Patriarchal encyclical on the environment to be read from the pulpit on September 5, 1999
Sep 2, 1999
To the Most Reverend Metropolitans
To the Right Reverend Bishops
To The Reverend Clergy of our
Holy Archdiocese of America
My Dear Brothers,
I have the honor and privilege of sending you the Encyclical Letter of His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew issued on the occasion of the beginning of the new Ecclesiastical Year.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate has requested that this historic message, which deals with man’s responsibility to save the environment, be read from the pulpit on Sunday, September 5, 1999.
Most appreciative of your cooperation I remain,
Yours in the Lord,
Bishop George of New Jersey
[Translation from the Greek Original]
BY THE MERCY OF GOD,
ARCHBISHOP OF CONSTANTINOPLE, NEW ROME,
AND ECUMENICAL PATRIARCH
TO THE PLEROMA OF THE CHURCH: GRACE AND PEACE FROM THE CREATOR OF ALL CREATION OUR LORD
AND GOD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST
Brothers and Sisters and beloved children in the Lord,
When Paul the Apostle to the Nations advised the Thessalonians to "give thanks in all circumstances" (1 Thess. 5:18), he also counselled them to "always rejoice, and pray without ceasing" (1 Thess. 5:16-17), thus demonstrating that thanksgiving as prayer and everlasting joy go together and coexist inseparably. Truly, the one who gives thanks experiences the joy that comes from the appreciation of that for which he or she is thankful, and from the overabundance of joy they turn toward the giver and provider of the good things received in grateful thanksgiving. Conversely, the person who does not feel the internal need to thank the Creator and Fashioner of all the good things of this very good world, but ungratefully and egocentrically receives them -- when the person is indifferent toward the one who provided these good things and thus worships the impersonal creation rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25) -- that person does not feel the deep joy of receiving the gifts of God, but only sullen and animalistic satisfaction. Such a person is given over to irrational desires, to covetousness, and to "robberies from injustice" (Isaiah 61:8) that are despised by God. As a result, that person will undergo the breaking "of the pride of his power" (Leviticus 26:19), and will be deprived of the sublime, pure, and heavenly joy of the one who gives thanks gratefully.
The belief that every creature of God created for communion with human beings is good when it is received with thanksgiving (1 Timothy 4:3-4), leads to respect for creation out of respect for its Creator; it does not fashion an idol out of creation itself. The person who loves the Creator of a given work cannot be disrespectful toward it nor maliciously harm it; but certainly neither does a person worship it while disregarding the Creator (Romans 1:21). Rather, by honoring it, one honors its Creator.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate, having ascertained that natural creation commonly referred to as "the environment," which in recent times has to a great extent been maliciously harmed, has undertaken an effort that strives to sensitize every person -- especially Christians -- to the gravity of this problem for humanity and particularly to its ethical and theological dimension. For this reason, the Patriarchate has established the first day of September each year, which is the natural landmark of the yearly cycle, as a day of prayer for the environment. This prayer, however, is not merely a supplication and petition to God for the protection of the natural environment from the impending catastrophe that is being wrought by humankind, but it is also in thanksgiving for everything that God in His beneficent providence offers through creation to both the good and the wicked, the just and the unjust.
The saints of the Christian Church and other sensitive souls, illumined by the divine light that enlightens everyone who comes into the world (John 1:9), providing that he or she sincerely and unselfishly desires to receive this light (John 1:11-12), have acquired great sensitivity to all evil that harms any creature of God, and consequently to every element that makes up our natural environment.
The saints are models for every faithful Christian to imitate, and their sensitive character is the ideal character toward which we all are obliged to strive. However, because not everyone has this same refinement, those who are responsible for the education of the people must continually teach them what must be done. In light of this, we applaud with great satisfaction the proposal of the Committee on the Environment of the World-wide Federation of Organizations of Engineers, which met in Thessalonike during the Third International Exhibition and Conference on Technology of the Environment, that a binding "Global Code of Ethics" for the environment be drafted.
For its part, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, in addition to proclaiming September 1 as the annual day of prayer for the environment, successfully organized "Symposium II: the Black Sea in Crisis," in collaboration with other interested parties. In continuation of this effort, the Patriarchate established the Halki Ecological Institute, which was held successfully this year, and which aims at preparing capable people in the countries and churches surrounding the Black Sea to strive in their respective regions to rouse their leaders and people concerning the danger of the impending death of the Black Sea and the general threat of irreparable and harmful damage to the environment. For this reason, the Patriarchate is currently preparing a Third International Ecological Symposium, this time on the Danube, which is a significant source of the pollution for Black Sea, and which has also undergone enormous ecological alterations and disasters because of the recent dramatic bombings.
In addition to the ecological and environmental disasters effected by humankind, natural ones have also occurred, such as the recent earthquakes that have struck Turkey. Despite the fact that oftentimes the consequences of these natural occurrences are determined by factors for which humans are responsible, the Church fervently beseeches God to show mercy and compassion on human responsibility, and to show His righteousness and goodness both to those responsible and those not responsible.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate is fully aware that the end of the second Christian millennium has been sealed by sad and exceptionally destructive occurrences which transpired mainly in Yugoslavia and Turkey, but which also continue to occur in varying degrees in other parts of our planet. This is principally due to the fact that the internal spiritual environment of the conscience of each person has not become good, nor has it changed for the better by the grace of God, due to the human ego opposing the beneficent influence of this grace. For this reason, along with the invitation to all that they respect the natural environment each for his or her own benefit since it is a gift from God to all humankind, the Ecumenical Patriarchate appeals to all that they amend their feelings toward their fellow human beings. Only in this way will the eternal, unchangeable, all-compassionate and merciful God be able to positively influence the free will of the human person and avert the disastrous man-made activities upsetting the balance of the environment.
We recognize that heaven and earth pass away, but the laws of God are eternal and unchangeable as is God Himself. But we also know that the law of God is found in the authority of man to determine, to a great extent, the path his life takes.
For this reason, we summon both ourselves and each other to work toward the good in all areas, and especially in the area of the environment, which in the final analysis is that realm which refers first of all to our fellow human beings, and then to natural creation.
In closing, we invoke the grace and blessing of God upon everyone who works toward the good, and upon those who out of ignorance or human weakness do evil, we invoke divine illumination and the great mercy of God, so that they might come to full knowledge and be converted. Amen.
September 1, 1999
Your beloved brother in Christ and fervent supplicant before God,