Moscow, January 23, Interfax - As the largest Orthodox country Russia should take the lead in the contemporary world, President Elie Salem of the Balamand University in Lebanon, the biggest educational and scholarly Orthodox centre in the Middle East, said.
‘We, Orthodox Christians, expect Moscow, the capital of the largest Orthodox nation in the world, to become the leader’, Salem said at the ceremony in the Christ the Saviour Cathedral. The ceremony was dedicated to the presentation of ‘For outstanding activities for strengthening the unity of Orthodox Nations’ prize. The educational institution of the Patriarchate of Antioch under his supervision was among the awarded.
‘Many people used to see Moscow as the ‘Third Rome’, - Salem, the former deputy prime minister and minister of foreign relations of Lebanon, said. - However, Moscow for us is not the second or the third, but always the first and foremost’.
The words were met with applause from the audience among which there were Patriarch Alexy II, Primate of the Albanian Orthodox Church Archbishop Anastasios, President Tassos Papandopoulos of Cyprus, Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov, Papal nuncio Antonio Mennini and representatives of several Orthodox churches.
The President of the Balamand University recalled how his grandmother had often whispered ‘God, bless Russia’. An old woman once said to her grandson: ‘It was Russia that returned the bells to our Church so that they ring loudly and clearly. It was Russia that gave us back our dignity after the years of humiliation we experienced under the Ottoman Empire’.
As he continued to list great services of Russia to the Orthodox believers in the Middle East, Dr. Salem said: ‘The Russian missions led pilgrims to the Holy Land, opened schools, revived the knowledge of the Arabic language, introduced Russian in our educational programs and opened the doors for our intellectuals to reach the depths of universal principles in the Russian literature’.
When Russia was covered with ‘a dark cloud of materialism and atheism’, the Middle East did not lose hope that one day ‘Russia will wake up as a spiritual volcano’ casting off the yoke of the Communist rule, Salem, who positions himself as an heir of the Lebanese intellectuals of the past, said.
According to him, Orthodox Christians in the East rejoice as Russia comes out again with a renewed ‘mission of universalism and spirituality’. People in Lebanon hope Russia will help Orthodox Christians defend their freedom and ‘their historical role of reconcilers, enlighteners and liberators in the Middle East’.
The opening of the chair named after Alexy II in the Balamand University is a sign of deep respect. Its task is to deepen studies of Russia and Orthodoxy. The chair will hopefully become ‘a bridge between the universal in the Russian soul and our ancient region as it seeks to get rid of provinciality’ that has recently been especially apparent, Salem said.
In conclusion, the president of the University wished Patriarch Alexy ‘to continue to lead world Orthodoxy to its high and noble goals as successfully as before’.