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N. Milovic: Address to Interreligious Leadership Conference 2017

Address to Interreligious Leadership Conference 2017
Seoul, Korea, November 10 to 14, 2017


Ladies and gentlemen, first, I would like to thank the organizers for organizing such a fantastic event and for giving me the opportunity to express my views on these significant issues.

I’m sure today we all share the great joy of this gathering. We do not hide our emotions which we are communicating as religious leaders from all over the world. This communication is warm and cordial between us all, to present the blessed experience of our exchange.

While I was preparing to come to Seoul for the first time in my life and while I was researching resources, I found that Korea has been particularly blessed by God, above many other countries. I also found that Christianity had “helped Korea adapt to Western culture and devices for development.” The Church, of course, is not a secular institution, nor is it an organization of this world. It is focused on the eschatological vision of “a new heaven and a new earth,” but without exhibiting a smug rejection of, or contempt for, the world. Instead, being faithful to the theology of the Incarnation and being grateful for every new day, the Church is called to make each time and place its own, transforming the world’s problems in Christ.[i] For sure, the work of development has always been the domain of faith-based entities. “The ‘intruders’ may well be so-called secular organizations.”[ii] These words are especially appropriate in Korea, being the result of the passionate Korean character regarding both religion and economic development, of which all of us here today are witnesses.

One may wonder whether the Church, or religion in the broader context, should be involved in political and economic issues. Problems arising in an increasingly globalized and interdependent world need global and international approaches in order to be effective. Climate change and pollution, for example, do not stop at national borders. International crime and terrorism require international responses. Global economic problems need globally coordinated solutions. It is clear that individual countries are less effective at tackling the above mentioned problems when they act on their own than when they coordinate with other countries.[iii]

As a consequence, we see a growing emphasis on national identity, sovereignty, and a renationalization of politics. A fundamental question in this context is how the apparent need for international cooperation and joint policymaking can be reconciled with the legitimate desire of many people to own and control the policies that affect their daily lives.

My position, ladies and gentlemen, stems from my pastoral concern and my religious orientation and is not intended to offer easy answers or ready-made solutions to all the world’s problems. The critical question is how we can make sure that the fundamental values that should guide the political processes in the world—respect for human dignity, peace, justice, freedom, tolerance, participation, solidarity, and sustainability—can be maintained in times of change. No compromises can be made concerning these basic values. Even if policy choices may differ, our unity should be rooted in these values.

The Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church that was held in Crete, Greece in 2016 reminds us that “freedom without responsibility and love eventually leads to a loss of freedom.”[iv] People of faith nowadays believe that all these values and principles not only need to be publicly declared, they also require international legal endorsement. They should be more efficiently integrated into the work of the UN system and major international legal institutions, even if incorporating such values and principles requires significant reforms to the leading organs and agencies of the UN.[v]

The interfaith document, “Initiative on Shared Wisdom (ISW)–Thought and Action for a Sustainable Future,” produced by the most serious global movement initiated here in Asia, insists that “a Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities that would stand beside the Universal Declaration of Human Rights” is an unconditional necessity for a just, peaceful and sustainable world. Action has already been taken whereby the Secretary-General of the UN “acts to advance acceptance of a statement of shared ethical values and that the document is introduced to the General Assembly for debate and adoption.” And the document goes on: “To this end, religious and other ethically based institutions should work with the legal and political authorities in order to develop a higher level of public understanding and awareness of commonalities in values between the major religious and ethical traditions, while fully respecting religious, ethnic and cultural diversity.” I really cannot see another place in the world that this can start apart from Korea.

In the history of Europe, people living on our continent have had devastating experiences with ideologies that claim to set defined cultural, ethnic and religious standards, which apply to everybody. Therefore, the unification of most of Europe in peace and freedom since the Second World War—and for the first time since the Middle Ages—is a significant historical achievement. The European Union, with its undergirding values and framework for cooperation and common action, was a crucial factor in overcoming undemocratic and totalitarian political regimes, which ruled for a substantial part of the 20th century in the east and south of the continent. The EU was also a key factor in integrating countries from these parts of the continent into the new model of collaboration and sharing.

In Montenegro, a small country in southeastern Europe, where I come from, we have a strong tradition of a multi-confessional society, where the life of three major religious traditions (Roman Catholicism, Christian Orthodoxy and Islam) has been intertwined and has coexisted for centuries. With confidence, we can say that not only do we have the free existence of different faiths, but in some ways we have tried to reach real pluralism as a normative ideology of inclusion and tolerance.[vi] Learning about differences and how to understand them only deepens the understanding of one’s religious beliefs and mutual respect. Through education, irrational fears, stereotypes, prejudice and exclusion—which have always been a fertile ground for conflict and an unjust society—are kept to a minimum.

Also, there is the notable example of the Interreligious Council in neighboring Bosnia & Herzegovina. It has had tremendous success in institutionalizing interreligious dialogue at the state level, decreasing religious prejudice and raising awareness of the importance of interfaith dialogue and cooperation, through developing not only relationships between churches and religious communities, but together contributing to peacebuilding and the raising of tolerance after the war in the nineties.

