ADDRESS by His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at the 22nd Eurasian Economic Summit (Istanbul, 7 February 2019)
Dear Dr. Akkan Suver,
It is an honor once again to address this year’s Eurasian Economic Summit, organized on an annual basis in our City. We are always delighted to be in the presence of esteemed participants assembled by the Marmara Foundation, which has demonstrated pioneering vision through this unique initiative.
This session is dedicated to the religious dimensions of water and the relationship between water and migration. Our world is witnessing some of the largest refugee and migration movements since the Second World War. Moreover, the global water crisis – whether in the form of the privatization, pollution, wastefulness or shortage of water – is becoming one of the most pressing challenges that we are facing. This is why it is critical for us to consider the human flow of migrants and refugees – not just in terms of human conflict, but also in terms of natural causes and climate change.
Of course, water is an essential element in every aspect of life. Safe drinking water is indispensable for sustaining life among human beings as well as among all species. At the same time, access to clean water is a fundamental, inviolable and non-negotiable human right. Water does not and cannot belong to any individual or nation, but rather belongs to the whole world for all time. Yet, nearly two billion people – predominantly in the poorest countries – are tragically obliged to live without sufficient and suitable water for domestic or personal use.
This means that we need to recall the vital and crucial role that water plays, not just for social welfare and public policy, but also for philosophy and the faith traditions, where water is conceived as a powerful symbol and is understood as being life-giving and sacred. According to the pre-Socratic philosopher Thales of Miletus, the founder of natural philosophy, water is the originating principle, the archê (ἀρχή). Indeed, everything comes out of water. The central importance of water in creation and life is also emphasized in the traditions of world religions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam, as well as Hinduism and Buddhism.
In our own tradition, in Orthodox Christianity, water is the center of religious focus in the life of every individual from the earliest moment of baptism as well as in the entire liturgical life of the Church. Many of you will be familiar with the beautiful service each year on the Feast of Theophany on January 6th, when we celebrate the Baptism of Christ. On that day, we bless the surrounding waters of Istanbul by throwing the Cross into the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus strait. The service is known as “The Great Blessing of the Waters.” Additionally, on the first day of each month, we also hold a ceremony to bless water in the Church, which is then used to sanctify the participating faithful, our homes and our workplaces, along with all those who live and work there.
While conflict and persecution are primary reasons for the current displacement of millions of people, the lack of access to basic services such as potable water is frequently cited as a major reason for and cause of the forced migration and evacuation of populations from the Middle East and Northern Africa. Such displacement exercises additional pressure on host communities in neighboring countries – especially in Europe – by creating social discord and cultivating prejudices. Of course, establishing simplistic or superficial connections between water scarcity and migration is not always helpful and may even lead to incorrect policy responses. Nevertheless, water scarcity should definitely be acknowledged as one of several factors contributing to migration.
However, unless we appreciate the danger – indeed, we might even describe it as “the sin” – of refusing to share the planet’s natural resources, we will inevitably and increasingly face severe challenges and serious conflicts. It is, therefore, up to us – and up to all of you – to pay close attention to these connections and advocate for access to clean water for every human being.
The respect for human dignity and the integrity of creation – in their interconnectedness with each other – will continue to be a main criterion of humanity’s cultural standards and achievements, as well as of its concern for the generations to come. This is why our commitment, as the Ecumenical Patriarchate, to the protection of the natural environment, has always been connected to our interest for social justice and the respect of human rights. The example of water as an inherent good, its access as a basic human right and the underscoring of its sacredness by religions – together with human migration due to climate change and violence – reveal the hidden, deeper dimension of our contemporary problems in the world, and demand an urgent and unanimous response, which cannot succeed without the contribution of world religions and their collaboration with politics and economy, society, science and technology.
Let us act, then, and not put off for tomorrow what can be done today! God bless you all!