First of all I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to the organizers of this precious meeting, especially to the Community of Sant’ Egidio, for the kind invitation and indeed the privilege to address this distinguished audience on the subject of globalization.
May I also take this auspicious opportunity to convey to all of you the good wishes and blessings of His Beatitude, Archbishop of Athens Hieronymos II and of the Venerable Synod of the Church of Greece.
Globalization is one of the most discussed topics in today’s global politics. It has become the most common term that has no precise and universally accepted academic definition. There are widely differing views on its interpretation. The phenomenon itself is multi-sided and multi-dimensional, hence the multiplicity of its given definitions, interpretations and approaches.
The concept of globalization has become the most popular instrument of modern science for the understanding and analysis of various social processes. In sociology, the term refers to a broad range of phenomena and trends such as: the development of global ideologies; the genesis and evolution of a new world order; the emergence and development of international organizations, NGOs, and transnational corporations; the weakening of the sovereignty of nation-states; the substantial growth of international commerce, communication and transport.
Some of the primary consequences of globalization are the international redistribution or labour, the ever growing international movement of capital, material and human resources, the standardization of law and economic and technological processes, as well as the mixing of peoples, cultures and religions of different regions and countries. This is an objective process of systemic character, since it covers all aspects of society.
From a theoretical as well as empirical point of view, the researchers and analysts of globalization could be broadly considered to fall into three distinct main groups:
The so-called “agnostics” who view the phenomenon of globalization not as something entirely new, considering instead that increased economic and commercial internationalization has been empirically observed even before World War I.
The “enthusiasts” of globalization or “hyperglobizers” who underline the massive change in the global economy and the triumph of financial markets at the expense of the sovereignty of nation-states and the autarky of national economies.
On the other hand, the “critics” or “sceptics” of globalization who tend to criticize the various treads of increasing economic globalization, generally deeming the consequences to be malign for the national population, the state sovereignity, or even the religious and national identities and traditions of the peoples.
Globalization and the migration of peoples
Indeed, one of the main consequences of globalization is the increasing migration of peoples, especially from Asia and Africa, mainly towards the wealthier European states. Although migration has always been an inherent characteristic of human history, globalization and the subsequent progress in terms of transport and communication appear to have further facilitated the quantitative development of the phenomenon. Of course economic and other considerations both here as well as in the countries of migrant origin have also played a crucial role in the overall process, while fewer prejudices of any kind have made the acceptance of migrants much easier for the receiving populations.
In last few years, as a result of the ongoing Syrian civil conflict and the chaotic situations in Afghanistan, Iraq and in other parts of Asia and Africa millions of migrants arrived Europe. Many of these migrants followed the so-called Eastern Mediterranean and Balkan corridor, mainly through Greece. The Orthodox Church of Greece, through her dioceses, parishes and various charity organizations and especially through the charity organization “Apostoli”, has been very involved in helping all those people coming to Greece, mainly through the Asian shores of Turkey to the neighbouring Greek islands in the Aegean Sea.
The Archbishop and the Synod have on many occasions invited and indeed urged the people of Greece to demonstrate understanding, solidarity and love towards all those arriving in our land, regardless of their ethnic and religious origin, or despite the harsh economic conditions, still prevailing in Greece. May I recall here the blessed meeting of three religious leaders, the Pope of Rome Francis, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew and the Primate of the Church of Greece Hieronymos on the Greek island of Lesbos, which back in 2015 and 2016 had become the main point of entry for thousands of refugees and migrants from Syria, Afghanistan and other parts of the world.
However, the possibilities of Greece are indeed very, very limited due to the ongoing financial and social crisis, the programmes of economic adjustment and the consequences of economic policies which are to remain for years. It is therefore imperative that the European Union and our European partners assume their part of responsibility, while other solutions to the acute migration problem must also be considered and must be urgently and systematically sought.
Although the refugee and migrant flows had been limited due to the March 2016 EU-Turkey agreement, recently we are again observing a very substantial increase. It is highly disconcerting to observe that people continue to be the victims of political expediencies of states and leaders and are being “used” as instruments of blackmail for political, economic or geostrategic interests.
Moreover, everyone should keep in mind that Europe cannot resolve the global problem of poverty, inequality or lack of democracy and freedom, and that all regional and local actors, namely political leaders, intellectuals, organizations etc. across the world should assume their own responsibilities at the local and international level.
