"Green" Orthodox Patriarch Creates Waves
with Watershed Pronouncement
From the EarthNews Section
of Issue #28, Winter 1997-8, p 4
His All Holiness Bartholomew I came straight out with it: human despoiling of the natural world is a "sin." His remarks during a symposium he hosted in Southern California November 8 were believed to be the first time a major international religious leader has explicitly linked environmental problems with sinful behavior. "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 the Earth by causing changes in its climate, stripping the Earth of its natural forests, or destroying its wetlands...for humans to contaminate the Earth's waters, its land, its air, and its life with poisonous substances-these are sins." Bartholomew, the leader of the world's 300 million Orthodox Christians, has become known as the "green patriarch," and for good reason. He has been creating waves wherever he's gone in recent months, from his native Black Sea to the U.S. In October, His All Holiness boarded a floating symposium, The Black Sea in Crisis, sponsored by the European Union and made what The (Manchester) Guardian called a "remarkable impression" on the scientists, bishops, Muslim princes, politicians and United Nations and EU officials taking part. Bartholomew, considered "the first among equals" of the nine Orthodox patriarchs, chose the environment as the common thread to patch together alliances broken by the destructive years of the Soviet Union. Patriarchs from seven countries boarded the vessel when the floating symposium docked in their port. Despite their political differences, all the patriarchs had flocks dependent on the Black Sea. Once the sea had been able to support whole civilizations from its fisheries; now much of its waters have been turned into a cesspit. The collapsed economies of the former Soviet Union cannot clean up the sea on their own, but the United Nations, EU and World Bank have all pledged support. And in the power vacuum of the Black Sea, the crucial. The Guardian noted. "Protecting the environment is to become a religious crusade. The result might be the saving of the Black Sea-and much more." By the time Bartholomew arrived in the U.S. a month later, he created another stir with his declaration at the symposium on religion, science, and the environment attended by 800 people. The Los Angeles Times' reporting of the event noted that several participants who are not Orthodox Christians viewed his statement as a watershed, including Paul Gorman, executive director of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment. "That litany of environmental degradation under the rubric of sin was the first time a significant religious leader has so explicitly designated crimes against creation as a sin," Gorman told Larry Stammer, the Times' religion writer. The partnership, based in New York, includes all major old-line and evangelical Protestant churches, Jewish denominations and Roman Catholics. Gorman said the patriarch's declaration points to "a whole new level of theological inquiry into the cause, and depth and dimension of human responsibility by lifting up that word-sin." Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt told the audience that Bartholomew's pronouncement will be seen in the future as "one of the great, seminal important religious statements of our time." It also suggests a developing new alliance between environmental activists and religion. Among those present at the meeting was Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club. In his remarks, Pope said environmentalists had made a "profound error" in failing to understand the mission of religion in preserving creation. That failure, he said, was all the more obvious considering the fact that believers of all faiths have historically been active in political causes, from the civil rights movement to opposing the war in Vietnam. "Yet for almost thirty years we stubbornly, proudly, rejected what we knew," Pope said. "We ignored the fact that when Americans wish to express a sense of a community that is wiser and better than they are as individuals, they gather to pray." Other religious leaders and institutions have spoken out in defense of what many term "caring for creation." But none has been as outspoken as the Orthodox leader. At the U.S. gathering, he said responsibility toward creation requires voluntary restraint. "Excessive consumption may be understood from a world view of estrangement from self, from land, from life and from God," he said. "Consuming the fruits of the Earth unrestrained, we become consumed ourselves by avarice and greed. Excessive consumption leaves us emptied, out of touch with our deepest self." About the growing public debate over climate change, he said, "Many are arguing that someone else should address the problem, or that they should not have to take action unless everyone else does. This self-centered behavior is a symptom of our alienation from one another and from the context of our common existence." ###
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