This year marks the 30th anniversary of the enthronement of Patriarch Bartholomew I to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1991. As is well known, Patriarch Bartholomew has been dubbed the “Green Patriarch” for his longstanding commitment to environmental issues. He recently marked the dawn of 2021 by holding the 4th Halki Summit on the environment, from the 26th to the 28th of January of this year. Beginning in 2012, the Halki Summits have been the most recent instantiation of the Patriarch’s commitment to the environment and is part of a long line of ecumenical, interfaith and interdisciplinary conferences he has held on environmental issues since his Patriarchy began. One of the watershed moments that earned Bartholomew his ecological moniker was when he first expressed the idea of ecological sin while delivering a speech in Santa Barbara, California in 1997. He claimed,
For humans to cause species to become extinct and to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation… For humans to degrade the integrity of Earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the Earth of its natural forests, or destroying its wetlands… For humans to injure other humans with disease, for humans to contaminate the Earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life, with poisonous substances… These are sins.
(Address at the Environmental Symposium, Saint Barbara Greek Orthodox Church, Santa Barbara, California, November 8, 1997)
While the Orthodox Church has gained a reputation internationally as a “green” church, largely due to the environmental initiatives of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the reality is much more complicated on the ground. The science behind the human causes of climate change and its catastrophic consequences is settled, but the issue unfortunately remains a sharply divisive one among Orthodox Christians in the United States. American Orthodox acceptance of climate change falls largely along familiar dividing lines—liberal and conservative—as they have come to be defined in 21st-century US politics.
The political divisions among us are toxic, not only for church unity, but also because they allow us to be complacent, remaining stuck in intractable debates about the legitimacy of scientific data and the shadowy powers supposedly funding climate science, hurling accusations of “fake news.”
But the Orthodox tradition does not permit us to stand on the sidelines of the climate debate. Rather, it demands that we accept responsibility for the plunder of creation, work to restore equilibrium to our environments, and hold accountable those responsible–ourselves included–for the current crisis. Continue reading →
During Lent, lay, clergy and monastic alike partake in fasting, and unlike other fasting periods, such as the nativity fast prior to Christmas, many modern Orthodox Christian laity do still partake in the Lenten fast, at least to some degree and for some extent of time. As the laity partake in this tradition, they ought to consider that for monks and nuns who engage in the practice of fasting throughout the year, fasting is not simply a matter of abstaining from food but is a spiritual exercise that is part and parcel of the quest to be Good and become more Divine-like. Despite the fact that not all persons are suited to monastic life, there are indeed lessons that laity can learn from the deeply psychological and moral dimensions of the monastic understanding of fasting as a spiritual practice.
Some of the most theologically developed discussions of fasting are to be found within the Philokalia, meaning “Lover of Goodness.” Within the four volumes of the Philokalia, we find a robust philosophy of fasting in which the psyche as well as the body must be involved in the spiritual pursuit of the good. Within these classic texts of Orthodox Christian spirituality, the idea that cultivating a state of psycho-spiritual “watchfulness,” “wakefulness,” or “mindfulness” (called nepsis) is foundational for the cultivation of arete, or virtue. Within the Philokalia, nepsis is described as vigilantly guarding one’s heart and mind from evil, or vicious, thoughts such as: anger, jealousy, rage, despair, gluttony, greed, egoism and lust. It is the practice of nepsis that helps enable one to transform these pathoi, or pathological thoughts, into more reasonable desires and place them in the service of attaining the higher-order desire for the good. Continue reading →
There’s no whitewashing the dark environmental effects of coal mining and fracking in West Virginia and other parts of Appalachia. Most assuredly, coal is toxic—for the environment, for local economies, and for life more broadly the Mountain State. In “An American Guilt Trip,” his recent article for Public Orthodoxy, Dr. Fr. John Chryssavgis draws on a brief trip he took to West Virginia in order to witness first-hand the cost of “black diamonds.” As an anthropologist, I’m tremendously supportive of scholars conducting ethnographic research in order to think through broad societal questions and problems. However, as someone who has just returned from twelve months of living in West Virginia for my dissertation research, I am also deeply attuned to the problematic ways in which we scholars often talk about or even for Appalachia and its inhabitants. For those of us who work on issues of environmentalism in its various expressions, even adjacently, I worry that sometimes we fall prey to colonialist assumptions of privilege, often subconsciously, that feed into our narratives of communities dealing with ecological devastation. As someone who works in the social sciences and humanities, I wonder how we might highlight issues of the Anthropocene in a way that critically examines toxicity as it relates human neglect for the environment, while also being mindful of the other crucial sociocultural issues of power at play historically. This is important particularly when we approach regions such as Appalachia that have long been subject to external mechanisms of power that mine the area for its natural resources while suppressing, subjugating, and stigmatizing those employed as extractors. Continue reading →