From 8 to 10 October 2016 the Committee of Representatives of Orthodox Churches to the European Union (CROCEU) met in Nicosia, Cyprus. The main topic of the seminar was “Freedom of Religion or Belief of the Orthodox in the World”.


October 10, 2016

From 8 to 10 October 2016 the Committee of Representatives of Orthodox Churches to the European Union (CROCEU) met in Nicosia, Cyprus at the Holy Archbishopric of Cyprus, at the kind invitation of His Beatitude the Archbishop of Nova Justiniana and All Cyprus Chrysostomos II. The main topic of the seminar was “Freedom of Religion or Belief of the Orthodox in the World”. The representatives shared their views regarding this topic.

Those present at the meeting were: H.E. Metropolitan Athenagoras of Belgium and the V. Rev. Archimandrite Fr. Aimilianos Bogiannou (Ecumenical Patriarchate), the Rev. Protobresbyter Fr. Athenodoros Papaevriviades (Patriarchate of Alexandria), the V. Rev. Fr. Archimandrite Moses Alkhassi (Patriarchate of Antioch), His Eminence Metropolitan of Vostron Timotheos (Patriarchate of Jerusalem), the V. Rev. Archpriest Dimitry Sizonenko (Moscow Patriarchate), the V. Rev. Hieromonk Evsevije Meandzija (Patriarchate of Serbia), H.E. Metropolitan Nifon of Târgoviște and the V. Rev. Fr. Prof. Dr. Sorin Selaru (Patriarchate of Romania) and His Grace Bishop Porfyrios of Neapolis and Deacon Fr. Nektarios Ioannou (Church of Cyprus).

The seminar began on Saturday morning, 8 October. H.G. Bishop Porfyrios of Neapolis presented the program of the seminar and gave the floor to His Beatitude the Archbishop of Nova Justiniana and All Cyprus Chrysostomos II who welcomed the participants to Cyprus and to the Holy Archbishopric. In His address he underscored that: "The problem of Religious Freedom has unfortunately evolved into a deep gaping wound, which creates major concerns about the bloodshed, the loss of so many souls, the future of the people and especially about the presence of Christians in the sensitive region of the Middle East." He furthermore urged "CROCEU to engage into a meeting with the European Institutions to call upon the dangers that the Christians are facing in that area."

Next, the participants were addressed by the representative of the Government of Cyprus Dr. Ioannis Kasoulides Minister of Foreign Affairs, the representative of the European Commission Mr. Georgios Markopouliotis and the representative of the Office of the European Parliament in Cyprus Mr. Nektarios Nikolaides. All Political representatives shared their insights underlining the importance of Freedom of Religion or Belief (FROB), especially so in the Middle East, where Christian communities are being exterminated and their two millennia long presence is about to disappear together with the universal cultural heritage of Christianity in the area.

His Excellency, Mr Ioannis Kasoulides, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cyprus, called for a cooperation of the Orthodox Churches in Europe and the Middle East in order to organize and prepare for the day after the end of terrorism. Mr Georgios Markopouliotis noted the importance of FROB as a Fundamental Human Right and highlighted the fact that the External Policies of the European Commission try to constantly promote this right. "It is a primary duty of the States to protect and safeguard the right of FROB of all their citizens. And protecting this right is one of the European Commission's priorities both inside and outside the European Union." Mr Nektarios Nikolaides underlined also the importance of FROB, and the fact that it has been gravely hurt in the last years, especially so in the Middle East. "The European Parliament has even passed a Resolution on April 2014 concerning this situation. The European Parliament promotes tolerance and reconciliation, while we witness an increase of extremism, which has led to the violation of FROB in many countries. Democracy, Pluralism and Tolerance are the some of the values of the European Union and education is the key pillar to face fundamentalism and extremism."

During the 1st session, the floor was given to the participants starting with H.E. Metropolitan Athenagoras of Belgium. In his speech he underlined the importance and the role of the fundamental Human Right of FROB, on both a European Union level, as well as on the level of the relationship of States and Churches, both in countries where Orthodox are the majority as well as the minority in society. He reminded to the participants that "Orthodox Christians must respect out of love of neighbor the religious or non-religious convictions of the other in contemporary society. In building up the common good of human society and by supporting the freedom of others to believe as they desire, the Church recognizes the other not as a right, but as a service of love." He closed his intervention by noting that "we need to reflect the way in which we, the Orthodox Christians, see the whole question of the rights and responsibilities of man, for Europeans are, above all, like every human citizen of this world, men. When we speak of religious freedom we think first of all the rights. We need though also to take account of the responsibilities of us Europeans."

