Entries with tag ecumenical patriarch bartholomew .

“Sins Before Our Eyes: A Forum on Modern Slavery”—Dispatches from the Ecumenical Patriarchate

The problem of slavery, one of humanity’s greatest evils, remains with us today. The overt chattel form of slavery, which Christian abolitionists raged against in the nineteenth century, has all but disappeared, but new less visible forms of bondage and exploitation have arisen. In fact, one of the most severe abuses of human rights, modern slavery is a concealed crime that is a pervasive aspect of contemporary life, operating on a global scale.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople recently became the international fulcrum for addressing the scourge of modern slavery. Under the auspices of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, a global gathering, “Sins Before Our Eyes: A Forum on Modern Slavery,” took place in Istanbul, February 6-7, 2017. The result of an initiative by His All-Holiness Bartholomew and His Grace Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury and Primate of All England, launched during Bartholomew’s official Patriarchal visit to the Church of England’s Lamberth Palace in November 2015, the Forum brought together more than 70 distinguished scholars, religious leaders, government officials, non-governmental experts, and policymakers from across the globe.

Inasmuch as Orthodoxy—the living continuation of the Early Church—has always taught human dignity, personhood, and freedom as fundamental to Christian belief and practice, it is natural and fitting that the Ecumenical Patriarchate should champion the international cause of ending slavery in all its forms. These fundamental Orthodox convictions are affirmed by Saint Paul’s pronouncement that “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1). The Church Father, Saint, and Archbishop of Constantinople, John Chrysostom, described slavery as “the fruit of covetousness, of degradation, of savagery, the fruit of sin and of human rebellion against our true Father.”

As a Patriarchal successor to Chrysostom, Bartholomew continues in contemporary times the Orthodox Church’s unwavering commitment to universal freedom and human dignity. Moreover, His All-Holiness has consistently made clear through his own long, salient record of work and activism that the Church’s responsibility is to combine belief and practice, to actualize faith through the organic connection to action. Honoring the belief that religious leaders are obligated to speak out against social injustice and exploitation, Bartholomew, through the Patriarchate’s Forum on modern slavery, focused attention on an invisible, but wide-reaching crime against humanity.

The magnitude and pernicious effects of modern slavery are enormous. More people are enslaved today than at any other time in human history. The most authoritative research on this subject, produced by the Global Slavery Index, indicates that at present, almost 46 million people in over 160 countries are captive in some form of modern slavery. This shocking reality, however, is obscured by the continued emphasis on the race-based model of Colonial-era New World slavery, which ignores the shift to globalized contemporary slave practices and forms, and which promotes the modernist conceit that slavery was ended in the West with the American Civil War. The current manifestations of slavery, as systematically outlined and analyzed by several of the Patriarchal Forum’s presenters and discussants, are oftentimes subtler and, therefore, more subversive than past forms of open slavery. Examples of modern slavery include human smuggling and human trafficking, forced sex trafficking of children and adults, involuntary domestic servitude, forced labor, coercive bonded labor or debt bondage, abduction and forced conscription of children as soldiers, and the enslavement of children and women as spoils of war.

Although the enslaved today are predominantly associated with conflict zones in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa, slavery in the twenty-first century is deeply rooted in many societies across the globe. India, for example, with 18.4 million people living in slavery, has the ignominious distinction of leading the world’s list of enslaved populations by country. China is second with 3.4 million, followed by Pakistan, which has more than 2.1 million enslaved people. Four other Asian countries each have enslaved populations that exceed one million. Leading the list of Middle Eastern countries are Egypt, Iran, and Turkey, each with roughly 500,000 people living in slavery. The undeniably globalized nature and networks of modern slavery implicates all countries, from developing countries to those in the developed West, as morally damaged and institutionally corrupted by the presence of enslaved human beings in the midst of these societies. In the United States, it is estimated that approximately 58,000 people exist in conditions defined as slavery.

