CONTRIBUTION OF ORTHODOXY ON THE COURSE TOWARDS A UNITED EUROPE

by Metropolitan Michael (Staikos) of Austria

(Speech at Clergy-Laity Conference, Constantinople, 24 November 2000)

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

For the theme of my speech today at this historic Patriarchal Library, I chose to develop the topic "The Contribution of Orthodoxy on the Course Towards a United Europe". I chose this topic for two reasons: 1.) because I believe it to be the central aim of our attempts for Europe today and tomorrow and 2.) because less importance is given to this than it otherwise should be, despite the relevant and necessary nature of the topic as it indeed covers truly this and Europe itself.

Although this topic, one which concerns many Europeans, comprises a modern challenge specifically for all those who do not ignore the past and who are interested in the future of Europe and Europeans, one must nonetheless consider the multi-faceted nature of Europe and the necessity of co-existence. It is precisely this fact, which does not make things easier, and perhaps hinders the presentation of the topic.

We are certain that during the past few years, a huge movement concerning the European idea has begun to take place. It is good that we are concerned with this subject as it concerns our living space and the living space of many populations, peoples, and cultures. This means that our duty demands from us a sense of responsibility for confronting not only the realities of today, but even more importantly those of Europe's future.

For this reason it is worthwhile and necessary to point out a few questions not merely for the purpose of articulating and answering them, but chiefly for the purpose of stressing the problem.

Everyone speaks about Europe. Which Europe, though, do they mean? Simply the European Union? Or perhaps only a specific geographical region?

Also, there are those who speak of European maturity. But what are the criteria, and who defines these criteria? Still yet, what constitutes the Europe which we have reached, and the Europe toward which we are progressing?

Do political issues have more importance for a new Europe? Or perhaps economic issues? Are military issues as they pertain to European security perhaps the most important?

Are the socio-cultural issues and the relative needs of people valued in the thoughts of the powerful and the meetings of those who hold authority?

What role do human principles and values play during this discourse? Are they known, or will they be generally considered?

Finally, what role do Christian churches play in this evolution? Is there interest in the opinion of the churches? And if the churches are not questioned at all, or even questioned enough, why? Are the churches no longer useful? And if this has become the case, why? Moreover, are the churches themselves active enough and in the position to complete their mission; or, rather, are they only concerned with themselves in such a way that they have alienated themselves altogether from the world and reality?

What path do Christians walk today? Have the churches articulated a position yet concerning today's world? Do they share in the joy and hope, the pain and fear of the people in new Europe? If a speech is given here today concerning churches in general, it must necessarily concern their one, common, ecumenical duty.

Today's speaker is not a politician or a diplomat, but a European Orthodox clergyman who is native to Europe, having lived nearly 40 years in Vienna, where the Orthodox Church and the Greeks have established a 300 year history and tradition. In addition to this, my voice does not come from the. field of scientific, academic theology, but rather from the depth of pastoral care, hope, and anguish as the living experience of the Cross and the Resurrection in the Church and society. Finally, my voice comprises the expression of responsibility for the harmonization of the Orthodox faith in a country, Austria, where today roughly 250,000 Orthodox Christians live and are represented before the State by a Metropolitan of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

From the onset, I wish to clearly express that I do accept a new united common Europe. I also accept the concept of peaceful and harmonic co-existence and co-habitation in solidarity, or, more correctly, a society of people and nations in Europe. Allow me to return first to the questions which I have posed so that I may elaborate upon a few ideas concerning them.

Which Europe do we mean? From various motives, I have also formulated the impression that the word Europe means only central Europe or only Western Europe. This is certainly a particular view of Europe which carries with it many problems in determining its valuation, or still yet in attempting to provide answers to various questions. Europe is precisely a large open continent extending far and beyond the Urals, a continent that encompasses in any case the southern, southeastern, as well as eastern regions of Europe. Consequently, it is a territory, which does not set boundaries, except for certain areas, but rather surrounds them independent of our disposition or our assignments. It concerns simply a geographic reality, which we are not able, capable, or allowed to ignore. Our perspective must open in order to see this Europe, the Europe of many nations, cultures, traditions, dogmas, and, finally, religions. Each of these facets must become accepted and respected, as they possess their own self worth.

