Session Summaries


Session 1

His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew presented the opening address and reflected on the unprecedented environmental degradation induced by human growth and greed. He underscored the interconnectedness of human beings with the rest of God’s creation, highlighting the human unwillingness to accept personal responsibility and demonstrate personal sacrifice. In his view, churches and religions have a fundamental role to play in promoting ecological education and advocating climate justice. Theological schools and religious seminaries are the appropriate places where future leaders may be formed and equipped to be attuned to the presence of God in creation and respond to the current challenges.

Following the opening address by His All-Holiness, summit delegates watched the first public screening of a video portraying the international ecological symposium “Toward a Greener Attica,” which was organized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Athens and the islands of the Saronic Gulf in June, 2018. His All-Holiness distributed a gift package of the video to all participants.

Click here for the Green Attica film.
Click here for the Opening Address by His All-Holiness.
Click here for the Welcome Address by Fr. John Chryssavgis.

Session 2

In his keynote presentation, Elder Metropolitan John of Pergamon highlighted Orthodox theology as an inexhaustible source of inspiration for ecological matters.  He reminded participants that human beings are saved together with the rest of Creation, which Christ came to save as a whole. Their material body connects then with the rest of material nature. The task of theological education, therefore, is to overcome any platonist understanding of human nature. Through teaching and cultivating a proper ethos within the worshipping community, theological education develops a particular attitude towards God and Creation. This begins with baptism and is shaped through participation in the Eucharistic liturgy.

In his response, Bishop Ignatije of Branicevo underlined the need for theology to address ecological destruction. A change is needed in the consumerist way of life and contemporary technological civilization in order to respond to the current challenge. Eucharistic theology in dialogue with other sciences can be of assistance, as it demonstrates that the human being is the priest of all creation. It is the Eucharistic event that both saves the world and points to what the world should be.

Session 3

Prof. Celia Deane-Drummond reflected on the importance of theological and practical wisdom in higher education, especially with regard to ecology. She advocated for a wholistic education that includes theological or religious education, as she discussed the papal encyclical letter Laudato Si, the philosophy of faith of John Henry Newman, and the need for a retrieval of the Aristotelian-Thomist tradition. In theological education, the concern for the poor and the concern for ecology go hand in hand. Theological education encourages relationships, transforms the mind and spirit, bringing insights from a variety of disciplines to complex issues. Ecological thinking is rooted in place and inspires students to see the beauty of creation in order to develop a poetic appreciation of the world, thereby transforming all life.

Dr. Elizabeth Theokritoff emphasized the life of prayer and service to God as a way for human beings to understand the meaning of the created order. As with any transfiguration, the everyday work of the community becomes the spreading of life outside of the community, a way of continuing the divine liturgy outside the church. This contemplative vision leads to action and requires further reflection on human responsibility. In the context of theological education, it is important to continue exploring the Orthodox theology of creation and to develop a consistent approach to environmental questions, which involves learning to read the Scriptures as well as patristic and liturgical texts with contemporary questions in mind. The imagery of the human being as ‘priest of creation’ may be of assistance in this effort, as it sets the reflection on the relationship of the human being with nature in the context of cosmic worship and service of God.

Prof. Crina Gschwandtner reflected on how faith and religious convictions can be translated into environmental action. For instance, honouring material icons has practical implications for protecting nature, and participation in the liturgy – which embodies the physical and material in time and space – cannot but lead to ethical guidelines that should be followed. The liturgy may not have clear and immediate answers to contemporary questions, but it certainly provides the mindset and worldview to determine and define such answers.

Session 4

Prof. Barbara Rossing presented how the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago integrates an eco-theological approach in its academic curriculum. She referred to a common ground between Orthodox and Lutherans with regard to eschatology, as illustrated in the Lutheran-Orthodox International dialogue. She also reminded participants of the Ecumenical Patriarch’s urge to raise ecological awareness over a number of decades and to make conscious choices that will lead to the healing of God’s world. She proposed to look at biblical texts through an eco-theological lens and re-read biblical eschatology for world-healing. Her re-reading of bible stories illustrated how people’s grassroots movements can change the course of history in only a short time. Finally, she referred to the Green Seminary Initiative, a nation-wide coalition of Theological Schools that infuse care of the earth into all aspects of theological education.

Prof. Gayle Woloschak focused on how to introduce environmental science into theological and pastoral communities. She maintained that each discipline must be true to itself and noted that most disciplines are too broad for one person to represent them comprehensively. Therefore, higher education needs to appreciate its limitations, while including as broad of a range of sciences as possible. Theological education should engage future pastors and encourage them to think about science, inasmuch as the latter provides the basis for understanding environmental problems. The goal is mostly experiential: to help students understand their own communities and the relationship with the species in their environment. Theological education should include activities with prayer and contemplation, acknowledging that not everyone is at the same level of spiritual development. Ecology may also serve as a topic for interfaith exchange in higher education and between communities of faith.

Prof. Michael Evans from Southern New Hampshire University explained how the programs on environmental science and geosciences offered by the University enable students to explore the interconnectedness of the past with the future and to understand the impact of human actions on the natural environment, which is also a matter of spiritual consideration. The programs feature a multidisciplinary approach that engages the arts, humanities, engineering, artificial intelligence, and so on, helping students to understand the value of agriculture, architecture, and agro-ecology. The sustainability working group on campus focuses on developing a new model for energy development, purchase and use of renewable energy devices and systems.

