Orthodox participate in Interfaith Conference on Terrorism, Peace with Justice

Representatives of the Orthodox Church were among the participants in a two-day symposium on terrorism and peace with justice sponsored by the World Conference on Religion and Peace - Religions for Peace (WCRP) at the Millennium Hotel Tuesday and Wednesday, October 23-24, 2001.

Among the Orthodox participants in the interfaith symposium was the Very Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky, Director of Ecumenical Affairs for the Orthodox Church in America and Vice Moderator of Religions for Peace. The Moderator, Prince Hassan of Jordan, was unable to attend.

At the press conference at the conclusion of the symposium, Fr. Kishkovsky noted that the terrorism of September 11 made the need for interfaith collaboration obvious, as well as revealing the urgent need need for dialogue between religious and secular leaders. “Dialogue among religions,” he said, is based on strong commitment to your faith and religious tradition, and not on minimizing one’s personal beliefs. Authentic dialogue between people of different religions can only happen when those involved are completely rooted in their own beliefs.”

In a WCRP release before the convening of the symposium, Fr. Kishkovsky called the terrorist acts “truly despicable,” but pointed out that “it is wrong to exact retribution against the many because of the actions of a few,” adding that even when crimes are committed by religious extremists, “the overwhelming majority of peaceful and innocent followers of that tradition are not accountable for it.”

Religions for Peace is the largest international coalition bringing together representatives of the world’s major religions who are dedicated to achieving peace. Its international governing board comprises senior leaders of the Christian, Islamic, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Baha’i, Zoroastrian, and indigenous religious traditions.

As a part of the symposium program, religious leaders observed an evening of “Commemoration and Commitment” on October 24. The program was held at Saint Peter Roman Catholic Church, one block from the World Trade Center site. As participants entered the church, they paused at the top of the stairs for a moment’s silent reflection in view of the WTC site.

The evening’s program, which began with an opening prayer by His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, was hosted on behalf of WCRP by the US Conference of Religions for Peace, whose Secretary General is Antonios Kireopoulos and whose Moderator is Fr. Leonid Kishkovsky.

On the closing day of the symposium, the Executive Committee of WCRP issued a statement titled “Rejecting Terrorism, Promoting Peace with Justice: Religions Respond.”

The statement described the interfaith symposium as an occasion which gathered “religious leaders from around the world to find common cause in working against terror and violence and for peace with justice.”

“The terrorist attacks that took place on 11 September 2001 cannot be justified by the teachings or principles of our respective religions. Nothing in any of our traditions permits the killing of innocent persons. Such actions, when committed in the name of religion, profane true religion.

“We acknowledge that many persons have genuine experiences of oppression and that whole societies suffer from poverty, violence and injustice in the context of the current world order,” the statement reads in part. “High levels of global disparity are fundamentally unjust and incompatible with true global security. We need to work collectively to strengthen institutions—political, economic, and social—that can redress such grievances and begin to eliminate the root causes of injustice that can contribute to the false path of terrorism.

“We assert that addressing these grievances in no way condones terrorist attacks,” the statement continues. Rather, addressing these grievances “can serve as one of the most effective ways to reduce and gradually eliminate the elements that motivate individuals to commit such terrible acts. This effort will require all states and peoples to strengthen their commitments to mutual cooperation, and our religious communities are both prepared and well positioned to support such cooperation.”

Other Orthodox leaders participating in the symposium and/or “Commemoration and Commitment” were His Eminence, Archbishop Demetrios and His Grace Bishop Dimitrios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America; His Eminence, Metropolitan Vladimir of Chisinau and Moldova, Moscow Patriarchate; His Beatitude, Metropolitan Stefan, Orthodox Church of Macedonia, accompanied by Fr. Hilarion and the Very Rev. Vsevolod Chaplin, Department of External Affairs of the Moscow Patriarchate and Secretary General, Interreligious Council of Russia.

Also attending was His Grace, Bishop Viken Aykazian, Ecumenical Officer, Diocese of the Armenian Church of America; Elenie Huszagh, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and President-Elect of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA.