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.
Toast to the Governor of the State of Amazonas
The Amazon in Crisis
July 19, 2006
It is a privilege and a joy to be received as your guest in this historic city, the capital of an extraordinarily beautiful, and infinitely precious part of the earth known as the state of Amazonas. As administrator of a large and exceptionally rich section of God's creation, you shoulder a responsibility, which would be hard for any politician in the so-called developed world to imagine. The natural environment under your care is the finest and most perfectly intact part of the Brazilian rainforest, a biological and ecological treasure-house, on whose survival the world depends. The people under your care represent, in an extreme form, the radiance, diversity and passion of the Brazilian nation as a whole. They range from indigenous communities who have had little or no contact with the supposedly civilized world, to poor and vulnerable city-dwellers who have recently arrived in this region in the hope of making a living. For the simple fact that that you and your state ministers have undertaken the governance of such a rich and yet fragile part of our planet, we salute you and we respect you. We especially admire your state's commitment to preserving as much as possible of the rainforest, and to protecting the indigenous people who are guardians and guarantors of the forest's survival.
The administration of such a place would be a difficult task in normal times, but these are not normal times. Last year, the world learned with distress and amazement of the crisis which your state had to cope with. In a region which we would normally associate with abundant supplies of water, there was a drought which killed millions of fish and left many communities with nothing safe to drink. In a part of the world where nature offers such a huge range of edible produce, people were left short of food. In remote areas where people rely on river transport to sell their own crops and procure whatever food and medicine they need, there was great distress because local waterways dried up. We recognize the resourcefulness of the Amazonas state authorities, and of all the Brazilian authorities, in dealing with this crisis, which many scientists saw as a grim warning of a broader breakdown in nature's equilibrium.
Caesar and God
From the Ecumenical Patriarchate, endowed by history and tradition with a moral obligation towards the whole of creation, we offer our love, fatherly concern and fervent prayers for all the people involved administering the state of Amazonas, as they cope with the human consequences of what may turn out to be a continuing environmental crisis. If we hold back from offering any more detailed words of counsel, that is in part because we are guided by the arresting command of Our Lord that we should "render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's."
Many commentaries on those famous words have pondered the precise meaning of "rendering unto Caesar" our obligations as citizens. However it is also worth reflecting seriously on what is meant by "rendering unto God" what is due to God. At first sight, this seems to be a reminder that we should carry out our formal religious obligations, by praying, fasting, going to church and observing the church calendar. That may certainly be one part of what Our Lord is telling us. But in the course of the five previous symposia which we have organized as part of the movement known as Religion, Science and the Environment, we have tried to look more deeply into what it means to offer unto God what belongs to God. We have reflected on man's role as a priest of Creation, a creature with a unique calling to receive all the bounty of the created world as a gift from God, and then to offer that gift back to God in a spirit of gratitude and humility. In some form or another, almost every human culture has felt the impulse to offer the treasures of creation, including life itself, back to the Creator. As Christians, we have a particular sense that in making our Eucharistic offerings of bread and wine, we are joining or becoming part of the supreme, once-and-for-all sacrifice made on the Cross by the Son of God as an ultimate act of saving love.
But whatever we believe about the nature of priesthood or sacrifice, it is worth noting that modern, secular man is out of step with most of human history in one important way: in his view that the created world is merely something to be exploited and abused with no sense of respect for a Creator or even for future generations. This absence of gratitude or respect is as shocking to our Orthodox Christian tradition as it is to any of this region's peoples, who share with us the unshakeable belief that all forms of life are deeply connected, and that every living thing has its own divinely -ordained purpose, its own logos as we say in Greek. Among people who are guided by those principles, certain other things should follow: the need to show respect, prudence and self-restraint in our treatment of the created world, in short to love the created world, just as we are united in love to our Creator. Unless that understanding exists and is deeply felt, government policies alone, however prudent and wise, will hardly be able to save the planet from destruction.
Respected governor, we commend and admire the courage and competence you have shown as a person who is called to play the role of Caesar, in other words to look after a large and exceptionally challenging piece of territory for the benefit of its people. For our part, we at the Ecumenical Patriarchate will strive, as far our human strength allows us, to bear witness to another important truth No earthly administrators can succeed in their mission unless people are also willing to offer back to God all those things - especially the great and wondrous gifts of nature – which came from God and ultimately belong to Him.