Examples of Orthodox Environmental Initiatives
Alexander Belopopsky served as Secretary-General of SYNDESMOS 1992-95. He is currently working in the World Council of Churches in Geneva.
Ormylia Monastery Organic Farming Project
One project launched in the 1990's at the Orthodox women's monastery of Ormylia, Northern Greece, fully embodies the need to celebrate and preserve nature while engaging in sound ecological practices designed to protect that very environment.
The goal of "Project Ormylia" is to act as a focus and catalyst, initially for nearby monasteries and subsequently for the surrounding community. The project concentrates on putting into practice through the introduction of organic farming, the teachings of the Church on creation and the role of mankind. The methods of organic farming have been introduced into an area affected by environmentally destructive practices such as extensive pesticide use.
The project is taking place on the monastery's existing agricultural lands. The monastery, which manages farms, related facilities, orchards and livestock, is an ideal venue for an experiment which has had an impact far beyond the monastery. The project has served to promote ecological awareness to the over 10,000 visitors, and is a sister monastery to Simonopetra Monastery on Mount Athos.
Inter-Orthodox Conference on Environmental Protection, Crete, Greece, November, 1991
For the first time ever, leading representatives of the Orthodox Church worldwide gathered with scientists and ecologists for a six-day conference on environmental protection (cf p.66-69).
Beyond the confines of the conference hall, early morning liturgies and street processions were swelled by the enthusiastic presence of thousands of local people as aware of the rarity of this event as the delegates themselves.
On the opening day of the conference HRH Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, President of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), was welcomed by representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and ten local Orthodox churches, which together count some 250 million faithful.
Russian and Eastern European delegates made it clear that the Church had never carried such heavy responsibility for its people and land. In Russia alone, Orthodox Church buildings confiscated by the communist regime are being handed back at the rate of almost a hundred a week, any in a state of disrepair.
The conference, called by His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos - first among equals in the Orthodox world - arose from the pioneering work undertaken by the late Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios, assisted over the last few years by WWF's Network on Conservation and Religion.
Youth Ecology Training Seminar, Romania, 1994
SYNDESMOS, The World Fellowship of Orthodox Youth, held the first international youth ecology training seminar in Neamt, Romania, 10-17 April, 1994. The seminar gathered 43 Orthodox youth leaders and resource persons from 15 Eastern European and other countries for an intensive introductory programme of environmental education and practical training. The aim of the project was to stimulate interest in, and develop education about, the need to protect actively the natural environment among young people in the Orthodox Churches. The project offered training to youth workers from the Orthodox Church in practical ecological issues.
The seminar participants were primarily youth leaders and activists personally interested in environmental issues, and representing youth groups and organisations of a regional or national importance. The group was supported by a team of experienced educationalists, theologians and environmentalists from various countries in Europe, both from the Orthodox Church and ecological organisations.
The seminar programme developed in three main stages. First, an exploration of the Orthodox theological and liturgical understanding of nature, creation and man's responsibility in the material world. Secondly, a series of workshops and discussion groups on practical environmental issues. Thirdly, an identification of future priorities and actions in the area of ecology for Orthodox youth groups, churches and members of SYNDESMOS.
The programme concentrated on establishing the theological and scientific foundation for an active and permanent interest and involvement in environmental issues, and related the Orthodox theological understanding of nature to contemporary environmental concerns. The participants were then encouraged to use this information and understanding to identify programmes and recommendations for future action by Orthodox youth NGO's and churches.
A series of discussion groups and workshops prepared by the leadership team offered all participants an opportunity to deepen their discussion and training on several interrelated areas of priority for youth NGO's. Discussion groups centred on those basic motivations, material, ethical and spiritual, which promote a concern for the natural environment. Workshops concentrated on Orthodox environmental activities, environmental education for Orthodox groups, Orthodox iconography and hymnography for the protection of creation. All the workshops offered active methods of education for the participants, which they could use in their local groups and communities, and produced concrete proposals and ideas which were used in preparing the recommendations.
Spiritual Ecology Camp, Mount Athos, Greece, July 1994
SYNDESMOS has been involved in encouraging awareness of the ecological crisis in the Orthodox Church since the InterOrthodox Conference on Environmental Protection in Crete (1991). Following the first Orthodox youth ecology training seminar in Romania, and the scientific study of the environment of the Mount Athos peninsula, SYNDESMOS proposed a practical project to support the preservation of the environment of the Holy Mountain.
The project was a "spiritual ecology camp", and gathered almost 20 young people from several countries for a programme of prayer, study and practical work, 23 July - 7 August, 1994.
The objectives of the camp were to respond to the appeal of the monasteries on Mount Athos to establish eco-systems and protect the natural environment; to implement specific environmental projects; to offer experience of the environmental dimension of traditional monastic life; to build pan-Orthodox awareness of the spiritual and cultural heritage of Mount Athos.
The group spent two weeks on the peninsula, and stayed in Vatopedi, Simonopetra and Panteleimon monasteries. Everywhere the group was received warmly by the monasteries, and a number of practical actions were taken by those concerned, including the rebuilding of wells and fountains, opening up of cobbled paths for pilgrims as an alternative to vehicular traffic, planting trees, shrubs etc. around neglected cemetaries, and the reconstituting of pathway shrines (protecting them from weather and animals, etc.)
Apart from the environmental work, the participants were also able to participate in the monastic life: making prosphora, setting and cleaning the refectory, sweeping the courtyard, cleaning guest quarters, chanting, attending services, and gardening.
The monks welcomed the voluntary support for the communities, and even offered to employ SYNDESMOS to do building work in coming years! Concrete plans were made to repeat the project in 1995, and to make it a regular part of the SYNDESMOS programme.
Revelation and the Environment Symposium, Aegean Sea, September 1995.
The "Revelation and EnvironmentAD 95-1995" Symposium to commemorate the 1900th anniversary of the recording of the Apocalypse was held on board the ship Preveli, as it journeyed between Piraeus, Greece and the island of Patmos, 20-26 September 1995. The historic event brought together religious leaders, scientists, environmentalists and activists from over 30 countries to discuss the significance of this ancient and holy text for today's environmental crisis.
In an unprecedented gesture of unity and support for the cause of the environment, the final session of the symposium was attended by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos 1, heads of local Orthodox Churches and representatives of other faiths. "We must not be content with verbal protests", the Patriarch declared, "but we must proceed to increasingly stronger and more effective actions".
In his concluding message, Metropolitan John of Pergamon called for the introduction of a new sense of sin "so that polluting the environment is a sin against nature." Addressing the gathering of scientists and spiritual leaders he said, "Science cannot help the ecological problem without the help of the Church. Science can describe what is going wrong, describe what technologies are needed, but what is essential is that people love the environment we cannot save what we do not love."
He issued an appeal to all sectors of society, particularly the Church, to intensify their efforts in raising awareness of the need to act. He urged his colleagues in the Orthodox Church to introduce environmental education into theirsermons and Sunday schools.
The participants of the symposium called for greater cooperation among religions worldwide to address ecological problems through a spiritual approach. They drafted seven points as the basis for future environmental activity within an ecumenical framework and recommended that the Revelation and the Environment Symposium be a step in this process.
"The heart that has learnt to love has pity for all creation"
- from Archimandrite Sophrony (d. 1993), St Silouan the Athonite
Copyright: Printed by Orthdruk Orthodox Printing House, Bialystok, Poland, 1996.
Source: The Orthodoxy and Ecology Resource Book is produced by SYNDESMOS, The World Fellowship of Orthodox Youth.
Editor: Alexander Belopopsky and Dimitri Oikonomou