Entries with tag environment .

Prayers for our Planet: World Day of Prayer for Care of Creation

Photo Credit: Catholic News Service photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters

Over the past few centuries, human activities have contributed to more environmental degradation than ever before in history. Pollution is raising the planet’s core temperature, tainting what little clean drinking water remains, and rendering air unbreathable. Melting ice caps, ocean acidification, and disappearing coral reefs are just a few more effects of pollution and climate change. Constant wars and irresponsible mining techniques are shaking the earth’s plates causing earthquakes and watershed destruction in the most unnatural places. Corporations and other businesses are aggressively trying to buy and control the remaining clean water sources, and, therefore, effectively 70-80% of your body which is made of water. I know what you’re thinking:  this guy is a downer! And you’re right, this topic is bleak. But it’s a situation that we humans have created, which means it’s a situation that we humans have the power to mend.

There are too many great organizations and individuals who have dedicated their lives to mitigating environmental destruction to mention in one blog post. Therefore, this occasion will focus on the work of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, a trail blazer in the area of environmental protection. Rather than bore you with lengthy paragraphs, though, here is a simple timeline of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s major contributions over the past three decades:

1986 – The 3rd Pre-Synodal Pan-Orthodox Conference in Chambésy expressed concern for the abuse of the natural environment, especially in affluent western societies.

1988 – “Revelation and the Future of Humanity” conference recommends the Ecumenical Patriarchate designate one day each year for the protection of the natural environment.

1989 – Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios publishes first encyclical letter on the environment, proclaiming September 1st the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation.

1990 – Monk Gerasimos Mikrayiannanites composes a service of supplication for the environment.

1991 – Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew convenes ecological gathering entitled, “Living in the Creation of the Lord.”

1992 – The Orthodox Christian Primates endorse September 1st as a day of pan-Orthodox prayer for the environment.

1992 – The Duke of Edinburgh visits the Ecumenical Patriarchate for an environmental convocation at the Theological School of Halki.

1993 – Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew visits the Duke of Edinburgh at Buckingham Palace where they sealed a friendship of common purpose and active cooperation for the preservation of the environment.

1994 – Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew convenes ecological gathering at the Theological School of Halki on the environment and religious education.

1994 – Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew establishes the Religious and Scientific Committee (RSC) for dialogue with Christian confessions, other religious faiths, as well as scientific disciplines.

1995 – Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew convenes ecological gathering at the Theological School of Halki on the environment and ethics.

1995 – The RSC, through Ms. Maria Becket’s coordination, hosts Symposium I entitled Revelation and Environment under the auspices of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Prince Philip.

1996 – Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew convenes ecological gathering at the Theological School of Halki on the environment and communications.

1997 – Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew convenes ecological gathering at the Theological School of Halki on the environment and justice.

1997 - The RSC, through Ms. Maria Becket’s coordination, hosts Symposium II entitled The Black Sea in Crisis under the auspices of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and H.E. Jacques Santer, President of the European Commission.

1998 – Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew convenes ecological gathering at the Theological School of Halki on the environment and poverty.

1999 – The Halki Ecological Institute is created for inter-disciplinary vision and dialogue, implementing the ecological theory of the Religious and Scientific Committee into practice.

1999 – The RSC, through Ms. Maria Becket’s coordination, hosts Symposium III entitled River of Life – Down the Danube to the Black Sea under the auspices of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and H.E. Romano Prodi, President of the European Commission.

2002 – The RSC, through Ms. Maria Becket’s coordination, hosts Symposium IV entitled The Adriatic Sea – a Sea at Risk, a Unity of Purpose under the auspices of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and H.E. Romano Prodi, President of the European Commission.

2002 – Pope John Paul II and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew co-signed a document of environmental ethics entitled the “Venice Declaration.”

2003 – The RSC, through Ms. Maria Becket’s coordination, hosts Symposium V entitled The Baltic Sea – A Common Heritage, A Shared Responsibility under the auspices of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and H.E. Romano Prodi, President of the European Commission.

