Address of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in Mardin: "Religion and Peace in Light of Abraham"

With profound appreciation for this opportunity to share with you a reflection on our father, Abraham, I greet you in peace! For it is indeed peace, with justice and righteousness that is central to the legacy of Abraham we share as his sons and daughters in faith.

As we all know from the ageless story handed down to us, the Lord came to visit Abraham and his wife Sarah in the form of three men. Of course, tradition has identified these men as angels of the Lord, and in Christian theology these angels form the symbol of the Trinity, as artistically represented in the Trinitarian icons so familiar in Orthodox churches worldwide.

During this visit, according to the Hebrew Scriptures, the Lord made an interesting comment as he contemplated telling Abraham of his intentions with regard to the city of Sodom: “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by him? No, for I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice; so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him” (Gen. 18:18-19).

“…that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice.” This is a legacy left to us by our father, Abraham. If we are to be recognized as his descendents – either by blood, by promise, or by adoption – we are to be a people who pursue righteousness and justice, and thus pursue peace.

* * *

Jews, Christians and Muslims all claim to be descended from Abraham. Our faiths are very clear that we are all somehow his children. But it is interesting to note in this passage that what is characteristic of his children is that they are pursuers of peace. In other words, what should characterize us, his children, is our dedication to the pursuit of peace.

In today’s world, it seems that pursuers of peace are few. Terrorists wantonly kill innocent people to make a political statement. Countries go to war against other countries without justification. Ethnic groups commit genocide against other ethnic groups. Racism still causes enmity between people. Children are killed daily, either in war by conventional weapons or in urban street violence by small arms. Even religious rhetoric is often filled with hate speech directed against other religions. And the list of horrors goes on and on.

In the midst of all these troubles, where are those who pursue peace?

Certainly, there must be peacemakers among us. Certainly, there are those who cry out in a seemingly lonely voice to heaven for God to establish peace. Certainly, there are men and women in this world who, in the spirit of the prophets, seek justice in order to lay the foundation for peace. If we are true to our respective faiths, Jews, Christians and Muslims have no option. If we are true to our father Abraham, to seek peace must be our task.

* * *

I once heard an interpretation of the Lord’s visit to Abraham that might be useful in the context of our reflection. What if, the story goes, the three angels returned to visit Abraham, and one of them was a Jew, one of them was a Christian, and one of them was a Muslim? What would Abraham say to them? The question I would pose to you, my friends, is this: what would Abraham say to the three visitors today? What would he say to us if we were standing in his presence? What would be our answer?

Theologically, our answer would be based on the principles that all of us hold in common. Indeed, we may differ theologically – we each profess ultimate truth claims that cannot be entirely reconciled, either through the covenant with Moses, the revelation in Jesus Christ, or the words of the Prophet Mohammed. But we also share theological principles that must be affirmed, especially in light of our common ancestor Abraham.

We all uphold belief in God as that which leads to the fulfillment of the human person. We all uphold the dignity of the human person as the basis for relationship among all people. We all uphold justice for all people as the goal of our efforts as faithful children of God. Certainly based on at least these three, shared principles, we can stand together before our father, Abraham.

These three theological principles lead to the search within our respective traditions for imperatives that motivate us to pursue peace. And these imperatives lead us to concrete action.

Belief in God, and in his sovereignty and love, compels us to love one another, and to desire for the well being of all. This leads us to work on behalf of the others whose fulfillment is thwarted by evils in the world. For example, it leads us to do all we can to minister to those suffering from HIV / AIDS, to teach and preach against the stigmatization that this disease often brings, to care for the families of those affected by the disease, and ultimately to support the scientific research that would eliminate the scourge of this disease from the earth. Some might ask why I include responding to HIV / AIDS as an example of peacemaking. To me, the answer is clear: HIV / AIDS is destroying the infrastructure of countries throughout the African continent, and if we do not find a solution, the hopelessness and violence that result there will affect all people of the world.

Belief in the dignity of the human person demands that we treat all people with respect. This leads us to speak out against those who would humiliate, oppress, and commit violence against others. For example, it leads us to condemn terrorism and war, comfort prisoners, and seek to heal the divisions among people. I am sure that no one in this room, given current events, would question the importance of this example.

Belief in justice requires that we bring an end to injustice. This leads us to seek sustainable development for the economic well being of all. It leads us to address the root causes of terrorism. It leads us to foster reconciliation between enemies. For example, it leads us to try to eliminate the crushing poverty that is the cause of alienation, desperation, and all other manner of hopelessness, and thus of the spontaneous eruptions of violence that result from such hopelessness. It is up to religious communities to call upon societies to solve these problems, so that all people experience the wholeness that is offered by God to his creation. This example, which is often lost in secular circles, is certainly the responsibility of religious voices to raise.

* * *

Even as we pursue peace through these types of action, religious communities have other resources that they have traditionally shared, and must continue to share, with those in need. Religious communities offer refuge to those affected by the storms of life. Religious communities offer charity to those who hunger and thirst. Religious communities offer healing to those who are sick, those who mourn and those who are at enmity with one another. Certainly we have done much; certainly there is more we can do.

These resources have over the years demonstrated the faithfulness that is at the heart of every religion. Not surprisingly, they are at the heart of what it means to be the inheritors of Abraham’s legacy. For as Jews, Christians and Muslims recall, Abraham offered shelter, a meal, and even a challenge to overlook the sins of others, to his heavenly visitors. If Abraham could be so faithful in the presence of the Lord, it is incumbent upon us to be so faithful in the presence of all people created in the Lord’s image.

My friends, this is what it means for religions to seek peace in the light of Abraham. As war rages on the biblical home of our father, Abraham, the importance of this legacy is even more pronounced.

Let us seek peace. Let us work for peace. And let us pray for the peace of God, which is the basis for all peace on earth. In this way, it can thus be as written in the Hebrew Scriptures: “…and by your descendants shall the nations of the earth bless themselves…” (Gen. 22:18a).

 

Thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

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