Address of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at the Environmental Symposium, Saint Barbara Greek Orthodox Church, Santa Barbara, California

Address of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at the Environmental Symposium, Saint Barbara Greek Orthodox Church, Santa Barbara, California

Our Beloved Brother in Christ, Archbishop Spyridon of America,

Our Beloved Brother in Christ, Bishop Anthony of San Francisco,

The Honorable Secretary of the Interior, Mr. Bruce Babbitt,

Distinguished Scholars, Learned Guests,

Beloved Friends and Children in the Lord,

It is with deep joy that we greet all of you, the honorable delegates and attendees of this blessed Symposium on the Sacredness of the Environment. Here in this historical city of Santa Barbara, we see before us a brilliant example of the wonder of God's creation. Recently, that God-given beauty was threatened by an oil spill. We are proud that the effort to restore the damaged beauty of Santa Barbara's seas, was led by Orthodox Christians, Dan and Candy Randopoulos.

The Ecumenical Throne of Orthodoxy, as a preserver and herald of the ancient Patristic tradition and of the rich liturgical experience of our Orthodox Church, today renews its long standing commitment to healing the environment. We have followed with great interest and sincere concern, the efforts to curb the destructive effects that human beings have wrought upon the natural world. We view with alarm the dangerous consequences of humanity's disregard for the survival of God's creation.

It is for this reason that our predecessor, the late Patriarch Dimitrios, of blessed memory, invited the whole world to offer, together with the Great Church of Christ, prayers of thanksgiving and supplications for the protection of the natural environment. Since 1989, every September 1st, the beginning of the ecclesiastical calendar has been designated as a day of prayer for the protection of the environment, throughout the Orthodox world.

Since that time, the Ecumenical Throne has organized an Inter-Orthodox Conference in Crete in 1991, and convened annual Ecological Seminars at the historic Monastery of the Holy Trinity on Halki, as a way of discerning the spiritual roots and principles of the ecological crisis. In 1995, we sponsored a symposium, sailing the Aegean to the island of Patmos. The symposium on Revelation and the Environment, AD 95 to 1995, commemorated the 1900th anniversary of the recording of the Apocalypse. We have recently convened under the joint aegis of our Patriarchate and His Eminence Jacques Santer, President of the European Commission a trans-national conference on the Black Sea ecological crisis, that included participation of all the nations that border the sea.

In these and other programs, we have sought to discover the measures that may be implemented by Orthodox Christians worldwide, as leaders desiring to contribute to the solution of this global problem. We believe that through our particular and unique liturgical and ascetic ethos, Orthodox Spirituality may provide significant moral and ethical direction toward a new generation of awareness about the planet.

We believe that Orthodox liturgy and life hold tangible answers to the ultimate questions concerning salvation from corruptibility and death. The Eucharist is at the very center of our worship. And our sin toward the world, or the spiritual root of all our pollution, lies in our refusal to view life and the world as a sacrament of thanksgiving, and as a gift of constant communion with God on a global scale.

We envision a new awareness that is not mere philosophical posturing, but a tangible experience of a mystical nature. We believe that our first task is to raise the consciousness of adults who most use the resources and gifts of the planet. Ultimately, it is for our children that we must perceive our every action in the world as having a direct effect upon the future of the environment. At the heart of the relationship between man and environment is the relationship between human beings. As individuals, we live not only in vertical relationships to God, and horizontal relationships to one another, but also in a complex web of relationships that extend throughout our lives, our cultures and the material world. Human beings and the environment form a seamless garment of existence; a complex fabric that we believe is fashioned by God.

People of all faith traditions praise the Divine, for they seek to understand their relationship to the cosmos. The entire universe participates in a celebration of life, which St. Maximos the Confessor described as a "cosmic liturgy." We see this cosmic liturgy in the symbiosis of life's rich biological complexities. These complex relationships draw attention to themselves in humanity's self-conscious awareness of the cosmos. As human beings, created "in the image and likeness of God" (Gen. 1:26), we are called to recognize this interdependence between our environment and ourselves. In the bread and the wine of the Eucharist, as priests standing before the altar of the world, we offer the creation back to the creator in relationship to Him and to each other. Indeed, in our liturgical life, we realize by anticipation, the final state of the cosmos in the Kingdom of Heaven. We celebrate the beauty of creation, and consecrate the life of the world, returning it to God with thanks. We share the world in joy as a living mystical communion with the Divine. Thus it is that we offer the fullness of creation at the Eucharist, and receive it back as a blessing, as the living presence of God.