2003 – The Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Church of Norway co-sponsor the North Sea Conference.

2006 – The RSC, through Ms. Maria Becket’s coordination, hosts Symposium VI entitled The Amazon: Source of Life under the auspices of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and H.E. Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations.

2007 – The RSC, through Ms. Maria Becket’s coordination, hosts Symposium VII entitled The Arctic – Mirror of Life under the auspices of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, H.E. Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations, and H.E. Jose Barroso, President of the European Commission.

2008 – The World Council of Churches recognizes the leadership of the Orthodox Church and designates an annual “Time for Creation” from September 1st to October 4th.

2009 – The RSC, through Ms. Maria Becket’s coordination, hosts Symposium VIII entitled The Great Mississippi River: Restoring Balance under the auspices of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

2012 – The Ecumenical Patriarchate and Southern New Hampshire University convene Halki Summit I at the Theological School of Halki to address the environment and business.

2015 – The Ecumenical Patriarchate and Southern New Hampshire University convene Halki Summit II at the Theological School of Halki to address the environment and literature.

2015 – Pope Francis recognizes the September 1st World Day of Prayer for Care of Creation and designates it for the Roman Catholic Church, as well.

2018 – Stay tuned for the next great event, namely a symposium.

The most basic takeaways from these initiatives as well as other publications include: 1) all people from every discipline and every sector must work together to save the planet; 2) moderation of all people everywhere is essential; and 3) we must continuously build a loving relationship with our planet, being ever cautious not to exploit her.

In conclusion, it’s worth mentioning that just this morning, continuing on this long history and in celebration of the mutually recognized World Day of Prayer for Care of Creation, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis released a joint statement reaffirming the need for all people to be stewards of creation rather than lords over creation:

Our propensity to interrupt the world’s delicate and balanced ecosystems, our voracity to manipulate and control the planet’s limited resources, and our rapacity for limitless profit in markets – all these have alienated us from the original purpose of creation. We no longer respect nature as a shared gift; instead we regard it as a private possession. We no longer associate with nature in order to sustain it; instead, we lord over it to support our own constructs … [w]e urgently appeal to those in positions of social and economic, as well as political and cultural responsibility to hear the cry of the earth and to attend to the needs of the marginalized, but above all to respond to the plea of millions and to support the consensus of the world for the healing of our wounded creation.

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.

Bartholomew and the Environment: The Origins and Background of the “Green Patriarch”

It may seem remarkable and even inexplicable to many that a religious leader would be so involved, as has been His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I, in addressing the world’s environmental crisis.  After all, the public policy responses to this looming problem have been dominated by the secular commercial, political, and scientific actors whose past actions have been directly responsible for setting into motion the current environmental disorder.  Nonetheless, an understanding of Orthodox Christianity’s theology and attendant worldview reveals a spiritual and intellectual intimacy between faith and environment.  Likewise, recognition of the extraordinary yet humble dedication and service to God, humanity, and all of creation that characterizes the spiritual, intellectual, and ecclesiastical life of Patriarch Bartholomew underscores why this particular Church leader has also become a world leader, a pioneering visionary in the protection of nature.    

Several studies have been published in the last decade that offer us impressive histories of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s writing and work in advancing global environmental awareness and action.  Two seminal works stand out as perhaps the most important among these sources: the 2011 volume authored by His All Holiness and edited by Rev. Fr. John Chryssavgis, On Earth as in Heaven: Ecological Initiatives of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the third and final volume in a series of collected writings by Patriarch Bartholomew; and the 2009 publication of Fr. Chryssavgis’ book, Cosmic Grace, Humble Prayer: The Ecological Vision of the Green Patriarch Bartholomew, which provides us with a clear view of the life and labors of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.  Both of these meticulously assembled volumes blend reflective, original writing with impressive collections of primary materials that reflect Bartholomew’s vision and work on the environment.   

