Conference: “Nation, Religions-Orthodoxy and the new European Reality”
The international Conference co-organized by the INTERPARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY ON ORTHODOXY, the EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT and the EUROPEAN COMMISSION in Athens from 17 to 19 of April 2005 on the subject “NATION, RELIGIONS – ORTHODOXY AND THE NEW EUROPEAN REALITY” can be evaluated as of an exceptional political importance. The variety of issues, the number and the high level of presentations, the participation of significant political personalities, as well as the perfect organization, contributed to an intense reflection on such a timely topic.
The objectives of the conference, as identified by the I.A.O. Secretariat, were,
• To seek and pinpoint the role and the significance of nation and religions in the new European reality, and how they could help to overcome risks and problems caused by integration,
• To record the reflection developing in the countries of the European Union on the issues of religions, christianism, national identity, and the public role of European religions in the European constitution,
• To record the reflection developing in Eastern Europe on christianism and orthodoxy, other religions, national consciousness, relations between orthodoxy and nation, cultural relations with Western and Central Europe
• In particular to seek the way in which Orthodoxy can contribute in a society of people with different national origins and religious doctrines, in other words, how Orthodoxy responds to the nihilism of values with a specific proposal, but also, how it responds to nationalism and religious fanaticism with its tolerance, its respect for human freedom and choice and most of all through the model of life it adopts. This is exactly what the President of the Hellenic Republic Mr. Karolos Papoulias stressed to the participants of the conference in his inaugural speech: “..In the dawn of the new millennium, our world seems extremely complicated. Even the most traditional features of human life are overturned or are changing very rapidly. Childhood, adolescence, motherhood, fatherhood, family, work, recognition, retirement, even death itself, take on a new meaning… In modern Europe, the Orthodox Church is called upon to testify the bravery of the Gospel’s message: that is, tolerance and castigation of any form of fanaticism. The Orthodox Church is able to enrich the European contemplation of the world, through its respect for the other.”
Besides, the President of the I.A.O. General Assembly Russian parliamentarian Mr. Sergei Popov, addressing the President of the Hellenic Republic, pointed out that “.Moreover, your presence here today is the best recognition for the eleven-year course of the I.A.O. in international parliamentary affairs, for its support in promoting the ecumenical spirit of Orthodoxy, and for its contribution in mutual understanding, coexistence and cooperation among cultures and religions in the world and in Europe..” And continued to underline that “.This conference contributes in highlighting Europe’s fundamental values and its religious and humanistic beliefs.”
The same issues were raised in the addresses by the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Greek Government Mr. P. Skandalakis, and the A? Vice-President of the Hellenic Parliament Mr. S. Hatzigakis, who said characteristically that “.Nowadays, the Orthodox Christian is called upon to play a significant role in the modern challenges of United Europe. Because, with his model of life, he approaches directly the European idea and proves that he does not constitute only one partial dimension, but its very core animated by a refreshing and modernizing spirit.”
While the President of the Russian State Duma Mr. B.V. Gryzlov, in a message, expressed the hope that the conference would contribute “.to the preservation of international and inter-religious peace and harmony throughout the European continent, to the fruitful dialogue among cultures, to the future strengthening of the spiritual and cultural presence of the Orthodox tradition in Europe.”. The Vice-President of the European Parliament, Greek member of the European Parliament Mr. A. Trakatellis, referred to the role of Europe, and the goal of a strong Union “.that will have ensured support from its citizens – a goal also attempted through the constitutional treaty – which presupposes strong foundations and, especially, our integration in a community of values, for the pursuit of common goals and targets, through the development of the European identity and simultaneous preservation of national identities, with their particular characteristics.”.
Mrs. Giulia Amaducci, representative of the Director General of the Research Directorate General of the European Commission Dr. Achilleas Mitsos, addressing the conference, referred extensively to the text “The spiritual and cultural dimension of Europe”, elaborated by a reflection group after the initiative of the President of the European Commission Mr. Romano Prodi. (see website Moreover, the Ecumenical Patriarch Mr. Bartholomew in his message to the conference participants and the I.A.O. members “.all considered as most precious and dearest sons and daughters of our Mother, Great Holy Church of Christ.”, having stressed the fact that Orthodoxy is the par excellence one and only revelation of God, he underlines that “.this does not prevent us from disseminating to those ‘outside’ Christ’s enclosure the elements of faith which can contribute to the improvement of human relations and peaceful coexistence among the different cultural and religious traditions of the people of the earth.”.
