Armenian Orthodox Church of Georgia – September 2016
Very Rev. Father Khoren Hovhannisyan
Speech at a conference entitled “Interreligious Dialogue for Peace” Organized by Georgia’s State Agency for Religious Issues
The freedom of the will is a priceless gift bestowed on man through the Lord’s Grace. We live in a diverse world: there are many different religious organizations and denominations along with traditional religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam). In the course of history, humankind has been shaken by war, genocide and resettlement over and over again. The world is not at peace today, the Middle East is in flames, a group of people kills and annihilates others in the name of God and in the name of religion, destroys places of worship and historic-cultural monuments of outstanding universal significance, however these villains have nothing to do with God. Unfortunately, humanity has not learned to respect, tolerate and love one another in the name of God and in the name of religion.
The Catholicos of All Armenians, His Holiness Karekin I, of blessed memory, once said that indifference is the eighth deadly sin: when you see someone created in the image of God who is suffering, hungry, grieving, ill or in pain and do nothing to help, you commit a sin.
How can we – followers of different Christian Churches, members of the Jewish and Muslim communities, representatives of different nationalities, residing in Georgia, help the world, and the suffering people of the Middle East in particular, at the moment, how can we show that we do care? We don’t have thousands of troops or appropriate weapons in order to reach out and save lives of suffering people, helpless children and elderly people. This is possible for world powers, which have enough military and economic resources to dictate and implement policy in the modern world. Let us pray that the leaders of powerful countries will not make decision based on indifference, but will be merciful and remember those who suffer.
We, the representatives of different nations and religions living in Georgia, by being peaceful, respectful and tolerant of others, will pass on our walk of life and will to the world and future generations. The least we can do is to raise our children in such an environment, that they will not remain indifferent to someone’s pain or sufferings, they will learn that being different does not make someone an enemy or a rival.
For a better Georgia and for a better world, we must not reject and subordinate minorities and representatives of other religions and nations just because they are different, but we must accept and respect them as they are. Our differences do not divide us, but make us beautiful. The Scripture says: “Love one another” – it does not say love Jews, Christians, Muslims or representatives of other religions and nations, but says – love one another, to put it another way – everyone. Our diversity is our beauty. How sad it would be if all of us looked the same, had the same opinion, had the same haircut or dressed the same. Representatives of different nations and religions are the real wealth of Georgia. Our society should make the most of this diversity. People of different nations living in Georgia have no choice, but to live together in peace and to be respectful.
We, the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Holy Church, treat the Georgian Orthodox Church, other Churches operating in Georgia, the Muslim and Jewish communities, other ethnic and religious minorities with love and respect. And we do expect the same in return, stressing once again that our differences do not imply that we should be enemies. Our national and religious peculiarities and traditions are a specific seal that we bear as citizens of multinational Georgia.
Our society – the Georgian people, the Georgian Church and minorities have got particular issues. Some of them are inherent to the post-Soviet countries and most of the problems have arisen during 70 years of Soviet atheism.
Georgian authorities have taken positive steps in recent years to correct mistakes that had been made in the past, to partially compensate damages inflicted during the years of Soviet atheism and to restore violated rights of the people. Nevertheless, much remains to be done.
We as law-abiding citizens and taxpayers of Georgia expect that the government will continue positive work that has been started and the wounds of the past will be healed, both of the Georgian people and other religious minorities.
Sometimes, people or communities do not accept each other because they don’t know each other. Sometimes, due to lack of communication and poor dialogue we don’t know each other. When a person loves something or someone, he is well familiar with the object or knows the person quite well. That is why, in order to tolerate and accept someone, we need to get to know him better. Talking to each other is always better than not talking. The Dalai Lama once said: “Talking to each other is much better than talking about each other.” Therefore, no stereotypes or fixations should hinder our dialogue and communication.
We believe that the television and media can significantly contribute to familiarization of different religious and ethnic minorities with each other and the majority. If public or private TV channels show more interest and properly introduce important religious and national holidays and traditions of different religious communities and ethnic minorities to the massive television audience, we are absolutely convinced that this will contribute to better mutual recognition, respect, and acceptance.
It is surely an oversight in today’s reality of Georgia that TV channels are often reluctant to cover minority festivals and important events, thus Georgian public remains uninformed on minorities living next to them. Taking into consideration the example of other countries, we believe that TV channels should make more room for and give more time to minorities which will provide us, the residents of Georgia, with an opportunity to get to know each other, to better understand and accept each other.
Nerses the Gracious, the12th century Armenian Catholicos, in his records “On the Profession of Faith” says: “Unity in the main, freedom in the secondary, and love in everything.” These words have not lost their relevance today.
God bless Georgia and the people of multiethnic Georgia.”