Churches draw closer together to save environment from ‘humanity’s sin’

VENICE- The joint signing of the Venice Declaration on the environment by Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios and Pope John Paul II was an historic event with a dual significance. One of these is directly connected with the attempt to save the environment. It seems that the «Green Patriarch» – as he has become known, due to his ongoing work on behalf of the environment – has succeeded in enlisting the Vatican in the great endeavor to have Christianity play a central role in the effort. Since last Monday, not only the head of Orthodoxy but also the head of the Catholic Church have both become involved in the struggle. The other, deeper significance of the joint declaration is certainly the sense of the possibility of a rapprochement between the Orthodox Church and the Vatican. It is a formal rapprochement and a substantive one, even though it concerns a matter that has nothing to do with dogma or the church. However, that does not lessen the importance of such an historic step, especially within the broader context of European political and cultural union. Vartholomaios spoke to Kathimerini about the environment, the potential for rapprochement between the churches and the restoration of church unity, which, as he says, «is the wish and endeavor of us all.» Your Holiness, do you believe that the Christian religion can play a substantive role in saving the environment, in the way it attempts to save humanity? Christ did not come only to save humanity, but all creation which, according to Saint Paul, is awaiting its redemption from corruption and disaster into which humanity’s sin has plunged it. Consequently, the Church does not confine itself to caring for and saving man, but extends its concern to the protection of the natural environment. The role of the Church in saving the environment can and must be substantive, because the environment can only be saved if mankind, which is destroying the environment through selfishness and greed, changes its mentality and approach to life. Through its teaching, and above all through its liturgical life, asceticism, and the spirit of respect for God’s creation which it cultivates among its members, the Church invests in the conscience of humanity, and that is the most important prerequisite for the success of efforts by many sides today to save the environment. In Venice, you signed a joint declaration on the environment. Will a joint effort by Catholic and Orthodox Christians be more effective than separate ones? It is indeed important that the two great Christian traditions, of the East and the West, have come together in this effort to save the environment. The consequences of the ecological crisis are the same everywhere; they know neither borders nor religious or other distinctions. The struggle to save the environment must be common to all religions. Only then can it be effective. Can the cooperation of Catholics and Orthodox Christian over such major issues that concern man at the dawn of the third millennium be a starting point of a rapprochement between the two churches? Nowadays, is there more to unite the two churches than to separate them? Theological and dogmatic differences between Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians must not prevent a joint approach to problems that concern humanity in the modern age. This cooperation forges bonds of love and shared obligation, without slackening efforts to solve theological differences, which is being done through official theological dialogue to bring the churches closer together. In this way, it is indeed apparent that there is much to unite the two sides, and this must not be overlooked or underestimated. The division of the Roman Empire into eastern and western parts many centuries ago preceded the schism in the church. Can Europe’s unification help reunite its great churches? Europe is completing its unification, which cannot but bring closer together the Old and New Rome that were united before the tragic schism of the 11th century. The coexistence, in the same political and economic domain, of European peoples belonging to the two churches will certainly contribute to greater rapprochement and will help restore the unity that existed prior to the schism. This is the wish and endeavor of us all.

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