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V.Rev.Arch. Benedict Ioannou: The Richness of the Christian East

16 marca 2004 | 14:17 | Ⓒ Ⓟ

I have been asked to give a presentation on the issue “The Richness of the Christian East”. The East, whether it is considered as one of the two lungs of Europe or one of its two kidneys, it has a lot of richness from many aspects. However, when we are talking about the richness of the East, certainly we are not talking in financial terms. This would be the case of the West and not of the East.

The political and social developments of the last decades resulting in an extensive migration of people and the recent developments in the European Union with the expansion towards east have changed the East. The countries of Eastern Europe have so many differences with one another: different peoples, mentalities, religions, traditions, languages, economic and political status etc. Yet, they have also many in common.

For centuries Eastern Europe was identified with Orthodoxy and some countries were considered as “Orthodox Countries”. Of course this is no longer the case. Millions of Orthodox is found both in East and West, as well as millions of Roman Catholics and Protestants. However, the majority is still Orthodox. Moreover we have to take into consideration that in Europe there are also millions of Muslims and in some countries the numbers are significant.

I do not intend to speak of this complex of realities within Eastern Europe. But I have to refrain myself. I would rather prefer to limit my speech to one reality of Eastern Europe, namely the Eastern Orthodox Church and her important contribution to the enrichment of Europe. The richness of the Eastern Orthodox Church is spiritual as well as cultural.

Could the Ecumenical Patriarchate represent the Christian East? It should not be considered as pride if we answered positively to this question for several reasons: (a) it has kept intact the long Christian tradition, i.e. the tradition of the East, where Christianity was born; (b) the Ecumenical Patriarchate through its commitment to the ecumenical movement (especially WCC and CEC) and the bilateral dialogues has been working for a long time for the improvement of relations between Christians and their common witness to the world. (c) Orthodoxy and the Ecumenical Patriarchate constitute axes of reference and unity in Europe, unity for which “we have been waging struggles for centuries”.

At a press conference, which Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew gave in Strasbourg after he had addressed the European Parliament in 1994, the Patriarch pointed out that: “Orthodoxy is situated at the foundations of Europe and does not constitute an element which was added later. Orthodoxy has rights in Europe”. During the same meeting, Jacques Delors, then President of the European Commission maintained that Orthodoxy “should have an important place within the Community”.
Of course this does not suggest that the Ecumenical Patriarchate demands a special place or power or even honour. It simply affirms a historic reality and indicates a great responsibility.

What should be our contribution to Europe today? What do people and especially young people expect from us today? What do they really seek?

1. They search for genuine men of God, spiritual men, inspired by the Holy Spirit, who can talk to them of God whom they experienced, of God whose steps they have been following. They hunt for this kind of people. Are our Churches not sufficient enough to meet their expectations? Is our spirituality not good or profound enough to respond to their spiritual quests or metaphysical explorations?
Certainly the human being is not mere spirit. It has flesh too. Man needs food, clothing, healing etc. Let me use the words of H.A.H. the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at the opening service of the 12th General Assembly of the Conference of European Churches (CEC) at Trondheim (2003): “As we learn from the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25, 31-46), at the Last Judgement we will not be asked how strictly we fasted, how many prostrations we made in our prayers, how many books we wrote, how many speeches we made at international conferences. We shall be asked: Did you feed the hungry? Did you give drink to the thirsty? Did you take the stranger into your home? Did you clothe the naked? Did you care for the sick and the prisoners? That is all we shall be asked. Love for Christ is shown through love for other people, and there is no other way”.

2. The diversity and pluralism within European society should not be considered as an obstacle or as a reason for divisions or tensions. Rather it should be seen as richness. As Churches or as people of God, we should always give the example of Unity: unity in diversity. This is our common responsibility and mission in Europe. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John. 13:35). If there are divisions and hatred among us, we are not persuading anybody. Let us remind us also of St. Paul the Apostle’s words: What I mean is that each one of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (I Cor. 1:12-13) The synodical system of the Eastern Orthodox Church that maintains unity in diversity is one example.

3. There is something more to give to our sisters and brothers: HOPE. This little but so meaningful word is exactly what our contemporary society needs. People especially homeless, jobless and in particular young people often fall in despair. Very often they look for hope in places and ways where there is no hope. “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no help” (Ps. 146:3). Are we not able to give them hope? Or, have we also lost our hope?

In conclusion I would like to encourage all of us –whether we have responsibilities in our Churches or we belong to the faithful people of God– to share our gifts, our spiritual gifts for the sake of our sisters and brothers living in Europe and in order to fulfil our Lord’s commandments: «Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying, give without pay.» (Math. 10:8)

I would like to finish with the words of H.A.H. the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew: “We bring to Europe, as our active contribution to unity, especially today, the person-centric ontology of our tradition in contradiction to the impersonal individualism and the kneading of people. We bring the realism of our ascetic theology –a realism that derives from the experience of personal relations– against the abstract forms of intellectual metaphysics. Against the declining totalitarian ontologies and dogmas, we bring the authenticity of the koinonia of life, which is experienced in the Eucharistic body. We bring the beauty of our tradition of icons, the supreme poetry of our hymns, the “Philokalia” (selected beautiful spiritual writings) of our Holy Ascetic Fathers; this beauty, this poetry and this virtue are not for individual pleasure but for the fulfilment of the congregation of koinonia (fellowship) of love.”

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