We must see Europe not only from a political, economic, cultural, or even military point of view, but also from a religious and spiritual perspective. These last two factors constitute the pre-requisite for offering solutions for existent problems within Europe. They also provide the appropriate means of confronting the expansion of the European Union, and, finally, for the molding of new Europe.

Subsequently, the religious dimension of Europe must be seriously taken into consideration. It is not allowed to downgrade the religious perspective to that of a personal issue. Whoever does this, ignores the essence and the universal dimension of man in general, and thus, in this way, renders human society poorer. Also however, in surveying historical events, no one is able to neglect the religious dimension of Europe in contemporary cultural molding. What would Europe be today without its Christian religious foundation?

This is a relevant question for many areas, specifically for the central, eastern, and southeastern regions of Europe. It is certainly true that specifically these regions of eastern and southeastern Europe have been placed in difficult positions for decades or even centuries due to varying military/political agreements and circumstances. All of these peoples within these regions were enslaved, endured exploitation and oppression, and were deprived of their freedom as well as the possibility of exercising their religious duty. Even though all of these people were abandoned by free and democratic Europe, and subsequently left to their fate, in all this, they were still able to survive and overcome, in a most remarkable way, the period of the catacombs, which had a multi-fold persecution and many needs. Their survival however, would have been impossible without the strength of their religious faith and without the innumerable victims and unhonored sacrifices of the Orthodox Churches; and it is this dimension of the Orthodox Churches, which is often ignored, narrowly honored, or even purposely silenced. We can therefore conclude that Religion has a chief existential importance in all the dimensions of the life of peoples and nations, encompassing the good together with the bad. In the future, religion can and must play an important role in the new united Europe from within the boundaries of the ecumenical responsibility of all the Churches.

We write today the year "2000". As such, ten years have passed since the fall of the Iron Curtain and the socialism in existence at that time. Truly, we must confess that after the fall there are still in Europe, specifically in southeastern and eastern Europe, many movements and initiatives arising from economic and political security issues with different results and developments. From the perspective of the churches, however, such movements are relatively fewer. In contrast, the churches developed certain antagonisms, instead of acting upon the basis of this renewed ~freedom and solidarity for the common good of all people. This has increased the disbelief and the distancing between them in certain areas.

We recognize that the churches in Eastern Europe, during the age of the Iron Curtain, should have faced and solved many problems. Atheistic communism did not only deny people's free existence; it did not only make the people poor from a material point of view, but, far worse than this, it also completely destroyed their dignity. It altered their personality and made them, or rather degraded them, to the point of becoming entirely dependent. It ignored that it was not possible for human rights to exist without human dignity. It is difficult today to say who° encountered stronger opposition, and with whom this opposition was exchanged. Only one thing can be said with certainty: The monopoly of martyrdom arising from only one group or one dogma for the purposes of gaining political or ecclesial-political benefit does not correspond with reality. The general crisis, condemnation, and sentencing of peoples, nations, confessions, and religions only creates and promotes hate between them.

I am certain, however, that besides some problematic situations in personal relationships with the atheistic governments in all of the countries behind the Iron Curtain; many people from varying social classes and ecclesiastical levels demonstrated with their deep faith before governing bodies and dictators that systems and ideologies may oppress but, however, cannot defeat Christianity; nor can such systems or ideologies drown out the voice of the Gospel. All of these people demonstrated in an impressive manner to all of us in the West of happiness in what way Christianity can survive even when placed under the most difficult conditions and situations. They also demonstrated precisely the manner in which the message of the Gospel makes possible Christianity's strong survival. Naturally, with the obliteration of the oppression and persecution by atheism, the hope remains that people have not come to subscribe to different ideologies and apparent pleasures; but, we recognize that there exist certain dangers, which comprise, in part, a saddening reality. For this reason, the responsibility of the churches is even greater because the temptations for all people- and even the churches-have penetrated with great speed into the community and without advance notice. In short, that which once preserved the people in their lives, pushing them into a coiling effect of sorts, is now slowly departing. In its place, there now appear, in an unhesitating and frenzied manner, various other kinds of lifestyles, which lead people to disorientation and discomfort.

