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Τετάρτη, 4 Νοεμβρίου 2009

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew: SAVING THE SOUL OF THE PLANET

Αddress at 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.


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

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew: A CHANGELESS FAITH FOR A CHANGING WORLD


Center for American Progress and Georgetown University
Gaston Hall of Georgetown University
Washington, DC
(November 3, 2009)

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

* * *

Thank you very much, Professor James J. O'Donnell, Provost of Georgetown University, and John Podesta, President of the Center for American Progress. We are also especially grateful for the students who are present with us today, and for their interest.

Progress is often equated with change. So let us acknowledge this: it may appear strange for a progressive think tank to sponsor a lecture by the leader of a faith that takes pride in how little it has changed in 2,000 years. The fact is that our first instinct in Orthodoxy is to conserve the precious faith that has been handed down to us in an unbroken line from Jesus Christ through the Apostles. In the case of our Ecumenical Patriarchate, the First See of the Orthodox World, it has been handed to us through St. Andrew the Apostle, to whose See we are the 270th successor.

But even though our faith may be 2,000 years old, our thinking is not. True progress is a balance between preserving the essence of a certain way of life and changing things that are not essential. Christianity was born a revolutionary faith – and we have preserved that. In other words, paradoxically, we have succeeded in not changing a faith that is itself dedicated to change.

Let us, as the lawyers would say, make a disclaimer: By calling Christianity revolutionary, and saying it is dedicated to change, we are not siding with Progressives – just as, by conserving it, we are not siding with Conservatives. All political factions believe God is on their side – as Abraham Lincoln said of the Union and Confederacy, “Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other.”

The only side we take is that of our faith – which today may seem to land us in one political camp, tomorrow another – but in truth we are always and only in one camp, that of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

John Podesta, in his wonderful book, “The Power of Progress,” gives a very lucid account of American progressivism. Its core beliefs are boundless opportunity for all… equal access to education, good jobs, fair pay… and the freedom to pursue one’s dreams. It also encompasses personal and national security… respect for the environment… and harmony among nations.

Although Orthodoxy has never taken up the banner of progressivism per se, we have taken up many causes over the centuries that are progressive by definition – and today we will discuss three of them in particular:

1.Nonviolence;
2.Philanthropy, specifically in the form of healthcare; and
3.Environmentalism.

Let us begin with a Christian concept that has led to some of the most significant changes of the last century that were not delivered at the barrel of a gun – quite the opposite. It is the Christian concept of nonviolence, even and especially in the face of evil.

We said earlier that Christianity is a revolutionary faith. The highest law of all was to love God and one another

Now we all know the political and theological revolution that followed – the Roman Empire eventually adopted Christianity, which spread like a cleansing fire and rose to dominance in Europe, Asia Minor, Northern Africa, and beyond. We do not always pay as much attention to the revolution in thinking that helped achieve this dominance.

In the early years, citizens of Rome saw Christ’s followers persecuted, tortured, brutalized, and murdered in huge numbers, throughout the Empire. In most cases, they did not resist the evil that was done to them – but rather, they went willingly to their painful deaths. Why? Of course they had faith – a giant faith, a faith rarely seen in human history. But many in the pagan world had faith, and yet, when threatened, they resisted. The world had never before seen anything like the willing martyrdom of these early followers of Christ.

The world had never before seen it simply because it was a completely new and radical idea introduced by Jesus and described in Matthew 5 (38-39, 43-44):

“You have heard that it has been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, resist not evil: but whoever smites you on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also…. I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”

Now if that is not a revolutionary concept, we don’t know what is. And the proof lies not only in the rapid spread of Christianity among the Romans who witnessed these martyrs and were awestruck by their example. The proof can be seen in our own time, in the civil rights revolution that in less than 50 years brought America from Bull Connor to Barack Obama. It was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s doctrine of nonviolence in the face of evil that made the movement unstoppable by any human force. It is one of the most powerful ideas known to man – and yet it did not come from man, in fact for human beings it is completely counter-intuitive – our first instinct is to strike back, not turn the other cheek.

We Orthodox Christians will forever hold in our hearts the late Archbishop of America Iakovos of blessed memory, who shared the faith, courage, and humility of those early Christian martyrs and joined hands with Dr. King in Selma, Alabama, in March of 1965. But there is another Orthodox link in this chain...

Dr. King was extremely conversant with Christian theology, and yet at a critical juncture early in the civil rights movement, he began to doubt the power of love to resolve social problems. A chance conversation about Gandhi led King to study the Mahatma’s successful use of nonviolence to gain freedom for India – and that restored Dr. King’s belief that love was powerful enough to gain civil rights for African-Americans.

