"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

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Thursday, 3 September 2015


The New York Review of Books
Thanks to Jim Forest for this post.
The Pope and the Planet 
 by Bill McKibben

Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home
 an encyclical letter by Pope Francis
Vatican Press, 184 pp., available at w2.vatican.va 

On a sprawling, multicultural, fractious planet, no person can be heard by everyone. But Pope Francis comes closer than anyone else. He heads the world’s largest religious denomination and so has 1.2 billion people in his flock, but even (maybe especially) outside the precincts of Catholicism his talent for the telling gesture has earned him the respect and affection of huge numbers of people. From his seat in Rome he addresses the developed world, much of which descended from the Christendom he represents; but from his Argentine roots he speaks to the developing world, and with firsthand knowledge of the poverty that is the fate of most on our planet.

So no one could have considered more usefully the first truly planetary question we’ve ever faced: the rapid heating of the earth from the consumption of fossil fuels. Scientists have done a remarkable job of getting the climate message out, reaching a workable consensus on the problem in relatively short order. But national political leaders, beholden to the fossil fuel industry, have been timid at best—Barack Obama, for instance, barely mentioned the question during the 2012 election campaign. Since Francis first announced plans for an encyclical on climate change, many have eagerly awaited his words.

And on those narrow grounds, Laudato Si’ does not disappoint. It does indeed accomplish all the things that the extensive news coverage highlighted: insist that climate change is the fault of man; call for rapid conversion of our economies from coal, oil, and gas to renewable energy; and remind us that the first victims of the environmental crisis are the poor. (It also does Americans the service of putting climate- denier politicians—a fairly rare species in the rest of the world—in a difficult place. Jeb Bush, for example, was reduced to saying that in the case of climate the pope should butt out, leaving the issue to politicians. “I think religion ought to be about making us better as people,” he said, in words that may come back to haunt him.)

The pope’s contribution to the climate debate builds on the words of his predecessors— in the first few pages he quotes from John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI—but clearly for those prelates ecological questions were secondary. He also cites the pathbreaking work of Bartholomew, the Orthodox leader sometimes called the “green patriarch”; others, from the Dalai Lama to Anglican archbishop Desmond Tutu, have spoken eloquently on this issue as well. Still, Francis’s words fall as a rock in this pond, not a pebble; they help greatly to consolidate the current momentum toward some kind of agreement at the global climate conference in Paris in December. He has, in effect, said that all people of good conscience need to do as he has done and give the question the priority it requires. The power of celebrity is the power to set the agenda, and his timing has been impeccable. On those grounds alone, Laudato Si’ stands as one of the most influential documents of recent times.

It is, therefore, remarkable to actually read the whole document and realize that it is far more important even than that. In fact, it is entirely different from what the media reports might lead one to believe. Instead of a narrow and focused contribution to the climate debate, it turns out to be nothing less than a sweeping, radical, and highly persuasive critique of how we inhabit this planet—an ecological critique, yes, but also a moral, social, economic, and spiritual commentary. In scope and tone it reminded me instantly of E.F. Schumacher’s Small Is Beautiful (1973), and of the essays of the great American writer Wendell Berry. As with those writers, it’s no use trying to categorize the text as liberal or conservative; there’s some of each, but it goes far deeper than our political labels allow. It’s both caustic and tender, and it should unsettle every nonpoor reader who opens its pages.

The ecological problems we face are not, in their origin, technological, says Francis. Instead, “a certain way of understanding human life and activity has gone awry, to the serious detriment of the world around us.” He is no Luddite (“who can deny the beauty of an aircraft or a skyscraper?”) but he insists that we have succumbed to a “technocratic paradigm,” which leads us to believe that “every increase in power means ‘an increase of “progress” itself’...as if reality, goodness and truth automatically flow from technological and economic power as such.” This paradigm “exalts the concept of a subject who, using logical and rational procedures, progressively approaches and gains control over an external object.” Men and women, he writes, have from the start intervened in nature, but for a long time this meant being in tune with and respecting the possibilities offered by the things themselves. It was a matter of receiving what nature itself allowed, as if from its own hand.

In our world, however, “human beings and material objects no longer extend a friendly hand to one another; the relationship has become confrontational.” With the great power that technology has afforded us, it’s become easy to accept the idea of infinite or unlimited growth, which proves so attractive to economists, financiers and experts in technology. It is based on the lie that there is an infinite supply of the earth’s goods, and this leads to the planet being squeezed dry beyond every limit.

The deterioration of the environment, he says, is just one sign of this “reductionism which affects every aspect of human and social life.” And though “the idea of promoting a different cultural paradigm...is nowadays inconceivable,” the pope is determined to try exactly that, going beyond “urgent and partial responses to the immediate problems of pollution” to imagine a world where technology has been liberated to serve the poor, the rest of creation, and indeed the rest of us who pay our own price even amid our temporary prosperity. The present ecological crisis is “one small sign of the ethical, cultural and spiritual crisis of modernity,” he says, dangerous to the dignity of us all. Thus girded, the pope intervenes in a variety of contemporary debates. Automation versus work, for instance. As he notes, “the orientation of the economy has favoured a kind of technological process in which the costs of production are reduced by laying off workers and replacing them with machines,” which is a sadness since “work is a necessity, part of the meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth.” The example he

cites demonstrates the subtlety of his argument. Genetic modification of crops is a way, in a sense, to automate or rationalize farming. There’s no “conclusive proof” that GMOs may be harmful to our bodies; there’s extensive proof, however, that “following the introduction of these crops, productive land is concentrated in the hands of a few owners” who can afford the new technologies.