The international community has a mixed record in its response to the problem of modern slavery. While several states, especially those with strong civil societies and traditions of government accountability, enjoy good reputations for combatting modern slavery, many other states, in particular those with closed and authoritarian systems, are characterized by government complicity. With few exceptions, virtually all states and their corresponding media have demonstrated very little interest in addressing the problem of modern slavery. This general attitude of disinterest helps to explain public unawareness, misunderstanding, and indifference to the plight of the enslaved and to the conditions that fuel modern slavery. Finally, although the international community has to some extent evolved to identify the changing forms of slavery and has recognized its gross human rights abuses, it has failed, often despite good intentions, to establish effective enforcement mechanisms to fight slavery.

Through His All-Holiness’ widely recognized leadership in raising international awareness of and activism on environmental issues, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has demonstrated that the Orthodox Church provides both a global network, and a living theological commitment that can transcend geopolitical impediments and the limitations of states in tackling some of the world’s most serious problems. With this same characteristic understanding and vision, Bartholomew inspired and brought to fruition “Sins Before Our Eyes: A Forum on Modern Slavery.” Indeed, as in his seminal work on the environment, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has emphasized the unique transnational structural resources, capacity, and moral framework that enable the Orthodox Church to be a natural agent for change, emancipation, and healing when it comes to ending slavery in today’s world.

In His All-Holiness’ keynote address to the Forum on February 7, Bartholomew reflected on the immutable bonds between humanity’s stewardship of creation and the moral imperative to abolish slavery and protect human dignity: “We live in a world full of contradictions. Prosperity grows amidst famine; the struggle for peace and reconciliation is confronted with terrorism and the spread of hatred and religious fundamentalism; ecological movements coexist with technocracy and the deification of economic growth; the protection of human rights is confronted with social injustice and the lack of respect for human dignity as well as the phenomenon of modern slavery. This is precisely why we are convinced that responding to the problem of modern slavery is directly and inseparably linked to creation care, which has been at the very center of our patriarchal ministry over the last quarter century. The entire world is the body of Christ, just as human beings are the very body of Christ. The whole planet bears the traces of God, just as every person is created in the image of God. The way we respect creation reflects the way we respond to our fellow human beings. The scars that we inflict on our environment reveal our willingness to exploit our brother and sister.”

His Grace Archbishop of Canterbury Justin echoed and amplified Bartholomew’s insights. In His Grace’s address, Justin observed that slavery does not occur in isolation, that it is nourished by conflict, chaos, and the breakdown of rule of law, and that it persists because it remains a highly profitable criminal activity. Speaking to the decisive role played by Christian Churches historically and at present in providing relief to ravaged populations, Justin commented: “I am reminded that the Church, like no other organization, is there before, during, and after conflict. Churches in these situations find themselves in the front line in the battle against modern day slavery. We need to look at ways of strengthening the capacity of Churches in conflict and fragile states to provide compassionate and loving service to those at risk. We need to resource them to identify the telltale signs of slavery and to support them to challenge the stigma that many survivors experience.”

Emphasizing their unity of purpose, Bartholomew and Justin presented a Joint Declaration at the close of the Forum. The Declaration condemned “all forms of human enslavement as the most heinous of sins, inasmuch as it violates the free will and the integrity of every human being created in the image of God.” The Declaration detailed ways the Orthodox Church and the Church of England will collaborate in the battle against modern slavery. In addition to establishing a joint taskforce, the Declaration emphasized the importance of local, national, and global alliance building to widen the networks of public and private institutions that together can produce tangible responses to the problem of slavery.

Earlier, in his keynote address, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew cast in sharp relief the path forward for confronting and defeating modern slavery: “How then can we face this crisis? How can we attempt to heal the wounds of our divided world? It is obvious that such a problem demands from us all immense mobilization, common action, common goals, strength and responsibility. Nobody—no state, no Church, no religion, neither science nor technology—can face the current challenges alone. We regard the worldwide crisis as an opportunity for building bridges, for openness and mutual trust. Our future is common and the way towards it is a common journey.”

