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Address by His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew during the International Ecological Symposium “Sacred Gifts to a Living Planet” (Kathmandu, Nepal, November 15, 2000)

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Your Royal Highness,
Your Excellencies,
Your Honors,
Distinguished and beloved delegates,

As Ecumenical Patriarch, representing at this present meeting the Ecumencial Patriarchate, namely the first throne among the worldwide Orthodox Christian Churches, we address to all of you a heartfelt greeting of honor and love.

The purely religious and non-administrative character of the ministry that we exercise also determines the framework of our potential intervention and contribution for the protection of the natural environment.  We are unable to impose mandatory measures.  Nor can we instigate forceful reactions against those who negatively influence the environment.  We are simply in a position to address free and conscientious people in order to suggest to them what is correct according to our faith, so that they may be persuaded to conform freely and willingly, as their obligation and responsibility dictate in regard to this matter. 

Therefore, our words should be acceptable to all people of good will, irrespective of their religious conviction.  Furthermore, what we shall say flows from the tenets of our Christian faith and from our world-view according to the perspective of this faith, as it regards the world, humanity, creation, and history.  We recognize that there exist numerous and diverse theoretical beliefs and philosophical opinions in regard to this world view.  However, we believe that the foundation of our practical conclusions is able to assist all people of good will to conform their behavior to the suggested ethical model.  This should be the case even if the religious origin of the suggest ethic does not coincide with people’s opinions about particular details.

We are obliged to clarify the fact that, for us the demands of our faith are of primary value.  Yet we began with the more general human demands, because we are also addressing distinguished delegates who do not necessarily share our religious conviction, and for whom the weight of any argument does not lie in its religious connection but in its rational cohesion.

From our observations about the development of law and legal institutions, our desire is to emphasize accordingly the worldwide effect of every change in the spiritual attitude and conduct of any one citizen in regard to the environment.  The necessary conclusion is that any non-governmental effort to change the attitude of citizens, even if it appears to have only limited efficacy, has profound significance for the environment and its improvement.

* * *
Let us now turn to the environmental imperatives that derive from our human nature.

Herodotus mentions that in some region of the classical world, the people regarded it as blasphemy, as contradicting the very will of the gods, to pollute the rivers.  These people, according to some modern thinkers, might be considered culturally underdeveloped in as much as they did not experience the development of our technical civilization.  Yet their spiritual sensitivity and refinement, when compared with the corresponding sensitivity of contemporary and civilized human beings that pollute the rivers with tons of poisonous substances, must be considered exceptional and excellent, whereas we would surely fail by their standards.  The possibility that the religious basis of their behavior may today not be accepted as it was then described or even believed, does not undermine the character of their behavior that was socially perfect and especially commendable in this regard.

Any change in the environment is a matter concerning all people and all regions in the world.  And so all of us ought to become conscious of our collective obligation to conform to everything demanded for the sake of the protection of the environment.  This obligation is fundamentally twofold.

We ought actively to avoid destroying or polluting the environment, and endeavor to restore and improve it.

And, we ought passively to reject the use of products whose production burdens our environment.

It is our obligation to render all people aware of these responsibilities.  For, although the potential influence of each individual may appear to be limited, the collective influence of all people together is limitless.

This environmental ethic is imperative of rational thinking and must be understood as equivalent to the obligation of self-preservation.

* * *
Now we come to what the Orthodox Christian Church believes and teaches.

Multitudes followed Jesus into the desert in order to hear His teaching and receive healing for their illnesses.  Christ blessed five loaves of bread and two fish, instructing His disciples to share these among the five thousand men, gathered with their wives and children.  All of them ate, as we are told, and were filled.  Up to this point, the narrative describes a miracle.  Yet in continuation, the miracle-worker said to His disciples: “gather up the fragments that remain, so nothing is lost” (John 6:12).  The commandment to gather up the remainders “so that nothing is lost,” especially as it comes from the mouth of their Creator, constitutes a model of behavior which is most useful for our time when the refuse of certain large cities, rejected as trash, could suffice to nourish entire populations.

You are undoubtedly familiar with the charitable commandment of love and mercy, which is taught by the Church: You are perhaps even aware that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has, at the dawn of the third millenium, placed at the center of its attention the urgent problem of our times, namely the preservation of balance in the natural environment of our planet.  We are absolutely convinced that an effective approach to this problem requires not only the intervention of governments, but also the cultivation of an ethic based on an understanding of the relationship between humanity and nature which, beyond this ethic, derives from the coexistence of all human beings.

