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Monday, March 20, 2023

Let’s be peacemakers!

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Guest Author
Guest Author

By Patriarch Irinej of Serbia

A culture of peace and our responsibility

The biblical greeting reads: Peace be with you! It has become a traditional greeting for the three world monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Let me express my sincere respect for you and address the forum with this ancient and sacred greeting:

Peace to you! Shalom Aleichem! Εἰρήνη ὑμῖν! As-salaam ‘alaikum!

In the worship of the Orthodox Church, this greeting sounds in a slightly different form: Peace to all! And with it I appeal to everyone without exception, to those who are deprived of peace, who do not have peace in themselves and with themselves and cannot spread it to people and nations. Let me remind you that we, Orthodox Christians, at the beginning of each divine service, ask God for peace. First of all, it means the inner spiritual world of a person, a world that transforms the most militant person into a peacemaker, and then “peace of the whole world”, peace between peoples and countries.

We believe in a God of peace and love, kindness and forgiveness. Therefore, in Orthodox Christianity and Christianity in general, peace does not mean only the absence of war, but first of all the presence of spiritual qualities – acceptance and respect for others, others, their freedom and dignity, their God-given and natural right to all the blessings that we desire for ourselves. If we are inspired by such spirituality, peace will become possible for all mankind. Without such spirituality, war is inevitable, even if there are only two people on earth, even brothers, like once Cain and Abel. In this context, I would like to emphasize the fact that peace is an ideal, and peacefulness is a virtue in the system of values of all world religions and spiritual traditions. So, in our tradition of greeting each other with a call to peace, we feel the need for this greeting. True, unfortunately, we often do it automatically, without delving into its true meaning, without thinking about the responsibility inherent in it.

During the past decades, and especially recently, there has not been a speaker who could rejoice that from this worthy rostrum he addresses politicians in the conditions of a common peace. And today, when we talk about the culture of peace, the winds of war rage and fires blaze in different parts of the world.

And today, force opposes law and justice, and selfish interests are covered with a mask of altruism.

Has not the time come, seeing our joint unsuccessful attempts to establish peace between peoples and countries, to seriously ask ourselves: what is the true meaning of the exchange of peace greetings we are accustomed to? Are we entitled to this noble greeting, precious to believers of all world religions and to all people of good will? Isn’t it extremely hypocritical to present and spread the beauty of faith in God and lofty spiritual teachings, to exalt the dignity of the human person and at the same time agree that peace is impossible and war is inevitable? Are we capable, will we find the strength to seriously and responsibly test our conscience? Can we reconcile ourselves to the fact that we have lost the courage to stand for truth and justice, and the ability to call a spade a spade?

On behalf of the Serbian Orthodox Church, which I have the honor to represent here, and I am sure, on behalf of all Christianity, all sincerely believing people of the world, I urge you to pray fervently for peace in the world, sincerely and persistently by common efforts, to work on creating conditions for the victory of peace over wars , and dialogue is above the dictatorship of force.

I believe that there is not a person, not a human society, in this hall, or anywhere on the planet, who does not agree with such a call. But mere declarative consent alone is not enough. We see convincing confirmation of this every day, for every day dramatic events take place in the world. In order for a culture of peace to truly take root in the world, which means, first of all, in the human heart and mind, it is necessary to diligently educate a person for the world, in the world.

The Church and religious associations, by the nature of their mission, should participate in this in an organized and consistent manner. In serving for peace, reconciliation and overcoming conflicts, they are obliged – precisely in the name of faith, spiritual and moral values – to cooperate sincerely. There is no doubt that they are doing this to a certain extent, in the social space available to them, but it is obvious that the efforts they have made are not enough. Even if they had objective opportunities, the will and desire for more zealous service on the path to peace, this would not be enough, because the Church and religious associations, without the assistance of other participants in socio-historical processes, cannot achieve the necessary turning changes. In conditions of isolation, and especially in conditions of marginalization in certain societies, they are not able to lead humanity to a common peace, when the salutatory call for peace will not be an empty sound, echoing the hypocritical cynicism and soulless pragmatism that unfortunately prevails in international relations. Moreover, some Churches and religious associations fell into the temptation to follow the logic of ideological one-sidedness, political power, and this, in fact, is incompatible with their message.

By coincidence of historical circumstances, one part of the world – smaller, but still more influential in matters of choosing war and peace – is spared from major armed conflicts. People who are lucky enough to live in that part of the world seem to live in a period when there are no big wars in the world. This is a big misconception. A larger, more numerous part of the world is rocked by military clashes that only seem distant, either geographically or because they happen to others. There can be no peace in the world as long as it is a temporary privilege of a minority, and terrible everyday life or the threat of a quiet life in the foreseeable future are a reality for most of the population of our planet. If this is not realized in time, then a terrible moment may come when there will be no peace anywhere else.

I came here from an unfortunate, and far from small, part of the world, where instability, conflicts and wars have continued throughout history, and I testify that the people who suffered, died, survived in these wars cannot reconcile with them nor get used to them. After all, before falling into the abyss of sin and evil, man was created to live in freedom and peace with his loved ones. So let me share with you the experience of my Church and my people. This is a people who have not been spared by many troubles, a people who today in Kosovo and Metohija, their spiritual and state cradle, are deprived of the right to a life worthy of a person, and often to life in general. But this is a nation that directs its eyes and hopes to the future, ready to engage in a joint global project to create conditions for a just and lasting peace among peoples, peoples and countries.

Our common goal should be to create a secure and lasting peace. Taking into account the experience of the past, the trials of the present, this looks like a distant and difficult goal. But this is the only way leading to the survival of mankind. A prerequisite for the beginning of the implementation of this distant goal is that all of us, regardless of religious, ethnic, cultural and political affiliation and differences, consistently, without the use of double standards, uphold respect for the principle of equality and justice in international relations. For the strength of the world is inseparable from its righteousness. Here I am talking about a righteousness that will be felt by one and all and to which no one will be forced by partial, selective and tendentious “truths” imposed through the use of force or the means of modern propaganda. The culture of peace is incompatible with the cult of selfishness, with the practice of absolutism of selfish interests. The simple, albeit difficult to comprehend, reasonable, valuable and moral foundation on which all religious anthropology is based implies the realization that all people, before and above all differences, are given a unique human nature and entrusted with the sacred duty to ennoble and improve it.

In the understanding of such a given, religion and science – and we hope politics – do not and should not have disagreements. For our time and future, this is an obvious starting point in the general search for a way to overcome deep-seated contradictions that still deprive the greeting “Peace be with you” of an existential dimension and vital truth.

The creation of the world should not be limited to socio-political activity alone, but an activity that ontologically consists in the service of faith, hope and love, in the service of life and salvation.

And therefore – let’s be peacemakers!

Thank you for your patient and generous attention!

Edit. Note: At the initiative of the President of the United Nations General Assembly, Vuk Jeremic in 2013, on September 6, the “Forum on a Culture of Peace” was held at the UN residence in New York, one of the participants of which was Patriarch Irinej of Serbia. This one-day forum was organized for UN member countries, as well as non-governmental organizations and religious leaders, to address issues of tolerance in the international community, cultural and religious dialogue. Along with the Serbian Patriarch, Chairman of the Islamic Community of North America Said Siid and Rabbi Eli Abadi addressed the meeting.

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