At the Vatican press conference on Thursday for the launch of Pope Francis’ enviromental encyclical, a high ranking Greek Orthodox bishop, Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon, said the document, titled Laudato Si in Latin or Praise be to You in English, comes at a “critical moment in human history” and will “undoubtedly have a worldwide effect on people’s consciousness.” He thanked the pope for “for raising his authoritative voice to draw the attention of the world to the urgent need to protect God’s creation from the damage we humans inflict on it with our behavior towards nature.”
Zizioulas, an advocate of what he calls “Radical Ecology” (more on that below), was in Rome as the representative of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew whose church for more than three decades has taken to the bully pulpit of this ancient and oppressed see to advance Christian stewardship of the environment. This is why Bartholomew, who just concluded another environmental conference in Istanbul, is known as the Green Patriarch.
You can read the full text of Zizioulas’ remarks on the Vatican Radio site. How to understand the Orthodox role here? Five things, for starters.
1. Persuasion, not jurisdiction.
Bartholomew’s pronouncements on the environment have been applauded widely by environmental and media elites. Yet his numerous statements and declarations are met with little interest in the self-governed Orthodox churches outside the Greek Orthodox world. Certainly, his statements and endorsements of various United Nations climate treaties are not binding on other churches in any way. In the Orthodox Church, major theological controversies are settled by a council or synod. Debatable environmental stewardship policies and prescriptions don’t rise to this level. When you hear Bartholomew described by his own church or the media as the “spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians” that is true if he were to sit in synod with other Orthodox hierarchs where he is the “first among equals.” An Orthodox Council is in the works for 2016, but there are no momentous theological disputes on the agenda. Bartholomew, while widely revered, would not typically be considered by a Russian or Egyptian or Romanian or Serb or Bulgarian or Syrian as their pastor. They have their own patriarchs and popes. Nor does Bartholomew wield jurisdiction over the self-governed churches in Greece and Cyprus — although closely linked by language and culture and theological tradition to these lands. (more…)