Patriarch Bartholomew on the Environment  

Posted by Joe Rawls

His All-Holiness Bartholomew, Ecumenical Patriarch and worldwide leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church, speaks out frequently on ecological issues, pointing out the connections between the environment and Christian theology.  He has in fact been nicknamed the "Green Patriarch" for his outspoken pronouncements on this issue.  An example is found in his article "The World as Sacrament of Creation", a few paragraphs of which
are reproduced below.  Click here for the complete essay. 


...It is unfortunate that we lead our life without noticing the environmental concert that is playing out before our eyes and ears.  In this orchestra, each minute detail plays a critical role.  Nothing can be removed without the entire symphony being affected.  No tree, animal or fish can be removed without the entire picture being distorted, if not destroyed...

...In order to achieve this sacramental vision of creation, human beings are called to practice a spirituality of thanksgiving and self-discipline.  In theological terms, we are called to be "eucharistic" and "ascetic" beings.  In theis way, the Orthodox Church reminds us that creation is not simply our possession or property, but rather a gift from God the Creator, a gift of wonder and beauty.  From the moment of creation, this world was offered by God as a gift to be returned in gratitude and love.

This is precisely how the Orthodox spiritual way avoids the problem of the world's domination by humanity.  For if this world is a sacred mystery, then this in itself precludes any attempt at mastery by human beings.  Indeed, the mastery or exploitative control of the world's resources is identified more with Adam's "original sin" than with God's wonderful gift.  It is the result of selfishness and greed, which arise from alienation from God and an abandonment of the sacramental worldview.  Sin separated the sacred from the secular, dismissing the latter to the domain of evil and surrendering it as prey to exploitation.

Beyond a "eucharistic" spirituality, we are also called to practice an "ascetic ethos," namely self-restraint and self-control, so that we no longer willfully consume every fruit, but instead manifest a sense of frugality from some things for the sake of valuing all things.  Then, we shall learn to care for plants and animals, for trees and rivers, for mountains and seas, for all human beings and the world.  Then, we shall be instruments of peace and life, not tools of violence and death.  Then, everything will assume its divine purpose, as God originally intended the world.

...If the earth is sacred, then our relationship with the natural environment is sacramental.  The "sin of Adam" is precisely his refusal to receive the world as a gift of communion with God and with the rest of creation.  St Paul clearly emphasizes the consequences of the Fall, claiming that "from the beginning till now, the entire creation, which as we know has been groaning in pain" (Rom 8:22), also "waits with eager longing this revelation by the children of God." (Rom 8:19)

However, far too long have we focused--as churches and as theologians--on the notion of sin as a rupture in individual relations with each other or with God.  The environmental crisis reminds us of the cosmic consequences of sin, which are more than merely social or narrowly spiritual.  Every act of pollution is an offense against God as creator.  Repentance implies a radical change of ways and worldview.  Some fifteen years ago, at a conference in Santa Barbara, we declared:

To commit a crime against the natural world is a sin.  To cause species to become extinct and destroy the biological diversity of God's creation; to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing climate change; to strip the earth of its natural forests or destroy its wetlands; to contaminate the earth's waters--all of these are sins.

This entry was posted on Thursday, October 31, 2013 at Thursday, October 31, 2013 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


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