Halki Summit II – Reflection by K. Pekridou and N. Dimitriadis

Halki Summit II took part from June 8-10, 2015 on the Island of Heybeliada, Turkey. Organized under the auspices of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and co-sponsored by the Ecumenical Patriarchate and Southern New Hampshire University, Halki Summit II focused on “Theology, Ecology and the Word” and was a conversation on the Environment, Literature and the Arts.

In the line of five educational seminars, eight international symposia and the successful Halki Summit I, which discussed the environment in relation to ethics and innovation, Halki Summit II brought together world-renowned literary and environmental leaders, artists, intellectuals, educators and theologians.

His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew opened the summit on 8 June at the Theological School of Halki, calling participants to “consider how to inspire one another to love and good works” (Heb. 10:24), and to listen how “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims the creation of His hands” (Ps. 19:1). He reminded that people who serve the arts are “images of divine creativity and godly compassion,” who can assist the world to discern the sacred mystery as well as the exceptional harmony and balance that unfolds in creation.

Revd. Dr. John Chryssavgis, secretary of the organizing committee, commented on the tense, albeit creative relationship between science and art, underlining how the ecological initiatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate have focused on reconciling the science of climate change with the religious approach of creation while promoting an organic view of the world. This alternative vision is more than a political conviction or fashionable statement; it needs to become a way of living, and this is where the arts can be of assistance to both religion and science.

On 9 June, keynote speaker Terry Tempest Williams, poet and author, together with her student Ms. Alisha Anderson highlighted the importance of word and story, art and ritual, covenant and connectivity in dealing with environmental problems through narrating the story of the Oquirrh Mountains in Salt Lake Valley. Ms. Williams thanked Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew for his inspiring leadership in addressing the ecological crisis and the spiritual dimension of the problem. She urged for spiritual activism and described the wild in nature as a movement of direct action; similarly, she depicted religion and faith as a movement of direct action. Ms. Anderson presented her film on the loss of the mountains due to Rio Tinto’s copper mine and underlined the importance of place and locality in talking about the environment.

Terry Eagleton, literary theorist and critic, suggested a dialectical approach to art. After exposing the audience to different historical and sociological definitions of art, Prof. Eagleton concluded that each one deconstructs itself based on its very definition. In his exposition of the relationship of faith, nature and art, he called attention to the multiple meanings of experience, culture, love and imagination.

Mountaineer and photographer James Balog presented his award-winning documentary “Chasing Ice” that captures a record of the world’s changing glaciers. Through his artistic work that registers the history of ancient mountains of ice rapidly disappearing, Mr. Balog stressed the concept of “Anthropocene,” the idea that a new epoch has begun when human activity has an impact on earth’s ecosystems, and emphasized the importance of evidence over belief when it comes to the destruction of the environment, urging the audience to use their voices in order to bring about urgent change.

On 10 June, Raj Patel, author and activist, spoke on ecology, love and the art of food. He demonstrated how ecology involves a broad set of human relationships, how gender roles and power relate to it, and talked about different ecological technologies and how they affect community living. The example of a small community in Malawi whose life was transformed, demonstrated how the art of making food using ecological methods can redefine relationships between men, women and children in the community.

Timothy Gorringe discussed the role of art in transforming culture with regard to climate change. He described art as an expression which it is not isolated and does not lift humans out of their history. In his view, art does not provide us with the meaning of human existence; it is “not our Saviour” but rather reveals our degradation. Its role is to teach us about tension, which is seen as the ground of both love and prayer.

Apart from the keynote speakers, the discussion facilitators and other participants contributed to the conversations with their expertise, fruitful reflections and questions. During the last session of the summit, the group of student participants from the Southern New Hampshire University took the floor to speak on how their generation views the relationship of the environment with literature and the arts and offered their reflections, thus contributing to the conversation. The summit concluded with an artistic evening of reciting poetry, music and singing together with an official dinner and closing remarks by President Paul LeBlanc of Southern New Hampshire University.

On 11 June, the feast of the Holy Apostles Bartholomew and Barnabas, name-day of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, participants of Halki Summit II visited the Ecumenical Patriarchate. A guided tour was also provided to the Chora Monastery and Haghia Sophia, both masterpieces of religious art.

Katerina Pekridou
Nikolaos Dimitriadis