Ecumenical Patriarchate-IJCIC: Celebrating 40 Years of Dialogue (Jerusalem, December 5, 2017)
Address By His All-Holiness Bartholomew
Your Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem, Eminences, Excellencies, Distinguished participants, Dear friends,
It is an honor to address this historic conference in which we celebrate forty years of dialogue between Orthodoxy and Judaism. We congratulate His Eminence Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, representing our Ecumenical Patriarchate, and Rabbi David Rosen, representing the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, for their tireless efforts in organizing this academic dialogue. We also extend our paternal greetings to the clergy and academics from around the world who have assembled here in this holy city of Jerusalem to strengthen relations between our two communities.
We may derive inspiration and guidance from the fact that we are gathered here in Jerusalem, for it was at the Temple in this city where the children of Israel encountered the divine presence and renewed their covenantal relationship with God. Jerusalem was, is, and will always be more than a city. It is a place of revelation, of blessing and of inspiration. God has chosen this blessed city. The Prophet David sings: “In Judah God is known; His name is great in Israel. His place was made in peace and His dwelling in Zion.” (Psalm 76: 2-3) The city of God is also a city of joy, where God is celebrated. We come to Jerusalem, but the grace of God shines from Zion to the entire world. Jerusalem is a place of love that every person, whether they are believers or not, will always remember. Even from exile the words of the Psalmist resonate: “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.” (Psalm 137:1)
Jews and Christians are rooted in the same land, a Holy Land. Our two religious traditions see God not only as a Creator, but also as a presence and wisdom. Holy Scripture teaches us that God perpetually calls us to dwell in His presence. The three divine visitors came to the tent of the Patriarch Abraham and sat at his table of hospitality. God called Moses to the mountain and his ineffable image appeared to him in the burning bush. The Holy Prophet Elias heard the voice of God in a still, small voice. Because Jerusalem is the place of divine revelation, a place which every day spiritually bears witness of Christ’s mystery, Christians are attached to this region and especially to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This sacred Tomb invites us to shed a fear that is perhaps the most prevalent in our modern age: namely, fear of the other, fear of the different, fear of the adherents of other faiths, other religions, or other confessions. In the face of such conditions, the message of this sacred place is urgent and clear: love the other, the different other, the followers of other faiths and other confessions. Love them as your brothers and sisters. Hatred leads to death, while love “casts out fear” (1 John 4:18) and leads to life. This is why everybody should respect and cherish the Holy Sites of this sacred city as a legacy from our ancestors to humanity. We would like, also, to acknowledge today the crucial mission of the three major Christian confessions, guardians of the Holy Sepulcher, as well as their sincere and fruitful collaboration.
Jews and Christians share the conviction that humanity has a corresponding desire to reach out to God. We all possess an innate epektasis, a deep yearning to strive upward to the divine for a personal encounter with the creator of the cosmos. We all hope to ascend the mountain and enter into a right relationship with God. We all long to come to Jerusalem and be in the divine presence.
The significance of this assembly, forty years after the first, is heightened by the very richness of the traditions associated with that number: the olive branch that marked God’s guarantee to Noah, the years that were the prelude to the entry into this “land of milk and honey,” Christ’s days of preparation in the wilderness prior to His ministry, and those shared with His disciples after His resurrection. As our deliberations are about to unfold, we also celebrate the gifts of language, of dialogue, and of attentive listening which have been so much a part of our respective histories. Throughout the past four decades we have experienced this same reality, for when we enter into dialogue with each other, we behold God in whose image and likeness we are made. Through dialogue, we begin to discern the seed of the Word of God that is planted in the heart of every human. This discernment helps us better comprehend the divine. Indeed, our meetings over these past four decades have produced much precious fruit in this respect. Our familial conversation has helped articulate our respective understanding of scripture, sacred tradition, the nature of the person, and our spiritual encounter with God. In each step of this process, we have not only gained an enhanced appreciation of each other, but also a heightened knowledge of our Creator.
Our dialogue takes on added importance in a world in which our brothers and sisters, rather than being acknowledged as creation’s crown, experience the dehumanizing sting of discrimination, marginalization, and isolation. In such times, as the Psalm states, God commands us all to lift up the gates of the Jerusalem of our hearts and allow the “King of Glory” to enter therein. When we fail to see the icon of God in our neighbor, we darken the image which God has bequeathed to us.
Our work here this week is important, not only to our respective communities, but to the world. We fervently hope that this program, which focuses on the significance of Jerusalem in our two faith traditions, will serve to strengthen the bonds which we have formed over the past forty years so that we may begin the hard and necessary work of the next forty. We meet in Jerusalem, so that we may bring Jerusalem to the world and demonstrate that humanity is truly made in the image and likeness of God and that every act of violence, every act of intolerance, every act of injustice is not simply an affront to humanity but a sin against our Creator. Conversely, this conference demonstrates that our ancient and venerable faiths, rooted in the soil of this city, are committed to a dialogue of love, mercy, and justice, all of which are attributes of the living God in whose presence we hope to stand. For us, today, dialogue and encounter are the real spirit of Jerusalem.
May the grace and infinite mercy of God be with you all!
Source: Ecumenical Patriarchate