Here, I want to formulate yet another specific problem, namely, the problem of nationalism, which has been condemned on the one hand, but must also yet be conquered and neutralized. We are not able to speak-nor is it allowed for us to speak-about the harmonious co- existence of people in united Europe while simultaneously developing fanatic nationalistic tendencies and movements which set boundaries and disqualify and oppose the existence of other nations; and precisely because the Orthodox Churches time and again are faced with this criticism, I wish to stress here, with every emphasis, the official position of Orthodoxy concerning this point. From the Orthodox side, it needs to be said, that in the molding of new Europe, the richness of traditions, civilizations, peoples, religions, and dogmas must be considered and held in respect as unity in diversity and pluralism.

The distortion of this basic principle guides one, on the one hand, to the leveling of the identity of the nation; while, on the other hand, it leads one to a limited nationalism. Nationalism was completely condemned by the Orthodox Church as racism in the synod of 1872 because, "Orthodoxy confesses that each person, independent of color, religion, race, ethnicity, or language, is a bearer of the icon of God, our brother or our sister, equal members of the human society." This formulation, which was accepted by all of the Orthodox Churches in the Pre-synodal pan-Orthodox Conference at Chambesy in November, 1986, was repeated by the Great Ecumenical Conference at Basil, Switzerland in May, 1989, in the following statement: "Every person, independent of race, lineage, ethnicity, and language, bears in himself the icon of God, and, arising from this, is a member of society having those rights ... We accept the responsibility to build a community in which men and women will equally bear responsibility."

From the Orthodox perspective, and clearly arising out of theological and anthropological causes, nothing and no one is able to support the contention that one nation or group of people is qualitatively superior to another. For these same reasons, no one is allowed to qualitatively degrade other human beings and peoples, either on a European or global level, as having a so-called "lower value."

It is exactly this Orthodox spirit of open and harmonious society within the context of a multi-faceted pluralism, which continues until today with the present Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the "Green" Patriarch of a widened horizon of dialogue and conscious responsibility for the people of Europe-all of Europe and beyond. Here, I would like to present, as a witness of the position and perspective of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew before this problem, his speech before the European Parliament in Strasbourg, April 19, 1994, where, among other things, he stated, `'The unification of Europe ... happens to be our very personal task. We minister to a tradition comprising 17 centuries of cares and struggles for the salvation and unity of the civilizations of Europe ... The Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Orthodox Church in general respects ethnic traditions and the sensitivities of peoples; however, we categorically condemn every kind of fanaticism, illegality, and the exercise of violence against anyone or anything. Our perseverance remains unshaken in the face of freedom and the peaceful co-existence of peoples."

These basis principles of the Patriarch do not need elaboration, nor do his ideas with regard to the expansion of the European community when he also stated that "outside of today's boundaries (the then boundaries) of the 12 member nations of the European community, other multi-populated nations join in following in the European course, with the majority of them having Orthodox ecclesiastical tradition. Allow us to express hope that these people will soon be called to participate in the life and in the institutions of a united Europe."

In continuation, the Ecumenical Patriarch offered to the members of the European Parliament his full cooperation during Europe's course towards unity. "We implore you," said the Ecumenical Patriarch, "to accept the readiness of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to assist in your attempts for the unification of Europe, for one Europe which will not only exist for herself, but for the good of all humanity." The words of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew do not constitute utopia, but rays of light, hope, and optimism.

