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The Orthodox Churches and the Environment

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Conclusions of the Inter-Orthodox Conference on Environmental Protection, Crete, 1991

Article I

  • In 1989 His All Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Dimitrios I, issued a Patriarchal Message calling for thanksgiving and supplications for all creation to be offered on the first day of September each year, the first day of the ecclesiastical year in the Orthodox church. He called for this day to be a day of special prayer for the salvation and protection of God's creation.

  • This Message of the Ecumenical Patriarch created considerable interest within the Orthodox Church and beyond. In response to this interest His All Holiness the late Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios I invited the Heads of all the autocephalous and autonomous Orthodox Churches to appoint official representatives, one of them a hierarch, who would meet to discuss the consensus of the Orthodox Church as a whole on the problem of the protection of the natural environment. This led to the convocation of an inter-Orthodox conference for that purpose.

  • This conference was held at the Orthodox Academy of Crete from 5th to 11th November 1991 under the Chairmanship of the representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch, His Eminence Metropolitan John of Pergamon. It was blessed by the presence of His Beatitude the Patriarch of Alexandria Parthenios III. His Royal Highness Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and International President of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) gave the opening address and spoke about the nature of the ecological crisis facing the world. Representatives of eleven autocephalous and autonomous Orthodox Churches took part. Observers from other Churches and international organizations also attended. Specialists in various areas of theology and the natural sciences participated.

  • The participants in the conference had the opportunity to share in common worship of the Triune God, the creator and preserver of all, and to take part in the liturgical life of the Church of Crete.

  • The papers read at the conference and the discussion that followed centred on the following broad areas:

    • general introductory examination of the causes, nature and importance of the ecological crisis;

    • environmental problems;

    • theological approaches to humanity's relationship with the natural environment;

    • spiritual aspects of the problem, with particular reference to the Orthodox monastic tradition;

    • practical suggestions. In the context of the work of the conference, the participants heard with pleasure the announcement of the foundation by the Orthodox Academy of Crete of an Institute of Theology and Ecology.

Article II

The Conference reached the following main conclusions concerning the fundamental principles emerging from a consideration of the Orthodox position with regard to the ecological problem:

  • The Orthodox Church shares the sensitivity and the concern of those who are distressed about the increasing burden on the natural environment due to human abuse, which the Church names as sin, and for which it calls all human beings to repentance. There is a tendency to seek a renovation of ethics while the Orthodox Church believes the solution is to be found in the liturgical, eucharistic and ascetic ethos of the Orthodox tradition.

  • The Orthodox Church is not to be identified with any ecological movement, party or organization either from the point of view of ideology and philosophy or from that of the method or programmes to be applied for the solution of the ecological problem. The Orthodox Church, being the Church, constitutes a presence and a witness to a new mode of existence following its specific theological outlook of human beings' relationship with God, with one another and with nature.

Article III

Once these general principles are borne in mind, the participants of the Inter-Orthodox Conference would like to call respectfully upon their Churches to consider the following proposals:

  • That the Church draw attention to the Orthodox eucharistic and ascetic ethos which is a hallmark of the Orthodox Church's relationship with nature. The Churches should offer once more this simple, just, yet fulfilled way of life to its own believers as well as to the wider world. Humanity needs a simpler way of life, a renewed asceticism, for the sake of creation.

  • That each autocephalous and autonomous Church dedicate the 1 September to be a day of special prayers and supplications for all creation - as a day for the protection of all God's creation.

  • That each Church undertake programmes of Christian environmental education. This should include all aspects of theological education; the construction of courses and resources for catechetical schools and the preparation of appropriate materials for use in religious education in secular schools. These materials could also be used in those countries where the Church runs primary or secondary schools. In particular, it is recommended that the 1 September be seen as an appropriate time for special emphasis in both teaching and preaching, on our need to care for God's creation.

In those places where the Church has higher education establishments, the Church should foster and encourage research into areas beneficial to the environment - such as alternative energy sources.

  • That each Church should engage in projects or local initiatives which lead to the enhancement of all creation. Each Church is requested to undertake such projects and initiatives at the local, diocesan and Church levels. For example:

    In parishes:

    • To organise recycling programmes for paper, glass, metals and compostable organic waste;

    • To encourage water conservation;

    • To encourage less use of the car.

    • To conserve energy within Church buildings by proper insulation and control of lighting;

  • In dioceses:

    • To consider opportunities for the production and use of alternative energy (solar, wind or biomass) as an immediate and practical action;

    • To support the creation and further extension of nature reservations.

  • That each Church should examine its use of land, buildings and investments which it controls or influences, to ensure that they are used in a way which will not cause environmental damage, but will improve the environment.

  • That each Church should hold gatherings of members of the Church, covering fields from theology to environmental sciences, in order to aid the Church in further practical involvement in environmental and bioethical issues. Such a gathering should also seek to reach out, with the insights of the Orthodox Church, to those involved in scientific and ecological work, who are not members of the Orthodox Church, asking, in return, for their knowledge and expertise in helping the Church.

  • That the autocephalous and autonomous Churches in a region collaborate on specific environmental issues which transcend individual Church boundaries.

  • That the Orthodox Church make a formal appeal to the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development (UNCED) to be held in Brazil in June 1992. The appeal would ask for instance:

    • That in conformity with our Lord's saying in Luke 6:31 "As you wish that men would do to you, do so to them", no product or industry should be exported and no waste product should be deposited in any country, which the country of origin would not accept on its own territory. 

    • That in conformity with the Christian call for the proper stewardship of resources, all possible assistance be given to the efficient use of energy. This may require the removal of taxes on insulation and the removal of subsidies on the production and use of particularly environmentally damaging non-renewable sources of energy. It may also require the increase of taxes to restrict use of fuels in order to induce a more thoughtful use of such resources as coal and petrol.

  • That the Orthodox Church encourage and support young people to initiate projects and programmes of environmental action, such as workcamps related to environmental issues, and education programmes.

SYNDESMOS, the World Fellowship of Orthodox Youth, should encourage Orthodox youth organizations to act in these areas, and could serve as a coordinating body for the development of Orthodox youth projects around the world.

10 November 1991, Crete

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

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