Entries with tag pope francis .

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.

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.

Our Personal Role in Healing the Divided Christian Witness

I admit it. I was totally fangirling the whole time Pope Francis was in the United States. I wanted to see what he would say, how he would challenge both government and Roman Catholic leaders. It’s exciting to see such an important Christian figure welcomed into the American public sphere. Plus, I actually like the man; he’s a likeable guy!

But once I got past the curiosity of what Pope Francis would say next, and how the media would fail to adequately report on religion, I was reminded of the pain that comes from a divided Christian community. The Pope of Rome just represents one fraction of the Christian world. For a non-Christian looking in from the outside, there’s a smorgasbord of Christian groups – people can choose whatever flavor they’d like. But is this “choose your own adventure” approach to American religion really the paradigm that Christ set for us when He established His Church?  

Jesus desires that all who follow Him be one, just as He and the Father are one (John 17:21). But today, Christians are divided into Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Protestants, Non-Denominations, etc. So where does that leave us as Christians? We could despair over living in a broken world, or we can consider ways we can do our part to heal the brokenness in our neck of the woods.  

An important point of clarity before we proceed, though. The Orthodox Church – a community of believers, the Body of Christ knit together through our common baptism – is the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. I say this, not to be triumphalist (as we discussed last week), but because this is our identity.  

As much as we long for unity with other Christians, the Church is not divided in itself. I do not receive only partial sacraments, nor is the Church substantially lacking. The Orthodox Church does not need the Roman Church to be whole, nor would it be more Orthodox if everyone converted. Instead, our divisions are sad simply because we hope for all people to share in the unity that is in Christ.

And, on a more practical level, Christians today cannot offer a unified witness to Jesus Christ when we are so deeply divided. That’s tragic, because the world so deeply yearns for Him.

With that said, here are some things each of us can begin to do today to bring healing to our divisions.

1. Know your own tradition

Before you can talk to someone about who they are, you need to know who you are.  So before you can talk with someone about their faith, you have to learn about your own. This is particularly true for us Orthodox in America since we are such a small percentage of the population. You may be the only Orthodox Christian your neighbor ever meets. That means we all have a responsibility to accurately represent our faith in Christ to those around us.

That can feel overwhelming, so where can you start?

First, participate in the Liturgy regularly and attend a new service you haven’t yet (matins, vespers, paraklesis, etc.) Ask your priest questions. Check out a Bible study at a local Orthodox parish. Pick up a book on Orthodox Christianity and read it. (I recommend “The Orthodox Church," which deals with history and teachings, and “The Way of the Pilgrim,” which is a sort of spiritual fiction on prayer.) Get a prayer book and use it. Open up your Bible and get to know it. Catch up on episodes of “Be the Bee,” “The Trench,” and “Coffee With Sister Vassa,” as well as the great podcasts on Ancient Faith Radio.

If you don’t know your own faith, it’s easy to paint broad strokes and assume that all churches are essentially the same. What we may dismiss as mere details actually matter. Allowing our ignorance to lead us into assuming that we know better disrespects the deeply held beliefs of all churches, not just our own.

Bottom line: when we are engaged and knowledgeable of our own tradition, we will be prepared to encounter others.

2. Make friends with people in other churches

I cannot have a relationship with an idea; I can only know and love another person.

If I am to see Christ in my neighbors, and share Christ with my neighbors, I must get to know them as persons. Trust and friendship will pave the way for honest dialogue and protect against unfruitful argument, judgment, and stereotypes.

Too often, people talk about other Christian churches without having actually made friends with people of that tradition. This leads to the creation of caricatures that exist only in our minds and uncharitable arguments that do not come from the love of Christ. So make friends with faithful Roman Catholics, faithful Evangelicals, faithful Protestants of any tradition. Share meals together, get to know one another’s families. Once you are invested in who they are, then you are on an appropriate footing to talk about Orthodoxy – naturally and in its proper context: a relationship. We’ve got to love one another to properly share the Lord’s love.

3. Be obedient and trust in the Holy Spirit

Our society distrusts rules and regulations. We hear a rule and want to challenge it. We are given a boundary and want to cross it. When it comes to faith, the temptation to question authority is just as common. Questioning can be good and healthy, but it must be accompanied by trust that the Holy Spirit is also at work. If the Holy Spirit is working in the Church, then the guidelines that we are given might actually be inspired by God and not simply created by men.  These boundaries may prove to be the evidence and consequences of real division rather than the causes of it.

In particular, I have in mind the issue of Holy Communion. The Orthodox Church teaches that only baptized and chrismated Orthodox Christians can receive the Eucharist (Holy Communion) in the Orthodox Church. That means that Roman Catholics and other Christians cannot receive unless they become Orthodox. Many people could see this as uninviting or inhospitable if we forget the first point: know your own faith first.

In the Orthodox Church, the Eucharist is the climax of a relationship that we have not only with Jesus Christ but with one another in the Church. We receive the Body of Christ because we already are His Body, the Church. Yet we also receive to better become His Body through living out our life in Christ as a community. We partake of the Eucharist after a common work of prayer and fasting, and also after something else we do together during the Liturgy: a confession of Faith when we recite the Creed. We cannot partake of the same meal if we are not sitting at the same table.

We cannot receive communion together, an expression of unity, if we are not actually and substantively united. There can be no communion without community. Receiving the Eucharist in a church to which we do not belong takes Holy Communion from being a life-giving demonstration of community and turns it into a public act of self-will and disobedience, no matter how good the intention may be.

 

It’s natural for Christians to mourn the divisions that exist between the churches, but we must not mourn as those who have no hope. As individuals we cannot force union between the churches, but we can build relationships with people in other faith communities. We can root ourselves more strongly in our own faith while not being afraid to make friendships with members of other churches.  And finally, we can practice obedience to God and reliance on His will, instead of insisting upon our own.

Each of us can follow this model of mutual respect and friendship, because ultimately we all yearn for relationship instead of division. And in these small ways we can make great strides at healing our divided Christian witness as we follow Jesus’ commandment: “love one another: just as I have loved you…all people will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

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

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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