The dignity of the human person

October 28th, 2016 5:33 pm

Precondition and purpose of the interreligious dialogue in the teaching of the Holy and Great Council


Natallia Vasilevichfrom SCM Belarus represented WSCF-E at the Holy and Great Council as a journalist. She writes her dissertation at the University of Bonn on the social doctrine of the Orthodox Church in the framework of the Holy and Great Council and pre-conciliar process.

The Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church which took place on Crete in June this year has great importance for the self-understanding of the Orthodox Church. For Orthodoxy, the documents and discussions of the Council of Crete are getting to be a starting point in the formulation of  positions and interpretations on a wide range of concerns about internal church life and general social life.

One of the key positions noted in the Council’s documents is a courageous statement that religion per se is not necessarily something good, signalling that religions could be of very different quality. This does not mean that one particular religion is better than another or that there are more truthful confessions, but rather that within every religious tradition there are both sober constructive forces and manifestations of a morbid religiosity.

In particular, the Encyclical of the Holy and Great Council notes that the symptom of such morbid religiosity is the fundamentalism which is presented in different religions (par. 17). This is why the task of the representatives of the religious communities is to oppose the “honest interfaith dialogue” to this fundamentalism.  Religious faith is compared with oil which “must be used to soothe and heal the wounds of others, not to rekindle new fires of hatred” (ibid.). Also in the Message of the Council it is noticed that “sober inter-religious dialogue” (par. 4) should promote the establishment of trust, peace and reconciliation because “the oil of religious experience must be used to heal wounds and not to rekindle the fire of military conflicts” (ibid.).


The document titled “The Mission of the Orthodox Church in Today’s World” notes the potential of local Orthodox Churches to possibly contribute to the “inter-religious understanding and co-operation for the peaceful co-existence and harmonious living together in society.”  Presupposition of such inter-religious co-operation is nothing else than “the common acceptance of the highest value of the human person” (A.3). Thus peaceful co-existence and harmonious life are possible not (simply) by security or absence of military conflicts as such, but namely when the dignity of human person is a cornerstone of social life, since authentic peace, according to the document, “is the ripe fruit of the restoration of all things in Him, the revelation of the human person’s dignity and majesty as an image of God, the manifestation of the organic unity in Christ between humanity and the world, the universality of the principles of peace, freedom, and social justice, and ultimately the blossoming of Christian love among people and nations of the world” (C.1).

Thus, the peace cannot exist without justice and freedom, and particularly without recognition of the unique dignity of human person. Inter-religious dialogue which is based solely on addressing common problems or persuading different communities of common interests not only does not contribute to the development of freedom, justice and human dignity, but even may hinder this dialogue.

The key to constructing another model of inter-religious dialogue lies in the promotion within the frameworks of each of the religious traditions the concept of the dignity of the human person regardless of gender, ethnic or social background and religious affiliation. It must be the person which is precisely in the center of the dialogue rather than any “traditional” or “pseudo-traditional” values around the rhetoric of their protection, which is often what interfaith cooperation at the institutional level builds.

Fundamentalist groups are appealing also to the protection of “traditional values”, considering the preservation of them under the guise of religious orders which have priority over the individual dignity and sometimes even over human’s life. Religion which is oriented to protect itself is very luckily to neglect the individual personalities. Religion which sees itself more valuable than the human person, neglecting the human person’s rights and freedoms, is exactly the kind of religion that Council calls “morbid”.


With the human dimension of religion it is fundamental to respect the human being. In the Message of the Holy and Great Council it is noted that today human rights are “at the center of politics as a response to the social and political crises and upheavals, and seek to protect the citizen from the arbitrary power of the state” (par. 10). Although “the Orthodox ideal in respect of man transcends the horizon of established human rights and that “greatest of all is love”, as Christ revealed and as all the faithful who follow him have experienced” (ibid.),  human rights should not be underestimated. On the one hand indeed, human rights are not completely sufficient, not absolute, but nevertheless they constitute the public and legal minimum, which cannot be violated by any institutions or communities – not by organizations, not by governments, and not by churches.  The limitation of certain rights is possible only within certain frames.

For inter-religious dialogue and for the sake of tolerance and nondiscrimination a certain self-criticism of the religious communities is necessary, as is constant dialogue within them on the issues of the respect of the rights of human persons, and the identification, adoption and promotion within the various religious traditions of the ideas of justice, mercy, universal equality based on the belonging to the human race.  Such a dialogue should be constructed not only between the different religious communities, but also between religion and civil society. In certain cultures, the readiness for dialogue, admission of our own mistakes and self-criticism are often considered as demonstration of weakness, while ability to impose own opinion or to defend own interests is considered as a position of strength. However, the genuine criteria of maturity and sobriety of the religious tradition is its inclusiveness, diversity, the ability for dialogue with other, and above all the degree of respect for the dignity of the human person.

The paper was presented at ODIHR OSCE seminar “Interreligious Dialogue for the Promotion of Tolerance and Non-Discrimination”, Baku, 10-11 October 2016.

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