Moreover, there is also an ascetic element in our responsibility toward God's creation. This asceticism requires from us a voluntary restraint, in order for us to live in harmony with our environment. Asceticism offers practical examples of conservation.

By reducing our consumption, in Orthodox Theology "encratia" or self-control, we come to ensure that resources are also left for others in the world. As we shift our will we demonstrate a concern for the third world and developing nations. Our abundance of resources will be extended to include an abundance of equitable concern for others.

We must challenge ourselves to see our personal, spiritual attitudes in continuity with public policy. Encratia frees us of our self-centered neediness, that we may do good works for others. We do this out of a personal love for the natural world around us. We are called to work in humble harmony with creation and not in arrogant supremacy against it. Asceticism provides an example whereby we may live simply.

Asceticism is not a flight from society and the world, but a communal attitude of mind and way of life that leads to the respectful use, and not the abuse of material goods. Excessive consumption may be understood to issue from a world-view of estrangement from self, from land, from life, and from God. Consuming the fruits of the earth unrestrained, we become consumed ourselves, by avarice and greed. Excessive consumption leaves us emptied, out-of-touch with our deepest self. Asceticism is a corrective practice, a vision of repentance. Such a vision will lead us from repentance to return, the return to a world in which we give, as well as take from creation.

We invite Orthodox Christians to engage in genuine repentance for the way in which we have behaved toward God, each other, and the world. We gently remind Orthodox Christians that the judgement of the world is in the hands of God. We are called to be stewards, and reflections of God's love by example. Therefore, we proclaim the sanctity of all life, the entire creation being God's and reflecting His continuing will that life abound. We must love life so that others may see and know that it belongs to God. We must leave the judgement of our success to our Creator.

We lovingly suggest to all the people of the earth, that they seek to help one another to understand the myriad ways in which we are related to the earth, and to one another. In this way, we may begin to repair the dislocation many people experience in relation to creation.

We are of the deeply held belief, that many human beings have come to behave as materialistic tyrants. Those that tyrannize the earth are themselves, sadly, tyrannized. We have been called by God, to "be fruitful, increase and have dominion in the earth" (Gen 1:28). Dominion is a type of the Kingdom of Heaven. Thus it is that St. Basil describes the creation of man in paradise on the 6th day, as being the arrival of a king in his palace. Dominion is not domination, it is an eschatological sign of the perfect Kingdom of God, where corruption and death are no more.

If human beings treated one another's personal property the way they treat their environment, we would view that behavior as anti-social. We would impose the judicial measures necessary to restore wrongly appropriated personal possessions. It is therefore appropriate, for us to seek ethical, legal recourse where possible, in matters of ecological crimes.

It follows that, to commit a crime against the natural world, is a sin. For humans to cause species to become extinct and to destroy the biological diversity of God's creation For humans to degrade the integrity of Earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the Earth of its natural forests, or destroying its wetlands For humans to injure other humans with disease for humans to contaminate the Earth's waters, its land, its air, and its life, with poisonous substances These are sins.

In prayer, we ask for the forgiveness of sins committed both willingly and unwillingly. And it is certainly God's forgiveness, which we must ask, for causing harm to His Own Creation.

Thus we begin the process of healing our worldly environment, which was blessed with Beauty and created by God. Then we may also begin to participate responsibly, as persons making informed choices in both the integrated whole of creation, and within our own souls.

In just a few weeks the world's leaders will gather in Kyoto, Japan, to determine what, if anything, the nations of the world will commit to do, to halt climate change. There has been much debate back and forth about who should, and should not have to change the way they use the resources of the earth. Many nations are reluctant to act unilaterally. This self-centered behavior is a symptom of our alienation from one another, and from the context of our common existence.

