That ought to keep us busy for today!
I’ve been working up to this for a while. What brought it on now was a September 1 Message from His All-Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew, regarding the Protection of the Environment.
I know, I’ve quoted the Ecumenical Patriach frequently – but every time I read something by him on the state of the world, I think he’s got it just right. And this is not because I’m under his ecclesiastical jurisdiction. I am not. (One needn’t endorse his Ukrainian Orthodox ecclesiology, one way or the other, to agree with him about this!)
What follows here, both in his letter and in my commentary, is based on science and Christian morality. Why ever did these issues get mixed up with partisan politics?
Each year since 1989, the Ecumenical Patriarch has declared September, the first month of the Orthodox ecclesiastical year, to be Environment Month, the annual time for Orthodox Christians to give special attention to the condition of the natural world.
icon with permission of Saint Isaac’s Skete at skete.com
But – some may ask – shouldn’t he, as a religious leader, stick to “religion”? Shouldn’t he confine himself to talking about God? Well, he is. We believe in “one God, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible”. That opens up the scope of “religious” matters, does it not?
What I want to do here is chiefly elaborate on his words. As is proper, I’ll put his Encyclical at the end. Bishops should always have the last word.
I sincerely hope what follows is “preaching to the choir”.
A Commentary on Patriarch Bartholomew’s September 1 Letter
1 The Patriarch understands what is going on in the world at large today and in the natural order, whether regarding the ‘”environment” as a whole, or specifically the Pandemic, and he isn’t afraid to talk about it. He has taken the lead.
2 He understands that God is the source of all truth, whether it be theological or scientific. Science – which is under attack these days – is of God. Accurate scientific discovery about creation tells us about the Creator. To ignore science is to ignore God, just as (even more so) to ignore the revelation in Jesus Christ is to ignore God. Does science produce absolute proof? No. Nothing in this life is like that. But it can often point us 98% or better in the right direction.
3 So how can people who believe in a Creator reject science? and the discoveries of modern science regarding the age of the universe, global warming, Covid, the effectiveness of vaccines? except that when they get sick they go to the doctor to take advantage of the latest modern medical techniques!
4 It’s because people are accepting false or skewed information. But why is it being disseminated? and some of it is so “off the wall” it’s hard to comprehend why people believe it. Can you explain this?
The more rational arguments go like this:
Some say the vaccines aren’t safe. However https://www.mayoclinic.org/coronavirus-covid-19/are-the-vaccines-safe – More up-to-date information on the Moderna vaccine should soon be available. The short term evidence from those of us who have received vaccines is positive. And surely they’re better than dying alone in a hospital, gasping for breath.
Some research warns that people have died after receiving the vaccine. Yes. Would most have died anyway? In almost all cases, yes. People die all the time.
I have also been told recently that when we’re vaccinated microchips are planted in our bodies, and that the CDC will soon round up those of us who have been vaccinated (by means of the chips?) and put us in internment camps. Also that being vaccinated causes people to be magnetized. (I have been vaccinated, and as I write this I am not stuck to our refrigerator!) And a few even die of Covid, denying that Covid exists.
I’ve heard it argued that vaccine mandates are “un-American”. Did you know that George Washington mandated that his troops be inoculated against smallpox? which may well have saved them from defeat. Did you know that today, for a child to enter kindergarten, the Florida Department of Health mandates the following vaccines: four doses of Diphtheria-tetanus-acellular pertussis, four doses of polio, two doses of measles-mumps-rubella, two doses of chickenpox, Hepatitis B, and pneumococcal conjugate, and haemophilus influenzae type b. See: https://www.governing.com/now/the-long-history-of-mandated-vaccines-in-the-united-states
5 Because of this misinformation the world appears to be plunging right back into the Pandemic, when we need not be. Almost all medical authorities say we could avoid this by being vaccinated and by the simple effort of wearing masks. Both have been shown to be effective. Why should this be so controversial? Does this take away our “freedom”? Of course it does. So does not being allowed to drive on the left side of the road. So does not yelling “fire!” in a theater. These and many other similar things are for the common good. Christ, quoting the Old Testament Law, commanded “Love your neighbor as yourself”. Can you explain what’s the problem here?
6 I want Orthodox people (and all people, of course) to survive the Pandemic. We have few enough Orthodox around here as it is! (Also I don’t want to lose any readers ) A couple of Sundays ago I was talking to a young college man at the social hour after Divine Liturgy. As I sat down I asked (as I often do these days) “Have you been vaccinated?” He said “No”. I pulled back six feet and asked “Why not?” He answered “I’m young and in good health. I have anti-bodies and I don’t think I have anything to worry about.” This led to a pointed, chiefly one-sided conversation. I said, “Look. Have you seen the news? Many healthy people your age are now coming down with Covid. Have you checked out the medical information? Anti-bodies likely won’t protect you. Do you know the statistics? Unvaccinated people are about thirty times more likely than vaccinated people to get Covid. There is this new very contagious Covid variant going around. You are an intelligent, affable young man. I don’t want to lose you!” Did I convince him? I doubt it. Can you explain?
7 I worry that Orthodox today are becoming “us and Jesus” Christians. Old fashioned “pietist” Protestants used to be described as “me and Jesus” Christians, focused only on individual salvation, except to condemn sexual immorality. Are Orthodox today showing a similar lack of concern for the world outside the Church * , except to condemn abortion and homosexuality. But Jesus came to save the whole world and everything in it. I mention this often: Someone said that traditionally Orthodox have wanted not only to “save souls” but also to build Orthodox cultures and societies. We need to broaden our concerns.
