The Foreword to this volume, by Prince Philip of England, provides the larger historical context for the volume. As the International President of the World Wide Fund for Nature, he was influential in calling together various religious leaders to a meeting in Assisi in 1986, on the assumption that most religious faiths acknowledge the universe as God’s creation and should feel a responsibility to care for the earth. According to Prince Philip, the Greek Patriarch of Constantinople Dimitrios took a leadership role after the meeting to educate and inspire others to work for the earth’s protection. His successor, Bartholomew, had supported Dimitrios and when chosen Patriarch used his theological convictions and spirituality to support ecological initiatives. The volume is a collection of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s statements on the environment during the first twenty years of his ministry. It includes encyclicals, speeches, interviews, pastoral letters and exhortations. Because the audiences differ, the length and detail of the statements differ, but the message is clear and repeated: Orthodox Christianity, out of its religious tradition, must be committed to the wellbeing of the earth which is closely intertwined with the wellbeing of human society.
In 1989 the Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios published his first encyclical on the environment and invited all Orthodox Christians to dedicate a day of prayer—September 1st, the first day of the new ecclesiastical calendar—for the protection of the environment. He published two encyclicals—September 1st, 1989 and 1990—and his successor Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has published an encyclical on the environment almost every September 1st since. These decrees comprise chapter one of the volume. Chapter two contains general addresses that emphasize the relationship of orthodox theology to the environment. Chapter three is comprised of a collection of speeches that emphasize the beauty and harmony of creation; chapter four showcases statements on the relationship of ecology to ethics, to virtues, values, and justice. Chapter five entitled “Prayer and Spirituality” collects speeches under the heading “transfiguration and sacrifice.”
In 1994, because of Bartholomew’s desire to bring into dialogue other Christian confessions, other religious faiths, and scientists, he established the Religious and Scientific Committee. It convened eight international, interdisciplinary, and inter-religious symposia in order to study and reflect on the fate of rivers and seas which cover two-thirds of the earth’s surface; the symposia focused on the Black, the Adriatic, and the Baltic Seas, as well as the Danube, the Amazon and the Mississippi Rivers. Chapters six and seven contain, among other addresses, some of Bartholomew’s speeches at these symposia. Chapters eight and nine contain other “interviews and comments,” “declarations and statements” that express and confirm Bartholomew’s commitment and passion on behalf of the environment and his conviction that care for the environment, for God’s creation, is an essential part of Revelation.
I have been teaching a seminar entitled, “Theology and Ecology” for almost fifteen years and have used some of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s encyclicals and addresses; this collection is impressive and testimony to his leadership and to the strong impact he has had on education about environmental degradation and our responsibility as people of faith to care for creation. I often begin my seminar with John Paul II’s encyclical, “The Ecological Crisis: A Common Responsibility,” which was promulgated on January 1st, 1991, the World Day of Peace and the first day of the calendar year. I note now that a call for papers has just gone out for a Consultation, sponsored by the Catholic Coalition for Climate Change, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Catholic University of America and CUA’s Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies, that seeks to assess “Pope Benedict XVI’s Ecological Vision for the Church in the United States.” The consultation will be held at CUA November 8-10, 2012 and may well issue in a volume similar to the one here reviewed.