Address by His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

Oslo Sophie Prize Ceremony June 12, 2002

Most Reverend Hierarchs,
Distinguished dignitaries,
Learned friends,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Please accept our humble and sincere gratitude for the honor bestowed on our Modesty with the presentation of the 2002 Sophie Prize.  We would like to stress from the outset that we consider this honor as belonging to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which we serve as Primate.

All of our efforts to cultivate a sense of environmental responsibility and to promote genuine reconciliation among people comprise the immediate responsibility and initiative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which has served the truth of Christ for some seventeen centuries.  Our Church regards the sensitization of its faithful in relation to the natural environment and in regard to the development of inter-religious dialogue as a central and essential part of its ministry of solidarity and co-existence.

We thank you wholeheartedly for the gracious invitation to address this auspicious occasion on one of the most critical global issues of our time: namely, the ecological crisis that we face.  We still recall the recent news in regard to government representatives who did not come to an agreement about measures to be taken. This means that nations, which have the privilege of freely choosing their rulers, have not yet reached the point of environmental sensitivity demanded of their governments in regard to the cost involved.  Therefore, having voluntarily assumed the effort of sensitizing people’s conscience in the face of this crisis, we readily admit how much work there still remains.

First of all, we must stress that it is not any fear of impending disasters that obliges us to assume such initiatives.  Rather, it is the recognition of the harmony that should exist between our attitudes and actions on the one hand, and the laws of nature, which govern the universe, on the other hand.  These laws have been established by the supreme personal Being, a Being that we call Trinitarian God that loves and is loved.

From the outset, we should state that we outrightly reject dualist opinions claiming that the world is the creation of evil, and is consequently evil.  Furthermore, we also reject those opinions supporting the notion that material creation pre-existed and was simply fashioned by God, or the choice of others to believe that the body is the prison of the soul, which seeks to be liberated from the bonds of the former.  Finally, we reject any opinions that demote humanity into a fragmented part of our earthly ecosystem, rendering it equivalent to every other part, and undeserving of any greater protection than that afforded to other species.

It is our conviction – and the truth of our conviction has been experientially confirmed – that both the material and spiritual worlds, visible and invisible things alike, are, according to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Symbol of our Creed, a “very good” creation by the good and loving God. On the basis, then, of such a conviction, we are able to articulate the fundamental principles of our worldview.

We believe that the human person constitutes the crown of creation, endowed with the sacred features of self-conscience, freedom, love, knowledge and will.  Such a teaching is part and parcel of our creation “according to the image and likeness of God.”

We believe that the natural creation is a gift from God to the world, entrusted to humanity as its governor, provider, steward, and priest, in accordance with the commandments “to work and keep it,” as well as to abstain from it partially.  In this way, we admit the limitations as well as the responsibilities of humanity with regard to the natural environment.

We believe that the universe comprises a single harmony or “cosmos,” according to the classical Greek significance of this term, which implies a harmonious coordination of human will and human action on the basis of natural and spiritual laws established by the discerning, loving, and perfecting will of the divine Word.

We believe that humanity did not wish to coordinate personal will and universal harmony, in accordance with the divine plan.  Instead, it preferred to pursue independence, resulting in the creation of a new order and different pattern within the natural environment – commonly referred to as anthropocentrism, but more properly identified as anthropomonism.

We believe that a New Man, the God-Man, Jesus Christ, appeared in the world, demonstrating perfect obedience to the original plan of the Father with regard to the relationship between humanity and the world.  Jesus Christ reconciled the world to the Father.  Henceforth, the world functions harmoniously through Him and in Him.  He commanded us to use the world’s resources in a spirit of ascetic restraint and eucharistic sacrifice, to transform our way of thinking from egocentrism to altruism in light of the ultimate end of the world.  In the Greek language, again, the word for “end” (telos) implies both conclusion and purpose.

These brief principles describe our attitude and concern for the natural environment.  We are endowed with freedom and responsibility; all of us, therefore, bear the consequences of our choices in our use or abuse of the natural environment.  Yet, we also have the capacity to repent and the ability to reduce the damage of our actions in the world.  We know, however, that the complete reconciliation and ultimate recapitulation of the world can only occur through Jesus Christ at the end of time.

Until then, God’s unceasing love allows us only glimpses of that total reconciliation, to which we partially contribute when we abandon the abusive violation of nature and to accept it as a divine gift of love, treating it reasonably, gratefully, and fruitfully.  Such is our dutiful response to the loving Creator, as well as to all those with whom we share this divine gift.

To imagine a world that functions in beauty and harmony, balance and purpose, in accordance with the overflowing love of God, is to cry out in wonder with the Psalmist, “How great are Your works, O Lord; You have fashioned all things in wisdom.”

Our original privilege and calling as human beings lies precisely in our ability to appreciate the world as God’s gift to us.  And our original sin with regard to the natural environment lies – not in any legalistic transgression, but – precisely in our refusal to accept the world as a sacrament of communion with God and neighbor.  We have been endowed with a passion for knowledge and wisdom, which open before us boundless worlds of the microcosm and the macrocosm, and present us with boundless challenges of creative action and intervention.

The arrogance that destroyed the Tower of Babel, through the misuse of power and knowledge, always lurks as a temptation.  The natural energy wrought by the sun as a blessing on the earth can prove perilous when profaned by the hands of irresponsible scientists.  The interventions of geneticists, which arouse enthusiasm in their potential, have not been exhaustively explored with a view to their side effects.

We are not opposed to knowledge but we underline the importance of proceeding with discernment.  We also stress the possible dangers of premature intervention, which may lead to “the desire to become greater than the gods” (Euripides), which the classical Greeks described as “hubris.”  Such discord destroys the inner harmony that characterizes the beauty and glory of the world, which St. Maximus the Confessor called “a cosmic liturgy.”

Our prayer and purpose join the priest in the Divine Liturgy, who chants the words: “In offering to You, Your own of Your own, on behalf of all and for the sake of all – we praise You, we bless You, we give thanks to You, O Lord, and we pray to You, our God.”  Then, we are able to embrace all – not with fear or necessity, but with love and joy.  Then, we care for the plants and for the animals, for the trees and for the rivers, for the mountains and for the seas, for all human beings and for the whole natural environment.  Then, we discover joy – rather than inflicting sorrow – in our life and in our world.  Then, we are creating instruments of life and not tools of death.  Then, creation on the one hand and humanity on the other hand, the one that encompasses and the one that is encompassed, cooperate and correspond.  Then, they are no longer in contradiction or in conflict.  Then, just as humanity offers creation in an act of priestly service and sacrifice to God, so also does creation offer itself in return as a gift to humanity.  Then, everything becomes an exchange, an abundance, and a fulfillment of love.

It is our sincere hope that our hearts may receive and return the natural environment to the Divine Creator with gratitude.  It is our fervent prayer that our hands may minister to this divine gift of the environment in a celebration of thanksgiving.  Amen.