“At the heart of the relationship between man and environment is the relationship between human beings.” ~ Patriarch Bartholomew

By Andreas Euripides Christou

Andreas Euripides Christou is a student clinician who serves on the Community Energy Team of Pace Academy’s Environmental Policy Clinic.

In the 2009 documentary The Green Patriarch, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church, said:

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Patriarch Bartholomew celebrates the Liturgy. Source: Ohrid Archbishopric [CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

To commit a crime against the natural world is a sin; for human beings to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation, for human beings to contaminate the Earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life, all of these are sins.

As Patriarch of the world’s second-largest Christian Church, Bartholomew has gained an international reputation as a prominent environmentalist and humanitarian. He has used his position to lend the support of the Ecumenical Patriarchate (the “Vatican” of the Orthodox Church) to many international causes, and has received numerous awards for his leadership, among them, the Congressional Gold Medal.

From his early days in office, the Ecumenical Patriarch has made care for the environment one of his top priorities. His strategy has been “connecting people who have the power to save the environment with people who have the knowledge.”

This leader of 300 million faithful has brought together religious leaders of multiple faiths, including Sikh, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian, with scientists, government officials, media representatives, environmental activists, and ordinary citizens — uniquely in a series of shipboard symposiums, such as one convened aboard a passenger ship off Greenland. These symposiums host briefings and debates utilizing the combined expertise of interests who historically have not gotten along to arrive at possible solutions.

Commenting for the documentary,  Dr. Ravi Ravinda, a professor of physics and comparative religion said:

What is interesting about the Orthodox Church’s environmental initiative is that, as far as I am aware, this is the only group where the initiative is being actually taken by, or at least involves, the very highest church authority.

An active supporter of the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development (ICSD), Patriarch Bartholomew has worked to explore collaborative efforts between the ICSD and the Orthodox Church and participated in multiple ICSD conferences regarding ecological sustainability. He has also committed the Orthodox Church to participate in the United Planet Faith and Science Initiative, a group of ecological advocates that use science and religious leaders to promote public awareness, political will, policy, and action.

For more than a decade, Patriarch Bartholomew has held international ecological seminars every summer at the Theological School of Halki, an island near Istanbul. These seminars are sponsored by the Patriarch and Prince Philip, the founder of the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC). Following the Patriarch’s lead, numerous Orthodox monasteries and churches in Eastern Europe and the United States have switched to solar energy in recent years.

In 2012, reports of record melting of the earth’s ice sheets and extreme droughts gave increased support to the Ecumenical Patriarch’s messages about the degradation of the natural world. In an encyclical the same year, Bartholomew boldly stated that “biodiversity was not granted to humanity for its unruly control; by the same token, dominion over the earth and its environs implies rational use and enjoyment of its benefits, and not destructive acquisition of its resources out of a sense of greed.”

In his tireless efforts to bring attention to both environmental rights and human obligations, Patriarch Bartholomew has repeatedly criticized over-consumption of natural resources by first world countries and the lack of justice that causes growing inequality in developing nations.

The Ecumenical Patriarch has also spoken on World Oceans Day, highlighting their ecological benefits and the fact that the world’s oceans and seas are quite threatened, and outlining the massive pollution and human ignorance.

During an address to an environmental symposium at Saint Barbara, California, in 1997, Patriarch Bartholomew said:

We believe that our first task is to raise the consciousness of adults who most use the resources and gifts of the planet. Ultimately, it is for our children that we must perceive our every action in the world as having a direct effect upon the future of the environment. At the heart of the relationship between man and environment is the relationship between human beings.