An Orthodox Reflection on Truth & Tolerance
Rev. Dr. George C. Papademetriou
Orthodox Christianity is committed to the truth claim of the Christian Faith. This claim includes the Biblical truth that all human beings are created by God in His image and that Christ is the only Savior of the world.
Consequently, Orthodoxy is strongly committed to Christ as the Messiah and to the tolerance of other religious expressions. In this double commitment lies the source of a creative tension for Orthodox Christians involved in the interfaith dialogue and attitudes of the non-Christian religions.
Orthodoxy affirms continually the centrality of Christ in the Church and world. He is "the same yesterday and today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8). Orthodox Christians are committed to the truth claim of the Christian Faith not as ideology but as an expression of holiness. At the same time Orthodoxy is committed to the tolerance of other religious expressions.
Orthodox Christian people most often live in societies of cultural, linguistic and religious pluralism. For that reason, the Orthodox have developed an attitude of respect for others, and a tolerance and understanding for people of other faiths. The Orthodox Church does not have an "official" pronouncement expressing the attitude toward other religions. However, Orthodoxy has a long-standing tradition showing respect and tolerance for people of other faiths. It is well-stated by an Orthodox Christian theologian and Archbishop, Anastasios Yannoulatos, of Albania, that, "being created in the image of God, every human being is our brother and sister."
It is a strong Orthodox view that our commitment to the Christian truth claim must affirm a pluralistic democratic setting for all people to live in peace and harmony. Orthodoxy holds fast to the truth of Christianity and defends the right of other religious expressions to co-exist in harmony in a democratic system where the law equally protects all.
The question of truth is of highest importance to Orthodoxy. "What is Truth?" Pontius Pilate asked (John 18:38). Christ kept silent. Christians interpret this silence as His reply that the "Truth" was standing before him - Christ is the "Truth." "Truth" makes reference to the knowledge of being. Tolerance "implies a certain relationship of religious faith with truth in every concrete manifestation in the world, whether national political or sociological" (Damaskinos Papandreou, "Truth and Tolerance in Orthodoxy"). The source of all truth is God the Creator, who gives existence to all beings. God is the originator and the human being is the receiver.
For Orthodoxy there is a fusion between the truth claim of Christianity and a mandate for tolerance. We may say that one cannot be a Christian if he/ she does not embrace the doctrine of tolerance as a mandate of Christian love.
This most significant teaching of tolerance in Orthodoxy is contained in an encyclical letter of Ecumenical Patriarch Metrophanes III (1520-1580). This document was written to the Greek Orthodox in Crete (1568) upon hearing of the mistreatment of the Jews. In it he states, "Injustice, therefore, is and stands, regardless to whomever acted upon or performed against, as still injustice.
The unjust person is never relieved of the responsibility of these unjust acts under the pretext that the injustice done is done against a heterodox and not to a believer. As our Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospels said, "Do not oppress or accuse anyone falsely; do not make any distinction or give room to the believers to injure those of another belief."
I close with the thought that all human beings are the children of God created in His image, and tolerance of other people having different faith is an imperative commend given by Christ himself. I am also committed to the words of our Lord, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life" (John 14:6).
Source: Boston Theological Institute, BTI Newsletter, Newton Centre, MA