NEWS STORY: Ecumenical patriarch urges bridging the `cultural divide’

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c. 1997 Religion News Service

LOS ANGELES _ Sounding the twin themes of religious tolerance and the sacredness of creation, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew Friday (Nov. 7) articulated his vision of a post-Cold War global culture, a world in which national and religious differences do not necessarily lead to discord.”There has been an increasing tendency in political discourse to speak of a clash of civilizations as the frontiers between Muslim and Christian worlds begin to dissolve before global, political and economic forces,”the Orthodox Christian leader said in an address to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council.”Nationalist ideals converge with religious zeal and cultural pride, creating unexpected geo-political tides, which seem to have a power all their own.” But from his vantage point in Muslim Istanbul _ once the Christian stronghold of Constantinople _ Bartholomew said he saw”as many possibilities for cooperation and shared goals as … dangers of division.” The patriarch is regarded as the”elder brother”of a family of 15 Orthodox patriarchs, leaders of more than 250 million Orthodox Christians divided along ethnic lines, with roots deep in some of the world’s most troubled areas: the Middle East, the former Soviet Union and the Balkans.

He also has direct authority over the 13 million-member Greek Orthodox Church, which includes the 1.5 million-member Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

Bartholomew told an audience of about 600 at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel that he has taken it as his vocation to find constructive ways to address differences _ not only among ethnically divided Orthodox Christians, but also among Christians, Muslims and Jews.”We consider a lively dialogue between these three faith traditions to be essential in sharpening the sharp edge of the cultural divide,”he said.”Knowledge of and mutual appreciation of legitimate differences between cultures lead to the enhancement of civilization, not further alienation.” The sources of peace in a post-Cold War culture, he said, are found in both religion and in a profound respect for the planet.”For Orthodox Christians, peace is not merely the cessation of hostility,”he said.”Love of God, love of neighbor, love of one’s enemy has an existential impact on the phenomenal world.” And in apparent reference to the hostilities that have pitted Orthodox Christians against Bosnian Muslims and Roman Catholic Croats in the former Yugoslavia and Christian Arabs against Muslims and Jews in the Middle East, he issued a stern warning:”A crime in the name of religion is a crime against all religion. Religious faith must be seen by temporal powers as … an instrument of peace.” The patriarch cast the environmental ruin of the Black Sea, the Danube and much of Eastern Europe as both a tragedy and a rallying point for all people. Bartholomew, who continues his monthlong U.S. tour this weekend with an environmental symposium in Santa Barbara, Calif., has long been known to use these issues as a teaching moment for Orthodox theology.”In the teaching of our church, nature is perceived as being full of the glory of God, even though it groans with the rest of creation,”he said.”Humanity has a meditative, and indeed, eucharistic role in exercising dominion over the earth. This is a far cry from domination and the exploitation which has characterized … the post-industrial era.”


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