Here below is the address of Fr. Boulos Rouhana, the Secretary General of the Middle East Council of Churches, delivered at the opening session of the Christian-Moslem deliberation about the Christian presence and bearing witness in the Arab world, held at the Armenian Orthodox Catholicos at Antelias, Lebanon.
His Holiness Aram 1st , Armenian Orthodox Catholicos, House of Cilicia, Head of the Eastern Orthodox Churches family in the Middle East Council of Churches,His Beatitude Michel Sabbah, Latin Patriarch Emeritus of Jerusalem,
Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit, WCC General Secretary, Geneva
Participants in the Christian-Moslem deliberation,
1. To begin, I would like to express gratitude to His Holiness, Catholicos Aram 1st, for hosting this Christian-Moslem deliberation about the Christian presence and bearing witness in the Arab world in light of what has come to be known as the “Arab spring”. He has called for and organized this deliberation in cooperation with the WCC in Geneva, represented here among us by its General Secretary, the Rev. Dr. Olav and Mr. Michel Nusseir, Director of the WCC Middle East office.
2. This deliberation is an expression of a shared Christian and Moslem concern, East and West, for the pursuit of building plural societies based on the principle of human dignity that draws its strength from the shared belief in the One God, creator of all and Father to all. That human dignity is the basic source of all human rights and duties called for by all believers and men of good will. To emphasize the divine basis for the shared human dignity of all people, I would like to cite a couplet from an old Syriac hymn for the deceased that comprises a beautiful and concise description of the making of the “handsome Adam”, the top most of creatures. The hymn says: “God gathered earth from the four corners of the earth, molded Adam to his image and likeness” (cf. the Maronite Beth Gazo”) or “the Treasure Home” Hymns for the deceased, prefaced and translated by Fr. Yohannah Tabet, el Keslik, Lebanon, 2004 p. 104).
The human being, each human being, according to the symbolic meaning of this remarkable hymn is an epitome of the world. Maybe we could rise up to this level of spiritual awareness in the cosmic or all-encompassing dimension of our common humanity. This dimension does not only concern Christians and Moslems but all people irrespective of race, country or religious affiliation. Religion, in the first place, aims at developing and strengthening common humanitarian spaces among all human beings so that they meet as brethren in the expansive realm of God. However, it must be noticed in this realm that the religious history of peoples, unfortunately, witnesses a noticeable contraction of those spaces, probably due to the short sightedness of the believers who confine God into the framework of their own narrow concepts. Here, lies the tragedy of religion, but a number of the religious, theologians and clerics … all have a common concern not to live religion as a tragedy but as a message of liberation through which we discover the beauty of human dignity that brings us together.
3. Christian presence in the Arab world is an old renewed issue and a focal point in the activities of the WCC. It is a “Danho” (a Syriac word that means ‘revelation and proclamation’) presence that reveals a situation, a vocation and a message. In the Syriac tradition, the baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan is an act of “Danho”, or a revelation and proclamation of the real identity of Jesus and his public mission. Christians, through baptism, become a part of “Danho” proclaiming their vocation and mission to follow their teacher Jesus. In this context, Christian presence in the Arab world, with all that it entails in Christian and Moslem coexistence, is not a pragmatic issue dictated by changing social and political conditions. From this point of view, Christians and Moslems are not two opposed political parties; they are, in the first place, witnesses to a new humanity in the light of their common faith in the One God, creator of all beings, even though this faith uses different forms and expressions with each of them.
In the past two decades, important Church documents were issued on matters of Christian presence in the Arab world, witness and a message, of which I recall the second Message of the Catholic Patriarchs of the East (1992), the Pastoral messages subsequent to the meetings of the Eastern Heads of Churches under the auspices of the WCC and the document of the Bishops Synod for the Middle East held in Rome in 2010. Today, we are called not to repeat all that past documents contained but to a renewed awareness of this presence in the light of the profound changes witnessed by our Arab societies in the Middle East, which equally concerns Christians and Moslems. It is incumbent upon us, in this personal and collective review of those changes, to take into consideration the current Christian concerns towards them, and they are numerous.
First, what is the status of Christians as citizens in the midst of societies with a Moslem majority that aspires to regulate Arab societies in accordance to Islamic religious standards?