The Orthodox Church can help light the path on which that common journey must unfold. Christian theology, Eastern and Western, proclaims that Christ came to free the oppressed, to end abominations to human dignity. Both Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Justin reminded us through “Sins Before Our Eyes: A Forum on Modern Slavery,” that theology is to be lived and transformed into action. In that way, we all have a responsibility to help break the chains of slavery that deny people their God-given freedom to experience dignity and the fullness of life.

Dr. Alexandros K. Kyrou is Professor of History at Salem State University in Salem, Massachusetts, where he teaches on the Balkans, Byzantium, and the Ottoman Empire.

Precedent-Setting Participation by Women at the HGC

CRETE - Among the historic elements of the Holy and Great Council (HGC) that was held in Crete June 17-27 was the participation of women. 

Each delegation was permitted to send up to six consultants, and among them was Dr. Elizabeth Prodromou, Professor of Conflict Resolution and Negotiation at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and former Vice Chair of the U.S. Commission of International Religious Freedom.

“I am very humbled to have been appointed; it is a great honor to enjoy the confidence of the Mother Church,” she said. 

Prodromou was one of two women in the delegation sent by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, along with Gerontisa Theoxeni from the Chrysopigi monastery near Chania.

The Church of Albania, which is led by Archbishop Anastasios, also had a woman among its six advisors, Sister Rakela of the Monastery of the Myrrh Bearing Women in Durres.

“I was appointed by His All Holiness, Prodromou said. “In January, he had convened a meeting in Constantinople of about 30 Orthodox scholar-practitioners. We were tasked to make presentations about the HGC; our group intervention asked for a Council that would recognize the fullness of the ecclesial body, including priests and laity, which of course, would include women.”

Consultants/advisors do not speak at the Council, but there were meetings of the delegations where all their members can fully participate in open discussion.

Dr. Elizabeth Prodromou is working on a document with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on the right and Archbishop Anastasios of Albania at left. 

“That there are women here speaks to the visionary leadership of His All Holiness is…I would wager that his was a position not easily embraced by some; after all, consider that we are only three women in the entirety of all the delegations. He is a leader who expresses his commitment to recovering, sustaining, and enlivening the fullness of the ecclesial body--to put it in the vernacular, he practices what he preaches,” said Prodromou who added that the Patriarch’s inclusion of women in the delegation sends an important message about women in the life of the Church, a message for all to hear. 

And she agrees that by convening the HGC even with the regrettable absence of some Autocephalous Churches who had committed to come to the HGC, this Council sent a hopeful message that Councils at all levels of the Church must include laity, with this precedent of including women, as well. 

Prodromou was deeply moved by the way the Council was conducted. “What we have experienced these last days is the extraordinary possibilities flowing from the authenticity of the conciliar approach: the Council unfolded with free flowing, highly spirited, impassioned discussion about the Church as a living church, and as many have emphasized, as a global Church in the 21st century.”

She noted the inspiring voices of what can be understood as Orthodoxy’s mission churches--in Albania, the Americas, and Africa--who emphasized the importance of the Church as a global ecclesial body, moving beyond the terminology of "diaspora." The Church of Cyprus and the Church of Alexandria also spoke eloquently, echoing this message and mindset of globality. She noted that she heard Archbishop Demetrios’ reflections as "a compelling encapsulation of America as a microcosm of the reality of the Orthodox Church as a global church, with diversity within our unity and within a reality of enormous religious pluralism." 

“It is very important for the Church in America, the Assembly of Bishops, to be in the forefront of the issues of participation of women… in the U.S. there exist the sociological and ecclesial conditions for the full embrace of women and their role in the daily life of the Church,” she said. 

Asked about discussion regarding the female diaconate, Prodromou said this was not an issue discussed at the Council.  Nevertheless, there is now a trajectory for women to participate in future HGCs, and Prodromou emphasized "the importance of the Church in America committing to the loving, respectful, and expansive inclusion of women in the life of the Church."  She added, "we can, we must, set an example, without fear or hesitation. This is critical for the present, and especially, for the future, vitality of all of us as Church."