However, we are still faced with issues related to the protection of the spiritual and cultural heritage of the Serbian people in Kosovo & Metohija and creating conditions for Serbs to receive basic substantive rights and authorization in the areas where they live, in order to organize their lives, provide a school system and healthcare. Despite the fact that the southernmost region of Serbia unconstitutionally and unilaterally declared independence a few years ago, the preservation of our sacred places is of key importance for the preservation of our cultural and national identity. In this respect, Kosovo’s initiative for UNESCO membership has become of grave concern not only to Serbia, but also to those countries that see its potential membership as a serious violation of the organization’s own rules. Our Church’s insistence on protection and dialogue can lead to mutual rapprochement and reconciliation, leaving behind the difficult memories and events from the past. How much we will succeed at this moment depends mainly on Pristina and the EU countries leading status-neutral dialogue in Brussels, in order to protect the vital interests of Serbs throughout the territory of Kosovo & Metohija.

Dear brothers and sisters, ladies and gentlemen, at the present time, where there is a lack of responsibility and where values such as solidarity and human rights are under threat, it is essential for churches to show, through their actions, how such values can be put into practice. Statements on issues like conflict prevention or reconciliation are only credible if churches themselves try to live up to the values they promote. Only in that way will we show to world leaders that they need to think about some other strategy, something different to be discovered for the welfare of these people who live here and all humankind as well. This relates to the most significant victory that a military leader can get. It relates to peace.

I cannot finish this address without mentioning my personal story, which I told to participants of one of the previous UPF conferences two years ago, about a notable example from our history that has profoundly influenced Montenegro, as well as me personally. In the 16th century, during the “Golden Age of the Ottomans,” a boy from a Serbian Orthodox family was taken away as a janissary—an elite soldier in the Ottoman army—converted to Islam and later became one of the greatest statesmen of the Ottoman Empire of all time, the Grand Vizier during the rule of three sultans. His name was Mehmed Pasha Sokolović. He contributed many architecturally well-known structures throughout the empire. His most renowned endowment is the Višegrad Bridge in his hometown in Bosnia, which is the subject of the novel “The Bridge on the Drina” written by Yugoslavia’s most famous novelist and Nobel laureate, Ivo Andrić. Moreover, he helped his brother, who stayed to serve as a Serbian Orthodox monk, to become the first Serbian Orthodox Patriarch after the reestablishment of the Patriarchate of Peć in 1557, which was brought about by him, as well.

Among numerous buildings, he built an Orthodox monastery, where I lived for more than six years. Both founders, from the same family, Christian and Muslim, still remain painted on a fresco inside the main church in the Piva Monastery. A few years ago one journalist, who came there to visit that famous and peaceful place in the Montenegrin mountains, asked me one unexpected question regarding reconciliation in the Balkans: “Father, can you tell me whether people of different nations and different religions can live together or not?” At that moment my answer came not from my mind, but from my heart: “Look at this fresco. If the two men here have not bothered each other for more than 400 years, how is it not possible for different people to live together?”

Distinguished participants of this conference, I will end my presentation with the words from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s address: “Freedom, respect and the dignity and integrity of each human person (and the entire creation) are our (spiritual) vision.”[vii] This religious, “spiritual” and “political” project that I have presented is no naïve, unrealistic outcry of visionaries with no sense of reality, nor is it a biased intervention in the old struggle between a centralized socialist and a free-market capitalist economy. It goes beyond this old divide because it focuses not on the process of production and fair distribution of our planet’s material wealth and natural resources, but on their source and origin. All three Abrahamic monotheistic religions are convinced that “the Earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” (Psalm 24:1).[viii] May our ecumenical prayer, in various languages and even through different religious traditions, be addressed to God, and He will show His mercy towards humanity and rescue us from ungratefulness. Let our love begin to fulfil the will of God. Thank you very much for your attention.


[i] Metropolitan Ignatius of Demetrias, “The Economic Crisis and the Orthodox Church of Greece,” CEC Pre-assembly meeting, Volos, October 4–5, 2017.

[ii] Religion and Development Post-2015 Report of a consultation among donor organizations, United Nations development agencies, and faith-based organizations, New York, May 12–13, 2014.

[iii] What future for Europe? Reaffirming the European project, content/uploads/2016/06/1GB2016_Doc15-Open-letter-Future-of-Europe.pdf

[iv] The Mission of the Orthodox Church in Today’s World, B 3

[v] Prof. Petros Vassiliadis, “What future for Europe? Reaffirming the European project as building a community of values,” Belgium, June 8-10, 2016.

[vi] Kathy Moore, chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB).

[vii] Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, “The Role of Religion in a Changing Europe,” In the World, Yet not of the World, p. 120.

[viii] P. Vassiliadis, “The Biblical Understanding of Economy,” Θεολογία 83 (2012), pp. 25-36.



To go to the Interreligious Leadership Conference Schedule 2017, click here.