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

MESSAGE By His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to the United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP 24) (Poland, December 3-14, 2018)

By His All-Holiness
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

To the United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP 24)
(Poland, December 3-14, 2018)

Dear and distinguished friends,

We are pleased to send this brief greeting of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the members of the United Nations Conference of the Parties and to all people of good will assembling in Poland this year to reflect on the impact of climate change and the urgency of addressing its implications.

We also welcome this opportunity to engage with and endorse implementation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals with a view to fostering collaborative and concerted action toward this purpose for all people and for the entire planet. We believe that it is the responsibility of faith communities to remind their respective governments of this mandate.

Nevertheless, we are convinced that the time for reflection and deliberation is long gone. We wonder when the leaders of our world will realize how late we have left our response to the climate crisis. A few years ago, we wrote of reaching a point of no return. This was neither euphemism nor exaggeration. Scientists have long warned — and most recently in Inchon, Korea, they forcefully reaffirmed — that we have reached several tipping points; governments seem reluctant to respond, preferring to delay.

Of course, as a religious leader, we profess that God's grace offers forgiveness and opportunities — indeed, many chances — for reconciliation. But Scripture also underlines that the time will come when we are obliged to face the consequences of our actions. The Gospel of Matthew describes a judgment where we will not be asked about our success and prosperity, but about our response to suffering and poverty. Indeed, in a parable of the same gospel, the rich man ignored the poor Lazarus and, upon pleading forgiveness, was told it was too late.

This is why, for the last thirty years, we have declared the intimate connection between the way we treat the earth and the way we treat our fellow human beings, especially the poor. At our symposium held in Athens this past June, entitled Toward a Greener Attica for a Sustainable Environment: Preserving the Planet and Protecting its People, we highlighted the religious and spiritual roots of the ecological crisis, while emphasizing that the necessary spiritual transformation of human beings and their attitude toward creation requires the collaboration of all social sectors and scientific disciplines.

In our understanding, the way we relate to nature as creation directly reflects the way we relate to God as Creator. There can be no distinction between concern for human welfare, protection of the environment, and care for our salvation. In order to restore the planet, we need a spirituality that brings humility and respect with regard to our attitudes and actions, our life choices and lifestyles. It should be abundantly clear by now that we must direct our focus away from what we want to what the planet needs.

Dear friends, we must of course remain optimistic — confident in the love of God and hopeful in the response of humankind. But when will we understand how important it is to leave as light a footprint as possible on this planet for the sake of future generations? The truth is that we can no longer afford to wait; indecision and inaction are not options. Faith makes it clear that we have a choice. The time to choose is now.

At the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the 10th of December 2018

Prayerfully yours,

Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome
and Ecumenical Patriarch