Prodromou said that she participates in the life of the Church "in any way that I can and, certainly, in terms of my daily life” - which she exercises in the context of family life with her husband, Professor, Dr. Alexandros Kyrou, and their young daughter Sophia – “and through my professional commitments. It’s my Orthodox conscience that informs all that I do.”

Prodromou has been very active in Washington, DC, the center of policy debates that impact the Orthodox world. After completing eight years of diplomatic service on the U.S. Commission of International Religious Freedom, then, from 2011-15 she served on the U.S. Secretary of State’s Working Group on Religion and Foreign Policy. 

She remains active on particular issues related to Christians in the Middle East and is working on a number of publications. Prodromou co-edited with Fr. Nathaniel Symeonides, Director of the Office of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations at the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, a special edition of the prestigious journal The Review of Faith and International Affairs, dedicated to Orthodox Christianity and humanitarianism – the first time an entire issue was dedicated to Orthodoxy.


From Lesbos to Crete: The Orthodox Church and It’s Commitment to the World

by V. Rev. Dr. Archimandrite Nathanael Symeonides

In just a few hours, Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew—the religious leaders of the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Churches—will once again have the opportunity to embrace each other as brothers in Christ. Since the Great Schism of 1054, which marked the division between the Church of the West and the Church of the East, the spiritual leaders of the Churches of Rome and Constantinople have met on twenty-two times. This doesn’t come as a surprise until one considers that prior to the schism between East and West, the two Primates only met on three occasions!

The road to reconciliation between the two Churches was largely paved by His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, who, in 1964 invited Pope Paul VI to meet in Jerusalem after centuries typically marked by isolation and mistrust between the two Churches. The meeting in Jerusalem sparked a new era of dialogue, cooperation, and love between the two Churches. Evidence that the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches were committed to overcoming the differences that kept them from the “common cup” came a year later, when both the Churches of Constantinople and Rome lifted from the memory of the Church the common anathemas declared in 1054. Much more work was still needed for the two bodies to be joined once again.

Since his election in 1991 as the 270th Archbishop of Constantinople, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has worked tirelessly to build bridges between East and West. During his tenure as Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew has met with the Pope of Rome on sixteen separate occasions; he has met with Popes John Paul II, Pope Benedict, and Pope Francis. What is important to note about these meetings is that they represent far more than formal occasions to exchange gifts and good tidings, and they are certainly diachronic, transcending beyond the daily news cycle.

Since 2013, marking the election of Pope Francis as the chief-shepherd of the Church of Rome, both Francis and Bartholomew have become even more committed to the dialogue between their two Churches. Indeed, their actions lead one to believe that they have made a conscious decision to pivot and shift the dialogue from one primarily focused on the theology of words to a dialogue concentrating on the theology of deeds.

This is perhaps first seen in 2014, when Francis and Bartholomew met with Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas in Rome and encouraged them to find ways to bring about peace in the Middle East. The new dialogue of praxis is also recognized in the Ecumenical Patriarch’s and the Pope’s concern about the environment; for the first time in history, a Pope directly cites an Ecumenical Patriarch in a Papal Encyclical—Laudato Si’.

When the Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch meet on the Greek island of Lesbos to express their prayerful solidarity and concern for the migrants and refugees that have fled their homelands in the Middle East, they will once again convey a message to the world. This time, however, the message will not only come via a common declaration, but will more importantly be expressed through their common initiative. Like Christ, the Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch will approach and embrace those who are on the margins; they will give hope to the hopeless; they will praise the peacemakers; and they will commend the humanitarians.

Their work together on the island of Lesbos will not come to a close upon their departure. Both men understand the need for a common Christian response to ongoing humanitarian crises around the world—Lesbos represents just one example, albeit an acute one. The two Churches have much work to do in order to provide an appropriate response to such pressing conditions.

In June, on yet another Greek Island (Crete), Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew will convene the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church. The Holy Council represents a singular opportunity for the Church to reaffirm that the Christian faith is one that invites individuals and communities to care for the world, especially for the downtrodden, marginalized, and afflicted. The Council’s agenda will include such topics as “The Importance of Fasting and its Observance Today,” “Relations of the Orthodox Church and the Rest of the Christian World,” and “The Mission of the Orthodox Church in Today’s World.”

