Participants in the first international consultation between Jews and representatives of Eastern Orthodox Christianity concluded their meeting in Athens by saying there was a need for further gatherings “for an improved knowledge of the two traditions.”
They said that racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia must be addressed at future conferences, according to their closing communique.
The 25 members of each religion who met together in Athens from March 21 to 24 convened under the auspices of IJCIC, the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, and the Ecumenical Patriarchate of the Orthodox Churches.
IJCIC is charged with officially representing world Jewry to other faith communities.
The head of Orthodox Christianity, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomaios I, sent a message to conference participants expressing hope that the meeting would create “the framework of a new and constructive rapprochement of Orthodox Christians and Jews living together under the same sky and in the same world.”
He called for a rejection of past hostility between the two faiths and “the establishment of a new relationship,” one which is “genuine and authentic, rooted in the willingness to work toward mutual understanding and improved knowledge of each other.”
Orthodox participants included representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church, as well as Orthodox churches in Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia and the United States.
The Jewish delegation included representatives of the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, B’nai B’rith, the European Jewish Congress, the Israel Committee for Interreligious Relations, the Latin American Jewish Congress, the Synagogue Council of America and the World Jewish Congress, which currently holds the organization’s rotating chairmanship.
ST. PETERSBURG CLERIC DEMOTED
Leon Feldman, IJCIC’s secretary, said in a statement issued by the WJC that participants had directly addressed some of the most sensitive concerns between the two faiths, “including the problems of anti-Semitism — historical and contemporary — and questions concerning continued use of anti-Jewish material in liturgical text.”
There will be a second conference in three years and ongoing consultations in between, said Elan Steinberg, a spokesman for Edgar Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress and chairman of IJCIC.
One concern raised at the conference was about the second-highest-ranking leader in the Russian Orthodox Church, who recently endorsed the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” the notorious 19th century anti-Semitic tract.
Metropolitan Johann of St. Petersburg suggested that the “Protocols” were authentic, in an article last month in the anti-Semitic Russian newspaper Sovietskaya Rossiya.
A year earlier, he published a story in the same newspaper which sought to “expose” a Jewish conspiracy linked to both the killing of Jesus and the Communist takeover of Russia.
A week after the meeting between Jewish and Orthodox clergy in Athens, he was demoted and “sent into exile” to Smolensk, according to the WJC.
He is being replaced in St. Petersburg by Metropolitan Kyrill, who was described by the chief rabbi of Moscow as “a friend of the Jews.”
Moscow Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt described the change as “auguring well for increasingly positive relations” with the Russian Church, said the WJC.