Toast by His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at the Dinner Hosted by the Governor of the State of Amazonas (July 19, 2006).
|Your Excellency, ladies and gentlemen,|
It is a privilege and a joy to be received as your guest in this historic city, the capital of an extraordinarily beautiful, and infinitely precious part of the earth known as the state of Amazonas. As administrator of a large and exceptionally rich section of God’s creation, you shoulder a responsibility, which would be hard for any politician in the so-called developed world to imagine. The natural environment under your care is the finest and most perfectly intact part of the Brazilian rainforest, a biological and ecological treasure-house, on whose survival the world depends. The people under your care represent, in an extreme form, the radiance, diversity and passion of the Brazilian nation as a whole. They range from indigenous communities who have had little or no contact with the supposedly civilised world, to poor and vulnerable city-dwellers who have recently arrived in this region in the hope of making a living. For the simple fact that that you and your state ministers have undertaken the governance of such a rich and yet fragile part of our planet, we salute you and we respect you. We especially admire your state’s commitment to preserving as much as possible of the rainforest, and to protecting the indigenous people who are guardians and guarantors of the forest’s survival.
The administration of such a place would be a difficult task in normal times, but these are not normal times. Last year, the world learned with distress and amazement of the crisis which your state had to cope with. In a region which we would normally associate with abundant supplies of water, there was a drought which killed millions of fish and left many communities with nothing safe to drink. In a part of the world where nature offers such a huge range of edible produce, people were left short of food. In remote areas where people rely on river transport to sell their own crops and procure whatever food and medicine they need, there was great distress because local waterways dried up. We recognise the resourcefulness of the Amazonas state authorities, and of all the Brazilian authorities, in dealing with this crisis, which many scientists saw as a grim warning of a broader breakdown in nature’s equilibrium.
From the Ecumenical Patriarchate, endowed by history and tradition with a moral obligation towards the whole of creation , we offer our love, fatherly concern and fervent prayers for all the people involved administering the state of Amazonas, as they cope with the human consequences of what may turn out to be a continuing environmental crisis. If we hold back from offering any more detailed words of counsel, that is in part because we are guided by the arresting command of Our Lord that we should “render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.”
Many commentaries on those famous words have pondered the precise meaning of “rendering unto Caesar” our obligations as citizens. However it is also worth reflecting seriously on what is meant by “rendering unto God” what is due to God. At first sight, this seems to be a reminder that we should carry out our formal religious obligations, by praying, fasting, going to church and observing the church calendar. That may certainly be one part of what Our Lord is telling us. But in the course of the five previous symposia which we have organized as part of the movement known as Religion, Science and the Environment, we have tried to look more deeply into what it means to offer unto God what belongs to God. We have reflected on man’s role as a priest of Creation, a creature with a unique calling to receive all the bounty of the created world as a gift from God, and then to offer that gift back to God in a spirit of gratitude and humility. In some form or another, almost every human culture has felt the impulse to offer the treasures of creation, including life itself, back to the Creator. As Christians, we have a particular sense that in making our Eucharistic offerings of bread and wine, we are joining or becoming part of the supreme, once-and-for-all sacrifice made on the Cross by the Son of God as an ultimate act of saving love.
But whatever we believe about the nature of priesthood or sacrifice, it is worth noting that modern, secular man is out of step with most of human history in one important way: in his view that the created world is merely something to be exploited and abused with no sense of respect for a Creator or even for future generations. This absence of gratitude or respect is as shocking to our Orthodox Christian tradition as it is to any of this region’s peoples, who share with us the unshakeable belief that all forms of life are deeply connected, and that every living thing has its own divinely -ordained purpose, its own logos as we say in Greek. Among people who are guided by those principles, certain other things should follow: the need to show respect, prudence and self-restraint in our treatment of the created world, in short to love the created world, just as we are united in love to our Creator. Unless that understanding exists and is deeply felt, government policies alone, however prudent and wise, will hardly be able to save the planet from destruction.
Respected governor, we commend and admire the courage and competence you have shown as a person who is called to play the role of Caesar, in other words to look after a large and exceptionally challenging piece of territory for the benefit of its people. For our part, we at the Ecumenical Patriarchate will strive, as far our human strength allows us, to bear witness to another important truth No earthly administrators can succeed in their mission unless people are also willing to offer back to God all those things - especially the great and wondrous gifts of nature – which came from God and ultimately belong to Him.