Συμμετοχή σε Συνέδρια

2002 Florence

Peace and Justice: an Orthodox point of view.

Athanasios, bishop of Achaia.

Florence, 6 November 2002.

Eastern Europe and especially the region of the Balkan Peninsula have been sorely tried by calamities of war and various disturbances throughout the centuries. In the area where Eastern Christianity witnesses to Christ today bitter memories of destruction and exploitation of all kinds are vivid. The peoples who praise God in the Orthodox tradition and live in countries ravaged by violent feelings not only in the distant past but also very recently consider peace as a precious blessing. The fact that these countries were viciously exploited century after century either by conquerors or powerful landlords led their peoples to yearn for justice. The revolution that swept most of Eastern Europe during the 20th century found an eager companion in the earnest desire of hundreds of millions for justice. The result of the experiment was deplorable but the search for justice is as intense as ever. Peace is a value anyone craves for, unless we talk about those few who have particular interests to promote through arms trafficking and death. The peoples of the area together with their Churches need all the support and encouragement they can get to attain stability and experience peace and justice. NATO bombs recently thrown on Belgrade and elsewhere did not deliver a hopeful message about peace and justice to anyone, especially to children and elderly people. Thus it is an urgent necessity to affirm not only in words but mainly in actions that we are not loosing hope and we do not stop to work in the best way possible for universal values all human beings must have access to. The Churches have a particularly crucial role to play encouraging both their faithful and the rest of the world and teaching that despite all the adversities peace and justice are attainable.

The Serbian Orthodox bishop Artemije of Kosovo has affirmed: in spite of differences of language, history, culture and religion among the different peoples who live in Kosovo, the common interest of all is to live in dignity and in such a way that personal safety and the protection of goods could be guaranteed for all . There are numerous witnesses of acts of peace and solidarity in the former Yugoslavia that appear as flashes of hope in an area devastated by war and hatred.

In the lines that follow I would like to give some information about the Orthodox understanding and activity regarding peace and justice.

Inequality among human beings, marginalisation, violation of human rights is the cause of an alienation of the human person. The outcome was essentially a rejection of the principle that there is no Jew or Greek, nor slave or free, nor male or female (Gal 3:28; Rm 2:11); rejection of the unity of the human kind, rejection of the liberation of all humanity in Christ and eventually resistance against the will of God for a society of love. A society of love is a society of persons who overcome the limits of I uniting the individual to you in search of an authentic and convincing manifestation of the human person.

Rationality appeared as a substitute to faith in God. Rationality appeared somehow in the place of God. Questioning rationality itself followed rejection of the living God. We ended up by facing the dictatorship of irrationality.

Humanity is an undivided unity that has at its center the Triune God. Our aim is to stand above a biological coexistence and form a society of persons on the example of the Holy Trinity, the sublime society of love. We cannot speak of peace and justice unless we accept love as the fulfillment of all. Every human right finds its accomplishment in the message of the Gospel that comes from God who loved us unconditionally. This love remains in the Christian conscience as a constant call to love one another, because everyone is an image of the Creator. The fact that there are many people who do not accept Christian theological thinking does not weaken this belief. On the other hand we do not stop paying respect to anybody' s right to believe what he/she wants. Neither can we contest anybody' s right to peace and justice because he/she is or thinks in a different way. As Christians we are ready to defend not only the right to peace and justice for ourselves and for our own people, but above all to sacrifice everything for the sake of love. This right is not imposed but decided upon freely. Love goes beyond any human law. It is love that excludes any use of violence to impose peace or justice in the world. Saint Paul said that the fulfillment of law is love (Rm 13:10). In this sense no law can justify any form of violence. The defense of the right to peace and justice becomes an opportunity to offer I as a gift to You . In a society of love it is not only peace and justice for me that I fight for; it is peace and justice for the others also. A human being as an image of God called to be like God is accomplished through his/her communion with God and with the neighbor. Certainly the Gospel does not ignore the tension between reality and perfection, between the call to sanctity and the inclination to sin. The question is for the Churches and the Christians never to loose a prophetic vision and an unabated effort to encourage everyone to contribute to making peace and justice a common good overcoming social fragmentation and poverty, contemporary crisis of values, groups of conflicting interest, unemployment, family crisis etc.

The Orthodox Church has not cultivated a systematic social teaching. In its history there has never been a sociopolitical revolution. All the Church Fathers have spoken about the principles of a society of love based on the Gospel and reflecting the kingdom of God. Basil the Great said: the peace of God is the perfect blessing that appears as an element of stability and leads our way (EP 30, 305). Orthodoxy does not understand peace and justice as the consequence of keeping certain dispositions of laws, but as the work of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit for the life of the world and in the life of every Christian. The peace of God, that is above all understanding, will keep your hearts and thoughts in Jesus Christ (Phil 4: 4-7).

Nevertheless human cooperation is necessary. A farmer needs coworkers. This is why we see the Patriarchate of Moscow making an effort to develop a theological reflection on social diaconia in view of the special situation in Russia today. The Patriarchate of Rumania also has considerably multiplied the theological faculties, which also have a department of reflection on social diaconia of the Church in order to respond to major problems of the society.

