The majority of people ignore or overlook the fact that the ecological crisis is deeply rooted in theology. His all-holiness Bartholomew, throughout his Patriarchal ministry, has urged humanity, and in particular the Christian faithful, to protect God's creation. Μετάνοια, or repentance, is not limited to doctrinal or theoretical aspects of the Church's teaching. The mistreatment of nature is a sin, and so we are called to transform our mentalities (with regards to consumerism, pollution and carelessness) in repentance, as it is our Christian obligation to do so. The Patriarch has been the leading religious figure in pressurising the global community to realising this. For Bartholomew, the Church cannot be faithful to her mission without a serious involvement in the protection of God's creation from the damage inflicted on it by human selfishness and greed.
The Orthodox Church affirms that without a profound spiritual transformation of the human being, there is no hope of saving our natural environment. With greed, self-centredness, overconsumption, and a lack of cooperation, it is clear that our sinful interventions threaten our God-given planet with destruction. In order to truly reach and achieve the spiritual transformation needed, Bartholomew urges all religious communities to cooperate, together with scientists, politicians and ethicists in order to tackle this ecological crisis. His all-holiness writes:
'The solution to the ecological problem is not only a matter of science, technology and politics, but also, and perhaps primarily, a matter of radical change of mind.. a new ethos.'
Even though we have scientific proof of the damage being done to our planet, we need to make a change of heart, and a shift of mind. The Ecumenical Patriarch states that even though this century has been one of immense scientific progress, it has simultaneously been a period of extreme destruction and damage. Science of course informs us about the world, but it 'cannot reach the depths of our soul and mind,' which is where real change, repentance and love takes place.
The Orthodox Church's involvement in the protection of the natural environment is a matter of faithfulness to her tradition, and to her very nature. John Zizioulas, Metropolitan of Pergamon, tells us that two aspects of the Church's teaching and life, testify to this. Firstly, the centrality of the Holy Eucharist for Christian existence, and secondly, the ascetical tradition. The Eucharist reminds us that the human being is the 'priest of creation,' in that we are called to take the world into our hands as a gift, and refer it back to our Giver, with thankfulness - ευχαριστία. As the world is passed on through our human hands, of course changes will take place, but each transformation that takes place must be shared in love, and refer back to the Creator. Such transformations might be science, art, culture and other beneficial fields; but not acts which result in carelessness and destruction of nature. The ascetical tradition of the Church reminds us of the fact we should strive to free ourselves from selfishness. We often mistakingly understand ourselves as the possessors of nature, rather than eucharistic beings, who should offer everything back to God.
Our Christian faith is centred on the holiness of human life, granted to us by our Lord Jesus Christ. Following His commandments, in preserving human life and nature, we are called to share this message of protection, respect, dignity and cooperation, and act upon it, following the example of his all-holiness, Patriarch Bartholomew. Fr Thomas Kocherry, an Indian priest, social activist and lawyer, writes:
'As a religious leader, Patriarch Bartholomew gives meaning to Jesus Christ even today. Through his work, Jesus is still alive and risen. Environmental awareness and social justice go together. His all-holiness has taught the world that an institutional Church has relevance...'
With our Patriarch of Constantinople leading world faith groups in raising awareness of climate change, and influencing Pope Francis' recent encyclical on the environment, he is indeed an example to us all in making our own personal efforts in tackling global warming, with repentance and love for God and His creation.
John Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, Humble Prayer - The Ecological Vision of the Green Patriarch Bartholomew (Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2009)