Armenian Orhodox Primate, Patriarchate of Etchmiadzin
I am honored to be here, among many distinguished representatives, at this International Meeting for Peace, which engulfs a large scope of thoughts, concerns, anxieties, to voice our hopes, insights and visions, to bear witness and focus our prayers on Peace for the “Peace is the Future”, which has been the strive and desire of humanity throughout its existence. We have come together to take our share of responsibility for a better world as part of human family under One and unchangeable God, our Heavenly Father.
As you know I come from a country that is called the land of Biblical Mount Ararat where God established His Covenant of Peace with the reborn humanity and with His entire creation (Gen. 9-8-18). I represent a Church, whose history has been often identified with martyrology and the accounts of suffering, persecutions, forced emigration, genocide, continuous crises and upheaval appear on almost every page of her centuries-old annals and particularly “in the last 100 years during and after WW I”. It has shaped the spiritual identity of the nation and formed the ethical-moral perception and system of values through the practical theology – the theology of the cross – that assumes sacrifice, suffering, compassion, fellowship, faith, hope and love. It is in that context as well as consciousness that I will concentrate upon the subject of “Solidarity: Keyword of our Time”.
When we turn now to our contemporary world it is undeniable that in the past 100 years the world has changed enormously. It has seen two world wars, revolutions, change of political orders, unnecessary and unending chain of wars in Middle East and elsewhere under the banner of democracy and human rights.
Today we live in a world of reductionism, relativism, vast information, increasing medical needs,
where human being is subjected to the laws of the market place with the inevitability of injustices,
where the sense of responsibility is subdued to the rights, and the most exalted human rights is becoming a “new religion”,
where there is a massive current through media and entertainment industry to reduce the person to the level of a mere physical or material object, attacking human dignity and responsibility,
where the person would be reduced to “cipher with neither purpose nor hope. Others have already carried out this reduction with the creation of “secular man” who believes nothing and ultimately cares for nothing”.
where the bioethical discipline and biomedical issues are infested by the socio-economic interests rather than deliberated from the theological, moral or spiritual perspective,
where the perception of ecology and environment is in a constant conflict with economic interests and industrial development,
where the rapidly advancing scientific technologies intrude in the most sacred areas of human life urging to make a decision on the beginning and end of life issues.
In fact, there have been more changes in the last 20 years than there have been in the past 2000 and more years. Therefore it has been rightfully and precisely stated that “man has exalted change in everything but himself”.
Solidarity is the catchword for this gathering, which I shall try to analyze in its Biblical and theological sense and context and its call on us for our current theme of deliberations of “Peace is the Future”.
The opening declaration of Christ’s birth lays the foundation of the understanding of Christian principle and opens up a new dimension in human history: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (St. Luke 2:14). It is a universal call on humanity for a new beginning where “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28-29). In the long history of salvation, in His relationship with His creation God has proactively attempted to restore the ruptured humanity in its designated place to return to its calling to be the lord of the created world and have dominion over it (Gen. 1:28). God Himself in His ontological inner being, as Trinity, as a community of Three distinct Persons, as a “community of ousia” presents a perfect example of solidarity, harmony and peace, which is the principal source of Christian theology and ethics. There is no dissolution, subordination and confusion, but a total unity in relationship as one and many at the same time, united in an interconnected relationship through love. As we shall see this Trinitarian mode of existence is crucial in defining the human person, his character and nature as a communal being. Therefore, since the human beings are created in His “image and likeness” (Gen. 1:26), existentially it demands a new mode of existence of community, a way of being, that is called to live, work and worship in divine reality with responsibility and certain ethical criteria, which generates a particular self-understanding and form of life. It shapes the Christian life of communal fellowship as a distinct call and mission, contrary to the emphasis on individualism and individual rights of the modern world - as a community of persons in an organic relationship. This existential reality is embedded in the Johannine proclamation of the Trinitarian ideal unity and oneness, as an eternal community in love and freedom: “I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me” (St. John 17:23). It is the dynamic relationship of God with His people and intense preparation of fallen humanity for the supreme revelation of God through the Incarnation of the Son of God to heal and reconcile the ruptured humanity in His intimate, original and natural fellowship.
