Metropolitan Emmanuel of France



2nd Archon International Conference on Religious Freedom

Adlon Hotel

Berlin, Germany

December 4, 2013

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Your Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America,

Your Eminence Metropolitan Augoustinos of Germany,

Your Eminences,

Your Excellencies,

Beloved and Esteemed Archons,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Can we imagine a world where people of minority religions can live in peace and security?  Freedom of religion is the fundamental right of every living person.

From our perspective, freedom of religion or belief is intrinsically linked to freedom of opinion and expression. Freedom of opinion and freedom of expression are prerequisites to maintain pluralism, including religious freedom and religious equality.   

Let me read something to you that I came across recently:

". . . for the sake of the peace of our times, that each one may have the free opportunity to worship as he pleases . . ." (Edict of Milan, §1).

This quote could have been printed in this morning's newspaper, yet it is taken from the English translation of the Edict of Milan in the year 313. This was exactly 1.700 years ago!

We are not here to commemorate the Edict of Milan which is celebrating its 1,700th jubilee or anniversary this year. We are here in Berlin for the Archons' Second International Conference on Religious Freedom, which is reaffirming their engagement for freedom of religion or belief. This conference is the continuation of the fruitful cooperation between the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in America and the Liaison Office of the Orthodox Church to the European Union - inaugurated with the first conference on religious freedom in Brussels in 2010. My gratitude goes to the Archon Commander Dr. Anthony J. Limberakis for initiating and hosting this Berlin event. Furthermore, I want to express my sincere appreciation for those who assisted with the conference.

We take the time to return to the events of the past, as the Edict of Milan, in order to better consider our present, and to consider the situation itself, as well as the directions we may identify for our future.

In order to fully understand the importance of religious freedom and it's meaning for our life today, let us first take a closer look at the position of the Edict of Milan, not so much in the history of Christianity, but in human history in general.

When he co-issued the Edict, St. Constantine the Great was a pagan ruler. The same hand that signed this freedom of religion mandate into law, had also signed orders carrying out executions and persecutions. Today it seems that we need to repeat this act of political and religious wisdom again.

Our hope for religious freedom in the world requires that the personal and institutional religious inclinations of political leaders do not necessarily dictate their ability to act on behalf of the minority religions under their jurisdiction.

First, our motivation for pluralism can be derived from our concern for religious equality accepting co-existence of religions and beliefs. A second lesson from the Edict of Milan is the emperors came together, face-to-face, to discuss how to improve the human condition with the power and authority each possessed.  Dialogue will remain an integral part of all progress related to religious freedom. The conference is an opportunity to enable a deepened fellowship for dialogue.

Upon further examination, we need to work within our political realms to enact standards that ensure freedom of conscience to those whose image of a deity are very different.  Each signatory to the Edict of Milan 1.700 year ago had a vision of a better future - one where all could be blessed by living in pluralism and religious equality with the other. We are sharing the same vision again today.

However, the current socio-economic developments both in Europe and globally, prove that the way to freedom of religion or belief and a stable society which is able to provide security and prosperity to all its members without any discrimination might be long and full of challenges. 

Now it is time to continue our mission set out in Brussels in 2010 promoting respect for human dignity, freedom of religion or belief and efforts for cultural justice.  To succeed in this commitment we rely on reinforced dialogue between religious leaders and decision-makers, academia, the media and civic society. With humility and religious commitment we need to promote the voices of the  oppressed, in seeking justice, building reconciliation and growing peace.

It is our hope that this second conference will move us further down the road towards reinforcing religious freedom. Religious freedom has to be built on trust and confidence of communication, acceptance of the difference between us and appreciation of the common religious and social principles which we all share. We can learn from each other and our past in order to avoid further injury to the human spirit that lives in each of us.