ADDRESS by His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to the World Council of Churches, Geneva, April 24, 2017
Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches,
Your Eminences, Your Excellencies,
Honourable representatives of International Institutions,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Ps 133:1). It is precisely with these same special feelings expressed by the Psalmist that we visit once again the headquarters of the World Council of Churches. Each one of our visits here, since our election to the Ecumenical throne twenty-five years ago, but also earlier, has been special, and we cherish these memories. For us personally, as for our Church as a whole, the World Council of Churches is not foreign, but a familiar place. Indeed, almost a century ago, the Ecumenical Patriarchate called “all the Churches of Christ everywhere” for its establishment, and became one of its founding members in 1948. Since then, our Church has been actively participating in the Council and in its Commission on Faith and Order. Since 1955, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has maintained a Permanent Delegation as a sign of continuous co-operation with the World Council of Churches and the Ecumenical Movement. The permanent representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate have been Bishop Iakovos of Melita (Malta) (later Archbishop of North and South America) and Metropolitan Emilianos Timiadis of blessed memory, as well as Grand Protopresbyter of the Ecumenical Throne Georges Tsetsis, Archimandrite Benediktos Ioannou, Archon Mr. George Lemopoulos, former WCC deputy general secretary, and, at present, Archbishop Job of Telmessos.
On a more personal level, since our childhood we have learned, especially from our predecessor, Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras of blessed memory, the importance of meeting with other Christians. As he often used to say: “Come, let us look one another in the eyes, and let us then see what we have to say to one another.” He is the one who has opened our eyes to our broader ecumenical family. Inspired by him, we chose to pursue post-graduate studies at the Ecumenical Institute of Bossey, which celebrated its 70th anniversary last year, and where we have gained exceptional experience, which has been very useful in our ministry. In 1975, we served as vice-moderator of the Commission on Faith and Order, when it was preparing the very well-known convergence document on “Baptism, Eucharist and Ministries,” which remains a point of reference today. A few months before our election to the Ecumenical throne in 1991, we became a member of the Central and the Executive Committees of the WCC at the 7th General Assembly, which took place in Canberra with the theme “Come, Holy Spirit, renew the whole creation.”
1. As your Central Committee was meeting last June in Trondheim, the Orthodox Church was gathered on the great island of Crete for her Holy and Great Council. The preparations for the Council took over half of a century with the participation of all the local Orthodox Churches, without any exception, and which, with God’s blessing, we convened according to the unanimous decision of all the Primates of the local Orthodox Churches taken at the Synaxis of January 2016 here, in Chambésy. The convocation of the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church was necessary for several reasons.
Firstly, because for us, as Orthodox, synodality constitutes an expression and demonstration of the mystery of the Church itself. “Coming together in one place” comprises a characteristic of the Church’s nature. Only insurmountable historical circumstances can justify the inactivity of the synodal institution on any level, including the global level. The Orthodox Church frequently encountered such circumstances in recent years and thus delayed the convocation of a Pan-Orthodox Council for a long time. In this sense, the realization of the Holy and Great Council was a success in itself.
Secondly, its convocation was also mandated by the need to settle internal matters of the Orthodox Church. These matters arose primarily as a result of the system of canonical structure within our Church, which comprises many local autocephalous Churches, each of which freely regulates its own affairs through its own decisions. This sometimes renders difficult the witness of the Church “with one mouth and one heart” to the contemporary world, creating confusion and conflict that blurs the image of its unity. The system of autocephaly has its roots in the early Church, in the form of the five ancient patriarchates – namely, of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem – known as the Pentarchy, whose harmony comprised the supreme manifestation of Church unity that was expressed in the Councils. While this structure is, in our eyes, canonically and ecclesiologically correct, the danger of its conversion into a kind of “federation of Churches,” – as it is often seen from the outside – remains. In such a case, each of the Churches promotes its own interests and ambitions – which are not always of a strictly ecclesiastical nature – and this renders necessary the application of synodality. The atrophy of the synodal institution on a Pan-Orthodox level contributes to the development of a sentiment of self-sufficiency within the individual Churches and in turn leads them toward introspective and self-absorbed tendencies. For this reason, if the synodal system is generally mandatory in the life of the Church, the system of Autocephaly renders it still more obligatory for the protection and expression of its unity.