As example, despite the enormity and wealth of the book’s primary sources, Fr. Chryssavgis’ Cosmic Grace is not merely a linear collection of Patriarch Bartholomew’s pronouncements on the environment.  In this publication, like On Earth as in Heaven, we can see how Bartholomew has for decades moved past mere encyclicals that urge others to take up the hard work of protecting nature to championing that responsibility himself.  Indeed, through his introduction in Cosmic Grace, Fr. Chryssavgis (a priest of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and the theological advisor to the Ecumenical Patriarch on environmental issues) has written an invaluable contextualization of Bartholomew’s thoughts and actual labors as they relate to ecology.  In short, Fr. Chryssavgis successfully discusses Orthodox theology’s understanding of ecology and thus presents us with a useful primer for reading and interpreting Bartholomew’s documents and record of accomplishment on the environment.  Fr. Chryssavgis’ work is also notable for its excellent biographical sketch of Bartholomew, one that goes beyond achievements and accolades to reveal the Ecumenical Patriarch’s human face. 

Patriarch Bartholomew was born Demetrios Archontonis on February 29, 1940, to parents Christos and Merope, natives of the modest village of Aghios Theodoros (Zeytinili Koyu) on the northern Aegean island of Imbros (Gokceada).  Situated near the entry to the Dardanelles, Imbros, despite its historically homogeneous Greek population, was awarded to Turkey on strategic grounds by the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne.  Before the Turkish state’s ethnic cleansing of Imbros, beginning in earnest in the 1940s, the young Demetrios’ island was home to over 10,000 ethnic Greeks, who have been reduced to fewer than 300 today.  Indeed, before their obliteration in the 1960s and 1970s, Imbros’ Greek farming, fishing, and winemaking villages formed thirteen small but vibrant communities throughout the island.  Imbros’ villages and its countryside were long revered for their spiritual aesthetic and for their outpouring of men of faith and leadership, including the island’s native son, the late Archbishop Iakovos, godfather of Demetrios Archontonis. 

Demonstrating an extraordinary brilliance at a very early age, after attending elementary school in Imbros, Demetrios completed his secondary education at the Istanbul Greek community’s famous Zographeion Lyceum.  Driven by his faith, a deep and abiding love of the Orthodox Church, and a kindness that his contemporaries uniformly described as humbling, as well as perhaps the ennobling example of his godfather—Iakovos, the future Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America—Demetrios pursued his undergraduate training at the Patriarchal Theological School of Halki, the seminary of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.  In 1961, Demetrios graduated from Halki with honors and was ordained in August of that same year to the deaconate, receiving the ecclesiastical name Bartholomew.

After fulfilling his obligatory military service in the Turkish army as a reserve officer between 1961 and 1963, Bartholomew went to Europe to pursue postgraduate studies.  From 1963 to 1968, Bartholomew began his scholarly research with a series of prestigious appointments at the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich, the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey in Switzerland, and the Pontifical Oriental Institute of the Gregorian University in Rome.  Completing his doctorate on Canon Law in Rome, Bartholomew, whose command of languages includes English, French, German, Greek, Italian, Latin, and Turkish, taught as a lecturer at the Pontifical Oriental Institute before returning to Turkey, where in 1969 he was ordained to the priesthood.                                 

Shortly before Bartholomew’s ordination, he entered the faculty at the Theological School of Halki by appointment under Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I.  Bartholomew held his teaching position until 1971, when, in a blatant act of religious persecution, the Turkish authorities forcibly closed Halki.  During the tenure of Athenagoras’ successor, Ecumenical Patriarch Demetrios I, from 1972 to 1991, Bartholomew served as director of the newly established Office of the Ecumenical Patriarch, and in 1973 he was elected Metropolitan of Philadelphia in Asia Minor. 

In his capacity as a representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, Bartholomew participated throughout those years of service in the General Assemblies of the World Council of Churches, serving at different times as Vice-Chairman of the Faith and Order Commission, as well as working on its Central and Executive Committees.  This almost two-decade period was critical for the formative development of the environmental sensitivity of this influential international organization, and for affording Bartholomew a global platform and network to initiate the articulation of his ecological vision. 

