Leading Orthodox Christian and Jewish interfaith officials, scholars and clerics discussed the crucial importance of protecting the environment and religious values and condemned growing incidents of anti-Semitism and religious prejudice around the world during a three-day conference in Thessaloniki, Greece to help improve relations between these two ancient faith communities.
Co-sponsored by the Liaison Office of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Office of Interreligious and Intercultural Affairs, and the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC), a Jewish umbrella group, the meeting was the latest in an on-going effort to improve relations and dialogue between Orthodoxy and Judaism.
About 40 Christian Orthodox clergy, rabbis, and academics from around the world, including Russia, Georgia, Romania, Israel, France, Greece, Finland and the United States, met with local government and religious leaders.
Thessaloniki Mayor Ioannis Boutaris, Metropolitan Anthimos of Thessaloniki, and David Saltiel, president of the Jewish community of Thessaloniki, were among those leaders who met with members of the consultation.
Participants also visited the Monastiriotes Synagogue, the Holocaust Monument and the Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki.
The Orthodox Christian delegation was led by His Eminence Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, and the Jewish delegation by IJCIC Chair Professor Lawrence Schiffman. The conference, titled “The Spiritual and Physical Environment: Respecting Our World, Respecting One Another,” marked the eighth such conference between Christian Orthodoxy and Judaism since these conferences were instituted in 1976.
Long history, common rootsA major theme of the meeting was to commemorate the solidarity Jewish and Christian Orthodox citizens of Thessaloniki displayed at the time of the Shoah in World War II, and to discover what processes are necessary to sustain that level of solidarity in today’s increasingly contentious world.
Noting that Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has declared 2013 the Year of Global Solidarity, Metropolitan Emmanuel said: “It is well documented that Greeks living in Thessaloniki at the time of the Shoah stood with their Jewish neighbors and friends. Today, more than ever, we must stand together to battle the evils of anti-Semitism, religious prejudice and all forms of discrimination.”
Professor Schiffman, vice provost at Yeshiva University in New York said: “These meetings are extremely important for both the Jewish people and Orthodox Christianity because we share a long history and common roots. We are committed to building mutual respect and better understanding between our two faiths.”
Rabbi Chaim Weiner, Director, European Masorti Bet Din in London, Professor Shira Lander of Rice University in Houston, Texas, and Professor Georges Prevelakis, University of Sorbonne, Paris, discussed how people with religious values can influence and interact with secular society.
Petroniu of Romania and Rabbi Eric J. Greenberg, Interfaith Director for the Anti-Defamation League, presented papers on the obstacles and challenges that continue to face the Orthodox-Jewish relationship, particularly problems in how each faith teaches and portrays one another, and offered suggestions to help advance the dialogue.
Israeli Rabbi Julian Sinclair and Finnish Rev. Heikki Huttumen discussed the religious obligation to care for the earth, and how faith adherents must take immediate steps to work together to protect our water, land and air.
Betty Ehrenberg, Vice Chair, IJCIC, presented the joint statement, which was approved and stated that, “Given recent tragic events around the world – environmental, political and social – the need for interreligious consultations such as this one are all the more relevant as we work together to respect our world and respect one another.”