A third reason that necessitated the convocation of the Holy and Great Council includes the new challenges that have appeared in more recent years, which demanded the articulation of a common direction and position among the individual Orthodox Churches. For example, the phenomenon of emigration from Orthodox regions to Western countries, has led to the establishment of the so called Orthodox “Diaspora” that requires special pastoral care. This resulted in the well-known, and not strictly canonical situation whereby more than one Bishop exists in one and the same city or region, proving a scandal to many people inside and outside the Orthodox Church. This issue could not have been resolved without a Pan-Orthodox conciliar decision.
Finally, Orthodox participation in the efforts toward the reconciliation of unity among Christians through the so-called “Ecumenical Movement,” which until now occurred on the basis of decisions reached either by individual Autocephalous Churches or else at Pan-Orthodox conferences, needed to be ratified in a conciliar way, which was the authentic manner to formulate a uniform position of the Orthodox Church.
We Orthodox strongly believe that the aim and the raison d’être of the Ecumenical Movement and of the World Council of Churches is to fulfil the Lord’s final prayer, that “all may be one” (Jn. 17:21), which is inscribed on the beautiful tapestry ornamenting the wall of this hall. For this reason, the Holy and Great Council stressed that “Orthodox participation in the movement to restore unity with other Christians in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church is in no way foreign to the nature and history of the Orthodox Church, but rather represents a consistent expression of the apostolic faith and tradition in new historical circumstances” (Relations, 4). The Holy and Great Council has also recognized that “one of the principal bodies in the history of the Ecumenical Movement is the World Council of Churches” (Relations, 16). Among the different activities of the WCC, the Holy and Great Council affirmed that “the Orthodox Church wishes to support the work of the Commission on ‘Faith and Order’ and follows its theological contribution with particular interest to this day. It views favorably the Commission’s theological documents, which were developed with the significant participation of Orthodox theologians and represent a praiseworthy step in the Ecumenical Movement for the rapprochement of Christians” (Relations, 21). We consider this conciliar evaluation of the contribution of the WCC to the quest for Christian unity as very positive and that it should inspire the continuation of the work of the WCC as it is approaching 70 years of existence.
Furthermore, the Orthodox Church has reiterated through the synodal voice of her Holy and Great Council that she “has always attached great importance to dialogue, and especially to that with non-Orthodox Christians” (Encyclical, 20), and for this reason, she “considers all efforts to break the unity of the Church, undertaken by individuals or groups under the pretext of maintaining or allegedly defending true Orthodoxy, as being worthy of condemnation” (Relations, 22).
2. The spirit of dialogue being cultivated by the Orthodox Church is not restricted only to the Ecumenical Movement, but is needed within contemporary society and science. As the Holy and Great Council highlighted in its Encyclical, “through the contemporary development of science and technology, our life is changing radically. … The dangers are the manipulation of human freedom, the use of man as a simple means, the gradual loss of precious traditions, and threats to, or even the destruction of, the natural environment” (Encyclical, 11).
The Ecumenical Patriarchate has been a pioneer in engaging in dialogue with modern science with regards to environmental problems. In 1989, our predecessor Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios sent the first encyclical on this issue, establishing the first day of September as a day of prayer for the protection of the natural environment. We are glad that the WCC has followed our path, not only by implementing this annual day of prayer, but also in taking seriously the commitment of the Churches in resolving the environmental crisis. We Orthodox were reminded by our Holy and Great Council that “the roots of the ecological crisis are spiritual and ethical, inhering within the heart of each man” (Encyclical, 14).
On several occasions, we have stressed that a sin against creation is a sin against God. As for any sin, we must likewise repent for the sin committed against creation. The Holy and Great Council has underlined that “the approach to the ecological problem on the basis of the principles of the Christian tradition demands not only repentance for the sin of the exploitation of the natural resources of the planet, namely, a radical change in mentality and behavior, but also asceticism as an antidote to consumerism, the deification of needs and the acquisitive attitude” (Encyclical, 14). True repentance implies a conversion, which means a radical change in our attitude. The environmental crisis calls for concrete actions from each one of us.
