THE GREEN PATRIARCH
His All Holiness Bartholomew I
The Ecumenical Patriarch
and the Protection of the Environment
On the occasion of the beginning of the new ecclesiastical year, on 1 September, which traditionally coincides with the Day of Prayer for the Protection of the Natural Environment established by Phanar, the ecumenical patriarch, archbishop of Constantinople, spread a message on the protection of creation that we publish in full.
Dear brother hierarchs and beloved sons in the Lord, it is a common belief that, in the present time, the natural environment is threatened as never before in the history of humanity. The magnitude of this threat manifests itself in the fact that what is at stake is no longer the quality, but the conservation of life on our planet. For the first time in history, man is able to destroy the conditions of life on earth. Nuclear weapons are the symbol of man’s Promethean Titanism, the tangible expression of the ‘omnipotence complex’ of the contemporary ‘man-god’.
In the use of power that comes from science and technology, what is revealed today is the ambivalence of human freedom. Science serves life; it contributes to progress, to tackle diseases and many conditions that have so far been considered ‘fatal’; creates new positive prospects for the future. However, at the same time, it provides man with extremely powerful means, the misuse of which can be transformed into destructive. We are experiencing the unfolding of the destruction of the natural environment, biodiversity, flora and fauna, the pollution of aquatic resources and the atmosphere, the progressive collapse of the climate balance, as well as other overshooting of limits and measures in many dimensions of the life. The holy and great council of the Orthodox Church (Crete, 2016) rightly and splendidly decreed that ‘scientific knowledge does not mobilise the moral will of man, who knows the dangers but continues to act as if he does not know’ (Encyclical, 11 ).
It is clear that the protection of the common good, of the integrity of the natural environment, is the common responsibility of all the inhabitants of the earth. The contemporary categorical imperative for humanity is to live without destroying the environment. However, while at the personal level and at the level of many communities, groups, movements and organisations, there is a display of great ecological sensitivity and responsibility, nations and economic agents are unable — in the name of geopolitical ambitions and ‘autonomy of the economy’ — to adopt the correct decisions for the protection of creation and instead cultivate the illusion that the alleged ‘global ecological destruction’ is an ideological fabrication of ecological movements and that the natural environment has the power to renew itself. However, the crucial question remains: how long will nature endure fruitless discussions and consultations, as well as any further delay in taking decisive action for its protection?
The fact that, during the period of the pandemic of the new coronavirus-covid-19, with the mandatory restrictions on circulation, the closure of factories and the decrease in activity and industrial production, we have observed a reduction in pollution and its burden on the atmosphere, demonstrated the anthropogenic nature of the contemporary ecological crisis. Once again it became evident that industry, contemporary means of transport, the car and the plane, the non-negotiable priority of economic indicators and so on, have a negative impact on the environmental balance and that a change of direction towards an ecological economy is a firm necessity. There is no real progress based on the destruction of the natural environment. It is inconceivable that economic decisions are made without also taking into account their ecological consequences. Economic development cannot remain a nightmare for ecology. We are sure that there is an alternative way of economic structure and development in addition to economism and the orientation of economic activity towards profit maximisation.
The future of humanity is not homo œconomicus. The Ecumenical Patriarchate, which in recent decades has been a pioneer in the field of protection of creation, will continue its ecological initiatives, the organization of ecological conferences, the mobilisation of its faithful and especially of young people, the promotion of environmental protection as a subject fundamental for inter-religious dialogue and common initiatives of religions, contacts with political leaders and institutions, cooperation with environmental organisations and ecological movements. It is clear that the collaboration for the protection of the environment creates further avenues of communication and the possibility of new common actions.
We repeat that the environmental activities of the ecumenical patriarchate are an extension of its ecclesiological self-awareness and do not constitute a simple circumstantial reaction to a new phenomenon. The very life of the Church is an applied ecology. The sacraments of the Church, her entire life of worship, her asceticism and community life, the daily life of her faithful, express and generate the deepest respect for creation. The ecological sensitivity of orthodoxy was not created but emerged from the contemporary environmental crisis. The struggle for the protection of creation is a central dimension of our faith. Respect for the environment is an act of doxology of the name of God, while the destruction of creation is an offence against the Creator, completely irreconcilable with the fundamental principles of Christian theology.
Honourable brothers and beloved sons, the values favourable to the ecology of the Orthodox tradition, a precious heritage of the Fathers, constitute a barrier against culture, whose axiological foundation is the dominion of man over nature. Faith in Christ inspires and strengthens human commitment even in the face of immense challenges. From the perspective of faith, we are able to discover and evaluate not only the problematic dimensions but also the possibilities and positive prospects of contemporary civilisation. We ask young Orthodox men and women to understand the importance of living as faithful Christians and contemporary people. Faith in the eternal destiny of man strengthens our witness in the world.
In this spirit, from Phanar, we wish you all a propitious and blessed new ecclesiastical year, fruitful of actions following the example of Christ, for the benefit of all creation and for the glory of the omniscient Creator of all things. And we invoke upon you, through the intercessions of the Most Holy Theotokos, of the Pammakaristos, the grace and mercy of the God of wonders.
His All Holiness Bartholomew I has also gained a reputation as a prominent environmentalist, putting the support of the Ecumenical Patriarchate behind various international environmental causes. This has earned him the nicknames of “the Green Patriarch” and “the Green Pope”, and in 2002 he was honored with the Sophie Prize for his contribution to environmentalism. He has also been honoured with the Congressional Gold Medal, by the Legislative Branch of the United States government. For more information please see the website of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople at: https://www.patriarchate.org/the-green-patriarch
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