Metropolitan Augoustinos of Germany
Exarch of Central Europe
Chairman of the Orthodox Bishops' Conference in Germany (OBKD)
Message of Greeting on the occasion of
THE OPENING SESSION
OF THE SECOND INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
"TEARING DOWN WALLS: ACHIEVING RELIGIOUS EQUALITY IN TURKEY"
Organized by the Order of St. Andrew the Apostle,
Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the USA
(Berlin - December 4, 2013)
Honorable Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate,
Ladies and Gentlemen!
Allow me as Metropolitan of Germany and as Chairman of the Orthodox Bishops' Conference in Germany (OBKD), which offers a spiritual home for well over a million Orthodox Christians in this country, to welcome you to Berlin. I am very glad that you have again managed, honorable Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, to organize such an important conference, this time here in a capital of Europe. I am confident that you will succeed in providing us with ample food for thought.
It is said that Orthodox Christians have a special way of dealing with time. The past is never completely gone for them, and the future is not only the future, but already present in the present. This may explain, too, the special attention they give to jubilees and anniversaries.
Such an anniversary is celebrated this year, in which 1700 years have passed since Emperor Constantine and his Co-Emperor Licinius issued the so-called Edict of Milan in the year 313 which granted religious freedom to the citizens of the Roman Empire. This Edict has been rightly described as a milestone in world history because of its lasting influence. And I do not mean just the transition of Christianity from a prohibited, subversive ideology to a tolerated religion, but also to the introduction of the principle of religious tolerance that is particularly relevant for our culture today. So it seems appropriate and understandable that the Emperor Constantine is called "the Great".
It is equally understandable that a conference which bears the title "Tearing down Walls" actually can only take place in Berlin. For we "Berliners", have experienced the end of the unspeakable division of Germany by the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, only a few feet away from here; and I can assure all of you who have come from afar: these were moments that we who witnessed them will never forget.
And there is another reason why a conference that deals with Turkey must take place in Berlin. This is because there are thousands of citizens of Turkish origin living in this city, who contribute to the cultural diversity of the federal capital. It is said that that about 6% of Berlin's population comes from Turkey and that the largest Turkish community outside of Turkey lives in Berlin. The presence of this large group of migrants is therefore not only a topic of research for sociologists and cultural scientists, but also a project for religious tolerance and diversity that has to be implemented day by day.
If we are going to talk at this conference about Turkey, ladies and gentlemen, you can therefore be sure that in this country [Germany], two things come together: because we live at some distance from Turkey we are able to take a more objective view than those who live within the Turkish situation. Also we have the advantage of living in a society that has had a peaceful multi-cultural ethos now for more than half a century. We have experience of decades of the coexistence of different cultures and religions.
Thus, allow me here to make one more point: in the last few weeks, it has been reported in the media that there are proposals to convert Hagia Sophia into a mosque once again. I am of the opinion that such a step would not only be an anachronism, but would also mean the abandonment of what has been a successful model for religious tolerance. After all, the Turkish Republic had managed to ‘square the circle' by offering this unique world heritage site that is important, nay sacred, to two monotheistic religions as a museum for all humanity. I am convinced that the conversion of this building once again into a mosque would result to an enormous loss of prestige for Turkey and irreparable damage to its reputation in the world. I say this precisely for the reasons I have previously mentioned: the objectivity and multi cultural nature of German society.
In this sense I wish our conference every success.