Keynote Address by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

Halki Summit V

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Most reverend hierarchs and religious leaders,
Distinguished diplomats and dignitaries,
Dearest summit speakers and participants,

It is a joy for us to welcome you all to the “queen of cities” for the fifth Halki Summit of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which this year is jointly organized and sponsored by our beloved Sisters of the Focolare Movement and specifically its Sophia University Institute.

It is indeed a privilege to address the theme of our gathering about “sustaining the future of the planet together” with an educational and religious school that features a unique ecumenical chair dedicated to our venerable predecessor Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras and the charitable founder of the Focolare Chiara Lubich. Both of these visionaries of our respective churches established invaluable ecumenical relations, which have only been strengthened and sealed over the past years. Today we are honored to have among us the current president of the Focolare Movement and Vice Chancellor of Sophia University Institute as well as its Rector, Professor Giuseppe Argiolas. Thank you for gracing us with your presence and participation.

The focus of this summit is the comparative study of the ecological teachings and programs initiated – separately and in common – by our beloved brother Pope Francis in the Roman Catholic Church and our modesty in the Orthodox Church. For this reason it is indeed a gift to have among us the recently-appointed Nuncio, Archbishop XXX, who has made the presence of His Holiness at our humble summit very palpable through his personal message. We are deeply grateful for the voice of Pope Francis and the presence of the archbishop.

And like all of our initiatives – whether educational seminars, large-scale symposia, or these more concentrated summits – we have once again sought to include international, interdisciplinary, and ecumenical speakers and participants. This is because we are convinced that only together can we properly respond to and productively resolve the ecological crisis that humankind faces and the vital challenge to protect God’s creation in our time. In this light, we would like to emphasize two key words in the title of our theme: namely “future” and “together.”

Many of our speakers are educators who are committed to raising awareness and communicating knowledge to young people in our communities. This mission demonstrates the inseparable connection between our own generation and the generation of our children. We are responsible for the damage that we cause in our world. We are responsible for leaving behind a world that is sustainable for the future. We are responsible for shaping a world that our children can receive, respect and transmit to their own children. And unfortunately it is true that we are the first generation that may leave behind a world that is worse shape than the world we inherited. That is why the word “future” is critical.

The second word that we would underline is “together.” It has become increasingly clear to us over the last decades – since the Ecumenical Patriarchate has emphasized that creation care is part and parcel of our vocation as Christians and our responsibility as human beings – that no single science or discipline, no single institution or individual, no single nation or organization, but also no single confession or religion can potentially appreciate the diverse perspectives or possibly address the various repercussions of the ecological crisis. This means that we cannot point fingers at any single cause, but we are obliged to hold hands in order together to assume responsibility for leaving the lightest footprint and bequeathing the least damage on the gift of creation.

In the “symbol of faith” shared by our “sister churches” – what our two churches both recognize and respect as the Nicaean Creed – we profess “one God, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.” This is a joint confession that we will celebrate together in just a few years, as we commemorate the 1700th anniversary since the convocation of that historical First Ecumenical Council that convened not very far from here. So beyond the scriptural teaching about our creator God who fashioned the world out of love and out of nothing, Christianity traditionally and doctrinally holds that all of creation is an inseparable part of our sacred identity and divine destiny.

By extension, then, every human action leaves a lasting imprint on the body of the earth. Human attitudes and behavior toward creation directly impact on and reflect human attitudes and behavior toward other people as well as human conceptions about God. Ecology cannot be understood without reference to theology, just as it cannot be understood without reference to economy. At stake with the ecological crisis is not just our ability to live in a sustainable way, but our survival and our faith in God. Therefore, it becomes abundantly clear that only a cooperative and collective response – by religious leaders, informed scientists, political authorities, educational institutions, and financial organizations – will effectively be able to address these vital issues of our time.

At this point, we would like to remind you of two other concepts from Orthodox theology and spirituality that we have repeatedly emphasized in our effort to discern ways of promoting environmental awareness and action. The first of these words is “eucharist.” In calling for a “eucharistic” spirit, the Orthodox Church is reminding us that the created world is not simply our personal possession, but rather it is a sacred gift – a gift from above, a gift of wonder and beauty. The proper response to such a gift is to accept and embrace it with gratitude and thanksgiving. This precludes any attempt at possessing or controlling the planet and its resources as human beings. In this respect, a eucharistic or sacramental worldview is the opposite of the way of selfish and wasteful consumption. Humans are called to be eucharistic beings – grateful to the Creator and respectful toward all creation.

The second word is “ascesis.” The ascetic ethos or worldview is the intention and effort to protect the sacred gift of creation. It is the struggle for self-restraint and self-control, whereby we no longer willfully or wastefully consume every fruit, but instead manifest a sense of frugality and abstinence. Both of these attitudes of protection and self-restraint are expressions of love for God, humanity and the natural creation. Only such love can protect the world from inevitable destruction.

However, what we would like to stress to you today is that, when we speak of eucharist and ascesis, we conventionally think of the ritual of liturgy and the way of monasticism. We would like to encourage you to think beyond the limited meaning of these terms, which have been burdened with many layers of ceremony and austerity through the centuries. Instead we would inspire you to consider these concepts as different ways of speaking about communion. Of course “eucharist” is much more easily appreciated as a synonym for communion and sharing. But even “ascesis” is misinterpreted when we reduce it to an individualistic exercise. When we abstain from certain foods or luxuries or desires, we are conscious that our choices affect other people. We remember those who have are counterbalanced by those who do not have. So even the ascetic worldview is another way of learning to share with other people and the rest of the world.

And here is where the vision of our brother Pope Francis coincides with the worldview we have proposed and promulgated for over thirty years. Both of us are convinced that what we do to our world “we do unto the least of our brothers and sisters” (Mt 25.40), just as what we do unto others we do to God Himself (Mt. 25.45). It is no accident that, immediately after publishing his environmental encyclical Laudato Si’, the next encyclical issued by Pope Francis was Fratelli Tutti. And it is not by chance that, after numerous annual encyclicals since 1989 for the protection of the natural environment, the Ecumenical Patriarchate endorsed a document entitled For the Life of the World, which is about the social teaching of the Orthodox Church.

Both the pope and we recognize that the success of all our ecological activities is measured by the way we treat our fellow brothers and sisters, especially the poor. And the effectiveness of our response to the ecological crisis is assessed by the way we confront the social challenges of our world. Moreover, both the pope and we are fully aware that we can only address these issues together and not in isolation. This is why have issued joint statements – along with the Archbishop of Canterbury – on the urgency of environmental sustainability, its impact on those living with poverty, and the importance of global cooperation.

So this is the paternal exhortation that we leave you with today as a signpost for your discussions over the next few days. Always remember that our vocation as Christians is about making and reinforcing connections:

Connections between ourselves and all of God’s creation
Connections between our faith and our action, between our theology and our spirituality, between what we say and what we do
Connections between science and religion, between our beliefs and every discipline
Connections between our sacramental communion and our social consciousness
Connections between our generation and the generations to come, just as between heaven and earth
Connections between our two churches, but also with other churches and other faith communities

Because whenever we narrow our perception of life to ourselves, we overlook our vocation to transform the whole world. And creation provides a unique opportunity for all of us – normally so divided – to look beyond ourselves in order to address a common challenge and task that we must face together. That is precisely why we collaborate so closely with Pope Francis. And that is the shared service that we pray that you will support, that you will imitate, and that you will advance in your own lives and ministries. May God bless you all.