Patriarch Bartholemew: 'A creative dynamic can enrich both church and state'

From a speech by the Archbishop of Constantinople for the London Hellenic Society, delivered at the London School of Economics
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Accepting, as we do and must, the pluralist and multicultural character of Europe today, what should be our understanding of the relationship between the state and organised religion? There are in principle three main systems for regulating this relationship. There is first the confessional system, whereby the state gives official recognition to one particular religion or church. Secondly, there is the non- confessional system, whereby the state is separated from religion, and assumes an attitude of neutrality towards all expressions of religious belief and practice. In the third place, there is the situation whereby the state is officially atheist.

Within the European Union, only the first two systems exist; there is within it no example of a state that is officially atheist. Increasingly, the norm within the EU, and within Europe generally, is coming to be the non-confessional pattern. But even where the non-confessional system prevails, it is usually accepted that religion has implications for the public life of the state, and these may be recognised on the legal level.

Indeed, is "separation" the most appropriate word for us to employ in this context? Instead of using what is essentially a negative word, would it not be better to speak in terms of mutual respect and co-operation? It is significant that, in what is for Eastern Orthodoxy the most important statement of political philosophy - the Sixth Novel issued by the Emperor Justinian around the year 534 - the key word is the term symphonia, 'concord" or "harmony".

Between sixth-century Byzantium and Europe in the 21st century, there are obvious and profound differences. But in speaking of a "happy concord", Justinian's Sixth Novel offers us a paradigm for the relationship between the state and religion that is still valid today.

It is our hope that there will exist between religion and the state a symphonia of active collaboration. We should not think only of separation, neutrality or mutual tolerance, but of a relationship that is far more dynamic and creative.