PARIS – Metropolitan Emmanuel of France participated as a keynote speaker at a meeting of the World Council of Churches and the International Jewish Commission of Interreligious Dialogue that was held in Paris.
He noted that the historic record contains numerous heroic acts by Hellenes to save and protect Greek Jewish citizens during World War II, including actions taken on the island of Zakynthos by Metropolitan Chrysostomos of blessed memory. He also noted the actions in Thessaloniki by Metropolitan Gennadios and the famous letter of March 23, 1943 by Archbishop Damaskinos of Greece, the only Church leader in Europe to condemn the Nazis for their treatment of Jews.
In his speech titled The Normalization of Hatred: Challenges for Jews and Christians Today, Metropolitan Emmanuel said among other things: “On behalf of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, I would like to congratulate you on the occasion of this joint meeting between the IJCIC and WCC on the crucial topic of hatred.
“Last May, I accompanied His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on his visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau, in Poland. In the history of humanity, very few places have inspired so much terror, abomination and horror. Auschwitz-Birkenau encapsulates what humankind, moved by pure hatred, can do to dehumanize and desacralize the image of God placed in each and every person.
I was profoundly moved by this opportunity to stand at this place where so many died, victims of hatred and a bloody thirst for injustice. The world continues to mourn this disaster, this unspeakable tragedy. “While walking on the ground of what is today a memorial, the words of Prophet Jeremiah sprang to mind: “How long will the land mourn and the grass of the field wither, because of the vices of those who dwell in it?” (Jr 12:4).
Metropolitan Emmanuel continued:
“The Orthodox Church has many historic ties to Judaism and to the Jewish people. During the Second World War, the people of Greece and the Orthodox Church fought for their Jewish brothers and sisters and saved many of them.
“On July 11, 1942, for example, the German Nazis surrounded the Jews in the city of Thessalonica in northern Greece, in order to send them to the concentration camps. The community paid 2.5 billion drachmas for their freedom, but all they could do was to delay the transfer until the following March. 96% of the members of the Jewish community in Thessalonica, 46,091 people, were sent to Auschwitz. Only 1,950 of them returned to find most of their sixty synagogues destroyed, their cemetery sacked, and their schools dilapidated. Some of the survivors migrated to Israel and the United States. “The Jewish community of Thessalonica survived and currently has about 1,000 members and maintains four synagogues. We remember with pride the bold and courageous behavior of the late Metropolitan Gennadios of Thessalonica who repeatedly took initiatives to protect the city’s Jewish community.”
Emmanuel also said that, “Orthodox Christians stand with sorrow in front of human pain and war. Our faith teaches us that we must not be unfair and irresponsible towards our brethren” and he added that “unfortunately, even today, extremist groups continue to cultivate anti-Semitism. In recent years, the Jewish community in France has been deeply wounded by several vile attacks and murders, clearly showing that anti-Semitism is still real and very much alive. It is unacceptable for us, as Christian leaders, to look the other way while this vile trend spreads across Europe.”
In its statement, the European Council recognizes that Jewish communities in various EU countries feel particularly vulnerable to terrorist attacks following the increase in violent incidents in recent years. It notes that anti-Semitic hatred remains widespread, as confirmed in the 2018 Anti-Semitism Report of the Fundamental Rights Agency.
The declaration calls on the Member States to adopt and implement a holistic strategy to prevent and combat all forms of anti-Semitism in their strategies for the prevention of racism, xenophobia, radicalization and violent extremism. Member States are also invited to step up their efforts to guarantee the safety of Jewish communities and institutions, and Jewish citizens.
The ongoing outburst of religious fundamentalism and terrible acts of violence perpetrated in the name of religion lend credence to modern critiques of religious faith and support the identification of religion with its negative aspects. The truth is that violence is the negation of our fundamental religious beliefs and doctrine. True faith does not release humans from responsibility for the world or the obligation to respect human dignity and struggle for justice and peace. On the contrary, it strengthens our commitment to action and enlarges our witness for freedom and human core values.”