Interview of His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.
What was the reason for Your All Holiness to be so actively involved with the environmental issues?
First of all, I was born and grown up in a quiet island, Imbros, with wonderful natural surroundings. Ι studied in the Holy Theological School of Chalki, one terrestrial, one could say, paradise. All these have highly spoken in my soul since the very early years of age. My theological studies have opened new horizons and through the study of the Divine Scriptures and the Patristic Writings, especially of Basil the Great and St. John of Damascus, I have seen the truth of things concerning the surrounding world, its beauty, its destination and its sanctity. There was an innate sensitivity as well, so it was not strange that since my early youth the issue of nature ‘s protection has been a priority in my thoughts and representations.
Has the modern church developed its structures so as to implement a system of environmental protection and in what ways or has everything being left to individual initiatives as yours?
If you consult at the “Orthodox Prayer -Book”, the foremost book of Church’s prayers, you will be surprised seeing prayers and services related to the environment That shows that the older were sufficiently sensitive to this issue But unfortunately, for reasons other than the present ones, a comprehensive, institutional effort is not possible .In 1989 the Ecumenical Patriarchate ordained the 1st of September as Prayer Day for the Protection of Nature. Since then as Ecumenical Patriarchate we have been doing our best, rallying other Churches and major international organizations. It is definitely in the “Agenda” the effort of a systematic activation of other Churches as soon as possible.
Your All Holiness has been called “Green Patriarch” because of your environmental sensitivity. Which are your goals related to environment in short and long term?
We have organized, as you know, the major International Scientific and Interfaith Symposia for the environment from the Black Sea and the Aegean Sea to the Arctic, the Danube river, the Mississippi river and the Amazon river. We had also organized the Environmental Seminars of Halki at our unfairly silent Theological School. We are looking forward to reopen it and to carry on therein more systematic initiatives. In Prigipos island (Large Island) we have dreamt of setting off our returned Orphanage to World Center of Environmental Studies, as soon as we manage to restore it. We shall not stop. As long as God wishes!
How has the flock and the rest of the clergy reacted to your environmental initiatives?
Mostly, positively. Very positively. We are constantly receiving reinforcing messages and encouragement. But we are expecting something more: enthusiasm and active engagement. “Bravos” and awards are not sufficient enough. More effective involvement is required. Particularly of young people.
What kind of advices would Your All Holiness give to new unemployed Graduates, the time our country is being discredited internationally?
They should not get discouraged. It is not quite enough for someone to see the darkness and cry about. If even a small candle lights, everyone has already been a winner. They could seek for example to our Holy Fathers. What did they do in similar difficult circumstances? Perseverance, rolling up the sleeves, effort, positive attitude, faith in God and His loving providence, companionship, mutual assistance, volunteerism. Above all prayer, for not fighting on their own. Obviously, it is generally needed a revaluation of the virtue of frugality and restriction of desires. The so-called “western” lifestyle, that we had generally accepted and get used to, has been proved a chimera. The Saints, in their own way of life, have taught young people and all of us more essential things. However, we would say to young people: Courage! Have faith in Jesus Christ and you will not be disappointed. But, for God’s sake, do not conjure the crisis only with words! Fight with all your strength and this horrible storm and windstorm will be followed by a great tranquility!
In this effort, we can see the Church’s tendency to keep up with the time being. In what other ways are you on young people’s side and the problems of the era?
Church is not trying to keep up with our era. It is always preceded the current period and it would be desirable if this was perceptible! Jesus Christ is “the one of yesterday, of today and forever” and His Church “sticking to itself, breaks new grounds” pushing them through eternal destination. Tendencies of alleged modernization are often hypocritical and hide a lot of secularism. But the world goes by and its scheme is getting “productive”. Running anyone behind the respective schemes of the world breathless and pretending the modern person, is an illusion. We are on people’s side when we tell them the truth, as bitter and painful as it is, when we keep our ears open to their agony, their fears and frustrations and when we extend our hand to comfort their needs. I do believe, more or less, that as all responsible Church leaders know this and a lot of them work very hard in this direction. Especially, with regard to young people, the Great Church has shown its affection in many types and many ways and continues to do so with great pleasure.
Your personal bet on the environment has brought the Patriarchate in the spotlight. But there were some who have been annoyed by the “sudden publicity”. What does Your All Holiness answer to them?
Let them be well and think about their own responsibilities for our common “family home” being the world and the environment.
Do you believe that energy production, by sources given to us by God has a Christian character as well?
Absolutely right! We have been offered so beautiful and genuine gifts by God: the sun, the wind, the river and sea waters that we can use to produce energy without damaging the future of coming generations. At the same time, we can save clean air for everyone’s health along with economic resources as well, which can be used in epic and charity projects. And if this happens for blessing the Creator and Benefactor God then it will be a kind of “Divine Service”.