Besides, in his speech during the conference, the Metropolite of Ephesus Chrysostomos, referring to the issue of “ecclesiastical oikonomia”, supplements, in a way, what is mentioned in the Patriarch’s letter, describing this as “.that particular ecclesiastical capability of Orthodoxy to establish, promote and experience mutual approach, mutual tolerance and coexistence with the ‘others’, in all its external relations and references..”
In his opening report, the I.A.O. Secretary, member of the Hellenic Parliament Mr. Stylianos-Angelos Papathemelis attempted to condense the views of the organization on the topics of the conference. “..Europe accomplished achievements during half a century of formations and reformations; otherwise it would have dissolved. However, retrogressive movements and marking time are different from a dashing march forward. But this requires spiritual driving forces. The Report of the Prodi Group correctly concludes that “the original expectation, that the political unity of the EU would be a consequence of the European common market, has proven to be illusory”..It is clear that political union presupposes political cohesion. And this requires freedom of political action. New action forces are needed. Where are these to be sought? In the common European civilization. This is the source of unity and cohesion.. We have to point out here, though, the recognized need to resort to the contribution of religion as an integral component of various cultures, in the reconstruction, and particularly, the cohesion, as well as the continuation of Europe. We desire a Europe of Nations, of peoples and citizens. We refuse assimilation and equation. Besides, those are “ideals” of globalization, which is adverse to Europe. The preservation of national particular characters. must also be an active policy of European leadership, because these particular characters are sources of power and the driving forces for the Union itself.. European developments must be monitored by Europeans. Their weaning through a rationalization of euro-atlantic relations from the suffocating tutelage of the USA, is most urgent and sine qua non. The imposition internationally of the American model of globalization requires resistances that can be delivered only by an alert Europe using its spiritual arsenal..Orthodoxy has a long history of coexistence with peoples, religions and cultures. Its existential differentiation from other denominations did not prevent it from launching a dialogue and highlighting, through dialectic, the authenticity of its doctrine..” And he concluded by stressing “.The EU must derive from the religious and national traditions of its members the powerful everlasting elements that will render its venture effective.”
The Archbishop of Athens and all of Greece Mr. Christodoulos, in his speech during the 2nd session of the conference, referring to the selection of the subject of the conference, pointed out that this “.proves the vivacity of the Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy, as well as its audacity to bring up painful problems for discussion. The subject of this Conference is indeed in the centre of intense reflection and many debates, where the Orthodox world, unfortunately, does not seem to play the leading part. On the contrary, and this is exactly the reason for the prevailing impression that religion is a residue of the past, that it is one of the defective beings destined to the black hole of the “brave new world”. May your Conference become the beginning of a fruitful dialogue, a reflection in which the Church of the faithful will have the main say.”
His Holiness Patriarch Aram, Catholicos of Cilicia, trying to answer the question “what kind of church we want today”, stressed: ”
The Orthodox Church has to adopt a new approach to the relations between nation and church in Europe. Church and nation in the history of my people were identified to the extent that demarcation lines between church and nation became absolutely impossible, inexistent. The question for us is the following: what kind of church do we desire to achieve today: national or nationalistic? I think you all realize there is great difference between the two models, the two perceptions about the Church. And my reply is that both and neither are needed at the same time.”
In her intervention during the 3rd session, the Greek Minister of Education and Religious Affairs Mrs. M. Giannakou pointed out that “.the concept of religious tolerance as expressed in the Ecumenical Declaration of human rights, in the convention of the Council of Europe that has been applied by the European court of human rights, and also in the new constitutional treaty of the European Union, allows tolerance to become the basis for the function of religions, which certainly gives citizens the opportunity to behave accordingly.”
Finally, greeting the conference, the Secretary of the PARLIAMENTARY UNION OF THE ORGANIZATION OF THE ISLAMIC CONFERENCE MEMBER STATES ambassador Mr. I.A. Auf stated that “.we appreciate the content of the reflection text of your Conference, attached to the invitation, where, methodically and logically, you point out the utmost importance of dialogue and its goals during the revision of facts in the European region, as well as the imminent risks in the new European reality.”
After the end of the Conference, the I.A.O. Secretariat elaborated and summarized the conclusions and recommendations of the conference.