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 →
Axia Women is a diverse new network by, for, and about Orthodox Women, in the service of Christ. Although we are launching it officially only now, the seeds of Axia were planted a few years ago.
One seed was a petition asking the fourteen Eastern Orthodox primates to make sure that women—who make up at least half the church—were appropriately represented at the Holy and Great Council in Crete. While we didn’t reach that goal (only six of the four hundred delegates were female), the petition itself was signed by some 2000 people in some 60 countries. It showed a diverse groundswell of women and men interested in a variety of representation and service. Not only did bishops and other clergy sign it, the Ecumenical Patriarch studied it carefully, then wrote me a personal letter in reply. His message explained the limitations of what could be addressed at that late stage in the Council’s planning, but also warmly encouraged ongoing efforts in this direction. The petition and its aftermath were important indicators that there is both potential for growth and receptivity for women’s work at all levels of church life. Continue reading →
The ecological crisis is nowadays the most urgent problem facing humanity. It is a complex threat, which puts at risk not only a part of the planet but the entire environment, endangering the very survival of the human species and the natural world. As a result of extreme egocentric interpretations, since medieval times, of the biblical narrative of the world’s creation (Genesis 1-2), humanity has adopted a way of life that assumes a dominating role and position in the world. For many centuries now, humanity has followed a path of utilitarian exploitation and overconsumption of natural resources, being indifferent to the preservation, protection, or survival of the wider universe. It was only in 1967 that Lynn White, in his classic now article, clearly pointed out the historical responsibility of Christianity for the ecological problem, thus bringing to the fore the spiritual and religious aspects of the issue. Since then, many Christian churches and traditions in the West would embrace (though not always successfully) their responsibility, cultivating, either through their institutions or through ecumenical organizations (e.g., the World Council of Churches), the necessary initiatives to address this multi-faceted crisis (Cf. Pope Francis’s recent Encyclical Laudatio Si, 2016).Continue Reading…