Address to the Young Presidents Organization, Istanbul

Greetings and welcome to Istanbul, the seat of the Ecumenical Throne of the Orthodox Christian Church - the spiritual home of 350 million Orthodox Christians worldwide.  Here, not only do the continents of Europe and Asia meet, but also people from all over the world gather to enjoy the mystery, majesty, and history of the Queen City.  We are deeply honored to receive such a distinguished group of young and highly talented individuals.

We must admit that when we first received an invitation from the Υoung Presidents Organization, we thought that there must be some mistake. After all, before you stands not a young president, but an elderly patriarch. But as we considered it, we realized that we do have much in common. We have both been placed in positions of leadership, for example - and we both hope to influence the world for the better. So we are especially pleased to be your host here in Istanbu1.

May we say that, you have chosen well in deciding to meet in this place and time. As young executives, one of your duties is to explore new frontiers.  The last great frontier was Eastern Europe, where free enterprise is now taking root. But the next great frontier is the Islamic world, and the path to that world begins in Turkey, which is now approaching admission into the European Union.

We stand today at a crossroads, in every sense of the word.

Literally, we are at the crossroads between continents, that is, between Asia
and Europe.  Istanbul is the only city in the world that straddles two continents.

Figuratively, we are also at the crossroads between two sometimes antagonistic civilizations, that is, between East and West.

And metaphorically, we are at a crossroads in human history, a moment in time when we face a choice eloquently described by the American martyr Dr. Martin Luther Κing, Jr. - "to learn to live together as brothers or to perish together as fools."

There is no salvation through war. There can never be a "war to end all wars" here on earth. The tragic train of events from September 11, 2001 in New York City, to the wars in Kabul in 2002 and Baghdad in 2003, will not save humanity from future struggles - indeed, strife and conflict are constants of human history.  Imperfect beings lead an imperfect existence.

Only God in heaven is free of war, of strife, of hatred. On1y God offers us the possibility of perfect Love and brotherhood.  And on1y by struggling to emulate that perfection ourselves is it possible to lend dignity to our flawed existence.

By reaching out to our fellow human beings, across real or imagined boundaries, we are reaching out for God, in whose image we were made.  Βy coming to Istanbul at a time of conflict, you are serving the cause of peace.

Some have pointed to a modern "clash of civilizations" as inevitable. We who live at the crossroads disagree. -- Indeed; we are living proof that different cultures and different faiths can coexist in peace.

    Distinguished guests, we believe the world has suffered a centuries-long crisis of faith from which it is only now emerging. There is a great hunger for spirituality; there is a thirst for transcendent meaning. We believe that, as we enter a new millennium, religious values, religious feeling and religious faith are undergoing a massive revival.

Since the Enlightenment, the spiritual bedrock of western civilization has been eroded and undermined. Intelligent, well-intentioned people sincerely believed that the wonders of science could replace the miracles of faith. But these great minds missed one vital truth -- that faith is not a garment, to be slipped on and off; it is a quality of the human spirit, from which it is inseparable. The modern era has not eliminated faith -- you could no more eliminate faith than love.  The modern era has simply replaced spiritual faith in God with secular faith in man.

Today, three centuries after the birth of Voltaire, the pendulum is swinging back. The 20th century showed our enormous capacity for creativity -- but it also demonstrated our boundless capacity for destruction. We saw 75 million human beings killed between 1914 and 1945 alone. In its own fearsome power, humanity also recognized its own awesome fallibility.

There has never been a greater need for spiritual leaders to engage themselves in the affairs of this world. We must take a visible place on the stage, especially because too many crimes today are committed in the name of faith. "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves" (Matthew 7: 15).  Although those words come from the Christian tradition, their truth is transcendent.

International spiritual leaders must play an active role in discrediting false prophets, and in healing the wounds of our people. For, as Rabbi Hillel asked, "If not us, then who? If not now, then when?"

Almost a decade ago in Istanbul a group of religious leaders signed the Bosphorus Declaration. We proclaimed that a crime committed in the name of religion is a crime committed against religion.

Our Church has had its own experience with such crimes.

But spiritual leaders must be followed by their faithful in involving themselves in the affairs of the world and in combating these crimes committed in the name of religion. Faithful everywhere must also provide the world with the spiritual solutions that exist to today's problems, which will simultaneously provide examples of true faith and true religion.   

Today in Turkey, the Patriarchate has earned much popular support, from important national figures, down to the average man or woman on the street. Turkish citizens reach out to the Patriarchate regularly to tell us how proud they are to have the First Throne of Orthodoxy on their nation's soil.