The Rev. Fr. Athenodoros Papaevriviades, Exarch of the Patriarchate of Alexandria in Cyprus, highlighted the importance of the peacekeeping role of the Religious Leaders. "Religious Leaders ought to have a vision: to become the light and the salt, which will transform the world. They ought to believe in something which is not visible to the eyes of all. Suffice it to be clear in their eyes." Without betraying their beliefs they are called to serve their primary mission, the mission of peace.

The representative of the Patriarchate of Antioch Fr. Moses Alkhassi representative of the Patriarchate of Antioch gave a detailed presentation of the situation in Syria, from both before and after the crisis and the war. He noted that "the world would assist both Christians and Muslims much better if it spreads the culture of dialogue in our East and wipes away the culture of the sword. The vessels of war cannot protect us, nor can the ships of immigration. Only implanting peace in our mainland can protect us."

His Eminence Metropolitan of Vostron Timotheos closed the first session by emphasizing on actual situation in the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, noting that Religion and Belief are expressions that describe the relationship between God and man, and informed the participants of the practices of both Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. "Christian doctrine" he underlined "dictates respect to every human being, honoring human dignity." He finally called upon CROCEU to intensify their work on the issue of the violations of FROB.

The 2nd session was opened by Fr. Dimitry Sizonenko representative of the Moscow Patriarchate, focalized his intervention in describing the situation in Ukraine where the civil conflict has been transformed to a conflict of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate, which is not recognized by any local Orthodox Church worldwide, against the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church. He expressed a deep concern of the Russian Orthodox Church at the discrimination of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Ukraine. He cited numerous facts of violations of the rights of the faithful during the years 2014-2016, which include the attack of mass-media and the forceful seizure of churches, drawing the attention of the participants to the discriminatory bills that target the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Fr. Evsevije Meandzija of the Patriarchate of Serbia stressed the importance representing the Patriarchate of Serbia, presented the case of Kosovo and Metochia. Although Serbia respects its religious diversity in its canonical territory, the same does not apply for the Orthodox in the area of Kosovo and Metochia. "It is our responsibility as Orthodox to show respect, patience and love to all, even to our persecutors and enemies." He made a special reference to the Orthodox understanding of Freedom by citing first Article 18 of the Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. However, for the Orthodox freedom means to be free of sin, free of death and free of the devil, in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

H.E. Metropolitan Nifon of Târgoviște presented a paper about the reality of his own country, providing the participants with insightful views on the matter of Religious Freedom as it has been experienced in Romania after the fall of the totalitarian regime, when the Orthodox Church actually declared Autonomy vis-a-vis the State Authorities. "The Orthodox Church should combat everywhere and on every occasion the amalgam of politics and religion." He moreover proposed a joint project to promote a solution against the ever-growing Christianophobia, which is present in Europe, much alike Islamophobia and Antisemitism. He also stressed the necessity of insisting on doing Orthodox mission in our secularized world, especially in Europe and elsewhere.

Finalizing the morning session, H.G. Bishop Porfyrios of Neapolis host of the seminar, underlined the importance of the peaceful coexistence between Muslims and Christians before the turkish invasion in 1974 and that religious leaders are struggling for its the restoration since 2009. He stressed the fact that both sides cooperate to overcome this problem that is caused by the Turkish military occupation forces and it is clear from both sides that Religious Freedom does not constitute a problem in the process of the reunification of the island. Finally he underscored the importance of the restoration and the free accessibility and function of all of the monuments. Following the morning session a lunch was hosted by H.B. Archbishop Chrysostomos at the premises of the Holy Archbishopric.

In the afternoon session, in which participated only the members of CROCEU, the participants had an extensive dialogue concerning the future activities of CROCEU, such as seminars or conferences in cooperation with the European Institutions, as well as with other religious organizations (COMECE, CEC, etc.).

On Sunday, His Beatitude celebrated the Divine Liturgy together with the participants, at the parish of the Saint Sofia in Nicosia. Afterwards, the participants visited the monument of the Heroes’ hanged in 1950, where H. E. Metropolitan Nifon of Târgoviște presided over the Trisagion service in the memory of the fallen heroes. In the afternoon, the participants visited the Holy Stavropegial Monastery of Panagia of Machairas where H. G. Bishop of Ledra and Abbot of the Monastery received them and a doxology was celebrated according to the monastic rubrics in which H. E. Metropolitan Athenagoras of Belgium presided.

The visit in Cyprus culminated with a trip to the occupied side of Cyprus that took place on Monday 10th of October. The sites that were visited were the Monastery of Apostle Barnabas.