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University of Balamand > Administration > Presidency > President Salem > Speech23-01-04

A Speech by

On Friday 23 January 2004 at 10:30 am

          It is a privilege to welcome the President of the Hellenic Republic to the University of Balamand . The privilege is the greater when he is His Excellency Mr. Constantinos Stephanopoulos. In choosing to put us on your program during your short State Visit to Lebanon , you have bestowed upon us a great honor and given us a distinctive status. For this fine gesture, many thanks.

          Our university, like every other university in the world, in indebted to Greece . We take pride in this debt. We look back with deep gratitude to the Academy of Plato, to the lyceum of Aristotle, and to all the poets, the philosophers, and the scientists who for the first time in the history of man dared to separate fact from fiction, knowledge from opinion, mind from myth.

          There is hardly an idea that relates to the very essence of man that was not thought out and rigorously debated in your towns and cities long before other cultures were ven conscious of these ideas.

          The world has witnessed many revolutions, mostly military and political. The only real revolution, however that launched man on his course of liberation, took place two millennia ago in Athens . In the deepest sense, Athens will go down in history as the liberator of mankind. While to other cultures, man was a mystery, an unknown, or perhaps a plaything of the gods, Greek Culture bad no doubt about man. Its motto was: “Man, know thyself'. Making man the subject of man, was the most important step in the making of civilization.

          It is true, saint Paul argued with the Greeks, and perhaps tore his hair in the process. The Greeks seemed to him too rational to grasp the God he was preaching. The God he preached came to us from outside the realm of reason. Saint Paul did not live long enough to celebrate the conversion of the Greek mind to the imperatives of the spirit. ln a short, Greece rose to the Christian challenge and brought about a perfect harmony between mind and spirit, and set the Church on its historic path of Orthodoxy.

          As a Greek Orthodox University , we take pride in things Greek. When our Faculty of Theology, carrying the name of saint John of Damascus Institute of Theology, opened its doors half a century ago, it looked to your country for guidance. You responded generously by sending faculty, by donating funds, by advising on programs, and by keeping a protective eye on all our efforts. Our colleagues in Theology have studied in your universities and lived in your monasteries. The Greek language is an essential part of our Orthodox Church . We cherish this spiritual bond with you, and are intent on preserving it against all possible difficulties and obstructions. There will never be a rift with Greece .

          By your visit to the University of Balamand , Mr. president, you have chosen to emphasize the distinctive ties between your country and our university. We thank you for this emphasis, and we commit ourselves to reaffirm on our part our passionate and unflinching commitment to it.

          We have been receiving financial support from you Government, and from Greek Non-Governmental Organizations in areas relating to theology, to the environment, to solar energy, and to mental health.

          I am pleased to announce that president Constantinos Stephanopoulos has taken a special interest in helping us establish an Institute of Environmental studies at the University. I have received from him as first payment for the Institute the sum of 250,000 euros.

          With respect to the environment, we have a great deal in common. With you we breathe the same air, and intend to keep it clean; we share a spectacular shoreline, now threatened by ignorance and neglect; we share the Mediterranean Sea , of which your legendary islands stand out as its lofty peaks.

          You taught us before. You will teach us again. When Hellas , under Alexander the Great, spread its arms towards the Near East , the Near East entered the Hellenistic Age. We began to imitate the Hellenes. The very encounter now taking place between the Near East and the West is, in effect, a continuation of the Hellenization process. We are still dappling with the issues of mind that were argued in classical Athens, namely freedom, inquiry, dialogue, democracy, humanism, and the very foundations of being.         We, in Lebanon : have made some headway on these issues. As Athens was the school of Hellas so Beirut was the school of the Arabs. Unfortunately, we suffered setbacks in the 1970s and the 1980s due to regional conflicts emanating from the Arab-Israeli problem. The rise of Israel in the very point that joins the Arab East with the Arab West was tantamount to a volcanic eruption whose rumblings are still shaking our region, causing death, shifting frontiers, and shattering long-held values. The Arab-Israeli conflict has virtually arrested process in our region and put it on a course of violence and war.

          Greece, as the heir to a civilization that first delved deep into the fair, the just, and the true, is called upon, more than any other Western nation, to espouse the cause of justice in the Middle East. As a nation that experienced colonization and persecution you appreciate the sufferings our people in Palestine are enduring. It has been longs too long, that the land of peace was allowed to drift carelessly into the land of war. If there is some conscience left in the world, this carelessness must end.

          The United Nations Organization adopted resoIutions that could bring about a just and comprehensive peace in our region. We count on you as our friend in the European Union, to help us implement these resolutions. We have to move quickly before the molten lava of the volcano hardens into untenable configurations leading to more violence, more suffering, more death.

          In the name of the Founder of the University of Balamand, His Beatitude Patriarch Ignatius IV, in the name of our Trustees, and in the name of my colleagues at the University, I thank you most warmly for your kind gesture. In appreciation of your visit, I am pleased to present to Your Excellency the Shield of the University as a symbol of the bonds that bind us.

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