Given that half the world still works as peasant farmers, this accelerates the exodus off the farm and into hovels at the margins of overcrowded cities; there is a need instead to “promote an economy which favours productive diversity,” including “small-scale food production systems...be it in small agricultural parcels, in orchards and gardens, hunting and wild harvesting or local fishing.” (And lest anyone think this is a romantic prescription for starvation, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization has in the last few years published one study after another showing that small farms in fact produce more calories per acre. Not per dollar invested—if you want to grow rich, you need a spread. But if you want to feed the world, clever peasant farming will be effective.) It’s not just small versus large. The pope insists on giving priority to diverse culture over the “leveling effect on cultures” encouraged by a “consumerist vision,” which diminishes the “immense variety which is the heritage of all humanity.” In words that are somewhat remarkable coming from the head of an institution that first set out to universalize the world, the disappearance of a culture can be just as serious, or even more serious, than the disappearance of a species of plant or animal. The imposition of a dominant lifestyle... can be just as harmful as the altering of ecosystems.

Even more striking, in this regard, is his steadfast defense of “indigenous communities and their cultural traditions. They are not merely one minority among others, but should be the principal dialogue partners, especially when large projects affecting their land are proposed,” because for them land “is a sacred space with which they need to interact if they are to maintain their identity and values.” Compare that attitude with, say, the oil companies now destroying aboriginal land in order to mine Canada’s tar sands.

But the pope is just as radical, given current reality, when he insists on beauty over ugliness. When he demands the protection from development of “those common areas, visual landmarks and urban landscapes which increase our sense of belonging, of rootedness, of ‘feeling at home’ within a city which includes us and brings us together,” he is not just celebrating Frederick Law Olmsted—he’s wading into, for instance, the still-simmering Turkish revolt that began with plans to tear down Istanbul’s Gezi Park and replace it with a mall and luxury apartments.

He also insists on giving “priority to public transportation” over private cars. This was the precise phrase used by Jaime Lerner, the visionary mayor of Curitiba, Brazil, when a generation ago he launched the world’s best transit system. His vision of Bus Rapid Transit is now spreading around the world, and it works best precisely where it most inconveniences autos, by insisting on dedicated bus lanes and the like. It makes getting around as easy for the poor as for the rich; every BRT lane is a concrete demonstration of what the Latin American liberation theologians, scorned and hounded by previous popes, once called “the preferential option for the poor.”

The pope is at his most rigorous when he insists that we must prefer the common good to individual advancement, for of course the world we currently inhabit really began with Ronald Reagan’s and Margaret Thatcher’s insistence on the opposite. (It was Thatcher who said, memorably, that “there’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families,” and that’s that.) In particular, the pope insists that “intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us.” Think of the limitations that really believing that would place on our current activities. And think too what it would mean if we kept not only “the poor of the future in mind, but also today’s poor, whose life on this earth is brief and who cannot keep on waiting.” We literally would have to stop doing much of what we’re currently doing; with poor people living on the margins firmly in mind, and weighing the interests of dozens of future generations, would someone like to write a brief favoring, say, this summer’s expansion by Shell (with permission from President Obama) of oil drilling into the newly melted waters of the Arctic? Again the only applicable word is “radical.”  But as I say, we’ve seen this kind of neither-liberal-nor-conservative radicalism before— from critics like Schumacher or Berry or, in the formulation of New York Times columnist David Brooks, other “purveyors of “1970s-style doom-mongering about technological civilization.” Indeed any serious effort to alter or even critique the largest trends in our civilization is now scorned, often by the theoretical left as well as the right. Brooks is united with, for instance, n+1 editor Mark Greif, who in his recent The Age of the Crisis of Man (2015) heaps contempt on those who would do precisely what the pope undertakes:

Anytime your inquiries lead you to say, “At this moment we must ask and decide who we fundamentally are...” just stop. You have begun asking the wrong analytic questions for your moment.... Answer, rather, the practical matters...and find the immediate actions necessary to achieve an aim.

For some, this would mean don’t talk about individualism versus the common good; talk about some new scheme for carbon credits. In Brooks and Greif we hear the “real world” talking.

By contrast, at least since the Buddha, a line of spiritual leaders has offered a reasonably coherent and remarkably similar critique of who we are and how we live. The greatest of those critics was perhaps Jesus, but the line continues through Francis’s great namesake, and through Thoreau, and Gandhi, and many others. Mostly, of course, we’ve paid them devoted lip service and gone on living largely as before.

We’ve come close to change—opinion surveys at the end of the 1970s, for instance, showed that 30 percent of Americans were “pro-growth,” 31 percent “anti-growth,” and 39 percent “highly uncertain,” and President Carter held a White House reception for Schumacher. But Reagan’s election resolved that tension in the usual way, and the progress we’ve made, before and since, has been technological, not moral; people have been pulled from poverty by expansion, not by solidarity. The question is whether the present moment is actually any different, or whether the pope’s words will fall as seeds on rocky ground.

If there’s a difference this time, it’s that we seem to have actually reached the edge of the precipice. Schumacher and the visionaries of the 1970s imagined that the limits to growth were a little further off, and offered us strong warnings, which we didn’t heed.

Take water, which the pope addresses at length. We probably should not need his words to know that “access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival.” We all know it should not be wasted, and yet we continue to waste it because doing so is beneficial to the rich and powerful: for instance, insurance companies have planted enormous almond groves across California in recent years even as water supplies have started to shrink, and agribusiness planters have drawn down the aquifers of the Midwest.

In the same week that the pope’s encyclical emerged, a huge new study showed that those aquifers are now overdrawn in regions that provide food for two billion people— the data come from satellites measuring the earth’s gravitational field, which means that the water losses are so large they’re affecting the planet on that scale. In the American West alone, the drought has become so serious that last year those satellites showed the evaporation of 63 trillion gallons of groundwater, weighing nearly 240 billion tons, a loss of enough weight that the Sierra Nevada mountains became measurably higher. New data also show that California’s drillers must now go so deep to find groundwater that the supplies they tap have been in the ground for 20,000 years.

