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)
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 →
In the Orthodox Christian tradition, God is described as being the “Great Philanthropos,” and Jesus Christ, as a healer of body and soul, is described as the “Great Physician.” Being adopted by early Christians, the Hellenic idea of philanthropia, or being an “unconditional lover of humankind,” was used as a way of describing God Himself and became intimately intertwined with the notion of diakonia, or service, which highlights the uniquely social and inter-personal dimensions of Christian love. Mimicking the life of Christ, philanthropically serving the needs of the sick was a central component of the lifestyle of the early Christians. Both the idea of diakonia and the institution of the diaconate were so foundational to the Church’s presence in the world that in the second century, St. Ignatius of Antioch described the diaconate as representing Christ on earth by performing his ministries of healing, teaching, and selflessly tending to the needs of the sick and the poor. In the fourth century, it was under the auspices of philanthropic diakonia that St. Basil the Great established hospitals and hospices as charitable institutions, a practice that spread throughout Byzantium and later in the West as well.
Coupled together, the empiricism of modern science and the financial corporatization of contemporary medical practice threaten to eradicate the relational, philanthropic, and ascetic dimensions of healthcare. What is needed is an outlook that views the sick as suffering persons and not as mere consumers of medical services, while it views healthcare providers as healers serving the health-related needs of the sick rather than functioning as “merchants of medicine.” Although all Christians are called to engage in diakonia, in a certain sense physicianship entails a special diaconical responsibility in that it entails healing and a transfiguration of persons’ states of being. In that Christ is the Great Physician and deacons are representatives of Christ on earth, the Church might consider reinvigorating the diaconate by reimagining the current purview of deacons’ responsibilities and expanding the role of deacons to include, for instance, a vocation of healthcare-provider or physician, where deacons trained in medicine could perform medical ministries. Continue Reading…
In accord with his longstanding commitment to resolving the world’s ecological crisis, Patriarch Bartholomew has recently signed a joint letter with Pope Francis in commemoration of the Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation on September 1st. This day has been observed by the Orthodox Church since 1989 and was recognized by Pope Francis in 2015.
Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis have correctly denounced “greed for limitless profit in markets” as one of the primary sources of ecological devastation. It must be emphasized that it is not simply greed on the individual level that is the problem; there is a systemic problem with the notion of perpetual growth that makes individual ‘greed,’ so to speak, inevitable in our current socio-economic system. The neo-classical / neo-liberal paradigm of economics that now dominates the global market functions precisely on a model of perpetual growth and a utilitarian mindset that seeks to commodify an array of living beings as well as all forms of creative human activity. The point is that the ecological crises cannot be adequately addressed, and will surely never be resolved, without also addressing economics. Continue Reading…