We are urging a different and, we believe, a more satisfactory ecological ethic. This ethic is shared with many of the religious traditions represented here. All of us hold the earth to be the creation of God, where He placed the newly created human "in the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and to guard it" (Genesis 2:15). He imposed on humanity a stewardship role in relationship to the earth. How we treat the earth and all of creation defines the relationship that each of us has with God. It is also a barometer of how we view one another. For if we truly value a person, we are careful as to our behavior toward that person. The dominion that God has given humankind over the Earth does not extend to human relationships. As the Lord said, "You know that the rulers of the Nations lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mat. 20:25-28).

It is with that understanding that we call on the world's leaders to take action to halt the destructive changes to the global climate that are being caused by human activity. And we call on all of you here today, to join us in this cause. This can be our important contribution to the great debate about climate change. We must be spokespeople for an ecological ethic that reminds the world that it is not ours to use for our own convenience. It is God's gift of love to us and we must return his love by protecting it and all that is in it.

We congratulate our Brother in Christ, Bishop Anthony, Fr. Constantine Zozos, and all those who initiated, organized, addressed, and participated in this important Symposium. It is our fervent and sincere prayer that this will become a focal point for further theological reflection and practical action throughout the parishes of this Holy Archdiocese of America, all the Orthodox Churches in this great land, and all Americans of goodwill. We are especially thankful for the presence of Secretary Bruce Babbit and the commitment that President Clinton and Vice-President Gore have made toward sound ecological policy.

The Lord suffuses all of creation with His Divine presence in one continuous legato from the substance of atoms to the Mind of God. Let us renew the harmony between heaven and earth, and transfigure every detail, every particle of life. Let us love one another, and lovingly learn from one another, for the edification of God's people, for the sanctification of God's creation, and for the glorification of God's most holy Name. Amen.

Saving the Soul of the Planet - Address at the Brookings Institution

Address of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch BARTHOLOMEW

The Brookings Institution
Direct Archdiocesan District
Washington, DC

(November 4, 2009)

Esteemed President Strobe Talbott,

Distinguished Guests,

It is a pleasure and a privilege to address members and guests of this renowned center of political study and thought. At first glance, it may appear strange for the leader of a religious institution concerned with spiritual values to speak about the environment at a secular institution that deals with public policy. What exactly does preserving the planet or promoting democracy have to do with saving the soul or helping the poor? It is commonly assumed that ecological issues – global climate change and the exploitation of nature's resources – are matters that concern politicians, scientists, technocrats, and interest groups.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate is certainly no worldly institution. It wields no political authority; it leads by example and by persuasion. And so the preoccupation of the Orthodox Christian Church and, in particular, her highest spiritual authority, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, with the environmental crisis will probably come to many people as a surprise. But it is neither surprising nor unnatural within the context of Orthodox Christian spirituality.

Indeed, it is now exactly twenty years since our revered predecessor, Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios, sparked the ecological initiatives of our Church by issuing the first encyclical encouraging our faithful throughout the world to pray for and preserve the natural environment. His exhortation was subsequently heeded by the member churches of the World Council of Churches.

What, then, does preserving the planet have to do with saving the soul? Let us begin to sketch an answer by quoting an Orthodox Christian literary giant, Fyodor Dostoevsky, echoing the profound mysticism of Isaac the Syrian in the seventh century through Staretz Zossima in The Brothers Karamazov:

Love all God's creation, the whole of it and every grain of sand. Love every leaf, every ray of God's light! If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Everything is like an ocean, I tell you, flowing and coming into contact with everything else: touch it in one place and it reverberates at the other end of the world.[1] 

This passage illustrates why, with respect to the priority and urgency of environmental issues, we do not perceive any sharp line of distinction between the pulpit and this lectern. One of our greatest goals has always been to weave together the seemingly disparate threads of issues related to human life with those related to the natural environment and climate change. For as we read the mystical teachings of the Eastern Church, these form a single fabric, a seamless garment that connects every aspect and detail of this created world to the Creator God that we worship.

