on November 3, 2011
Considered the "Green Patriarch," His All Holiness Bartholomew I has devoted more attention to environmental concerns throughout his twenty (20) years as Ecumenical Patriarch [1991-2011], as well as many years prior [born 1940], than any "worldwide church leader" . The title of this third and final volume for his twenty-year ecological legacy of collected speeches, writings and homilies--edited by John Chryssavgis--draws upon a phrase in the Lord's Prayer: "on earth as in heaven." The supplicatory phrase indicates a present and future possibility that the will of God "is" to bring the orderliness and respect of the holy dwelling in the heavens to the earth. In fact, the order of words in the Greek original reads as follows: "as in heaven, so on the earth."
HRH Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, attests to the same in his Foreword to this book [vii-ix], wherein he traces how the future Ecumenical Patriarch provided "inspired (global) leadership" for bearing Christian witness to the aims of the 1986 World Wide Fund for Nature's [WWF; "World Wildlife Fund" in North America] twenty-fifth anniversary in Assisi, Italy. HRH Philip had served as president to the WWF throughout the 1980's, during which time the 1986 Assisi-based general conference resulted in the creation of the Alliance of Religious Conservation [ARC].
ARC held one of its earliest convocations on the Dodecanese island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea during September 1988, which was initiated and led by +Bartholomew representing the Ecumenical Partriarchate with the theme, "Religion and the Environment." After subsequent discussions between HRH Philip and +Bartholomew, the Holy Synod for the Ecumenical Patriarchate established, in 1989, the first day of September as "a special day of reflection and celebration of the world's natural heritage" [viii]. Given the significance of the first day of September on the Orthodox Church's calendar as "new year's day" or "Indictus" coupled with an interreligious "special day" to celebrate the "world's natural heritage," the first chapter of this text provides "Patriarchal Encyclicals for September 1st" [23-64].
Predecessor to +Bartholomew was HAH Demetrios [1972-1991]. +Demetrios' encyclicals for 1989 and 1990 [23-6] appear as the first texts in chapter one, followed by all but two years' encyclicals [2000 & 2007] by +Bartholomew between the years 1992 and 2010. It was curious to me that my review of the website for the Ecumenical Patriarchate [patriarchate.org] on 03 November 2011 revealed these two encyclicals--years 2000 and 2007-- as missing both on the website as well as the book. What happened in the years 2000 and 2007 that might have explained these lacunae by HAH Bartholomew? The encyclical for 2011 is available on the website, but not in the book, which was probably due to manuscript deadlines earlier than September 2011.
The editor, John Chryssavgis, identifies keywords as themes in each of these encyclicals. For example, the encyclical for 1992 is entitled "Matter and Spirit" [27-9]. Not only is this text for 1992 the first of Bartholomew's encyclicals for the first day of September annually, but also it sets a tone of paradoxical and analogical reasoning that characterizes Orthodox theology, anthropology and cosmology, in general, and Batholomew's prodigious contributions, in particular. Illustrating both paradox and analogy is the following passage from this 1992 encyclical:
"Thus, "autumn" and "spring," which to the average person usually signify diametrically opposed factors, actually converge and coincide in the inauguration of the ecclesiastical year as one entity established by God" [emphasis his, 27].
A second example of these "special day" encyclicals merits attention by this review. Bartholomew dedicates reflections on "Creation and Idol" [41-4] to the year 1998. He considers a harmonious relationship between "the Holy Orthodox Church" and "the natural world," because the Church accepts "...the entire creation is very good" . Indeed, Bartholomew lacks naïveté with reference to sin and its collective inhuman impact on the environment. Therefore, he is quick to clarify what he means by "very good."
Bartholomew describes the infusion of meaning in the natural world "by the very presence of humanity within it" . Human beings, therefore, share the meaning, which the Creator bestows through revelation and inspiration in order for human beings to serve the natural world as responsible stewards. In point of fact according to Bartholomew's reasoning, real harmony between human beings and the natural world is not only a present and future possibility, but also a present and future reality within the "Holy Church." How can this be?
It ought to be apparent that what we see around us is the cumulative threat of a Damaclean carbon footprint, which resembling a mythological sword exemplified by carbon dioxide emissions could yet annihilate the human race that has long threatened itself by unbridled natural-resource abuse. For this reason, Bartholomew minces no words to describe an Orthodox view of sin as idolatry, which is caused by refusal to accept simple limitations that must be self-imposed. The result of failure to accept limitations is abuse of nature. In turn, "nature rebelled against humanity, which abuses it" . Thus, "creation continues to groan" as "awareness" increases while "action" decreases [59-61, encyclical for the year 2008].
If one is not already versed in Orthodox theology, the encyclicals contained in the first chapter provide numerous opportunities to become initiated. In addition, the book's "Introduction" by editor Chryssavgis offers another perspective in Orthodox theology that weaves several threads of Bartholomew's personal biography, significant events during his service as Ecumenical Patriarch, and sketches of results from eight environmental symposia ["S"] that HAH Bartholomew has convened in various locales such as the Black Sea [S2, 1997, 11], the Amazon [S6, 2006, 14], and the Mississippi River [S8, 2009, 14-5].
I had mentioned that this text is the third and final volume in a series of collected writings by HAH Bartholomew, which John Chryssavgis has edited. My reviews of the former two volumes--(1) In the World, Yet Not of the World: Social and Global Initiatives of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew , and (2) Speaking the Truth in Love: Theological and Spiritual Exhortations of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew -- also published by Fordham University Press appear elsewhere.
Readers with at least minimal knowledge of Orthodox theology will appreciate the texts collected in the largest chapter, which is chapter three, "Orthodox theology and the environmental general addresses," that holds 79 pages [65-144]. In addition, they will want to consider how Bartholomew links prayer and spirituality to twin themes of transfiguration and sacrifice in chapter five [194-235].
For example, in Bartholomew's opening address to the 1997 conference on the natural environment convened on Mt. Athos [Greece], he reflects:
"This means that it would not be excessive if one were to demand of those who chose the monastic life out of their own volition to care less for convenience and more for the preservation of the natural beauty and the silent character of the Holy Mountain" .
"And in order to sharpen somewhat our discourse, we remind you with paternal love of the exact sating of Abba Isaac: `God and His angels rejoice where there are needs, but the devil and his friends do so at times of ease' " .
Therefore, prayer draws Christians toward self-sacrifice from at least some "modern" conveniences in order to protect the natural environment.
Fifteen pages [353-68] of a combined subject and name index conclude this text. I mention the index because I checked more than twenty entries and found them to be accurate, inclusive, intuitive in algorithm and cross-referenced.