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Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew: “The Ancient Patriarchates of the East are bastions of values and traditions”

With the opening address delivered by His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the 4th International Conference on Religious Diplomacy commenced its proceedings on Tuesday, 12 March 2024. The conference is organised by the Institute of Foreign Affairs in the centre of Athens and the “Church and Culture” Laboratory of the School of Theology of the National Academy of Sciences of the University of Athens, with serving as the communication sponsor.

In his address, the Ecumenical Patriarch stressed that the answer to humans’ existential problems cannot be given without a spiritual approach. “The four Ancient Patriarchates of the East are bastions of values and traditions,” he said. “It is obvious that co-existence with other traditions and religions has not been easy, due to the rise of religious fundamentalism,” he added. “The declaration of Brussels after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 confirms the constructive role of religion in the world, with the aim of bringing peace to the world,” stressed the Ecumenical Patriarch.

“Regrettably,” he added, “the Orthodox world has endured the painful consequences of politics infiltrating religion. He remarked that nowadays the Patriarchates of the East are at the centre of geopolitical conflicts. A significant portion of the inhabitants of the Middle East were forced to emigrate and, therefore, the human geography of the area has changed. “What is the duty of world Orthodoxy in this context after the Russian Church’s infiltration into the territories of the Patriarchate of Alexandria?” the Ecumenical Patriarch wondered.

He emphasised that it’s undeniable that peace and cooperation cannot solely stem from economic development or technological advancement; rather, they require “divine intervention” and the influence of spiritual forces inherent in religions. “The Church must contribute to the understanding of progress,” he stressed.

Georgios Kotsiras, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs (who represented Greek Prime Minister Mr. Kyriakos Mitsotakis), said that the contribution of the Ancient Patriarchates in the Middle East is invaluable. The main topic of the conference is multidimensional. He added that the presence of the Patriarchates, intertwined with culture, stands as an indisputable testament to Greek history and a lasting legacy of the Greek world.

He noted that the strengthening of the Patriarchates is of particular importance. “The influence of the Patriarchates extends throughout the broader region. The initiatives undertaken by the Greek State are not new endeavours but rather a continuation of long-standing efforts, owing to the centuries-old presence of our Churches,” stated the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs.

As he stressed, on the African continent, the Metropolises of the Patriarchate of Alexandria have been spreading Orthodox Christianity, which is also the case in the countries of central Europe with several initiatives taken over time.

Greece has a long-standing cooperation with Orthodox Churches around the world aiming at the preservation of language and culture. The relations with the countries of the region is strengthened by the efforts made by the Patriarchates, he concluded.

His Grace Bishop Pavlos of Thespa conveyed the message of His Beatitude Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens and All Greece. “The Patriarchates in the Middle East are at the heart of many problems. Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians is a true challenge for the Churches. We aspire for the presence of the Orthodox community to foster partnerships among peoples, serving as a beacon of truth and love,” he remarked, among other sentiments.

Professor Kenourgios conveyed a message on behalf of the Rector of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Mr. Gerasimos Siasos. As he emphasized, the Patriarchates stand as bastions of Orthodoxy in a unique region. During their long presence, they have been important witnesses in times of peace and conflict. The conference comes to highlight the global influence of the Patriarchs in the region at a time of tension.

“Orthodoxy in the Middle East is facing challenges. However, it supports the value of religious freedom, which is always present through humanitarian intitiatives, as well as education and culture. It is certain that the spiritual and cultural light that they radiate as the cradle of humanity and exaltation to the divine, will continue to inspire Orthodox populations,” he said. “The academic community of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens is interested in what is happening in the Middle East and is open to further collaborations,” he concluded.