News IC 64

Patriarch Bartholomew critical of Greek anathemas

Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople has written to Greece’s Archbishop, deploring anti–ecumenical statements from within the Church. In the letter, he said that “Critical voices about ecumenism, long heard in the bosom of the church of Greece, have hitherto been limited in scope—but what has occurred recently has reached unacceptable levels….Such opinions evoke anguish and sorrow by running counter to the Orthodox ethos. They risk unforeseen consequences for church unity in general, and the unity of our holy Orthodox church in particular.”

In the letter to Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens and All-Greece, the Patriarch expressed particular concern about ana-themas read by Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus during the liturgy on March 4th, Orthodoxy Sunday, in which he invoked anathemas against the “fallen arch-heretic,” Pope Benedict XVI, “and those in communion with him,” as well as “all heretical offshoots of the Reformation,” “rabbis of Judaism and Islamists,” and “those who preach and teach the panheresy of inter-Christian and inter-religious syncretistic ecumenism.”

“I urge you to reject and act against these unjustified and dangerous state-ments,” said the Patriarch. “They con-tradict the decisions taken jointly by Orthodox churches to participate in bi-lateral and multilateral theological dia-logue with the heterodox.” The letter also affirmed the traditional partnership between the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Church of Greece as “ecumenical witnesses to Orthodoxy.”

Ecumenical Patriarch addresses Economic Summit

“It is an honor once again to address the Eurasian Economic Summit, which is organized annually by the distinguished Marmara Group and this year is considering various aspects of the relationship between economy and dialogue as well as of development and women’s rights in our world. We have been asked to address how sustainability and economy can be promoted through intercultural and interfaith dialogue.

As a young boy, we recall seeing Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, an extraordinary leader of global vision and ecumenical sensitivity. He was a tall man, with piercing eyes and a very long, white beard. Patriarch Athenagoras was known to resolve conflict by inviting the em-battled parties to meet together, inviting and telling them: “Come, let us look one another in the eyes, and let us then see what we have to say to one another.”

This notion of looking at each other honestly in order to understand and cooperate with one another is surely critical to any concept of intercultural and interfaith dialogue. In recent years, we have all been encouraged as we witness constructive and creative chang-es in contemporary Turkish society with regard to openness and inclusion of other faiths and minority communities.

Likewise, the various gatherings initiated by the Ecumenical Patriarchate serve to bring cultures together in order to establish more meaningful communi-cation with one another. The underlying principle behind such dialogue is that all human beings ultimately face the same problems in life. Therefore, dialogue draws people of diverse religious and cultural backgrounds out of their isolation, preparing them for a process of mutual respect and coexistence.

Of course, some people have strong—we might say fundamentalist—convictions that they would rather sacri-fice their lives than change their views. Others are unfortunately even willing to take the lives of innocent victims to defend these views. This is why we are obliged to listen more carefully, “look at one another” more deeply “in the eyes.” For, in the final analysis, we are always closer to one another in more ways than we are distant or different from one another. We share with and resemble one another far more as members of the same species than we differ in terms of culture, religion, and background.

We hear it said often that our world is in crisis. Yet, never before have human beings had the opportunity to bring so many positive changes to so many people simply through encounter and dialogue. While it may be true that this is a time of crisis, it must likewise be said that there has never before been greater tolerance for diverse traditions, religious prefer-ences, and cultural peculiarities. We are blessed to experience the fruits of this tolerance and dialogue in today’s Turkey.

This does not mean that religious or cultural differences are insignificant or inconsequential. Accordingly, then, we do not approach dialogue in order to impose our arguments on our opponents. We approach dialogue in a spirit of love, sincerity, and honesty. In this respect, dialogue implies equality, which in turn implies humility. Honesty and humility dispel hostility and arrogance. So we must ask ourselves: Are we prepared to respect others in dialogue? How willing are we to learn and to love? If we are not prepared to learn or willing to change, are we truly engaging in dialogue? Or are we in fact conducting a monologue in our society, culture, and religion?

True dialogue is a gift from God. According to St. John Chrysostom, fourth century Archbishop of Constantinople, God is always in dialogue with human beings. God always speaks through people and cultures, and religions, even through creation itself. This is precisely why dialogue is the most fundamental experience of life. Dialogue promotes knowledge and rejects ignorance; it reveals truth and abolishes prejudice; it cultivates bonds and refuses to narrow horizons. Dialogue enriches; whoever refuses dialogue remains impoverished.

In this regard, we must confess that religious leaders bear a special re-sponsibility not to mislead or provoke in the process of dialogue. Their integrity plays a vital role in the promotion of intercultural and interfaith communi-cation. In the fourteenth century, St. Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonika, conducted theological dis-cussions with distinguished represent-atives of Islam. In one such conversation, a Muslim leader expressed the wish that the time would come when mutual understanding will characterize the followers of both religions. St. Gregory agreed, emphasizing his hope that this would come sooner rather than later. It is our humble wish that now be that time. Now, more than ever, is the time for intercultural and interfaith dialogue.

