The 9-th Dialogue of EPP-ED Group with the Orthodox Church 20.10.2005, Istanbul

The 9-th Dialogue of EPP-ED Group with the Orthodox Church

20.10.2005, Istanbul

Statement by Latchezar Toshev - Union of Democratic Forces,                                                               Bulgaria

Your Eminence, Your Beatitudes, Reverent Fathers, Members of EPP-ED Group in European Parliament, Distinguished Parliamentarians, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am happy indeed of the continuation of the Dialogue of the   EPP-ED Group with the Orthodox Church and the opportunity to participate in it on behalf of the Union of Democratic Forces -Bulgaria.

Let me first of all to express my satisfaction of this continuous initiative and the invitation extended by HAH the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and to express my gratitude to His Eminence Metropolitan of France Emmanuel for his remarkable efforts as well the once of the Member of European Parliament Alojz Peterle and the real commitment of Stephen Biller, without which this great event would not be possible..

I'd like first of al  to inform you that following the election of Mr. Rene van der Linden as   President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, one of the first decisions of the Bureau of the Assembly under his chairmanship was the Ecumenical Patriarch to be invited to address the Assembly which represents 800 million Europeans. The newly elected Pope Benedict XVI will be invited as well.

As you recall in the final Declaration of the 6-th Dialogue held in Bucurest, in the year 2002, the Orthodox Churches declared their readiness to be involved in the program of the Council of Europe for education for Democratic Citizenship based on the Rights and Responsibilities of the Citizens .Unfortunately-despite that the Year 2005 is declared as European Year of Citizenship based on Education, nothing was done to extend the hand to be taken. In this sense the visit of the Ecumenical Patriarch to the Parliamentary

Assembly in Strasbourg is an opportunity. It could be instrumental in addressing this issue and in achieving concrete results through deeds, not by words.

 Primary objective of the Education was to be cognition. Then due to the tremendous" ocean "of information, Education received a new aim- to create knowledge and skills about how to proceed with this information when needed. And now it seems this model is also inadequate. And the main goal of Education now is knowledge about how to live together in a multicultural and multiconfessional society.
In this case the experience of Orthodox Christianity could be very supportive.
 Freedom as a gift of our God and Creator is one of the core principles of the Orthodox Christians. If God is respecting our freedom, we should respect also the freedom of the others, their free will and free choice, protecting of course our own free will and free choice.

This could explain why in the History of the Orthodox Church there is no violence. In one of my visits to the Holy Mount of Athos I saw an icon where Christ is named "Poganocrator" which means that He came to be Savior not only for the Christians or Jews, but for the whole Mankind including the pagans, if they would accept freely the light of God, as St. Simeon the Prophet said when he saw Jesus Christ presented in the Temple (Luke 2:32).

The second command of our Lord Jesus Christ is to love our brothers and even our animists. We could hate some deeds, but not human beings who are like us-creatures of God.

It is very important.

Father (Abba/Avva) Dorotheos -one of the Orthodox Saints and writers of 6-th Century A.D. wrote in his 6-th Address that if people are closer to the God they will be consequently closer to each other. And if they will be closer to each other they, will consequently be closer to God. His example is a circle in which the center is God and points around are the people.
Actually Avva Dorotheos wrote about the need for greater social cohesion based on Christian values.

Last but not least, I'd like to remind you of the slogan of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church given 135 years ago- here in Istanbul- "Freedom in Order and Unity in Diversity". This is a slogan which at that time seems to be naive, today is fully contemporary and compatible with the principles of European Union, but which has its origin in Christianity. This could explain  why the Bulgarian Church was deeply involved in the rescue of  50 000 Bulgarian Jews  during the Holocaust despite the religious differences, and it had condemned but never persecuted the heretic's communities during the Middle Ages.

Taking into account these examples, I would like to argue why the involvement of the Orthodox Church in educational programs for democratic citizenship could be helpful. And its interaction with other parts of Civil Society could lead to good results. As you know in the New Neighborhood Strategy of the EU, there are countries where Orthodox Churches are very influential and they could be treated as partners by EPP-ED Group in order to introduce Christian values into society and in order to create a better world with greater social cohesion and greater humanity, and more just and fair than it is now.