MONDAY, JUNE 3, 2019

Session 5

Prof. Fred Bahnson of Wake Forest University spoke on the importance of cultivating religious leadership and ecological imagination. In his view, the early understanding that in Christ everything holds together (Col. 1:15-17) could provide a response to the present climate crisis. He reflected how the Enlightenment perceived the human being as separate from creation and stressed the need to draw on ecological, biological metaphors to respond to the present reality. Ecological imagination is tied to action since there is agency involved in imagination. When human beings capture and act on this imagination, they create bonds with nature, e.g. the organic gardens and farms that the university has in North Carolina. He also discussed the project Ecotones of the Spirit, a gathering on contemplative ecology bringing together people concerned with food justice, sustainable agriculture, and climate change.

Jeanne Knights spoke of the Holy Gardens of Patmos, a project that demonstrates the interconnectedness of theology, spirituality, and ecology, inspired by Saints Christodoulos and Amphilochios of Patmos. The goal of the Gardens is to create an example of sustainable living and provide an inspiring place for learning on the island of the Apocalypse. She contemplated on the unity of the spiritual, physical and eternal, as well as the cooperation of cognitive faculties, senses, and the material in perceiving the world. Living Light: Sustainability for Life is an initiative based on Gen. 2:1-5 that aims at providing a creative, inspirational and nourishing learning environment for people of all ages to meaningfully explore ‘living lightly on the earth.’

Dr. Christina Nellist elaborated on the work of the Pan-Orthodox Concern for Animals, a charity whose overarching mission is to incorporate compassionate care and friendly relationships with animals into academic and seminary curricula. More concretely, it aims at establishing a module on compassionate care for animals in Orthodox academic and seminary courses, as well as addressing and filling the gap between Orthodox theory (which has a rich theology of animals) and praxis (the actual treatment of animals, attitudes and behaviour typical of Orthodox societies). Another goal is to contribute to relevant debates within interfaith groups and secular institutions.

Session 6

While reflecting on the role of monasteries in raising ecological awareness and providing an example of living in harmony with the natural environment, Sister Theoktisti shared the experience of the Holy Monastery of Saint John the Forerunner in Anatoli at Agia, Greece. She traced ecological awareness back to monastic life in deserted and isolated areas where creation was perceived as oikos, the house of God. She underlined that raising ecological awareness is the mission of Christians today and provided concrete examples of how the Church could become the place where people have their first contact with creation (e.g. the image of the Six Days of Creation; encouraging them to grow vegetables; working with beekeepers from Estonia and Finland; cooperating with a Japanese crew to produce a film on wax).

V. Rev. Dr. Anton Vrame examined the importance of environmental awareness and action across (and not just in) the Orthodox Christian religious education curriculum. He stressed that the Church does not have an educational program, but it actually is one. Environmental awareness, therefore, should permeate the curriculum and the life of the Christian community. He provided concrete examples of raising environmental awareness within the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (e.g. Praxis Magazine; The Planner, a monthly calendar with quotes from the writings of His All-Holiness; textbook resources, etc). He underscored Life to Faith to Life as the basic pedagogical strategy that invites learners to reflect on their present experience in dialogue with the Orthodox tradition.

Frederick Krueger of the Orthodox Fellowship of the Transfiguration in the United States described the ecological mission and mandate of the fellowship that seeks the transfiguration of creation and the reconciliation of all things in Christ. Krueger emphasized that the transfiguring activity of the Church extends into all creation through ascetic practice and spiritual growth, expanding our theology in every corner of creation and applying it to serious life-changing and earth-healing action. It is also connected to studying the Bible through an ecological lens, practising beauty as a verb, and assuming our role as priests of creation.

Session 7

Metropolitan Serafim of Zimbabwe and Angola referred to world initiatives on climate change, in which the Orthodox Church participates actively, starting from gatherings of scientists and policy-makers and the First World Climate Conference in the 70’s, to the International Environmental Education Programme (1975-95), and the Treaty Extension and Replacement of Kyoto Protocol (2012). He discussed lessons learned from the Conferences of the Parties (COP) with regard to participation, timing and implementation, and reminded participants of the timely observation of His All-Holiness during the UNFCCC COP22 Session in 2016 that since 1992 ‘a series of protocols and agreements have resulted in numerous negotiations and decisions over 22 international sessions of UN conventions. In some ways, then, we have come a long way. Yet, in many ways, we have made little progress’.

Archbishop Job of Telmessos examined how Orthodox eco-theology has influenced ecumenical discourses on the environment, underlining the impact of His All-Holiness on the publication of the encyclical Laudato Si, as well as the declaration of September 1st as the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation by Pope Francis in 2015. He referred to the work on ecology within the framework of the World Council of Churches, and in particular the Busan call for an economy of life and climate justice (10th General Assembly of the WCC in 2013). A concrete expression of this call is the Roadmap for Congregations, Communities and Churches for an Economy of Life and Ecological Justice, an important resource for eco-justice available in several languages. 

Nicholas Anton, Director of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, stressed the importance of developing advocacy skills and strategies as part of advancing theological curricula and engaging civil society with the concerns and priorities of the Church. Faith-based diplomacy and advocacy have a role to play with regard to the UN Sustainable Development Goals agenda, as well as in promoting and safeguarding certain human rights –for instance, the recognition and safeguarding of clean water and sanitation as fundamental human rights.

Courtesy of K. Pekridou