In 1990, in recognition of his accomplishments, Bartholomew was elected Metropolitan of Chalcedon, the most senior position among the bishops of the Holy and Sacred Synod of Constantinople.  In October 1991, following the death of Patriarch Demetrios, Bartholomew was elected Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.  Immediately after his enthronement in November of that same year, Bartholomew inaugurated a new phase in his longstanding dedication to actualizing Orthodoxy’s understanding and commitment to environmental stewardship.  Bartholomew’s record of global environmental leadership and the Orthodox theology underpinning the Ecumenical Patriarch’s initiatives in this area will be the focus of this blog’s next essay.

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


Appropriation Without Attribution: The Problem of the Western Narrative, and the Pope’s Encyclical on the Environment

The late British scholar Romilly James Heald Jenkins, one of the West’s leading postwar Medieval historians, who occupied the prestigious Chair as Koraes Professor of Modern Greek and Byzantine History, Language and Literature at King’s College in London and was Professor of Byzantine History and Language at Dumbarton Oaks, famously observed that Western views and attitudes towards Byzantium and the Orthodox world were “dictated first by ignorance and second by prejudice,” while also noting that “the West’s long-enduring hatred of Byzantium is plainly discernible.”  One of the legacies of that historic Western enmity towards Byzantium has been the construction of a distinctly Western narrative that has largely expunged Byzantium and Orthodoxy from the history of Europe. 

Teaching Byzantine history and civilization to American university students, as I have for more than two decades, poses certain unique challenges.  Most Americans, including most Greek Americans, have little or no accurate and meaningful knowledge of Byzantium and the Medieval Orthodox world.  Furthermore, they come to Byzantine history with a Western-centric (meaning Western European/originally Western Christian) narrative with which they have been thoroughly inculcated by both their formal educations and by Western cultural experience that complicates their study of Byzantium.  These influences produce students who, through no fault of their own, are not only unaware of Byzantium’s seminal place in history, but are handicapped by centuries-old Western narratives that are rooted in an historic hostility towards Byzantium, one that is uncritically, unwittingly parroted by even the most well intentioned, but uninformed, teachers and professors. 

Again, one of the byproducts of this hostility—originating in the Medieval West’s sense of cultural inferiority and lack of political legitimacy vis-à-vis Byzantium, and compounded by the historical ignorance and religious prejudices of the Western Enlightenment—has been the construction of a Western grand narrative that is not entirely accurate.  This Western narrative is premised upon a distorted and fatuous history of the West itself at the expense of, and juxtaposed against, the “East” (with the East, meaning, depending on the shifting needs of the West, any part of the world not rooted in a Western Christian past), beginning with the West’s rivalry and aggression against Byzantium and Eastern Christianity.  This discourse—both religious and secular in its expression—explicitly and implicitly elevates the West in all its forms (its churches, states, societies, institutions, practices, cultures, and ideas) as superior, always first, original, more innovative, and more important than the imagined East in all its forms (Orthodox, Muslim, Asian, Russian, Middle Eastern, “Oriental,” etc.).     

Because of the false history produced by the Western narrative—the bedrock of a modern education—one of the first challenges confronting those who teach Byzantine history is how to help students deconstruct and break through the distorted discourse that is a basic part of their educations and cultural baggage.  The goal of such teaching is not to substitute an Eastern-centric narrative that belittles the West for the Western-centric narrative that belittles the East.  Instead, the goal is to recognize and tackle bias, prejudice, and falsehoods in order to form a more accurate and rigorous understanding of both Byzantium and the West.  Likewise, by deconstructing the West’s prevarications and myths about itself and Byzantium, students can more effectively evaluate how those myths and erroneous histories resonate across time and continue to influence and distort our perception of the world in the present. 