We would not be so naïve as to claim that dialogue comes without risk or cost. Approaching another person—whether of another culture or another belief—always comes with uncertainty as to the final result. One is never sure what to expect: Will the other suspect me? Will the other perceive me as imposing my own way of life or ideology? Will I compromise—or even perhaps lose—what belongs uniquely to my tradition? These questions plague us as we approach dialogue. Nonetheless, when one surrenders to the possibility of dialogue, something sacred happens. In the willingness to embrace the other, beyond any fear or prejudice, the reality of something—or Someone—far greater than us takes over. Indeed, then, we recognize how the profit of dialogue far outweighs any peril.

Beloved distinguished friends, we are convinced that, in spite of cultural or religious differences, we are much closer to one another than we ever imagine.”

Dissolving Borders: The Tatars and Russians of Kazan

In 2000, while backpacking in Russia from Moscow to Lake Baikal, Alison Shuman took a boat trip on the Volga and stopped briefly at the city of Kazan, 800 km east of Moscow, where the pop-ulation is nearly half Tatar Muslims and half Russian Orthodox. Twelve years later she returned to Kazan to create a photo-documentary that explores religious identity in post-Soviet Russia and the relationship between Muslims and Orthodox in the city.

Kazan is heralded as a place where two very different traditions live together in an atmosphere of mutual under-standing and exchange. Alison’s project will explore the ways in which the Tatar Muslims and Russian Orthodox cultures of Kazan overlap in the public sphere and the daily nuanced exchanges that occur between people that make peaceful coexistence possible.

Alison never forgot how she was struck by the continuity of Kazan’s culture as the city has traveled through time, where Muslim and Orthodox still live peacefully together as neighbors, and religion is practiced undisturbed and in mutual respect. She came back to chronicle a story where people from multiethnic and mixed religious back-grounds have for centuries lived together peacefully to show that the violent alternatives that appear regularly in the media need not be taken as the standard model. Her work will also explore the intricacies of how people negotiate their private, spiritual life with their public, societal life.

In 2006, Alison received a Master’s in Photojournalism, and since then has been working as a freelance photo-grapher in Austin, TX and in New York City, where she is now based. Her travels have so far taken her to 14 countries on four continents.

Alison is currently in Kazan working on her project. Her work is funded by donations from people who believe in the importance of the message she hopes to communicate. A video of her work and more information about the project and how to make a donation can be found at

What soldiers do

The video, released in January, of US Marines urinating on dead Taliban depicts just one of several such incidents that have recently seen the light of day and countless others that have not, but it has resulted in the creation of a new training module for troops heading off to war. All NATO soldiers in Afghanistan are now required to learn how to proper-ly handle enemy casualties in a dignified manner and that desecrating dead enemy soldiers is wrong.

While the media show outrage and politicians apologize, military com-manders claim the behavior of these Marines is merely an unprofessional slip from normal standards of conduct and can be corrected with better training.

Lt. Col. Paul Hackett, who teaches the law of war to Marines before they are sent off to Afghanistan, has said that he does not condone the actions of the marines in the video. But he also warned against judging them too harshly, saying: “When you ask young men to go kill people for a living, it takes a whole lot of effort to rein that in.”

Marty Brenner, an anger management specialist who treats combat veterans, said they “have no other way of express-ing their anger at these people…what they’re doing is urinating on them to show, ‘I want the world to see you guys are crap and that’s what you deserve.’ ”

Maynard Sinclair, a Marine veteran of Vietnam, said the outrage shows public naiveté about war. “I did a hell of a lot worse in Vietnam than urinate on dead bodies….We cut left ears off and wore them around our necks to show we were warriors [who] knew how to get revenge.”

“In Vietnam, when you screwed up, no one back home heard about it,” said Gary Solis, a former Marine prosecutor and judge who teaches law of war at Georgetown University. “The Internet has added a dimension that troops in the past did not have to deal with.”

Yet history has recorded both atroci-ties and sanctions in other ways, often as glorious legend. In the Illiad, Achilles kills Hector and refuses a proper burial, yet he relents after Zeus sends word that Achilles “tempts the wrath of heaven too far” with his desire to “vent his mad vengeance on the sacred dead.”

But an overlooked lesson from Homer is the similarity between Achilles’ exper-ience and that of the modern soldier. Achilles went to war to restore honor and achieve glory but was soon driven by grief and then rage at Patroclus’ death and, ultimately, the need for simple revenge and his enemies’ destruction.

While some judge the Marines in the video as simply doing what normal boys do in war, an inevitable feature of all war, others condemn the men as criminal or barbaric.

