Chief Rabbi Meir Lau;
Chief Rabbi David Rosen;
Members of the American Jewish Committee;
Members of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations
Ladies and gentlemen;
We are honored to be with you today, and we thank you for your kind invitation to deliver greetings from the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Orthodox Church.
Our visit here has been filled with love, and the hospitality shown to us in Israel rivals that of our father, Abraham. Thank you for your kindness towards us, and for graciously receiving the words of encouragement which we bring to you.
We come to this meeting today because of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s heartfelt commitment to loving our neighbor as ourselves, and because of our commitment to our Tradition, and to fulfill our mission as Christians to live in peace with God and all humanity.
A mere 60 years ago, a joint visit of this magnitude would not have been possible. But, here we are, together, in the holy city of Jerusalem at this historic moment. The leaders of Jewish, Muslim, Catholic and Orthodox Traditions have come together, face-to-face, in safety.
In 1964, Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras, two men with open hearts and a vision for unity, met on the Mount of Olives. Something wonderful between Catholic and Orthodox Christians happened then . . . and something greater could happen now.
This week could be the beginning of a consultation, or a dialogue, or even an understanding that is greater than ourselves and our shared history. We could learn from one another, and recalibrate our relationships to transform the future.
We have witnessed this happening in small ways for many years. We fondly remember the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations visit to Thessaloniki, and the rich consultation between us that took place there.
There have also been other moments where we have watched consultations move to dialogue, and 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?”
These are interesting tasks that are required of us. 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.
People of every faith tradition have, at one time or another in history, been violated, dismissed, or oppressed somewhere in the world. We are all in need of forgiving ‘the other’, and we are also in need of receiving forgiveness from one another.
The prophet writes that we are to love mercy, but mercy can only be shown when we are in the position to exact punishment on, or harm, another person. It is easy to love mercy when we are the ones being harmed. However, the greatest test to see how much we love mercy is when we have the opportunity to punish another, but choose to forgive.
The lack of mercy and understanding between peoples and nations perplexes us. Those responsible for atrocities seem invincible, and show no sign of humility. Many of them even claim to be serving their god through their vile acts.
The reality is this: injustice, intolerance, hatred, and criminal behavior serve no god, especially the God of Abraham, the One who created every living person. These acts of war and violence are reprehensible, and become more prevalent when humility and love for our neighbor is absent.
One cannot look the other way in the face of injustice, nor can one withhold mercy and say they are doing the work of the creator. One cannot walk humbly with their God and destroy their neighbor.
To walk humbly during this time in history requires great faith. There are many difficulties in the world: wars, kidnappings and murder of those who have a different religious belief than the majority. There is rampant hedonism; greed; and hopelessness.
Those who are committing crimes, and enacting injustices on the innocent, appear to be stronger than those who seek peace. This is discouraging, and presents us with the temptation to respond with even greater violence.
Clearly, the path towards peace is difficult. Not because shared values are hard to identify, or appropriate responses to injustice are elusive, but because the way of peace requires much from each of us.
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.
We give thanks to God for His love and guidance that brought all of us here, and we give thanks for the hospitality and kindness you have shown to us during our visit. The Ecumenical Patriarchate, our home in Constantinople, is always open to receive you, and we invite you to visit us and allow us to return your hospitality.
May God be gracious to us, and grant us the wisdom and courage to love our neighbor by acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God.