Or take biodiversity, where the pope rightly notes that “caring for ecosystems demands far-sightedness, since no one looking for quick and easy profit is truly interested in their preservation.” But that alarm sounds somewhat louder when, in the same week as the encyclical, a new study in a prestigious journal found that extinctions were now happening at 114 times the normal background rate, and that the planet’s “sixth mass extinction is already underway.” In view of such empirical data, we can understand the pope’s rare flicker of real anger when he refers to those “who turned the wonderworld of the seas into underwater cemeteries bereft of colour and life.”

His profound sadness about the inequality among people, and the toll it exacts on the poor, is also undergirded by remarkable new data that separate it from earlier critiques. The data show right now that inequality is reaching almost absurd heights: for instance, the six heirs to the Walmart fortune have more assets than the bottom 42 percent of all Americans combined; the two Koch brothers (together the richest men on the planet) have plans to spend more than the Republicans or the Democrats on the next federal election. If you want to understand why the Occupy movement or the early surge toward Bernie Sanders caught the usual political analysts by surprise, consider those facts. (The pope suggests that “many professionals, opinion makers, communications media and centres and power, being located in affluent urban areas, are far removed from the poor with little direct contact with their problems.”)

Above all, the empirical data about climate change make it clear that the moment is ripe for this encyclical. A long line of gurus, of whom Francis is the latest, is now converging with a large number of contemporary scientists; instead of scriptures, the physicists and chemists consult the latest printouts from their computer models, but the two ways of knowing seem to be making the same point. So far we’ve melted most of the sea ice in the summer Arctic, made the oceans 30 percent more acidic, and started the apparently irreversible slide of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet into the surrounding ocean. We are, to put it another way, systematically destroying the largest physical features on the planet, and we are doing it at a rapid pace.

Given that, who’s the realist? The pope, with his insistence that we need a rapid cultural transformation, or David Brooks, speaking for the complacent, with his insistence that “over the long haul both people and nature are better off with technological progress”?

The point is, there no longer is any long haul. Those who speak, in the pope’s words, the language of “nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions” no longer have a tenable case. What he calls the “magical conception of the market” has not, ultimately, done what Reagan promised; instead it has raised, for the first time, the very real specter of wholesale planetary destruction, of change that will be measured in geological time.

It’s quite possible—probable, even—that the pope will lose this fight. He’s united science and spirit, but that league still must do battle with money. The week the encyclical was released, Congress approved, in bipartisan fashion, fast-track trade legislation, a huge victory for the forces of homogenization, technocracy, finance, and what the encyclical calls “rapidification.”

It’s not that markets shouldn’t play a part in environmental solutions: everyone who’s studied the problem believes that the fossil fuel industry should pay a price for the damage carbon does in the atmosphere, and that that price, if set high enough, would speed up the transition to renewable energy. But the climate movement has largely united behind plans that would take that money from the Exxons of the world and return it to all citizens, which would have the effect of giving poor and middle-class people, who generally use less fossil fuel, a substantial net gain. The new fast-track agreements, by contrast, apparently explicitly forbid new climate agreements as a part of trade negotiations.

Anyway, if the outcome of the real-world battle is uncertain, the pope carries the intellectual contest. Brooks, for instance, makes the centerpiece of his attack on the encyclical the notion that the promising technocratic approach is, fortunately, expanding fracking, because burning natural gas produces less carbon than burning coal. This is scientifically obtuse (as I explained in these pages, an emerging body of evidence shows that fracking instead liberates vast quantities of methane, an even more potent greenhouse gas), but in any event the extent of the damage we’ve already done to the climate means we no longer have room for slightly less damaging fossil fuels. We have to make the leap to renewable power.

And the good news is that that’s entirely possible. Thanks to the engineers whose creativity the pope celebrates, we’ve watched the price of solar panels fall 75 percent in the last six years alone. They’re now cheap enough that a vast effort, rooted in pragmatic physics, could ensure before the decade was out that there would hardly be a hut or hovel that lacked access to energy, something that the fossil fuel status quo has failed to achieve in two hundred years. Such a change would be carried out by small-scale entrepreneurs of just the sort the pope has in mind when he describes the dignity of work. And it would mean a very different world. Instead of centralized power in the hands of a few oil and gas barons like the Koch brothers, the earth would draw its energy from a widely diffused and much more democratic grid. Building that system in time would require aid to the poorest nations to jumpstart the transition. It would require, for instance, a world much like the one the pope envisions, where concern for the poor counts as much as, in Brooks’s sad words, the “low motivations of people as they actually are.”

Brooks, Reagan, and Thatcher summon the worst in us and assume that will eventually solve our problems—to repeat Brooks’s sad phrase, we should rely on the “low motivations of people as they actually are.” Pope Francis, in a moment of great crisis, speaks instead to who we could be individually and more importantly as a species. As the data suggest, this may be the only option we have left.

The Green Patriarch
By John Chryssavgis
No other church leader has been so recognized for his leadership and initiatives in confronting the theological, ethical and practical imperative of environmental issues in our time as the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople. He has long placed the environment at the head of his church's agenda, earning him numerous awards and the title ‘Green Patriarch'. This paper describes the work of Patriarch Bartholomew for the protection of the natural environment, and especially for significant water bodies of the planet. This work has been done first in his own church, and subsequently in the wider society through international, inter-religious, and interdisciplinary gatherings that have gained the attention of policymakers and the mass media. The paper contains various insights into the Orthodox Christian worldview that direct the vision and activities of the Patriarch.