The cherished, unquestioned canards that permeate the Western narrative and that have been repeated over many centuries through Western Christianity, culture, and “learning” are simply too extensive to review here, they are legion.  Nonetheless, to offer correctives to just a few widely accepted fabrications that are important to the Western narrative against Byzantium and Orthodoxy, one might consider the following: the Roman Empire did not fall nor end in the fifth century; the Roman Empire was not restored by Charlemagne in the ninth century; Greek and Roman civilization, classical knowledge, and literacy did not disappear during the Middle Ages; medicine, philosophy, and Greek literature were not preserved only by the Arab Muslims to be ultimately transferred to the West by Moorish Spain; the Bishop of Rome (later pope) had no authority over the Christian Church beyond the territorial jurisdiction of his ecclesiastical See in the Western part of the Roman Empire; the Early Church was not organized under any one, centralized hierarchical authority; and the Orthodox Church was not a schismatic offshoot of Roman Catholicism.

In addition to altering the historical record, part of the logic of the Western grand narrative has been to appropriate advancements from the East without attribution.  The most recent example of this phenomenon is Pope Francis’ recent encyclical on the environment, climate change, and human society.  Indeed, the already neatly packaged media consensus on the Pope’s formal pronouncements on the environment demonstrates the enduring power of the Western narrative to shape public discourse and perception.  Likewise, it also provides us with a remarkable example of how this narrative, even no longer with active intention, continues to diminish Eastern Christianity’s contributions and role in the world.

Pope Francis’ much-anticipated June 18 encyclical, Laudato Si (“Praise Be to You”), calls for immediate unified global action to confront the environmental degradation of the planet produced by rapacious profiteering, apathy, and a blind faith in reckless technology.  The Pope’s encyclical drew from multiple sources, including prominently the writing and work of his friend and brother-in-Christ, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, His All Holiness Bartholomew I.  This is not surprising given the fact that during the 1990s Bartholomew became the first major international religious leader to systematically link theology to environmental problems and policy on a global level, an issue that he has continued to tirelessly advance and for which he has been recognized as a world leader for the last quarter century.  Indeed, Bartholomew’s pioneering initiatives on the protection of the natural environment—marked by international, interfaith, and interdisciplinary symposia and summits—began years before faith-based environmental movements in the West became political and fashionable.    

Despite Francis’ laudable and appropriate acknowledgment of the original and seminal role played by Bartholomew in promoting a Christian understanding of, and approach to, the environmental crisis of the present, the media generally ignored this attribution in Laudato Si and in the background reporting on Christianity and the environment.  Instead, the media has been quick to develop a distorted narrative that puts Francis in the role as the first major international religious leader to link theology to environmental issues.  In short, the inexorable force of the Western narrative has already produced a distorted story about religion, innovation, leadership, and originality that sidelines Orthodoxy and that presents Orthodoxy’s theology, language, ideas, and actions as Roman Catholic, as Western—a case of appropriation without attribution.

The subject of Francis’ encyclical may have marked a first for the Roman Catholic Church but it is not a first for and within Christianity.  Furthermore, although the Pope’s lengthy encyclical may contain some new assertive calls for action in the spheres of politics, government, and economics, the theological underpinnings from which the encyclical proceeds are derivative of Orthodox theology, in general, and the work and writing of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, in particular.  Indeed, the encyclical’s central theme and repeated invocation of human stewardship and balance with nature represents a Roman Catholic volte-face, a complete rupture from the historic Roman Catholic materialist theology premised upon divine-right domination over the environment in favor of Orthodox thinking about the triune relationship between God, humanity, and nature.  Finally, inasmuch as the Vatican claims that Francis’ encyclical is intended as an ecumenical document to promote discussion and action within and across all faith traditions, it is equally important to respect the principles of ecumenicity by recognizing that such a discussion had been inaugurated well before the publication of Laudato Si and that the Pope’s encyclical is, in fact, an echo, a reflection, a product of that preexisting discussion, not its originating source.  In that spirit, the next two contributions to this blog will focus on the work of Francis’ forerunner in global environmentalism, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I.

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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