RESPONSE TO OPEN LETTER FROM 138 MUSLIM SCHOLARS
Archbishop Yeznik Petrosyan, General Secretary For Inter Church Relations
Press Release of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin
In late 2007, 138 Muslim leaders and scholars addressed an open letter entitled "A Common Word between Us and You" to the leaders of traditional Christian Churches throughout the world. His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, was one of the 22 Church heads to whom the letter was addressed.
The Chancellery of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin has released the following letter in reply to the scholars, signed by His Eminence Archbishop Yeznik Petrosian, General Secretary for Inter-Church Relations:
H.R.H. Prince Dr. Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal
We extend to you the greetings and best wishes of His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, from the spiritual center of all Armenians – the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin.
The open letter entitled "A Common Word between Us and You", signed by 138 Muslim scholars and addressed to Christian leaders throughout the world, was received in Holy Etchmiadzin. We welcome the expressions of goodwill from Islam’s religious leaders and scholars, aimed at the promotion of peace and fraternal love among the leaders and faithful of the great monotheistic religions of the world, for the sake of mankind and loyal to the commandments of the one and only True God.
Ties between Armenian Christians and many Muslim nations exist since the 7th century, when in the year 652, Muawiyah I, founder of the Umayyad Dynasty, and Theodoros R’shtouni, ruler of Armenia, signed a mutual agreement, the fourth point of which concerned religious freedom. Less than one century later, the Catholicos of All Armenians, St. John of Odzun met with the Arabian Chief Emir, Omar in 720 and exchanged thoughts on faith, including the Chief Emir’s respectful appreciation of the Christian leader’s homily on a life made worthy by examples of Christian values and virtues.
In our more recent history, the predominantly Muslim countries of the Middle East were the first to receive, shelter and support the millions of refugees fleeing the Genocide of the Armenians perpetrated by Ottoman Turkey from 1915 to 1923. After the annihilation of 1.5 million of our sons and daughters during the First World War, the remnants of our nation witnessed the caring love and attention of our Arab brothers, which can serve today as the best example of how Christians and Muslims can live together in harmony, support one another in times of hardship, and enjoy the God-given benefits of a peaceful and creative life.
Our Lord Jesus Christ says, "Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God" (St. Matthew 5:9). The Armenian Church therefore blesses and exhorts her faithful children to continue and maintain a spirit of love, friendship and brotherhood, as a means of guaranteeing reconciliation and peace to our world.
Tragically, in spite of dialogue and mutual respect among Armenians and our neighbors, our history has also seen the tragedies, adversities and manifold sufferings resulting from intolerance, lack of understanding, hatred and evil. We have truly witnessed that indeed, God is love; but also that satan is the one who deceives all.
In the Holy Bible, St. Paul in his letter to the Romans says, "Love works no ill to his neighbor" (Romans 13:10). Our world today is troubled by violence, war, poverty, acts of terror and countless other calamities. We confirm yet again that these are not the paths that benefit humanity. These are not the virtues that lead to prosperity and security. These are not the visions of nations that wish to live in peace, in happiness and with confidence in the future. We deny and renounce violence and enmity, as our forefathers have done in the past, and our successors shall do so in the future.
We offer thanks and glory to the Almighty in heaven, for the imperatives to establish and reinforce friendship and reconciliation in situations of conflict have triumphed again over hostility in our present times as well. In 1994, through the combined efforts of Catholicos of All Armenians Vasken I of blessed memory, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia His Holiness Alexy II, Catholicos-Patriarch of Georgia Ilia II, and leader of the Muslims of the Caucasus Sheikh Al-Islam Allah-Shakhur Bashazada, a quadrilateral dialogue was commenced, aimed at finding solutions to existing problems in this region utilizing peaceful means and through our love and faith in God. This dialogue continues through our present day.
His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, in his message addressed to politicians and leaders of states and religions, reflected on the words of St. Paul the Apostle, "Let brotherly love continue. Be not forgetful to entertain strangers" (Hebrews 13:1-2), and stated,
"Today, being dispersed all over the world, the children of our nation and Church remain loyal to this commandment, always respecting other traditions and religions, walking on the path of cooperation and good deeds together with other nations. For we believe that where there is love, God dwells there with His blessings and peace." (September 2006, Astana)
We therefore deem it imperative to begin a true dialogue among the monotheistic religions, the aim of which should be the strengthening of eternal and common human values, the reinforcement of relationships between different faiths, and the protection of all that God has created. We also remain hopeful that this would contribute to better understanding each other, including strengthening mutual respect for one another’s spiritual, national and cultural traditions and heritage. The prevention of violations and exploitations of spiritual and cultural monuments, art, symbols and shrines would be one benefit of such an endeavor.
We constantly pray and remain hopeful for the establishment of peace in the Caucasus and Middle East – the origin of life, the cradle of ancient civilizations and the birthplace of the world’s largest monotheistic religions. May God hear our prayers and help our efforts to achieve an atmosphere where dialogue and cooperation will lead to trust and love. We also pray that God’s spirit of peace and reconciliation lead all of us, decorating our daily lives with His infinite blessings.