The principle of this new humanity is that free, loving, self-giving act of Christ on behalf of others, being-with-each-other, working for the neighbor, intercessory prayer, and finally the mutual forgiveness of sins in the name of God. Thus, the community of human beings, receives not a static situation but dynamic and transforming character, in which the participants live the life of love, faith, hope, in freedom and joy, feeling the presence of God and rendering it to the world and being-for each-other, in wholeness and solidarity, that is, being Christ to one another, self-renouncing, through active discipleship, not merely for the forgiveness of sin but for the renewal of life and for the eternal salvation in the Kingdom of Heaven. (Gal. 5: 6). Therefore, the main task of this community is to make the Kingdom a reality in the world, which is not a passive state and rejection of or escape from the world, but rather the transformation of it; not a change of place but a change of existing behavior. The Incarnate Truth offers the world, the humanity, without any discrimination, a highest reward for being peacemakers: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (St. Matt. 5:9). But what kind of peacemaking or peace He talks about? Let us examine our life, what is it that we all desire, strive and struggle for? Nations and states fight to establish peace; demand justice and freedom in order to live or coexist peacefully, people spend their health and entire life to gain peace and security. And in all this crazy combat and battle for existence we create more havoc and upheavals than peace and harmony. It is exactly for this reason that Jesus at the last hours of His earthly life reminds and invites the humanity to embrace a phenomenon that is not influenced by human interpretations but rather draws a new perception and instills hope in the world: “Peace I live with you. My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you”. (St. John 14:27).
When we talk about the necessity and importance of solidarity, we often misinterpret and identify it with conformity, or nebulous compassion and deceptive concern at the miseries of people. We often talk rather than work towards committing ourselves to the common good and feel truly responsible for all. The question remains, how we face and understand the world today with tremendous challenges, confrontations, conflicts and hostilities both on personal and collective level? In trying to answer this question our late Patriache Garegin I, almost 17 years ago, at the European Ecumenical Assembly in Graz said: “We all realize that events, trends, movements, in so many cases of revolutionary nature and dimension in the political structures, in human culture, in ideology, in economic systems, in ethical concepts, in moral codes followed one another so quickly that the human process of logical reflection and life experience could not fully digest them. And to a large extent, that very indigestion is our problem of today”. The more we talk about peace, harmony, and solidarity the worse it becomes, the world is becoming more wounded and suffering turns into a commonplace. The question is what remedy do we, as the ones who seem to know and understand God’s plan and “do theology” offer to heal our world to make it a place where truth and justice shall always prevail for the good of all, and give a place to solidarity, to openness to each other and service of all. We have to move from just expressing our concerns to a real commitment to human solidarity and mutual understanding, to bear our share of social responsibility. It is true that nations are becoming more and more interdependent and the world is rapidly moving towards creating obscure and shallow “global community”. Uniformity or uni-culturism profoundly contradict to the ideal of solidarity and on the other hand diversity does not necessarily imply division or confusion. The perfect formulation for understanding the core value of solidarity is given by St. Augustine, which has been slightly modified and affirmed in our Armenian spiritual tradition by one of the Armenian Patriarchs of 12th century St. Nerses the Graceful in the midst of doctrinal controversies. “Unity in important matters, Liberty in the secondaries and Love in everything”. This fundamental principle has been the heart of Armenian Christianity and the existential way of living of our people, who has been able to navigate and in spite of all kinds of political or religious hostilities managed overcome the most destructive challenges of life. Particularly the beginning of the 20th century has been marred by the most inhuman act of atrocities against Armenians. Almost 100 years have elapsed but the international community is still hesitant to recognize it as Genocide, as a crime not only against a particular nation but a crime against humanity. Unfortunately the political interests, the double standards and conventional morality weigh heavier than the truth and justice, in a sense that it is usually being “decided which people have human rights and from which people these should by definition be denied”. “As churches, we must protest the crimes going on before the eyes of the world today. And we must speak forcefully for a universal doctrine of human rights: whether it involves the fight for life itself in Syria and Egypt; or whether it is a struggle for the right to self-determination of a free people in the Republic of Nagorno-Karabagh. We must assert, with one voice, that the violation of these basic rights will not be tolerated in any part of the world; because without a foundation of justice and human rights, the peace we seek will be only temporary and fleeting”.
In today’s world solidarity, peace and harmony are increasingly becoming an imperative of absolute necessity. As churches and religions we are called for renewal and rediscovery, to make our presence relevant in the society, to impart hope and generate cohesion and concord in the world, which needs moral and spiritual nourishment.
In the end I would like to conclude with the words of Garegin I, of blessed memory, that “Our credibility will be measured not by the eloquence of our words but by the quality and power of our life – a life of Reconciliation, a life for Reconciliation”.