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A HOMILY OF HIS ALL-HOLINESS THE ECUMENICAL PATRIARCH BARTHOLOMEW ON THE OCCASION OF DECLARING THE COMMENCEMENT OF A TWO-DAY CONFERENCE ON THE NATURAL ENVIRONMENT (29 September 1997)

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Your Eminences,
Your Excellencies,
Most sacred Monastics,

Announcing the commencement of the proceedings of a Two-Day Conference on the natural environment of the Holy Mountain, we take the opportunity to expound to your love certain basic theses of our Modesty related to our interest in the natural environment.
The sensitivity of the Ecumenical Patriarchate for the environment reveals the sensitivity of the Great Church of Christ for human beings. This is because the environment is not viewed per se, but in relation to them for whom it was made. Hence, every discussion about the environment and every effort of preserving or improving it indicate interest in the conditions of human life. Even in cases where this is not readily understood, or where human interests in self-survival seem to be conflicting with human interests in maintaining the environment, the ultimate interest of man, or, perhaps, tomorrow’s man, demands that priority is given to the latter over the former. But we should never forget that the aim in all this is to improve the conditions of human life; because man is the king of creation; and creation was made to serve to man’s needs. We do not idolize the natural environment, but we try to accentuate man’s sensitivity to the conditions of life of his fellow man.
Drawing our inspiration from such a man-loving spirit, we salute the rise of general interest and of discussions on the natural environment as expressing curtailment of individualism and expansion of altruism, which constitute a basic precept of the Gospel of Christ. Hence, it is with joy and deep sentiment that we announce the commencement of the proceedings of this two day conference for the natural environment of the Holy Mountain, which was summoned by the “Organization of the Cultural Capital of Europe, Thessalonica 1997,” in the context of the activities of the exhibition “The Treasures of the Holy Mountain.”
    This context, within which the present two-day conference takes place, prompts our Modesty to draw everyone’s attention and especially of the most sacred monks of the Holy Mountain and of every friend of Athos, as well as of every responsible person, on the need to protect the special importance of the natural environment of the Holy Mountain.
It is well known that the natural environment does not belong only to the present generation, but to the future generations as well. Indeed, the present generation has received it as a torch (scytale) and is obliged to pass it on to its successor, if there is in its heart the love for it. This, of course, is also applicable to the natural environment of the Holy Mountain.
There are not a few regions of the earth, where, for the sake of a more general interest, which stands in opposition to the narrowly defined interests of the local inhabitants of these regions, proscriptions of environmental interventions have been imposed. Thus, for example, carving roads and introducing vehicles has been proscribed for the Island of Hydra in Greece and the Princes Islands in Turkey. And as the “Gerontikon” reports, a certain ascetic built his cell far away from the spring in order to exercise himself laboring for the transportation of the necessary water. This means, that it would not be excessive if one was to demand of those who chose the monastic life out of their own volition to care less for convenience and more for the preservation of the natural beauty and the quietist (hesychastic) character of the Holy Mountain. Indeed it is this quietist character that attracts those who are pushed away from the whirl of social life to enter monasticism, and the possibility of finding the same whirl at this place of quietism may cause problems for them in their new pursuit.  There is, then, a man-loving duty and a cultural need to preserve unaltered the natural environment of the Holy Mountain, at the cost of some small sacrifices of material conveniences on the part of its present inhabitants for the incomparably greater spiritual convenience of those who are to come there in the future. Indeed, there is no one that ascended to heaven with ease, as Abba Isaac says who is much admired by the most sacred monks of the Holy Mountain. And in order to sharpen somewhat our discourse, we remind you with paternal love of the exact saying of Abba Isaac: “God and His angels rejoice where there are needs, but the devil and his friends do so at times of ease.” And again in order to alleviate the sharpness of the reminder, we affectionately quote from the same Abba a message of consolation: “To any discomfort undergone for God there is always a comfort that follows.”
We may also conclude, then, that to any discomfort that we may undergo for the same of our neighbor, discomfort, that is, caused to us and to those around us by our care for the environment, there will always follow a comfort as a counterpart. This is exactly what we wish for all of you and furthermore we wish a good yield from the proceedings of this two-day conference.