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"THE ENVIRONMENT AND JUSTICE" Statement (Heybeliada, Istanbul, Turkey - June 29, 1997)

"A Heart Merciful to all Creation", St. Isaac the Syrian

Environmental degradation is an injustice that should wrench the heart of every person.  The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, anguished by the wounds to God's creation, called together theologians, scientists, legal professionals, environmentalists and economists from the international community, the Orthodox Churches, many Christian Churches and the local Religious Communities
of Istanbul to address the issue of environmental justice.  Drawing on our faith and values we affirmed

God is love and has created us in his image to love like God.  Therefore, our relationship with creation should be based on respect and justice.

Environmental justice demands seeking the common good.  It does not allow for poverty or social exclusion in this or future generations.  We cannot leave the "unproductive" unprotected.  In this new vision, environmental justice should reflect God's care for all creation.

Nature is not an object to be dominated, abused, or exploited at will; humanity is integrally connected with it.  One cannot exist without the other.  The destruction of the environment signals the destruction of humanity itself.

We call on all people to commit themselves to accept responsibility for environmental justice and to make their lives consistent with their moral and spiritual values.

We also call on the Churches to collaborate on the urgent issue of environmental justice.  We urge them to work together in raising awareness with other organizations and institutions.  Wechallenge each Church and religious community to educate its own members through preaching, teaching and example.  They should encourage men and women of faith actively to participate in the work of environmental justice whatever their walk of life.

We call for new and courageous action to enact, implement and enforce laws, rules, and international agreements to bring about environmental justice.



It is a well established fact that care for the environment of our human family regarding ecological matters constitutes a most urgent question for each and every human person.  With every passing day the danger threatening the survival of life on this beautiful planet of our universe proves to be yet more clear and ever present.  Today, a host of international organizations, governments and leading non-governmental bodies are sending the same message, in no uncertain terms, that they are bearing down on the very visible danger posed by the real disturbance in the ecological balance, and each has set forth proposals for the prevention of the certain destruction of our planet of which we have been forewarned.

For this reason, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Mother Church, has taken this initiative and joined its own voice to those of many others and has taken diligent and incisive action for the protection of the environment, inasmuch as our material world is first and foremost a spiritual organism.  The Church is compelled first by Her love in Christ for our endangered fellow man, and also by Her responsibility to not only teach the faith, but to practice it (cf. James 2:14-1 7).
So it is that as in many other matters of faith, the Church risks being condemned as indifferent unless She speaks out appropriately with the "word of truth." Failure to do so would result in opening the field to other voices, and it could sometimes result in the consequence that we, the believers in Christ, might not even recognize what our own faith teaches about these issues.

Therefore, our actions are out of love and a sense of responsibility so that we may speak the truth and be of service to our fellow human beings.  Our contribution to these efforts is the annual organizing of these environmental seminars here in the sacred monastery of the All Holy Trinity at Halki. The theme of this year's seminar is "The Environment and Justice."

At first glance, these concepts might appear unrelated, but they are most certainly worth a closer look.  In Holy Scripture, justice does not have only or principally the current meaning of the dispensing of justice, that is, of justice being served.  Justice carries a more extensive and comprehensive sense of virtue, such as was expressed in the well-known aphorism of Aristotle: "Every virtue is contained in justice."  The just man does more than merely comply with the law; he bears in himself a higher conception of justice, that is, of the perfect relationship of all things to one another.  Thus, he is virtuous in every respect.  For example, Holy Scripture describes as "just" whosoever shows mercy all the day long and freely gives of himself, without any obligation of law. Likewise, Scripture portrays St. Joseph the Betrothed as just, that is, virtuous in all things, precisely because at the moment he thought the All Holy Virgin was guilty of an illicit union (the result of discovering her pregnancy) he did not wish to make an example of her and subject her to the punishment prescribed by the law, death by stoning.

If justice is identified with this correct understanding, it becomes immediately apparent that the contemporary acute ecological problem has its root precisely in the lack of justice, in the lack of that comprehensive virtue of possessing all virtues.

Man freely departed from this virtue when, at the prompting of the serpent, he declared his autonomy from God and thereby overturned the relationship of love and trust towards God.  As a result, we came to sense our own vulnerability; we began to know remorse, to hear the approaching footsteps of death, and since that time we have been filled with fear and anxiety (cf. Genesis 2:9-11).  Recall how when Adam was called by God to give an account for his disobedience.  Instead of humbling himself and seeking forgiveness, he put the blame on God Himself, claiming that the cause was Eve, the helper whom God had given him.  Thus, Adam lost the opportunity for repentance and the restoration of love that would have absolved him from the fear of living the remaining years of his life in the inherited fear which has endured in every generation since.

From that time, man has been engaged in the Titanic, if not Sisyphean, attempt to reclaim the power of his kingship over creation through his own efforts, which he forfeited by his disobedience.  He arrogantly struggles through his own means to establish himself as God, to acquire for himself the very powers of divinity.  Quite obviously, we have not succeeded in obtaining our desire.  Surely there are many and varied passions of humankind which impel us to differing actions, but underneath them all one discovers our basic fear and uncertainty about the future.  Consequently, we struggle to find substitutes for real hope and reassurance by which we can achieve security.  Unfortunately, these efforts fail to establish us on the only true and firm foundation which is Christ Himself, for only trust and love for Him can cast out fear.  Thus, we see man striving to shore himself up by accumulating wealth, and by manufacturing weapons to seek revenge and often to destroy his fellow man as an enemy, real or imagined.  We contradict ourselves by exterminating certain creatures as being bothersome while affirming that these same beings protect us from even more dangerous ones.  Man has sought to take from the natural world not only that which is necessary for his stability and survival, but often seeks to satisfy his perceived and ultimately false psychological needs, such as his need for self-display, luxuries and the like. Twenty percent of humanity consumes eighty percent of the world's wealth and is accountable for an equal percentage of the world's ecological catastrophes.  One cannot characterize this situation as "just" and what is more, this injustice has had a direct impact on the ecology of the environment.  However, it is plain that this numerical minority of financially powerful people is not the only cause for the ecological ruin of our planet.  Every person ruled by instinctual fears attempts to exploit and loot nature.  Consider the willful scorching of the earth, over-fishing, wasteful hunting, excessive and dangerous recycling of resources, and other similar "injustices" against the ways of nature share in the responsibility for this ecological spiraling down.

During the course of this seminar, you will have the opportunity to study these issues in detail. Our Modesty desires to convey to all of you participating here our heartfelt welcome, together with our paternal prayer that you might worthily actualize the possibilities available to you during the course of this seminar.  We encourage you to exhaust the present theme which we have raised here in a few points, just to prick your minds, by engaging your work from every perspective and gleaning ideas and hypotheses which are useful for all of humanity.  For it is just indeed for each of us to shoulder the burden of his or her own responsibility and not to remain silent, thinking that others will take charge and be liable, and that we can remain an isolated, insignificant factor.  Only if there is "just" comprehension by each of us of our responsibility to work together -- all of us -- in a universal effort, will we be able to hope for a better world.  

This is what we are striving at, and for what we pray; and we invite each of you to join us in this effort.

Οι συνεπέστεροι Αναγνώστες μας

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