“Towards a Greener Attica”: On the Occasion of an Ecological Symposium Hosted by the Ecumenical Patriarchate

by Nikolaos Asproulis

The ecological crisis is nowadays the most urgent problem facing humanity. It is a complex threat, which puts at risk not only a part of the planet but the entire environment, endangering the very survival of the human species and the natural world.  As a result of extreme egocentric interpretations, since medieval times, of the biblical narrative of the world’s creation (Genesis 1-2), humanity has adopted a way of life that assumes a dominating role and position in the world. For many centuries now, humanity has followed a path of utilitarian exploitation and overconsumption of natural resources, being indifferent to the preservation, protection, or survival of the wider universe. It was only in 1967 that Lynn White,[1] in his classic now article, clearly pointed out the historical responsibility of Christianity for the ecological problem, thus bringing to the fore the spiritual and religious aspects of the issue. Since then, many Christian churches and traditions in the West would embrace (though not always successfully) their responsibility, cultivating, either through their institutions or through ecumenical organizations (e.g., the World Council of Churches), the necessary initiatives to address this multi-faceted crisis (Cf. Pope Francis’s recent Encyclical Laudatio Si, 2016).[2]

At the same time, under the guidance of the so-called “Green Patriarch,” Bartholomew I, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, expressing the openness and ecumenical character of Eastern Orthodoxy par excellence, has for the past three decades taken a leading role at interdisciplinary and interreligious conferences (Patmos 1995, Black Sea, 1997, Danube, 1999, etc.) and initiatives (e.g. the introduction of September 1st as an Environment Day), seeking to highlight both the spiritual and religious aspects of the ecological crisis while stressing the need for a spiritual transformation of humanity and for a common treatment of this negative developments.

In this vein, the 9th Ecological Symposium on the general theme “Towards a Greener Attica: Preserving the Planet, Protecting its People,” took place on June 5-8, 2018 in Athens and the Greek islands Spetses and Hydra, initiated and organized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. A major objective of the conference, which was attended by more than 200 invited ecclesiastical and religious leaders, politicians, scientists, theologians, businessmen, activists and journalists, was the international community’s awareness of the environmental problems in the wider area of Attica, Greece (e.g. pollution of the Argosaronic Gulf, large quantities of plastic waste, oil spills, recent disasters in Mandra, Attica etc.) as well as the emergence of the deep interconnection between ecology and economy (as it was highlighted by various speakers during the symposium), insofar as they both (oikos – οίκος) concern creation itself. An important part of the symposium focused also on discussion of the impact of forced migration to the European continent in general and to Greece in particular due to the war in Syria and the general instability in the wider region of the Middle East and its deep relation with the climate change, in the wake of the Paris Treaty (2015), but also various political and social developments in Europe and America (rise of populism, economic liberalism, the refusal by the US President Trump to adopt the environmental Treaty of Paris, etc).

The main aim of the participants was to highlight: a) the urgency of the problem (we do not have to tackle a future problem, but to react now to the ever-worsening situation we are experiencing); b) the moral dimension of the crisis (it is not enough simply to abstain from meat in the diet, but a different spiritual attitude is required, which perceives everything as gift and not as individual property); c) the need for a universal response to the challenge of the ecological crisis (the role of Christian churches and wider religious traditions is particularly critical), with the cooperation of all the available powers (sciences, religions, technocrats, associations, individuals, etc.), so as to limit as much as possible the effects of the destruction, a result of the arrogant and narcissist behavior of humanity.

[1] Lynn White, Jr. “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis,” Science, 155:3767 (1967): 1203-07.

[2] For an orthodox appreciation of the Encyclical see Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon, “Pope Francis’ Encyclical Laudatio Si,” in Dietrich Werner-Elizabeth Geglitza (eds.) Ecotheology, Climate Justice and Food Security (Geneva: Globethics.net, 2016), 179-186.

Nikolaos Asproulis is Deputy Director of the Volos Academy for Theological Studies and Lecturer at Hellenic Open University.

Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in this essay are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.