For us, this ethic stems from our faith in God and, as we believe, from the event of creation.  We accept that God created the universe out of nothing, “ex nihilo,” and out of love.  As the crown of this creation, God fashioned Adam, whom He established in the Garden of Eden, the earthly paradise.  The delight in the goods of Paradise was not an end to itself.  Adam’s pleasure in paradise was not due to the enjoyment of the material goods; rather, God fashioned Adam into a personal and spiritual being, created out of two elements.  One element was drawn from the material creation made by Him “dust from the dust” of the earth, and therefore constituted the human body.  The other element was a created spirit, similar to the uncreated spiritual essence of God, and so Adam was created “in the image and likeness of God”, namely endowed with all the good attributes of the persons of the Triune God.  These attributes include personal being, mind, freedom, love, judgment, will, and so forth.  And the delight of humanity in Paradise was founded on a personal relationship with the Creator, a relationship characterized as love and incorporating full trust in God.

The human person was created with the possibility of becoming like God through gradual progress derived from personal and voluntary asceticism, as well as through the intervention of divine grace, namely the uncreated energy of God.  This ascetic discipline embraced three things: first, work in Paradise; second, the keeping of Paradise; and, third, the fulfillment of a commandment to avoid consuming one fruit.  In reference to these three points, the basis of the desired behavior was love, and the desired goal from God was the preservation and increase of humanity in personal love.  This communion of humanity with God would render us partakes of divine nature.

The relationship of humanity toward nature was not one of possession; rather, it was a relationship of a person toward a gift—a sacred gift—and especially toward God, the Giver of all good.  Therefore, humanity must remember at all times that it holds this gift only within certain boundaries established by the Giver, and that within these boundaries there are two conditions.  The first condition is the requirement to protect the gift, namely to preserve nature harmless, and to consume only its fruit.  The second condition is the requirement not willfully to consume every fruit, but to be self-restrained and to abstain from certain fruits.  Both the protection and the self-restraint, which in ecclesiastical terminology is called ascesis, were not imposed as authoritative commandments with appropriate consequence in the case of their transgression.  Instead, they were offered as suggestions of love that ought to be preserved out of love, which constitued a personal relationship and mutual communion between God and humanity.  For the true nature of God is love, as was also the original nature of the human person.  Therefore, that which would most liken humanity to God was precisely its establishment in love, in the same way as God Himself is stable and unchanging in this love.

The first-created human being, however, misused the God-given freedom, preferring alienation from God and attachment to God’s gift.  Consequently, the double relationship of humanity to God and creation ceased, leaving humanity preoccupied with creation alone.  From thankful user, the human person became greedy abuser!  Humanity sought from creation to offer that which it could not.  The more that humanity feels dissatisfied, the more it also demands from nature.  Yet the more it demands of nature to offer, the more humanity recognizes that the goal has escaped its grasp.  The soul’s emptiness cannot be filled with the world’s possessiveness.  Nor again can it be achieved by the acquisition of material goods, for it does not result from lacking these goods.  The soul’s emptiness results from a lack of love and familiarity with God.  The lost paradise is not a matter of lack in created goods, but of deprivation of love toward the Creator.

Christ came into the world in order to restore, and He did restore the possibility of our love toward God.  Those who sincerely believe in Him and love God practice keeping the original commandments of God.  They practice the commandments to work, to keep the natural creation from any harm, and to use only its fruits, indeed those fruits that are absolutely necessary to use, taking proper care “that nothing is lost,” and becoming conscientious models of environmental care.

The Orthodox Christian ethic therefore emanates from the world-view of humanity, creation, and God.  All the other Christian exhortations about the proper way of life stem from the conscious effort of human beings to cease hoping in creation and to turn their hope to the Creator of all.  When this attitude is adopted, humanity will be satisfied with much fewer material goods and will respond with greater sensitivity to the nature that nutures us.  Humanity will then be concerned about loving all people, and will not seek to satisfy individualistic and egotistic ambitions.

The world was created “very good” in order to serve the mind of God and the life of humanity.  However, it does not replace God; it cannot be worshipped in the place of God; it cannot offer more than God appointed it to offer.  The Orthodox Church prays that God may bless this creation in order to offer seasonable weather and an abundance of fruits from the earth.  It prays that God may free the earth from earthquakes, floods, fires, and every other harm.  In recent times, it has also offered supplications to God for the protection of the world from destruction caused by humanity itself, such as pollution, war, over exploitation, exhaustion of waters, changes in environmental conditions, devastation, and stagnation.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate does not however rely on supplication to God to improve the situation.  Starting from God, as it is always proper to do, the Ecumenical Patriarchate works intensely in every possible way to alert everyone to the fact that the greed of our generation constitutes a sin.  This greed leads to the deprivation of our children’s generation, in spite of our desire to bequeath to them a better future.