- One big exception is the work of International Orthodox Christian Charities, which ministers to everyone everywhere.
8 With Patriarch Bartholomew, I am deeply concerned about Global warming and its dire effects which have already begun. I graduated with a degree in meteorology and, though I now have an even more “heavenly” profession, I keep up with what’s going on back there. “Climate change” is a euphemism. Global warming is real and well documented. See: https://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/
9 Why do some ignore Covid and global warming and environmental degradation – these major problems which threaten them and even more so their children and their grandchildren. Can’t they see? Do they not care? Can you explain this?
Meanwhile, in his letter, the Ecumenical Patriarch offers us balance and perspective and leadership regarding these needs of the world. He is accurate, grounded in both Christian and scientific reality, and he cares about great issues that we Orthodox too easily ignore or keep quiet about. He is leading the way. Yes, other hierarchs also sometimes speak to these subjects, but how much of it filters down to the parishes? When did you last hear a sermon about these things? Indeed, how often are Bartholomew’s Messages propagated or taken to heart?
So please hear him out:
Message from the Ecumenical Patriarch on the Day of Prayer for the Protection of the Natural Environment: 1 September 2021)
1 September 2021
† B A R T H O L O M E W
By God’s Mercy Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch
To the Plenitude of the Church
Grace, Peace and Mercy from the Maker of All Creation, Our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ.
Esteemed brethren and beloved children in the Lord,
The Feast of the Indiction, the solemn day of prayers for the natural environment, finds once again humanity confronted with intense weather conditions due to mounting climate change, with devastating floods and fires across the globe, as well as with the Coronavirus pandemic and its socioeconomic consequences. The fact that the restrictive measures in transportation and the limits imposed on industrial production have resulted in a reduction of pollutants and emissions, offered an additional valuable lesson on global interconnection and on the interdependence of all dimensions of life.
Moreover, it has been also revealed anew that the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s ecological initiatives, which comprise an extension of the Church’s theology and liturgical tradition, correspond with scientific findings and with experts’ recommendations calling for multifaceted mobilization in order to protect the integrity of the natural environment.
We thus pray for the swift overcoming of the consequences of the health crisis and for the illumination from above of governments throughout the world, so that they do not return to or persist upon economism, to those principles of organization of the economic life, of production and consumption, of exhaustive exploitation of natural resources, principles that prevailed prior to the pandemic.
Further, it is our genuine desire that the dissemination of pseudoscientific opinions concerning the purported dangers of the Covid-19 vaccines, the slander aimed toward specialists of the medical field, and the unfounded degradation of the seriousness of the disease, be terminated. Unfortunately, similar opinions are propagated in regard to climate change as well, its cause and its disastrous effects. The reality is entirely different, and must be faced with responsibility, collaboration, joint actions, and common vision.
Inactivity is inconceivable when in full knowledge of the shared great contemporary challenges of humanity. Indifference toward our suffering brethren and toward the destruction of the “very good” creation, is an offence against God and a violation of His commandments. Wherein exist respect toward creation and tangible love toward man, the “beloved of God,” therein God is present.
After the Holy and Great Council (Crete, 2016), the Ecumenical Patriarchate, in accordance to its spirit and decisions, appointed an official commission, comprised of theologians, to draft a document on the social implications of our faith and on the social mission and witness of the Orthodox Church in the contemporary world.
Brocken Inaglory (Creative Commons license)
This text, which was approved for publication by the Holy and Sacred Synod and is entitled “For the Life of the World: Toward a Social Ethos of the Orthodox Church” * , states the following: “The Church encourages the faithful to be grateful for—and to accept—the findings of the sciences, even those that might occasionally oblige them to revise their understandings of the history and frame of cosmic reality. The desire for scientific knowledge flows from the same wellspring as faith’s longing to enter ever more deeply into the mystery of God” (§ 71).
- See https://www.goarch.org/social-ethos
The Holy Great Church of Christ emphatically highlights the indivisibility of the natural environment’s protection and the philanthropic care for one’s neighbor. Both an eco-friendly stance and the recognition of the sacredness of the human person are a “liturgy after the Liturgy,” vital dimensions of the Eucharistic actualization of the Church. The life of the Church is a manifest respect for creation, as well as the place and the way of experiencing the culture of personhood and of solidarity.
Most honorable brothers and cherished children,
Throughout this difficult period, it is an essential pastoral duty of the Church to undertake initiatives for the containment of the pandemic. And it is also a categorical ethical mandate to support global access to the immunization against the coronavirus, especially in poorer nations, in accordance with the words of our Lord, “Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me” (Matt. 25:40). We ought to love one another “as Christ has loved us” (Eph. 5:2) and to show ourselves as “priests” of creation, safeguarding and cultivating it with care and affection, and, offering in thanksgiving this exceedingly precious gift of God’s Grace unto the Creator of all.
In closing, we wholeheartedly wish unto all a blessed, healthful and fruitful new ecclesiastical year, and we call upon you, through the intercessions of the Theotokos Pammakaristos *, the grace and mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to Whom be the glory and the dominion unto the everlasting ages. Amen!
September 1, 2021
† Bartholomew of Constantinople
Fervent supplicant of all before God
- “All-blessed Theotokos” – Miraculous icon of Constantinople, commemorated on September 1.
Next Week: Justification by Faith. Thanks a lot, Saint Anselm, he said sarcastically. And also Saint Jerome.
Week after Next: Some Little Stories about some Great People