1. Introduction

In the past decade, the world has witnessed alarming environmental degradation – with climate change, the loss of biodiversity and the pollution of natural resources – and the widening gap between rich and poor, as well as increasing failure to implement environmental policies. During the same decade, one religious leader has discerned the signs of the times and called people's attention to this ecological and social situation. The worldwide leader of the Orthodox Churches, His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has persistently proclaimed the primacy of spiritual values in determining environmental ethics and action [1]. No other church leader has been so recognized for his leadership and initiatives in confronting the theological, ethical and practical imperative of environmental issues in our time as the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople. He has long placed the environment at the head of his church's agenda.

2. The 'Green Patriarch'

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew was born Demetrios (Archontonis) on 29 February 1940, in a small village on the island of Imvros, Turkey. Greek residents of Imvros are traditionally known for their profound faith and spiritual values. His theological training also attracted the young Demetrios to move beyond the library and to breathe the air of the oikoumene, the breadth of the universe of theological communication and ecclesiastical reconciliation. In later years, he would see a similar connection between church and environment:

For us at the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the term ecumenical is more than a name: it is a worldview, and a way of life. The Lord intervenes and fills His creation with His divine presence in a continuous bond. Let us work together and love one another so that we may renew the harmony between heaven and earth, so that we may transform every detail and every element of life. Let us love one another. [2]

In October 1991, Bartholomew was elected Ecumenical Patriarch, the most senior of Orthodox bishops throughout the world, ‘first among equals' among all Orthodox Patriarchs and Primates. From that moment, and indeed from his enthronement speech, Patriarch Bartholomew outlined the dimensions of his vision, which included vigilance in theological education, strengthening of Orthodox unity and ecumenical engagements, continuation of inter-religious dialogue for peaceful coexistence, and initiatives for the protection of the environment [3].

3. Initiatives and activities

The environmental initiatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate date back to the mid-1980s with the third session of the Pre-Synodal Pan-Orthodox Conference held in Chambésy (28 October–6 November 1986). Representatives at this meeting expressed concern for the abuse of the natural environment, especially in affluent western societies. The meeting also underlined the harm of war, racism and inequality on human societies and the environment. The emphasis was on leaving a better world for future generations [4].

Several Inter-Orthodox meetings followed on the subject of ‘Justice, Peace, and the Integrity of Creation' and attended by Orthodox representatives. The first of three consultations was held in Sofia, Bulgaria (1987) [5]. A third Inter-Orthodox consultation was held in Minsk, Belarus (1989) [6], while an environmental program was also piloted in Ormylia, Greece (1990) [7].

The second of these consultations, was held in Patmos, Greece (1988), to mark the 900th anniversary of the historic Monastery of St John the Theologian. The then Ecumenical Patriarch, Demetrios, assigned Metropolitan John of Pergamon as Patriarchal representative to this conference entitled ‘Revelation and the Future of Humanity' and organized jointly by the Patriarchate and the Greek Ministry of Cultural Affairs in cooperation with the local civil authorities. One of the primary recommendations of this conference was that the Ecumenical Patriarchate should designate one day each year for the protection of the natural environment. This conference proved a catalyst for subsequent Patriarchal initiatives on the environment [7].

In 1989, Patriarch Demetrios, the immediate predecessor of Patriarch Bartholomew, who was his closest adviser, published the first encyclical letter on the environment [8]. Demetrios was known for his meekness, and so it was fitting that during his tenure the worldwide Orthodox Church was invited to dedicate a day of prayer for the protection of the environment, which human beings have treated so harshly. This encyclical, proclaimed on the occasion of the first day of the new ecclesiastical calendar, formally established 1 September as a day for all Orthodox Christians within the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to offer prayers for the preservation of the natural creation. A similar encyclical is published annually on the first day of September [9].

In 1990, the foremost hymnographer on Mount Athos, Monk Gerasimos Mikrayiannanites, was commissioned by the Ecumenical Patriarchate to compose a service of supplication for the environment [10]. The Orthodox Church has traditionally prayed for the environment. Whereas, however, in the past, Orthodox faithful prayed to be delivered from natural calamities, the Ecumenical Patriarch now called Orthodox Christians to pray that the planet may be delivered from the abusive and destructive acts of human beings.

A month after his election in 1991, the Ecumenical Patriarch convened an ecological gathering entitled ‘Living in the Creation of the Lord'. That convention on the island of Crete was officially opened by Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and International Chairman of the WWF [11]. In the following year, Patriarch Bartholomew called an unprecedented meeting of all Orthodox Patriarchs and Primates at the Phanar [12], submitting an historical expression of unity in theological vision and pastoral concern. The Ecumenical Patriarch again introduced the topic of the protection of the natural environment, inviting all the Orthodox leaders to inform their churches about the critical significance of this issue for our times. The official Message of the Orthodox Primates endorsed 1 September as a day of pan-Orthodox prayer for the environment.

4. Seminars and symposia

In the summer of 1992, the Duke of Edinburgh visited the Phanar for an environmental convocation at the Theological School of Halki [13]. In November 1993, the Ecumenical Patriarch returned the visit, meeting with the Duke at Buckingham Palace where they sealed a friendship of common purpose and active cooperation for the preservation of the environment [14]. In April 1994, the Ecumenical Patriarch was invited to the administrative offices of the European Commission. It was the first time that someone who was not a state or political leader had been asked to address the Commission [15]. In October 1997, the Patriarch was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal during his visit to the United States [16].

In June 1994, an ecological seminar was convened at the historic Theological School of Halki, the first of five successive annual summer seminars on diverse aspects of the environment ‘Environment and Religious Education' (June 1994), [16], ‘Environment and Ethics' (June 1995) [17], ‘Environment and Communications' (July 1996) [18], ‘Environment and Justice' (June 1997) [19], and ‘Environment and Poverty' (June 1998) [20]. These seminars, the first held at such a level in any Orthodox Church context, were designed to promote environmental awareness and action, engaging leading theologians, environmentalists, scientists, civil servants and especially students. Participants from all over the world represented the major Christian confessions and world religions.