The relative environmental activity of the Ecumenical Patriarchate has been revealed, among other ways, in the convocation also of international ecological Seminars in the historical Monastery of the Holy Trinity on the island of Halki, which began a systematic theological study of the ecological crisis.  There has also been participation on our part in numerous conferences convened to discuss these matters.  Our environmental initiative is further reflected in the organization of three water-borne Symposia which provided a forum where clergy from all faiths, scientists, and environmentalists from various countries have participated, and come to realize that their concerns and interests were not separate.  In admirable harmony of spirit, we advanced from the study of general themes to the examination of particular problems.

In September of 1995, together with His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, we organized a Symposium in the Aegean to the island of Patmos, in order to celebrate the 1900th anniversary of the Book of St. John’s Revelation.  In this symposium, faith and understanding, religion and science, spirit and word approached, from different perspectives, one and the same purpose, namely the protection of the environment.  The success of this Symposium inspired and encouraged us to organize a second international Symposium in the area of the Black Sea, in light of the ecological destruction of that region.

The deliberations of the Black Sea Symposium made it abundantly clear that the pollution of this sea to a great extent depends on the pollutants discharged in the rivers.  The warm hospitality and fervent reception expressed by the inhabitants of this region toward the delegates of our Symposium was deeply moving.  Having studied the existing problems, we decided to continue our research by organizing yet another Symposium, in the context of which we have traveled by ship along the Danubian countries.

Beyond the study of pollution and the search for a solution to the dangerous conditions and constructions, the pain and the poverty all along this great river, a further purpose of this Symposium was the healing of this region of Europe that has been plagued with terrible ordeals.  In the context of our limited capacity, we proposed to define the principals of free communication, of mutual respect, and of peaceful coexistence among the people of this region.

In the aftermath of the Symposia, it is important for us to search for the practical results.  These results give rise to hope for an activation of interest in the environment.  At the conclusion of the Black Sea Symposium a systematic environmental education created a network of concerned clergy, journalists, and teachers from the Black Sea region.  Today an initiative to create a similar environmental network is gaining ground in the Danubian countries, with the participation of various Churches, in conjunction with the Danube Carpathian Program of the WWF.  This network will preserve alive the ecological initiative and strengthen the cooperation among the peoples of the region.

A fourth Symposium is scheduled for the Baltic Sea.  This Symposium will direct its attention to one of the burdened coastal environments of our planet.  The Baltic Sea has suffered both from the development and wealth of some countries in the region, as well as from the poverty of certain others.  This Symposium will endeavor to underline the significance of a common effort and formation of a common ecological ethic.  It will remind the world that the sacred creation is not our property, and so we do not have the right to use it according to our desires.  It is the gift of God’s love to us, and we are obliged to return his love by protecting everything embraced by this gift.

We would like to conclude by expressing our prayer and hope for the future of humanity.  We fervently pray that peace and harmony will prevail, not simply as an absence of conflicts or as a temporary truce in confrontations, but as a stable condition for the future of our planet.  To this purpose, however, all of us are required to work, and to work together, irrespective of religious convictions.

Therefore, we fraternally call upon all religious leaders to adopt the effort for the protection of the natural environment and to inspire their faithful in the religious and humanitarian obligation to participate in this endeavor, both actively and passively.

We call upon all of the distinguished and beloved delegates, that together we may honor with our profound gratitude His Royal Highness Prince Philip, with whom we have enjoyed over the past years a warm personal friendship and close collaboration, for his very significant role in the struggle for the protection of the environment, for his initiative in the World Wide Fund for Nature, and for gathering us here in Nepal to offer—each according to his or her own tradition—our “Sacred Gifts to a Living Planet.”  We especially thank him for his noble invitation to this historic Conference and for the personal certificate, being the Sacred Gift of this particular effort for the creation of a cooperation among religions and all those interested in the preservation of the environment.

We also thank Their Majesties the King and Queen of Nepal for the gracious hospitality offered to us.

Furthermore, we also thank the honorable Government of Nepal for its facilitation and full support of the Conference.  We thanks WWF—The Danube Carpathian Project, for the exceptional cooperation and initiative in this endeavor.  We also thank ARC (The Alliance of Religions and Conservation), and the King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation for the coordination and organization of the Conference on behalf of Kathmandu.

And upon all of you, we bestow our love and our blessing.

May the grace of God be with you all.