In various countries of Eastern Europe the Orthodox Church offers an important service by appointing a priest to hospitals, prisons, the army and institutions for elderly people and children. More and more institutions of the Church are established in those countries that experienced communist totalitarianism for many decades. These institutions develop a social activity that speaks for itself and is widely appreciated. There seems to be always more problems than anyone can solve, but the general feeling either in Greece or in other Eastern European countries is that the Church enjoys respect and is widely trusted for her activity. Her collaboration with the State is due to an understanding that they have a common cause and a need to use the infrastructure offered by both the Church and the State to serve human dignity, peace and justice in the society always in favor of the suffering human person, beyond and above any religious or specific difference.

Let me refer to an important text, which appeared after a Panorthodox meeting. The official delegates of all Orthodox Churches at the IIId Panorthodox Preconciliar Conference in Chambesy (1986) signed a text, which refers directly to our subject. They pointed out:

The fact that we, Orthodox Christians, have access to the sense of salvation obliges us to take it as our duty to struggle in order to appease sickness, misery and anxiety. The fact that we have experienced peace forbids us to remain indifferent vis-à-vis its absence in actual society. As beneficiaries of God s Justice we fight for a more complete justice in the world and for the elimination of all forms of oppression. We fight against fanaticism and intolerance because we experience divine clemency every day. We defend human rights for all men, women and peoples because we proclaim continuously the incarnation of God and the divinisation of the human being. Experiencing the divine gift of freedom thanks to the redemptive work of Christ we can announce its universal value in a more complete way. Fed by the Body and Blood of our Lord in the Holy Eucharist we feel the need to share the gifts of God with everyone and we fight for the elimination of hunger and privation. We struggle for the renewal of all men and society at large, because we await new earth and skies where absolute Justice will reign .

It is also worth mentioning the Charta Ecumenica of the European Churches. It was signed in Strasbourg on April 22, 2001 by Metropolitan Jeremiah of France, on behalf of the Conference of the European Churches (KEK) and Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, on behalf of the Council of Episcopal Conferences of Europe (CCEE). Among other things we read: On the basis of our Christian faith we engage ourselves to build together a humanitarian and social Europe in which human rights, the fundamental values of peace and justice are widely respected. We insist on the respect for life, the value of marriage and family, care for the poor, the need to forgive and, in any case, charity .

I would like to mention two international organizations that enhance the promotion of Orthodox views on peace and justice. One of them is the Ecumenical Council of Churches. It is worth noting that the inter-Orthodox Conference which took place in Thessaloniki back in May 1998 pointed out that: the WCC has been the place where the faith of the Orthodox Church, its mission and its points of view on a certain number of issues such as justice, peace and ecology were made known to the non-Orthodox world . Another organization is the inter-parliamentary Orthodox Conference whose members are Orthodox deputies of Parliaments of various countries not only European, but others like Holland, Australia, Armenia, Georgia etc.

We believe that the Christian message coincides with the demands of modern sociopolitical currents asking for justice, equality, freedom and respect for all human beings. We know from history that these currents acquired depth and maturity through Christian thought and aspirations. Selfishness and human vanity cause a deviation in interpersonal and intercommunal relations and they finish by contaminating the best wishes. This is why we have to insist on the need for internal purification, integrity of will, honesty and sincerity. Purification of the heart puts back to normal a shaken human reason and will. John Chrysostom said once that there is no real peace without virtuous life (EP 62:73). We need a protection against human ego that is at the root of impersonal structures imposing their implacable power over our contemporary technological society. Sanctity is the quality of those who assumed their responsibility and remained firm against those who gave voice to organized interests establishing ironic cynicism of our era.

As Christians we see peace and justice in the light of the God of justice, the God of love, the God who gives real peace. He is the God who teaches us what are the duties and responsibilities to keep in order to transform our life into the fertile ground on which peace and justice will flourish. I do not say this in contradiction to whatever good has been achieved in the last fifty years and before. I say it only to stress the fact that a divine must transcends in power and inspiration any human project for peace and justice. This fact is the freedom that Christ has given us, freedom to choose life in the light of the Holy Spirit and not in the glamour of worldly goods and social dignity. This does not mean that we disregard our bodily reality looking forward to some immaterial element of existence. It only means that we aspire to a reality where freedom from selfishness and an effort to go beyond our ego is the only guarantee for an establishment of a society of peace and justice. Orthodoxy is not an establishment. It may have an administrative structure and be organized in areas of jurisdiction, but the missionary role of the Orthodox Churches is to lead the way to authentic peace and justice under the constant inspiration of the Gospel. An establishment tends to make nice studies and admonitions. If it stays at that level Orthodoxy, like any other Church, has failed. Orthodoxy understands that an important part of its role in the world is to become a center of moral and spiritual renewal of persons, a laboratory of selfless love. It is the role of the Church at large never to loose faith that it is possible to find a place in the world where the reign of God is made manifest. We know that there have been men and women who have made the decisive step forward, who have gone beyond the level of simple biological coexistence to experience the society of love following the example of the sublime Reality, that is the Holy Trinity. We take these men and women as stars indicating the way to the heavenly kingdom of God, a kingdom where justice, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rm 14:17) reign