Statement on the Global Wildfires

His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew 

In recent weeks, our planet has witnessed extreme heatwaves and expansive wildfires throughout the world—from the rain forests of the Amazon and desert regions of Africa, normally snow-covered regions such as the Arctic and Alaska to far away countries from Spain to Siberia. Month after month, we have experienced record temperatures and unprecedented heatwaves, resulting in the destruction of millions of acres and the disruption of millions of people. And the intensity of these fires and storms is progressively increasing and intensifying, mandating critical and commensurate changes on our part.  

Scientists warn us about the threat of such fires to the world’s ecosystems, which are becoming increasingly jeopardized and vulnerable. The impact of these fires could reverberate for generations, affecting soil, infrastructure, and human beings. Trees are vital for the soil, for our survival and for our soul. Trees are not simply valuable for their aesthetic beauty or commercial benefit, but essentially for our defense against climate change. Planting more trees is certainly commendable, but cutting down less trees is perhaps the most compelling response to global warming. 

While this global wildfire crisis may not entirely or exclusively be a consequence or cause of climate change, the calamitous events that the world is now experiencing undoubtedly and undeniably sound the alarm about the urgent and dire repercussions of a rising level of carbon emissions. Therefore, if nothing else, such extreme phenomena compel us to consider the fundamental fragility of nature, the limited resources of our planet, and the unique sacredness of creation.

In our Encyclical that will appear on September 1st, we outline the diverse initiatives and activities pioneered by the Ecumenical Patriarchate over the last thirty years, while observing the fundamental principles and precepts proposed by the Orthodox Church over the last twenty centuries with regard to preserving God’s creation.

We pray for all those threatened or afflicted by the fires in all corners of our world. We call all faithful and all people of good will to consider carefully how we live, what we consume, and where our priorities lie, using the words of the Divine Liturgy: “Let us pay attention! Let us stand with awe!”

At the Phanar, Saturday August 24th, 2019

VIDEO MESSAGE By His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to the Italian Bishops’ Conference (November 19-21, 2018)

Venerable brothers of the Italian Bishops’ Conference,
Distinguished participants of the convention on creation care,

It is a sincere pleasure to be present with you in spirit and solidarity during this special convention on creation care organized by the Italian Bishops’ Conference and held in the beautiful city of Milan. We are deeply grateful to His Grace Bishop Ambrogio, president of the episcopal commission for ecumenism and dialogue, for this unique opportunity.

Both the organizers of this event, as well as the theme of your convention, are very close to our heart and to the core of our ministry over the last three decades. As you know, the urgent matter of climate change and creation care has long been of personal and profound concern to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which has assumed pioneering initiatives to raise awareness among believers and citizens of good will, but also to foster change in the way that people perceive and treat God’s creation.

This is why the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, which convened in Crete in June of 2016, highlighted the causes of this challenge, when it declared:

The yearning for continuous growth in prosperity and an unfettered consumerism inevitably lead to a disproportionate use and depletion of natural resources. Therefore, nature, which was created by God and given to humankind to work and preserve, endures the consequences of human sin.

Moreover, as the document on “The Mission of the Orthodox Church” continues:

The ecological crisis makes it incumbent upon the Church to do everything within her spiritual power to protect God’s creation from the consequences of human greed. The Orthodox Church emphasizes the protection of God’s creation through the cultivation of human responsibility for our God-given environment and the promotion of the virtues of frugality and self-restraint.

As we have repeatedly emphasized during our humble ministry, we are convinced that the ecological crisis is not merely an economic or political issue; nor again is it a scientific or technological problem. It primarily reveals a theological and spiritual crisis because we have ignored creation as a sacred gift from God and abused our relationship to creation—as if it was our property and not God’s; and as if it was our own to do as we please and not something to be shared with others, especially the poor. Creation care is a fundamental part of our faith in the “maker of all things, both visible and invisible,” as we profess in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. And it is a vital part of our spiritual “maturity until we attain the measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4.13)

This is why we have worked closely with our beloved brother Pope Francis to address the impact and implications of climate change. In our common message—issued jointly from the Vatican and the Phanar on the occasion of the World Day of Prayer for Creation, on September 1st, 2017—we declared with shared conviction that:

Our propensity to interrupt the world’s delicate and balanced ecosystems, our insatiable desire to manipulate and control the planet’s limited resources, and our greed for limitless profit in markets – all these have alienated us from the original purpose of creation. We no longer respect nature as a shared gift; instead, we regard it as a private possession. We no longer associate with nature in order to sustain it; instead, we lord over it to support our own constructs.

Dear friends, you are right to examine creation care as a spiritual and, indeed, an ecumenical issue. For it is only together with one another that we will be able to resolve the ecological crisis. We owe it to God, our Creator; we owe it to our faith and church, as the body of Christ; and we owe it also to our children. For we are obliged to remember that not only present, but also future generations have a right to enjoy the natural goods granted to us by the Creator.

May God bless your convention and conversation. And may God bless all of you, your families and friends.