Second, what is the status of a human being in the new Arab regimes? Would those regimes adopt the principle of absolute equality among the people on the basis of common human dignity or would they establish discrimination among them based on religious affiliation, race or rites? The Eastern Christians, being nationals and believers, are neither on-lookers nor non-interested in all that takes place in their countries. They feel more than ever that they, in their varied rites, are partners with the Moslems and share one fate with them. The Christian presence in the Middle East, from this perspective, is a Moslem issue as much as it is a Christian issue. I do not exaggerate when I say that the WCC is equally the home of Christians and Moslems. The history of the Council, ever since it was established in 1974 and until this very day, is the best witness to that.
4. The topics of deliberation that bring us together this evening and in the coming 3 days, clearly explains the relationship of the Church with the Arab societies in which it exists, as a witness and a mission. In this context, Eastern Christians together with the Moslems strive to organize the “public space” by giving attention to the problems of all people in light of their human and religious common values and with the people of good will. Together they will seek the common weal and its prerequisites as also all that is required to keep them united in what pleases God and raises humans to the highest levels of humanity.
In their deliberations, they cannot but pose some delicate questions to themselves about the relation between religion and society.
First, how is it conceptually possible that the status of the Arab human being is retrogressed to this extent on the level of human dignity, and suffers poverty, ignorance and violence … etc. whereas the Middle East region is that which embraced the birth of the three heavenly messages, Judaism, Christianity and Islam?
Second, does the problem lurk in the constituent religious texts or in our exegesis that followed those texts? Are the conflicts of a religious nature an indication of the failure of the human being in understanding the mystery of God and his Holy desire in man and the world?
5. What is the anticipated solution with regard to this regressive human condition? A solution could possibly be found in the adoption of a spiritual exchange based on the primacy of prayer and contrition of the heart. A believer, prior to going into an argument about a matter in his faith, is a man who prays, listens to his creator more than he talks, loves and pardons more than he condemns and gives a ruling … As a result of this spiritual exchange, we shall submit our religious addresses that we have pronounced to a critical review to expunge it of the many blemishes that clung to it throughout history and that which governs the conscience and comportment of the believers and veils the compassionate face of God, creator of all and who loves all … As the communion between Christians, based on the one faith and on love, is the sign of the veracity of their faith in Jesus Christ, similarly the success of coexistence between Christians and Moslems is the sign of the veracity of Christianity and Islam. With this spiritual exchange, Christians and Moslems would move together away from the use of verses selected here and there to confirm not only the difficulty of relationship between them but its impossibility as well. This genuine spiritual exchange would enable Moslems and Christians to build their societies in line with the values of equality, justice, reciprocal respect and to recognize the principle of plurality on all levels.
6. This Christian Moslem deliberation is an episode in a number of previous deliberations that hopefully would be followed by others. It places the Arab human being, Moslem and Christian, in a direct and candid dialogue under the eyes of God in the service of man. This dialogue must avoid the principal of double language discreetly and publicly. Also, should be avoided all addresses devoid of content (langue de bois) that people are already sickened of hearing it because of its unusefulness.
7. We are in need of a candid and a truly constructive dialogue and love. We are in need of programs to promote coexistence between Christians and Moslems to reach youth in their schools and universities.
The road is still long and arduous!
Many among us feel the daily frustration and failure in the face of coexistence difficulties so they choose either to live in regression in their countries or emigrate!
8. I lift up my prayer with you all so that Christians and Moslems together find in their spiritual heritages common spaces through which they work together to do away with inequity, oppression, ignorance and other evil acts that demolish God’s gift within us – the human dignity.
Blessed are the works of this Christian Moslem deliberation.
Together we shall pursue this route of faith that moves mountains …
Together we shall pursue this route in the firmness of hope through which we see the light at the end of the tunnel ….
Together we shall pursue this route with the strength of love, it is the love of God and the neighbor, it is the greatest of commandments (Mt. 22:34-40)
In love, we meet as one family in the expanse of God, because God is love (1John 4:7)
(Caption beneath the photo) Fr. Boulos Rouhana, Secretary General of the Middle East Council of Churches (Abouna’s photo)
Source : abouna.org