In October 1994, the University of the Aegean conferred an honorary doctoral degree on Patriarch Bartholomew, the first of a series of awards and honorary degrees presented to the Patriarch in recognition of his efforts and initiatives for the environment [21]. The University of Thessalonika bestowed a similar honour on the Patriarch in 1997 [22]. In November 2000, the New York-based organization Scenic Hudson, presented the Ecumenical Patriarch with the first international Visionary Award for Environmental Achievement [23]. In 2002, Patriarch Bartholomew was the recipient of the Sophie Prize in Norway and the Binding Environmental Prize in Liechtenstein, each presented to an individual or organization that has pioneered environmental awareness and action [24].

Convinced that any appreciation of the environmental concerns of our times must occur in dialogue with other Christian confessions, other religious faiths, as well as scientific disciplines, in 1994 Patriarch Bartholomew established the Religious and Scientific Committee. As we share the earth, so do we share the responsibility for our pollution of the earth and the obligation to find tangible ways of healing the natural environment. This ecumenical and inter-disciplinary committee is chaired by Metropolitan John of Pergamon, formerly a visiting professor of theology at King's College, London, and currently a professor in the University of Thessalonika [25].

To date, the Religious and Scientific Committee has hosted six international, interdisciplinary and inter-religious symposia to reflect on the fate of the rivers and seas, and to force the pace of religious debate on the natural environment. These symposia have gathered leading scientists, environmentalists and journalists as well as senior policymakers and representatives of the world's main religious faiths in an effort to draw global attention to the plight of the Aegean Sea, the Black Sea, the Danube River, the Baltic Sea, the Adriatic Sea, and the Amazon River. Participants meet in plenary, workshop and briefing sessions, hearing a variety of speakers on various environmental and ethical themes. Delegates also visit key environmental sites in the particular region of the symposium.

Symposium I: Revelation and the Environment convened in September 1995 under the joint auspices of Patriarch Bartholomew and Prince Philip on the occasion of the 1900th anniversary of St John's Book of Revelation, the Apocalypse. This portrays the chaos of sin, the destructive impact of humanity on the earth and the seas with vivid language. The sense of crisis and the call for repentance permeate the book. Travelling on ship through the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean, participants identified the pollution of the world's waters as a threat to the survival of the planet and recommended the creation of a common language for scientific and theological thought to overcome centuries of estrangement and misunderstanding between science and faith. In his opening address during the first symposium, Patriarch Bartholomew noted: ‘The earth has been hurt' (Rev. 7.3) … Conscious of the threat of nuclear destruction and environmental pollution, we shall move toward one world or none. [26]

Symposium II: The Black Sea in Crisis was held in September 1997 under the joint auspices of the Ecumenical Patriarch and HE Jacques Santer, President of the European Commission. This symposium undertook a concrete case study, visiting the countries that surround the Black Sea and engaging in conversation with local religious leaders and environmental activists, as well as regional scientists and politicians [27].

A direct result of this symposium, the Halki Ecological Institute was organized in June 1999 to promote wider regional collaboration and education among some 75 clergy and theologians, educators and students, as well as scientists and journalists. This educational initiative marked a new direction in the inter-disciplinary vision and dialogue for the environment, implementing the ecological principles of the Religious and Scientific Committee and turning theory into practice. The Institute simultaneously conducted the Black Sea Environmental Journalists Workshop for around 20 print, radio and television journalists from the six Black Sea nations [28].

Symposium III: ‘River of Life' – Down the Danube to the Black Sea was launched in October 1999, under the joint auspices of Patriarch Bartholomew and HE Romano Prodi, President of the European Commission. Participants traveled the length of the Danube River, from Passau, Germany, to the delta of the Black Sea in the Ukraine. In the aftermath of the military and ethnic conflict in the Former Yugoslavia, the challenge of restoring the waters and natural environment along the Danube River became all the more critical. Symposium III also focused on the ecological impact of war, urban development, industrialization, shipping and agriculture [29].

Symposium IV: The Adriatic Sea – a Sea at Risk, a Unity of Purpose addressed the ethical aspects of the environmental crisis. Held in June 2002, under the joint auspices of the Ecumenical Patriarch and HE Romano Prodi, President of the European Commission, this symposium opened in Durres, Albania, and concluded in Venice, Italy. Emphasis was on the need to cultivate particular ecological principles and values among peoples in affluent countries and advanced economies as well as among peoples of recovering countries and transitional economies [30].

The closing ceremony was held on 10 June 2002, in the Palazzo Ducale, where Patriarch Bartholomew co-signed a document of environmental ethics with Pope John Paul II via satellite link-up. The ‘Venice Declaration' is the first joint text of the two leaders on ecological issues and emphasizes the protection of the environment as the moral and spiritual duty of all people for the sake of future generations [31].

Symposium V: The Baltic Sea – A Common Heritage, A Shared Responsibility was organized in June 2003, moving from Gdansk, through Kaliningrad, Tallinn and Helsinki, and concluding in Stockholm. The Baltic Sea borders on and is polluted by nine countries with widely disparate resources, economies, as well as social structures, and religious faiths. The end of the Cold War has permitted the renewal of political, economic, social, cultural and religious ties between this region and countries comprising the European Union, and the wider world.

Organized under the patronage of the Ecumenical Patriarch and HE Romano Prodi, President of the European Commission, the symposium sought to draw lessons from the Baltic – its diversity, problems and history – in order to illustrate the challenges faced by humanity in that region and more widely. The direct result of this symposium was the North Sea Conference, co-sponsored by the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Church of Norway [32].

