Archbishop Praises Daring New Book: The Theotokos & Ecofeminism
By Menios Papadimitriou
Cambridge, MA—“Nobody has cared about the garden for years now,” Vicky Flessas began, breathing life into Yannis Ritsos’ lucid verses.
“Nevertheless, this year—in May, in June—
it blossomed on its own again, brightening everything up to the balustrades,
a thousand roses, a thousand carnations,
a thousand geraniums, a thousand sweet peas
so much so that once again, the woman her old watering can came again,
to water—beautiful once again, serene, with an invisible devotion.”
It’s this lyrical, if bygone, perception of ecofeminism that inspired Rev. Dr. Vassilios Bebis’ latest text, The Mother of God and Ecofeminism. Entering the verdant garden of his muse, Rev. Dr. Bebis encounters the maiden of Galilee in the serenity of a dutiful woman who returns to the garden. And the threadbare, yet steady watering can that Ritsos places in her grasp whispers of a provincial woman’s undecorated life, whose homespun presence effectuates the renewal—and embrace— of all creation.
“And the garden mantled her up to her shoulders, it embraced her,
it gained all of her, it lifted her up in its hands.
And then we saw, in noon daylight, that the garden and the woman
with the watering can were taken up,
and as we looked high above, a few drops from the watering can
fell silently on our cheeks, on our chins, on our lips.”
An unusual, provocative word, Ecofeminism is a methodological category. This means that it is a tool for asking questions from a particular standpoint and generating ideas in response to those questions. Evident from in the word itself, it combines two distinct points of view, drawing connections between femininity and the natural world, underscoring the historical vulnerability and domination of both women and the environment. By looking at the intersection of these currents, Ecofeminist thought aims at the restoration and empowerment of the disenfranchised.
“The concept was introduced to me when I was just a graduate student at Boston University,” Fr. Bebis told the Orthodox Observer. Taking the lead from the ecological vision and lifework of the Ecumenical (and Green) Patriarch, Bartholomew, and with the guidance of his mentors and colleagues, like Dr. Chrysostomos Stamoulis, who is Dean of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki’s Faculty of Theology, Fr. Vassilios brings the Orthodox Tradition, especially a central figure in its theology—the Theotokos, into conversation with Ecofeminist ideas, generating novel perspectives firmly grounded in Orthodox awareness and ethos. He does this not simply to contextualize and further illuminate the way that Orthodox Christians think about the Theotokos and express devotion to her, but also to bring the person of the Mother of God into dialogue with the contemporary moment—beyond the bounds of Orthodox Christian theological and ecclesial circles.
“Daring” is how Archbishop Elpidophoros of America described the project, reiterating it several times as he commended Fr. Vassilios for his intrepid work. The Archbishop did not hesitate to point out that “such a topic is not beloved in Orthodoxy’s narrow theological and ecclesial circles,” and adding “that the mere mention of feminism in such forums evokes a certain discomfort and reaction.” Nevertheless, the Archbishop praised the author for accomplishing a comparative study that is not only true to the Orthodox Tradition, but also executing it in a way that is creative and beautiful.
As a Chaplain of Harvard University, where he is charged with supporting a richly diverse community and nurturing exploration into deep convictions, Fr. Bebis must facilitate honest and respectful conversation around questions of ultimate meaning, purpose, and value. Because of this, he is not a stranger to dialogue. He discusses big questions that have contemporary intrigue with students and faculty on and off Harvard Yard. Many are Orthodox Christian, some are of other faith traditions, and there are even those who espouse no faith at all. “Dialogue doesn’t have boundaries. Salvation is for all. We do not deny dialogue with anyone for any reason,” His Eminence said as he emphasized the multivalent significance of Fr. Bebis’ book, which he sees as a contribution to ecumenical and interfaith dialogue, in addition to the theological corpus of the Orthodox Tradition.
Engagements with unusual or contemporary themes—like Ecofeminism—typically occur outside of the confines of the Orthodox community. For His Eminence, this is significant because such engagements enable Orthodox Christians to step out of their esoteric bubble and touch their neighbors, “to gaze into the eyes of the other, to receive the other, to consent to speak with the other, to dare to come out of yourself—this is the authentic Christian tradition and theology. Christ went out into the world and spoke with the world. Christ didn’t remain in synagogues and only speak with men, with clerics, with ‘non-sinners,’” His Eminence declared, concluding that, “with this extroverted disposition, Fr. Vassilios, faithfully and with erudition, authentically expresses the Orthodox Tradition in the spirit of dialogue with all religions and ideas, without barriers and boundaries.”
Armos publishing house (Greece) organized an in-depth panel discussion of Theotokos and Ecofeminism on April 4, 2022, moderated by journalist Vicky Flessa. Two additional panelists, Dr. Chrysostomos Stamoulis and Dr. Stelios Tsobanidis, joined Archbishop Elpidophoros of America and the Rev. Dr. Vassilios Bebis unpacking questions like method, tradition, and authenticity. A full recording of the event and purchasing links for the book can both be found online. The forthcoming English edition will be available in 2023.