Eighth Dialogue between, the Group of EPP-Ed in European parliament and the Orthodox Church
Thessaloniki, Greece, 21-22 October 2004: Building Europe through reconciliation and cooperation
MR. LATCHEZAR TOSHEV MP
UNION OF DEMOCRATIC FORCES, BULGARIA
CHAIRMAN OF THE PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEE FOR
HUMAN RIGHTS AND RELIGIONS
Distinguished Eminencies, Beatitudes, Fathers,
Dear European and National Parliamentarians,
I am grateful indeed for the invitation to participate in the Eight Dialogue between the EPP-ED and the Orthodox Church. I think it is remarkable initiative which is the consequence of the European Union enlargement with new member states where Orthodox Church is influential and I admire the position of the EPP-ED to include them its agenda. As Christian Democrats, for us is very important to keep the dialogue with Orthodox Church which is very influential in East and South East Europe as well as in the new neighborhood of the European Union. In this respect I wish first of all to pay tribute to His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the Archbishop of Constantinople New Rome from one side and Mr. Wim van Velzen, the Vice President of the EPP as well as of the EPP-ED Group in the European Parliament, supported by the Robert Shuman Foundation by the other side. I am here in two capacities – as the member of the Union of the Democratic Forces of Bulgaria, on the other hand I am here as Vice Chairman of the EPPCD Fraction of the Parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe authorized by the Group, and our Chairman Mr. Van der Linden to convey his greetings and encouragement for the continuation of this Dialogue in the future.
EPP/CD Faction has a special working group “Christianity-Islam” which is going to organize a conference on this theme next spring. In this Dialogue between the Christianity and Islam the role of the Orthodox Church is very important one both on European territory and on new neighborhood. The Muslim community cohabitated with the Orthodox Church for very long time during the time of the Turkish Empire and also now in states like Israel, Egypt, Syria, Jordan etc, where large Orthodox communities are living. They are known there and obviously well accepted. The Orthodox Christians are not considered by Muslims as crusaders due to their traditional tolerance and acceptance of the right of the free will of the people in the religious affairs. In this sense we in EPPCD Group are in the position that the Orthodox Church has to play the crucial role in the Dialogue between Christianity and Islam.
On behalf of the Group Mr. Van der Linden has tabled the proposal to the Bureau of the Parliamentary Assembly to send the invitation to His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch to address the Assembly. Unfortunately the decision has not been taken yet but I believe that next year when, I am convinced, Mr. Van der Linden will become the President of the Assembly, this initiative will be successfully realized.
The third point that I would like to make is the declaration adopted by the participants in the Sixth Dialogue in Bucharest which called the Council of Europe that the program for education of democratic citizenship based on the rights and responsibilities of the citizens should be joined by the Churches. Unfortunately up to now the Council of Europe has not reacted to this proposal but the year 2005 was declared as European Year of Democratic Citizenship Based on Education, which is an opportunity for such interaction.
Now I would like first of all to admire the Vlatadon Process which started in 2000 here in Thessaloniki in the monastery of the Ecumenical Patriarchate called Vlatadon which aimed the tolerance and mutual respect among the people in South East Europe. The Church has serious role to play in achieving reconciliation after so many conflict which the region has passed through. We have suffered a lot from the clash between the great powers and the struggle for the areas of influence. In this sense I would like to call that the principal of independence of Church from the state should be reaffirmed especially in the states which suffer the communist regimes, where the Church has been put under the total domination of the totalitarian communist parties and their intelligence services. This is a very painful fact for all of us.
Speaking now as the ordinary member of the Orthodox Church, I would like to confess that I fell myself confused because of the fact that the Russian patriarch is the member of the Council of National Security of Russian Federation, and for two years he was a Chairman of this Council. This is a civil post and I am asking myself how it is compatible with the Rule 6 and Rule 81 of the Holy Apostles’Rules and how he managed to combine both positions.
In conclusion I think that the role of Church is to promote the Christian values in the society and the tolerance towards different religions. It is not necessary to accept their doctrines neither to worship together but just to recognize the free will to everybody as the Orthodox Church is doing.
Being Bulgarian I would like to give an example with the Bulgarian Orthodox Church which played an active role in accommodation of Armenian refugees from the Turkish Empire in the beginning of the 20th century. It also played a very active role in rescuing the Bulgarian Jewish community during the Holocaust, and 50 thousand Jews were saved despite of the fact that from religious point of view there are significant differences and even confrontation of the religious doctrines. But it was a real sign how we interpreted our Lord’s story about the Good Samaritan and I would say that I am proud of my Church because of that. Thank you for your kind attention.