The problem of the relations between Christians and people of other religions is much more complicated. In general it has two facets. The first is practical: the need to co-exist with people of other religious persuasions. In this case, we have a “dialogue of life” where the only appropriate attitude is one of peaceful co-existence, respect for religious freedom and, broadly speaking, for the human rights of others. But there can also be co-operation on matters of social harmony and progress.
The second is theoretical: understanding other religions from a theological standpoint. Just as the life of Christ, the new Adam, has world-wide consequences, so the life of His mystical Body, the Church has world-wide range and energy. Its prayers and interests embrace the whole of humankind. The Church offers its Divine Eucharist and Doxology on behalf of all people. It acts on behalf of the whole world. It radiates the glory of the living Lord to the whole of creation.
An attitude to life that respects the religious principles and views of others does not imply syncretism and estrangement from one’s awareness of being a Christian. On the contrary, it demands knowledge of our faith and a continuous experience of it in repentance, humility and genuine love. The message of the Primates of the Orthodox Churches at the festal concelebration at Bethlehem on 7 January, 2000, emphasized: “We look to the other religions, especially the monotheistic ones of Judaism and Islam, willing to build even further the conditions necessary for dialogue with them for the purpose of the peaceful coexistence of all peoples… The Orthodox Church rejects bigotry and condemns religious fanaticism, whatever the provenance of these phenomena”. In general it supports the harmonious co-existence of religious communities and minorities as well as freedom of conscience for each person and people.
Especially as regards the relations between Christians and Islam, we have centuries-old experience, substantially more than the West. On the one hand, these have been traumatic because of the pressure involved, but, on the other, there are examples of peaceful co-existence. Today, a serious problem which can be dealt with in common with people of other religions is the protection of the natural environment. Ecological issues, which are now at the centre of world interest, are a broad field for creative inter-faith dialogue and co-operation.
More generally, I believe that the proper Orthodox attitude in today’s multi-faith society is the outlook of witness and mission. “And you shall be witnesses to me in Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1, 8). “Ends” in all senses. We testify to our faith wherever God opens a door: in non-Christian, indifferent or atheistic environments- in Europe, in Africa, in international or global organizations. Without any requirement that our positions be accepted, without the spirit of proselytism, without arrogance, without anxiety or phobias. With respect for the personal freedom of the other. God will take care of the rest. This internal disposition gives us the chance to communicate with ease, offering the Orthodox experience in all directions, including to those who have different religious or world views. Whatever they believe or don’t believe, they still have value as human persons, made in the image of God….
“Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana”
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