Original Article Published in 2014 – Miron Çako, Head of the Office of Catechism – The Albanian Orthodox Church- December 2015
These days have been tense, watching and hearing about 129 victims being slain and many others wounded in the streets of Paris due to the pathological violence of some fundamentalist extremists. They think that by killing themselves and the others, they serve God (Allah).The instinct for self-defense immediately makes one cling to and connect with the thoughts, feelings and actions of a particular group who sees the other group as an enemy and counter attacks it, either through the media or physically, as the best protection. What happened in Paris is not the beginning but the continuation of an unprecedented situation which is taking the lives of many people – and specifically,the killing of many hostages, men, women and children – which has caused a biblical wave of migration of peoples whose primary and single goal is the salvation of their lives.
About 4 million people have emigrated from Syria and 270, 000 have sought asylum in Europe. (We should not forget also the sabotage and the blowing up of a plane full of Russian tourists in the Sinai Peninsula where 224 people were killed). According to the United Nations statistics, nearly 25,000 people have been killed in Iraq and Syria by the extremists since the appearance of the ISIS phenomenon through April 2015; and if we add the number of victims during the recent months the figures become even more tragic.
All these events are presented to us as daily world news and as an unstoppable chain reaction or a kind of whirlpool which is slowly engulfing all of us. While for many of us it is the prologue of a third world war. Such an event has a huge impact even in Albania and on Albanians, not only because we are a part of the continent, but also because we see ourselves as a future member of Europe. Actually, there are people from Albania and Kosovo who have been recruited by the Islamic State as extremists and terrorists and have joined the black army. But when any of them appears in the media and threaten destruction, terror or death, I believe that no one feels good and we would not want him to be an Albanian terrorist. The Albanian government by allying with EU countries against terrorism through concrete actions, has been threatened with retaliation by terrorists.
But who is to blame in such a situation?
There are different opinions about this issue, some of them are very conspiratorial – especially when we hear from a powerful statesman like Vladimir Putin that ISIS is financed and trades with nearly 40 countries, 12 of which are from the G20 – the situation becomes even more tricky and anxious when you think what the future has in store.
However what worries me the most and urges me to write this article is the presentation of this situation as a religious war between Christianity and Islamism and vice versa. Such opinions are given by atheists who stand against God and if we accept this, then the culprit is God and faith in God is to be blamed. For atheists faith in God has been the cause of many unnecessary wars and tragedies over the centuries due to ignorance. But is it God who inspires the faithful to hate and fight against each other given the fact that such wars are paradoxically made in the name of the One God, the Creator? In order to answer this we need to show briefly the concept of God as a personal being and His relationship with the religious man. The Lord God is a Divine Being that exists by itself. He is eternal and has neither beginning nor an end and he stands beyond our perceptions in any kind of religion or culture, so no words, no concepts and no definitions can fully define Him. He is self-sufficient and has no need for service. He is perfect in all attributes which means that He is omnipotent, omniscient, omnigood and the source of goodness. He is fair and judges with justice, He is love and loves unconditionally and is therefore a perfect being absolutely beautiful and happy.
Because He is love, He has created from nothing all those that we see and do not see, and in particular the man who unlike animals that are led by instinct, is created in the image of God, therefore a rational being, who is free to choose and is responsible for his actions, capable of exercising dominion over all creation with love. In every monotheistic religion, man comes from a single human seed and despite being divided into races, languages or nations, he is basically a brother to the other. The man must obey God’s will and His commandments which are summarized in the following two messages: to love your God and to love your neighbor as yourself. Being created in the image of God, man is capable and able to do this. As God is perfect, the man can and must strive to be perfect, morally pure, compassionate, patient, gentle, loving, free, self-decisive for its’ existence and a doer of good things. This is how a religious man must be, trying always to grow and develop in virtue and divine perfection through the will of God, and His divine grace into the life of lives.
The perfection in man is his growth into the endless perfection of God, therefore we Christians believe and affirm that God became man in Jesus Christ so that man becomes god by grace. I stressed this point the most because for us as Christians, there is not and there cannot exist a religious war, because the Lord Jesus Christ whom we believe and imitate, is against violence and war, destruction and death. In the Gospel we are told that when one of His students sought to protect Him drawing a sword to kill His enemies, Christ told him: Peter, put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword. Christianity as a faith can never be spread through psychological or physical violence.
When some atheists try to justify any religious war by using facts that refer to the Old Testament of the Bible, such as Israel’s wars with the nations, their interpretation is wrong if applied to the modern context of religious warfare. Israel was a nation that wanted an area and a kingdom on earth which was eventually acquired through battles. With the coming of Christ this earthly kingdom no longer exists, for the kingdom of God that Christ established is not a prominent place on land, but in the hearts of believers. He said: “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation, nor can it be said,’Look, here it is!’ or,’There it is!’ But the kingdom of God is among you”. (Lk. 17:21) Therefore, Christ and the Church do not require a nation and an earthly kingdom, so we cannot use the worldly violence as a means for our protection and expansion. As Christ responded to Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, Myservants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews”. (Jn.18: 36-37)
When other such events have happened during the course of 2000 years of Christianity, they did not involve the whole of Christianity, but there has actually been a diversion of the Christian spirit. And although these crusades were directed against the enemies of the cross, they degenerated and Christians damaged only themselves.Especially in the Fourth Crusade in 1204 when Constantinople was attacked and the Orthodox Christian population was terrorized; although today, those who feel responsible for these actions have apologized.
