Green Orthodoxy


A reader writes:

It's good to see the largest church in Christendom finally moving towards a greener theology, but I just wanted to remind you and your other readers of the ongoing environmentalism put forth by Bartholomew I, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, spiritual leader of all Orthodox Christians, and more commonly known as the "Green Patriarch" in Western academic circles. 

Since his inauguration to the ecclesiastical throne of Constantinople in 1991, Bartholomew has been an outspoken critic of environmental abuse, especially throughout Eastern Europe, and has worked closely with scientists, ecologists, and fellow theologians making environmental concerns a central policy of political and religious concern. He has declared polluting to be a "sin" against creation and "a sacrilege" of the duties given to mankind to protect Earth and Nature.

Environmental destruction also takes place within our own bodies, he says.

Whether we commit physical acts of self-inflicted violence in the form of drug abuse or unprotected sex, or mental violence in the form of over-consumption and vainglorious narcissism, we pollute our bodies as much as our rivers, oceans, forests, and air. In an address given in Venice in 2002 before signing a dual declaration for environmental awareness with then Pope John Paul II, the Patriarch argued, “we are to practice a voluntary self-limitation in our consumption of food and natural resources. Each of us is called to make the crucial distinction between what we want and what we need. Only through such self-denial, through our willingness sometimes to forgo and to say, ‘no’ or ‘enough’ will we rediscover our true human place in the universe …Greed and avarice render the world opaque, turning all things to dust and ashes. Generosity and unselfishness render the world transparent, turning all things into a sacrament of loving communion -- communion between human beings with one another, communion between human beings and God. This need for an ascetic spirit can be summed up in a single key word: sacrifice. This exactly is the missing dimension in our environmental ethos and ecological action.”

Self-indulgence also comes in the form of religious fundamentalism and xenophobia. His words on environmental awareness belies parallel references to the “pollution of religion” in the form of “selfish” and “unscrupulous” theologians and demagogues of all faiths, dumping what he calls “religious waste” into our churches, mosques, and synagogues. Much religious xenophobia in the world he says stems from historical grievances and unresolved transgressions.

In 1994, the Patriarch spearheaded, along with other major religious leaders of Turkey and Greece, what has become known as The Bosphoros Declaration, denouncing all forms of religious fundamentalism that embraces violence, xenophobia, warfare, and the physical harm of others, especially towards women and children. Directly influenced by religious tension in the Balkans, the Middle East and in former areas of the Soviet Union, Bartholomew stood side by side with his Muslim and Jewish colleagues in Turkey calling for an end to all violence perpetrated in the name of God, declaring that “a crime committed in the name of religion is a crime against religion.”

The Patriarch’s efforts to embrace environmentalism on physical, moral, and spiritual grounds is part of his broader agenda to modernize his church and bring it out of its perceived distant and insular positions after centuries of foreign domination and self-imposed seclusion. With the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe and the rediscovery of religion and traditional values by society, Bartholomew’s goals have been met with widespread acceptance from all sides of the political and religious spectrum. In trying to demonstrate that the Patriarchate and the Orthodox Church can come to symbolize a renewed Byzantine cosmopolitanism, Bartholomew is seeking to find common ground with his Christian and Muslim neighbors who share similar concerns for how their societies and communities will develop and cooperate in a globalizing and modernizing world. Sadly, some of that goodwill was sapped when Benedict XVI gave his infamous speech at Regensburg with his referencing a Byzantine (thus Greek) emperor mentioning the theological deficiencies of Islam. Nevertheless, his efforts as linking environmentalism and love of the Earth with the Love of God is a fascinating fusion of modern contemporary issues with one of the oldest and most traditional churches in the Christian world. It's a shame he is not known more in the Western world.

Well: a few more know about him now.