For how can we possibly separate the intellectual goals of this institution – namely, the advancement of democracy, the promotion of social welfare, and the security of international cooperation – from the inspirational purpose of the church to pray, as we do in every Orthodox service, "for the peace of the whole world," "for favorable weather, an abundance of the fruit of the earth," and "for the safety of all those who suffer"?

Over the past two decades of our ministry, we have come to appreciate that one of the most valuable lesson to be gained from the ecological crisis is neither the political implications nor the personal consequences. Rather, this crisis reminds us of the connections that we seem to have forgotten between previously unrelated areas of life.

It is a kind of miracle, really, and you don't have to be a believer to acknowledge that. For, the environment unites us in ways that transcend religious and philosophical differences as well as political and cultural differences. Paradoxically, the more we harm the environment, the more the environment proves that we are all connected.

The global connections that we must inevitably recognize between previously unrelated areas of life include the need to discern connections between the faith communities. We must also perceive the connections between all diverse disciplines; climate change can only be overcome when scientists and activists cooperate for a common cause. And, finally, we can no longer ignore the connections in our hearts between the political and the personal; the survival of our planet depends largely on how we translate traditional faith into personal values and, by extension, into political action.

That is why the Orthodox Church has been a prime mover in a series of inter-disciplinary and interfaith ecological symposia held on the Adriatic, Aegean, Baltic, and Black Seas, along the Amazon and Danube Rivers, as well as on the Arctic Ocean. The last of these symposia concluded only a few days ago in New Orleans, seeking ways to restore the balance of the great Mississippi River.

The mention of New Orleans brings to mind another truth.  Not only are we all connected in a seamless web of existence on this third planet from the Sun, but there are profound analogies between the way we treat the earth's natural resources and the attitude we have toward the disadvantaged. Sadly, our willingness to exploit the one reflects our willingness to exploit the other. There cannot be distinct ways of looking at the environment, the poor, and God.

This is one of the reasons why we selected New Orleans as the site of our latest symposium; and this is why our visit there was in fact the second since the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. There, images of poverty abound, too close for comfort. We witnessed them in August of 2005 on the Gulf of Mexico; they are still evident over four years later – not only sealed forever in our memory, but soiling the Ward 9 to this day! How could the most powerful nation on earth appear so powerless in the face of such catastrophe? Certainly not because of lack of resources. Perhaps because of what St. Seraphim of Sarov once called "lack of firm resolve."

The truth is that we tend – somewhat conveniently – to forget situations of poverty and suffering. And yet, we must learn to open up our worldview; we must no longer remain trapped within our limited, restricted point of view; we must be susceptible to a fuller, global vision. Tragically, we appear to be caught up in selfish lifestyles that repeatedly ignore the constraints of nature, which are neither deniable nor negotiable. We must relearn the sense of connectedness. For we will ultimately be judged by the tenderness with which we respond to human beings and to nature.

Surely one area of common ground, where all people of good will – of all political persuasion and every social background – can agree is the need to respond to those who suffer. Even if we cannot – or refuse to – agree on the root causes and human impact on environmental degradation; even if we cannot – or refuse to – agree about what would define success in sustainable development, no one would doubt that the consequences of climate change on the poor and disadvantaged is unacceptable. Such denial would be inhumane at the very least and politically disadvantageous at worst.

Of course, poverty is not merely a local phenomenon; it is also a global reality. It applies to the situation that has existed for so long in such countries as China, India, and Brazil? To put it simply, someone in the "third-world," is the most impacted person on the planet; yet, that person's responsibility is incomparably minute: what that person does for mere survival neither parallels nor rivals our actions in the "first-world."

Many argue that the wealthy nations of the West became so by exploiting the environment – they polluted rivers and oceans, razed forests, destroyed habitats, and poisoned the atmosphere. But now that that the poorer nations are developing and improving the quality of life for their citizens – like the West did during the 19th and 20th centuries – all of a sudden the rules are being changed and developing nations are being asked to make sacrifices the nations of the West never made as they were developing. They are being asked to reduce their impact on the environment – in other words, to curb their development. They are being asked to drive fewer cars, consume less oil, build fewer factories, raze fewer forests, and harm fewer habitats – all in the name of protecting the environment.