Many are hopeful that the Holy and Great Council will provide the faithful the guidance and clarity needed to navigate today’s turbulent waters. In this respect, the Council’s Decisions will play a pivotal role in the internal life and governance of the Church for years to come. At the same time, however, the Council will be convened to help us look beyond ourselves, to refine our focus on the condition of the world around us, and to respond to sighs of those in need.

Recognizing the importance and need for the Orthodox Church to meet in Council, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has remained committed to the conciliar process. After centuries, the Orthodox Church will experience once again a more profound degree of conciliar life, and in so doing, it will have the opportunity to form unified and universal vision concerning the nature of the Church, namely, that while the Church may indeed not be of the world, it never ceases to function in the world, and certainly always exists for the salvation of the world.

Call to Conscience: Orthodoxy and the Environment

His All-Holiness is in Paris for a major preparatory meeting organized by President Francois Hollande, who will host the international climate change meeting in Paris (COP 21) later this year. Fr. John Chryssavgis, who works for the Ecumenical Office of our Archdiocese, is accompanying him and was asked to deliver a brief introduction to the work of the Ecumenical Patriarch. His remarks follow below:


For over two decades, the world has witnessed alarming ecological degradation, a widening gap between rich and poor, and increasing failure to implement environmental policies. During the very time that we should have been acting, we have only been talking.

During the same period, HAH Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew discerned the signs of the times and called people’s attention to the ecological crisis. I don’t know if any other religious leader has made the environment the central plate in his pastoral ministry and spiritual worldview. He has persistently proclaimed the primacy of ethical values in determining environmental action. And his endeavors have earned him the title “Green Patriarch.”

Since 1988, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has sounded the alarm about the climate change crisis. Since 1989, it invited Orthodox Christians throughout the world to reserve September 1st as a day of prayer for environmental protection; numerous Christian communions have followed suit, encouraged by the World Council of Churches and the Conference of European Churches. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew organized eight interfaith and inter-disciplinary symposia from 1995-1009: in the Aegean Sea and the Black Sea, along the Danube River and in the Adriatic Sea, in the Baltic Sea and on the Amazon River, as well as in the Arctic and on the Mississippi River. Since 2012, he has organized international summits assembling scientists and academics, intellectuals and artists, politicians and activists.

In 2002, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope John Paul II co-signed the “Venice Declaration,” the first joint environmental statement by two world religious leaders. And this year, Pope Francis generously highlighted the Patriarch’s pioneering leadership in his encyclical Laudato Si’.

For Patriarch Bartholomew, responding to global warming is a matter of truthfulness to God, humanity, and creation. As early as 1997, he dared to condemn environmental abuse as sin! He has widely and repeatedly proclaimed that the environment is not a political or technological issue but a religious and spiritual challenge. Climate change is an existential crisis for the planet, for its resources and species, including humankind.

Today, alarms are sounding off in every religious community, in every scientific discipline, in every corner of the globe. Why, then, are we so slow in responding? When will we actually dare to make changes – in our hearts as in our communities, in our politics as in our markets? Why are we still . . . just talking?

Paris, July 21, 2015

Bartholomew and the Environment: Nature, Orthodoxy, and Global Leadership

As the 270th successor to the Apostle Andrew, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch, His All Holiness Bartholomew I is the first among equals among all Orthodox Patriarchs and Primates and the spiritual leader of approximately 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide.  According to the seminal work on Bartholomew and the environment, Cosmic Grace, Humble Prayer: The Ecological Vision of the Green Patriarch Bartholomew, by Rev. Fr. John Chryssavgis, from the moment of Bartholomew’s enthronement at the Patriarchal Cathedral in the Phanar on November 2, 1991, “Patriarch Bartholomew outlined the dimensions of his leadership and vision within the Orthodox Church: the vigilant education in matters of theology, liturgy, and spirituality; the strengthening of Orthodox unity and cooperation; the continuation of ecumenical engagements with other Christian churches and confessions; the intensification of interreligious dialogue for peaceful coexistence; and the initiation of discussion and action for the protection of the environment against pollution and destruction.  Perhaps no other church leader in history has emphasized ecumenical dialogue and communication as a primary intention of his tenure.  Certainly, no other church leader in history has brought environmental issues to the foreground, indeed to the very center of personal and ecclesiastical attention."