If the Church faces a threat in Turkey today, it comes not from the state, nor even from the Moslem mainstream, but from the handful of fundamentalists who have appeared on the scene in recent years. We have seen our graveyards and monuments desecrated; we have seen bombs planted in holy places.

Fundamentalism is a threat, not only to the Ecumenica1 Patriarchate, but also to the Turkish State itself. And fundamentalism is a danger, not just in Turkey, but in New York City and Tokyo.

The rise of fundamentalism has given greater urgency to the cause of East¬-West unity. To return to the point we made earlier, that cause would be served in important ways if Turkey were admitted to the European Union. It would help defuse East-West tensions, bring about greater global understanding, and undermine the cause of fundamentalists and racists on both sides.

There are other events that could also make a difference. The acceptance of Cyprus into the European union and the opening of its Greek-Turkish border could prove yet another breakthrough for East-West unity. Ιn each of these instances, international business has profound interests, and will play a critica1 role.

If Turkey is integrated into the world economy, the gate is opened wider not only to the Islamic world, but a1so to the former Soviet Republics with strong historic links to Turkey: Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan.  These Central Asian republics are in need of Western capital and entrepreneurial expertise. The Turks know the situation there better than most and can help mediate their development.

Many other interests would be served by the integration of Turkey into the European Union. It would have a powerful, positive, and stabilizing effect on all of this country's institutions - including, of course, the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

We must put behind us the divisions and feuds of the past. Once, only conquest united Europe and Asia; today, commerce can achieve the same result.  Instead of ships full of soldiers, let us see ships full of food for the hungry crossing the Bosphorus. The modern way to bring about unity and peace is to open our borders to one another, and let people, capital, ideas, and products flow.

The world has become a global village but only in terms of technological communication.  The citizens of the world desire to live in a true global village, in a world of peace and without borders.  They wish to experience the richness and the gifts that other cultures have to offer.  They wish to share their riches and gifts, which they have to offer.  It is up to the policy makers to make this happen.  Last Tuesday we spoke at a Conference in Athens, organized by the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the World Bank.  The theme of this Conference was "Sustainable Development for Lasting Peace: Shared Water, Shared Future, Shared Knowledge".

Much has already been achieved in the political world.  But neither politicians nor businessmen alone can heal the rifts in our society today. As we said earlier, religious leaders have a centra1 and inspirational role to play -- it is we who must help bring the spiritual principles of ecumenism, brotherhood, and tolerance to the fore.

It is our strong belief at the Ecumenical Patriarchate that Orthodox Christians have a special responsibility to assist in the rapprochement among faiths and cultures.  That is why for several years now our Patriarchate has initiated and organized numerous dialogues both with Islam and Judaism and we personally have visited many moslem countries upon official invitation in order to promote mutual understanding and to strengthen our relations.

We have always lived at the crossroads between East and West; we have witnessed great suffering οn both sides, as we see again today in Iraq; but we have also witnessed the most extraordinary acts of tolerance, such as the welcoming of the expelled Sephardic Jews in 1492 by a Muslim Sultan.

We have lived side-by-side with Moslems and Jews, and we have developed close, trusting relationships with both. In the years ahead, you will see us continue to work to establish and enhance a dialogue between all faiths.

The Church of Peace serves the Prince of Peace, and will do everything in its power to bring about the blessed community. Το quote Dr. Κing again, "Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend."

But we will succeed only if we are united with our fellow spiritual leaders in the spirit of the one God, "Creator of all things visible and invisible". Catholic and Orthodox, Protestant and Jew, Muslim and Hindu, Buddhist and Confucian -¬ it is time not only for rapprochement, but even for alliance and teamwork to help lead our world away from the bloody abyss of extreme nationalism, fundamentalism, fanaticism and intolerance.

We, at the Ecumenical Patriarchate, will continue our efforts to be peacemakers and to light the lamp of the human spirit. We, as a religious institution, do not aspire to become a political power; we wish to remain a Church -- a Church, however, that is free and respected by all. We wish to continue as a religious and spiritual institution, teaching, edifying, serving pan-anthropic ideals, civilizing, and preaching love in every direction.

We will always work in the spirit of divine love. The Ecumenical Patriarchate is rooted in the authentic teaching of the God of love, whose peace "surpasses all understanding" (Phi14: 7). We "pursue what makes for peace" (Rom 14:19). We believe that "God is love" (1 Jn 4:16), which is why we are not afraid to extend our hand in friendship and our heart in love, as we proclaim that "Perfect love casts out fear" (1 Jn 4: 18).

Dear friends;
We are convinced that there is more that unites the community of man, than divides us. We have within our grasp the vision of the Psalmist: "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" We pledge to you today that the Orthodox Christian Church will do everything in her power to fulfill that vision. "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace and goodwill toward men."

Thank you very much.