Symposium VI: The Amazon: Source of Life was held in July 2006 on the Amazon River under the patronage of the Ecumenical Patriarch and HE Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations. Participants journeyed from Manaus, through Santarem and Jau, meeting at the crossing of the Rio Negro and the Rio Solimoes for a special ceremony of the blessing of waters by the Ecumenical Patriarch and indigenous leaders. Through scholarly reports, religious papers, and several field trips to the Jau Reserve, Mamiraua, Lake Piranha and along the Amazon itself, participants received a unique perspective on the environmental problems of the region. This symposium concentrated on the global dimension of problems stemming directly from the Amazon, problems which have, perhaps, dropped out of view for many decision-makers [33].

Symposium VII, scheduled for the summer of 2007, will direct its attention to the Arctic Sea and the imminent dangers of global warming [34].

5. Environment and spirituality

With reference to the environmental initiatives and actions, what is perhaps most characteristic of the Patriarch's initiatives is the mark of humility. The Ecumenical Patriarch is able to see the larger picture. He recognizes that he is standing before something greater than himself, a world before which he must kneel, a chain which long predates and will long outlast him. Therefore, he speaks of self-emptying (kenosis) (Phil. 2.4-11), ministry (diakonia) (Luke 10.40; Acts 1.17, 25; 6.4), witness (martyria, a term which also has the sense of martyrdom and suffering) (John 1.7, 19), and thanksgiving (or eucharistia, a term which also implies liturgy) (Acts 24.3; 2 Cor. 4.15) [35].

The emphasis is always on humble simplicity – the technical term in Orthodox spirituality is asceticism (askeo – to work up raw material with skill, to exercise by training or discipline; Acts 24.16) and on liturgy (ministration, ministry, service) as the essential source of Orthodox theology. The notion of liturgy leads us into what is perhaps the most distinctive feature of the Patriarch's vision, namely the concept of communion (koinonia – which also means communication and fellowship; 1 Cor. 10.16; Phil. 6). In everything that Patriarch Bartholomew says or does, particularly in light of the environmental crisis, he is aware that everyone without exception – irrespective of confessional or religious conviction – must be included. Moreover, all sciences and disciplines should be committed and all cultures and ages should concur [36].

For Patriarch Bartholomew, this is a matter of truthfulness to God, humanity and the created order. In fact, it is not too far-fetched to speak of environmental damage as being a contemporary heresy or natural terrorism; he condemns it as nothing less than sin! In November 1997, he declared:

To commit a crime against the natural world is a sin. For human beings to cause species to become extinct and to destroy the biological diversity of God's creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests, or by destroying its wetlands; for human beings to injure other human beings with disease by contaminating the earth's waters, its land, its air, and its life, with poisonous substances – all of these are sins. [37]

The environment is not only a political or a technological issue; it is, as Bartholomew likes to underline, primarily a religious and spiritual issue. Religion has a key role to play; a spirituality that remains uninvolved with outward creation is uninvolved with the inward mystery too [38].

Patriarch Bartholomew invariably relates the environment to a familiar aspect of Orthodox spirituality, namely to the icons that decorate Orthodox churches. Symbols are important in Orthodox thought, worship and life. Creation itself is likened to an icon, just as the human person is created ‘in the image and likeness of God' (Gen. 1.26 and Col. 1.15). The Patriarch invites people to contemplate the Creator God through the icon of the created world (Col. 1.16-18). Creation is a visible and tangible revelation of the presence of the Word of God.

Humanity is called to wonder at creation, but not to worship creation. Otherwise, the natural world is reduced from the level of icon to the level of idol. In the same vein, Patriarch Bartholomew refers to the human beings as endowed by God to serve as ‘priests', underlining that personal responsibility for the physical world and the slightest action of even the feeblest among us can change the world for the better [39].

Finally, the Ecumenical Patriarch is aware that environmental issues are intimately connected to and dependent on numerous other social issues of our times, including war and peace, justice and human rights, poverty and unemployment. It is not by chance that the term ‘eco-justice' has been used in religious circles to describe this interconnection between creation and creatures, between the world and its inhabitants. We have, in recent years, become increasingly aware of the effects of environmental degradation on people, and especially the poor [40].

6. Worldview and vision

Unfortunately, we tend to forget our connection to the earth and our environment. There is a binding unity and continuity that we share with all of God's creation. In recent years, we have been reminded of this truth with flora and fauna extinction, with soil and forest clearance, and with noise, air and water pollution. Concern for the environment is not an expression of superficial or sentimental love. It is a way of honoring and dignifying our creation by the hand and word of God. It is a way of listening to ‘the groaning of creation' (Rom. 8.22).

Of course, whenever we speak (whether of heavenly or earthly things), we draw upon established ideas of ourselves and our world. The technical language that we choose to adopt, like the particular ‘species' we wish to preserve, depend on values and images that we promote or presume. In the Christian Orthodox tradition, symbols and images play a very significant role. Thus, when Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew considers images, he thinks of icons (they are the way Orthodox Christians reflect on creation), liturgy (the way Orthodox Christians respond to creation through public worship), and asceticism (the way Orthodox Christians respect creation) [41].

We tend to call this crisis an ‘ecological' crisis, which is a fair description in so far as its results are manifested in the ecological sphere. The message is clear: our way of life is humanly and environmentally suicidal. Unless we change it radically, we cannot hope to avoid or reverse cosmic catastrophe. This is a point of view recognizable, though not with a Christian evaluation, in the work of James Lovelock [42]. Yet, the crisis is not first of all ecological. It is a crisis concerning the way we perceive reality, the way we imagine or image our world. We treat our planet in an inhuman, god-forsaken manner precisely because we see it in this way, precisely because we see ourselves in this way. Patriarch Bartholomew offers a refreshing, alternative way of seeing ourselves in relation to the natural world.

