
According to Bartholomew, encounter and dialogue are only effective if undertaken in a spirit of inclusion, trust and respect. Through dialogue, “we define our desire to embrace difference. This spirit is concisely summarized in a recent document approved by our Ecumenical Patriarchate and entitled For the Life of the World: Towards a Social Ethics of the Orthodox Church (2020). There, in paragraph 55, we read: “Knowing that God reveals himself in innumerable ways and with unlimited inventiveness, the Church enters into dialogue with other religions ready to be amazed and delighted by the variety and beauty of the manifestations bountiful bounty of God’s divine bounty, grace and wisdom among all people.
Concluding his address, the Ecumenical Patriarch emphasized that the patriarchy intends to lead by example, demonstrating how religious leaders should support and advance peaceful coexistence, justice and equity.
Orthodox Christianity has found in common humanitarian efforts a true expression of the power of faith to promote coexistence, overcome crises and support an ethic of inclusion, an ethic of solidarity.
We have been at the forefront of organizing and supporting interfaith conferences for decades, recognizing that sincere dialogue can confront intolerance and violence while preventing the abuse of religion by fundamentalists and fanatics.
The Ecumenical Patriarch also stressed that “as ministers of the faith, we must at all times build bridges. For more than thirty years of our tenure as Ecumenical Patriarch, these are the principles we value not only for our own Church and Christianity in general, but for all religions and humanity in general.