- Created: October 28, 2009
- Written by His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
Rabbi Arthur Schneier,
Distinguished Leaders of the Jewish Community,
It is indeed a real joy for us to be afforded the opportunity to visit this blessed Park East Synagogue in the heart of this extraordinary city. We are familiar with your spiritual leaders; we are acquainted with your religious and social programs; and we admire your diverse educational initiatives for the formation of your faithful. More particularly, however, we are aware of the extraordinary work for religious freedom by Rabbi Schneier through the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, for which our dear friend has deservedly received the Patriarch Athenagoras Human Rights Award of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in America from the hands of our Exarch, Archbishop Demetrios.
Yet, our visit here is more than simply a formality; it transcends a mere courteous visit of a Christian leader to a Jewish leader. Even as the successor of St. Peter, our brother, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, visited here last year, we also come, the successor of Peter’s earthly brother, the First-Called Apostle Saint Andrew, inspired by our fervent conviction that the most urgent task that lies before all faith communities is our global cooperation for the promotion of greater tolerance and understanding among the peoples, races and religions of our planet. This is why, accompanying us today is His Eminence Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, who facilitates and chairs the international academic consultations between Orthodox Christianity and Judaism, initiated by the Ecumenical Patriarchate since the mid-1970s. There is no doubt in our mind that interfaith dialogue is a responsibility and obligation for all religious leaders of our time. For not only do we have common ground that unites us – such as the sacred Scriptures that we cherish, as well as the Patriarchs and Prophets that we venerate – but we also have common issues that we face in our world.
Foremost among these crucial issues is the preservation of God’s creation, the natural environment that we are commanded to “till and keep” (Genesis 2.15) as priestly stewards of the earth. As you are aware, we have just completed our eighth ecological symposium on the Mississippi River in New Orleans, where we raised awareness to the vast ethical and social problems intimately related to the devastation of the world’s natural resources as a result of human arrogance and greed.
From the outset of our environmental initiatives, we recognized the importance of working together with other disciplines (such as scientists and policy makers) as well as other confessions and religions. For the environment surely transcends doctrinal boundaries; it is something for which we are collectively responsible; it is something that we can only address together and not in isolation. And faith communities in the United States have an increased responsibility and obligation to educate their faithful about the grave impact of first-world nations on the planet’s capacity for survival.
Other issues of common concern for the world’s faith communities include the rising fundamentalism and fanaticism in religious circles, as well as the escalating racism and terrorism in the world. That is why we joined with Rabbi Schneier and we continue to work with the Appeal of Conscience Foundation to encourage greater understanding and tolerance among religions, and when necessary to speak the truth in love and to declare, as was first declared in Bern and reaffirmed in Istanbul: “A crime committed in the name of religion is a crime against religion”.
We owe it – as Jews and Christians – to our common heritage, to imitate our forefather Abraham, who received the unexpected visit of the three strangers under the shade of the oak trees in Mamre (described in Genesis 18). Israel’s patriarch did not consider these strangers a threat or danger to his ways or possessions. He was not accursed by xenophobia – the fear of the stranger, but rather he was consumed by philoxenia, the love of the stranger. Instead, he spontaneously shared with them his friendship and his food, extending such generous hospitality that the just treatment and compassionate care of strangers is enshrined in the Torah, and in the Orthodox Christian tradition – this scene has been interpreted and identified with the life of God!
Dear friends, we are called to become prophetic communities of transformation in a world of stagnation, prophetic communities of peace in a global society threatened by war, prophetic communities of dialogue in a culture characterized by conflict, and prophetic communities of reconciliation with God’s creation at a time when the earth’s future is at risk.
We all have great exemplars to follow. For us Christians, we shall never forget the heroes of Bulgaria and Greece who, during the Second World War, risked their own lives to save their Jewish friends and neighbors from the outrageous horror of the Holocaust. And for you, children of Abraham, we have those heroes who, against all odds, established a new nation to safeguard the tradition of the people of Israel. Neither of these efforts was perfect – only a handful were saved, and today we behold how difficult it is to establish security and justice for all in the Middle East. Nevertheless, we are not dismayed. We are emboldened to continue our common struggle.
Let us face these tasks together. Let us hold our hands not only in prayer, but also in solidarity with one another. We owe it to our God, to our common patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to each other, and to the world.