Before we can effectively deal with environmental problems, we must change our selfimage in relation to our world-image. Otherwise, we are simply dealing with symptoms, not with causes. And causes are rooted in the way we think, in the paradigms of thought which impel us to pursue a particular life-style, or particular social, political, and economic interests. The root of the problem is undoubtedly religious; the response, then, must also be religious, even if the results will be evident in economy and justice, in policy and politics, in technology and science.

A sacred or religious worldview signifies that everything that lives is holy (William Blake), that everything that breathes praises God (Ps. 150.6), that the entire world is a ‘burning bush of God's energies' [43]. A sense of humility before this whole implies respect toward other people, respect toward nature, and respect toward that which is beyond both humanity and nature. This is why, in his vision of the world that ultimately determines his initiatives for the protection of the environment, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew affirms that we are a part of a community; so we are less than human without each other. He also emphasizes that we are a part of the cosmos; so we are less than human without creation and God.

In his most recent message for 1 September (2006), Patriarch Bartholomew poignantly observed:

Recent unusual temperature fluctuations, hurricanes, earthquakes, storms, the pollutions of rivers and seas and numerous other occurrences that hurt both the environment and man are the results of human actions, whether carried out openly or executed in secret. The ultimate cause of all this destructive behavior is man's egocentrism, an expression of his self-willed alienation from God and his effort to make himself god.

Because of this egocentrism, the relationship of man and nature intended by the Creator has degenerated into one of insolent and arrogant subjugation of natural forces and their use for the killing or subjection of our fellow human beings rather than for the preservation of life and freedom, or for the satisfaction of excessive pleasures, without care of the consequences of overuse.

The use of atomic and nuclear forces of nature for war is an insult to creation and Creator, as is over-consumption of any kind, which burdens the natural environment with pollutants, which leads to climate change and global warming and an imbalance in the natural order, with all that implies. The immense consumption of energy for purposes of war and the excessive consumption of contemporary humanity far beyond its needs are two areas where the responsibilities of political leaders and common citizens are interwoven in such a way so that each of us has the power to contribute to the betterment of the general condition [44].

As a religious leader, the Patriarch's initiatives to protect the environment are worthy of emulation. His worldview, derived from the ancient values of the Orthodox Church, deserves attention.


[1] The Treaty of Lausanne was agreed in 1923 to settle affairs since 1914 among the following contracting parties: the British Empire, France, Italy, Japan, Greece, Romania, the Serb-Croat-Slovene State and Turkey. The treaty to some extent governs the position of the Ecumenical Patriarchate; though it is nowhere referred to within the Treaty, and its adherents in Turkey are described with other religious or cultural minorities as ‘non-Moslems.' The Turkish government does not recognize the customary and historical title of Ecumenical Patriarch. Article 38 of the Treaty of Lausanne provides that ‘All inhabitants of Turkey shall be entitled to free exercise, whether in public or private, of any creed, religion or belief, the observance of which shall not be incompatible with public order and good morals.' Article 39 of the Treaty protects the civil, political and religious rights of non-Muslim minorities who are Turkish nationals. Article 40 gives them ‘the same treatment and security in law and fact as other Turkish nationals. In particular, they shall have an equal right to establish, manage and control at their own expense, any charitable, religious and social institutions, any schools and other establishments for instruction and education, with the right to use their own language and to exercise their own religion freely therein.' Article 44 provides for the League of Nations to guarantee provisions affecting the ‘non-Moslem minorities' with reference of dispute to the Permanent Court of International Justice. For further information, see the Yale Law School White Paper (http://www.archons.org/pdf/yalelawstudy.pdf).

[2] Chryssavgis, J., 2003, Cosmic Grace, Humble Prayer: The Ecological Vision of the Green Patriarch, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publications), page 292. This book is the official collection of Patriarchal statements, messages, addresses and interviews on environmental issues from 1989 to 2002. Hereafter referred to as Cosmic Grace.

[3] Cosmic Grace, pp. 66–74.

[4] See the website of the Permanent Delegation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate at the World Council Churches: www.ecupatria-geneva.org.

[5] Ecumenical Patriarchate assisted by the World Wide Fund for Nature (Ed.), 1990, Orthodoxy and the Ecological Crisis (Helsinki: WWF International)

[6] Op. cit.

[7] Op. cit. The Patmos conference was entitled: ‘Religions, the Material World and the Natural Environment'. Unfortunately, neither the proceedings nor the scholarly papers from this conference were ever published in a  single volume. The conference was organized by Costa Carras. Participants at this inter-religious and interdisciplinary gathering included Bill Reilly, who in the following year was appointed director of the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States. Reference to the conference was made for the first time as late as 2002, in Cosmic Grace (pp. 5–6) and in an article by Metropolitan John of Pergamon as President of the Academy of Athens, entitled: ‘Man as Priest of Creation', in the Sunday issue of Kathimerini Newspaper, Athens, 29 September 2002, pp. 2–3 (in Greek).

[8] Cosmic Grace, pp. 37–39.

[9] This is significant inasmuch as 1 September is also the opening of the Orthodox church year, known as the Indiction.

[10] Belopopsky, A. and Oikonomou, D. (Eds), 1996, Orthodoxy and Ecology: Resource Book (Athens: Syndesmos).

[11] Ecumenical Patriarchate assisted by SYNDESMOS, 1991, So That God's Creation Might Live: The Orthodox Church Responds to the Ecological Crisis. Proceedings of the Inter-Orthodox Conference on Environmental Protection, Crete, 1991.

[12] Phanar, meaning ‘lighthouse' in Greek, refers to the old lighthouse quarter of Istanbul and it is also the main quarter for Greeks. The name is also seen as coterminous with the Ecumenical Patriarchate since the residence, administrative offices, and cathedral of the Patriarch are there.