But, once the war is over and these men return home, some of them will have their broken psyches and demoral-ized spirits treated in clinics, while others are fed one dollar at a time from car windows stopped at traffic lights, and some—too many—will end up in prison after failing to relearn how to behave in civilized society.

Meanwhile, the military will attempt to teach soldiers that killing is okay if they do it nicely and that anger and hating can stop once the enemy is dead.

Tourism as a peacebuilding tool

Shira Nesher, an Israeli, stands alongside Fakhira Halloun, a Palestinian, as Nesher tells her story about life in a conflict zone to a group of American university stu-dents who are hanging onto her every word. “My family members are Holocaust survivors…as an Israeli, I grew up in an environment of fear and conflict. When I was 18, I enlisted in the Defense Forces, where I eventually became a military tour guide and an educator.”

When she is finished, Fakhira follows with her own story. “I am a Palestinian Christian with Israeli citizenship. I grew up in a Druze village, as a minority among minorities, with stories of the nakba, the Palestinian catastrophe, in a place where identity limits access and mobility. Now, I devote my life to finding freedom in my native land.”

These two speakers are tour guides with the Middle East Justice and Develop-ment Initiative (MEJDI); they are leading a dual-narrative tour for a student group. It is rare to see Israelis and Palestinians telling competing narratives, yet working together. Though they live side-by-side, Israelis and Palestinians seldom meet.

MEJDI is the brainchild of two Jewish Americans—one of whom is an Orthodox rabbi—and one Palestinian who work together at the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolu-tion at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia. They believe that peacebuilding activities must use sustain-able business models.

In the past few years, funding for peacebuilding activities has become scarce, and many organizations have struggled to survive. Combining peace-building with a profit-making enterprise provides a self-sustaining business model.

The emotional and physical journey participants take through the narratives of the Holy Land introduces them to many stakeholders on both sides of the conflict. The groups meet with a rabbi who explains the significance of the Western Wall in Judaism. The exploration continues with meeting an imam at the Al-Asqa Mosque. Another day, they visit Ramallah and meet with a high-ranking Palestinian official; they later connect with an Israeli politician in Jerusalem.

A Jewish congregation taking a MEJDI tour requested to spend two nights at a Palestinian refugee camp. Two days later, ethnicity, religion, and background no longer mattered. The congregation and the Palestinians had forged connections that transcended stereotypes. As they parted, tears streamed down the faces of the Palestinians and Jews alike.

On a different tour, a group of Christians, Jews, and Muslims partici-pated in an interfaith trip. The group did not avoid hard questions, and together they experienced some difficult mo-ments. They discussed justice, oppress-ion, and the role of religion in the con-flict. But there were also moments of simply learning about each other’s heri-tage and religion.

The experience of exploring different sides of this thorny conflict is atypical of most tours to the Holy Land. Every year over three million tourists visit Israel and Palestine. Many of the tourists come to see the Holy Land and the holy sites without taking time to meet the people who live there. Their tour guide typically wields an enormous influence on the way they understand the culture, politics and roots of the conflict.

By contrast, the MEJDI guides rely on their personal stories about the conflict, while connecting them back to the larger story of their people. It is not about rehashing the gritty historical details that led up to the present situation, but rather about creating greater understanding. Participants are given time to reflect on the information they learn and interact with the guides and speakers to reconcile their feelings with what they heard.

MEJDI also operates in Egypt, Turkey, and Jordan, and will soon expand to new countries, using the same principle of helping participants experience places through differing narratives.

Tourism has the power to be a positive or negative force for change, with the potential to either entrench preconceptions or facilitate the sharing of stories across cultures. Just last year, almost one billion people traveled to other countries. Imagine what would happen if all these tourists used their travels as an opportunity to foster greater understanding.

Leaders respond to attack on Presbyterian Church

Nearly 500 people, said to be members of a fundamentalist Islamic group, at-tacked the Evangelical Presbyterian Church Bible School in Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, burning Bibles and destroying property. The attack has raised fear among Christians in the north where they make up approximately 5% of the population. Christian Leaders around the world have issued statements calling for restraint on all sides as violence in-creases between Sudan and South Sudan.

The World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) was about to issue a call to prayer for Sudan when the organ-ization received information detailing the burning and destruction, according to the Rev. Setri Nyomi, general secre-tary. The Rev. James Par Tap, moderator of the Sudan Presbyterian Church,  wrote that before the attacks, Ansaar Alsoona, a fundamentalist Islamic group, had announced “al–jihad” against Christianity.

A number of Muslims apologized to Christians saying the actions did not represent the spirit of Islam. Others joined Christians for prayers in the church compound.

Despite proclamations by Sudanese officials about freedom of religion and protection of minorities by the govern-ment, threats against Christians in and around Khartoum are increasing.

❖ IN COMMUNION / issue 64 / Spring 2012