Capitalizing on the pan-Orthodox, interfaith, and international network of relationships and influence that Bartholomew had established for the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople through his tireless work in the World Council of Churches in the 1970s and 1980s, the newly enthroned Patriarch put his ecological vision into practice.  In less than one month after assuming the Patriarchal throne, Bartholomew initiated and convened an international ecological summit on Crete.  Under the title “Living in the Creation of the Lord,” the gathering was opened by His Royal Highness Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and International Chairman of the World Wiildlife Fund for Nature, who, despite his conversion to the Anglican Church as a condition of his marriage to the future Queen Elizabeth of England in 1947, has remained connected to the Orthodox Church in which he was originally baptized on Corfu as a member of the Greek royal family. 

The bond of Orthodoxy and a shared purpose helped seal a friendship between Patriarch Bartholomew and Prince Philip that soon led to active cooperation for the preservation of the environment and a higher European profile for the Patriarchate.  In the summer of 1992, Prince Philip accepted an invitation to visit the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and participate in an environmental seminar at Halki organized by Bartholomew.  In November 1993, Patriarch Bartholomew met with Prince Philip in Buckingham Palace at the latter’s official invitation.

Underscoring the growing influence of the Patriarch’s ecological message in government and other centers of secular power, in April 1994, Bartholomew was invited to speak before the European Commission in Brussels.  The Patriarch’s speech marked the first time that a figure who was not a state leader or politician had been asked to address the European Commission. 

Convinced that Orthodoxy’s efforts to respond to global environmental issues must take place within a corresponding global dialogue with other Christian churches, non-Christian religious traditions, government and non-governmental bodies, and scientific and other disciplines, Patriarch Bartholomew established the Patriarchate’s Religious and Scientific Committee in 1994.  Officially chaired by Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon, Greece's most prominent theologian, and coordinated by the Patriarchal advisor, Maria Becket, the Religious and Scientific Committee has convened eight international, interdisciplinary, and interreligious symposia since its founding.  In addition, His All Holiness has also hosted several innovative and distinguished summer seminars in Turkey, including the recently completed June 8-10, 2015, Halki Summit II, dedicated to “Theology, Ecology and the Word.”     

Patriarch Bartholomew’s symposia have gathered environmentalists, journalists, writers, intellectuals, policy-makers, representatives of the world’s main religious faiths, and scientists in an effort to draw global attention to the plight, in particular, of the world’s rivers and seas.  Symposium delegates generally meet in plenary sessions, workshops, and briefings that bring them into cooperative contact with prominent authorities on environmental, economic, social, ethical, and policy issues.  All symposia take place in the specific environmental sites under investigation, thereby placing participants directly into the field to see firsthand the reality of the problems confronting them.

The First Religion, Science and Environment Symposium, “Revelation and the Environment,” took place in September 1995, under the joint auspices of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Prince Philip.  Establishing the model for future conclaves, Fr. Chryssavgis notes “travelling through the Aegean, the two hundred participants of this symposium 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.”   

Two years later, the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Second Symposium, “The Black Sea in Crisis,” was cosponsored by the European Commission.  It was also in 1997, during an official Patriarchal visit to the United States, that Bartholomew was admiringly dubbed the “Green Patriarch” by Vice President Al Gore, who would himself be famously inspired to new levels of environmental activism by the Patriarch’s example.  Vice-President Gore’s endearing appellation for Bartholomew was immediately popularized as a kind of shorthand in media and policy circles to identify Bartholomew as the world’s preeminent religious leader in the protection of the environment.  The label, “Green Patriarch,” is now ubiquitous when describing Bartholomew precisely because he has come to be seen by so many statesmen and other influential figures as the world’s moral conscience on the environment.