[13] Cosmic Grace, pp. 78–81. The Patriarchate's international theological school at Halki (Heybeliada, on the Princes' Islands in the Sea of Marmara) has been closed since 1971, further to a Turkish law forbidding private universities to function. The closure would appear to be in breach of Article 40 of the Treaty of Lausanne and Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Yet Halki served as the formative and theological centre for numerous leaders of the (especially, but not only) Greek-speaking Orthodox world. The function of Halki had been diminished both as a secondary school and graduate seminary since the late 1950s. The magnificent 19th-century building contains a library of 40,000 books and historical manuscripts, as well as classrooms filled with old wooden desks, and spacious reception and dormitory rooms. It is Patriarch Bartholomew's dream and desire to reopen the Theological School.

[14] Cosmic Grace, p. 8.

[15] Cosmic Grace, pp. 102–107.

[16] The award ceremony was in the capital Rotunda of Washington, DC. For the US Congressional Gold Medal, cf. Public Law 105-51, 111 Stat. 117-1171. For further details, consult: http://clerk.house.gov/histHigh/Congressional_History/goldMedal.html. Also see Cosmic Grace, pp. 102–107; The Environment and Religious Education. Proceedings of the summer 1994 Seminar on Halki, Melitos Editions, Istanbul, 1995.

[17] The Environment and Ethics. Proceedings of the summer 1995 Seminar on Halki, Melitos Editions, Istanbul, 1996.

[18] The Environment and Communications. Proceedings of the 1996 Seminar on Halki, Melitos Editions, Istanbul, forthcoming.

[19] The Environment and Justice. Proceedings of the 1997 Seminar on Halki, Melitos Editions, Istanbul, forthcoming.

[20] The Environment and Poverty. Proceedings of the 1998 Seminar on Halki, Melitos Editions, Istanbul, forthcoming.

[21] Cosmic Grace, pp. 123–129.

[22] Cosmic Grace, p. 8.

[23] Cosmic Grace, p. 287–292.

[24] Cosmic Grace, p. 9. In 2004, he was also named among the UN ‘Champions of the Earth.'

[25] See his, 1989, Preserving God's creation: three lectures on theology and ecology. King's Theological Review, XII; also see 1995, Ecological asceticism: a cultural revolution. Our Planet, VII, 6.

[26] Hobson, S. and Lubchenko, J. (Eds) 1997, Revelation and the Environment AD 95– 1995 (Singapore: World Scientific, 1997). The symposia of the Religious and Scientific Committee are coordinated by Mrs Maria Becket. For the relevant website, see http://www.rsesymposia.org.

[27] Hobson, S and Mee, L. (Eds), 1998, Religion, Science, and the Environment: The Black Sea in Crisis (Singapore: World Scientific).

[28] Cosmic Grace, pp. 243–246.

[29] Ascherson, N. and Hobson, S. (Eds), 2002, Danube: River of Life. Religion, Science and the Environment.

[30] Ascherson, N. and Marshall, A. (Eds), 2003, The Adriatic Sea, a sea at risk, a unity of purpose. Religion, Science and the Environment.

[31] For the official text of the ‘Venice Declaration', see Cosmic Grace, pp. 308–311.

[32] Publication of Proceedings pending. See symposia website: http://www.rsesymposia.org/.

[33] Publication of Proceedings pending. See symposia website: http://www.rsesymposia.org/.

[34] For a statement by the Patriarch on global warming, see www.ecupatria-geneva.org.

[35] Cosmic Grace, pp. 14–22.

[36] Chryssavgis, J., 1999, See Beyond the Shattered Image: Orthodox Insights into the Environment (Minneapolis, MN: Light and Life).

[37] Cosmic Grace, pp. 217–222.

[38] For other recent works by Orthodox theologians, see: Sherrard, P., 1987, The Eclipse of Man and Nature: An Enquiry into the Origins and Consequences of Modern Science (Felton, Northumberland: Lindisfarne Press); Sherrard, P., 1990, Human Image, World Image (Ipswich: Golgonooza Press); Bishop Kallistos Ware, 1997, Through the Creation to the Creator (Friends of the Centre Papers); Metropolitan Paulos Gregorios, 1978, The Human Presence: An Orthodox View of Nature (Geneva: World Council of Churches) (later published as The Human Presence: Ecological Spirituality and the Age of the Spirit, 1987); Metropolitan Paulos Gregorios, 1980, Science for Sane Societies (Christian Literature Society).

[39] See the chapter by Metropolitan John (Ziziolulas) of Pergamon, 1996, Man: the priest of creation. A response to the ecological problem, in: A. Walker and C. Carras (Eds) Living Orthodoxy in the Modern World (London; SPCK).

[40] Like the phrase ‘justice, peace, and the integrity of creation', the term ‘eco-justice' has been widely used in circles of the World Council of Churches since the mid-1970s: Limouris, G. (Ed.), 1990, Justice, Peace, and the Integrity of Creation: Insights from Orthodoxy (Geneva: WCC Publications).

[41] Cosmic Grace, pp. 22–33.

[42] See Lovelock, J., The Revenge of Gaia, 2006 (London: Allen Lane, Penguin)

[43] For further insights, see Chryssavgis, J., 2004, Light Through Darkness (London: Darton Longman and Todd), pp. 108–126; and Clément, O., 1997, Conversations with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew (New York: St Vladimir's Seminary Press).

[44] Encyclical disseminated, like all such Encyclicals from the Patriarchate, throughout the Orthodox world and read publicly on the occasion of the opening of the church year on 1 September. This particular Encyclical may be found on the website of the United States Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate (http://www.archons.org/), whose leadership and responsibility in recent years has been directed toward promoting the work and protecting the rights of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. For past Encyclicals (1989–2002), see Cosmic Grace, pp. 37–62.

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