On several occasions, we underlined that the Church cannot be solely interested in the salvation of the soul, but is deeply concerned with the transformation of God’s entire creation. This is why our Churches need to have constant vigilance, information and education in order to understand clearly the relationship between today’s ecological crisis and our human passions of greed, materialism, self-centeredness and rapacity, which result in and lead to the current crisis that we face. Therefore, what is a threat to nature is also a threat to humankind; just as what is for the preservation of the planet is for the salvation of the whole world. For this reason, we invite everyone to mobilize their resources, and in particular their prayers, in the struggle for the protection of the environment.
Among several environmental issues, water is a very important one since water is as life-giving and sacred as the blood that runs through our body. Water is a common good. It does not belong to any individual or any industry, but is the inviolable and non-negotiable right of every human being. Therefore, we cannot consider economic exploitation of water by industries selling water to people who have money to buy it as ethical. Besides its ethical problem, the industry of water often pollutes the environment because of the plastic bottles it is selling. Ecologists today are giving us a wake-up call, saying that by 2050, the oceans will contain more plastic than fish by weight. Plastic pollution is an environmental and social justice issue. This is why we should be avoiding plastic by using alternatives in our everyday life.
Unfortunately, the world is running out of accessible water. This is not only a problem in poor countries, like in Africa or in India, but is also becoming a problem in “water rich” countries because of water pollution. To take water into the market economy and sell it like oil and gas is not a solution to resolve this crisis. A lack of access to clean water and sanitation is the greatest human rights abuse of our time. We are informed that currently almost 1 billion people on earth have no access to clean water and 2.5 billion have no access to adequate sanitation. Unless we appreciate the danger – perhaps even sinfulness – of refusing to share the planet’s natural resources, we will inevitably face serious challenges and conflicts. Sustainability is not just sound technology and good business. Sustainability is the way to peaceful coexistence.
For this reason, we congratulate the WCC for joining the Blue Community, a project of the Council of Canadians. The Blue Communities Project calls on communities to adopt a water commons framework by recognizing water as a human right, banning the sale of bottled water in public facilities and at municipal events and promoting publicly financed, owned and operated water and waste water services. By joining the Blue Community, the WCC is sensitizing not only its member Churches, but society at large, that water justice requires the ethical management of water as a gift from God, which must be available to all future generations.
Plastic pollution of the water, air pollution and climate change are parallel global emergencies. They are the consequence of forgetting about sacredness of creation. They are the disastrous results of industrialisation and our human avidity. The environmental crisis cannot be solved without a genuine conversion of human actions. In this sense, ecology is linked with economy. A society that does not care about the well-being of all human beings is a society that maltreats God’s creation, which is blasphemy. For this reason, the ecological challenge of our Churches is to awake the world to the irreversible destruction of God’s creation because of human sinful actions. The necessity of ecological education is not only a problem for our states, but should also be the problem of our Churches.
Unfortunately, since the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 with the aim of fighting global warming, the same problems still exist. Scientific knowledge, supported by statistics and climatic models, as well as plain observations made by peasants, farmers, indigenous peoples and coastal inhabitants has confirmed that the climate is changing because of human activities and that such change will prove disastrous for life on this planet, while we are still unable to take the unavoidable steps to detain the already tangible and oncoming appalling events.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate has also been particularly sensitive to the issue of climate change. This is why we have supported the urgent call in Paris of the 21st session of the United Nations conference of the parties on climate change (COP 21) in 2015. As we have stressed in our message to the 22nd session, which took place last November in Marrakech, the world’s leading authorities and politicians have fundamentally agreed on the problems of global climate change since the Rio Earth Summit of 1992 and have held endless consultations and high-level conversations on something that requires practical measures and tangible action. And we know very well what these measures and actions should be. What price are we prepared to pay for profit? Or how many lives are we willing to sacrifice for material or financial gain? And at what cost would we forfeit or forestall the survival of God’s creation? It is our humble, yet bold prayer that the world’s leading authorities and politicians will recognize and respond to the high stakes involved in climate change. One way would be to implement the COP21 agreement of Paris without further delay.
3. Unless we all perceive in our attitudes and actions, as in our deliberations and decisions, the faces of our own children – in the present and in future generations – then we shall continue to prolong and procrastinate the development of any solution; we shall persist in obstructing or restricting any implementation. In our 2016 Patriarchal Encyclical for Christmas, we addressed the contemporary threats facing children and declared 2017 as “the Year of the Protection of the Sacredness of Childhood.” In that Encyclical, we appealed to all people of good will “to respect the identity and sacredness of childhood,” especially “in light of the global refugee crisis that especially affects the rights of children; in light of the plague of child mortality, hunger and child labor, child abuse and psychological violence, as well as the dangers of altering children’s souls through their uncontrolled exposure to the influence of contemporary electronic means of communication and their subjection to consumerism.”