As a direct result of the 1997 Black Sea symposium, the Halki Ecological Institute was organized in 1999, “in order to promote and provide wider regional collaboration and education among some seventy-five clergy and theologians, educators and students, as well as scientists and journalists.  This educational initiative marked a new direction in the interdisciplinary vision and dialogue concerning the environment, seeking to implement the principles of the ecological vision determined by the Religious and Scientific Committee by turning theory into practice,” according to Fr. Chryssavgis.

Encouraged by Patriarch Bartholomew’s imaginative and constructive efforts, the European Commission cemented its collaborative relationship with the Ecumenical Patriarchate through subsequent symposia on the Danube River in 1999, the Adriatic Sea in 2002, and the Baltic Sea in 2003.  In July 2006, the Patriarch inaugurated the first New World symposium, “The Amazon: Source of Life,” which attracted the joint support of the United Nations.  The Seventh Religion, Science and Environment Symposium, “The Arctic—Mirror of Life,” saw both the European Commission and the United Nations lend their patronage to Bartholomew’s crucial case-study initiative. 

Held in Greenland, in September 2007, where the Ecumenical Patriarch was joined by Denmark’s Princess Irene and over 100 environmentalists, journalists, and scientists, as well as Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Protestant, Roman Catholic, Shiite, Shinto, and Sunni religious leaders, Bartholomew directed the seventh symposium’s attention to the Arctic Sea and the imminent dangers of global warming.  Underscoring the depth and expanse, as well as the remarkable intersection of faith and science, characteristic of Bartholomew’s symposia, the Arctic conclave participants “considered the suffering of the indigenous populations, the fragility of the sea ice, and the encroachment of oil exploration in a region considered to be one of the first victims of human-induced climate change.  Delegates visited areas where the impact of melting ice is already clear… There, the assembled religious leaders of various faiths and disciplines joined in prayer for the protection and preservation of the planet,” notes Fr. Chryssavgis.              

The Ecumenical Patriarch’s Eighth Religion, Science and Environment Symposium, “The Great Mississippi River: Restoring Balance,” took place in New Orleans, in October 2009.  Returning to Louisiana for the first time since his January 2006 visit to witness the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Bartholomew led approximately 200 participants, including business, community, government, and religious leaders, environmentalists, journalists, and scientists, in discussions and workshops which explored solutions to the Mississippi River’s environmental problems.  

As in all past symposia, in New Orleans, Bartholomew conducted a blessing, the Aghiasmos, of the waters.  Symbolically sprinkling the Mississippi River with Holy Water, Bartholomew performed the Service of Sanctification as a sign of promise and hope in the future.  The purpose of such blessings is not limited to symbolism.  In fact, what has set Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew apart from other global leaders involved in ecology is his unprecedented and profound influence in recalibrating environmental awareness in ways that aim to restore spirituality and religion as centerpieces in the protection of the planet, the first major religious leader to do so on a global level.

Indeed, Bartholomew’s approach to ecology, like his recognition of the social injustices and inequities produced by environmental degradation, is predicated upon and proceeds from Orthodox theology.  For Bartholomew, the environment is not only an economic, political, social, or technological issue it is primarily a religious and spiritual matter.   

The binding unity and continuity that humans share with all of God’s creation is axiomatic of Orthodox beliefs and worldview.  According to its philosophy, expressed through the instructive narrative of cosmology, Orthodox Christianity views both the Fall into the imperfect state and redemption through Christ’s salvation as extending to all of creation, humanity and nature alike.  Consequently, Christ’s redemptive purpose was undertaken not just for the sake of mankind—it was undertaken for the renewal of all of creation, to reconcile heaven and earth and to restore and reunite God, humanity, and the universe, ending the estrangement and disintegration produced by the Fall of man.             

