It was my honor to be invited to contribute to a publication for the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of His All-Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew’s election as Ecumenical Patriarch.
Allow me to quote from the words I wrote:-
The third verse of the first psalm describes the righteous paragon with the image of a luxuriant tree with deep roots planted by the streams of waters “whose fruit is produced in its time whose leaf does not wither and all that it does shall succeed” (see also Jeremiah 17:8)
There is an understandable but regrettable tendency among those who are deeply rooted in a religious tradition to be insular and exclusive in their world outlook. While on the other hand, all too often those who are more open to engagement with those different from themselves reflect a superficiality lacking substance.
However the ideal as reflected in the above Biblical image, is of one profoundly rooted within his own heritage and yet whose branches reach out as widely as possible providing fruit for all. Such is the blessing, intellectual and spiritual, that His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew brings both to his own community and also to the world at large.
From the outset of his Patriarchate he has advanced interreligious dialogue especially within the Abrahamic family - but also beyond it, expressing his recognition that the Divine Presence is to be found within the diversity of human religious experience.
Indeed his leadership in the environmental movement, long before it became fashionable, is a reflection of his sincere and genuine care for the cosmos as a whole.
Particularly important has been his commitment to combatting the terrible abuse of religion and striving to ensure that it be the force for good that is its purpose.
Time and again he has declared that “war in the name of religion is war against religion”; and as noted by Archbishop Demetrios of America, “Patriarch Bartholomew has been at the forefront of organizing international inter-religious conferences to confront the evils of religious fanaticism and intolerance.”
His All Holiness has furthermore exquisitely expounded on the goals and the practical meaning of interreligious dialogue as a path to human unit.
It was my great privilege to host a luncheon in Jerusalem in his honor, attended by the Chief Rabbi of Israel and other dignitaries, when he met there with Pope Francis celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the historic meeting between their predecessors Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras.
I would like to quote extensively from Patriarch Bartholomew’s inspiring words on that occasion. He declared:
“We are waiting for that moment when our consultations, dialogues and steps toward unity, become expressions of true peace. Imagine what that day will be like: Abraham’s children – as numerous as the stars in the sky – working together without fear of ‘the other’.
How do we get to this glorious place of true peace? We must begin by doing what is required of us during our brief time on earth.
The ancient prophet Micah identifies our responsibility with regard to living as we should. In chapter 6, verse 8 the prophet writes: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”
It seems strange that making peace with our neighbors is not specifically listed here by the prophet as a requirement. Perhaps, peace is one of the fruits of doing what is required of us – the result of choosing to live in justice, mercy and humility?
When we come together in consultation, we are too often driven to do so because of injustice. In a world filled with powerful people and nations, it is assumed that those who desire peace must become even more powerful, in order to defeat the ideologies and distractions of the politics of power, money and fanaticism.
Consultations can afford us the strength of acknowledgement and solidarity, and provide a sense of the power we feel we need to overcome injustice.
However, it is not through our power – but through the recognition of our limitations – that God’s ultimate ability to create a new reality is understood. When consultations become dialogues, mercy can be exercised. We have to come to truly know one another through dialogue in order to move towards mercy and forgiveness. Those who seek peace have to humble themselves, and show mercy to others, and act justly.
Perhaps, peace is, ultimately, a reflection of love: a love that is demonstrated through humility, mercy, and just actions.
Peace has not yet come through meetings, consultations and dialogues; and it cannot be established through merely tolerating ‘the other’. Peace will come when the world chooses to love their neighbors as themselves. Love is the corner stone in the foundation upon which we hope to build a lasting peace.”
Patriarch Bartholomew accordingly serves not only as an inspiring example for his own flock and faith, but indeed for all religious communities and for all of society – a model and inspiration for the path of human unity for which we give thanks to the One Creator and Guide of the Universe.