The leaders of all of the Orthodox Churches accepted this position of the Ecumenical Patriarch during a meeting on the island of Patmos, September 26, 1995. Here, these leaders clearly and categorically stressed in their message that, "through this our appeal, we hope to make clear to all, especially to those who present the image of the Orthodox church in an imprecise or distorted fashion, whether intentionally or out of ignorance, that the Orthodox ecclesiological understanding concerning nations in no way contains the element of aggression and conflict between peoples, but, rather, refers to the peculiarities of each of them in accordance with their sacred rights, so that they preserve and cultivate the richness of their traditions, and thereby contribute in this way to the progress, peace, and reconciliation of all peoples. For this reason, we condemn every ethnic fanaticism which leads to division and hatred between peoples, resulting in the deterioration or annihilation of the cultural and religious particularities of other peoples of the planet as well as the transgression of the sacred right of freedom and dignity belonging to the human person and every minority."

This clear and unquestionable statement of the Orthodox primates comprises the official and unanimous position of worldwide Orthodoxy concerning this problem, and any other position, regardless of whom or from which institution it comes, must be rejected and condemned.

This foundational and necessary worth of man must become truly accepted and respected in the European society of today and tomorrow. This basic position was present within the first millennium after Christ and was applied during the missionary activities of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, when, for example, in the 9th century the enlighteners of the Slavs, Sts. Cyril and Methodios, were sent into Great Moravia; as well as in the 10th century, when the Bishop St. Ierotheos was sent to Hungary. These missionaries disseminated the Gospel and the principles of Christianity without Hellenizing the people with whom they came into contact, in other words, without disrespecting their existing culture. In fact, they respected the socio-cultural idiosyncrasies of the people. They developed the local language and affirmed the pre-existent native cultures despite the opposition, doubts, and objections of the Church of Rome.

What questions are the most important for this Europe? The political questions? The economic ones? Or those questions pertaining to military security?

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew said, in his aforementioned speech to the European Parliament, "United Europe cannot be only a uniform plan of economic development and a uniform program for defense policy. Out of these things, vision demands a uniform social policy of peace and productive cooperation amongst the European nations. The request is cultural. It is a request for an understanding of interpersonal relations and the relations amongst ethnic traditions."

The churches, then, are seen today as presenting a not so positive image. Regardless of these things, no one can fight the Church of Christ to the end. History presents the greatest proof of this. The Church of Jesus Christ, even under today's divided form into many churches, has from God the strength to always find the correct and ideal road-its own road-and to lead Christ's flock to it through the eternal values and principles of the Gospel; and, truly, all the European churches try to give these aforementioned questions a correct answer in order to assist man.

The conference of European Churches has existed since 1959. The church members which comprise all of the Orthodox European Churches do not only exist in central, western, and northern Europe, but also throughout southern, southeastern, and eastern Europe-extending to Georgia, Crete, and Cyprus. This true dimension of Europe, which is accepted and which these churches present, is very important, specifically for all of those responsible for the molding of Europe as a society of values.

To be more specific, those responsible in Europe should, in addition to the socio-political transformation, bear in mind the Europe of the Conference of European Churches. In other words, they should bear in mind all of Europe without national, local, political, cultural, economic, or religious discrimination. The fullness of the Church- Members is found already in Europe. It belongs to Europe, and it forms Europe. If these basic thoughts were examined with a serious, critical disposition, then, certainly, the predominantly western European world would come to accept the historical fact that the European reality, in other words Europe, surrounds Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Protestantism, just as much as it surrounds the Balkans, Turkey, Scandinavia, the Iberian peninsula, Russia, and the Baltics. In other words, from one end to the other-northern, southern, western, central, and eastern Europe.