The Role of Religions
The prevailing attitude within many churches and religions seems to be considering that globalization is primarily a threat to the national and religious identity of a given people. Religious leaders and theologians tend to underline and emphasize the “end” of national or religious particularities, the emergence of forms of religious syncretism, or even new forms of economic and/or cultural colonialism. Moreover globalization seems to increase economic inequalities, while it is also linked to the degradation of the environment and the current ecological crisis.
Hence the critical attitude of many intellectuals, movements ore religious leaders, asking for a “globalization with social responsibility” or a “globalization with respect towards religious and cultural identities” etc.
In this regard the role of religion becomes again very crucial not only in terms of identity but also in terms of mutual coexistence:
From the theoretical point of view, religions must underline the values of respect, love, solidarity, interreligious cooperation in mutual honesty, without double discourse, ulterior motives or prejudice whatsoever.
From a practical point of view religions are invited to demonstrate the quality of the faith they profess with acts of love and respect. Faith with no acts of love or with bad acts cannot be considered a true faith. This maxim applies to all religions and all religions are also judged on the basis of the acts – good or bad – committed by their followers and not by simple declarations of their religious leaderships.
In current Europe and across the globe, religions are invited to promote the best of their values and to inspire to their people the respect towards the other, underlining at the same time the common humanistic values and traditions they all share in common, in order to avoid fundamentalisms of any kind.
We, as Orthodox Christians, are particularly concerned with the fate of the indigenous Christian and indeed of all small and vulnerable ethno-religious communities in the Near East and everywhere across the world. We are convinced that all communities are a part and parcel of the local landscape for centuries or even millennia and do enrich in a unique way the region, where they live, with their religious, cultural, social and economic contributions.
Globalization and the role of Orthodoxy
Globalization should not be perceived with constant fear and rejection. After all, it is a well-established reality that we can hardly avoid or deny. Of course we should not neglect or underestimate the negative aspects of the overall phenomenon, and in this sense we should be actively working towards healing or alleviating all the negative consequences.
In historical terms, Christianity was born and thrived in the “globalized Hellenistic environment” of the Roman Empire of the 1st cent. AD. Today, globalization – especially in communication and transport – has brought the Christian and indeed every religious message to the four corners of the globe.
It is therefore imperative for all parties involved to promote the constructive dialogue among churches and religions. In this context I would like to comment the positive contribution of the venerable Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, which - as Primus among all local Orthodox Churches - coordinates the inter-Christian and inter-religious dialogue of the Orthodox Church with other Christian churches and other religions, such as Islam or Judaism. I would also like to commend positively the contribution of the Church of Greece, through its Synodical Commission of Inter-Orthodox and Inter-Christian Relations, and to underline that the Church of Greece is committed to dialogue aiming at creating the conditions for a better world.
The Orthodox Church is invited to develop her own positive initiatives vis-à-vis the challenges - good, less good or even bad - posed by globalization; for our Orthodox people, Orthodoxy and the Church could be a true spiritual refuge and a source of identify and solidarity against the challenges and uncertainties of an aggressive globalization that reduces or even destroys local particularities.
For the outside world, we, Orthodox, drawing from the precepts of our faith, and in full confidence in the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, have the unique opportunity to express dynamically our invaluable spiritual and theological heritage, to make it known to the four corners of the globe and to work as an honest actor of mutual understanding, respect, friendship and cooperation, calling for social and economic justice, respect for human rights, democracy and the rights of all the peoples to live in peace, prosperity and progress, in reconciliation with God and with each other.
Certainly, globalization poses new challenges, but also creates new terms, concepts and even relations, but also new opportunities for solidarity, cooperation and common action for the good of humanity. Without neglecting or underestimating the negative aspects, I think we should concentrate our attention on the positive sides of globalization. We are all invited to promote the values of mutual respect and unprejudicial acceptance, equality, social and economic justice and the protection of the environment, our common house and the gift of God to all of us. Religions can play a pivotal role in this regard, especially in our days, when ideologies seem to be losing ground and influence and when many peoples – despite appearances - are or may be looking to religions for inspiration and renewal. In this “global village” we ought this pivotal and positive role to ourselves, to our respective religious heritages and to the future generations.