 Some critics could argue that religious education could destroy secular education which is a fear far from reality. It could give cognition about Faith and its values but not Faith, which is practiced in religious institutions. In a period of deep moral crisis and crisis of values, which our society is facing today we could promote our values against the concept of utilitarianism, which-according to me- is the greatest danger facing our society! These values about we speaking today are invisible, but they are our everything!
In the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, religious communities suffered a lot during the totalitarian communist regimes, which were not only cruel and criminal, but also atheistic. They wanted to destroy not only the Church, but religion itself and the belief of people in something superior to communist doctrine. They really wanted to spoil the Faith of people that the Lord protects them, as it is said in Psalm 13 (-the numeration of Psalms is as in the Orthodox Bible).

At that time churches were not allowed to have social and educational activities. They were infiltrated by secret services agents of the political police. Confessions were taped in order to create mistrust among believers on the mysteries of the church and to make them distant from them. Only those who suffered such repressions could understand entirely the meaning of the word freedom which is so essential for the Orthodox Church. The cruelest was when these regimes imposed pressure on Church servants making them serve the atheistic regime. Many who did not agree to change their belief were killed and became the new martyrs of the Church.

 In the same time, there were other bishops and priests who were not able to resist, their soul had been really crushed. They agreed to collaborate with communist regimes. Their acts could be considered formally as violations of Rules 6 and 81 of the Holy Apostles and to a certain extent in some cases Rule 30, but in many cases it was done after tremendous pressure and repression.

The key word for this Dialogue is "Truth". The Truth is that sets people free, as it is said by our God Jesus Christ (John 8:32) .So we are touching again upon freedom. The Truth through confession and then through forgiveness could lead to a true community-a Community in God -i.e. to community based on a much greater social cohesion and spiritual values and hence reconciled to itself.

The Church as spiritual guide of society should be ahead of this process. Those clerics, who collaborated with the communist-repressive system, should confess this fact and be free from any further dependence on the former political police representatives. To do this requires real spiritual strength. It is not easy to take such a step. The example of Romanian Orthodox Church in this respect is very good one and could be instrumental in solving this issue once and for ever, following such kind of a public catharsis.

 It is not only my view, that without such a public catharsis, the Orthodox Church in  countries which suffered communist regimes will be unable to cooperate truly with its closest allies from the parties of the EPP-family who are sharing the same Christian values. Even-in some cases these priest who formerly cooperated with the communist regimes, today are still closer to the former communist’s parties which is rather strange!
Last December 14-th, 2004; in Paris there was hearing organized by the Political Affairs Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. One of the Russian official experts on this issue had informed and warned the Committee, that in Russia, currently some circles among former communists are searching for a new identity and trying to combine the doctrine of communism, xenophobia, aggressive(anti-western) nationalism and Orthodox Christianity. The Orthodox Christianity is not compatible with any doctrine of hate and violence, or ethnocentrism and ethnofilletism. Religion can not be used for political purposes! In my personal opinion the Orthodox Church should react and to stand against the creation of such a" hybrid". We don't need the creation of a new "monster "of this type. We should stand against such misuse of religion by former atheists.
EPP parties and Christian Democrats being secular parties and not clerical ones were those which stood against any form of dictatorship-against Fascism, Nazism and against Totalitarian Communism respecting values such as freedom, solidarity and humanity, human dignity of individual, a just society and the rule of law-with equal rights for all. In this way the EPP -family is closest to Christianity as a whole. EPP is fighting to create the EU as a Union of values.
The roots of these values are Christian and Europe as a whole is based on them.

Truth is also about the division of the Church nearly 1000 years ago when the mystical body of Jesus was crucified again by some of our ancestors in then still united Christian Church.
The Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church started during the pontificate of the late Pope John Paul II.

He took two very important steps which we appreciate and I'd like to pay tribute to him in this occasion.
 First of all, he had pronounced several times the "Credo" without the contested amendment "fileoque"("and from the Son").

And second-he was the first pope who declared the readiness to discuss the "superiority of the pope"-the first since the split.

In his encyclical "Ut Unum Sint"-art.95, he calls for a discussion with the Orthodox Church on the disputable issues.

 I'd like to underline-discussion, but not common worship before the agreement could hopefully be reached.
According to me, it is most desirable for discussion to continue in the pontificate of the newly elected pope Benedict XVI. Dialogue based on Truth and common understanding is of great importance and it should continue.
 Let's hope!
Thank you for you kind attention and patience!