By the will of God this Conference is the first in a series of seminars which we intend to convene on a yearly basis, here on this amiable and charming island of Halki. This conference is convened by decision of our Holy and Sacred Synod, which by separate decision reached in its meeting of June 6, 1989, has decreed that September 1st of each year not only be designated the beginning of the ecclesiastical New Year, but furthermore dedicated to the protection of our natural environment.
In view of the universal problem of the poor management of the environment created by the numerous and unfortunate abuses of nature by humanity, by this significant decision reached under the spiritual guidance of our predecessor, Patriarch Dimitrios of blessed memory, it is recognized that our Church must actively involve itself in this crucial issue. Humanity was created by God to have sovereignty over nature, not to be a tyrant over it. Many sectors of society have recognized that the ecological problem is associated with the moral crisis of the human person and that the use of nature depends on the perception, position, and training of human beings regarding the cosmos, for according to the ancient saying, "the measure of all things is mankind."
Now that we have been awakened to the impending destruction of nature and all that this implies, how has society responded in recent years? We note here the so-called "plans for peaceful coexistence" (between mankind and nature) along with plans for the "development of the environment." All these concerns are of course blessed and acceptable. As we know, however, they are limited in their effectiveness. Who will find and apprehend those individuals responsible for forest fires? Who will restrain those who illegally cut down trees? Who and how will we control those unconscionable individuals who pollute our waters, rivers, and seas? Who will restrain the greedy?
We, the Church, must help firmly, extensively, and with relative ease with this pressing and necessary concern. We will help by enlightening the conscience of men and women and by cultivating respect for fellow persons and for all matter. Our goal is to give people feeling and instil in them the fear of God so that they may avoid doing wrong, vulgarity, impropriety, inhumanity, and especially egotism. Usually those who torch forests, those who illegally cut trees, those who pollute our shores, are egocentric individuals with hardened hearts, who do so out of greed and for purely utilitarian purposes. A good Christian cannot, rather, a good Christian is not, permitted by conscience to destroy nature and his environment. We cannot be a source of immoral or ugly acts.
According to Socrates, "virtue is taught." In conformity with our aforementioned position therefore, upon much meditation and thought, we have chosen as the theme of this gathering, the relationship between religious education and the environment. By restricting the discussion of the conference to religious education, we do not exclude nor do we underestimate all forms and levels of secular and parochial education. Our goal, and we beseech the attention of the esteemed conferees to this point, is to examine the ways and means by which we may sensitize and influence the desires and the attention of our students to this most urgent issue.
So that we are not left with empty or hollow words, we are of the opinion that our attention must be given to developing programs of practical application. Tree-planting initiatives must be undertaken, for example. Groups of students can cultivate gardens, while yet others can care and tend to forest regions. Along with a series of lectures, seminars should be organized intended on enlightening students concerning planting procedures, gardening and similar activities. Other groups of children in our secular, parochial and catechetical schools may adopt vegetable or flower gardens, forested regions, church compounds, abandoned properties or areas in use, farm regions cultivated for the common good, as well as areas with natural beauty which they will care for on a voluntary basis. Their example can serve to sensitize their parents and elders who can then be motivated to do likewise.
We especially advise the clergy and others in parish ministry to encourage love for nature, to care for trees and shrubs and the church properties and cemeteries. It is only fitting that love for the environment begin in the church compound which must be replete with greenery and flowers in bloom throughout all the seasons of the year, "for the Author of beauty has created them" (Wisdom of Solomon 13:3).
This beauty of nature reflects the beauty and perfection of God. Subsequently we are obligated to preserve rather than destroy the environment. Hence, any destruction of nature clearly constitutes sin.
We entreat your attention primarily to these final thoughts. As we read the agonizing warnings of the naturalists, the geologists and geographers and other specialists, who remind us of the great folly of the violation of nature with its foreseeable tragic consequences, you, my beloved conferees, contribute today to a momentous task of timely significance for our planet.
"For He (God) did not create it (the earth) a chaos, He formed it to be inhabited" (Isaiah 45:18). Humanity is obligated therefore not to destroy the earth, creating chaotic conditions with fires and a scarcity of water, but rather to develop and enhance it. "You who have nothing to do, plant a tree in the corner of your garden so that others may come and sit there to rest and recollect." Such are the words by Adamo, in a timely song with beautiful orchestration and harmony. It would be worthwhile for our youthful listeners to find it. Inspired and enthused by it, sing it with your friends as an indication of your ecological concerns. In life, only those divinely inspired and with zeal, those who love their environment, create the things of God. "Seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease" (Genesis 8:22).
You, our beloved conferees, contribute to the concern for the proper order and legitimate status of the cosmos. Cosmos is defined as meaning to decorate; it is defined as a love for beauty and decency. May you be blessed by God.
Permit us to confide in you our thoughts. We do not believe much in the strong and the mighty, or in people in authority. We believe rather in those willing and patient individuals who do not lose sight of their objective; the objective for good. Do not forget the acknowledgement of the ancient Greeks that "drops of water make rocks hollow."
Many simple people in various small corners of the earth, with nominal but continuous daily concerns, can change the world, even slightly, for the better. Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Spirit. We celebrate the triumph of the few, the weak - by human standards - holy disciples and apostles of our Lord, who, dispersed, changed the world here and 2000 years ago, and behold, now we are entering the third millenium after Christ.
My brothers and sisters. May we continue primarily to cultivate the field of the soul, but also the garden of our home.
Welcome into our midst!