September 1, 2002
To the Most Reverend Hierarchs, the Reverend Priests and Deacons, the Monks and Nuns, the Presidents and Members of the Parish Councils of the Greek Orthodox Communities, the Day and Afternoon Schools, the Philoptochos Sisterhood, the Young Adults and Youth, the Hellenic Organizations, and the entire Greek Orthodox Family in America
Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
It is with heartfelt joy in the Lord that I communicate with you at the beginning of a new ecclesiastical year.
Much like our natural world, our Church follows a cycle of growth and renewal, setting aside one day out of each liturgical year where we as Orthodox Christians mark new beginnings and define new challenges. Our Orthodox faith is not static, but dynamic, with the power to transform our lives, our relationships with one another, and the society in which we live.
Considering the importance of beginnings, it is not by accident that we also designate, under the direction of our Ecumenical Patriarch, September 1 as a Day for the Protection of the Natural Environment. We recognize this immediate connection in the very first words of the book of Genesis, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). Reading the creation account further, we encounter a God who creates all things good and who bestows with endless love the gift of the natural environment to us human beings. Such an offering inspired the Psalmist to ponder: “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You ordained, what is man that You are mindful of him?” (Psalm 8: 3-4)
As members of a technologically advanced society and as Orthodox faithful, we bear a special obligation towards protecting the natural environment and raising ecological awareness. On a global level our Orthodox Church offers Her prophetic and redemptive voice towards this end. The many ecological initiatives of our Ecumenical Patriarchate, speak to this contribution, the most recent being a seaborne symposium on the Adriatic Sea this past June where scientists, religious leaders, policy-makers, and journalists from around the world met in order to address growing environmental concerns affecting this body of water.
The commitment of our Orthodox Church to protecting our environment must also be a part of the local ministry of our parishes. On this day, September 1, we are called as members of the Body of Christ to address the needs of our own communities concerning the environment. We are challenged to behold with sensitivity the state of the natural world around us, and to respond decisively when we witness the degradation of natural resources and the problems of increasing air and water pollution in our cities.
In the face of these and other challenges, we remember on this day that the natural environment is a freely given gift from God, and we reaffirm our responsibility to act as stewards of His creation, offering back to God the same precious gifts which He has so lovingly given to us. In so doing, we pray that we may be imparted the Divine wisdom to behold how “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows His handiwork.” (Psalm 19: 1).
May we mark the beginning of this ecclesiastical New Year with a renewed dedication to our natural environment, and may the infinite mercies of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ be with all of you.
With paternal love in Christ,
Archbishop of America