Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Patriarch Alexy of Moscow and All Russia Responds to Muslim Scholars

The following is an excerpt from Patriarch Alexy's statement responding to the open letter of 138 Muslim theologians. You may read the entire letter here.

The doctrinal dialogue between the Orthodox Church and Islam has considerably intensified recently. This happened not only because we have to communicate more intensively and to build societal life together, but also because Christians and Muslims have come to face the same challenges which are impossible to meet on one's own. We have together encountered a pressure from the anti-religious worldview that claims universality and seeks to subject all the spheres of life in society. We are also witnesses to attempts to assert a 'new morality' that contradicts the moral norms supported by traditional religions. We should be together to face these challenges.

Some people among both Christians and Muslims have expressed fears that the development of interreligious dialogue may lead to religious syncretism, a review of the doctrines and obliterated borders between religious traditions. Time has shown however that a reasonable system of cooperation between religions helps to preserve and emphasize the unique nature and identity of each of them. Moreover, the development of appropriate forms of interreligious dialogue in itself has proved to be a serious obstacle for manipulations aimed to establish a kind of universal super-religion.

Unfortunately, I have to state that our religions do have enemies who would like to see Christians and Muslims clash, on the one hand, or to bring them to a false 'unity' based on religious and moral indifference, thus giving priority to purely secular concerns, on the other. Therefore we as religious leaders need each other, so that our faithful may preserve their identity in the changing world.

Noteworthy in this connection is the experience of co-existence between Christianity and Islam in Russia. The traditional religions in our country have never come into conflict while preserving their identity for a thousand years. Russia is one of those rare multi-religious and multinational states whose history has not known the religious wars that have plagued various regions of the world.

The basic religious and ethical principles held by the traditional faiths in Russia invariably guided their followers toward cooperation with people of other religions and beliefs in the spirit of peace and harmony. Various religious communities lived side-by-side, working together and defending together their common Motherland. Nevertheless, they stood firm in the faith of their own forefathers, safeguarding it against encroachments from outside and often doing so together in face of invaders from other countries. To this day, our compatriots have not come into any real conflict between them based on religious grounds. In this way, an affective system of interreligious relations based on mutual respect and good-neighborliness was established in Russia.

In today's Russia, there is an important mechanism for interreligious dialogue, namely, the Interreligious Council in Russia, which has been working fruitfully and successfully for over ten years now. Its example and experience have proved to be attractive for the independent states, which have been formed in the post-Soviet space. Religious leaders in these countries have formed a CIS Inter-religious Council. Through these two bodies, together we seek to meet the various challenges of today and to show to the whole world a positive experience of peaceful coexistence and cooperation between Orthodox Christians and Muslims who have lived in the same society for centuries. As is known, in other Christian countries, too, Muslims have had opportunities for developing their religious life freely.

In many Muslim countries, Christians have enjoyed invariable support and have the freedom to live according to their own religious rules. But in some Islamic countries, the legislation prohibits the construction of churches, worship services and free Christian preaching. I hope that the letter of Islamic religious leaders and scholars proposing to intensify dialogue between our two religions will contribute to establishing better conditions for Christian minorities in such countries.

Doctrinally our dialogue could deal with such important themes as the teaching on God, man and the world. At the same time, on the practical plane the Christian-Muslim cooperation could be aimed at safeguarding the role of religion in public life, struggling with the defamation of religion, overcoming intolerance and xenophobia, protecting holy places, preserving places of worship and promoting joint peace initiatives.

It is my conviction that it is precisely the Christians and the Muslims that should initiate inter-religious dialogue on regional and global levels. Therefore, in the framework of international organizations, it seems useful to create mechanisms that make it possible to be more sensitive to the spiritual and cultural traditions of various peoples.

Once again I would like to thank all the Muslim scholars and religious leaders for their open letter. I hope for further fruitful cooperation both in theological dialogue and social sphere.

No comments: