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On Churches and the European Identity

(Closing address on the presentation of Menologium of Basil II)

Your Eminence,
Your Reverences,
Your Graces,
Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

Please allow me, before anything else, to honour the memory of the late Pope John Paul II, the first Roman Pontiff who came to Athens since the time of the Schism, in order to make a holy pilgrimage in the place where Apostle Paul preached the divine Word of the Gospel to the Athenians. The Lord granted me the blessing to be the Archbishop who accompanied the Pope to the pilgrimage of the tribune of the Areopagus. We both had the deep conviction that we walked on the way that the Lord wished; we were aware of the historical significance of those moments, when a new chapter was opened in the history of the Church.

The present edition, too, is one of the fruits of that moment of pilgrimage, because the humility of the late Pope allowed the Church of Greece to see the Church of Rome in the light of forgiveness and prudently and with no hasty movements to open the door of cooperation for projects of common interest. Within this framework, the two Churches worked blessedly together, and today we have before our eyes the edition of a manuscript of particular importance to us, an heirloom of our nation that bears witness to the inner spirituality and the high aesthetic level of Byzantine Greeks.

Of the manuscript itself and of the value of its facsimile edition I shall not speak, too, since you have already heard speakers deeply versed in the subject, so the only thing that remains is, I think, to let yourselves calmly admire it. Nonetheless, please allow me briefly to refer to the ecclesiastic and cultural aspects of the present edition.

The ecclesiastic aspect is determined by spiritual parameters. We noted that Joseph Ratzinger, the Cardinal long-esteemed for his learning and well-known for his deep awareness of the Christian identity of Europe , was elected new Pope. He acceded to the throne under the name Benedict XVI, and of course this was not accidental. His name refers to Saint Benedict, whose holy memory our Church celebrates on March 14. It is the Saint who introduced to the West the spiritual life of the East, and particularly the monastic rule of Basil the Great, founder of the religious order which has contributed as only few other agents did to the Christianisation of Europe. We wholeheartedly wish that the new Pontiff of Rome may do justice to the choice of his name.

It is precisely in the light of the life of St. Benedict that our Church sees the cooperation between Athens and Rome for the present edition; a light that inspires respect and the overcoming of differences not through the diplomatic but through the spiritual path.

In one of my past addresses I observed -not without grief- that the Churches, in the West and in the East, did not work so much for the overcoming of the Schism as for its construction.

This is why we have been following with much attention and prayer the movements towards concord between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church. We were so glad at the decision to resume the dialogue between the two Churches again. We wish that the Lord may bless and strengthen those who struggle for the elimination of feud and error from the life of the faithful in this world. Furthermore, we wish that the present edition, as an act of cooperation between the two Churches, may have the saints' blessings.

This will suffice to demonstrate to everyone that the present edition has a very particular significance for the history of the relations of the two Churches, or rather for our struggle to overcome separation by embracing one another in Christ.

This edition has yet another particular significance. The Menologion is the work of a time during which East and West fought to keep Europe as the heart of Christianity. The western world tried to work together with Byzantium so as jointly to repel the invasions of Islam that wished either to conquer or to impose itself on Europe . In the same period, Russians received Christianity from the Greeks and since then became part of the European world. The time therefore of the composition of the Menologion was also the time of the constitution of Europe as a cultural entity with Christian faith as its main feature.

After this brief reference to the historic framework of the creation of the original of the Menologion, I hope that the cultural significance of the facsimile edition and, in particular, its message to the Europeans, have become apparent. I wish that this edition be a force strengthening the Churches of Greece and Rome in their duty to our European self-consciousness.

I must here remind of the fact that the Church of Greece has already expressed, before the accession of the present Pontiff of Rome to the throne, Her conviction that we should at any rate keep the Christian consciousness of Europe thriving and defend the particularity of its peoples, without, however, considering Christianity a "European religion". We are very pleased to see that this is also the conviction of Pope Benedict XVI.

It would be great if the political leadership of Europe , too, could empathise with these necessities. We must do everything in our power to this purpose. However, even the eventual lack of understanding on the part of the political leadership does not constitute a binding impediment for the Church. It is our responsibility, not of course to persecute Muslims, but to teach Europeans that their roots are their Christian faith, the classical culture and the rule of law. It is necessary to teach them that, by distancing themselves from their roots, they alienate their own people. They alienate themselves from the possibility of transcendence, without which liberty becomes subservient to lust; they alienate themselves from sociability, without which society becomes a mass; they alienate themselves from the very coordinates of life, without which morality becomes an oppressing obligation. It is our responsibility, mainly, to teach how and why, by distancing themselves from the Gospel, they are enslaved by ideologies; how and why, by distancing themselves from faith, they surrender to fanaticism.

Before concluding please allow me publicly to express my warmest thanks to His Excellency the President of the Hellenic Republic, Mr Karolos Papoulias, who, by his brave attitude, honours Greece and, by his presence amongst us, honours our history and our prospects.

May I also thank the inspirers of and contributors to this highly significant edition: His Eminence the Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, His Grace the Bishop of Phanarion Agathanghelos, the Reverend Father Raffaele Farina, the Learned Professors Mr Francesco D'Aiuto and Mr Evanghelos Chryssos, both for the impressive presentation of the edition and for their whole contribution.

My thanks are also due to the other authors of the accompanying texts, namely the Learned Vassileios Katsaros, Panaghiotis Vokotopoulos, Andrea Luzzi, Augusta Acconcia Longo, Anna Zakharova, Antonio Jacobi, Nancy Patterson Sevčenko, Leandro Ventura, Simonna Moretti and Konstantinos Houlis.

May I finally express my heartfelt thanks to the Director of the Byzantine and Christian Museum , the Learned Mr Dimitrios Konstantios, as well as to you all.

Your gazes upon our work are a source of joy and strength for us.

[Transl. Into English by Dr N. C. Petropoulos]

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