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s many encyclicals, as well as actual work, on the environment, beginning one quarter of a century ago, have expressed and brought to life the centrality of ancient, early Christian thought on ecology that is a fixture of Orthodoxy.  Such thought is inseparable from belief in a kind of knowledge that is contemplative and spiritual.  Such heuristic openness, in fact, enables Orthodoxy to value science and mystery as complementary.  Conversely, Western modernity’s dogmatism and faith in only the principles of inferential rationality, which characterize materialist science, reject the very possibility of contemplative, spiritual awareness and knowledge that is at the heart of Orthodoxy.  Yet, the origins of Western secular materialist thought can be traced directly to the intellectual consequences produced by medieval Roman Catholicism’s deviations from, and, Early Modern Protestantism’s distortions of, original Christian, i.e. Orthodox, theology. 

It is worth noting, after all, that rationalist, unbridled science-driven Western modernity has produced the ecological crisis that threatens the world’s extinction, while “environmentalism,” as a response to this crisis, did not begin with scientific study but with contemplative, creative reflections on the mystery and beauty of nature.  Indeed, the antecedents to environmentalism are to be found in the sympathetic, ethereal, non-materialist knowledge of nature expressed in the writings of nineteenth-century Russian authors such as Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, who, regardless of their sometimes contentious personal relationships with the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church, were intrinsically and deeply influenced by Orthodoxy.  Equally instrumental were the works of the Russians’ Western European counterpart poets and painters of Romanticism, as well as their contemporaries in the New World, the American naturalists and writers such as Emerson and Thoreau, who, ironically and unwittingly, in their move away from the conventions of Western Christianity articulated select ideas associated with Eastern Orthodoxy.

In the final analysis, the West altered and distorted Christian theology to produce an alternative worldview and an essentially adversarial, rapacious approach to nature.   Western Christianity fostered a contemptuous and arrogant attitude toward the environment.  Indeed, the Western Christian traditions promoted the materialist notion that nature had been created by God to be conquered, ruled over, and exploited by man.  Once folded into the physical power of science and the unforeseeable, uncontrollable results of technology, this deeply embedded philosophical outlook and corresponding set of values unleashed the ravaging of the earth that has led to the world’s present environmental crisis.  Only very recently have some Western Christian churches acknowledged the folly of this thinking and begun to reevaluate their theological engagement with, and public positions on, the environment.

Conversely, Orthodoxy has always understood nature not as a commodity to be subdued and consumed, but as a sacred place and medium, or as Patriarch Bartholomew is well known for saying: “The world is not meant to be used by humans for their own purposes, but is the means whereby humans come into relationship with God.”  Indeed, in the Orthodox view, the sanctity of the earth is affirmed by its connection between our Creator and His creation.  Therefore, human beings are to act as the stewards of nature, to revere and protect the world.  This view, of course, rejects both Western extremes: the religious outlook that historically placed man above nature; and the current misanthropy of stridently secular environmentalist movements, which insist that humanity is merely an undistinguishable part of the environmental whole, ultimately no different than fauna or fish.  Orthodoxy, instead, asserts that humanity has both an integral and a central, pivotal role in nature.  In short, mankind’s presence should be in balance with the natural world while its unique role is as admirer and guardian of all of creation. 

In his initiatives to raise awareness and find solutions to ecological suffering, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has emphasized the importance of spiritualism and theology that is righteous in its harmony with the world.  In this sense, inasmuch as some religious currents in the past were instrumental in forming the roots underlying the environmental crisis in the present, spiritualism and theology should and can contribute to the resolution of those problems in the future.  By putting forward the relevance of Orthodox theology as a way of understanding nature and man’s responsibilities to the environment, as well as the Orthodox way of life as the practical spiritual means by which to protect the ecological order, Bartholomew has implicitly extended a humble but brilliant message of reconciliation and ecumenism between faiths.  Likewise, by explicitly calling on us to recognize and embrace the unity of nature and humanity, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew affirms the immutable beauty, harmony, and universal importance of Orthodox Christianity for the entire world.                

Dr. Alexandros K. Kyrou is Professor of History at Salem State University in Salem, Massachusetts, where he teaches on the Balkans, Byzantium, and the Ottoman Empire.

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