That story is well-known --- what you may not know is that Gandhi’s inspiration was an Orthodox Christian whose name will be familiar to you – Leo Tolstoy – who in 1893 wrote a seminal book not about Christian ideas, but rather how to put those ideas into practice, especially the ideas expressed in Matthew 5. “The Kingdom of God Is within You” was translated into English in 1894 and the same year a copy came into the possession of a young Hindu lawyer in South Africa. Gandhi found the book “overwhelming” and after launching his campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience in India in 1906, could often be seen carrying Tolstoy’s writings with him into jail. The two men corresponded until Tolstoy’s death in 1910, and in fact the last long letter Tolstoy wrote was to Gandhi.

Tolstoy had his own inspiration not only in the New Testament but also in the works of others who took seriously the injunction of Jesus to “resist not evil,” including the American abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison and the pacifist Adin Ballou. But it is safe to say that, in the hands of Orthodox Christians such as Tolstoy and Iakovos, the doctrine of nonviolence helped lead to some remarkably progressive achievements.



Let us move on to a topic that is extremely timely – because of the healthcare debate in this country – to healthcare the concept of philanthropy in its most essential meaning, from the Greek, “love of human beings.”

How many people know that the modern hospital originated in the Eastern Roman Empire, also known as the Byzantine Empire?

It is widely acknowledged that the first hospitals were created in Cappadocia, which is now part of Turkey, sometime around 370 A.D. by St. Basil, Bishop of Caesarea. There had been a tradition since Antiquity of maintaining hostels for those without food or shelter, or travelers on a long journey. St. Basil was apparently the first to add doctors and staff to look after the sick.

Later that century, our revered predecessor on the Ecumenical Throne, St. John Chrysostom, opened hospitals in Constantinople, the capital of the Roman Empire. It is important to note that these institutions were funded by the Emperor and by the Church, respectively – in other words, they were public institutions, free of charge and created for the public good.

By the end of the sixth century, hospitals could be found throughout the empire. They were usually maintained by the Church, in keeping with the parable of the Last Judgment in the Gospel of Saint Matthew (25:35-36):

‘For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me,

naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.'

Byzantine hospitals began as institutions for the poor, but by the seventh century they began to service the wealthy, including relatives of the royal family.

These were well-organized institutions – doctors made daily rounds of patients, except on Christian holy days… nurses or physicians’ assistants looked after patients’ needs and carried out doctors’ orders… while orderlies carried out the less skilled chores such as cleaning and so on.

At least one Byzantine emperor, Manuel I Commenus, was a trained physician himself. During his reign from 1143 to 1180, he personally treated patients in the Empire’s hospitals.

In summary, it is clear that we owe the Byzantines the development of the modern institutions we call hospitals. But what may be more important, we owe to them the view that every member of society, from the greatest to the least, deserved the best quality healthcare available at the time. This is obviously relevant today, and as the U.S. debates the best way to provide healthcare for its citizens, we hope and pray that the Byzantine-Orthodox approach provides a model worthy of emulation.

Just as every human life is a gift from God, to be treated with love and respect, so is all the rest of Creation – which is why the Orthodox Church has also been a leading voice for 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.

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 gift of creation. 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.

It is fair to ask: Beyond any platitudes, what can Orthodox Christianity contribute to the movement to protect the environment? Fortunately, we have a very specific answer: We believe that through our unique liturgical and ascetic ethos, Orthodox spirituality can provide significant moral and ethical direction toward a new awareness about the planet.

Our sin toward the world – 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 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. 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. Moreover, human beings participated in Creation by giving names to the things that God created. There is no escaping our responsibility for the environment.

There is also an ascetic element in our responsibility toward God's creation. This asceticism requires voluntary restraint, in order for us to live in harmony with our environment. By reducing consumption – known in Orthodox theology as “encratia” or self-control – we ensure that resources are left for others in the world.

We must challenge ourselves to align our personal and spiritual attitudes 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 issues from our 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 can lead us from repentance to return, the return to a world in which we give, as well as take from 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 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 sometimes 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 and even 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 that we must ask, for causing harm to His 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 whole of creation, and within our own souls.

It is with that understanding that we have called upon the world's leaders to take action to halt the destructive changes to global climate that are being caused by human activity. This common cause unites all humankind – just as the waters of the world are all united. To save one river is to save all rivers and all oceans. God created heaven and earth as a united whole, and we must take a holistic view of creation. For us in the Patriarchate, “Ecumenical” is more than a name – it is a world-view and way of life.

We hope the three examples we have chosen – a nonviolent pursuit of social change… care for the health and welfare of all in the community… and respect and love for the environment as God’s creation – illustrate some of the ways in which one of the most conservative members of the Christian family has played a role in some very progressive causes.

But we also hope we have made clear that neither these causes, nor the conservative causes we may undertake – none of these things define the Church of God, no matter what any human being may assert. The Church encompasses all of God’s creation – and indeed, that is our key theme for today – we are all connected, and that connection is God.

The Lord fills all of creation with His Divine presence in one continuous connection from the substance of atoms to the Mind of God. Let us work together to 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.

Photos by J. Mindala
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