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Address to the Conference organised by the Synodal Committee on European Issues, entitled “Islam: the extent of the problematics”


Holy Monastery of Penteli, Attica

At first, I would like to thank you all for your participation in this Conference, the topic of which constitutes one of the most acute problems of European society.

The issue of Islam is not susceptible of emotionally loaded analyses. It has many aspects, and it makes me sad to note that it is often treated inappropriately. In some cases, the rhetoric of bureaucracy prevails, mistaking the multicultural destruction of European identity for humanism; in other cases, there is an excess of hatred against Muslims and, in particular, against Arabs, channeled either into the laboratories of racist ideologies or into workshops that seek after an aggravation of the relations between Europe and the Islamic world.

I am convinced that we ought to explore this great issue certainly without harbouring antipathies or phobias but also without falling victims to wishful thinking, mistaking our own wishes for reality. Our discussions must be conducted according to strict distinctions. First of all, we must be clear about the aims and the limits of interreligious dialogue. Secondly, we should not give in to distortions of historical reality. Thirdly, we ought to study the role of Islam in today’s Europe and in our own country, far from any racist rhetoric but also far from any embellishment. And finally, we must show solidarity with economic immigrants without overlooking the issues raised by the sharp rise of their numbers. Treating each element of the problem does not mean that the others should be downgraded or confounded with the others.

Let me begin by clarifying the limits of interreligious dialogue. Our Church is certainly in favour of the development of a dialogue with Islam. This is why we welcome the decision of the Conference of European Churches to develop such a dialogue in the forthcoming Assembly at Sibiu, Romania. However, at least from the point of view of our Church, this dialogue will be fertile, if and only if we see that it does not lead to syncretism, that it be not turned into an instrument of promotion of the perception that Christianity and Islam are both religions, one of which is better here and the other is better there, or even that Christians, Jews and Muslims talk of the same God(1).

For Christians, the following expression of St. John of Damascus, who also wrote the first methodical refutation of Islam, is of absolute validity beyond any discussion or dialogue: “All things, therefore, that have been delivered to us by Law and Prophets and Apostles and Evangelists we receive, and know, and honour, seeking for nothing beyond these”(2). There is neither place nor any point in dialogue on this.

There is a point in pursuing the interreligious dialogue as long as this latter studies the possibilities of jointly treating problems, in order to avert phenomena such as the invocation of religion as a justification of wars and terrorist actions, to enhance charity and respect for man irrespective of denomination, gender or race, and to ensure mutual respect for the fulfilment of religious duties.

What comes out of this dialogue is, sadly, not encouraging. At this point I would like to express my sorrow, because, since interreligious dialogue began, considerable improvement has of course been achieved in the living conditions of Muslims in Europe, but this is by no means reciprocal: persecutions of Christians are continued in Islamic countries. Please allow me to mention only one example, in order to illustrate the true limits of dialogue. Saudi Arabia lavishly supports the construction of mosques all around Europe, as well as of Muslim Colleges (madrasahs). With the approval of European states, it fully covers the pay-roll of Muslim clerics and the operation of centres of promotion of the Islamic religion in Europe. However, in the same country it is still strictly prohibited to found Christian churches or to organise any public Christian event(3). Authoritative international organisations talk of persecutions of Christians both in Saudi Arabia and in other Islamic countries(4). It is estimated that during the 19th and 20th centuries more Christians were executed or murdered for their faith than during the eighteen previous centuries together(5). The modern Colosseum, that is the principal place of martyrdom and sacrifice of Christians, is now sadly the Islamic countries. Even today, the Declaration of the Rights of Man that was eventually signed by Muslim Foreign Affairs Ministers as late as 1990, has not yet been implemented in any Islamic country(6).

By this I do not suggest a change of attitude. On the contrary, I believe that dialogue with Islam must be continued, despite the one-sidedness of the results achieved so far, because the great causes that dictate it to us have not ceased: the search for peace, the standing by millions of innocent victims of war, servitude, poverty, diseases.

Another factor that we should pay attention to is history. There is now a prevalent trend to “rewrite” history so that it may serve geopolitical considerations. Thus, the Ottoman Empire and the Caliphate in Spain are presented as having been bastions of religious liberty and tolerance.