I believe that it is important to stress this as we elaborate upon the questions: What makes up European identity? What are the criteria? And who defines them? These questions are necessary to ask in order to prove European maturity-all of these dimensions and opinions, which involve the entire Europe, must be taken into consideration. Without the socio-political and religious criteria of all of Europe, any decisions and desired solutions will not only be one-sided, but also mistaken and harmful; for, truly, only a few take into consideration the eastern and southeastern dimensions of their opinions, or they are considered and judged, always be western standards, being thus viewed as needing correction and application.

The Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall fell and do not allow for any new ideological, cultural, political, religious, economic, or other European curtains or walls to rise. The Iron Curtain does not allow itself to be replaced by a silver or a gold curtain.

And exactly at this point, the collective, ecumenical responsibility of the churches and of Christians is very great for the Europe of today and tomorrow, for an enviable united Europe as a community of values.

The Orthodox Church has always had the opinion that the Roman Catholic Church must become a member of the Conference of European Churches, and similarly the World Council of Churches. This official proposal and wish of the Ecumenical Patriarchate has not yet been realized. From the Orthodox side, however, it greets the strong cooperation of the Conference of European Churches with the Roman Catholic Church through the Council of the Roman Catholic Bishop's Conference of Europe.

Truly until now, many ecumenical meetings on a European level have been realized. These meetings will have a central importance for the ecumenical situation in Europe and for the life of the people and the nations on this continent, if, of course, the results of these meetings are take~ into consideration very seriously by all, and if they are put into practice. The zenith of the realization of this responsibility of the European Churches was the first European Ecumenical Conference in Basil, Switzerland in May 1989. The topic for this conference was "Peace in Justice". There also took place in Gratz, Austria, in June 1997, the second European Ecumenical Conference with the theme "Reconciliation as a Gift from God and Source of New Life."

At this point, allow me to add something which concerns Western Europeans and, of course, is dependent upon them, at least in part. How will Christianity be able to survive and develop in the countries behind the former Iron Curtain, as new developments in those countries do not necessarily facilitate the survival and development of Christianity?

The churches there have to face and do face many difficulties even in fulfilling their pastoral commitments and duties, as they simply do not have the means. Irregardless of the difficulties and lack of guidance for many people, religious interest is nonetheless very great. With gratitude, I mention a phrase by His Eminence Cardinal Franz Konig, who in a press interview, regarding a specific question addressed to him concerning the many atheists and persons not baptized in Russia, answered, "as the Roman Catholic Church we have the duty to help the Russian Orthodox Church to baptize its people." The invitation and this position of the Cardinal is the only correct position and answers appropriately to the desired ecumenical position and the position of an anticipated solidarity. Precisely here, I wish to be hopeful that the churches of the West will selflessly help the native churches there, so that they in turn may be self helped.

I am not pessimistic, although I do not have many reasons to be jubilant. I have hope in the midst of despair. We believe in the Resurrection, which presupposes the Crucifixion. For this reason, the character of a Christian cannot be reconciled with discouragement and acquiescence. I recognize that in the entire world, despite all of the wrong searching and aspiration for material happiness, many people, and specifically the youth, search for God and the deeper meaning of life.

I also recognize from personal experience, that all the churches in the countries of the former eastern bloc attempt to find a solution to their personal and societal problems. I am also certain that the churches and Christians there indirectly help all of us, for they enrich us and strengthen us with their spirituality and their living witness. Only in this way will the churches in Europe build a common and ecumenical future towards the third millennium, because one may not speak of a united Europe, nor about a central or middle Europe, without the Orthodox Churches, without the countries and states where the Orthodox Church exists, lives, and is active, and without the Orthodox population of those countries.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

One Europe, which wants to answer worthily to its Greek name, is undivided. Europe is one continent, which bears the seal of the east and the west, the north and the south, supported on the one hand by the ideas and the meaning of Greek antiquity, and on the other hand by the principles of Christianity. There has always been an appeal to these ideas and principles to Byzantium in the East as much as to the Renaissance in the West. This spirit comprises the real foundation of Europe, for in this spirit meet not only the Western and Eastern Church, but also Judaism and Islam. The future policy of those in power within Europe does not allow for it to contain nor provoke new opposition, but rather, perhaps, to be characterized for its reconciliation, peaceful coexistence, and cohabitation in the spirit of justice, solidarity, and mutual respect.

