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July 22, 2014

The Last Interview of Metropolitan Paul of Aleppo

Below is the last known interview His Eminence Metropolitan Paul of Aleppo gave before the civil war in Syria and his kidnapping by Muslim terrorists, when he visited Mount Athos and was staying at Vatopaidi Monastery.

Besides speaking about the geography and present state of the Patriarchate of Antioch and his own Metropolis, he also speaks about the current state of Orthodoxy in the Middle East and the role Orthodox Christians play there. He also had interesting things to say about the role and spirit of Balamand University, the importance of the Greek language and spirit of Greek Orthodoxy in his Patriarchate, and how Mount Athos is an inheritance of Romiosini with its diversity and unity that puts Orthodoxy before its Greekness.

Below are a few excerpts among others worth sharing:

"The people of the Middle East are very religious, no matter what religion it is. Christians are trying to urge the others, especially Muslims and to a less extent the Jews, that religion is not to become fanaticism. The Middle East gave birth to the three great religions that went to Europe and America and elsewhere and settled there. But these three religions fight against each other. The question is: Does religion mean fanaticism? Does religion mean to have enemies? With the differences in religions, can they exist together?

By its nature, Orthodoxy is pure and blessed, and I believe that Christianity is a preparation for the Kingdom of Heaven, and that I have a Kingdom not of this world. It is more blessed than political life. And we are trying to spread this message: that religion is a means of doing good to others. In one word: love. God is love. And whoever does not have love, let them go to their religion and be corrected. Or they should correct their faith, because perhaps their religion does not teach this. All religions speak of love, but the truth is that there are elements of fanaticism. When a religion teaches that it is above others, that is the least form of it. There are other religions that teach other things, such as that others are atheists, that they are justly killed, that they are deaf. These elements are very ugly in whichever religion.

In the dialogue of everyday life in the Middle East, especially with Islam, and this is the important role of Christianity in the Middle East, where Islam was and is born, Christians, who have a good relationship with others, try to explain that these fanatical elements in their religion should be given another interpretation. We explain that it wasn't received the way they think originally, but it was meant to be interpreted another way. There is an entire movement among educated Muslims that ask these questions, and we are creating this movement."

"Religion is not fanaticism ... We are trying to create an open spirit. When you are Christian or Muslim, that is your religion, but it is not you. We try to teach others in dialogue that we are all creations of God and we must respect each other, and we are free to choose whichever religion we want. Differences are our riches, because you can dialogue with others. You give to others and they give back to you. Fifty years ago Christians would say the phrase: "Faith is between you and God, but country is for all." We cannot make a Religious State. Religious States are wrong. Our Kingdom is not of this world. Religion is a faith beyond the natural world. It is not meant to create a State on earth based on Christianity or any other religion."

"I believe that, we Orthodox especially, our role in the Middle East is not to live a good or difficult life, but we have a basic role, because our mother language is Arabic, we know the Koran up close, we know Muslims in detail, and we know Orthodox Christianity, and we can live connected to each other, because dialogue is immediate there. Orthodoxy can offer a lot. For Muslims, the Arabic language does not change like other languages; it is sacred. The Koran cannot be chanted in Turkish. You can read it in another language, but in worship it is only read in Arabic. But the origins of the Arabic language are Orthodox Christian, so we have offered much to Islam both in history and language. We were here before them. Christianity can offer a spirit of freedom and an open spirit to Islam, which can spread to other parts of the world."

"I hope to be a witness of the Orthodox spirit I learned on Mount Athos."

Source: Translation by John Sanidopoulos.