BBC News, June 12
Date: Wed, 12 Jun 2002 16:57:01 -0700

By Daniel Howden

The Green Patriarch - Bartholomew I

According to the patriarch, the ecologically unfriendly are sinners

The spiritual leader of the world's estimated 300 million Orthodox Christians, Bartholomew I, is a man on an ecological, as well as a theological, mission.

"There's very few references to the environment in what Protestants, Catholics say on Sunday what the Jews say on Saturday and what the Muslims say on Friday in their places of worship and I think it would be good if they used their platforms to sensitise individuals" [The Aga Khan]

The 270th successor to the Apostle St Andrew, dubbed the Green Patriarch, he was awarded on Wednesday Norway's $100,000 Sophie Prize for his environmental efforts.

He said the prize money would be donated to poor children in Africa and to preparations for a church-led seminar on the Baltic Sea environment.

Patriarch Bartholomew is renowned for declaring that "crime against the natural world is a sin" four years after he assumed the ecumenical throne in Istanbul in 1991.

Now he is challenging leaders of other faiths to raise environmental awareness among their believers, and this week succeeded in persuading Pope John Paul II to call for an end to the destruction of the environment.

As the visibly frail Pope John Paul II signed the document via a live video link from the Vatican, Patriarch Bartholomew, in Venice, warned of a stark "social and environmental crisis which the world is facing."

"We are concerned about the negative consequences for humanity and for all creation resulting from the degradation of some basic natural resources such as water, air and land, brought about by an economic and technological progress which does not recognise its own limits," said Mark Malloch Brown, head of the UN Development Programme, and the guest speaker chosen to read the Venice declaration.

Environmental baby

This unprecedented initiative from the heads of the traditionally hostile Eastern and Western wings of Christianity came as the culmination of a week-long symposium, the fourth of its kind, that brought together top scientists, theologians and ecologists aboard a giant cruise ship sailing around the Adriatic Sea.

The symposia are the patriarch's brainchild, designed to draw international attention to the pollution and ecological degradation of the areas they have visited - Aegean Sea, Black Sea and Danube River.

"The symposium is a sort of symbol of what he's been able to do. Bringing as it were Church, science and the environment together is absolutely wonderful," said Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, who was one of the participants.

The Pope was persuaded to go along with the patriarch's views

The conclusion of the 1997 Black Sea trip led to an action plan to combat the destruction of Europe's most isolated marine area through eutrophication, over fishing, landscape and habitat destruction or pollution with solid waste and sewage.

World Bank leaders were sufficiently impressed with the Black Sea Environmental Programme (BSEP) to break with standard practice of loans, instead donating $2 m to local clean up and education projects highlighted during the trip.

"Environmental awareness is a matter of education and education does not only take place in school," the Patriarch told journalists on the Adriatic trip.

Praying for the elements

The Patriarchate, through its Religion, Science and Environment NGO has setup of an ecological institute on the Turkish island of Halki.

The centre runs regular ecological education workshops bringing together junior clergy members and journalists.

He has popularised 1 September as a day of prayer for the protection of the natural environment throughout the Orthodox world

During the Adriatic symposium the Aga Khan called on other religious leaders to follow the Patriarch 's lead on environmental issues.

"I think (religion) can play a crucially important role to propagate and encourage the dialogue generally, not only on what the general values are at a high level but also the priests, the imams to use their sermons to be able to preach to their flock.

"There's very few references to the environment in what Protestants, Catholics say on Sunday what the Jews say on Saturday and what the Muslims say on Friday in their places of worship and I think it would be good if they used their platforms to sensitise individuals," he told the BBC.

Green bridge

The Patriarchate and the Vatican have been divided by bitter doctrinal and political disputes since the great schism of 1054.

However, ongoing dialogue begun in the 1980s finds the two churches, whose combined flock is thought to exceed one billion, moving increasingly close.

The pope has compared Orthodoxy and Catholicism to two lungs and has spoken of the church's need to breathe with both.

Bartholomew has spoken of environmental cooperation as a "bridge" between the two churches.

The Ecumenical Patriarch enjoys no formal authority over the leaders of the major national churches such as Russia, Greece and Serbia, instead he is officially recognised as the "first among equals" whose arbitration must be sought on disagreements.