Even Islam, which is a monotheistic religion, does not see war as holy because such a concept contradicts Islam itself which means peace. Many Muslim theologians today translate the Quranic term jihad as internal catharsis which refers to the struggle that the believer goes through in order to be cleansed from his sinful passions, which interfere between God and man, disturbing the harmony of religion. So from what we said above, neither God likes wars, nor do the religious people who truly believe in Him. Because where there is war, there is no religion since there is no more freedom and where there is no freedom there is no God. That true believers do not like wars is proved by the century-long coexistence between Christians and Muslims in those places where today there is conflict and religious violence. Or a more tangible example would be the case of Albania where Christians and Muslims not only coexist, but also have family ties which do not preclude them from being family members, citizens or compatriots in spite of having different religious beliefs.
But who is to blame?
For the faithful, the cause of evil is not the man himself but the one who inspires him to do evil, and that is Satan, a rebellious angel who departed from the presence of God and hates Him, and all His creation, and in particular man because in each man he sees God. He is called the father of lies and killer of men since the beginning. He holds different names in different religions such as dragon, satan, devil, but he is the same; he is the first cause of fratricide, of destruction and death. He is a master of disguise and with his great net of lies, he catches many “fish”, that is people who have lost their reasoning. Inside this net we find hypocritical believers, heretics, extremist fundamentalists, blasphemous atheist, unprincipled nationalists, greedy enviers, terrible dictators, chauvinists, feminists, perverted people, irresponsible parents, inexperienced youngsters, ignorant and indifferent people. After he catches all these fishes with his net, he crashes them into each other in stupefaction for the purpose of annihilation.
Ironically, at the moment the rock group the “Eagles of Death Metal”, who were performing at the Bataclanconcert hall, were calling the devil asking even the crowd to sing “kiss the devil”, the first weapons were heard firing and the first victims were killed by three extremists.
Well, now that we found out who is to blame, that is the devil, let us strike him with stones. Just as the first human couple did when God questioned them about their sin and they said that it was the devil’s fault. But this evil against humanity is not just the fault of the devil, but of humanity itself which has often paid too much attention to the devil during its history, thusbringing war and death on itself. Therefore all that is happening should shake us to the core of our being and we must listen to the voice of our conscience which is in fact the voice of God in each of us and this voice condemnsus telling us when we are sorely mistaken and that we should reflect quickly and make a return from the wrong path in which we are going.
First, it is the responsibility of the religious leaders to prevent the distortion of the straight and true image of the God of peace and love through their preaching and example. Concrete actions must be undertaken and here I remember the magnificentwords of His Beatitude Anastasios, the Primate of the Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania. When he intervened to defuse the conflict between Serbians and Kosovars, which some sought to present as a religious conflict, said “Let no one use the oil of the Church to light the fire of religious hatred”. And after the war he did something to be praised: he collected money from people who love peace and offered them to the Serbians to rebuild a church burned by Kosovars. And to the Kosovars, he offered money to build a mosque destroyed by Serbian extremists. There is also the striking contribution of His Beatitude and the Orthodox Church in caring for 33,000 Kosovars, the majority of whom being Muslims. When they faced such hospitality from the Orthodox Church, they admitted that they had had a wrong impression about Christians, saying: “We used to think of Christians as being “shkja”, but they behaved like brothers to us”.
And not only the Orthodox Church, but also other religious communities have all contributed in the spiritual and social upbringing of the country and especially in the religious coexistence which is like a crown of honor for the nation.
It is also the responsibility of the statesmen of this country to preserve this beautiful mosaic of religious harmony, which more civilized countries in the world than us envy and they promote Albania as a place of harmony and religious brotherhood. It is seen as a safe place to organize global conferences like the one held on peace on September 6 to 8 with the theme: “Peace is always possible”, organized by the Community of San’tEgidio, the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church in cooperation with the Albanian state; 500 delegates from 30 different religious groups from all over the world took part.
The state should maintain the balance of equality and not allow discrimination by any religious groups. It should legally intervene to isolate each individual or group who seeks to disrupt this harmony, this religious coexistence, and not allow the fragile image of Albania to be spoiled or to become a supplier of terrorist elements that threaten world peace. Not only the religious extremists, but also the nationalist extremists must be stopped, because the alchemy of these two groups produces negative unmanageable energy for regional and domestic instability.
Also the atheists in this country and in the entire civilized world should not blame only the religious by making them responsible for all the damage, but should instead indulge in self-criticism and bear responsibility for what is happening around them. As the saying goes: “O Hypocrite! First remove the beam from your eye, then the speck from the eye of another”. They must not become blasphemous and insult thus the religious sentiment or develop into atheist fundamentalists and extremely persecute the religious people becoming therefore a violator of human rights and freedom whose basic principle is: “Your freedom ends where another’s begins.”
The rich and powerful men of the world, those who think that by means of money they can control and make decisionsabout everything, must understand that the cause of terrorism is also poverty and injustice. Also, they need to understand that they are not “gods,” but mortal men and war is a disaster for everyone; from the ashes of destruction grass of fields can sprout but not the human civilization. All people need to understand that “This is the earth of God and everything in it is His.” And finally for me this is not a religious war or a clash of civilizations and cultures or an area of influence but, behind everything, it is the evil one attacking mankind.
Both religious and atheists, let us together stop this evil before it is too late for everyone!