2010 News Archives

Opening Remarks of His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios at the International Archon Religious Freedom Conference

November 16, 2010

Brussels, Belgium

With gratitude toward God and with fervent prayer for all people, I greet you with love in the Lord at the opening of this historic International Archon Religious Freedom Conference.  Once again, as last night, we express our wholehearted thanks to the Archons of our Ecumenical Patriarchate, both from America and Europe, for a truly impressive preparation and commendable realization of such a promising conference. The Archons have worked intensely, lovingly, and offered significant sacrifices in order to make sure that a conference for the religious freedom of our Ecumenical Patriarchate and the religious minorities in Turkey will contribute in eliminating everything that prevents a full exercise of religious freedom by them. It is a great honor for the Archons to be directly under the Ecumenical Patriarch a leader of huge proportions as person and as a leader who is continuously opening inter-national, inter-cultural, inter-religious and inter-faith doors of dialogue, cooperation, and co-existence worldwide. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew is very proud of the 800 Archons in America and the hundreds throughout Europe and considers them, justifiably so, as the beloved children of the Ecumenical Throne.

At this point, as we embark upon this highly responsible task, we remember one of the favorite expressions frequently used by the Apostle Paul. He spoke about how God placed before him at crucial times in his ministry an open door (cf. Acts 14:27, 1 Corinthians 16:29, 2 Corinthians 2:12, Colossians 4:3).  By this Saint Paul meant that God Himself created unique opportunities to extend the ministry of liberation, peace, and healing for all people.  An open door is a new opportunity for entering into unknown areas of human experience, for discovering new possibilities for enhancing human relationships, for learning new ways of co-existence among religiously, culturally, and ethnically diversified people. An open door is an entryway into a new era of understanding and mutual respect between the religious minorities and the state in which they live. An open door can also be viewed as a new opportunity for eliminating the unacceptable limitations of religious freedom unfairly imposed upon the religious minorities in Turkey and specifically on the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Under this perspective, the present International Conference so carefully and methodically organized by the Archons our Ecumenical Patriarchate constitutes the open door for Turkey to demonstrate her willingness to build the bridge of connection with the European Union.

Freedom is not an abstract isolated word and concept. Freedom is integrally connected with two basic concepts and realities: truth and love. There is no way to develop any real and genuine freedom without a parallel effort to be truthful and to speak the truth. Dealing with freedom requires the truth in terms of facts, conditions, persons, and socio-cultural parameters. At this point allow me to site a very characteristic passage from the Gospel of John where Jesus said you will know the Truth, and the Truth will make you free (John 8:31-32).  This is of absolute importance in any effort of establishing any kind of freedom.

The second equally important concept related to freedom is love. Freedom pertains to human beings. And one cannot deal with human beings in terms of freedom without loving them and seeing in them the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27). Here again a very important passage from the Bible gives us a key for a better understanding of the issue. In his letter to the Galatians, St. Paul wrote you have been called to freedom; however, do not take freedom as an excuse for sinful selfish actions. But through love serve each other (5:13). The idea is very clear: Freedom presupposes relationships of care and love for each other.

If truth and love are the indispensable factors in establishing and promoting any kind of freedom, it is all the more so in dealing with religious freedom. Of all forms of liberty or independence religious freedom; i.e. the freedom of the practice of one’s own religious preferences, is the most delicate and vital form of freedom. It is so because ultimately religious freedom has as its object the relationship with God our Creator and our absolutely significant Other.

With this International Conference today we face an open door of friendship and we create an opportunity for genuine encounter. We create an opportunity for freedom understood in indispensable connection with truth and love, a freedom to be shared in an open forum, unfettered by narrowness of mind or thought. We will engage in a free exchange of ideas that of itself will promote freedom – the most basic human freedom, the freedom to worship God according to one’s own conscience. The work that begins today is not only for the participants. It is a work that affects the lives, liberty, and happiness of people around the globe.

Allow me to explain.  Today we engage in discussions focusing on the specifics of the liberties and rights of religious minorities in Turkey.  But our deliberations have a much broader scope than individual persons and states. All people desire to live in peace, to worship freely, to provide adequately for their loved ones, and to love their homeland.  To the extent that people are prohibited from realizing these aspirations, they are not free.

We have gathered here in Brussels to speak not only about the issues surrounding religious minorities in Turkey; we are speaking about minorities wherever they may be. Whether Muslims in Zurich, or Christians in Baghdad, or Jews in Mumbai, or Hindus in Los Angeles – our work during these short yet extraordinary days will set a standard for others not merely to appreciate or to applaud, but to follow.

When we see a fellow human being’s religious freedom violated, what we are really seeing is the violation of a fundamental human right to worship God. Somewhere in our own souls, we ourselves are wounded, and we experience the feeling of terrible loss.

It is in the most basic interests of every human being to insist on the rights of every brother and sister, especially those in the minority. Even so, it is in the most basic interests of societies, states and nations to insist that all of their citizens have equal rights, especially the fundamental right of religious freedom.

Therefore, let us walk boldly together through the door that is opened us to us this day. Let us commit ourselves to the sacred effort of promoting the fullness of religious freedom for every human being especially for the people who belong to minorities.

We start from Turkey and we go far beyond. With the help of God, the Creator of Freedom, we might establish this conference as milestone in the noble task of creating freedom, especially religious freedom, for all.

Today you open that door of friendship through face-to-face encounter.  Open that door wide, dear friends, for it is the way to Liberty, not merely for some, but or all the inhabitants of this planet Earth.

May God who is the Maker and Father of us all, bless you and guide you into all Truth, for the glory of His Holy Name, and for the freedom of His whole Creation.

Orthodox Observer Online