Brothers and sisters – this simply cannot be. Not only is it unfair to ask the developing nations to sacrifice when the West does not – it is futile. They care not what we say – they watch what we do. And if we are unwilling to make sacrifices, we have no moral authority to ask others, who have not tasted the fruits of development and wealth, to make sacrifices.

Fortunately, the West, and in particular America, is now showing that it recognizes this "inconvenient truth" – that if we are to save our planet, sacrifices must be made by all. The Obama administration, as you know, has been very active in this regard. The President has signed an Executive Order challenging government agencies to set 2020 greenhouse reduction goals, and using the government's $500 billion per year in purchasing power to encourage development of energy-efficient products and services.

There are also many promising developments at the global level. Representatives of the 16 countries that emit the highest levels of greenhouse gases met recently in London to discuss the amount of aid they will give less-developed nations to help them adopt cleaner energy technology. And there are growing expectations that meaningful progress can be made as a result of the United Nations Climate Change Conference scheduled to take place in Copenhagen next month.

Sacrifices will have to be made by all. Unfortunately, people normally perceive sacrifice as loss or surrender. Yet, the root meaning of the word has less to do with "going without" and more to do with "making sacred." Just as pollution has profound spiritual connotations, related to the destruction of creation when disconnected from its Creator, so too sacrifice is the necessary corrective for reducing the world to a commodity to be exploited by our selfish appetites. When we sacrifice, we render the world sacred, recognizing it as a gift from above to be shared with all humanity – if not equally, then at least justly. Sacrifice is ultimately an expression of gratitude (for what we enjoy) and humility (for what we must share).

For our part, in addition to our international ecological symposia, the Orthodox Church has decided to establish a center for environment and peace. Hitherto, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has endeavored to raise regional and global awareness on the urgency of preserving the natural environment and promoting inter-religious dialogue and understanding. Henceforth, the emphasis will be educational – on the regional and international levels.

The Center for Environment and Peace is planned to be housed in a historical orphanage, on Büyükada, one of the Princess Islands near Istanbul. The building was once the largest and most beautiful wooden edifice in Europe, and it will embody a new direction in the initiatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Whereas the orphanage was at one time forcibly closed by Turkish authorities in an act of religious intolerance, it is highly expected to  be returned to the Ecumenical Patriarchate through a just process in the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled in favor of returning this historic property of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The purpose of the Center will be to translate theory into practice, providing educational resources to advance ecological transformation and interfaith tolerance.

The Center will focus on climate change and the related changes needed in human behavior and ethics. It will serve as a source of inspiration and awareness for resolving religious issues related to the environment and peace, in cooperation with universities, and policy centers on both local and international levels.

Dear friends, as we humbly learned very early on, and as we have repeatedly stressed throughout our ministry over the last twenty years, the environment is not only a political issue; it is also – indeed, it is primarily – a spiritual issue. Moreover, it directly affects all of us in the most personal and the most tangible manner. We can no longer afford to be passive observers in this crucial debate.

In 2002, at the conclusion of the Adriatic Symposium, together with His Holiness, the late Pope John Paul II, we signed a declaration in Venice that proclaimed in optimism and prayer. Our conclusion was that:

It is not too late. God's world has incredible healing powers. Within a single generation, we could steer the earth toward our children's future. Let that generation start now.

Because – ΝΥΝ Ο ΚΑΙΡΟΣ  -- now is the kairos – the decisive moment in human history, when we can truly make a difference.

Because now is the kairos – when the consciousness of the world is rising to the challenge.

Because now is the kairos – for us to save the soul of our planet.

Because now is the kairos – there is no other day than this day, this time, this moment.

Indeed, let it start now.

May God bless all of us to bring our labors to fruition.

Thank you.

[1] The Brothers Karamozov (Harmondsworth UK: Penguin, 1982), vol. 1, 375-376 376.