HOMILY By His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew Following the Divine Liturgy for the Feast of Saint Nicholas (Korea, December 6, 2018)
Your Excellency Do Jong Hwan, Minister of Culture,
Your Eminence Metropolitan Ambrosios of Korea,
Your Excellency Ifigeneia Kontoleontos, Ambassador of the Hellenic Republic to the Republic of Korea,
Honorable friends of the Holy Metropolis of Korea,
Beloved children in the Lord,
In today’s age, we are currently undergoing a worldwide reevaluation of the role and function of religion for people, society and culture. Religion influences local and global developments as a factor of convergence, cooperation and peace, as well as a root-cause of confrontations and divisions. As has been accurately stated before, the history of culture cannot possibly be comprehended without also taking into consideration the influence that religion has had upon it; and, any analysis of our contemporary global state that ignores the role of religion is incomplete.
Even today, the questions, pursuits and responses about the meaning of life, about an evaluative orientation, about man’s origin and his final destination, are linked to religion. Through religious faith, we are confronted with the most crucial questions of human life; we are given new possibilities to understand our identity; and we are oriented toward spirituality and the true depth of reality. Therefore, it can be said that religious faith opens to us the dimension of eternity.
Aside from existential orientation, religion is also connected to the identity and spiritual heritage of all peoples and cultures, as well as to the greatest cultural achievements and exalted values of mankind. Religion truly is a great historical and cultural force.
Today, religion is called to contribute to the universal cause of peace, with the first and foremost goal being peace among religions; hence, the saying that “there will be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions, and no peace among the religions without dialogue among the religions.” Here, of course, arises the question of whether and to what extent the image of the contemporary world—with religious fundamentalism, violence in the name of God, the clash of civilizations, the destruction of religious monuments that supposedly insult and offend the genuine faith, and other similar situations—authorizes us to speak of religion as a peacemaking power.
The very first thing that we must emphasize is that religion has invaluable, bright and positive aspects that should not be identified with its negative aspects, which do not express its evaluative core, but instead invalidate and override it. It is, indeed, an indisputable fact, then, that violence and war in the name of religion, is violence and war against religion.
All of world’s great religions undoubtedly include conditions, values, motives and tendencies to promote personal internal peace, as well as to overcome hatred, aggression and violence in society. The credibility of religions is—to a significant extent—evaluated on the basis of their contribution to the struggle for peace, reconciliation, cooperation and solidarity.
Peace is not a self-evident outcome of globalization, economic growth, an increase in living standards, the progress of science and technology, digital communication and the Internet. Peace cannot be achieved without the contribution of the great spiritual forces—of religions—or, as we previously mentioned, without peace and dialogue among religions, or without their cooperation for the good of mankind.
We believe in the power and effectiveness of dialogue. There are no losers in an honest dialogue. Through dialogue, we are able to agree, to undertake common initiatives and to work together for our common future. For us, dialogue is a vehicle for solidarity. Interfaith dialogue generally promotes a peaceful climate, mutual trust and reconciliation, and, on a broader level, facilitates understanding and dialogue. Authentic religious faith inspires the creative powers of man and strengthens human endeavor, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable hardships. Genuine faith helps man to develop an open mind toward different traditions, to understand the value of interculturality and to acquire the sensorium for the comprehension of universal values, which belong to humanity’s common spiritual heritage. Genuine faith also assists in acquiring an understanding of the great importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This year—actually, four days from today, on December 10th—we celebrate its 70th anniversary as an expression of the global community’s consensus in the field of fundamental values, and as a basis for the coexistence of individuals and peoples in freedom, justice and peace. The ideals exalted in this monumental document—ideals also shared by the philanthropic traditions of the great religions—formed the very nucleus of the thirty articles of this Declaration.
We have journeyed to your beautiful country as a bearer and ambassador of this spirit—the spirit of peace, reconciliation and solidarity. We are neither politicians, nor economists, nor sociologists. Nevertheless, we know very well that the main purpose of politics, economics and social action is to serve man and his world, as well as freedom, social justice and peaceful coexistence. It is precisely in this sense, then, that we address every man of goodwill and call all the citizens of the earth to engage in a common fight for the good of humankind. Religious, pacifistic, social, humanitarian and ecological movements have to work together in order to promote a universal culture of solidarity and peace.
For the first time in its history, humanity—through the use of nuclear weapons—is able to eradicate life on this earth. Unfortunately, scientific knowledge cannot penetrate the depths of the human soul and cannot secure its proper implementation by its own self. Man knows, but acts as if he does not know. The undeniable rise in living standards for large parts of the global population today, corresponds with the development, production and trade of even deadlier weapons, as well as with the destruction of the natural environment, climate change, deforestation and the pollution of water; simultaneously, eudemonism and a possessive attitude transform individuals and the masses into insatiable consumers.
The only solution, though, for addressing these tendencies is a common endeavor, a desire for cooperation and a willingness to engage in dialogue. We speak as a representative of Orthodoxy, which, as a Church, preserves the authenticity of the Christian tradition of faith, hope and love as the core of its life. Jesus Christ, the founder of our faith, greets His Disciples by using the phrase “peace be to you,” (Lk. 24:36) He blesses “the peacemakers,” (Mt. 5:9) and He encourages men to love their enemies. (Mt. 5:44) The word “peace” possesses a prominent position in the liturgical life of the Orthodox Church. This, of course, is not just about “peace from above,” “which transcends all understanding.” (Phil. 4:7) Christ is “our peace;” (Eph. 2:14) a peace that is expressed “on earth” as the struggle for justice and peaceful coexistence. Existential peace, peace within the heart of man and social peace, are two sides of the same coin. The Church always prays for the peace of the whole world; a peace, which—we emphasize again—is synonymous with justice. “Peace commingled with justice is a divine good.” (Isidore of Pelusium, PG 78, 924)
The Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, which convened in Crete, in June 2016, expressed this very same position by underscoring the following:
The Orthodox Church considers it is her duty to encourage all that which genuinely serves the cause of peace (Rom. 14:19) and paves the way to justice, fraternity, true freedom, and mutual love among all children of the one heavenly Father as well as between all peoples who make up the one human family. She suffers with all people who in various parts of the world are deprived of the benefits of peace and justice. (The Mission of the Orthodox Church in Today’s World, C, § 5).
Faithful to its leader, our Church prays and struggles for humanity’s protection in the face of the dangers of secularization, the absolute domination of technology in all of life’s aspects, economism, profiteering and social injustice.
It is in this spirit, Your Excellency, that we pray for the healing of the Korean peninsula’s current division, for the wellbeing of all of its inhabitants, for the greatly desired gifts of peace and harmony to take up root within their hearts, and for the successful outcome to their efforts for unity and reconciliation—a joyous reality which they have unfortunately been deprived of for the last 65 years. May the God of Peace bless the endeavors and initiatives of all your authorities and citizens, so that their actions may be fruitful and prosperous for all Koreans. We welcome this opportunity to convey our wholehearted gratitude to you for the support and freedom that the Orthodox Church in Korea enjoys and, in general, for the safeguarding and protection of the freedom of religion and worship in your hospitable country.