Many politicians, scientists, and journalists in Europe, however, do not see this necessity because the contemporary ideology of post-modern cultural chauvinism opposes the equality of plurality, Innocent but irresponsible statements by western politicians for example, "Europe ends there where Orthodoxy begins," or "we must be careful that rotten fruit doesn't come to us with the enlargement of the European Union." These statements, on the one hand are condemned: but also however, they are considered as legal and justified views. The concept of revival stemming from the known and old cultural imperialism formed by the western Europeans lies first in the cultural-leadership ideology of the west, mentioned in the Byzantine Empire. This empire, though, has been stigmatized unto this day as "in decline", detested as "eastern" void of the so-called "prototype" and "creative power". Additionally, in today's Europe, the representatives of this anti-European ideology believe that a new European history must be found and written anew, so that this history, with the foundation of classical literature, education, and Christianity, replete with both of its lungs, will be corrected, will refute, and will replace western Latin-Roman perceptions or theories which concern themselves with the cultural conflicts between east and west and which happen to be in fashion once again.

Does not the intention of the European Union to create in Brussels the Museum of European History, beginning from the time of Charlemagne comprise the insult of the European spirit and the limitation of the history of European culture? Do not the Minoan culture of Crete, the Acropolis of Athens, and Haghia Sofia of Constantinople belong to all Europeans and to all Christians? And does not the destruction of the Muslim mosques in Bosnia a few years ago and the Orthodox monasteries of the 13th and 14th century in Kosovo, turn against European culture, and does it not distort the image of Europe and European identity? What is this European culture? Is it only the Roman Catholic and the Protestant West and North? It is not possible to constitute the cultural dimension of Europe. There exists only a broadened provincialism of a union of governments, which is more or less democratic, but oriented, however, predominantly towards money, power, and individual interest-a provincialism resulting in a union which completely is accepted and serves the culture.

Therefore, this setting of Western Europe comprises challenge and temptation for the churches of the west, specifically the Roman Catholic Church, from which it is expected on the part of Pope John Paul II, the defender of Christian virtues, to this materialistic world to use the Roman Catholic Church's influence for the limitation of political greed of the west and simultaneously to demonstrate that the Roman Catholic Church recognizes and respects boundaries. In another circumstance, it was desired to create in Orthodoxy the perception that Roman Catholicism exploited the weaknesses of the Orthodox Churches in the countries which were still found outside of the European Union or were awaiting their entrance into the Union and pursing the analogous towards the political, an ecclesiastical globalization in the meaning of an enlargement and domination of the Papal Primacy with disastrous consequences for the Ecumenical Movement.

The position and common mission of all the churches here is clear. For the Christians of the European Union it depends on whether or not a new curtain will be suspended, if a new political border will be raised, and if new economic, cultural and or religious walls will be created. The question is, will the Churches raise their voices, or will they be silent? Confronting this problem, and more generally the religious life of the people, depends on the dignity of the Churches and the further role, which they will have in the new Europe. The Churches have the duty to remind to everyone at all times that man lives by bread, but not by bread alone.

I believe that all the Churches will commonly respond in this new challenge to the creation of new united Europe, for the good and for the salvation of people. The Churches are in the position, regardless of their division, and will succeed collectively in many things for the good of the people of Europe, which asserts that it desires to become a society of values. For this reason, the collective responsibility of the churches for the people of the new and united Europe, independent if they are found in front or behind different walls and curtains which fell or continue to exist, has rarely existed in so urgent of a fashion as it does today.

PUBLICATIONS BY ORI

Keep up with the latest news and stay in touch with ORI