As to the extent of Ottoman tolerance in Greece, we do not of course expect to learn about it from the history laundries that have sadly been assigned to teach the youth of Greece. How intolerant Ottomans were is taught by the innumerable neomartyrs who “gave up their blessed ghost either on a fire that would be set by an enthusiastic Turkish mob or through decapitation or skinning or skewering or hanging or merciless beating or drowning in seas, lakes and rivers or through severing of many of the limbs of their bodies or long starvation or even bricking-in”(7). The degree of Turkish tolerance, in particular, was also demonstrated by the 6,000 Greek clergymen, ca. 100 Bishops, and 11 Patriarchs, who knew the Ottoman sword.

Moreover, the caliphate of Cordoba, which has recently been presented as a quasi-paradise of tolerance and culture, did not for one day stop mercilessly applying the rules of the Islamic Sharia, according to which, if a Christian proclaims that Christ is God he or she is executed on the spot, processions and chiming of church bells are prohibited, Muslims who become Christians are executed, Christians are not allowed to wear shoes but must go around unshod, they must step aside when they cross a Muslim, it is prohibited to defend themselves when beaten but they only have the right to beg him who beats them to stop, and so much else that it is pointless to enumerate(8).

It is certain that Muslims, too, have suffered in the hands of Christians. However, I would like you to pay attention to the following point, which clarifies a great part of today’s problematics: Muslims, and Christians alike, have suffered for centuries now in the hands of Christians who transgress the commandments of faith. The latter do not abuse fellow-men of theirs while following commandments of the Gospel, whereas Muslims oppress and exterminate while invoking the Koran, the Sharia(9). This is so because in Islam there is no distinction between Caesar’s kingdom and God’s kingdom; there is no distinction between state and religion. This is a major problem that draws the attention even of Churches methodically working for the promotion of interreligious dialogue(10), even of organisations of the European Union that work for the upgrading of Islam in Europe(11).

So we arrive at today’s problematics. I shall not say much, because I am waiting to listen to your views, too. What I can say constitutes thoughts drawn upon the life of the Church. And I have to formulate them concisely here, reserving the right to develop them more fully on another occasion.

First of all, there can be no dialogue, nor of course any mutual understanding, if we depart from truth. Falsification of history does not constitute a ground for understanding but is like sand, upon which nothing stable can be constructed. Secondly, for all the campaigns against Islamophobia, the integration of Muslims into the European society will never be possible, unless a radical revision of the interpretation of the Koran precedes it on behalf of Muslims themselves. And this is not enough: Europe will not able to assimilate the Islamic people that have settled in it, unless she sees first to the protection and strengthening of her own roots of origin, her Christian tradition(12).

Please allow me one last remark. We may have these or the other views of Islam and of the ability of Europe to integrate an Islamic population. What is certain is that, at this moment, there are economic immigrants who suffer in Europe. It is these people that we must show our solidarity and our care to, without waiting for all problems to be resolved first. As you know, our Church provides such people with food and strives to offer them some relief. This can’t be enough, though. We must constantly take care of these people who have taken refuge with us, filled with despair and expectations.

May I ask that we pray for them.

[Transl. into English by
Dr Nikolaos C. Petropoulos,
M.St., D.Phil. {Oxon.}]


1. As was the case with a recent formulation of the interreligious dialogue in Texas, on May 7, 2007.

2. An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, 1.19-22.

3. International Religious Freedom Report 2006, section Saudi Arabia, US Dept. of State.

4. Significant Reports are issued regularly by the International Christian Concern organisation.

5. Nina Shea, In the Lion’s Den: A Schocking Account of Persecuted and Martyrdom of Christians Today and How We Should Respond, Nashville, TN, 1997.

6. The Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam. Adopted and Issued at the Nineteenth Islamic Conference of Foreign Affairs Ministers in Cairo on August 5, 1990.

7. Stylianos Papadopoulos, Neomartyrs and a nation in servitude, Athens 1991, p. 68.

8. Robert J. Pauly, Jr., Islam in Europe, pp. 127ff.

9. Christodoulos Paraskevaides, Metropolitan of Demetrias, Freedom of Religious Conscience in Islam, Athens 1991.

10. Joseph Ratzinger [Pope of Rome], Salt of the Earth. The Church at the End of the Millennium, an Interview with Peter Seewald, San Francisco 1997.

11. EUMC, Perceptions of discrimination and Islamophobia, Brussels 2006, pp. 17-21.

12. Christodoulos, Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, The Soul of Europe, Athens 22007.

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