The Environment and the Greek Orthodox Church

As you may all know, in 1989, then Patriarch Demetrios proclaimed September 1 as the annual day of prayer for the Care of Creation.  Since 1991, Patriarch Bartholomew has focused on the environment as a critical issue.  Not only has he continued with that special day, but since 1995 he has also hosted eight international environmental symposia on various bodies of water with focus on that body of water and the surrounding nations.  These symposia have been on the Aegean Sea, Black Sea, Danube River, Adriatic Sea, Baltic Sea, Amazon River, Arctic Sea, and Mississippi River.  As a result of his emphasis on protecting the environment, former Vice-President Al Gore gave him the name of the “Green Patriarch”.  He subsequently hosted two environmental summits in Turkey on the island of Halki.

In late 2014, Patriarch Bartholomew met with Pope Francis and convinced him to put the protection of the environment on his agenda.  As a result of this meeting, in June 2015 Pope Francis issued his environmental encyclical “Laudato Si”, protection of Our Common Home.  This 184 page encyclical was written with the help of our Metropolitan John of Pergamon and Fr. John Chryssavgis.  In August 2015, Francis sent a letter to all of his hierarchs stating “following the tradition of the Orthodox Church, we are proclaiming September 1 as the World Day of Prayer for Care of Creation.” 

The Roman Catholic Church has taken the pope’s encyclical very serious.  Within three years of its release, the Chicago Archdiocese has formed an Encyclical Working Group to educate its members and implement the encyclical.  Catholic universities have also taken it seriously and are offering classes on environmental and social sustainability.  At least one large Catholic university has made a new requirement for every student, regardless of his or her major, to take a course on environmental science or environmental sustainability in order to graduate.  It is almost 30 years since our patriarch first showed his concern for the environment, and we are not doing what the Roman Catholic Church has done in just three years. 

Last month, Patriarch Bartholomew hosted his ninth international environmental symposium, “Toward a Greener Attica”, in the prefecture of Attica, Greece, and I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend it.  The focus was on various environmental issues like climate change and water conservation as well as social issues like managing and caring for refugees. This four-day symposium took place in Athens and the Saronic islands of Septses and Hydra. 

One of the action items resulting from this symposium was to go out and educate as many people as possible so they can help care for our environment.  Consequently, I would like to make a few recommendations for each of the parishes at this 44th Biennial Clergy Laity Congress.

  1. If you haven’t done so already, form an environmental ministry at your parish.  Use this ministry to convey to your parishioners the importance of protecting the environment.
  2. Try to implement some environmental strategies at your parish.  One way for assistance on this effort is to follow the book “Greening of the Orthodox Parish” by Fred Krueger.
  3. Conduct an environmental vesper service on August 31.  Our church, SS Peter & Paul, first did this four years ago, and the following year we conducted the vespers along with our neighboring Roman Catholic Church.  In addition to the priests from both churches, we also had a bishop from each church.  Then last year, we repeated the vespers, but this time at the Roman Catholic Church along with the same clergy.  This is something you may wish to consider.  Following each vesper service, we had a coffee reception and a speaker.

I would also like to recommend for an environmental course be added to the curricula at Holy Cross Hellenic College – if one is not already required.  If this is so important to Patriarch Bartholomew, it should be important to all the HCHC students.  If such a course were already offered at the college, you would not have seen what I observed earlier this week.  When I visited the campus on Tuesday, I was somewhat disturbed with the amount of bottled water that was distributed to all the visitors.  Instead of bottled water, there should have been water stations and plastic cups offering tap water.  In addition to the environmental benefit, this would also help the financial situation of the college.  Bottled water is about 300 times more expensive than tap water, and its quality specifications are not as stringent as those for tap water.  In addition, it takes twice the volume of the bottle in water just to produce the plastic bottle.  In other words, when you drink 12 ounces of bottled water, you are consuming about 36 ounces and creating a waste product that most likely will not be recycled. 

I hope that we can all take the interest in and the care of our environment more seriously.  Remember, we did not inherit the environment from our ancestors, we are borrowing it from our children.

George P. Nassos spent 31 years in the corporate world working for International Minerals & Chemical Corp for 16 years and 15 years for Chemical Waste Management. He taught for 14 years as Industry Associate Professor and the Director of the M.S. in Environmental Management and Sustainability program at Illinois Institute of Technology’s business school. He subsequently focused on consulting in renewable energy and environmental sustainability as well as marketing a new waste-to-energy technology. Last year, Nassos was appointed to the new Director of the MS in Sustainable Management program and Executive-in-Residence at DePaul University Driehaus College of Business. He was recently elected as a founding member of the Advisory Circle of the Encyclical Working Group of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago focusing on implementing Laudato Si’. He earned a B.S. in Chemical Engineering (U of Illinois), M.S. and Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering (Northwestern U.) and an MBA from Northwestern-Kellogg. He attends Saints Peter & Paul Greek Orthodox Church in Glenview, IL. and is a member of the Archdiocesan Advisory Committee for Science and Technology.