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University of Balamand > Administration > Presidency > President Salem > Speech10-02-10

Speech
 
By
Elie A. Salem

At the International Conference
On

"Traditional Spiritual and Cultural Values
as the Basis of Stable Development."

By the

International Foundation for the Unity of
Orthodox Christian Nations

at
The University of Balamand

On
February 10th - 11th 2010


10 February 2010

President Alexeev
Excellences
Distinguished Guests

 

In the name of our Founder His Beatitude Patriarch Ignatius IV, in the name of our Trustees, and my Colleagues at the University, I welcome you to the University of Balamand.  It is a privilege for us to have the International Foundation for the Unity of Orthodox Christian Nations hold this important Conference on our Campus. 

As a university founded by the Orthodox Patriarchate, it is natural for us to look West to Greece and to look East to Holy Russia.   Until the rise of the St. John of Damascus Institute of Theology in the 1970s at Balamand, our Orthodox religious leaders sought their education in Greece, Russia, and the Russian Diaspora seminaries at St. Sergius and St. Vladimir.  It was at St. Sergius in Paris that our Patriarch Ignatius IV completed his education and made his far-flung connections with philosophers, theologians, and Church leaders of all faiths.

As I welcome our Orthodox visitors from Russia, Europe, Central Asia, the United States, and the Arab East, I am inclined by the occasion to dwell on Russia and its role in the region and the World.  Only recently I was in Moscow to receive an award for the University of Balamand from His Holiness the late Patriarch Alexey II.  He spoke eloquently about the University and its roots in the Antiochian Orthodox Church.  At that occasion I announced the establishment of the Alexey II Chair of Russian Studies at the University of Balamand. 

I recalled then the role of Russia in the nineteenth century in supporting the impoverished Orthodox Churches in Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine.  The Tsar founded the Russian Imperial Society in Jerusalem, and under its auspices, Russia built Churches, schools, hospitals, and encouraged Russian tourism to the Holy Land.  The Society was planning to open a university when World War I intervened, and Holy Russia succumbed to pale Godless communism.  The Communist Regime was determined to eradicate all vestiges of the Christian faith and to obliterate the Russian spirit that blossomed in it.

Fortunately, Orthodoxy deeply entrenched in the very soul and being of the populace, broke forth from its bondage like a volcano erupting the dead crust of the earth.  Russia that died in body was resurrected in spirit, and the Cathedral of the Savior that Stalin tore down, rose gloriously from the ruins, a glowing symbol of triumphant Orthodoxy.  This is why you are here, and this is why you are now attempting to build on this awakening and to extend its reach.

The Orthodox awakening in Russia is a testimony to the power of spirit over matter, to the victory of the true over the false.  You seek the unity of the Orthodox nations.  This is fine, only as a first step towards the unification of all nations.  First we think of ourselves, but next we must think of others, think of them, love them, and encapsulate them.  Unity must come from the faith, the vision, and the values of Russians of the caliber of Aleksander Pushkin, Nikolai Gogol, Fyodor Mikhaylovich Dostoyevsky, Leo Tolstoy, Nikolai

Of Russia we need its spirit and its outreach.  We want Russia to promote the just, the free, and the beautiful, the issues on which its writers dwelled and passionately upheld.  We want Russia to help us resolve the festering conflict in our region.  We want it to stand for the true and the just.  

We will be privileged as Antiochian Christian Orthodox to identify with this noble direction of Russia which may very well be its destiny.  We are a religious minority in Lebanon and Syria, but we never felt minoritarian.  We always thought big; We crossed frontiers; We envisaged models of regional and international dimensions.       

We are Christian Arabs, authentically grounded in these lands since Christ rendered them holy by his death and resurrection.   We were everywhere in this region building churches, opening schools, and living our ideals.  When Islam emerged from the Arabian Peninsula in the seventh century, we bonded with our Muslim brethren and generated a universal Arabic Culture that dominated world stage for five centuries.   We were there in that culture as scholars, as scientists, as poets, as translators; we were active participants in all fields.  We had our ups and downs, but we remained ourselves, always in the midst of the issues that dominated our times.  At present, we constitute the lynchpin of serious dialogue between the Islamic East and the Christian West.

Should you wish to be introduced to us, let me sum up our position as follows. As sect we are Orthodox, as religion we are Christians, as citizens we are Lebanese, as culture we are Arabs bordering on the universal. There is not the slightest confusion with us between these identities and loyalties.  Each of them stands on its own.  Each has its epicenter and its appropriate orbit.  As Orthodox we are proud, proud and clear.  Before "we saw through a glass darkly, but now face to face".  We know full where we stand.  To us Rome was faithful, but we were original.  We were there at the creation.  

The diversity in our being is the essence of our humanity. It is also the foundation of our unity. In all the ups and downs of regional politics we held our head high.  Our views on current affairs are expressed by our clergy, our politicians, or academicians, and our businessmen, and by the private man in the street. While no one person speaks for the Orthodox Community, we tend to speak as one in all matters that matter. In this we are democratic, conscious of ourselves and of the consensus for the public good.

We are a small community, it is true, but we grow in stature when we associate with Orthodox Russia. We welcome you again to the University, and wish you continuing success in the challenging and rewarding journey you have embarked on in the promotion of unity and spiritual values.  Good luck and Godspeed. 

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Balamand Al Kurah,
Lebanon

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