Next month, from June 5 to 8, the Ecumenical Patriarchate is organizing an international, interdisciplinary and interfaith ecological symposium on the islands of the Saronic Gulf. The symposium is the ninth in a series of similar gatherings that began in 1995, assembling distinguished church and faith representative, theologians and scientists, as well as politicians and journalists to explore the regional environmental challenges in the Aegean Sea, the Black Sea, the Danube River, the Adriatic Sea, the Baltic Sea, the Amazon River, the Arctic Sea and the Mississippi River. This year’s symposium is titled “Toward a Greener Attica: Preserving the Planet and Protecting its People.”
Indeed, over the last three decades, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has highlighted the spiritual roots of the ecological crisis, while emphasizing the solidarity between humanity and nature. Moreover, it has underlined that the necessary spiritual transformation of human beings and their attitude toward creation requires a commitment and collaboration of all social sectors and scientific disciplines. Over the years, it has become abundantly clear to us that no single organization or discipline alone can respond to the ecological crisis. What we require is a model of cooperation and not a method of competition; we must work together in a truly collaborative and complementary way. The consequences are simply too significant for us to continue the way we have been going.
This is precisely why we were personally involved and took an active role in the process leading up to the historic Paris Agreement adopted in December 2015. And this is precisely why the Ecumenical Patriarchate is organizing the present symposium in order to explore the pressing environmental problems of the Attica region and the Saronic islands, examining the connections between ecology and economy, but also of poverty and the refugee crisis, particularly in the context of the pressing social and global challenges of our time.
The truth is that there are severe repercussions for the way we treat God’s creation. What we believe about our world will define how we behave toward it. How we value God’s creation will determine whether we choose to respect or exploit it. The practices of those living in the West have an unmistakable and immediate impact on hunger and poverty. It is a very simple mathematical equation. At the same time, it is a fundamental law of spiritual values!
Therefore, while there is much good that is being done to raise awareness about climate change and sustainable living in the history-rich and beautiful country of Greece, there is also much that remains to be done in order, for instance, to address the landfills in the Attica mountainsides and the plastic that threatens marine life in the Saronic Gulf.
Caring for God’s creation should drive us to respect all nature and all people. After all, this is the deeper justification for everything that we do, each of us from our own profession and vocation: the believer and the naturalist, the scientist and the scholar, the politician and the protester. Otherwise, we cannot really say that we care about our planet and its people. And surely we will be judged on the world that we leave behind to future generations.
This is why we have worked with religious and political leaders to address climate change collaboratively. Most recently, last September, we issued a joint statement with His Holiness Pope Francis noting that “there can be no sincere and enduring resolution to the challenge of the ecological crisis and climate change unless the response is concerted and collective, unless the responsibility is shared and accountable, unless we give priority to solidarity and service.”
The aim of our symposium at the beginning of June is precisely to inspire people’s hearts and minds, to initiate conversation among individuals and institutions, and to advocate for a collective effort to sustain our planet as a sacred gift from God and a sacred legacy for all people, especially our children.
* Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios is first among equals among the heads of the several autocephalous churches that make up the Eastern Orthodox Church and the representative and spiritual leader of the 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide.