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Archbishop's visit to the Venkataswara (Balaji) Temple

Archbishop's plaque at Venkataswara (Balaji) temple

Saturday 15th November 2008

The Archbishop visited the Venkataswara (Balaji) Temple, in the Diocese of Lichfield, where unveiledl a plaque to commemorate his visit and the friendship between Christian and Hindu communities in the United Kingdom.

The Archbishop was welcomed in the traditional Thirupathi manner with a garland, and was shown around the interior of the temple where he met with members of the temple community.

Dr Williams made the following speech while at the Temple:

Your Excellency, your worship, honoured guests and friends. My first and very pleasant duty is to say what a delight it has been to be welcomed with such warmth and grace and kindness here today. We have witnessed something of the deep wells of hospitality which exist here and which indeed exist in the Indian Sub continent as its friends know very well. Speaking as someone whose wife grew up in Kerala I have good reason to know something of this and to be grateful to India for nurturing the most important person in my life. We've also seen the beauty and the craftsmanship and the devotion which makes this temple such a very special place, and we have all thanked God for it.

Now at the very beginning of this event we lit a lamp and I was very pleased to be able to do this because of course this is the ceremony which unites so many of our traditions across the world. Jews greet the Sabbath by the lighting of the first lamp on Friday evening. Christians from the very first century of their existence began the celebration for the Lord 's Day, Sunday, at this time – Saturday evening – with the lighting of a lamp. And one of the most ancient Christian texts that we possess is a hymn which greets the light of that Saturday evening ceremony; "joyful light of the holy glory of the Father's face". And so as I lit this lamp this evening those words were in my mind "joyful light". That's perhaps an image that we might all hold in our minds. We were reminded a little earlier that joy is a central of the life of people of faith, although sometimes the conflicts, terrors, the fears and the prejudices of the world, make it seem otherwise. That is what all people of true faith and deep faith will return to - the joy that lies in truth. And so again, I was delighted at the beginning of this event when we heard that great prayer from the Indian tradition which many Christians and people of other faiths have made their own; "lead us from darkness to light, from ignorance to knowledge, from death to life everlasting". That is a prayer which on many, many occasions, I and others have repeated. Out of the recognition that if we do not have light and knowledge, knowledge of God and knowledge of one another, we are indeed condemned to death. All our faiths offer us a vision of what is greater than, and beyond death, not only life beyond the grave, but here and now, a vision of human life that is stronger than death - a vision that resists death, the power of death. And we say again, and again, how deeply the power of death is connected with fear and with ignorance, and if I were for myself rephrasing that prayer, I might also add "and lead us from fear to trust, from suspicion to love".

All our faith communities in their long histories, have had moments where they have made others afraid, when they've exercised violence towards each other. We all, looking at our history, have to say, "May God forgive us and may God heal us for making others afraid". And wherever we find in the world today that pattern where we make others afraid, knowingly or unknowingly, by our faith, we need to return and pray again "lead me from darkness to light, lead me away from death, because fear and death belong together". So we are here to affirm a shared belief that there is something stronger than death, and therefore something stronger than fear. We are here to affirm that we are able to sense something of the dignity and the beauty and the humanity, in one another and to affirm our willingness to work towards that universal family of which earlier speakers have so eloquently told. To hear the ancient words of the Gita and other sacred texts, about compassion, about love, of course awakes the strongest echoes in a Christian mind. As our Lord Jesus who said in word which you have already heard in slightly different form earlier this afternoon; "If you love only those who love you, what reward do you deserve?" Our love and compassion constantly crosses the frontiers to meet the stranger, and to make the stranger an object of veneration, of gratitude, of respect. And before ever we engage in what we call inter faith dialogue, before ever we engage in the complex discussions between the experts, let us at least say we are grateful for each other. Let us at least say we are thankful for the other and what they give us by being who they are. And that of course is why inter faith dialogue is not a way of obliterating our differences, it's a way of living creatively with them. A way of living gratefully with them - so that our compassion, our love and our fellow feeling do not stop simply with those who are like us. As His Excellency has very powerfully said, where we find anything that works against that it needs to be resisted, it needs to be grown through.

Now I'm very conscious of the way in which the Indian sub continent has been the mother of so many of the great religious traditions of the world, and the welcoming host to others. It is, when you think about it, a rather extraordinary fact that you could not begin to tell the story of these great religions without telling something of the story of India. And I do include here the fact that the mission of St Thomas and the witness of the Christians in south India is part of that story also, a wonderful and inspiring part for many centuries. I remember also a conversation some years ago with an Indian Christian friend belonging to one of the ancient Christian churches in India, who said to me a little wryly "until the 16th century when the Europeans arrived, we had one Christian church; a hundred years later in India we had seven". So that is one side of the truth, that the history of all the great faiths involve the history of India, as, on the other hand, the history of India involves those faiths. India itself is what it is because of that long, difficult, but patient conversation between representatives of all great living traditions of our world. Those traditions, in understanding themselves, are bound to think about India as well. What a gift for one nation, one part of a globe, to give to humanity. If I speak about gratitude it does seem appropriate to say we all have good reason to be grateful to the Indian sub continent. A little less seriously I might say we all have reason to be grateful to the Indian sub continent for transforming the eating habits of another continent, and I must say to very good effect in my view.

But before I conclude let me just go back to the question of the dangers of fear. When we fear, what is going on in our minds? We're afraid perhaps that our life, our existence, is so fragile, that the presence or the witness of another will somehow undermine it. We are afraid that when someone is critical or presents another perspective, our own convictions are not strong enough to survive that. We're afraid perhaps because we can't see the future as clearly as we should like, because we all want to control the future. A person of faith says I know who I am before God, I know the gifts I've been given and I know they cannot be taken away by the challenge or the hostility of another. I know that the future is indeed not in my hands, but is in the hands of transcendent, divine compassion. I know that I have grounds for confidence, not confidence that I shall succeed, not confidence that everything will go as I want it to - I have confidence that the source and ground of all things embraces me, in compassion and in love. Now if our faith goes to that depth what is there to fear? Our own St Paul in the Christian scriptures speaks of how he is convinced that neither life nor death nor any power in earth or heaven can separate him from the love of God, revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ. And when language like that is used, you realise that is the confidence that takes away fear, not arrogance, or aggression, not the scramble for success of power, the knowledge of God is God, nothing can change God's purpose, God's love, God's mercy.

So, when we gather together and meet one another to become friends with one another, we gather also to share that confidence, and to dispel fears. Just a few days ago our dear friend Dr Rao accompanied me on a visit which I think he will agree, was an unforgettable day, where a number of leaders and representatives of the faiths in Britain went to what is left of the extermination camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau in Poland. We witnessed what can happen when fear, prejudice, de-humanising violence go unchecked. We came away all of us stricken to the heart, challenged to look into our own selves, our own hearts, find where the fears were, and also during that day we found ourselves bound together with shared experience, a shared calling, to a deeper and deeper compassion. So may we continue to make our friendships at that level. May we continue to challenge, wherever it occurs in the world, the fear that makes others less than human, that turns to violence or to killing, or to terror or bigotry. May we continue to walk from darkness to light, from ignorance towards knowledge, from death towards life eternal, in peace, in the peace which passes all understanding. Friends and our hosts here, I thank you with all my heart for the welcome you've given, the friendship you've offered and pray that God will bless its future.

© Rowan Williams

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