We would like on this point to congratulate the WCC for inaugurating a special program this year on “Churches’ Commitments to Children,” aimed at promoting child protection through church communities, promoting meaningful participation of children and young people in the churches and addressing critical issues, such as environmental problems, to children. In this view, the Holy and Great Council reminds us that “to young people the Church offers not simply ‘help’ but ‘truth,’ the truth of the new divine-human life in Christ,” underlining that “young people thus are not simply the ‘future’ of the Church, but also the active expression of her God-loving and human-loving life in the present” (Encyclical, 9).
We strongly believe that churches cannot be indifferent to the suffering or abuse of children that exists in the world, particularly those who are wounded or refugees. Let us therefore develop together ways to end violence against children and young people in our contemporary society. Let us promote better participation and integration of our children and youth in the worship and in the life of our churches. Let us make our children and youth aware of the responsibility of Christians in the environmental crisis and educate them to adopt adequate behavior and actions facing issues such as water and climate change.
Unfortunately, children and young people suffer emotional, sexual or physical violence more often than we think, which affects their health, well-being and future. This violence harms children, destroys families, and impacts societies. The Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church noted that “the contemporary crisis in marriage and the family is a consequence of the crisis of freedom as responsibility, its decline into a self-centered self-realization, its identification with individual self-gratification, self-sufficiency and autonomy, and the loss of the sacramental character of the union between man and woman, resulting from forgetfulness of the sacrificial ethos of love” (Encyclical, 7).
In this spirit, and in the face of the contemporary multifaceted crisis, the Ecumenical Patriarchate co-hosted with the Church of England a Forum on Modern Slavery, entitled Sins Before Our Eyes, which took place this past February at our see. We were delighted to welcome representatives of the WCC who came to participate in the Forum. It was inspired by the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, which courageously declared the central place of solidarity and philanthropic action in the life and witness of Orthodoxy, also addressing people “affected by human trafficking and modern forms of slavery” (The Mission of the Orthodox Church in the Contemporary World, F,1). As we then noted, it is not possible for our Churches to close their eyes to evil, to be indifferent to the cry of the needy, oppressed and exploited. True faith should always be a source of permanent struggle against the powers of inhumanity.
We, as Churches, should unite our efforts to eradicate modern slavery in all its forms, across the world and for all time. About two years ago, we signed the Declaration of Religious Leaders against Modern Slavery (2 December 2014), condemning slavery as “a crime against humanity.” We, as Churches, should be committed “to do all in our power, within our faith communities and beyond, to work together for the freedom of all those who are enslaved and trafficked so that their future may be restored.” On the way to achieve this categorical imperative, our adversary is not simply modern slavery, but also the spirit that nourishes it, the deification of profit, consumerism, discrimination, racism, sexism, and egocentrism.
Against this spirit, we must all work together for the promotion of a culture of solidarity, respect for others, and dialogue. Together with the sensitization of consciences, we must participate in concrete initiatives and actions. We need a stronger mobilization on the level of action.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As the World Council of Churches continues its Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace, inviting its member churches “to work together in a common quest, renewing the true vocation of the church through collaborative engagement with the most important issues of justice and peace, healing a world filled with conflict, injustice and pain,” we, on behalf of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, reiterate our full support and commitment, being convinced that only through this true fraternal ecumenical cooperation can we heal and transform our Common Home from its spiritual, ethical and ecological problems. For it is thus, – by serving our common Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ – that our Churches will come closer to each other and discover how urgent and how necessary it is for all to be one (cf. Jn. 17:21). This is why the Holy and Great Council prayed “that all Christians may work together so that the day may soon come when the Lord will fulfill the hope of the Orthodox Churches and there will be ‘one flock and one shepherd’ (Jn 10:16)” (Relations, 24). In this perspective, may God, glorified in the Trinity, bless the general secretary with all the collaborators of the WCC, and all of you, in your important and ongoing mission.
Thank you for your kind attention!